Blog Archives

Announcing the birth of “Vastarien: A Literary Journal”

Birthday-Boy-by-Chris-Mars

“Birthday Boy” by Chris Mars

(The following announcement was first posted yesterday at Thomas Ligotti Online and has now begun to propagate via social media. In addition to the fact that a journal like Vastarien will undoubtedly interest many readers of The Teeming Brain, I’m posting the info about it here for the pointedly personal reason that I’m the project’s Editor-in-Chief.)

Vastarien. The forbidden tome — an entryway into “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” (from “Vastarien” by Thomas Ligotti).

Editor-in-Chief Matt Cardin and Senior Editors Jon Padgett, Brian Poe, and Kevin Moquin are pleased to announce that Vastarien: A Literary Journal is now open for submissions. Vastarien aspires to be a source of critical study and creative response to the corpus of Thomas Ligotti, as well as associated authors and creative work. We plan to do this through the publication of scholarly and critical works of nonfiction, literary horror fiction, poetry, and artwork. Please visit our website for more information. And stay tuned for more news as we review submissions and head toward a launch date.

New (and old) book projects: An encyclopedia of horror literature and a collection of horror fiction

Frontispiece_to_Frankenstein_1831

Frontispiece to Frankenstein (1831 edition). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

On a morning when I’ve just finished up with several days of responding to publisher copy edits on Ghosts, Spirits, and Psychics, I’m happy to announce the birth of another book project: I have just signed a contract with the same publisher (ABC-CLIO) to edit a two-volume reference work to be titled Horror Literature through History: An Encyclopedia of the Stories That Speak to Our Deepest Fears. This is all still in the early developmental stages, and the book itself won’t appear until late 2016 (at the very earliest). But I can tell you that the structure and approach of this particular project will make it something special. I will of course say more about the whole thing as additional information becomes available.

Oh, and speaking of available information, I can also report that my long-hibernating omnibus collection of horror fiction from Hippocampus Press, To Rouse Leviathan — which has been greatly delayed by my own mercurial creative cycles and outer life circumstances — is still very much alive.

Teeming Links – July 18, 2014

FireHead

William Binney, the ex-NSA code-breaker and whistleblower, says the NSA’s ultimate goal is total population control: “Binney recently told the German NSA inquiry committee that his former employer had a ‘totalitarian mentality’ that was the ‘greatest threat’ to US society since that country’s US Civil War in the 19th century.”

“New research finds having a mobile device within easy reach divides your attention, even if you’re not actively looking at it.” (This explains a lot about an increasing number of my daily interactions with people who literally cannot maintain interpersonal attention for more than 30 seconds.)

There just has to be a Ligottian corporate horror story buried somewhere in this: Financial Times reports that businesses are increasingly using big data, including social media footprints, plus complex algorithms to make hiring decisions.

You can still be a passionate reader, but it’s getting ever harder to make a career of it: “A less-heralded casualty of the digital age is the disintegration of the lower rungs of the [publishing] ladder that have long led young, smart readers into the caste of professional tastemakers.”

Steven Poole says that, whereas the disciplined cultivation of spontaneous, effortless action along the lines of Taoism’s wu wei is a great thing, the counterfeit cult of consumer “spontaneity” encourages psychological and social chaos and numbs us to morally reprehensible sociopolitical conditions.

John Michael Greer lays out, in his characteristic elegant prose and with his characteristic lucidity, a vision of the deindustrial dark age that may await us.

Theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli argues cogently that science, philosophy, and the humanities in general all need each other: “Restricting our vision of reality today to just the core content of science or the core content of the humanities is being blind to the complexity of reality, which we can grasp from a number of points of view.”

Astrophysicist, author, and NPR science blogger Adam Frank reflects on the “science vs. religion” debate in light of Eastern philosophy.

If you “hear voices,” is it brain disease, communication from discarnate spirits, or perhaps the very voice of God? Tanya Luhrmann and three co-authors of a new study observe the profound impact of cultural assumptions on the subjective experience of voice hearing.

The ancient history of dream interpretation points to humanity’s insatiable hunger for the divine. For the ancients, every slumber held the promise of the numinous.”

Speaking of dreams, a recent study published in the journal Human Brain Mapping finds that psychedelic mushrooms put the brain in a waking dream state, with profound worldview-altering effects: “[T]he mushroom compounds could be unlocking brain states usually only experienced when we dream, changes in activity that could help unlock permanent shifts in perspective.”

David Luke reflects on psychedelics, parapsychology, and exceptional human experience: “Psychedelic researchers since the time of Huxley and Osmond have been fascinated by exploring the apparently parapsychological affects of these drugs. Rightly so, because the implications of such research for understanding our capabilities as a species and for understanding reality itself are deeply profound.” (I’m happy to report that David will be contributing an article on the relationship between drugs and the paranormal to my paranormal encyclopedia.)

Finally, it looks like my adolescence (and also a significant portion of my twenties) wasn’t so egregiously misspent after all, since Dungeons and Dragons has now influenced a generation of writers: “As [Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Junot] Díaz said, ‘It’s been a formative narrative media for all sorts of writers.’ ”

 

“Fire Head” image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Why I’m fed up with Amazon

Night_Sky_with_Stars

In the past I have both 1) praised Jeff Bezos for displaying what looks like a true love of books and reading, and 2) highlighted Amazon’s bullying and heavy-handedness in the publishing industry by linking to Steve Wasserman’s damning 2012 article “The Amazon Effect,” in which Wasserman, the former editor of the Los Angeles Times Books Review, explains how his early positive view of Bezos and Amazon soured over time as it became evident that the company is intent on “bulldozing any real or perceived obstacles to its single-minded pursuit of maximum clout” by imposing “increasingly harsh terms on both its competitors and its clients.”

Recently it’s looking like the scale has tipped definitively in favor of the negative judgment on both Bezos and his company. Or at least that’s my take, which is based on the fact, revealed just last week, that Amazon is now flat-out blackmailing publishers and authors into complying with their draconian demands by charging higher prices and delaying shipments for products from companies that resist them. Various other tactics are also involved, such as removing entire promotion pages for some books. What’s more, Amazon isn’t afraid to play this kind of hardball with books by big-name authors. Titles by J. K. Rowling, Anne River Siddons, and James Patterson are among those that have been affected.

Says The New York Times‘ David Streitfield and Melissa Eddy:

Amazon’s power over the publishing and bookselling industries is unrivaled in the modern era. Now it has started wielding its might in a more brazen way than ever before. Seeking ever-higher payments from publishers to bolster its anemic bottom line, Amazon is holding books and authors hostage on two continents by delaying shipments and raising prices. The literary community is fearful and outraged — and practically begging for government intervention. . . . No firm in American history has exerted the control over the American book market — physical, digital and secondhand — that Amazon does.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m personally fed up with this kind of crap, and this feeling applies to more than just the Amazon situation. Amazon is emblematic of a major cultural shift that has taken place in the Internet era as megacorporations representing various sectors of the business world and cultural life at large have attempted to hold us all hostage by playing an egregiously monopolistic game. And it all seems doubly sinister in a way that’s distinct from the monopolies of a past age, since this time the imperialistic and totalitarian business practices are hitched to, and also — or so the corporate titans hope — enabled and sweetened by, the digital-populist tone of “personal freedom and empowerment” that still attends the Internet like a lingering morning mist at midday.

This kind of thing makes me remember all over again why I ditched Facebook and Twitter. Among other reasons, I just got sick of being a willing pawn in the war of the Digital Overlords, where my personal data and decisions are used as leverage and ammunition. I’ve been thinking for many months that it may be time to ditch Amazon as well, and this recent revelation adds some serious weight to that consideration. This would of course mean going back and removing all of the Amazon affiliate links here at The Teeming Brain. I also own a Kindle and subscribe to Prime, so, you know, I’m pretty deeply entangled. And don’t think for a minute that I’m not aware of the tarry syrup of irony that automatically coats every word I type here, on a blog, using a computer that’s running a Windows operating system, thus reinforcing the basic thrust of the entire digital economy and cultural technopoly that I’m ostensibly criticizing.

I would be interested to hear anybody’s thoughts on this issue. Is Amazon really a tyrant? Would a personal boycott be advisable? Would it even be meaningful? More broadly, is the future just a giant playing field for megacorporations where the role of us peasants is simply to be trampled underfoot while saying thank you for it?

Image courtesy of mack2happy / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

‘Mummies around the World’ now available for preorder

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I’m pleased to announce that my mummy encyclopedia is now available for preorder from the publisher, and also from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and elsewhere. The scheduled publication date is November 30.

From the official publisher’s description:

Perfect for school and public libraries, this is the only reference book to combine pop culture with science to uncover the mystery behind mummies and the mummification phenomena.

Mortality and death have always fascinated humankind. Civilizations from all over the world have practiced mummification as a means of preserving life after death — a ritual which captures the imagination of scientists, artists, and laypeople alike. This comprehensive encyclopedia focuses on all aspects of mummies: their ancient and modern history; their scientific study; their occurrence around the world; the religious and cultural beliefs surrounding them; and their roles in literary and cinematic entertainment.

Author and horror guru Matt Cardin brings together 130 original articles written by an international roster of leading scientists and scholars to examine the art, science, and religious rituals of mummification throughout history. Through a combination of factual articles and topical essays, this book reviews cultural beliefs about death; the afterlife; and the interment, entombment, and cremation of human corpses in places like Egypt, Europe, Asia, and Central and South America. Additionally, the book covers the phenomenon of natural mummification, where environmental conditions result in the spontaneous preservation of human and animal remains.

Here’s an excerpt (slightly condensed) from my introduction to the book: Read the rest of this entry

Teeming Links – April 18, 2014

FireHead

Washington, DC as a corrupt inferno of reality distortion (WARNING: Reading this may make you profoundly ill): “The resulting offspring of this confluence of industry, politics, and pop-culture has produced a wide range of hybrid permutations of all three partners: the celebrity operative (Carville-Matalin, Stephanopoulos), the cable news partisanship industry (Fox, MSNBC), the Hollywood revisionist/fictional political thriller (West Wing, Game Change, House of Cards), and the reality challenged political self-promotions industry (any consultant living in DC) — all of which has in the ensuing decades created a political atmosphere in DC having very little to do with the real business of governing, and more about massaging reality to fit whatever narrative serves your brand best.”

Wall Street as dystopian nightmare: “Imagine you’re a scientist in some sci-fi alternate universe, and you’ve been charged with creating a boot camp that will reliably turn normal but ambitious people into broken sociopaths more or less willing to do anything.”

How Goldman Sachs (and others) blew up the economy and profited from our misery: “The cumulative impact of this fusion of technology, greed, and moral blindness, duplicated from one end of Wall Street to the other, was global economic meltdown.”

The secret spiritual history of calculus: “Integral calculus originated in a 17th-century debate that was as religious as it was scientific. . . . For the Jesuits, the purpose of mathematics was to construct the world as a fixed and eternally unchanging place, in which order and hierarchy could never be challenged. . . . For Cavalieri and his fellow indivisiblists, it was the exact reverse.”

The (not so) secret magical history of science: “In reality, science owes its origins to beliefs that the high priests of modern science such as Richard Dawkins would regard as even more irrational than Christianity.”

The historical birth and continued vitality of the Illuminati conspiracy theory: “In popular culture and old-time religion, satire and nationalist politics, the Illuminati conspiracy still resonates with its warning that the light of reason has its shadows, and even the most enlightened democracy can be manipulated by hidden hands.”

It turns out George Romero was more prophetic than even he knew when he set Dawn of the Dead in a shopping mall. As reported by the BBC, it’s the end of an era as the entire phenomenon of American shopping malls is dying: “Born in the 1950s, these temples of commerce were symbols of the US consumer culture — but many are now dying out. . . . Soon enough, and just as no one knows how to make use of Ancient Egyptian temples today, shopping malls will become the stuff of archaeology and folklore.”

So what might replace indoor shopping malls? Well, isn’t it obvious? Say hello to outdoor mega-shopping villages based on the Disney model, where shoppers are called “guests” and the whole experience is carefully controlled, right down to the faux quaint architecture and village-like layout. Says one leading developer, “We’re in the entertainment business. You step on the property in the morning, it’s got to be perfect.”

Lessons from Stephen King and Valley of the Dolls: A college student named Matthew Kahn is reading 94 bestselling books from the past century (1913-2013) and blogging about what he’s learning re: the evolving nature and status of popular fiction and its audience.

A brief history of “Choose Your Own Adventure” (and oh, did I love those books when I was in junior high): “Nearly 35 years after its debut, ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ remains a publishing landmark.”

 

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mass culture, best-sellerism, and the future of literature

From an essay by Philip Van Doren Stern that was first published in Virginia Quarterly Review in January 1942, immediately after America’s entry into the Second World War and several decades into the rise of modern mass culture:

Bookselling itself has changed. It has taken a lesson from the department store which long ago learned that it did not pay to stock thousands of titles when it was more profitable to promote a few vigorously and take orders for the others only if the customer insisted on having them. This stripped-stock method of merchandising obviously favors the bestseller. The book clerk naturally tries to persuade the customer to take a title from stock; books that are not displayed are not likely to be purchased; and if the customer asks for “a good book” the clerk will, of course, attempt to sell him one which he knows has already met with approval. (It should not be forgotten that the store makes more profit from buying a large quantity of one title at a long discount.) Stripped-stock selling has become so firmly established that the sales manager of one large publishing house candidly admits that it is easier to sell a store a hundred copies of a book the publisher is going to promote heavily than it is to persuade it to take even two copies of a good substantial book for which no ballyhoo is promised.

. . . Damning the best-seller is very much like cursing at our machine civilization. It is part and parcel of the world in which we live, as normal to our mode of existence as the automobile, as sure to continue with us as the machines themselves. It traces its ancestry back to Gutenberg; it received a terrific impetus from the invention of the steam rotary press, and every mechanical and social change since then has served to establish it more firmly. It is here to stay, no matter what form our economic system takes.

In a world which faces vast revolutionary upheavals the problem of best-sellerism may seem trivial. Actually it is not, for as has been shown, the best-seller is closely allied with the forces that are shaping our age. And if one believes that literature is important, the influence of the best-seller on publishing merits careful examination and analysis. It is not absurd to suppose that historians of the future will write elaborate treatises showing how the literature of the first half of the twentieth century was molded by mass audiences who got their reading matter in the form of best-sellers. We know the effect a small, highly educated circle of readers had upon the literature of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. We have seen how Dickens was able to dominate the nineteenth century novel by means of the steam press and serially issued installments. Surely it is not unreasonable to believe that millions of readers devouring millions of machine-made books will leave their impress upon the literature of our time.

The effect this mass audience may have upon literature is not easily forecast, yet one can already perceive certain tendencies. Everything is subordinated to the story; characters simply further the action without having any inner significance of their own; the deep underlying motives which govern human behavior are slighted because they hold up a rapidly moving narrative; atmosphere and background become nuisances which impede the progress of the plot, and philosophical speculation is ruled out entirely. Our novels are becoming as rigidly streamlined as our airplanes or automobiles; our non-fiction is written in a high-grade journalese which stems from the penny pamphleteers rather than from the great masters of English prose style.

And our readers who confine themselves to best-sellers are like motorists whose chief aim in life is to cover six hundred miles a day. You see very little while driving at seventy miles an hour — you gather very little from the galloping pages of a breathless narrative. Both are fun while they last, but what can be remembered of them except bright streaks of color, the feeling of rapid movement, and a temporary sense of excitement? The hurrying traveler is isolated by his speed; to his narrowly concentrated vision the world becomes a twenty-foot strip of road. Another six hundred miles — or pages — and he is just where he began. In his mad haste he has seen nothing, experienced nothing. Far back from the highway down which he raced there were a hundred towns and villages whose existence he did not even suspect. In them life goes on, lived in all its fullness, but what can be grasped of life or literature by a man who takes only the main-traveled roads and who never attempts to explore for himself anything that lies beyond the horizon’s rim?

More: “Books and Best-Sellers

Recommended Reading 33

Recommendations this week, spanning a vastly broad variety of trends, issues, ideas, people, and subjects, include: the pressure on American policymakers to adapt to increasingly wild weather; Daniel Pinchbeck’s analysis of the wild weather and other aspects of our current ecological crisis as a collective planetary-spiritual experience of initiation into higher levels of consciousness; an assertion from Rupert Sheldrake that minds are not limited to brains; renowned philosopher Elliot Sober’s critique of renowned philosopher Thomas Nagel’s new book Mind and Cosmos; an analysis of the crisis facing the American publishing and literary world in an age of epic corporate mergers, along with a (self-admittedly futile) call for the enacting of government policies to protect culture; and a fascinating analysis of the “Gospel of O”: the idea of “emptying yourself for Oprah” that stalks proudly and prominently throughout the American media-cultural-psychological landscape. Also see the final entry below for a heads-up about a conversation that’s currently unfolding both here and elsewhere on the Internet about the meanings of horror, as spurred on by a recent Teeming Brain column. Read the rest of this entry

Recommended Reading 30

This week’s (exceptionally long and varied) offering of intellectual enrichment includes: an argument that the likely death of economic growth is the underlying theme of the current U.S. presidential election; thoughts on the rise of a real-life dystopia of universal algorithmic automation; an account of how the founder of TED became disgusted with the direction of the iconic ideas conference and created a new one to fulfill his original vision; reflections by a prominent physicist on science, religion, the Higgs boson, and the cultural politics of scientific research; a new examination of the definition, meaning, and cultural place of “pseudoscience”; a deeply absorbing warning about the possible death of the liberal arts, enhanced by the author’s first-person account of his own undergraduate liberal arts education at the University of Chicago; thoughts on the humanizing effects of deep literary reading in an age of proliferating psychopathy; a question/warning about the possible fate of literature as a central cultural-historical force in the grip of a publishing environment convulsed by epochal changes; an interview with Eric Kandel on the convergence of art, biology, and psychology; a new report from a psychiatric research project on the demonstrable link between creativity and mental illness; a career-spanning look at the works and themes of Ray Bradbury; and a spirited (pun intended) statement of the supreme value of supernatural and metaphysical literature from Michael Dirda. Read the rest of this entry

The future of reading at the interstices of print and digital literature

Here are some highly interesting remarks and reflections on the rise of electronic reading and the shape of the literary future (and present) from Yale University literature and reading scholar Jessica Pressman, whose “current research focuses on how 21st century literature — both in print and online — responds to the threat of an increasingly paperless and multimodal society.” The excerpts come from a recent installment of the always-worthwhile series of “FiveBooks Interviews” published by The Browser. Note that Dr. Pressman references several specific texts that are pertinent to the question of what books and literature can and may become.

We’re talking about digital textuality and what happens to literature when it interfaces with the prospect of the digital — of digital technology and digital culture. And we’re talking about readers who are becoming literate, and perhaps even more literate, on the screen rather than on the page … [P]eople are just reading in different ways online. Rather than engaging with a single book and a single author for a sustained amount of time, people are reading in the kind of Web 2.0 social networking ways … [T]hey’re reading hypertextually across web pages, and they’re also producing their own content … I think the place to look to see these changes is the location where conventional print literature and digital literature meet. That’s where these works live — House of Leaves , The Raw Shark Texts , and digital literature too — at the interstices.

— “Jessica Pressman on Electronic Literature,” The Browser, October 18, 2012

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