Celebrating Lovecraft’s birthday and Ligotti’s un-birthday
It’s still August 20 in my time zone as I type these words, so it’s not too late for me to send out this year’s Lovecraftian birthday acknowledgment into the cyber-ether.
Thus: Happy Birthday, Howard, wherever you are or are not. If it’s the former, if you really are somewhere, then I know you’re eternally astounded at this refutation of your atheism and mechanistic materialism. If you’ve truly survived in some meaningful form, then I’ll hope that maybe, just maybe, you’ll achieve an actual, final fulfillment of the epic sense of sehnsucht that led you to see achingly beautiful, ineffable, and unattainable beauties and joys peering through cloudscapes and sunsets and assemblages of sloping roofs.
As for Tom Ligotti, we can regard this same occasion as his un-birthday, since it was in August of 1970, eighty years after the birth of Lovecraft, that Tom at age 17 experienced a horrifying vision of the universe, and of reality itself, that permanently altered his worldview in a direction that was, although he could not know it at the time, proto-Lovecraftian. He was overcome by a direct experience of the universe as a “meaningless and menacing” place in which “human notions of value and meaning, even sense itself, are utterly fictitious.” (The quotes are from one of his many interviews.) It’s difficult to say whether this represents more of a spiritual death or an artistic birth. Or if it’s both, then it’s difficult to say which carries more existential weight and final significance for the overall inner life the man has led. That’s why I think the designation “un-birthday” feels appropriate, especially given the overweening focus on antinatalism that has emerged as the master theme of Tom’s oeuvre in recent years. (See my essay about his and Lovecraft’s literary-spiritual kinship for more details about their respective work.)
In any event, the net result is that each August we can celebrate — although at Tom’s ultimate expense, I fear, since his subjective life has been a grim one — the birth into the world of two towering masters of cosmic horror fiction whose work exercises a truly transformative influence upon its readers. Lovecraft was emotionally and intellectually focused on the horror of “cosmic outsideness,” of vast outer spaces and the mind-shattering powers and principles that may hold sway there, and that may occasionally impinge upon human reality and reveal its pathetic fragility. Tom is focused more upon the horror of deep insideness, of the dark, twisted, transcendent truths and mysteries that reside within consciousness itself and find their outward expression in scenes and situations of warped perceptions and diseased metaphysics. Paired, they represent opposite poles on the same artistic-philosophical-emotional continuum, with Lovecraft’s outer, transcendent, cosmic focus and Ligotti’s inner, immanent, personal focus finding their mutual confirmation and fulfillment in each other.
The world is richer for having both of them.