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Autumn Longing: Alan Watts

Alan Watts, sometime in the 1970s

Yesterday, I came across a passage in a book by Alan Watts that reignited an old passion for what I have referred to in the past as “the autumn longing.” In a kind of “deep cut” vein for this blog, longtime readers — by which I mean really longtime readers, those who have been with me for the entire thirteen-year span of The Teeming Brain’s existence — may recall the series of posts I wrote on this topic beginning in 2006, just a few months after the blog’s founding. In the first of these posts, I explained the term “autumn longing” this way:

The autumn season has always carried a special emotional potency for me. When the weather turns crisp and the colors of nature change first to vibrant reds, oranges, and golds, and then progress onward toward deep russet browns, tending toward the death-sleep of winter, I’m struck with feelings of poignancy and melancholy that burn more brightly, or perhaps more darkly, than at any other time of the year. I’m also more exquisitely sensitive to the aesthetic influence of art, whether literary, musical, visual, or otherwise.

It was many years ago that I first realized and articulated to myself that this autumnal mood is inextricably bound up with a certain, strange longing. When the mood of autumn comes over me, it is always characterized by a kind of nostalgia for something I have never really known, as if I possess some vestigial memory of a lost knowledge or emotion that flits maddeningly and elusively on the edge of my ability to recall directly. It’s truly a numinous experience, that is, an experience that makes me feel as I’ve come into brief contact with some sort of transcendent spiritual truth. It tends to generate the impression of an absolute, unmediated experience of supernal beauty hovering just beyond the edge of my inner grasp. All the flickering hints of this beauty that I sometimes encounter in literature, film, music, and scenic natural vistas and skyscapes seem to reach their apotheosis in this ungraspable ultimacy, as if they are merely finite carriers that filter and refract partial glimpses of an infinite reality, like the Platonic Form of the Beautiful itself.

The remainder of that post was devoted to laying out the exquisite articulations of this experience that populate the works, both fiction and nonfiction, of C. S. Lewis, who made this longing the centerpiece of his literary aesthetic and his Christian apologetical writings. He employed the German term sehnsucht to refer to it, and he was in fact largely responsible for bringing this word and its rich set of uses and connotations to the attention of a popular English-reading audience.

Other posts in the series focused on the appearance and invocation of this longing in the writings of Lovecraft, Poe, and Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus. I revisited the idea a few years later with posts about Huston Smith (as compared to Lovecraft) and, again, Lovecraft and Lewis. Beyond the boundaries of The Teeming Brain, I incorporated the Lovecraftian aspects of the autumn longing into my paper “The Master’s Eyes Shining with Secrets,” in which I explored the parallels and departures between the respective literary and philosophical visions of Lovecraft and Ligotti. I also published a two-part essay titled “Lovecraft’s Longing” in the late North Shore arts magazine Art Throb, and I wrote a blog post titled “Fantasy, Horror, and Infinite Longing” for SF Signal. In the latter, I discussed the subject in relation not only to Lewis and Lovecraft but to Stephen King and Colin Wilson.

So this is all to say that the matter was, and still is, of great importance to me, both philosophically and emotionally. This autumn longing, this sehnsucht, this tantalizing, maddening glimpse of some ultimate beauty and fulfillment and joy that lies perpetually beyond the horizon, this distinct scent or flavor of some infinite bliss that seems to reside half in memory and half in imagination, remaining always distinctly real and yet always just beyond my ability fully to grasp or realize — this is, apparently, a permanent part of my, and our, constitution as human beings, a kind of existential haunting that we as homo sapiens are blessed and doomed to know.

Although another span of years has now elapsed since I last wrote about it, the matter is never a non-issue in my life. I felt it more keenly when I was younger, but it’s still a living reality, not just as a matter of personal experience but in my life as a reader of books and literature. I’m still thrilled whenever I stumble across a new, or at least new to me, expression or description of this longing in someone else’s writings, especially since such descriptions often serve to evoke the longing itself.

Read the rest of this entry

Advance praise from Thomas Ligotti for TO ROUSE LEVIATHAN

Thomas Ligotti has this to say about my forthcoming book:

To Rouse Leviathan is one of those rare books that produces in a reader the most important reaction one can have to a work of, let us say, the literature of abomination. This reaction takes the form of a question: “From where could this marvel have come?” Quite aside from revealing an admiration for the author’s adept handling of spectral atrocities in such a work, the reader’s inquiry is more significant as testimony to an astonishment at the raw fact of its emergence.

The origin of this singular astonishment deserves further explication. While excelling in the domain of high imagination and literary achievement (when Matt Cardin sets his sights on conveying an idea or effect incongruous with equanimity, he invariably takes it as far as it can be artistically taken), To Rouse Leviathan contains an added element necessary to the provocation of the foregoing question. Pervaded by the aura of a domain at once monstrous and not of this world, the book is conspicuous as a worthy descendant of a distinguished line of supernatural horror. As such, it is successful in its aim — which is endemic to efforts, capable or not, in the genre of relevance here — to create a breviary of gruesome mysteries, the qualifier “gruesome” in this case being apt only because everything in the visible world warrants an inauspicious characterization of the invisible. It is, in fact, mysteries of this kind that compose the added element, the necessary constituent, that causes the interrogatory outburst, “From where could this marvel have come?” Furthermore, each one of Matt Cardin’s stories carries the message that there is an “elsewhere” that, by its nature, to quote a scholar of this realm, is both appalling and alluring. That the so-called reality we bump into on a daily basis should be seen as pure misconception is a fundamental assumption of Matt Cardin’s vision.

Without question, Cardin is no dilettante in the conception and expression of that which we would not know and yet, if our lives are to partake of mysteries that alone can give them meaning, we crave to know. To offer some satisfaction for this awful and wondrous craving is the gift of this book.

Thomas Ligotti

To Rouse Leviathan will be published next month by Hippocampus Press.

VASTARIEN wins Magazine of the Year in 2019 This Is Horror Awards

Vastarien, the horror journal established and launched in 2018 by Jon Padgett and me (with crucial input from a couple of other valued friends) has just been named Magazine of the Year in the annual This Is Horror Awards. In addition to launching the journal, Jon and I co-edited the first two issues, after which I had to bow out due to other mounting obligations (including an insane year at my college VP job plus a mountain of necessary work on my dissertation). Jon has headed up two more issues since then, with all issues being published by his Grimscribe Press.

The awards in question are based on reader votes and conducted by This Is Horror, the online horror mini-empire consisting of two popular podcasts — This Is Horror, hosted by Michael David Wilson and Bob Pastorella, and The Outer Dark, hosted by Scott Nicolay — plus a thriving website and a publishing arm. You may recall that in 2017 and 2018, Jon and I made appearances separately and together on both podcasts (This Is Horror 177, This Is Horror 178, This Is Horror 193, The Outer Dark 031). We talked specifically about the birth of Vastarien on TIH 193 and TOD 031.

Here is Jon’s public statement about winning the TIH Award:

Vastarien: A Literary Journal was conceived five years ago by a handful of people who wanted to see more writing about and in response to the work of writer/thinker Thomas Ligotti. Since then, our publication has been bombarded with stellar, but unusual, work by authors and artists — many of whom are underrepresented and/or newer voices. Without them and the incredible support Vastarien continues to receive from its devoted readers, this singular journal never would have come to fruition. Thanks so much to all of you and the staff of This Is Horror for this wonderful award.

—Jon Padgett, Editor-in-Chief of Vastarien: A Literary Journal
THIS IS HORROR FICTION MAGAZINE OF THE YEAR

Click to see the full list of 2019 This Is Horror Awards, which includes novels, novellas, short story collections, anthologies, magazines, publishers, and podcasts.

I’m quite proud of what Vastarien has brought to the world with its mission of publishing work that A) illuminates the work of Thomas Ligotti and/or B) shares a kind of Ligottian DNA. Thematically, it encompasses the swirling sea-galaxy of writers, thinkers, ideas, philosophers/philosophies, spiritual traditions, artistic traditions, etc., that intersect with the Ligottian literary cosmos. Formally, it encompasses fiction, nonfiction, poetry, art, and liminal and hybrid works of fiction/nonfiction/poetry. It gives a platform to both established voices and newcomers. It provides an outlet for ideas, perspectives, and emotions that are not often expressed elsewhere. The fact that it has been so well-received by readers is a welcome — and, quite honestly, surprising (at least to me) — validation of this approach. It’s also a testament to the able guidance of Jon, who has captained this ship and stood at the center of the whole project. After the publication of the second issue, Signal Horizon declared Vastarienthe most exciting thing in horror lit right now.” A year later, the TIH crowd has chosen it as their favorite magazine of 2019. Clearly, Jon is leading it from strength to strength. As for me, I’m looking forward to returning for some editorial involvement in the near future.

On a related note, Tim Waggoner’s short story “How to Be a Horror Writer,” which Jon and I accepted for publication in the second issue, is currently nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award.

Teeming Links – March 15, 2019

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.

Sample of Cadabra Records’ Audio LP of Ligotti’s “The Bungalow House”

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.”

A Penguin Classics edition of Ligotti’s ‘The Conspiracy against the Human Race’

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.

Kickstarter campaign for “Vastarien: A Literary Journal”

 

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:

 

Kickstarter – Vastarien: A Literary Journal

 

(BONUS NOTE: We’re also now accepting submissions for issues 2 and 3. The submission period will close on March 1.)

Thomas Ligotti on horror literature and those who read it

 

Here’s the ending to my interview with Thomas Ligotti in Horror Literature through History (which, as I just learned, was published a few days ago, slightly ahead of the advertised schedule). I think these lines represent my favorite thing Tom has ever said in an interview. (And as you know, his interviews are plentiful.)

MATT CARDIN: What is the point, purpose, or value of horror literature?

THOMAS LIGOTTI: To entertain and disillusion at the same time.

MC: What do readers of horror literature need to know?

TL: If you read a lot of horror literature because you like to be scared, then you’re probably a normal, healthy person. If you read horror literature to fulfill some deeply personal predisposition, be assured there is probably something odd and unwholesome about you. Don’t ever let anyone tell you it’s not all right to be that way.

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

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.