An interview with Gary Lachman on occult politics, nihilism, and the dangerous potentials of the imagination
Just published here at The Teeming Brain: my interview with Gary Lachman on his new book Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump. As many Teeming Brain readers are already aware, Gary is a noted writer on occultism and esotericism who contributed to my paranormal encyclopedia a few years ago. In this new interview, he expands on the themes of his latest book, in which he examines the role of New Thought, meme magic, Chaos Magick, and other occult and esoteric movements in shaping current geopolitical affairs, involving everything and everyone from Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin to the rise of the Alt-Right and the advent of a “post-truth/alternative fact” world.
Here’s an excerpt:
MATT CARDIN: What’s your basic argument in Dark Star Rising?
GARY LACHMAN: Dark Star Rising is about the strange “occult politics” that seem to be a part of both Trump’s presidency and that of his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. As I say in the book, I first became aware of this when I read a post on Harvey Bishop’s New Thought blog. Bishop was commenting on the speech Richard Spencer, founder of the alt-right, gave at the meeting of the National Policy Institute in Washington, following Trump’s election. Spencer greeted the crowd, hailing Trump’s victory, and saying that they — he and his comrades — had made it happen. They had “dreamed” Trump into office, had “willed” him into the White House. Bishop noted that turning dreams into reality, making your wishes come true, is a central aim of New Thought, mental science, and other teachings that emphasize the power of the mind to affect reality directly. Trump, we know, has been a lifelong devotee of “positive thinking;” Norman Vincent Peale, who popularized the “power of positive of thinking,” was a mentor. But now it seemed that people in Trump’s fan base were practitioners, too.
With this, I began to follow a trail which led around the world and involved things like “meme magic” (using the internet as a way of affecting reality), gurus, demagogues, and how some rather radical ideas about a new world order — or disorder — are informing some of the most powerful people on the planet.
Read the full interview.
Booklist has named my horror encyclopedia one of the top ten reference works it reviewed between May 2017 and May 2018, saying that all the books on the list “represent useful resources for libraries of all sizes.”
You can also read Booklist‘s full starred review of Horror Literature through History, where the upshot is this:
Extremely informative in its content, easy to use, engaging in its writing style, Cardin’s comprehensive and inclusive reference work not only solidly makes the case for horror’s enduring importance in our lives, as humans, throughout history but also presents it in a package that is a pleasure to read.
A short film by BAFTA award-winning Scottish animator Ainslie Henderson, with music by Poppy Ackroyd.
Suddenly, what was just stuff becomes this character staring back at you. What I love about stop-motion puppets is that they have this inherent sadness about them. They’re like little actors that only ever get to play one role. Everything they do is their swan song. They have a tiny little life, and then they just go back to being inanimate objects again.
To quote someone or other: It is finished. After three years of planning, preparation, and intensive editorial work by Jon Padgett and me (and a handful of additional key individuals), the first issue of Vastarien is now available. Early responses from readers are enthusiastically positive. Both print and Kindle editions can be purchased through Amazon.
As previously announced here, the journal is framed as a source of critical study and creative response to the corpus of Thomas Ligotti as well as associated authors and ideas. Its spirit is captured by a key passage from Ligotti’s classic short story “Vastarien,” telling of a special book that embodies an impossible otherworld,
a place where everything was transfixed in the order of the unreal. . . . Each passage he entered in the book both enchanted and appalled him with images and incidents so freakish and chaotic that his usual sense of these terms disintegrated along with everything else. Rampant oddity seemed to be the rule of the realm; imperfection became the source of the miraculous — wonders of deformity and marvels of miscreation. There was horror, undoubtedly. But it was a horror uncompromised by any feeling of lost joy or thwarted redemption; rather, it was a deliverance by damnation. And if Vastarien was a nightmare, it was a nightmare transformed in spirit by the utter absence of refuge: nightmare made normal.
The journal includes nonfiction, literary horror fiction, poetry, artwork, and non-classifiable hybrid pieces. Public interest and support have proved to be intense and widespread: Our Kickstarter campaign earlier this year blew the roof off by bringing in more than three times our stated funding goal. This has enabled us to pay pro rates to our contributors for the first three issues. The second and third of these issues are currently in the works. Not incidentally, Vastarien is the flagship project of Grimscribe Press, founded and operated by Jon.
Vastarien: A Literary Journal
Volume 1, Number 1
Foreword to the Polish edition of Teatro Grottesco (Okultura, 2014)
(Previously unpublished in English)
The Gods in Their Seats, Unblinking
The Nightmare of His Art: The Horrific Power of the Imagination in “The Troubles of Dr. Thoss” and “Gas Station Carnivals”
Affirmation of the Spirit: Consciousness, Transformation, and the Fourth World in Film
Try the Veal
How to Construct a Gun from Your Own Flesh
“Eccentric to the Healthy Social Order”: Inversions of Family, Community, and Religion in Thomas Ligotti’s “The Last Feast of Harlequin”
Michael J. Abolafia
“They say I should kill myself and not try to spoil their enjoyment in being alive”: An Interview with Thomas Ligotti
(Previously unpublished in English)
Eraserhead as Antinatalist Allegory
The Theatre of Ovid
The Alienation of the Self: Marx, Polanyi, and Ligottian Horror
S. L. Edwards
Paul L. Bates
Night Walks: The Films of Val Lewton
Infinite Light, Infinite Darkness
Nervous Wares & Abnormal Stares
My Time at the Drake Clinic
Notes on a Horror
Dr. Raymond Thoss
Singing the Song of My Unmaking
Cadabra Records is currently accepting preorders for their lush audio production of “The Bungalow House,” which is one of my (and indeed one of most readers’) favorite stories by Thomas Ligotti. The above sample allows you to hear what the whole thing sounds like. Hint: It sounds incredibly lush and wonderful. The published album will ship on May 11.
The production features narration/performance by Jon Padgett — who has outdone himself on this one — as well as music and audio textures by Chris Bozzone and art by Jason Barnett. It also comes with a new interview with Ligotti himself plus a newly written essay by me about “The Bungalow House,” as described here in some advertising copy from the publisher:
Cadabra Records will release “The Bungalow House” in a limited first edition of 500 copies pressed on color 150-gram blue and black swirl vinyl and housed in a deluxe heavyweight tip-on jacket and a hand-numbered fold-over sleeve. The record includes a 12-page booklet with an extensive essay by author Matt Cardin, a new interview with Ligotti, and an 18″x 24″ promotional poster showcasing the newly commissioned art by Jason Barnett.
I’m pleased to have participated in this project. In case you’re not familiar with Cadabra Records, this brief primer from Dread Central fills in the necessary blanks:
We’ve been fans of spoken word vinyl label Cadabra Records for a while now. They not only bring classic horror stories to life on wax, they make sure that each release gets the very best treatment. From casting horror icon Tony Todd as the titular vampire in Bram Stoker’s Dracula to getting Italian horror maestro Fabio Frizzi to compose music for their release of H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Picture in the House,” Cadabra aims, and achieves, to ensure that every record that comes from their label is an experience that will leave listeners entranced and shaken to their core.
If this sounds like your thing, I urge you to click through and reserve your copy of “The Bungalow House.”
Robert Kaplan, writing for The Washington Post:
It is impossible to imagine Trump and his repeated big lies that go viral except in the digital-video age. It is impossible to imagine our present political polarization except in the age of the Internet, which drives people to sites of extreme views that validate their preexisting prejudices. And, in the spirit of Hollywood, it is impossible to imagine the degree and intensity of emotional and sensory manipulation, false rumors, exaggerations and character assassination that decay our public dialogue except in this new and terrifying age of technology which has only just begun.
Digital-video technology, precisely because it is given to manipulation, is inherently controlling. Think of how the great film directors of the 20th century were able to take over your mind for a few hours: a new experience for audiences that previous generations had never known. Theater may be as old as the ancient Greeks, but the technology of film lent a new and powerful force to the theatrical experience. Moreover, it was contained within a limited time period, and afterward you came back to the real world.
In the 21st century, dictators may have the capability to be the equivalent of film directors, and the show never stops. Indeed, Joseph Goebbels would undoubtedly thrive in today’s world. As for warfare itself, it will be increasingly about dividing and demoralizing enemy populations through disinformation campaigns whose techniques are still in their infancy. . . .
Never before have we had to fight for democracy and individual rights as now in this new and — in some sense — dark age of technology. We must realize that the fight for democracy is synonymous with the fight for objectivity, which lies at the core of professional journalism — a calling whose foundational spirit was forged in the print-and-typewriter age, when mainly the movies were fake.
We will fight best by thinking tragically to avoid tragedy. This means learning to think like the tyrants who feed and prosper on misinformation so we can keep several steps ahead of them. Only in that way can we build safeguards against the specific dangers of the digital experience. The pioneers of Silicon Valley were inherent optimists who simply believed in connecting the world. But it is precisely such integration that provides our authoritarian enemies with access into our own democratic systems. The future will be about wars of integration rather than wars of geographic separation. So now constructive pessimism is called for. The innocent days when illusions were the province of movie stage sets are way behind us.
Full text: “Everything Here Is Fake“
First there was the Penguin Classics combined edition of Ligotti’s Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe. Now there’s this forthcoming Penguin Classics edition of his The Conspiracy against the Human Race, to be published this October, with another beautiful cover by Chris Mars and a new preface by Ligotti himself. The canonization continues.
Here’s the official publisher description (in which, as I’m disappointed to note, the first sentence is accidentally worded in such a way as to make it a fragment):
In Thomas Ligotti’s first nonfiction outing, an examination of the meaning (or meaninglessness) of life through an insightful, unsparing argument that proves the greatest horrors are not the products of our imagination but instead are found in reality.
“There is a signature motif discernible in both works of philosophical pessimism and supernatural horror. It may be stated thus: Behind the scenes of life lurks something pernicious that makes a nightmare of our world.”
His fiction is known to be some of the most terrifying in the genre of supernatural horror, but Thomas Ligotti’s first nonfiction book may be even scarier. Drawing on philosophy, literature, neuroscience, and other fields of study, Ligotti takes the penetrating lens of his imagination and turns it on his audience, causing them to grapple with the brutal reality that they are living a meaningless nightmare, and anyone who feels otherwise is simply acting out an optimistic fallacy. At once a guidebook to pessimistic thought and a relentless critique of humanity’s employment of self-deception to cope with the pervasive suffering of their existence, The Conspiracy against the Human Race may just convince readers that there is more than a measure of truth in the despairing yet unexpectedly liberating negativity that is widely considered a hallmark of Ligotti’s work.
In this just-published episode of the This Is Horror Podcast, Jon Padgett and I talk with hosts Michael David Wilson and Bob Pastorella about our new project Vastarien: A Literary Journal, along with other matters of interest. Click to listen or download.
Note that at the time of this writing, our Vastarien Kickstarter campaign, to fund the first year (three issues) of the journal, still has seven days left!
Here are some show notes:
Vastarien is a source of critical study and creative response to the corpus of Thomas Ligotti as well as associated authors and ideas.
Support Vastarien on Kickstarter
[03:30] Vastarien origin story
[08:40] Why Vastarien title
[20:20] Penguin edition Conspiracy Against The Human Race/Cadabra Records Ligotti’s The Bungalow House
[28:10] Jon Padgett’s final message (in this podcast not in life)
[31:10] What is the worst thing that has happened to you as a result of your own mind or imagination
[34:20] Physical and mental and other sensations during sleep paralysis
[45:45] The creative self and self
[51:40] Andrew M. Reichart, via Patreon,
[54:40] Scott Kemper, via Patreon, wants to know about other Ligotti-esque authors to become acquainted with
[57:40] Films and TV shows that may appeal to Ligotti fans
[01:10:00] Kendra Temples, via Patreon, asks anti-natalism and philosophical pessimism and impact
[01:18:00] How Gnosticism fits into the vision of Vastarien
[01:22:25] What should and shouldn’t people submit to Vastarien
[01:26:35] Final question to ponder
Nanette Fabray, the legendary American television actress, singer, comedienne, and advocate for the hearing impaired, has died at the age of 97. Fifty years ago last month, she (and The Carol Burnett Show) provided just over two minutes of the most amazingly quiet and mesmerizing programming in the history of American broadcast television. These two minutes also reinforced what a truly talented singer and performer she was. I’m honestly surprised that CBS allowed this mini-oasis of meditative quietness to briefly inhabit the airwaves during the bombastic TV era of the late 1960s. Notice just how strikingly calm and silent people’s television sets got for 136 seconds as Fabray sang and signed a certain song.
The following insights are excerpted from a brief but engaging NPR piece that traces the cultural arc from Vint Cerf (the “inventor of the Internet”) and his early naive optimism about this new technology, to William Gibson’s uncanny prescience in forecasting exactly where the Internet would really take us (to a corporate-controlled cyberdystopia with sharply curtailed human relationships), to Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker’s ongoing exploration of the darkest corners of the whole thing:
Initially, Cerf was trying to create an Internet through which scientists and academics from all over the world could share data and research. Then, one day in 1988, Cerf says he went to a conference for commercial vendors where they were selling products for the Internet. “I just stood there thinking, ‘My God! Somebody thinks they’re going to make money out of the Internet.’ ” Cerf was surprised and happy. “I was a big proponent of that. My friends in the community thought I was nuts. ‘Why would you let the unwashed masses get access to the Internet?’ And I said, ‘Because I want everybody to take advantage of its capability.’ ”
Clearly, Cerf is an optimist. That is what allowed him to dream big. But, in retrospect, some of the decisions his team made seem hopelessly naive, especially for a bunch of geniuses. They made it possible to surf the Internet anonymously — unlike a telephone, you don’t have a unique number that announces who you are. We know how that turned out. People with less lofty ambitions than Cerf used that loophole for cybercrime, international espionage and online harassment.
Cerf admits all that dark stuff never crossed his mind. “And we have to cope with that — I mean, welcome to the real world,” he says. . . .
Somehow [William] Gibson was able to imagine the potential scale of it — all those computers connected together. . . . But, it isn’t just the Internet that Gibson saw coming. In Neuromancer, the Internet has become dominated by huge multinational corporations fighting off hackers. The main character is a washed-up criminal hacker who goes to work for an ex-military officer to regain his glory. And get this: The ex-military guy is deeply involved in cyber-espionage between the U.S. and Russia.
Gibson says he didn’t need to try a computer or see the Internet to imagine this future. “The first people to embrace a technology are the first to lose the ability to see it objectively,” he says. He says he’s more interested in how people behave around new technologies. He likes to tell a story about how TV changed New York City neighborhoods in the 1940s. “Fewer people sat out on the stoops at night and talked to their neighbors, and it was because everyone was inside watching television,” he says. “No one really noticed it at the time as a kind of epochal event, which I think it was” . . . .
Brooker has a certain amount of frustration with the leaders in tech. “It’s felt like tech companies have for years just put this stuff out there,” he says. “And they distance themselves from the effects of their product effectively by saying, ‘Oh, we’re just offering a service.’ ” Brooker sees each new technology more like an untested drug waiting to launch us on a very bad trip. Each episode of Black Mirror is like its own laboratory testing a technology that is already out, but pushing it by mixing in common human behaviors and desires.