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.
Item: a new Ligotti interview, this one published at Thomas Ligotti Online and conducted by the site’s founder (and my dear friend), Jon Padgett. The subject is the origin of Tom’s two new stories “Metaphysica Morum” and “The Small People,” which have just been published as the short book The Spectral Link. The details make for a real-life narrative that sounds like a Ligottian horror story, since they explain the specifics of the physical collapse from abdominal agony that Tom experienced in 2012, and that led to a “revitalization of creativity” akin to the one experienced by the character of Grossvogel after he suffers a similar episode in “The Shadow, The Darkness.”
Here’s a morsel to whet your appetite:
The basis for both stories, however, was an incredible sense of alienation I felt following my surgeries, the sense of a reality that could not be denied, a vivid reminder of my already pessimistic view of life, and even an expansion of that view due to my experience of literally unbearable physical pain. I had known long-term physical pain before, but this was different somehow. Essentially, though, that pain ultimately made me feel more myself than ever, both emotionally and cognitively. I couldn’t look away any longer from what I once named “the nightmare of the organism,” despite my elevated mood. It was like the phenomenon of always being aware of my heart beating that goes with having panic-anxiety disorder, which is the state I inhabited while writing almost all of my stories. All in all, it seemed I was even less a part of the world’s prevailing sense of the real than I was before. This was not an unfamiliar feeling for me, but it was massively revitalized after the traumatic events of the hospital episode. What kind of world was I living in that could avert its eyes from the most significant realities such as those I had recently confronted?
Maybe you’ve heard about ongoing flap over actor Gary Oldman’s recent interview for Playboy, in which he slams political correctness and speaks in defense of Mel Gibson and Alec Baldwin regarding their famous public takedowns for expressing anti-semitic sentiments (in Gibson’s case) and using anti-gay slurs (in Baldwin’s case). Or rather, he speaks against what he perceives as the hypocrisy of those who have condemned them. This has resulted in a public relations crisis for Oldman that is still unfolding, and that has involved a demand for an apology from the Anti-Defamation League, Oldman’s issuance of the requested apology in a form that some described as groveling and over-the-top, and the ADL’s rejection of the apology as insufficient. Oldman has also gone on Jimmy Kimmel’s show to apologize yet again.
The entire Playboy interview is available for free reading (at least currently), and without commenting on the controversy I wanted to highlight an aspect of it that I find to be quite fascinating: Oldman’s utterly dire diagnosis of, and prognosis for, the state and soul of American culture. Aspects of this are scattered throughout the interview, and they enfold the part that got him in trouble. But here is perhaps the central portion, which occurs when the interviewer, having just listened to Oldman’s description of the darkly post-apocalyptic future that’s depicted by his new movie, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, asks about his real-world thoughts on the future:
PLAYBOY: What’s your view of the future? Are you optimistic about where society is heading?
OLDMAN: [Pauses] You’re asking Gary?
OLDMAN: I think we’re up shit creek without a paddle or a compass.
PLAYBOY: How so?
OLDMAN: Culturally, politically, everywhere you look. I look at the world, I look at our leadership and I look at every aspect of our culture and wonder what will make it better. I have no idea. Any night of the week you only need to turn on one of these news channels and watch for half an hour. Read the newspaper. Go online. Our world has gone to hell. [Oldman refers briefly to the prevalence of things like frivolous lawsuits and “helicopter parents” who raise catastrophically narcissistic children.] These are just tiny examples, grains of sand in a vast desert of what’s fucked-up in our world right now.
He goes on to talk intermittently and in some detail about, among other topics, the ridiculous ineffectiveness of America’s political leadership and what he views as the cesspool of heavily hyped triviality and low quality that makes up current mass entertainment. Great lines include his observation that “Reality TV to me is the museum of social decay.”
Personally, I think the following analysis in a blog post at The Economist (titled, winningly, “What’s wrong with Gary Oldman?“) hits the nail on the head regarding the real significance of the whole matter:
What’s being lost in the outrage, however, is perhaps more significant. It is plain from the very outset of his interview that Mr Oldman’s ill-considered remarks are fuelled by a potent, all-encompassing frustration — a near-despair over America’s cultural and political institutions. He sees a world rotten with corruption, hypocrisy and vanity, one that celebrates its pathologies rather than face up to them. Political correctness, for Mr Oldman, is merely a symptom of the disease. So he drops an f-bomb on the Pope (“Oh, fuck the pope! [laughs and puts head in hands] So this interview has gone very badly”), he doubts that stable love and lasting marriage can survive modern life, and he cries out for “real leadership,” though “it’s nowhere in sight.”
Most important of all, Mr Oldman puts no faith in either of America’s prevailing ideological camps, whose comprehensive doctrines are the last refuge for many angry and fearful folk. “I’m probably a libertarian,” he guesses, “if I had to put myself in any category. But you don’t come out and talk about these things, for obvious reasons.”
There’s more to that caveat than a guilty conscience. What’s truly scandalous about Mr Oldman’s worldview is his unflinching claim that the American social order is built on an interconnected system of frauds. This idea is ultimately too big of a challenge for most people to process, much less accept. And Mr Oldman’s diatribe did not exactly suggest a way forward. But his views reflect the gut instinct of a growing number of independent voters, as well as the Rand Paul and Elizabeth Warren wings of the Republican and Democratic parties. Rather than a fox in the cultural henhouse, perhaps Mr Oldman can be seen as a canary in the coal mine.
Photo of Gary Oldman by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (Gary Oldman) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
My online friend Rafael Melo has just published a new interview with me at his blog Cloudy Sky. Topics include my reasons for writing about horror and religion and such, my creative process, the centrality of depression and dread in my life as a writer, my favorite music and movies, the deep meaning of angels and demons, the current state of higher education, and more.
Here’s an excerpt where I get personal about my childhood anti-education in the realm of horror cinema:
RAFAEL: What are your main influences for writing about the horror genre?
MATT: My major horror influences include Lovecraft, Ligotti, Ted Klein, and a host of other writers in the weird fiction tradition and the wider tradition of supernatural horror in general. When I was young I read a lot of Poe’s and Bradbury’s horror stories, and this proved significant. So did a horror record that a friend played for me at his house one late summer afternoon. It featured some spooky sound effects plus a few readings of classic horror stories, including a deliriously unhinged performance of Poe’s “The Telltale Heart.” I can still hear the narrator’s voice as he goes for broke in an over-the-top reading of the final line: “Here! Here! It is the beating of his hideous heart!” That flat-out marked me, man.
Although I don’t usually name him in this regard, I suppose I ought to mention Stephen King, too, since I imbibed a large number of his books in my youth , along with the movies adapted from them, and this was influential. My parents didn’t let me watch scary stuff when I was young, so when the movie versions of Carrie and The Shining and the television miniseries of Salem’s Lot came out in the 1970s, I saw the ads but didn’t get to see the movies themselves, and my mind generated all kinds of vague expectations of the colossally frightening things that must be in them. The same thing happened with non-Stephen King movies, too, including Hell Night, Silent Scream, and several more. Whenever I accidentally caught the television advertisements, I was so frightened that I couldn’t stop seeing them in my mind’s eye for hours afterward. Quite seriously, these commercials filled me with a sense of terror and dread. But at the same time, I found them hypnotically fascinating.
I’ve realized in recent years that my parents did me a wonderful creative favor, albeit inadvertently, by forbidding me to watch such things, because this worked in tandem with a native bent in my personality to inculcate a deep and tantalizing sense of some elusive horror that’s loose in the world, and that can never really be seen or known directly, but that would absolutely fry you if you saw it face to face.
. . . When Lovecraft invokes the idea of unspeakable horrors and sanity-blasting cosmic gods and monsters, and when he says the fundamental supernatural horrific response is basically coeval with the ancient category of consciousness that we call “religious experience,” I hear him developing an eccentric version of negative/apophatic theology and helping to clarify the very thing that drives me personally.
FULL INTERVIEW: Matt Cardin — Life and Mind of a Teeming Brain
FYI, Rafael also runs the antinatalist blog The Last Page and has long been an active presence in the online community devoted to discussing antinatalism, including in the works of Thomas Ligotti. If you can read Portuguese, you can look up and read his book of antinatalist philosophy, A Última Filosofia: An Essay about Antinatalism.
John Langan is a professor, a literary scholar, and the author of the superlatively excellent supernatural horror collections Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Tales and The Wide Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies, as well as the equally excellent supernatural horror novel House of Windows.
In 2010 I interviewed him for Demon Muse. Then in 2013 I shut that site down after a four-year run because of repeated bot hacks, and because most of its aspects had basically been incorporated into The Teeming Brain anyway. But that meant John’s interview was lost.
This regrettable situation is now remedied and reversed, because as of this moment, John’s interview is republished here to join the ranks of the other Teeming Brain interviews that I’ve conducted over the years.
Here’s an illuminating and illustrative excerpt:
JOHN: As I see it, weird fiction is shot through with a deep ambivalence about human knowledge, which may well encode a kind of skepticism towards the Enlightenment’s general faith in rationality. After all, the figures of learning in these narratives are just as likely to unleash the supernatural threat as they are to contain or expel it. The anxiety over epistemology that lies at the heart of what may be my favorite Lovecraft story, “The Call of Cthulhu,” is something that the academy has been struggling with for the better part of the last four or five decades, in the wake of Derrida, Foucault, Lacan, Deleuze, etc. So it’s another level of convergence that I’m only too happy to exploit.
. . . One of my favorite quotations about human consciousness comes from D.H. Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature; in it, Lawrence, arguing with Ben Franklin, asserts that his self is a clearing in a dark forest into which strange gods come and go. I can remember sharing this with a particularly brilliant friend who said that if you could live as if this were true, your life would be remarkable. I can’t say that I’ve succeeded in living such a life, but I’ve remained convinced of the importance of that occulted part of ourselves.
FULL INTERVIEW: “That Occulted Part of Ourselves: A Conversation with John Langan“
Photo courtesy of Ellen Datlow
I know that reader interest is very high for this book, which is scheduled for publication this June by Subterranean Press. So here is the full table of contents for those who would like an advance peek. You can click the cover image above or the link below to visit the preorder page and reserve your copy.
Table of Contents: Born to Fear: Interviews with Thomas Ligotti
Introduction by Matt Cardin: “Of Masks and Mystagogues”
PART ONE: ENCHANTING NIGHTMARES (1988-1992)
Thomas Ligotti with Carl T. Ford, Dagon
Carl T. Ford (1988)
Thomas Ligotti with Stefan Dziemianowica and Michael A. Morrison
Stefan Dziemianiwocz and Michael A. Morrison (1991)
Weird Tales Talks with Thomas Ligotti
Darrell Schweitzer (1991)
PART TWO: THIS FUNHOUSE OF FLESH (2000-2003)
The Grimscribe in Cyberspace
John B. Ford (2000)
Disillusionment Can Be Glamorous
E. M. Angerhuber and Thomas Wagner (2001)
Work Not Done
Thomas Wagner (2003)
PART THREE: A NECESSARY DERANGEMENT (2004-2011)
Literature Is Entertainment or It Is Nothing
Neddal Ayad (2004)
It’s All a Matter of Personal Pathology
Matt Cardin (2006)
A Conversation with Thomas Ligotti, The Mumpsimus
Geoffrey H. Goodwin (2007)
Thomas Ligotti Interview, Weird Tales
Geoffrey H. Goodwin (2009)
Interview Nonsense with Thomas Ligotti
David Ableev (2009)
The Damned Interviews: Thomas Ligotti
Tina Hall (2011)
PART FOUR: BORN TO FEAR (2011-2013)
Interview: Thomas Ligotti, The Hat Rack
Nathan Katz (2011)
Thomas Ligotti on Weird Fiction
Weird Fiction Review (2011)
Interview by Pål Flakk, Gateavisa
Pål Flakk (2012)
Born to Fear, Coś na Progu
Sławomir Wielhorski (2012)
Interview with Thomas Ligotti, Wonderbooknow
Jeff VanderMeer (2013)
Teem member David Metcalfe is the featured interviewee on the latest episode of Occult of Personality, the long-running and very excellent podcast from host/producer Greg Kaminsky that “peers behind the veil to provide recorded interviews with serious esoteric researchers and teachers from all over the world.” The topic is the intersection between parapsychology and esotericism, which, as readers of David’s Teeming Brain column De Umbris Idearum already know, he is well-qualified to address.
Part One of the interview is available for free streaming and downloading. Part Two is available in Occult of Personality’s membership section (which you are encouraged to join). Here’s Greg’s intro:
Researcher, writer, and multimedia artist David Metcalfe is our guest in podcast episode 132.
David Metcalfe is an independent researcher, writer and multimedia artist focusing on the interstices of art, culture, and consciousness. He is a contributing editor for Reality Sandwich, The Revealer (the online journal of NYU’s Center for Religion and Media), and The Daily Grail. He writes regularly for Evolutionary Landscapes, Alarm Magazine, Modern Mythology, Disinfo.com, The Teeming Brain and his own blog The Eyeless Owl. His writing has been featured in The Immanence of Myth (Weaponized 2011), Chromatic: The Crossroads of Color & Music (Alarm Press, 2011) and Exploring the Edge Realms of Consciousness (North Atlantic/Evolver Editions 2012). Metcalfe is an Associate with Phoenix Rising Digital Academy, and is currently co-hosting The Art of Transformations study group with support from the International Alchemy Guild. Metcalfe’s most recent project is a collaboration with Dr. R. Andrew Chesnut, Chair of Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, exploring the sanctification of death in the popular faith traditions of the Americas.
He has emerged as one of the leading independent researchers in his field. I find his writing both accessible and insightful. The respect and reverence with which he treats his subjects makes his work even more special. I think this is crucial to David’s success and one of the reasons why I wanted to have him on as a guest.
On a recent edition of the DisinfoCast, the popular podcast put out by The Disinformation Company, host Matt Staggs spoke with Teeming Brain columnist (and Disinfo.com contributor) David B. Metcalfe about parapsychology, liminal states, ESP, and various other matters. You can download the podcast in mp3 form or stream it directly from the site:
Not coincidentally, David’s Teeming Brain column De Umbris Idearum is devoted to exploring that very same nexus of subjects, issues, and illuminations, including ESP, parapsychology, liminality, science, skepticism, esotericism, the occult, religion, philosophy, and more. If you’ve fallen behind, catching up on it would represent an eminently worthwhile use of your time:
Elizabeth Gilbert on the inner creative relationship: “There’s a contract between you and the mystery”
Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2009 TED talk about creativity as a relationship between a person and his or her genius has now entered the lore of contemporary digital media culture as a singularly popular and significant framing of the central creative question by a celebrity author. Gilbert used her TED time to talk about the damage caused by the modern-day view of creative genius as an inner quality possessed by a few stupendous individuals, and she recommended a return to the pre-Renaissance understanding of creativity as an external force, entity, or intelligence that visits a person on its own schedule and for its own motives in order to inspire and assist with some creative act, after which it moves on to somebody else. We would be better served, she said, by dropping the modern idea of people as geniuses and reclaiming the ancient view that creativity means having and cultivating a relationship with a genius.
That was in early 2009. In the nearly four years since then, Gilbert has continued to talk about this concept in various interviews and writings. Most recently, she gave a particularly nice description of her evolving view in an interview for The Rumpus. Here’s the key passage, where she offers a new and useful metaphor in her idea of “the plow mule and the angel.”
She also gives excellent articulation to a point that I hammer on at length in A Course in Demonic Creativity: A Writer’s Guide to the Inner Genius (which is still available for free download over at Demon Muse): that working in creative relationship with a muse, a genius, a daimon, doesn’t entail sitting around doing nothing and waiting for inspiration. Your work, your effort, is what calls the genius to you (a point that has also been hit hard by Steven Pressfield).
Rumpus: I love your TED Talk about creativity. You talk about all the pressure creative people put on ourselves to be “geniuses,” and how that’s messed things up and given us an unrealistic amount of pressure, when in fact we should think of “genius” as a thing out of our control. Has that perspective made writing easier?
Gilbert: I’ve come to think of it as the plow mule and the angel. This is how I think of it: there’s a contract between you and the mystery. And the mystery is the thing that brings life to the work. But your part of the contract is that you have to be the plow mule, or the mystery won’t show up. It might not even show up if you do your work. There’s no guarantee. It doesn’t promise you anything, but I can promise you that if you don’t do your work, it won’t show up. That’s the only guarantee. It’s not going to wake you up in the middle of the night to be like, Hey, I’ve got this golden gift for you! It doesn’t do it that way. It needs to see that you’re giving the full commitment.
It’s the idea that I will do my side of this bargain. As long as I am able, as long as I have agency over my body, I will do my part of this, even when I don’t want to, even when I don’t believe in it. It’s gonna be a long life, hopefully. And so it’s all right to embark on a project that doesn’t work, and it’s okay to abandon one. It’s okay to recognize that you took a wrong turn, and to begin anew. It’s okay to write a book that gets bad reviews. It’s okay to write a book that no one reads. The idea is just to focus on how you want to spend your life. My intention is to spend my entire life doing this, so any one piece of it isn’t that important when you think of it in the long scale. Then when you open up that scale even further and you think of the entire history of human collaboration with the arts—my little piece of it is really insignificant, and that takes the pressure off a lot, too. I’m just joining a history of people who do this work. I’ll do it for as long as I’m permitted. I’ll do it to the best of my ability. It may not be successful, it may not be lucrative, it may not be well-received, but I’m gonna give it everything that I have, and then I’m gonna die, and then other people will do this. And so it will go. And what a wonderful way to live your life! What a great company of saints to join. And a wonderful team to play on: the makers. It’s worth a lot of trouble to get to do that.
— Rachel Khong, “The Rumpus Interview with Elizabeth Gilbert,” The Rumpus, October 29, 2012
Perhaps this goes to show that if you haven’t yet watched/listened to Gilbert’s TED talk, you really need to. Here it is. Carve out 20 minutes where you set aside all distractions and really pay attention to what she says.
Horror, religion, Lovecraft, sleep paralysis, fantasy, science fiction, consciousness, creativity, reality, the dystopian hazards of an uber-online lifestyle — these are all topics broached in an extensive new interview with Teeming Brain founder and editor Matt Cardin by fellow idea-driven horror writer Ted E. Grau at The Cosmicomicon. (Ted is also, of course, the author of The Extinction Papers for The Teeming Brain.)
The interview is extremely philosophical, personal, and lengthy. Here’s a taste:
As for why I ultimately started writing fiction, and why it has always been of the dark variety, I think interrogating the question itself shows that it is, at bottom, unanswerable. In fact, interrogating the question opens up a vast, murky, electrifying, terrifying realm of unknown and unknowable realities that hold all of us perpetually in their grip. This is along the lines of the thought experiment that Robert Anton Wilson recommends in, I think, Prometheus Rising, or maybe it’s in Quantum Psychology — and anyway, he borrowed it from Aleister Crowley, who said he got it from somebody else — where you stop, as in really and truly, for a long pause, and you engage in a deep questioning of the reasons for why you’re right there, in that location and circumstance, at that precise moment, doing what you’re doing and thinking what you’re thinking and feeling what you’re feeling. Keep pressing the question “Why, why, why?” to each and every answer that presents itself, and if you really dig down and follow this backward trail of causation and justification, eventually you’ll find, not just as an intellectual matter but as a startling existential realization, that you have absolutely no idea. You don’t know, ultimately, why you’re right there, right then, doing that. In a sense, everything about your life is just arbitrary, just happening by itself, and any story you tell yourself to explain why stands as more of a rationalization than an explanation.
What’s more, those unknowable reasons — which also, pointedly, include the reasons for why you are who you are — shade directly into the unknowable reasons behind everything else. The impenetrable mystery that lies behind the entire universe, and that makes it be what it is and do what it does, is not something you can write off as abstract and distant and unimportant for daily life, because it happens to be the mystery of your very own being as well.
I think the fact that I’m the type of person who instantly and helplessly goes for the über-philosophical end of things even when nobody’s asking for it — as in, you know, the way I’m going on and on right now in answer to your reasonable and straightforward question — is linked to why I write, and to why my writing always inhabits dark territory … Where do innate qualities ultimately come from? Instantly, the mystery of human personhood is all up in our face, and for me this leads to inevitable ruminations about the metaphysical and ontological origins of individual selfhood and consciousness, and the ancient idea of the genius daemon that makes each person’s life and self be what it is, and the Zen koan where the master orders the student, “Show me your original face, the one you had even before your parents were born.”
I could also mention the fact that I entered a very dark place late in college and an even darker one in the years following it, a development abetted by a kind of spontaneous initiatory experience into certain nightmarish things by the onset of sleep paralysis attacks that were accompanied by visionary attacks by a demonic-seeming entity. This permanently and profoundly altered me, and set the tone and direction for what I write. Or maybe it just realized what was always wanting to be written through me anyway.
— Ted E. Grau, “TC Blog Review & Interview: Matt Cardin Unleashes His Teeming Brain, Featuring New Monthly Column ‘The Extinction Papers,'” The Cosmicomicon, September 20, 2012