Category Archives: Arts & Entertainment

Our Craving for Apocalypse: ‘Dispatches from the Ruins’ (short video)

This brief video essay on the source of our collective craving for “the awful futures of apocalyptic fiction” is really well done. Skillfully executed and thought-provoking. A worthwhile investment of five reflective minutes. Here’s the description:

In the first two decades of the new millennium, stories of the post-apocalypse have permeated pop culture, from books such as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006), Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl (2009) and Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven (2014) to films and TV programmes such as The Walking Dead (2010-), the Hunger Games series (2012-15) and Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). While post-apocalyptic fictions of previous eras largely served as cautionary tales — against nuclear brinksmanship in On the Beach (1959) or weaponised biology in The Stand (1978) — today’s versions of these tales depict less alterable, more oblique and diffuse visions of our doom. So why can’t we seem to get enough of humanity’s unavoidable collapse and its bleak aftermath?

Dispatches from the Ruins reflects on what these stories — set among crumbling buildings, overgrown lots and barren wastelands — might be telling us about modern fears and fantasies. This Aeon original video is adapted from an Aeon essay by the US writer Frank Bures. Bures is also the author of The Geography of Madness (2016), a book about cultural syndromes across the world. His work has been included in the Best American Travel Writing and appeared in Harper’s, Lapham’s Quarterly and the Washington Post Magazine, among others.

 

Doc Severinsen Performs “In the Court of the Crimson King”

For eight minutes of pure, unadulterated awesome, here’s Doc Severinsen, from his 1970 LP Doc Severinsen’s Closet, performing King Crimson’s “In the Court of the Crimson King.” No, this is not a hallucination, although it may represent some kind of ripple in the Matrix. Many thanks to Richard Metzger at Dangerous Minds for unearthing this, and to Joe Pulver for calling attention to it at Facebook. Metzger accurately conveys the feel of Severinsen’s cover when he describes it as “moving from an almost Morricone-like spaghetti western-sounding beginning” to an “(inspired) James Bond-ish bit (and back again).”

Personally, I have a soft spot for Severinsen not just because he’s a musical genius, and not just because I grew up during the era when he and his band were the house musical act on The Tonight Show during Johnny Carson’s tenure, but because in my former career as a video and media professional I was on the camera crew at The Grand Palace in Branson, Missouri, when Doc and the band came through town for a performance. (What? Doc Severinsen playing in Branson? No, really, there’s even newspaper evidence.) It was fully as cool as one would have hoped, and I even had a chance to chat with the band backstage. There was no “Crimson King” in their set, though. Which is probably for the best, since I strongly suspect this song would have melted the minds of that mostly Southern and Midwestern audience who had come to Branson mainly for country music and a big dose of manufactured nostalgia.

 

 

‘Videodrome’ and Marshall McLuhan: The New Flesh meets the New Media

Here’s the ever-reliable Nick Ripatrazone discussing the inspirational influence of Marshall McLuhan on David Cronenberg as the latter was conceiving and making 1983’s Videodrome, which Ripatrazone characterizes — correctly, I think — as “perfect viewing for 2017 — the year a man baptized by television becomes president.” The article also provides an able introduction to McLuhan’s legacy, reputation, and influence.

In his audio commentary for the film, Cronenberg admits that the professor [Brian O’Blivion, who runs the sinister Videodrome broadcast and its attendant “mission” for homeless people, the Cathode Ray Mission] was inspired by the “communications guru” Marshall McLuhan. McLuhan taught at the University of Toronto while Cronenberg attended, but to his “everlasting regret,” he never took a course with the media icon. Cronenberg said that McLuhan’s “influence was felt everywhere at the university” — a mystical-tinged description that McLuhan would have appreciated. . . .

McLuhan was a scholar of James Joyce, a purveyor of print. He documented the advent of the electric eye, but he didn’t desire it. Although he had “nothing but distaste for the process of change,” he said you had to “keep cool during our descent into the maelstrom.” Max can’t keep cool. He is infected by Videodrome; the show’s reality subverts its unreal medium. Max discovers that Professor O’Blivion helped create Videodrome because “he saw it as the next phase in the evolution of man as a technological animal.” Sustained viewing of Videodrome creates tumors and hallucinations. Max is being played by the remaining originators of Videodrome, whose philosophy sounds downright familiar: “North America’s getting soft, and the rest of the world is getting tough. We’re entering savage new times, and we’re going to have to be pure and direct and strong if we’re going to survive them.” Videodrome is a way to identify the derelicts by giving them what they most crave — real violence — and then incapacitate them into submission.

McLuhan’s idea that “mental breakdown is the very common result of uprooting and inundation with new information,” and his simultaneous interest in, and skepticism of, the “electric eye” finds a gory literalism in Cronenberg’s film. Videodrome is what happens when a self-described existentialist atheist channels McLuhan — but makes McLuhan’s Catholic-infused media analysis more secular and raw. Cronenberg was able to foretell our electronic evolution, the quasi-Eucharistic way we “taste and see” the Internet. The film’s gore and gush might now strike us as campy, but Videodrome shows what happens when mind and device become one. “Death is not the end,” one character says, but “the beginning of the new flesh.” We’re already there.

FULL TEXT: The Video Word Made Flesh: ‘Videodrome’ and Marshall McLuhan

WE SLEEP – John Carpenter’s ‘They Live’ as Prophecy (video essay)

Love this video essay from filmmaker (and former Buddhist Studies scholar) Daniel Clarkson Fisher. Perhaps you will, too. It’s great stuff, excellently conceived and executed. Perhaps I don’t agree with absolutely all of the political statements made in it. But I agree with enough of them. And anyway, it’s about Carpenter’s They Live. So what else matters?

From the included interviews:

Slavov Zizek: They Live from 1988 is definitely one of the forgotten masterpieces of the Hollywood Left. It tells the story of John Nada — nada, of course, in Spanish, means “nothing,” a pure subject deprived of all substantial content — a homeless worker in L.A. who, drifting around, one day enters an abandoned church and finds there a strange box full of sunglasses. And when he puts one of them on, walking along the L.A. streets, he discovers something weird: that these glasses function like “critique of ideology” glasses. They allow you to see the real message beneath all the propaganda, publicity glitz, posters, and so on.

John Carpenter: I was reflecting on a lot of the values that I saw around me at the time, mainly inspired by Ronald Reagan’s conservative revolution. There was a great deal of obsession with greed and making a lot of money, and some of the values that I grew up with had been pushed aside. So I decided to scream out in the middle of the night and make a statement about that. And They Live is partially a political statement. It’s partially a tract on the world that we live in today. And as a matter of fact, right now it’s even more true than it was then.

My introduction to Jon Padgett’s ‘The Secret of Ventriloquism’

As I have mentioned in the past, my good friend Jon Padgett’s debut horror fiction collection The Secret of Ventriloquism, featuring an introduction by me, is a very special piece of work. It has been gratifying to see how events in the several months since I last talked about it have borne this out. Rue Morgue Magazine selected it as the Best Fiction Book of 2016. Michael Calia praised it in The Wall Street Journal. It has gained additional reviews and enthusiastic endorsements from the likes of Paul Tremblay, who describes it as “a horror revelation,” and Weird Fiction Review, where reviewer Adams Mills asserts that it is “a collection that begs to be read as a whole, and then also to be revisited past the first reading.”

If this whets your appetite, be advised that right now, for a limited time, the Kindle edition can be downloaded for free. (After reading it, I think you might also find that you want to buy a physical copy.) [UPDATE 3/26/17: Alas, this offer has now expired.]

To whet your appetite even further, here’s the complete text of my introduction.

* * *

Introduction to

The Secret of Ventriloquism by Jon Padgett

S. T. Joshi has famously argued that the truly great authors of weird fiction have been great precisely because they use their stories as a vehicle for expressing a coherent worldview. I would here like to advance an alternative thesis. I would like to assert that one of the characteristics of great weird fiction, and most especially weird horror—not the sole characteristic, of course, since weird horror is a multifaceted jewel, but a characteristic that is crucial and irreducible in those works of the weird that lodge in the reader’s mind with unforgettable force and intensity—is a vivid and distinct authorial voice.

Can you imagine Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” without the sonorous narrative voice that speaks from the very first page in tones of absolute gloom and abject dread? Can you imagine Lovecraft’s “The Music of Erich Zann” minus its voice of detached, dreamlike trepidation tinged with cosmic horror, as generated by the author’s distinctive deployment of diction and artistry of prose style? Or Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House without the striking establishment of voice in the classic opening paragraph (“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream…”), which then develops over the course of the novel into a sustained tone of mingled dread, loneliness, and melancholy? Or what about Ligotti’s “The Last Feast of Harlequin” without its measured tone of fearful discovery foregrounded against an emotional backdrop of desolate inner wintriness, as delivered in the narrative voice of an unnamed social anthropologist investigating a strange clown festival in an American Midwestern town? Each of these stories would be not just diminished but fundamentally altered—neutered, hamstrung, eviscerated—by the removal of its distinctive voice, which, vitally, is not just the narrative voice of the individual story but the voice of the author expressing itself through the environment of that particular work. Read the rest of this entry

Horror encyclopedia: My work is (almost) done

Horror_Literature_through_History_edited_by_Matt_Cardin

This week I finished the primary body of editorial work on Horror Literature through History: An Encyclopedia of the Stories That Speak to Our Deepest Fears. It has been my all-consuming focus on this vast project that has kept The Teeming Brain mostly dormant for most of 2016. I just now counted and saw that I have published a mere twenty-five previous posts this year. Quite honestly, in the past twelve months I have become something of an editor monk, devoting myself single-mindedly to this project during every “extra” (ha ha) hour, and working the equivalent of two (or more) full-time jobs.

This week, I sent the book’s edited contents to the publisher, after having already engaged in much editorial collaborative back-and-forth with my project editor there in recent months. There’s still a lot of work left for me to do, of course, when the galleys are ready, but the bigger part of it — which at several points got so big and complex that I wondered how I would ever complete the danged thing — is now done.

That means I’m now able to share the rundown of the total two-volume behemoth (something I’ll doubtless do again when the book’s publication date grows near in 2017). Here are the basic specs:

The encyclopedia contains more than 400 entries written by seventy contributors (or seventy-one, if you count my direct hand in a couple of them) from seven different countries. It is organized as follows: Read the rest of this entry

Book news: ‘The Secret of Ventriloquism’ by Jon Padgett

Maybe someday I’ll have more time to start tending The Teeming Brain again and stop leaving these gaps of weeks-turning-to-months. That time may still be a while off, however, since I’m currently buried under the equivalent of two and a half full-time jobs, what with the horror encyclopedia project eating up so many so-called “extra” hours each week that I’ve lost count. (It’s currently up to 69 contributors, most of them hailing from the US and UK, but also represented are Canada, Australia, Ireland, Germany, and China.)

At the moment, I wanted to make a point of poking my head above the snow (as in snowed under) to call attention to this, which should be of interest to many readers here.

the_secret_of_ventriloquism_by_jon_padgett

With themes reminiscent of Shirley Jackson, Thomas Ligotti, and Bruno Shulz, but with a strikingly unique vision, Jon Padgett’s The Secret of Ventriloquism heralds the arrival of a significant new literary talent. Padgett’s work explores the mystery of human suffering, the agony of personal existence, and the ghastly means by which someone might achieve salvation from both. A bullied child who seeks vengeance within a bed’s hollow box spring; a lucid dreamer haunted by an impossible house; a dummy that reveals its own anatomy in 20 simple steps; a stuttering librarian who holds the key to a mill town’s unspeakable secrets; a commuter whose worldview is shattered by two words printed on a cardboard sign; an aspiring ventriloquist who spends a little too much time looking at himself in a mirror. And the presence that speaks through them all.

CONTENTS:

  • Introduction by Matt Cardin
  • The Mindfulness of Horror Practice
  • Murmurs of a Voice Foreknown
  • The Indoor Swamp
  • Origami Dreams
  • 20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism
  • Infusorium
  • Organ Void
  • The Secret of Ventriloquism

PRAISE:

“The Secret of Ventriloquism is horror with a capital H. Some of Padgett’s lines raised the hair on my neck.”

– Laird Barron, author of Swift to Chase

“Padgett…proves with his stunning debut collection [to be] a worthy successor to the master [Thomas Ligotti]. There’s no gristle, no bone, no dilly-dallying here: only pure meat whose terrors seamlessly grow into the metaphysical…this volume is jam-packed with the stuff that nightmares are made of.”

– Dejan Ognjanovic, Rue Morgue Magazine

“…a voice that lodges in the reader’s mind with colossal force and intensity, marking…this book as unforgettable.”

– Matt Cardin, from the Introduction

Both a limited-edition hardcover and a bundled hardcover plus softcover plus ebook are currently available for pre-order from the publisher, Dunhams Manor Press.

The Pseudopod site — where you can listen to Jon’s awesome reading of “20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism” — has a good bio to give you a sense of who Jon is and where he’s coming from:

Jon Padgett…is the creator and long time administrator of the Thomas Ligotti Online website, and — as such — has been the first publisher for a number of Ligotti’s prose works over the years, including MY WORK IS NOT YET DONE and CRAMPTON….Padgett is a professional — though lapsed — ventriloquist who lives in New Orleans with his spouse, daughter, two cats, and dog. Padgett is also a professional voice-over artist with over thirty-seven years of theater and twenty years of audio narration experience.

Trust me. This book is something special. You might consider running, not walking, to secure a copy.

‘The Starry Wisdom Library’ becomes an audiobook

The_Starry_Wisdom_Libary_audiobook

Remember The Starry Wisdom Library, that unique Lovecraftian book project helmed by rare books expert Nate Pedersen, released by PS Publishing in 2014, and containing my faux scholarly commentary on the imaginary occult tome titled Daemonolorum, along with a plethora of similar fake commentary on other imaginary occult books by the likes of Ramsey Campbell, Michael Cisco, Gemma Files, Richard Gavin, Simon Strantzas, F. Paul Wilson, and more? Today I received word from Nate that he has just released an audiobook edition.

Here’s a reminder about the contents:

Scholars and book collectors across the country have long pondered the intended fate of the infamous collection of rare occult books left to rot in the Church of Starry Wisdom in Providence, Rhode Island, after the Starry Wisdom cult dispersed to parts unknown in the late 19th century.

The recent shocking discovery of a previously unknown book auction catalogue issued in 1877 offers insight into the myriad mysteries of the cult. Entitled Catalogue of the Occult Library of the Recently Disbanded Church of Starry Wisdom of Providence, Rhode Island, and issued by the notorious Arkham firm Pent & Serenade, the catalogue reveals the long-suspected fact that the church intended to sell its library to finance its removal from Providence. The sale, of course, never materialized, as later events make obvious, but the book auction catalogue informs us of the cult’s original intent and leaves for us an enormously valuable and fascinating piece of ephemera detailing the infamous collection of rare occult books in all of its dark and foreboding glory.

Furthermore, the book auction catalogue is unique among its contemporaries in that the auction firm Pent & Serenade, recognizing the importance of the exceedingly rare volumes in the cult’s possession, commissioned a wide variety of 19th-century scholars to write essays on the histories of the books offered at auction. As such, the catalogue is a uniquely, almost absurdly valuable item for scholars and collectors around the world and is presented here in exacting facsimile by PS Publishing.

On the burning of manuscripts in the digital age

When we talk about burning books or manuscripts, we usually think in terms of a Nazi-like, Fahrenheit 451-ish circumstance of repression and censorship. But there’s a venerable and remarkable tradition of writers burning their own manuscripts, or expressing a desire to burn them, or talking about the value of burning them. Think Kafka (burned most of his life’s work) and Gerard Manley Hopkins (burned his poems before becoming a priest). Think Umberto Eco, who once said that “later in life good poets burn their early poetry, and bad poets publish it.” Think Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, whose first draft was burned either by Robert Louis Stevenson at the urging of his wife Fanny or, according to some versions of the story, by Fanny herself because she thought it either artistically unsuccessful or so horrifying that it would ruin his reputation.

But what becomes of all this in the age of digital manuscripts? In a recent essay, Nick Ripatrazone offers an interesting meditation on the long tradition of manuscript burning — especially by writers themselves, but also at the hands of others — and its enduring value:

I’ve only burned one manuscript — the first draft of my first attempt at a novel. I had kept the printed pages in a cardboard box in the garage, deluded that I might return to them years later and finally discover why agents weren’t interested. Instead the pages sat there and collected sawdust and grass clippings. When my wife and I bought a new house, I decided to get rid of the box. I took the first twenty or so pages to the fire pit in our backyard. That night we roasted hot dogs and their oils dripped on my first chapter.

That was years ago. Now, like so many writers, most of my manuscripts live exclusively on my computer screen. Burnt manuscripts seem outdated. They belong in the days of typewriters. Yet writers are no less wracked with self-doubt, anxiety, and frustration than they were in earlier generations. We might not tear our terrible pages out of the typewriter, but we are still often unhappy with what we create.

The emotions that have led writers to burn manuscripts will never disappear. All that has changed is our medium. When I hate a story that I’ve written, I move it to a folder labeled “Writing” on my desktop. Then I drag it to a subfolder labeled “Old Work,” and let it sit there. Grow digital moss. Become forgotten. Yet that action is like stuffing old sneakers into a closet rather than throwing them in the trash. Part of me hopes that the story will be recycled; that a character or even a sentence will migrate into some later work.

If you burn your only copy of a manuscript, you are making a statement: it’s over. There’s simply not as much drama moving a file to the trash bin of your computer as there is watching a conflagration smother your words. So here’s my advice to contemporary writers. Print a copy of that story you hate. Drag the file to the trash bin and make sure the file is permanently deleted. Then take that printed manuscript to a fireplace, or better yet, a bonfire. Set it aflame. Watch the paper blacken and wrinkle. Sometimes we need to burn our pasts, literary or not, to move forward. Trust that your words and secrets are safe, clouded in smoke, soon to become part of the sky.

Full text: “Burn after Reading: On Writerly Self-Immolation

The cover design for my ‘Horror Literature through History’ encyclopedia

Last week ABC-CLIO posted a cover design for Horror Literature through History: An Encyclopedia of the Stories That Speak to Our Deepest Fears. This is appropriate timing, since for the past month I’ve been fielding a flood of contributor submissions, and my editorial work on the project is eating up literally all of my extra time. (Well, that, plus editorial duties on the new Vastarien journal, which is progressing nicely.)

So here’s that cover (at fairly small size; it’s the only one available right now), along with a portion of the official description of the project. What that description doesn’t list, by the way, is the fact that the encyclopedia will have a fantastic lineup of contributors, including names that will be familiar to many Teeming Brain readers who are students and fans of horror fiction and its surrounding scholarship. A short “for instance” list to illustrate the point might include S. T. Joshi, Darrell Schweitzer, Michael Cisco, Richard Gavin, Stefan Dziemianowicz, Brian Stableford, June Pulliam, Steven Mariconda, and more.

Horror_Literature_through_History_edited_by_Matt_Cardin

Many of today’s horror story fans — who appreciate horror through movies, television, video games, graphic novels, and other forms — probably don’t realize that horror literature is not only one of the most popular types of literature but one of the oldest. People have always been mesmerized by stories that speak to their deepest fears. Horror Literature through History shows 21st-century horror fans the literary sources of their favorite entertainment and the rich intrinsic value of horror literature in its own right. Through profiles of major authors, critical analyses of important works, and overview essays focused on horror during particular periods as well as on related issues such as religion, apocalypticism, social criticism, and gender, readers will discover the fascinating early roots and evolution of horror writings as well as the reciprocal influence of horror literature and horror cinema.

This unique two-volume reference set provides wide coverage that is current and compelling to modern readers — who are of course also eager consumers of entertainment. In the first section, overview essays on horror during different historical periods situate works of horror literature within the social, cultural, historical, and intellectual currents of their respective eras, creating a seamless narrative of the genre’s evolution from ancient times to the present. The second section demonstrates how otherwise unrelated works of horror have influenced each other, how horror subgenres have evolved, and how a broad range of topics within horror — such as ghosts, vampires, religion, and gender roles — have been handled across time. The set also provides alphabetically arranged reference entries on authors, works, and specialized topics that enable readers to zero in on information and concepts presented in the other sections.

Full publisher description: Horror Literature through History