Category Archives: Arts & Entertainment
With my long-running investigations into the experience of inspired creativity in the mode of the muse, the daimon/daemon, and the genius, I was interested to see this theme getting a big shout-out in the mainstream press in connection with the publication of Tori Amos’s new memoir, Resistance: A Songwriter’s Story of Hope, Change, and Courage.
Here’s Brian Gresko in Literary Hub:
Throughout Resistance runs the idea that the artist exists to serve; not just her audience, but the creative force that speaks through her, The Muses. “There are some people who think that they write their songs, and you know what, maybe they do,” Amos says. “But I don’t. I co-create.”
The Muses gift her with bits and pieces of a song—“usually only eight bars at a time”—and she works with that to develop the whole. Her writing process, as she describes it in the book, involves travel and research, word maps and free association, and most of all, listening, paying close heed to people oppressed, and critical attention to those in power. This too grew out of her time in the piano bar, when she witnessed senators sharing drinks and handshakes with lobbyists, Big Oil, and corporations.
“The Muses are quite something,” she tells me. “They’ve been with me since I was a tiny little girl, and they are real. Even my husband, who is a cynic, and an agonistic [sic; I think the writer means agnostic]—he doesn’t believe in things unless they make sense—has seen it happen. I’ll be ready to record a song that’s written and all of a sudden something I’ve never heard before comes out. For example, “Marianne,” on the album Boys for Pele, was written as you hear it on the record. And I feel I’ve never really learned how to play it properly, because when a song just downloads like that, I’m left thinking, ‘What in the world was that?’”
Under The Muses’s influence, Amos develops a Song Being, a musical form with its own soul and essence. The relationship she forges with that Being is personal and intense. Handing them off to the label, at the end of the recording process, is tough for her, and she marks it with a glass of champagne or, “when I really need it,” tequila, and a few hours alone in the studio.
“It’s not a private conversation once they leave the control room.” The Muses, she says, have made clear to her: she doesn’t own the songs or control what they mean. “What somebody thinks of a song is just as valid as what I think of it. You have to accept that, I think, as an artist.”More: “Tori Amos Is Always Listening to the Muses“
And here’s Amanda Petrusich interviewing Amos in The New Yorker:
The book is, in many ways, also a treatise on the nature of creation—on how to remain open enough to the world that you can document something true about it.
It’s about taking in, and it’s about trusting that the muses will come when they come. They don’t always come on your schedule.
Did the muses operate differently for you with the book, versus the writing of a new album?
They began to operate in a similar way. My work—on songs, as well as the book—is very much based in research. Sometimes the muses would be pushing me to research World War I, and I’d be asking them, Why? Sometimes I don’t know where they’re taking me. . . .
When I was really little, these muses would just come. It always feels bigger than me as a person. I step into my art form, and I serve. You really have to do that. The muses know if you don’t.
When you say the word “serve,” I think of religion, or the idea of serving God. It’s obviously different, what you’re describing, but it still seems to involve humbling yourself before something bigger than you. It also makes me think of your father, who was a pastor.
Yes, but maybe it’s more of an aboriginal or a native perspective. If you’re serving Mother Earth, there’s interconnectivity. You have to get yourself out of the way. Let the muses take over. . . .
You do have to be ready when they show up, and that’s not an easy task. I think it sounds easier than it is. Other artists have talked about it—the idea of pulling aside on the freeway. I know that I’ve had to just stop conversations, because I’m not going to get it if I don’t quickly write it down, or record it. People who know you get that that’s kind of how it is, but people that don’t know you can think it’s kind of dramatic. But I find that if I don’t write it down, then I just can’t remember it, not in the form that it’s being given.More: “Tori Amos Believes the Muses Can Help“
For those who find such thoughts and insights to be interesting — or maybe even, like me, fiercely gripping — be advised that they pair ever so nicely with Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk on the genius, Steven Pressfield’s insights into the muses (and their battle with Resistance) in The War of Art, Victoria Nelson’s sage advice on learning to work harmoniously with your unconscious writer’s mind in On Writer’s Block, Dorothea Brande’s sage advice on the very same thing in Becoming a Writer, Ray Bradbury’s “How to Keep and Feed a Muse” in Zen in the Art of Writing, and my own A Course in Demonic Creativity (which is the only one of these titles that you’re likely to find for free outside of a lending library).
Photo by Indolent Dandy / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)
From an interview with Franzen by Jianan Qian in The Millions:
TM: You also mentioned on a number of occasions that literature saved you. Could you elaborate on the notion of literary salvation?
JF: What would I have meant by that? I don’t think it literally saved my life.
TM: I suppose it’s not that we take refuge in the beauty of literature?
JF: Not so much. The moment I come back to is when I was 21 and went home to St. Louis. I hadn’t spent a holiday with my family for two years, and suddenly the literature I’d been reading at college made sense. It wasn’t just something you studied at school. It was a way to understand what was happening in real life. I could suddenly see the levels of meaning in a simple sentence that my mother uttered. I’d been listening to her all my life, but now I could construct a story about where the words were coming from. I could read the coded messages, and I’d been given that key by reading literature. Did it “save” me? No, but it gave me a way forward. Part of it was trying to be a writer myself, because I was grateful to the authors who’d given me the key and I wanted to give something back. But it was also a way of being in the world—of being attentive to the hidden levels, of not being so quick to judge other people. Maybe that’s what I meant by being saved.
Apparently, working from home during the current disruption and suspension of all normal activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic is leaving me too much time and mental space for reflection. Please pardon me while I ill-advisedly correlate some contents and piece together some dissociated knowledge.
Bernardo Kastrup in Scientific American:
[A]s Kuhn pointed out, when enough “anomalies”—empirically undeniable observations that cannot be accommodated by the reigning belief system — accumulate over time and reach critical mass, paradigms change. We may be close to one such a defining moment today, as an increasing body of evidence from quantum mechanics (QM) renders the current paradigm [which holds that nature consists of arrangements of matter/energy outside and independent of mind] untenable. . . .
To reconcile [recent experimental] results with the current paradigm would require a profoundly counterintuitive redefinition of what we call “objectivity.” And since contemporary culture has come to associate objectivity with reality itself, the science press felt compelled to report on this by pronouncing, “Quantum physics says goodbye to reality.”
The tension between the anomalies and the current paradigm can only be tolerated by ignoring the anomalies. This has been possible so far because the anomalies are only observed in laboratories. Yet we know that they are there, for their existence has been confirmed beyond reasonable doubt. Therefore, when we believe that we see objects and events outside and independent of mind, we are wrong in at least some essential sense. A new paradigm is needed to accommodate and make sense of the anomalies; one wherein mind itself is understood to be the essence — cognitively but also physically — of what we perceive when we look at the world around ourselves.More: “Should Quantum Anomalies Make Us Rethink Reality?“
H. P. Lovecraft in “The Dreams in the Witch House”:
Possibly Gilman ought not to have studied so hard. Non-Euclidean calculus and quantum physics are enough to stretch any brain; and when one mixes them with folklore, and tries to trace a strange background of multi-dimensional reality behind the ghoulish hints of the Gothic tales and the wild whispers of the chimney-corner, one can hardly expect to be wholly free from mental tension.More: “The Dreams in the Witch House“
Lovecraft in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath:
There were, in such voyages, incalculable local dangers; as well as that shocking final peril which gibbers unmentionably outside the ordered universe, where no dreams reach; that last amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the centre of all infinity — the boundless daemon-sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud, and who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond time amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin, monotonous whine of accursed flutes; to which detestable pounding and piping dance slowly, awkwardly, and absurdly the gigantic ultimate gods, the blind, voiceless, tenebrous, mindless Other Gods whose soul and messenger is the crawling chaos Nyarlathotep.More: The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath
Me in “Teeth”:
On the subatomic level, I read, particles flash into and out of existence for no discernible reason, and the behavior of any single particle is apparently arbitrary and usually unpredictable. If there is a cause or “purpose” behind this behavior, then it is one that the human mind is, to all appearances, structurally prevented from comprehending. In other words, for all we know, the fundamental ruling principles at the most basic level of physical reality may well be what our minds and languages must necessarily label as “chaos” and “madness” . . . .
[W]hat is happening is in fact a profound and far-reaching reordering of reality itself — societal, cultural, personal, and even physical. In essence, the prophecies of Lovecraft and Nietzsche are coming true right before our eyes, with effects that are not only personal and cultural but ontological. Our excess of vast scientific knowledge and technological prowess has proceeded in lockstep with a collective descent into species-level insanity. You only have to watch two minutes of television, glance at a headline, or eavesdrop on a random conversation to learn of it. Ignorance and idiocy. Riots and revolutions. These and a thousand other signposts like them are only the most pointed and obvious manifestations of the all-pervasive malaise that has come to define us. And since, as Sankara observed, we are nothing but particularized manifestations of the Ground of Being itself, we are not only witnesses to this breakdown but participants in it, enablers of the transformation of the world into a vale of horror through the metaphysical potency of our very witnessing. God looks our through each of our eyes, an abyss of insatiable hunger and infinite teeth, and the dark light of His consciousness makes each of a lamp that illuminates a new and terrible truth.More: To Rouse Leviathan
I was saddened yesterday to learn of the death of Joe Pulver. Mike Davis, publisher of Lovecraft eZine, tweeted a link to a deeply moving Facebook update from Katrin Pulver, Joe’s wife, in which she had shared the news. Word of his passing has now circulated throughout the fairly close-knit community of horror readers, writers, and publishers. Joe was a singular presence in that community, and especially in the Lovecraftian end of it, where he earned a lasting name for himself as both an author and an editor with a distinct passion for Lovecraftian horror, the weird fiction of Robert W. Chambers, and the work of Thomas Ligotti.
I never met him in person, but we did know each other online, and I did write the introduction to his 2012 fiction collection Portraits of Ruin. And in my infrequent contact with him, he always seemed like the gentlest of souls. Many other people have been sharing similar thoughts and impressions over the past 24 hours.
In retrospect, that intro for Portraits of Ruin feels kind of like my own personal tribute to Joe’s idiosyncratic authorial genius. With the permission of both him and Hippocampus Press, I published the full text of it here some years ago. Now seems like a good time to go back and revisit it.
I began the intro by saying this:
Plato once wrote, “But if a man comes to the door of poetry untouched by the madness of the Muses, believing that technique alone will make him a good poet, he and his sane companions never reach perfection, but are utterly eclipsed by the performances of the inspired madman.” This is a sentence rich with, and in fact threaded and structured along, a succession of deeply striking and evocative phrases and images: “the door of poetry . . . the madness of the Muses . . . sane companions . . . utterly eclipsed . . . the inspired madman.” They’re like a collage of implied spiritual-artistic meaning, a chant whose very intonation is at least as important as, and probably more than, its conceptual content. In other words, they gesture toward something, some transcendent reality they can’t quite articulate. Or at least that’s the way I like to take them, regardless of dear old Plato’s intentions.
And this, I think — both my fixation on this quote, which is talismanic for me, and my preferred way of reading it — is one of the main reasons why I find Joe Pulver’s Portraits of Ruin to be so deeply disquieting. Reading it, I begin to wonder, inadvertently, inexorably, about the name and nature of the particular door that he may have passed through in the pursuit of his art. I wonder about the identity of the particular Muse — dark, wild, daimonic — that may have maddened him. And wondering these things, I’m driven to doubt whether we, his sane companions, can ever really comprehend him, and I suspect that we must instead resign ourselves to having our understanding utterly eclipsed by the performances of this inspired madman.
And I ended it by saying this:
The final word can go to Joe himself. Back when he and I were communicating about the possibility of my writing this introduction, he told me, “I never know what to make of my stuff.”
This, above all, is what you might want to bear in mind as you turn the page and proceed to immerse yourself in what follows. The author himself does not know what to make of these writings. Neither do I. Nor, I daresay, will you. But the very attempt to do so, to “make something” of them — an interpretive activity that the work itself incites because of its native grippingness and stylistic brilliance (that surrealist’s flood of unconscious inspiration is channeled, mind you, through a finely honed and tuned set of conscious literary skills, just like [John] Cage’s pianistic training) — this very attempt at finding some sort of meaning is, in the end, the point. Because the meaning is really and truly there. You can sense it in every line and phrase, grinning darkly at you through the interstices of the words and images. It just happens to be a meaning that you can only “understand” by allowing it to speak to your own deep self, to your — dare I say it? — daimonic Muse.
So don’t ask what Joe is doing; that approach only closes it off. Instead, rely on the coherence of your deep self to understand the coherence of his. In learning to do this, to resonate with this book of impossible imaginings presented in improbable forms, you may well find that you’re being altered and enlightened in ways that are truly transformative.
After all, only an inspired madman can understand an inspired madman.“Horror, the Muse, and Inspired Madmen: My Full Introduction to Joe Pulver’s Portraits of Ruin“
Between that intro and conclusion, I recounted and reflected on my unfolding experience of realizing that Joe’s book, which (like all of his work) is rich with bizarre and surreal imagery, language, and narrative contortions and disruptions, had basically taught me how to read itself. Engaging with those seemingly impenetrable stories in an attempt to figure out how best to introduce them to other readers generated a kind of readerly epiphany about the necessity of sometimes setting aside my rational, linear sense of comprehension, and simply surrendering to the midnight flow. I can’t imagine a more instructive or rewarding literary experience.
That’s how I’ll remember Joe. As a gentle soul and a valued colleague whose “inspired madman” literary voice and vision expanded my private horizon as a reader. I treasure that. And I remain grateful to him.
At last night’s 2019 Bram Stoker Award ceremony, which was presented in a rather nifty video format, David Tibet accepted Thomas Ligotti’s Lifetime Achievement Award. See for yourself, beginning at 13:40:
You can read the text of Tom’s acceptance speech online, but seeing/hearing Tibet deliver it is so much more fulfilling. The whole thing, both the HWA’s giving of the award and Tibet’s acceptance of it in Tom’s stead, feels like the fulfillment of some dark celestial alignment that has been some thirty-plus years in the making.
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:
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.
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
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
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