World Fantasy Award nomination for ‘Born to Fear: Interviews with Thomas Ligotti’

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I return from my Internet seclusion to pass along the news that I have been nominated for a 2015 World Fantasy Award for Born to Fear. This year’s nominees were announced yesterday, but I knew nothing about it until Jon Padgett sent an email to congratulate me. The whole thing comes as a complete, and considerable, shock. I didn’t even know the book was on the WFA judges’ radar.

Despite the fact that I’m the official nominee, I can’t help but think this recognition is more for Tom than for me, and rightly so, since it’s his words that make up 95 percent of the book.

As long as I’m here, I’ll also announce that the publication date for Ghosts, Spirits, and Psychics has been moved up from August to this month.

Teeming Links – May 1, 2015

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Don’t say you weren’t warned: artificial telepathy might turn out to be a nightmare. “Will the next generation of telepathy machines make us closer, or are there unforeseen dangers in the melding of minds?” (Aeon)

What is the future of loneliness in the age of the Internet?  “As we moved our lives online, the internet promised an end to isolation. But can we find real intimacy amid shifting identities and permanent surveillance?” (The Guardian)

An Even More Dismal Science: “For the past 25 years, a debate has raged among some of the world’s leading economists. At issue has been whether the nature of the business cycle underwent a fundamental change after the end of the ’30 glorious years’ that followed World War II, when the economy was characterized by rapid growth, full employment, and a bias toward moderate inflation. . . . Today, a degree of consensus has emerged. There is no longer much point in questioning whether the glory days are over.” (Project Syndicate)

Astrobiology research scientist Lewis Dartnell considers a pertinent question: Could we recreate industrial-technological civilization without fossil fuels? (Aeon)

Weird realism: John Gray on the moral universe of H. P. Lovecraft: “The weird realism that runs through Lovecraft’s writings undermines any belief system — religious or humanist — in which the human mind is the centre of the universe.” (New Statesman)

George Lucas rips Hollywood and laments the digital dumbing of Internet culture: “George Lucas offered a bleak assessment of the current state of the film business during a panel discussion with Robert Redford at the Sundance Film Festival on Thursday, saying that the movies are ‘more and more circus without any substance behind it’ . . . . The man who took bigscreen fantasies to bold new worlds said he never could have predicted the smallness of popular entertainment options on platforms such as YouTube. ‘I would never guess people would watch cats do stupid things all day long,’ said Lucas.” (Variety)

Arch-skeptic Michael Shermer writes about an anomalous event that shook his skepticism to the core: “[T]he eerie conjunction of these deeply evocative events gave [my wife Jennifer] the distinct feeling that her grandfather was there and that the music was his gift of approval. I have to admit, it rocked me back on my heels and shook my skepticism to its core as well. I savored the experience more than the explanation. The emotional interpretations of such anomalous events grant them significance regardless of their causal account. And if we are to take seriously the scientific credo to keep an open mind and remain agnostic when the evidence is indecisive or the riddle unsolved, we should not shut the doors of perception when they may be opened to us to marvel in the mysterious.” (Scientific American)

The Return of the Exorcists: “With papal recognition of an international group of exorcists comes a renewed interest in their ministry and role in the pastoral work of the Church.” (The Catholic World Report)

Case Study: The Horror Genre: “Unlike the western or gangster film, where there are a few fairly hard and fast rules in terms of the environment that the action might take place in, or indeed the nature of the characters that are ranged against one another, the horror genre can encompass an extraordinarily wide range of environments, characters, threats and subtexts. This is perhaps one of the major reasons that the horror film has remained popular — or has been able to reinvent itself when its popularity seemed to be on the wane. But what exactly does the horror genre consist of?” (Routledge, from the companion website for the textbook AS Media Studies: The Essential Introduction)

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The new thought police and the demand for “civility”

Joan W. Scott in The Nation:

“Civility” has become a watch word for academic administrators. Earlier this year, Inside Higher Ed released a survey of college and university chief academic officers, which found that “a majority of provosts are concerned about declining faculty civility in American higher education.” Most of these provosts also “believe that civility is a legitimate criterion in hiring and evaluating faculty members,” and most think that faculty incivility is directed primarily at administrators. The survey brought into the open what has perhaps long been an unarticulated requirement for promotion and tenure: a certain kind of deference to those in power.

But what exactly is civility — and is it a prerequisite for a vibrant intellectual climate? As it turns out, the definitions on offer are porous and vague. University of Illinois professor Cary Nelson, who supported the decision not to hire Salaita, sees it as a “reluctance to indulge in mutual hatred,” thereby placing a limit on violence and campus warfare. Others stress courteous and respectful behavior and its concomitants: comfort, safety, and security. The University of Missouri’s “Show Me Respect” project includes a “toolbox” that offers 20 ways to achieve civility (including the reminder to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”). At the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, a 2011 conference offered these words of wisdom: “Academic freedom and free speech require open, safe, civil and collegial campus environments.” And a statement from a University of Maryland discussion paper on civility in 2013 defines it “simply as ‘niceness to others.’… Additionally, the definition may be used broadly to spur discussions on how ‘nice guys and gals finish first’ and how cordiality and kindness can be tracked across campus to ensure faculty, staff, and students are indeed playing nice.”

The attempts to secure the comfort and safety of students — now recognized for their economic value as paying clients who need to be satisfied — are subjugating language and thinking to their own ends. These dictates seem to know no limits and are evident in other policies, such as the call for “trigger warnings” in college classrooms. Professors are being asked by the representatives of some students or groups — and by the anxious deans who rush to satisfy their complaints — to avoid assigning material that might provoke flashbacks or even attention to discomforting violence. The demand for trigger warnings has the same intent as the emphasis on comfort and civility in the Salaita affair and the statement to the UC Berkeley community by Dirks: to stifle thought on the part of both teachers and students who might otherwise express opinions that could make others “uncomfortable.”

All of these efforts presume a certain benign self-evidence for the use of the term “civility.” As the University of Maryland statement puts it, “niceness” is “easily understood by all parties”: We know civility when we see it. Left aside in these invocations are not only interpretive differences among individuals and groups (one man’s or woman’s presumed civility may strike another as uncivil), but also the history of the term. Although, as with any word, the meanings of “civility” have changed, the concept still carries traces of its earlier use. I’d argue further that although the contexts and specific applications have varied over time, the notion of civility consistently establishes relations of power whenever it is invoked. Moreover, it is always the powerful who determine its meaning — one that, whatever its specific content, demeans and delegitimizes those who do not meet its test.

MORE: “The New Thought Police

The scourge of “relatability” in the arts

Rebecca Mead in The New Yorker:

What are the qualities that make a work “relatable,” and why have these qualities come to be so highly valued? To seek to see oneself in a work of art is nothing new, nor is it new to enjoy the sensation. Since Freud theorized the process of identification — as a means whereby an individual develops his or her personality through idealizing and imitating a parent or other figure — the concept has fruitfully been applied to the appreciation of the arts. Identification with a character is one of the pleasures of reading, or of watching movies, or of seeing plays, though if it is where one’s engagement with the work begins, it should not be where critical thought ends. The concept of identification implies that the reader or viewer is, to some degree at least, actively engaged with the work in question: she is thinking herself into the experience of the characters on the page or screen or stage.

But to demand that a work be “relatable” expresses a different expectation: that the work itself be somehow accommodating to, or reflective of, the experience of the reader or viewer. The reader or viewer remains passive in the face of the book or movie or play: she expects the work to be done for her. If the concept of identification suggested that an individual experiences a work as a mirror in which he might recognize himself, the notion of relatability implies that the work in question serves like a selfie: a flattering confirmation of an individual’s solipsism.

To appreciate “King Lear” — or even “The Catcher in the Rye” or “The Fault in Our Stars” — only to the extent that the work functions as one’s mirror would make for a hopelessly reductive experience. But to reject any work because we feel that it does not reflect us in a shape that we can easily recognize — because it does not exempt us from the active exercise of imagination or the effortful summoning of empathy — is our own failure. It’s a failure that has been dispiritingly sanctioned by the rise of “relatable.”

MORE: The Scourge of ‘Relatability‘ “

The serendipity of irrelevant reading

From biblical theologian Wesley Hill in First Things:

Irrelevant reading is the sort of reading you do when you pick up a book that, you fear, has nothing whatever to say to your present concern, the thing that’s driving you to want to read in the first place. Say you’re a teacher and you want to learn more about your craft. You may pick up Ken Bain’s marvelous book What the Best College Teachers Do and read it dutifully, annotating the margins and writing pieces of advice to yourself about next year’s lesson plans. But then, on your nightstand, say, you plop Chaim Potok’s novel The Promise down, since you’ve told yourself you’d read it ever since finishing its prequel The Chosen a couple of years ago. Late one night, you stay up and finish it. And you read that gripping scene in the yeshiva where the protagonist Reuven is quizzed mercilessly about arcana from the Talmud, and suddenly, you see not only the kind of teacher you need to be (Socratic, inspiring, relishing the mysterious complexity of your subject) but also find the inspiration you need to finish that next lecture. Your supposedly irrelevant fiction reading becomes more, or at least as, important to you as your allegedly more relevant textbook. And you grasp intuitively what my friend Luke Neff once put into a pithy saying: “Cultural omnivores make the best teachers.”

. . . Not all reading should be “irrelevant.” Some should be assiduous study of the key texts in one’s field. Other reading, the especially pleasurable kind, should be purely recreational. But when one is reading widely, there’s a special kind of delight that emerges when an evidently immaterial book suddenly intersects with what you most need to know in that moment. There’s no telling when such a moment may arrive, so it’s best to keep up a habit of irrelevant reading.

I sometimes tell my students the most important reading they’ll do for one of my classes at the seminary where I teach may well be the reading I never thought to assign.

MORE: “In Praise of Irrelevant Reading

A pall of uncanny corruption: ‘The Infusorium’ by Jon Padgett

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New chapbook. From Dunhams Manor Press. By one of my dearest friends. Softcover and signed hardcover editions already sold out. Only a few copies of standard (unsigned) hardcover left.

You should PURCHASE.  Update 04/20/15: The book is sold out.

About the book:

Dunnstown is in the midst of a strange season: the choking fogs of the “paper mill days” and the discovery of weirdly altered and elongated skeletons buried within Dunnstown’s sprawling Municipal Park. Homicide detective Raphaella Castellano — a three-year veteran of the DPD — and her partner, Detective Mike Guidry, are on the trail of the murderer responsible for these crimes, an investigation that will draw them both deep within the pall of uncanny corruption which inundates Dunnstown and its unfortunate residents.

About the author:

Jon Padgett is a professional — though lapsed — ventriloquist who lives in New Orleans with his spouse, their daughter, two cats, and a very old dog. Padgett is the founder and longtime administrator of Thomas Ligotti Online (www.ligotti.net), and has been the first publisher for a number of Ligotti’s prose works, including My Work is Not Yet Done and Crampton.

Official endorsements:

That imagination precedes reason in our lives is perhaps the most obvious truth of all. It is the foundation upon which the mind is raised. In The Infusorium Jon Padgett adeptly conjures the more terrible and, we should admit, blatantly captivating aspects of the imagination. What is not obvious is how Padgett has done this and done it so well. While the terrors of his story are imagined, they are no less real for that.”

–Thomas Ligotti

Only a few writers are able to distill the essence of some personal, primal nightmare and transmit it to others. Only a few horror stories are so artfully constructed that they generate an authentic sense of dreadful darkness and impending doom. Jon Padgett is one of those writers. The Infusorium is one of those stories.”

— Matt Cardin

Also check out this wonderful frontispiece, which will appear in the hardcover editions, and whose kabbalistic significance is explained in the chapbook itself.

The_Infusorium_frontispiece

 

 

Subversive Superhero: The American Dream of Captain America

Last year when I watched Captain America: The Winter Soldier for the first time, I found it to be really good fun. The first half is probably better, where it’s like a superhero version of Bourne/Craig-era Bond/Mission Impossible/’70s paranoid conspiracy thriller. It even has a decent stab at social commentary-lite with its discussion of post 9/11 America. It also features some excellent fight sequences, probably the best I’ve seen in a superhero film. Unfortunately, the second half of the film sacrifices much of the moral complexity, turning it into a fairly straightforward good-vs.-evil scenario. The ending in particular seemed very much Hollywood wish-fulfilment (although the ramifications are explored a little more thoroughly in the Agents of SHIELD TV series).

Still, on an entertainment level the film works and does a good job of finding spotlight moments for a crowded cast. Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill is the only one who really comes away short-changed. Admittedly, a couple of plot points don’t really make sense, but I enjoyed the film so much that I didn’t really care. And certain stuff I expected it to do is being left until the sequel, which is probably just as well, as now the filmmakers can (hopefully) give those developments some dramatic heft instead of just crowbarring them into the last five minutes of The Winter Soldier. The film also gets bonus points for including Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man” on the soundtrack.

One of the criticisms I’ve heard some people make of Captain America: The Winter Soldier is that it’s filled with jingoistic flagwaving. Which only seems to prove these people weren’t paying attention. The film isn’t a live-action version of Team America: World Police. Granted, it ultimately comes down in favor of the good ol’ US of A, but along the way it’s actually pretty critical of modern America, and this is quite in keeping with aspects of Cap’s ongoing life in the comics that have developed over the past half century.

In point of fact, Captain America is a far more subversive character than people tend to realize. Yes, he was originally created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby as a gung-ho hero to help inspire America to get behind the idea of fighting the Nazis (his first comics appearance was before the US entered the war), but since his revival by Stan Lee in the ’60s he has often been used as a vehicle for critiquing American society. Read the rest of this entry

Good news: Experts agree the future of Atlantis is bright

Lower_Level_Aquarium_Atlantis_Hotel

From John Michael Greer, for the recent April 1 day of foolery, here’s one of the most entertaining — and insightful — pieces of satire you’re likely to read this year. Note his use of a rather delightful name-coding, which runs throughout. And don’t worry: Nacil Buper, Grand Priestess of the Temple of the Night, who is mentioned in the excerpt below, isn’t singled out for an unfair solo slamming. Later in the piece Tarc Omed, the Hierophant of the Priests of the Sun, receives equal treatment. So does the average Atlantean citizen-on-the-street. All are weighed and found wanting for their heedlessness in ignoring the warning signs associated with continued worship of the Lord of Evil, Mu-Elortep.

If you’re like most Atlanteans these days, you’ve heard all sorts of unnerving claims about the future of our continent. Some people are even saying that recent earth tremors are harbingers of a cataclysm that will plunge Atlantis to the bottom of the sea. Those old prophecies from the sacred scrolls of the Sun Temple have had the dust blown off them again, adding to the stew of rumors.

So is there anything to it? Should you be worried about the future of Atlantis?

Not according to the experts. I visited some of the most widely respected hierarchs here in the City of the Golden Gates yesterday to ask them about the rumors, and they assured me that there’s no reason to take the latest round of alarmist claims at all seriously.

***

My first stop was the temple complex of black orichalcum just outside the Palace of the Ten Kings, where Nacil Buper, Grand Priestess of the Temple of Night, took time out of her busy schedule to meet with me. I asked her what she thought about the rumors of imminent catastrophe. “Complete and utter nonsense,” she replied briskly. “There are always people who want to insist that the end is nigh, and they can always find something to use to justify that sort of thing. Remember a few years ago, when everyone was running around insisting that the end of the Forty-First Grand Cycle of Time was going to bring the destruction of the world? This is more of the same silliness.”

Just at that moment, the floor shook beneath us, and I asked her about the earth tremors, pointing out that those seem to be more frequent than they were just a few years back.

“Atlantis has always had earthquakes,” the Grand Priestess reminded me, gesturing with her scepter of human bone. “There are natural cycles affecting their frequency, and there’s no proof that they’re more frequent because of anything human beings are doing. In fact, I’m far from convinced that they’re any more frequent than they used to be. There are serious questions about whether the priests of the Sun Temple have been fiddling with their data, you know.”

“And the claim from those old prophecies that offering human sacrifices to Mu-Elortep, Lord of Evil, might have something to do with it?” I asked.

“That’s the most outrageous kind of nonsense,” the Grand Priestess replied. “Atlanteans have been worshipping the Lord of Evil for more than a century and a half. It’s one of the foundations of our society and our way of life, and we should be increasing the number of offerings to Mu-Elortep as rapidly as we can, not listening to crazies from the fringe who insist that there’s something wrong with slaughtering people for the greater glory of the Lord of Evil. We can’t do without Mu-Elortep, not if we’re going to restore Atlantis to full prosperity and its rightful place in the world order, and if that means sacrifices have to be made — and it does — then sacrifices need to be made.”

MORE: “Atlantis Won’t Sink, Experts Agree

Image by Jerrye and Roy Klotz MD [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

New (and old) book projects: An encyclopedia of horror literature and a collection of horror fiction

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Frontispiece to Frankenstein (1831 edition). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

On a morning when I’ve just finished up with several days of responding to publisher copy edits on Ghosts, Spirits, and Psychics, I’m happy to announce the birth of another book project: I have just signed a contract with the same publisher (ABC-CLIO) to edit a two-volume reference work to be titled Horror Literature through History: An Encyclopedia of the Stories That Speak to Our Deepest Fears. This is all still in the early developmental stages, and the book itself won’t appear until late 2016 (at the very earliest). But I can tell you that the structure and approach of this particular project will make it something special. I will of course say more about the whole thing as additional information becomes available.

Oh, and speaking of available information, I can also report that my long-hibernating omnibus collection of horror fiction from Hippocampus Press, To Rouse Leviathan — which has been greatly delayed by my own mercurial creative cycles and outer life circumstances — is still very much alive.

Utopia, dystopia, and the eternal present of Amish time

Traditional_Amish_buggy

Traditional Amish Buggy. By Ad Meskens (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

When I was a kid, the first time I ever heard of the Amish was when I watched the movie Witness for the first time. Much later, in the first decade of the aughts, I lived for seven years right in the heart of Missouri Amish country, where horse-drawn buggies on the shoulder of the road were a frequent sight, and where I regularly rubbed shoulders with Amish people in stores, at garage sales, and elsewhere. Between those two extremes, I took an undergraduate college sociology course at Mizzou titled simply “The Old Order Amish,” taught by a highly respected professor who had himself grown up in an Old Order Mennonite community (and who, as I just now discovered, died only two months ago). So all of that amplifies my personal interest in this brief and thoughtful reflection by University of Wyoming English professor Arielle Zibrak on the possible meaning and lessons of “Amish time” for a 21st-century technological society that has become obsessed with future visions and intimations of collapse and dystopia:

Wendell Berry wrote that American society’s inability to see the Amish for what they are is indicative of the most basic flaws of the American progress narrative. I think we’re beginning to see the frayed edges of that narrative’s unraveling. While the future used to appear to us as Marty Mcfly’s hoverboard, robo cops, and casual space travel, it now seems more frequently to come in the form of close-knit roving communities that communicate via flare and cook game over open fires, e.g. McCarthy’s The Road or Frank Darabont’s “The Walking Dead.”

We usually cast these fictional futures as dystopias. But if Margaret Atwood is right — and she should know — “within every dystopia there’s a little utopia.” And I can’t help but wonder if, as our vision of the future continues to shift, our view of the Amish will shift with it. For now, the best I can do is to try to learn from the Amish.

These days, after another move, I’m living out west, where my little sedan is itself a buggy parked alongside the giant pickups at the superstore. I can’t be around the Amish anymore in the sense of space. But I can try to be closer to where they are in the sense of time, which is neither the past nor precisely the future (even if there’s a zombie apocalypse or the hipsters keep defecting to dairy farms and haberdasheries) but is squarely inside of the mystery of the present.

MORE: “On Amish Time