Tag Archives: thomas ligotti

Thomas Ligotti, Grimscribe, and Songs.

15 Jan

Yep, Ligotti got me.

  1. Thomas Liggoti, ye gods.
  2. After True Detective, I reviewed/interacted with his Conspiracy against the Human Race a few years ago. Despite my rejection of its philosophy, it stuck with me. It isn’t a book you can easily forget.
  3. Short summary: human consciousness is an evolutionary mistake, responsible for all our suffering. Humans should, as a species, stop procreating and die out. This will end our turmoil.
  4. I totally reject this notion. (And I’m not making this up.)
  5. I finally read his first two story collections, Grimscribe and Songs of a Dead Dreamer.
  6. Ligotti, take a bow.
  7. His stories are deeply, jarringly unsettled. Burrowing maggoty narratives that rattle your dreams.
  8. Ligotti is, like Lovecraft, using the parameters and tropes of horror fiction to convey his profound pessimism about the human condition. He believes in nothing, Lebowski, only he really means it.
  9. See Conspiracy.
  10. He’s a better writer than Lovecraft, who often slides into a florid clutching style. Lovecraft was writing in the burgeoning pulp tradition, so his stories often are, well, good as stories. Put another way, Lovecraft, as often as not, keeps his audience in mind.
  11. Ligotti does not.
  12. Ligotti’s talents are in service to a vast negation, which adds to the disturbing feelings.
  13. Put another way: reading Ligotti hurts.
  14. My favorite stories were “The Frolic,” “The Last Feast of the Harlequin,” and “Nethescurial.”
  15. “The Frolic” is a conversation between a jaded psychologist and his wife. The psychologist decides to share the kind of day he’s been having. Their daughter is asleep upstairs. The wife is getting nervous. The husband is getting drunk. It’s terrifying.
  16. “The Last Feast of the Harlequin” follows an academic studying clowns. He discovers a peculiar festival in some bumpkin town and decides to investigate. It’s . . . intense.
  17. “Nethescurial” is the memoir of a man who has gone insane, and why. He’s succumbed to madness due to a tale of a land called Nethescurial, a manuscript he’s stumbled upon; by story’s end he’s not insane at all, everyone else is.
  18. Ligotti utilizes the trappings of horror—shadowy estates, zombies, the unnameable, even vampires—but in his hands they feel fresh, somehow.
  19. He has a fondness for arcane words: lucubration, carnifex, habiliments, tatterdemalion.
  20. Like Nick Cave. (And if you haven’t read And the Ass Saw the Angel, get thee to a bookstore.)
  21. Or William Faulkner.
  22. Reading Ligotti’s early work is fascinating, as he begins directly in Lovecraft’s shadow, clearly imitating him, and then surpasses him in the cosmic reach of his terror. He improves, drastically, in his horror thinking.
  23. Here’s an example. One of the stories involves a narrator discovering that the world and everything in it—objects and all living things—is actually made of a single, black slime. It is the collective delusions of humanity that keep the semblance of order, the demarcations. But every once in a while, our delusions crack, and everything begins to melt. We forget these periods as they are too horrible to remember, and thus the cycle repeats itself.
  24. Pretty bleak stuff. Everything always melting. The only thing in existence a black ooze.
  25. Re-occurring images: puppets, faceless people, dwarves, alienating landscapes, sickly green illumination.
  26. And always, always, always, the spiral of sinister alien stars.
  27. Ligotti moves from fear to disgust, from disgust into existential terror. It’s quite a trick. His characters don’t drink, smoke, eat, copulate. He has a clear disregard to physical pleasures.
  28. Like Jonathan Swift.
  29. His characters also have little to distinguish them. They don’t draw the horror on themselves through chutzpah or ambition; they instead trip over the true terror of the world.
  30. Ligotti is a bit funnier than I expected, but the jokes are few and far between. Just saying.
  31. I happened to read Richard Bausch’s Spirits at the same time. Bausch is a very fine writer, with the fine-tuned feel of a workshop behind him. But he’s writing horror, too; “Police Dreams” and “All the Way to Flagstaff” are both ghost stories, of how rage and terror are passed down from the parents to the children through misunderstanding and fear. Absolutely terrifying.
  32. Ligotti and Bausch, who knew?
  33. Grimscribe is Poe + Lovecraft + Borges. It’s more sophisticated, more intellectual and less fun.
  34. Poe’s bleak assessment of human nature; Lovecraft’s belief in human insignificance; Borges’s notion of stories and texts as self-replicating traps.
  35. Ligotti evokes Borges especially in the later stories. Books are passageways. There are labyrinths, authors collapsing into their fictions. But Borges has a strong sense of intellectual play, even joy. Ligotti proffers only blackness and abnegation.
  36. Ligotti pays homage to Borges in strange ways. There’s little plot or action. But rather dark epiphanies usually stumbled upon. Then, intimation and grim absolutes.
  37. Borges is quite the horrorist himself, although his scares are intellectual. People are always saying how funny he is. Go back and read Tlon. It’s about the destruction of the real world through the invention of a fake one.
  38. Meanwhile, Ligotti negates. Utterly.
  39. I need to be clear about this, as Ligotti has made it clear in the few interviews he’s given. He wants you to be wrecked and wretched after reading his stuff.
  40. Wrecked. And wretched.
  41. He (mostly) succeeds.
  42. I enjoyed his more straight-forward horror. I merely admired the blank rigor of his Borgesian fictions.
  43. I kept thinking, here’s this singular intelligence, driven to write these obscene stories. Why?
  44. Ideas have power. Ligotti seems to have read Schopenhauer and Cioran—he claims to be a disciple of sorts—at the wrong time. If he had stumbled onto Spinoza instead? Or Kierkegaard?
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Interlude 1: Thomas Ligotti, True Detective, and the conspiracy against human race.

11 Apr

1.

I’ve long been a fan of what’s labeled weird fiction for a long time. This includes horror, science fiction and fantasy, but only in so far as the narrative is damaged somehow, askew, bent. My canon for weird fiction is lengthy, a sort of catch-all, including H.P. Lovecraft—who is a touch overrated, despite writing some excellent stories[1]—Robert Howard, Robert Chambers, Algernon Blackwood, E.T.A Hoffman, Philip K. Dick, Barry Hannah, Flannery O’Connor, Michel Houellbecq, Jonathan Carroll (Voice of Our Shadow is excellent), Roberto Bolano, J.K. Huysman, Angela Carter, Victor LaVelle, James Ellroy, as well as the literary pornographers Marquis DeSade, Anais Nin, George Bataille. Obsessives, lunatics, visionaries, perverts, creeps both high and low—I welcome weird writers of all types. I include in the above list the comic book writers Alan Moore and Grant Morrison (and don’t ask me to weigh in on that particular debate; I love them both), Neil Gaiman, to a lesser extent Peter Milligan and Ed Brubaker.

The point: I like the weird, the dark and the bizarre. Always have.

I also thought True Detective was excellent. So I was excited to dig into some new weirdoes on the literary fringe. I dipped into Brian Evenson (intriguing and singular but one note) and Heidi Julavitz (a very fine writer I must return to).

Which brings me to the horror writer Thomas Ligotti. Ligotti is a horror writer of some reputation. I haven’t been able to get my hands on his fiction as of yet. But I did pick up his merciless, vicious overview of pessimist philosophy, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race. I just finished it.

I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

Um, no and kind of boring.

Um, no, and kind of boring.

2.

Ligotti summarizes the pessimists including Nietzche, Schopenhauer, Heidegger, Cioran, Weineger (a minor character in the excellent The World as I Found It), alongside other angry, dour, despondent dudes. The basic belief is this: consciousness is a curse, an evolutionary mistake, and mankind should quickly and quietly bring itself to extinction by not having any more offspring. A collective eradication of our species.

Ligotti reiterates certain key points to his philosophy, but the big one is the oldest: space is empty and bleak, airless, full of sucking black holes; life exists to gobble up other life; non-life exists to gobble up life; nothing can justify or redeem humanity because humanity is temporary and useless; and humans are merely meat puppets with no agency, free will, and only the illusion of control. Ligotti’s using this tradition of pessimist philosophy to argue for nothing less than the complete extinction of the human race, and as quickly as possible. His version of reality is the ultimate reduction, and therefore very difficult to crack[2].He and his ilk invert the values of most of history by laying all our turmoil at the feet of hope and belief, while arguing that there is succor in nothingness and suicide.

Here’s a taste:

“We know we are alive and we know we will die. We also know we will suffer during our lives before suffering—slowly or quickly—as we draw near to death. This is the knowledge we “enjoy” as the most intelligent organisms to gush from the womb of nature. And being so, we feel shortchanged if there is nothing else for us than to survive, reproduce and die. We want there to be more to it than that, or to think there is. This is the tragedy: Consciousness has forced us into the paradoxical position of striving to be unself-conscious of what we are—hunks of spoiling flesh on disintegrating bones.”

No daisies or puppies or rainbows for him.

Fifteen years ago this would have gnawed at my waking hours and plagued my dreams. I would have jotted down notes, read arguments against Ligotti’s summation. I would have fretted, worried, paced. I would have lost sleep, had nightmares, night sweats. I would have suffered.

Now I just shrug. Hundreds of thousands of thinkers, artists, poets, and theologians have grappled with these issues for millennia, so I’m not going to add anything by trying to contradict his claims. I’ll just say that he’s cartoonishly[3] negative. Not content to live in a shitty paradigm of joylessness, he insists that everyone from the dawn of man to the end of time lives in the exact same terror that he does. In a word, he’s wrong.

I defer to Epicure and sunlight and the transcendentalists and the music of Bach and Ray Charles. I would also quote William James on rationality and logic and philosophy:

“There arises a certain insincerity in our philosophic discussions: the potentest of all our premises is never mentioned . . . . What the system pretends to be is a picture of the great universe of God. What it is—and oh so flagrantly!—is the revelation of how intensely odd the personal flavor of some fellow creature is.”

Put another way: Nothing is logical. Not even the most basic premise. Everything is preconditioned by the flawed human minds that create them[4]. We are our experiences and beliefs.

Eat it, Ligotti.

3.

Much of the book is an oddball sequel of H.P. Lovecraft’s overview of the at the time current weird fiction, Supernatural Horror in Literature. (I wouldn’t recommend this either; for fans of weird fiction I would suggest the out of print and magnificent Illustrated History of Fantasy by Franz Rottensteiner). Ligotti is on his surest footing when writing about other writers, adding a few surprises into the mix. He covers Poe and Lovecraft, but also Pirandello and Conrad (he correctly loops in Heart of Darkness in this literary lineage). I almost enjoyed his literary analysis, although his stilted writing style, a kind of faux doctoral thesis psychobabble, never really worked for me.

With all those caveats, there’s something disturbing—and intriguing—in Ligotti’s tone, almost ironic, close to Swift in his famous essay, “A Modest Proposal.” Only Ligotti isn’t joking, satirizing, pretending. He believes his own nonsense, like one of Jim Jones’s acolytes guzzling the kool-aid.

I’ll let him have the last word. You tell me if this wouldn’t work as some type of absurdist high-concept comedy routine (voiced by Adam West, perhaps):

“You would then know the horror and know that you know it: that you are nothing but a human puppet would not be impossible to believe. What now? Answer: Now you go insane. Now our species goes extinct in great epidemics of madness, because now we know that behind the scenes of life there is something pernicious that makes a nightmare of our world. Now we know that we are uncanny paradoxes. We know that nature has veered into the supernatural by fabricating a creature that cannot and should not exist by natural law, and yet does.”

Gimme a break.

 

[1] I love At the Mountains of Madness.

[2] It’s simplicity should be a huge warning sign to people.

[3] You can hear the nihilists in The Big Lebowski yelling from the pages: “We believe in nozing, Lebowski, nothing!”

[4] And this, too, offers little solace in the final tally.