Author Archives: Matt Cardin

Interview with me at Sublime Horror about horror, theology, and TO ROUSE LEVIATHAN

Today the website Sublime Horror published an interview with me on the theological ideas that went into To Rouse Leviathan and the connections that I’ve long drawn between horror and religion:

Matt Cardin: ‘What drew me to religion was the same thing that drew me to horror’

The questions from interviewer Laura Kemmerer drew out some fairly personal information, including details about my evangelical upbringing, reminiscences of my young adult years when I transitioned to horror after having been more interested in fantasy and science fiction, and thoughts on the specific texts, authors, and ideas from my years as a graduate student in religious studies that have influenced my writing and thinking about the complementary nature and shared spiritual/philosophical DNA of religion and horror of the specifically weird and cosmic kind.

Autumn Longing: Alan Watts

Alan Watts, sometime in the 1970s

Yesterday, I came across a passage in a book by Alan Watts that reignited an old passion for what I have referred to in the past as “the autumn longing.” In a kind of “deep cut” vein for this blog, longtime readers — by which I mean really longtime readers, those who have been with me for the entire thirteen-year span of The Teeming Brain’s existence — may recall the series of posts I wrote on this topic beginning in 2006, just a few months after the blog’s founding. In the first of these posts, I explained the term “autumn longing” this way:

The autumn season has always carried a special emotional potency for me. When the weather turns crisp and the colors of nature change first to vibrant reds, oranges, and golds, and then progress onward toward deep russet browns, tending toward the death-sleep of winter, I’m struck with feelings of poignancy and melancholy that burn more brightly, or perhaps more darkly, than at any other time of the year. I’m also more exquisitely sensitive to the aesthetic influence of art, whether literary, musical, visual, or otherwise.

It was many years ago that I first realized and articulated to myself that this autumnal mood is inextricably bound up with a certain, strange longing. When the mood of autumn comes over me, it is always characterized by a kind of nostalgia for something I have never really known, as if I possess some vestigial memory of a lost knowledge or emotion that flits maddeningly and elusively on the edge of my ability to recall directly. It’s truly a numinous experience, that is, an experience that makes me feel as I’ve come into brief contact with some sort of transcendent spiritual truth. It tends to generate the impression of an absolute, unmediated experience of supernal beauty hovering just beyond the edge of my inner grasp. All the flickering hints of this beauty that I sometimes encounter in literature, film, music, and scenic natural vistas and skyscapes seem to reach their apotheosis in this ungraspable ultimacy, as if they are merely finite carriers that filter and refract partial glimpses of an infinite reality, like the Platonic Form of the Beautiful itself.

The remainder of that post was devoted to laying out the exquisite articulations of this experience that populate the works, both fiction and nonfiction, of C. S. Lewis, who made this longing the centerpiece of his literary aesthetic and his Christian apologetical writings. He employed the German term sehnsucht to refer to it, and he was in fact largely responsible for bringing this word and its rich set of uses and connotations to the attention of a popular English-reading audience.

Other posts in the series focused on the appearance and invocation of this longing in the writings of Lovecraft, Poe, and Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus. I revisited the idea a few years later with posts about Huston Smith (as compared to Lovecraft) and, again, Lovecraft and Lewis. Beyond the boundaries of The Teeming Brain, I incorporated the Lovecraftian aspects of the autumn longing into my paper “The Master’s Eyes Shining with Secrets,” in which I explored the parallels and departures between the respective literary and philosophical visions of Lovecraft and Ligotti. I also published a two-part essay titled “Lovecraft’s Longing” in the late North Shore arts magazine Art Throb, and I wrote a blog post titled “Fantasy, Horror, and Infinite Longing” for SF Signal. In the latter, I discussed the subject in relation not only to Lewis and Lovecraft but to Stephen King and Colin Wilson.

So this is all to say that the matter was, and still is, of great importance to me, both philosophically and emotionally. This autumn longing, this sehnsucht, this tantalizing, maddening glimpse of some ultimate beauty and fulfillment and joy that lies perpetually beyond the horizon, this distinct scent or flavor of some infinite bliss that seems to reside half in memory and half in imagination, remaining always distinctly real and yet always just beyond my ability fully to grasp or realize — this is, apparently, a permanent part of my, and our, constitution as human beings, a kind of existential haunting that we as homo sapiens are blessed and doomed to know.

Although another span of years has now elapsed since I last wrote about it, the matter is never a non-issue in my life. I felt it more keenly when I was younger, but it’s still a living reality, not just as a matter of personal experience but in my life as a reader of books and literature. I’m still thrilled whenever I stumble across a new, or at least new to me, expression or description of this longing in someone else’s writings, especially since such descriptions often serve to evoke the longing itself.

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Praise from John Langan for TO ROUSE LEVIATHAN

I’ve been a serious admirer of John Langan’s work ever since reading his startlingly excellent debut collection of weird horror fiction, Mr Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters (2008), followed by his equally startlingly excellent first novel, House of Windows (2009). As you probably know, both these and his subsequent books have gone on to establish him as a vital voice in contemporary horror literature. So it was welcome news when Hippocampus Press informed me that he has provided the following statement about To Rouse Leviathan:

In Matt Cardin’s fiction, characters struggle to understand a supernatural that may be opaque to itself. In detailing their efforts, Cardin draws on language and imagery from religious texts, re-purposing and recharging familiar tropes and references. The result is an experience of the darkly numinous. Put these stories on the shelf next to Ligotti, Gavin, and Cisco.

John Langan, author of The Fisherman

Teeming Links – August 9, 2019

Before the links, a brief screed that arose spontaneously from some well in my psyche:

If you’re a writer or another type of creator, never compare your gift to that of others. Your particular gift of vision, subject matter, passion, skill level, style, approach, and the life circumstances in which these all exist and unfold neither gains nor suffers through comparison. Just write or create what you have to write or create, and do it in whatever way you’re inexorably called and driven to do it. Do the necessary inner and outer work of finding out exactly what those things are (your personal subject matter and style). Then make good on them.

(A brief gnostic/cryptic aside on “having to” create: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” – Jesus, Thomas 70)

And while you’re at it, enjoy the hell out of it whenever you see other people doing the same. Their gains aren’t your losses, and vice versa. It’s not a zero-sum game. When you live out your creative calling, you’re part of the rising tide that elevates everybody.

From the Illuminati to Alex Jones, how did conspiracy theories come to dominate American culture? “[S]omething new . . . has transformed the conspiratorial landscape: conspiracism — a mental framework, a belief system, a worldview that leads people to look for conspiracies, to anticipate them, to link them together into a grander overarching conspiracy. Conspiracism has been building for some time, and by now it appears to have emerged as the belief system of the 21st century. “

On the danger of off-loading human memory onto machines: “A new kind of civilisation seems to be emerging, one rich in machine intelligence, with ubiquitous access points for us to join in nimble artificial memory networks. . . . But dependency on a network also means taking on new vulnerabilities. The collapse of any of the webs of relations that our wellbeing depends upon, such as food or energy, would be a calamity. Without food we starve, without energy we huddle in the cold. And it is through widespread loss of memory that civilisations are at risk of falling into a looming dark age.”

Synthetic biology could bring a pox on us all. “There’s no telling when a manufactured disease will become a reality. If that occurs, the culprit might be a lab-trained terrorist or a basement biohacker, a bumbling grad student or a Russian microbiologist on the lam.”

Why Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is more relevant now than ever (paywall): “What happens when our newly created life forms can copy themselves, are immortal, can update their own software and make their own decisions? Will they feel remorse? Will humanity really be worth keeping?”

Beware the panopticon in your pocket. “You’re not using the phone; the phone is using you. The smartphone is a Trojan horse, and you are Pavlov’s dog. The machine studies you with an alien’s eye, serving you with injections of warmth and affection (grandchildren, frolicking dogs) in order to suck out information, assembling a dossier — noting where you have been, what you have said, what you have bought and thought, your very footsteps and heartbeats — reproducing you as a useful commercial or political object, as if in a 3-D printer. . . . It’s not entirely paranoid to assume that, not far down the road, smartphones and electronic appliances may fulfill old science-fiction fantasies by figuring out what we are thinking or even dreaming, and that the thought or dream — unless it is of an approved nature—will be enough to condemn us. Intellectual endoscopy, why not? Privacy of mind, an atavism already under siege, will vanish.”

Also beware the mindfulness conspiracy. “Mindfulness has gone mainstream, with celebrity endorsement from Oprah Winfrey and Goldie Hawn. Meditation coaches, monks and neuroscientists went to Davos to impart the finer points to CEOs attending the World Economic Forum. The founders of the mindfulness movement have grown evangelical. . . . [But n]eoliberal mindfulness promotes an individualistic vision of human flourishing, enticing us to accept things as they are, mindfully enduring the ravages of capitalism.”

Then there’s the more general subject of meditation. Everybody’s heard about how meditation is supposed to help. What everybody’s forgetting is that meditation can topple you over the edge into a hell of psychosis and/or a dark night of the soul: “I started having thoughts like, ‘Let me take over you,’ combined with confusion and tons of terror. I had a vision of death with a scythe and a hood, and the thought ‘Kill yourself’ over and over again.”

A question raised by recent startling reports from mainstream outlets such as Politico and The Washington Post: What the hell is going on with UFOs and the Department of Defense? “Someone or something appears to have some extremely advanced technology and the Pentagon is actively changing the nature of the conversation about it.”

The Navy says UFOs are real. UFO hunters are thrilled. “So why is no one freaking out about these revelations making front page news? As UFO author Chris Rutkowski once explained, perhaps it is because we have become acclimatized to seeing UFOs invading Earth in books and on screen. Whether you are of the Spielberg generation, watching a candy eating E.T., or a millennial who grew up watching The Avengers fight off hordes of evil intergalactic aliens, we are used to seeing this archetypal other in our media. UFOs, as a result, have become much less frightening and perhaps much more interesting. Have we negotiated UFOs into our cultural framework and identity?”

Alien Abductions, Flying Saints, and Parapsychology: Grappling with the “Super Natural” (paywall). An article (not free, alas) in the academic journal Religious Studies Review on Jeffrey Kripal and Whitley Strieber’s The Super Natural, Michael Grosso’s The Man Who Could Fly: St. Joseph of Copertino and the Mystery of Levitation, and my Ghosts, Spirits, and Psychics: The Paranormal from Alchemy to Zombies. “[These three works] raise questions about exactly which questions scholars studying the paranormal ought to be asking. . . . Ultimately, Kripal, Strieber, Grosso, and Cardin dare us to take their work and the ‘super natural’ seriously.”

Exorcism goes mainstream: Combined Churches assemble in Rome to learn “best practice” eviction of demons: “The Roman Catholic Church has for the first time opened up its annual exorcism class in Rome to representatives of all major Christian faiths. . . . [T]he doors of the 14th Exorcism and Prayer of Liberation Course have been thrown open to groups once considered heretical and demon-infested only a few short centuries ago. Now some 250 Catholics, Lutherans, Greek Orthodox and Protestant priests have assembled to arm themselves with the sword of the holy word to battle Satan amid the souls of their parishoners.”

On forgetting how to read in the Internet age: “For a long time, I convinced myself that a childhood spent immersed in old-fashioned books would insulate me somehow from our new media climate – that I could keep on reading and writing in the old way because my mind was formed in pre-internet days. But the mind is plastic — and I have changed. I’m not the reader I was.”

To study the humanities is to study the meaning of life. “I tell my students, ‘Look, we’re here to discuss the meaning of life.’ The meaning of life is that I’m alive for the time being. I’m in a world which is making contradictory demands upon me. What do I do?”

Missives from another world: Literature of parallel universes. “Alternate history functions to do what the best of literature more generally does — provide a wormhole to a different reality. . . . We are haunted by our other lives, ghosts of misfortune averted, spirits of opportunities rejected, so that fiction is not simply the experience of another [person’s thoughts and viewpoint], but a deep human connection with those differing versions on the paths of our forked parallel lives.”

YOU ARE NOT ALONE: A Conversation with Christopher Ropes on Stigmas, Writing, and Mental Illness. “Writing is not easy for me to begin with because I dredge up all my own demons in my stories. When you have mental health issues, you have some pretty terrifying demons to encounter. I think we all face down those demons to some extent in our writing, even those writers who are writing more to entertain than to create an abiding sense of terror or awe. Human life is a process of coming to terms with those things that frighten and hurt us. I just go through that process in a very raw way that can sometimes actually damage me more in the process. . . . Possibly the best reason for creating art for mentally ill creators is that some other mentally ill person can look at, listen to, read, watch that art and say, ‘Someone out there sees me, hears me. I am not alone.’ Never underestimate that power.”

Speaking of books, reading, writing, and horror fiction, now see this: Mannequin: Tales of Wood Made Flesh, “an anthology celebrating the uncanny realm of the living inanimate. Featuring tales of dolls, mannequins, statues, and other varieties of humanoid horror, Mannequin explores the intersection between artificiality and life through a stunning variety of writers both established and new.” Featuring stories by Ramsey Campbell, Michael Wehunt, Christine Morgan, Richard Gavin, Kristine Ong Muslim, Nicholas Day, Austin James, William Tea, Duane Pesice, S. L. Edwards, Matthew M. Bartlett, S. E. Casey, Justin A. Burnett, Daulton Dickey, C. P. Dunphey, and Jon Padgett. Introduction by Christopher Slatsky.

Praise from Richard Gavin for TO ROUSE LEVIATHAN

To Rouse Leviathan appears to have aroused a lot of interest among horror readers, judging from the response on social media and elsewhere. Richard Gavin, one of the contemporary masters of weird and occult/esoteric horror, says the following:

Matt Cardin is one of the most vital figures in 21st-century Horror. Whether he is penning visionary tales of metaphysical terrors or dissecting the genre to find the underlying philosophical pulse that gives the monster life, his work never fails to astonish me. To Rouse Leviathan is a landmark volume, one that I can turn to again and again with increasing appreciation.

Richard Gavin, author of Sylvan Dread

Praise from Jon Padgett for TO ROUSE LEVIATHAN

Jon Padgett is the author of The Secret of Ventriloquism, The Infusorium, and other books and stories that you really ought to be reading if you want to keep up with some of the very best of what’s happening on the cutting edge of contemporary weird and supernatural horror fiction. He says the following about my To Rouse Leviathan, which has just now begun to ship (with its original publication date of August 20 now changed to August 1):

In 1996, a remarkable omnibus was published by Caroll & Graf: The Nightmare Factory, by horror author Thomas Ligotti. It contained three volumes of Ligotti’s work to date plus an additional volume featuring revelatory, new stories that had never been collected. The book, long out of print, remains a gem of horror fiction that few others can rival.

Now, in the late Summer of 2019, at least one omnibus is worthy to sit on the shelf next to Ligotti’s tome: To Rouse Leviathan, by another remarkable, singular author, Matt Cardin. As with The Nightmare Factory, Cardin’s book presents material both old and new, all of which impresses with the author’s world-class intellect, creativity, and prose craftsmanship. And this is no mere sampling of Cardin’s formidable skills and talent. This is a multi-course feast, a table brimming over with sumptuous, dark masterpieces of theologically infused cosmic horror, psychological terror, and bizarre, intimate character studies and confessions. As with Ligotti’s legendary omnibus, To Rouse Leviathan is a book to experience, to study, to marvel at, and — in those exquisite, uneasy moments in which we keenly feel we are part of Cardin’s terrifying fictional world — to live in.

— Jon Padgett

My spiritual autobiography: A video interview

In 2017 I published an enthusiastic review of Jerry L. Martin’s God: An Autobiography here at The Teeming Brain, and also at Amazon. The book presents Martin’s account of being an atheist who was hit with an unexpected experience of what presented itself as divine communication. Over the course of about a year, he found himself involved in an ongoing dialogue with God (plus a couple of additional spiritual beings at one or two points) in which the nature of God, humans, life, death, and the universe itself were given decidedly unconventional expression. As I said in my review, these things are given added weight by the fact that Martin is no flaky peddler of New Age hype but a real philosopher whose resume gives him serious intellectual credibility. The first paragraph of his biographical entry at Wikipedia serves as handy evidence of this:

Jerry L. Martin is the author of God: An Autobiography, As Told to a Philosopher (godanautobiography.com), coordinator of the Theology Without Walls project at the American Academy of Religion and a contributor to The Good Men Project. From 1988 to 1995, Martin held senior positions at the National Endowment for the Humanities, including acting chairman. From 1967 until 1982, Martin was a tenured professor and chairman of the philosophy department at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he also served as the Director of the University’s Center for the Study of Values and Social Policy. He has testified before Congress and appeared on radio and television. Martin is chairman emeritus of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. He served as president of ACTA from its founding in 1995 as the National Alumni Forum until 2003, when he was succeeded by Anne D. Neal.

A few months after I wrote my review, Jerry — whom I knew on a first-name basis from having interacted with him online — interviewed me via Skype for one installment in a series of videos that he was putting together to dovetail with the themes in God: An Autobiography. The videos were to present conversations between him and some of the thinkers with whom he had come into contact via the book.

These are now being released. My own interview was published just yesterday. In it, I talk about my religious upbringing in a conservative evangelical church. I recall my early love for fantasy and horror fiction and film, with horror coming to take center stage in my late teens. I describe my sleep paralysis and nocturnal assault experiences and their formative role in darkening my philosophical worldview and emotional outlook and thus catalyzing my birth as a horror writer. I mull over the question of whether darkness or light is more fundamental as the spiritual or metaphysical ground of being. I describe my fascination with the subject of the muse, the daimon, the genius, and experiences of both divine communication and demonic possession. And I relate these things to the subject matter of God: An Autobiography. Along the way, I also recount how I first came into contact with Jerry Martin when the online excerpts from the God book that he shared prior to its publication came to my attention as I was conducting some of my perpetual research into inspired creativity and the experience of anomalous communication from a seemingly spiritual source.

Two necessary notes: First, an apology for the lousy sound quality in the video’s first few minutes. I can’t imagine why I wasn’t using earbuds or headphones. Second, when Jerry asked me at the end of the conversation to suggest a starting place for those who are interested in reading my books, I didn’t name To Rouse Leviathan because it was still in a questionable hyperspace at that time. Presently it’s set for publication next month. If the conversation were recorded today, that’s what I’d name.

Advance praise from Thomas Ligotti for TO ROUSE LEVIATHAN

Thomas Ligotti has this to say about my forthcoming book:

To Rouse Leviathan is one of those rare books that produces in a reader the most important reaction one can have to a work of, let us say, the literature of abomination. This reaction takes the form of a question: “From where could this marvel have come?” Quite aside from revealing an admiration for the author’s adept handling of spectral atrocities in such a work, the reader’s inquiry is more significant as testimony to an astonishment at the raw fact of its emergence.

The origin of this singular astonishment deserves further explication. While excelling in the domain of high imagination and literary achievement (when Matt Cardin sets his sights on conveying an idea or effect incongruous with equanimity, he invariably takes it as far as it can be artistically taken), To Rouse Leviathan contains an added element necessary to the provocation of the foregoing question. Pervaded by the aura of a domain at once monstrous and not of this world, the book is conspicuous as a worthy descendant of a distinguished line of supernatural horror. As such, it is successful in its aim — which is endemic to efforts, capable or not, in the genre of relevance here — to create a breviary of gruesome mysteries, the qualifier “gruesome” in this case being apt only because everything in the visible world warrants an inauspicious characterization of the invisible. It is, in fact, mysteries of this kind that compose the added element, the necessary constituent, that causes the interrogatory outburst, “From where could this marvel have come?” Furthermore, each one of Matt Cardin’s stories carries the message that there is an “elsewhere” that, by its nature, to quote a scholar of this realm, is both appalling and alluring. That the so-called reality we bump into on a daily basis should be seen as pure misconception is a fundamental assumption of Matt Cardin’s vision.

Without question, Cardin is no dilettante in the conception and expression of that which we would not know and yet, if our lives are to partake of mysteries that alone can give them meaning, we crave to know. To offer some satisfaction for this awful and wondrous craving is the gift of this book.

Thomas Ligotti

To Rouse Leviathan will be published next month by Hippocampus Press.

TO ROUSE LEVIATHAN now available for preorder

Preorder from Amazon or Hippocampus Press

To Rouse Leviathan is now officially scheduled for publication in August. More specifically, the listed date is August 20, which just happens to be Lovecraft’s birthday. I don’t know if Hippocampus Press planned that, but I certainly took note of it myself.

Here’s the official publisher’s description:

Since the early years of the twenty-first century, Matt Cardin has distinguished himself by writing weird fiction with a distinctively cosmic and spiritual focus, publishing two short story collections that have now become rare collector’s items. In this substantial volume, Cardin gathers the totality of his short fiction, including the complete fiction contents of Divinations of the Deep (2002) and Dark Awakenings (2010). Several of the tales have been substantially revised from their original appearances.

Inspired by H. P. Lovecraft, Thomas Ligotti, and other masters of cosmic horror, Cardin’s fiction explores the shadowy side of religious and spiritual experience. His tales draw upon the author’s thorough knowledge of Judeo-Christian and other religious traditions to expose the existential terror we all feel in living in a cosmos that may be actively hostile to our species. In tales long and short (including a new novella co-written with Mark McLaughlin), Cardin rings a succession of changes on those fateful words from the Book of Job: “Let those sorcerers who place a curse on days curse that day, those who are skilled to rouse Leviathan.”

Aside from his short story collections, Matt Cardin is the editor of Born to Fear: Interviews with Thomas Ligotti (2014) and Horror Literature through History (2017). He is also co-editor of the journal Vastarien.

Here’s the table of contents:

PART ONE: Divinations of the Deep
Preface: Divining the Darkness
An Abhorrence to All Flesh
Notes of a Mad Copyist
The Basement Theater
If It Had Eyes
Judas of the Infinite

PART TWO: Dark Awakenings
Teeth
The Stars Shine without Me
Desert Places
Blackbrain Dwarf
Nightmares, Imported and Domestic, with Mark McLaughlin
The Devil and One Lump
The God of Foulness

PART THREE: Apocryphon
Chimeras & Grotesqueries: An Unfinished Fragment of Daemonic Derangement
Prometheus Possessed
The New Pauline Corpus
A Cherished Place at the Center of His Plans, with Mark McLaughlin

From me and my daemon muse to you, thanks for waiting, everybody. This one has been a long time coming.

Cover art for TO ROUSE LEVIATHAN

This week Hippocampus Press revealed the cover for my forthcoming To Rouse Leviathan. The striking wraparound artwork is by Michael Hutter. The overall design is by Dan Sauer. The book is scheduled for publication later this year. I’ll share a specific date soon, along with preorder information when it becomes available. For now, the full table of contents is still available at my author site.