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An interview with Thomas Ligotti: “I was born to fear”


Thomas Ligotti

Here’s something special for the Ligotti fans among us (and I know there are a lot of you reading this): Sławomir Wielhorski’s interview with Tom is now reprinted here at The Teeming Brain and available for your free reading and enjoyment. The interview was first published in Poland. Then the English version made its initial appearance last year in Born to Fear: Interviews with Thomas Ligotti, which, as many of you are already aware, I edited for Subterranean Press. This is actually the interview that gave the book its title, drawn from Tom’s response to the first question, so I’m very pleased to present it to you.

I’m also pleased to announce that the version published here includes “bonus material” in the form of a question and answer that were edited out of the interview’s original published appearances, and that are made available here for the first time.

Here’s a sample:

Sławomir Wielhorski: Could you tell us what triggered your interest in the horror genre and what influence it had on your life and literary output?

Thomas Ligotti: I was born to fear. It’s as plain as that. As the narrator of my short novel My Work Is Not Yet Done writes, “I have always been afraid.” If I ever wrote an autobiography, I would begin with the same sentence. In my opinion, everyone is some kind of fluke, an accident of biology and environment. We are randomly generated, arbitrarily conditioned flukes. And the kind of fluke I am is one that is born to fear. I don’t know how much of my fear is derived from genetics and how much from life experience. But the upshot is that I was born to fear, that is, by all laws of cause and effect, if you believe these have any purchase upon who we are — as do many psychologists — that was my destiny. Naturally, then, I was attracted to things that instilled fear in me, a paradoxical means of handling my fear but one that is not uncommonly employed by those who have been born to fear. Can anyone doubt that Poe was born to fear, or that Lovecraft was born to fear? They may also have been born to other things, but primarily they were born to fear. Almost everyone who writes or reads horror stories was born to fear. It only makes sense that this is the case.

MORE: “Interview with Thomas Ligotti: Born to Fear


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.

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