In light of yesterday’s awful mosque attacks in New Zealand, I feel led to start with this except from a 2003 PBS interview with Thich Nhat Hanh. After an extensive conversation about Buddhism, Christianity, mindfulness, and other such matters, and their relationship to gritty large-scale matters of war and violence, the interaction ends with this:
Q: What is so tantalizing about talking to you is the wonderful promise of your teachings at the personal level, and the frustration of not seeing how it can change the policies of big institutions, such as government.
A: It is the individual who can effectuate change. When I change, I can help produce change in you. As a journalist, you can help change many people. That’s the way things go. There’s no other way. Because you have the seed of understanding, compassion, and insight in you. What I say can water that seed, and the understanding and compassion are yours and not mine. You see? My compassion, my understanding can help your compassion and understanding to manifest. It’s not something that you can transfer.
Are you burned out on collapse? According to a recent article on “the hidden psychological toll of living through a time of fracture,” you’re not alone. As the writer astutely observes, “When reality itself has turned into something like a grotesque, bizarre dystopia, then just making contact with it is deeply psychologically stressful.”
Douglas Rushkoff has offered a brief and typically insightful reflection on the deep cause and possible cure for our culture of doom and collapse: the Internet is acid, and America is having a bad trip. (Seriously, his thesis is profound.)
Meanwhile, journalist and author Nick Bilton writes in Vanity Fair that “No One Is at the Controls” as “Facebook, Amazon, and Others Are Turning Life into a Horrific Bradbury Novel.” It occurs to me that his thesis — that the Internet now runs itself, that “nobody is behind the curtain” of our digital dystopia — resonates with the horrific discovery of the empty movie theater projection booth in Lamberto Bava’s Demons. The characters storm the booth after the horror movie they’ve been watching comes to life and fills the theater with raging, murderous demons. But their horror is compounded when they discover there’s no projectionist. In other words, nobody is responsible. Nobody is making the nightmare happen. The equipment all just runs on its own. As one of them fearfully observes in a line of dialogue that resonates with overtones of cosmic nihilism, “Oh, God, then that means no one’s ever been here!” (Watch the scene.)
By contrast, this is quite lovely: Composer James Agnelli created music by using the position of birds on electrical wires to represent notes. Then he facilitated the production of this short film about it. Also see the brief explanation of further background at The Daily Grail.
In his recent commencement address to graduates of the Bennington Writing Seminars at Vermont’s Bennington College, poet and author Garth Greenwell communicated some riveting advice and wisdom on living the writer’s life: “To write a story or a poem or an essay is to make a claim about what we find beautiful, about what moves us, to reveal a vision of the world, which is always terrifying; to write seriously is to find ourselves pressed against not just our technical but our moral limits. . . . That intimate communication between writer and reader, that miracle of affective translation across distance and time, is the real life of literature; that’s what matters.” His words on the place of literary awards and sales figures are particularly astute: “The soul one pours into a novel or a collection of poems, the years of effort a book represents — what possible response from the world could be adequate recompense for that?”
This explain a lot: A secret brain trust of scientists and billionaires, unofficially headquartered at Silicon Valley, has embraced belief in UFOs as a new religious mode.
And then there’s this: “The British military is recruiting philosophers, psychologists and theologians to research new methods of psychological warfare and behavioural manipulation, leaked documents show.” Apparently the project comes with a communications campaign to help manage “reputational risks” for participating academic institutions. Quoth one Cambridge scholar interviewed for the linkedGuardian piece, “Now I don’t want to be too academic about this, but it’s very striking that a programme designed to change people’s views and opinions for military purposes would spend some of its money changing people’s views and opinions, so that they wouldn’t object to changing people’s views and opinions. See what they did there?”
An essay at The American Scholar titled “The Sound of Evil” provides an interesting cinematic-cultural-sociological analysis of the avenues by which classical music in movies and television have become synonymous with villainy
A free symposium titled “Detecting Pessimism: Thomas Ligotti and the Weird in an Age of Post-Truth” will be held this June at Manchester Metropolitan University’s 70 Oxford St. The announcement explains that “Ligotti is increasingly seen as one of the key literary horror and weird fiction writers of recent decades whose works present a unique, bleak and controversial portrayal of both human existence and society.” The symposium “will comprise of [sic] two panels with papers delivered by staff and students on Ligotti and the weird mode, and will include a keynote delivered by weird expert Professor Roger Luckhurst. They will explore the works, philosophy and influence of Ligotti within a diverse range of contexts, from philosophical nihilism and pessimism, weird fiction and horror to his impact on film and television.” (Tangential side note: About half the presenting scholars were involved in my Horror Literature through History encyclopedia.) Even if you, like me, will sadly be unable to attend, you can still read this piece containing brief interviews with some of the participants about their thoughts on Ligotti and his work.
While the rest of the US raves breathlessly on about AOC and Wells Fargo or whatever, I much prefer to slow down and savor a delicious interview with Whitley Strieber about his outlandish experiences and the way his career as a major and still-rising horror novelist was derailed when he became America’s most prominent paranormal lightning rod.
December saw the publication of Peter Bebergal’s Strange Frequencies: The Extraordinary Story of the Technological Quest for the Supernatural. Teeming Brain readers will recall that Peter was one of the panelists on the Teeming Brain podcast “Cosmic Horror vs. Sacred Terror.” His new book offers “a journey through the attempts artists, scientists, and tinkerers have made to imagine and communicate with the otherworldly using various technologies, from cameras to radiowaves.”
T. E. (Ted) Grau, who produced a handful of fine articles for The Teeming Brain a few years back, is presently on the final ballot for the Bram Stoker Award for his novel I Am the River. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review, saying that “Grau’s poetic prose and stunning evocation of time and place, from the killing fields of Vietnam to the haunted alleyways of Bangkok, form a fever dream of copious bloodshed and many shades of gray.”
Speaking of horror, the crowd-funded documentary In Search of Darkness is in its final stages of production. I only learned about the project recently via a tweet from long-time Teeming Brain friend and fellow religion/horror adept John Morehead. Here’s the official description, followed by the official trailer. The description reads like a feast, while the trailer feels like a time warp to my misspent, VHS-saturated adolescence.
Featuring compelling critical takes and insider tales of the Hollywood filmmaking experience throughout the 1980s, In Search of Darkness will provide fans with a unique perspective on the decade that gave rise to some of the horror genre’s greatest icons, performers, directors and franchises that forever changed the landscape of modern cinema. Tracking major theatrical releases, obscure titles and straight-to-video gems, the incredible array of interviewees that have been assembled for ISOD will weigh in on a multitude of topics: from creative and budgetary challenges creatives faced throughout the decade to the creature suits and practical effects that reinvigorated the makeup effects industry during the era to the eye-popping stunts that made a generation of fans believe in the impossible. In Search of Darkness will also celebrate many of the atmospheric soundtracks released during that time, the resurgence of 3-D filmmaking, the cable TV revolution and the powerful marketing in video store aisles, the socio-political allegories infused throughout many notable films, and so much more.
Finally, a recent piece by Glenn Greenwald deserves to be read by everybody of all political persuasions: “NYT’s Exposé on the Lies About Burning Aid Trucks in Venezuela Shows How U.S. Government and Media Spread Pro-War Propaganda.” It presents an utterly damning account of collusion between the U.S. government and U.S. corporate media to foment Venezuelan regime change through brazen lies, thus perpetuating a long and sordid tradition in America’s international relations.
To my own considerable surprise, Leviathan is finally on the way to being roused. After a six-year delay that was entirely my own creation, I can now announce that my third collection of horror fiction, To Rouse Leviathan, will soon become a reality. I recently submitted the final story — a comprehensive revision and expansion of a collaboration between Mark McLaughlin and me that was first published in the early aughts — to Hippocampus Press. Presently, I’m given to understand that cover art has already been developed and preorders will open soon. I’ll share information about both when it’s available.
Currently, you can read the collection’s table of contents at my author site. Be advised that the cover image there is just a mockup of my own creation. The contents themselves comprise the complete set of stories that made up my first collection, Divinations of the Deep (with one of them being substantially revised), the stories from my second collection, Dark Awakenings (but not the essays; see below), and a third section titled “Apocryphon” that brings together four previously uncollected stories.
There’s been some discussion about another collection to follow this one. It would bring together many of my nonfiction writings about the confluence of religion, horror, creativity, and related matters, including the essays/papers from Dark Awakenings and various uncollected items. I’ll say more when the time is right. For now, I’m just sitting here contemplating the unaccountable return of my fiction writer’s muse, who went into hibernation in 2013 due to various factors and then emerged late last year to enable completion of Leviathan. It’s a strange business, this discipline of living and communing with a demon muse.
Recently, I was interviewed for the excellent Weird Studies podcast. The episode, titled “On Speculative Fiction, with Matt Cardin,” dropped yesterday. You can listen to it with the player above or by clicking through to the site itself. Here’s the episode description:
Neil Gaiman wrote, If literature is the world, then fantasy and horror are twin cities, divided by a river of black water. Flame Tree Publishing underwrites this claim with their recent publication, The Astounding Illustrated History of Fantasy and Horror. The book is a veritable gazetteer of these two cities in the heartland of the imaginal world. Writer and scholar Matt Cardin, founding editor of the marvellous Teeming Brain, wrote a chapter for the book focusing on the books and films of the Sixties and Seventies. In this episode, he joins JF and Phil to discuss the kinship of horror and fantasy, the modern ghettoization of mythopoeic art, the prophetic reach of speculative fiction, and the cauldron of cultural transformation that was the Sixties and Seventies.
Be advised that Teeming Brain readers will likely find Weird Studies to be an essential addition to their listening schedule. It was launched in 2018 by hosts J. F. Martel and Phil Ford. J. F. is an author, screenwriter, and film & TV director from Ottawa, Canada. In 2015 I interviewed him here in connection with his truly wonderful book, Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice. Phil is an associate professor of musicology at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music whose books include Dig: Sound and Music in Hip Culture and a currently in-development project on music and occult styles of thought. The tagline of Weird Studies is “A filmmaker and a professor talk art and philosophy at the limits of the thinkable.” A browse through past episodes uncovers a rich feast.
I’m pleased to announce that The Astounding Illustrated History of Fantasy and Horror, just out from Britain’s Flame Tree Publishing, contains a chapter by me. S. T. Joshi served as consultant editor for the project. He also wrote the book’s introduction. Ramsey Campbell provided the foreword. Other chapter contributors include Roger Luckhurst, Mike Ashley, Michael Carrigan, Dave Golder, Russ Thorne, and Rosie Fletcher. The book is lavishly illustrated and fairly gorgeous; check out the preview at the publisher’s site.
My chapter focuses on fantasy and horror in the 1960s and 1970s. This means writing it felt a bit like conducting an archaeological excavation of my own most primal memories of the literature and cinema of fantasy and horror. A very enjoyable authorial experience indeed.
Here’s the full publisher’s description:
Companion title to The Astounding Illustrated History of Science Fiction, this new book reflects the same roots in Gothic literature but follows a complementary path through the 20th century, to the movies of Peter Jackson, the success of streaming TV series such as Grimm, and the fantasy of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. From the wellspring of Frankenstein, Germanic fairy tales, and heroic, epic myths, a dark and fantastic path can be found to the fragmentation of the 1930s: the schlock horror of early modern movies, the invention of High Fantasy by Tolkien and fellow Inkling C.S. Lewis, and the pulp magazine powerhouse Weird Tales with Robert E. Howard’s sword and sorcery archetype Conan. A brilliant concoction of movie posters, stills, book covers, fantastic art and incredible timelines.
It’s available from Amazon and elsewhere.
To quote someone or other: It is finished. After three years of planning, preparation, and intensive editorial work by Jon Padgett and me (and a handful of additional key individuals), the first issue of Vastarien is now available. Early responses from readers are enthusiastically positive. Both print and Kindle editions can be purchased through Amazon.
As previously announced here, the journal is framed as a source of critical study and creative response to the corpus of Thomas Ligotti as well as associated authors and ideas. Its spirit is captured by a key passage from Ligotti’s classic short story “Vastarien,” telling of a special book that embodies an impossible otherworld,
a place where everything was transfixed in the order of the unreal. . . . Each passage he entered in the book both enchanted and appalled him with images and incidents so freakish and chaotic that his usual sense of these terms disintegrated along with everything else. Rampant oddity seemed to be the rule of the realm; imperfection became the source of the miraculous — wonders of deformity and marvels of miscreation. There was horror, undoubtedly. But it was a horror uncompromised by any feeling of lost joy or thwarted redemption; rather, it was a deliverance by damnation. And if Vastarien was a nightmare, it was a nightmare transformed in spirit by the utter absence of refuge: nightmare made normal.
The journal includes nonfiction, literary horror fiction, poetry, artwork, and non-classifiable hybrid pieces. Public interest and support have proved to be intense and widespread: Our Kickstarter campaign earlier this year blew the roof off by bringing in more than three times our stated funding goal. This has enabled us to pay pro rates to our contributors for the first three issues. The second and third of these issues are currently in the works. Not incidentally, Vastarien is the flagship project of Grimscribe Press, founded and operated by Jon.
Vastarien: A Literary Journal
Volume 1, Number 1
Foreword to the Polish edition of Teatro Grottesco (Okultura, 2014)
(Previously unpublished in English)
The Gods in Their Seats, Unblinking
The Nightmare of His Art: The Horrific Power of the Imagination in “The Troubles of Dr. Thoss” and “Gas Station Carnivals”
Affirmation of the Spirit: Consciousness, Transformation, and the Fourth World in Film
Try the Veal
How to Construct a Gun from Your Own Flesh
“Eccentric to the Healthy Social Order”: Inversions of Family, Community, and Religion in Thomas Ligotti’s “The Last Feast of Harlequin”
Michael J. Abolafia
“They say I should kill myself and not try to spoil their enjoyment in being alive”: An Interview with Thomas Ligotti
(Previously unpublished in English)
Eraserhead as Antinatalist Allegory
The Theatre of Ovid
The Alienation of the Self: Marx, Polanyi, and Ligottian Horror
S. L. Edwards
Paul L. Bates
Night Walks: The Films of Val Lewton
Infinite Light, Infinite Darkness
Nervous Wares & Abnormal Stares
My Time at the Drake Clinic
Notes on a Horror
Dr. Raymond Thoss
Singing the Song of My Unmaking
Cadabra Records is currently accepting preorders for their lush audio production of “The Bungalow House,” which is one of my (and indeed one of most readers’) favorite stories by Thomas Ligotti. The above sample allows you to hear what the whole thing sounds like. Hint: It sounds incredibly lush and wonderful. The published album will ship on May 11.
The production features narration/performance by Jon Padgett — who has outdone himself on this one — as well as music and audio textures by Chris Bozzone and art by Jason Barnett. It also comes with a new interview with Ligotti himself plus a newly written essay by me about “The Bungalow House,” as described here in some advertising copy from the publisher:
Cadabra Records will release “The Bungalow House” in a limited first edition of 500 copies pressed on color 150-gram blue and black swirl vinyl and housed in a deluxe heavyweight tip-on jacket and a hand-numbered fold-over sleeve. The record includes a 12-page booklet with an extensive essay by author Matt Cardin, a new interview with Ligotti, and an 18″x 24″ promotional poster showcasing the newly commissioned art by Jason Barnett.
I’m pleased to have participated in this project. In case you’re not familiar with Cadabra Records, this brief primer from Dread Central fills in the necessary blanks:
We’ve been fans of spoken word vinyl label Cadabra Records for a while now. They not only bring classic horror stories to life on wax, they make sure that each release gets the very best treatment. From casting horror icon Tony Todd as the titular vampire in Bram Stoker’s Dracula to getting Italian horror maestro Fabio Frizzi to compose music for their release of H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Picture in the House,” Cadabra aims, and achieves, to ensure that every record that comes from their label is an experience that will leave listeners entranced and shaken to their core.
If this sounds like your thing, I urge you to click through and reserve your copy of “The Bungalow House.”
First there was the Penguin Classics combined edition of Ligotti’s Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe. Now there’s this forthcoming Penguin Classics edition of his The Conspiracy against the Human Race, to be published this October, with another beautiful cover by Chris Mars and a new preface by Ligotti himself. The canonization continues.
Here’s the official publisher description (in which, as I’m disappointed to note, the first sentence is accidentally worded in such a way as to make it a fragment):
In Thomas Ligotti’s first nonfiction outing, an examination of the meaning (or meaninglessness) of life through an insightful, unsparing argument that proves the greatest horrors are not the products of our imagination but instead are found in reality.
“There is a signature motif discernible in both works of philosophical pessimism and supernatural horror. It may be stated thus: Behind the scenes of life lurks something pernicious that makes a nightmare of our world.”
His fiction is known to be some of the most terrifying in the genre of supernatural horror, but Thomas Ligotti’s first nonfiction book may be even scarier. Drawing on philosophy, literature, neuroscience, and other fields of study, Ligotti takes the penetrating lens of his imagination and turns it on his audience, causing them to grapple with the brutal reality that they are living a meaningless nightmare, and anyone who feels otherwise is simply acting out an optimistic fallacy. At once a guidebook to pessimistic thought and a relentless critique of humanity’s employment of self-deception to cope with the pervasive suffering of their existence, The Conspiracy against the Human Race may just convince readers that there is more than a measure of truth in the despairing yet unexpectedly liberating negativity that is widely considered a hallmark of Ligotti’s work.
In this just-published episode of the This Is Horror Podcast, Jon Padgett and I talk with hosts Michael David Wilson and Bob Pastorella about our new project Vastarien: A Literary Journal, along with other matters of interest. Click to listen or download.
Note that at the time of this writing, our Vastarien Kickstarter campaign, to fund the first year (three issues) of the journal, still has seven days left!
Here are some show notes:
Vastarien is a source of critical study and creative response to the corpus of Thomas Ligotti as well as associated authors and ideas.
Support Vastarien on Kickstarter
[03:30] Vastarien origin story
[08:40] Why Vastarien title
[20:20] Penguin edition Conspiracy Against The Human Race/Cadabra Records Ligotti’s The Bungalow House
[28:10] Jon Padgett’s final message (in this podcast not in life)
[31:10] What is the worst thing that has happened to you as a result of your own mind or imagination
[34:20] Physical and mental and other sensations during sleep paralysis
[45:45] The creative self and self
[51:40] Andrew M. Reichart, via Patreon,
[54:40] Scott Kemper, via Patreon, wants to know about other Ligotti-esque authors to become acquainted with
[57:40] Films and TV shows that may appeal to Ligotti fans
[01:10:00] Kendra Temples, via Patreon, asks anti-natalism and philosophical pessimism and impact
[01:18:00] How Gnosticism fits into the vision of Vastarien
[01:22:25] What should and shouldn’t people submit to Vastarien
[01:26:35] Final question to ponder
Some time ago here at The Teeming Brain, I announced the birth of a new literary journal titled Vastarien, to be edited by Jon Padgett and me, and to be framed as “a source of critical study and creative response to the corpus of Thomas Ligotti as well as associated authors and ideas.” We launched a website, www.vastarien-journal.com, where we published submission guidelines and started receiving stories, poems, articles, essays, and artwork. Jon and I then spent many months and countless hours responding to these submissions and crafting the first issue. Jon also retained the services of artist Dave Felton and designer Anna Trueman to create a stunning cover.
Yesterday we launched a Kickstarter campaign to cover the costs of the first three issues. It reached its funding goal today, in a total of 27 hours. In fact, we have now surpassed that funding goal, and we will soon be announcing some stretch goals. This is a wonderfully affirming response that shows what a high level of interest and excitement there really is for such a publication.
The Kickstarter campaign has nearly a month left. This means you can still become one of our backers. We have created an attractive set of rewards for different pledge levels. At the campaign page you can also read the full table of contents for Volume 1, Issue 1. Consider yourself invited:
(BONUS NOTE: We’re also now accepting submissions for issues 2 and 3. The submission period will close on March 1.)
Dejan Ognjanovic, who runs the prominent Serbian horror blog The Cult of Ghoul, has given Horror Literature through History a 2018 Golden Ghoul Award for best non-fiction horror book of 2017. You can read the complete awards list (in Serbian) at the blog.