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On Thomas Ligotti and the Hypnotic Power of Authors Who Share Their Deepest Selves
Excerpts from recent conversations on pointed topics
Welcome to The Living Dark. I’m Matt Cardin, and this is my blog/newsletter on waking up at the intersection of creativity, writing, religion, horror, nonduality, apocalypse, dystopia, consciousness, and culture. You can subscribe by clicking this button:
Today I found myself riding a wave of unexpected energetic motivation as I participated in a couple of rewarding conversations on Facebook and Substack involving Thomas Ligotti, philosophical pessimism, cosmic or ontological horror, the nature of the Infinite or Absolute, and the strange communicative power of writing that comes from an author’s most private and personal interiority. My participation in such things comes in bursts. Periods of engagement alternate with periods of withdrawal.
Though it’s not entirely illuminating to witness only one side of a multi-sided conversation, I decided to abstract my contributions to these interactions and share them here, since they touch on matters of long-running interest to both my readers and me.
Note that the comments focusing on Ligotti are taken from a conversation in which some people were expressing a lack of felt engagement with his stories, and also a sense of ironic distance toward his nonfiction opus, The Conspiracy against the Human Race, whose authorial tone and expression of philosophical pessimism they found off-putting. For more of my thoughts on Ligotti, see the first section of my What the Daemon Said, which collects all of my Ligotti essays, written across a span of 20 years.
On My Personal Discovery of Thomas Ligotti
Discovering Thomas Ligotti’s work through his Grimscribe collection, and then reading through all the rest of his books, was like finding a drug—THE drug—that I had always wanted, needed, craved, that I had been born to take, but had not known that I was lacking. It wasn’t a drug that felt like it produced visions. Rather, it was a drug that clarified reality. It articulated certain things, and did so in a specific way, that stated my own truth, the thing that had been struggling to come clear and realize itself in my own private, interior life. I promise this isn’t hyperbole.
On a Shift in Readers’ Responses to Ligotti’s Work
These past few years I have sometimes suspected that Tom’s unexpected ascent (for lack of a better word) to semi-mainstream status and attention has produced an altered response to his work. It felt different to find him and read him when he was this fabled, obscure, whispered-about magus of literary horror, the “Are you out there, Thomas Ligotti?” of Poppy Z. Brite’s Nightmare Factory introduction. Now his reputation precedes him in a different way. He’s that arch-pessimist who wrote the Conspiracy book that influenced True Detective and says we should all go extinct. “Okay, Thomas Ligotti, dazzle me with your dark insight." Not that anyone necessarily approaches him with that attitude consciously, but I think it is definitely a factor in how his work is or can now be received.
On the Nature of the Ligottian Cosmic Nightmare
The point of the Ligottian nightmare isn’t the pleasantness or unpleasantness of the outer/objective circumstances of one’s life but the sense of having seen through the skein of existence and discovered an absolute nightmare at the ontological heart of things, independent and transcendent of all ostensible conditions. This can just as easily occur amid circumstances of pleasantness and ease as it can amid circumstances of pain and deprivation, and/or at any point on the continuum between. The vision undermines both poles equally and exposes the emptiness and horror of the whole show. And yes, certainly, statements of such things can be heard and received on a sliding scale of perceived fatuousness depending on how outwardly comfortable the speaker appears to be, relative to the entirety of the material human experience.
On The Conspiracy against the Human Race
I humbly submit that there is a great deal more to The Conspiracy against the Human Race than this description [i.e., the description of it that was advanced by one of my Facebook conversation partners] gives it credit for. And also that Tom’s tone and intent in it do not, in fact, evidence an attitude of “I'm superior because I’m among an elite minority who have seen this awful truth.” He states explicitly in the book, as well as in various interviews, that his presentations of such things merely describe what he, as a unique individual with the unique set of experiences that have characterized his life, is unable not to see, think, or feel, and that his pessimistic and horror-filled position is therefore not something that he advances propositionally, as a philosophy that he’s arguing in favor of, but rather something that he states descriptively, as the inevitable outworking of his perspective, whatever its truth value, take it or leave it.
On Dread of the Infinite and Absolute
The Absolute is by definition without qualities. Any qualities attributed to it, whether tending toward and coalescing into the beatific vision or its infernal opposite, originate on the side of the beholder and represent specific finite responses to it. I have sometime speculated in my stories and in my private writings (the latter of which may not qualify as “private” anymore now that I’m publishing my journals) about the possibility that the Absolute must necessarily appear dreadful from the human perspective, as in the experience of numinous dread, because its transcendent nature inevitably threatens and disturbs our finite sensibility. But obviously responses to it have historically varied.
On the Strange Power of Sharing Your Deep Interiority
Note to writers (and musicians, artists, others): What is most deeply and pointedly moving within each of us, what feels most personal and private, and what therefore feels most in need of being protected and definitely NOT aired or shared with others, is precisely what will connect most deeply with others if we can summon the will and courage to air and share it.
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