Monday, May 28, 2007

My review of Thomas Ligotti's major new work

This is my on-the-hoof review during my first reading of The Conspiracy Against The Human Race (CATHR): a major 'non-fiction' work by Thomas Ligotti that has just been kindly presented HERE prior to book publication.:


I have just returned from a short holiday with my wife ... 'distraction'?

And got on straightway with reading The Conspiracy Against the Human Race at the first opportunity. Thanks to TL and Dr B for making it available here.

I thought I would make some brief passing comments in media res - and I have reached the text up to Footnote 8 on page 7 (including the reading of footnotes). I don't want my passing thoughts to shade off into hindsight as I read on, so this is why I want to comment periodically as I read it (not guaranteed how quickly).

I have enjoyed this TL's 'sublimation' by means of the text so far ... more 'distraction' by means of such 'enjoyment' on my part?

Sublimation is indeed how I read it .... so far.

I wrote a line of poetry in 1965: "It is futile to call life futile as it is."

Not sure how this will pan out. Enjoyed it and been instructed. Instructive that such thoughts could be thought at all .... and made current in the context of one of my favourite 'fiction' writers ever ('anchoring'?). (I've put fiction in quotes as a safeguard pending my own further thoughts.... if any there be).

I feel as if I am swimming. But I can't swim, have never been able to swim, despite having been brought up in a seaside resort as a child!


I've now reached reading to the end of 'Thinking Horror' and I see I shall have to re-read the whole magnificent tour de force one day, but, meanwhile, to comment as I promised: piecemeal ...
I'm currently unsure whether we are being made to imagine the most selfless numinous (nemonymous) self (in connection with the Proustian selves described in this section of CATHR) or to affirm one's identity so that one can doff it with grander effect!
For example, by wearing identity one becomes even more identitiless when one does become identitiless after having an identity once (a single self not doffed in favour of separate selves within the same headlease (if powerless) self but in favour of the non-technological 'singularity' of an unself) ... and writing fiction is thus the identity (or job) one shall later doff in this way??

Is the fiction writer the potentially suicidal God?

PS: Meanwhile, I hang my head (with its self snailed within it) in confused dismay for having been a 'breeder' during my lifetime.


"You live a day a day to put life in" is another line of my poetry from the sixties.

I have just read 'Enlightenment' in 'Facing Horror', and I somehow thought of the word 'Zencore' (a word I chose to be the title of an anthology of Horror (nihilist?) fiction (at the printers as I speak)), as well as Zencore already being the name of a herbal 'medicine' with the advertised effects that 'viagra' has on male 'performance'. Seems somehow appropriate! Or misappropriate in an appropriate way!

I think literature is a religion in itself. And TL's CATHR (so far) is an (advertised) non-fiction (a Short Life of Horror) description of the nullities of ego, life's futility etc. and layered descriptions of thinking of the nullity of ego etc. (and then thinking of that thinking...), and all the ramifications that thinking has for death wishes, spiritual seeking ...
TL's non-fiction, so-called, in this essay, is also literature, I feel ... highly honed, professionally couched, fascinating, fulfilling, satisfying, basically 'true' (so far) to my own unarticulated thinking, and thus making my life more worthwhile (intrinsically worthwhile?), and presumably TL's life, too, by having written such a life-changing tour de force.

Just a mid-term brainstorming. More later. I don't want to give birth prematurely ... if at all.

No place for smileys here.


I have now reached the end of 'Intolerance' in 'Facing Horror'.

This rings loud bells with me for my relationship with blood relations and even chosen friends vis a vis conflicts of religious temperament. I am not even on the same map of (non)-belief as most people I know. It is a hard cross to bear. Pretentious, too.

I see CATHR is subtitled 'A Short Life of Horror'. This is reflective, I feel, of Peter Ackroyd's history of London entitled LONDON: A BIOGRAPHY. This is the essence of it (so far): we are talking about someone's life, a biography, an overview by the life itself of itself. An eternal philosophical dilemma of a mind examining itself with unknown and unknowable filters between. This is how the author of CATHR is so clever in bringing puppetry into the equation. But as yet I fail to see how he will eventually solve this conundrum. He may have of course even cleverer prestidigitations up his sleeve as I read on.

I think 'potentially suicidal gods' (the thread title given by Dr B to my original post) sums it up neatly .... but will they remain for ever 'potential' suicides as most reckonable suicides are, because they are not suicides ... yet? And to 'reckon' a true suicide one would indeed need to be a God to come back and tell us about a true 'happened' suicide. (All other sucides are just hearsay). And without a 'true' God in the equation, the whole CATHR falls apart. But it also falls apart with a God in it, of course.

addendum: here: are my own gauche thoughts that were published in 'Roadworks ' (1999) under the title 'Beyond Death' as gathered and trimmed by exegesis frm my earlier wildly immature thoughts in several 'Tentacles Across The Atlantic' columns in 'Deathrealm' during the mid-nineties.


I’ve been thinking more about the title of this thread: What is Natural is Futile.

Having now read to the end of the ‘Facing Horror’ section, I feel unhappy because nothing further naturally flows to my mind to say publicly at this stage about my reading of CATHR. “Keep quiet then, till you have!” I hear shouted. But this very thought has made me question whether my earlier posting of comments actually made me feel happy – when I (in fits and starts) ostensibly had something natural, instinctive, organically-subsequent-to-what-went-before, to say. In contrast, it is dreadfully downbeat to have to say something, i.e. to force yourself to concoct something to say, rather than depending on the natural flow of thought in life’s discourse-of-least-resistance.

But expressed thoughts-at-length are generally not natural, not auditable except, possibly, in rare moments of genius or inspiration that only ‘magic non-fiction’ such as CATHR can produce – and this is probably why and how its author does not break down into tears of despair (as one would otherwise expect with any author) during the polished treatments of blinding futility, cynicism, pessimism, visions of frightening nothingness, cultured barrenness etc. that he is managing to articulate so manfully, so meticulously, so learnedly, so downright calmly for us to absorb. Because it is a natural flow, not concocted, and this makes him (arguably) happy.

No natural flow in this thread, however, unless someone else enters it with his or her own flow of thought to channel me away from false concoctions.


My first readng of CATHR has now reached the end of 'Fictions' in 'Consuming Horror', with some disconnnected notes ....

I am beginning to wonder if the nemophile and nemophobe are the same person.

Did you know that on the Titanic there was a musical band that continued to play in the lounge right up to the very moment of the ship's final sinking?

Is there such a thing as a gratuitous act?

And if one takes the thrust of CATHR (so far) to its own rational conclusions, would a mass killing (or mass suicide pact) in the ultimate (if hopeless) hope that universal cleansing would then ensue - even within the constraints of an ostensibly logicalised philosophy - be untouchable by laws that were intended to prevent such events? This may be something that any publisher of this work would have to be wary of. But, of course, anyone studying CATHR should finish it before making any such judgement of speculation.

The Suicide of a God by writing philosophy about its Godhood?


I have now reached reading to the end of 'Supernaturalism' in 'Consuming Horror'.

I like the concept of the sense of the supernatural, as opposed to the supernatural itself.

What is SuperNatural is not Futile (to coin a new thread title)?

Mention of Joseph Conrad makes me think that 'Chance' is the plaster that our dire wounds (described in various ways in CATHR) need, ie. wounds inflicted upon us from simply having life - plus bandage-layers of narrators or of ego/id/nemo viewpoints that we can scatter around like placebos or decoy-puppets or shadows.

Aren't shadows on the wall sometimes more revelatory than seeing the people that cast them? CHANCE is a novel by Joseph Conrad. Here, the characters and particularly the heroine are drained of any motive or sympathy because of the layering of narrative: we hear a spoken voice telling an inscrutable narrator of someone else’s view of someone else’s view of certain events, mix and match between. But it does not seem to lessen one’s interest in the book: it is character-driven and sympathy is allowed to take a backseat in preference to exploring one’s own motives for assigning certain motives to certain types of people just on the basis of hearsay and chance. Conrad writes in introduction to CHANCE: “And it is only for their intentions that men can be held responsible” and this novel seeks to show, I think, that any intentions are essentially unknowable. I propose that even one's own intentions are unknowable: being shadows, too. The heart of darkness.


Overnight I've wondered if the title - Conspiracy Against The Human Race - is double-edged (whether intentional or not, multiple bluff or not), inasmuch as CATHR itself is to become a conspiracy against the human race and/or, even, the author's own conspiracy against himself.
I intend to have a short break from reading CATHR today as it is, I feel, the sort of work from which the reader needs respite - a respite from its headiness of texture and its cocktail of shadows. However, I may be tempted back into its enticing maw sooner rather than later.

What is SuperNatural is not Futile (to coin a new thread title)?

Maybe this is an echo of my earlier thought: 'magical non-fiction'.
Magic Fiction turns fiction into reality (non-fiction) -- please see separate thread on Magic Fiction and Magic Realism -- whilst Magic Non-Fiction is vice versa. The only way, perhaps, for CATHR to counter any charges of incitement towards despair etc. is for it to call itself Magic Non-Fiction rather than a plain 'non-fiction' as it calls itself at the moment.

Style outdoing the subject-matter by means of being outdone by the subject-matter (as tendered on the 'Potentially Suicidal Gods' thread re Lovecraft)?

I shall later try to rationalise some new thoughts of mine regarding 'word clones' or 'word clowns'.


Well, I couldn't keep away for long from this unique reading experience that is CATHR. It is both deeply serious and laced with a deep cynical humour (I sense), a humour which does not relieve the dark seriousness but alters it like a pungent spice would make a stew a curry.

I have now reached reading to the end of 'Consuming Horror' - 'Style'.
Lovecraft is not a writer, I feel, but a phenomenon that is his writing. If you read his letters to Kleiner, you might not wonder how he needed his future reputation as a person to be blotted out by cosmic horror! His prose style is aso blotted out by the same cosmic horror; so his style autonomously creates the cosmic horror with blatant over-dramatic coagulants of semantics, graphology, phonetics and syntax ... indescribable reams of adjectival feasts ... a lurking fear that outdoes its style by, paradoxically, being outdone by it! And this paradox relates to the cocktail of shadows that is CATHR. It is more than its parts. And I genuinely believe (and I repeat) (with the sole current reservation that I have not yet finished my first reading of CATHR) that we have a God here who is destroying Himself by writing a cogent work of Philosophy to prove His own non-existence*. As Lovecraft needed to do, whether intended or not.

*And this is the prestidigitation I predicted earlier, perhaps, whereby the author of CATHR is solving the conundrum of a mind examining its own mind...


'Something unforeseen must have happened. You know, even grown-up people cannot always do what they want most.'

'Oh! Then why grow up?'

From Part 3 (1) of 'The House in Paris' (1935) by Elizabeth Bowen

Is that not a better question than "Oh! Then why be born"?
Something to be said for being childlike (not childish).

I have now reached the end of the 'Living Horror' section in my first reading of CATHR. My ambiant self continues to be attuned to these (self-confessed?) self-righteous articulations of morbidity and futility and cynicism. I am glad I have been able to live long enough to read this genuine masterpiece. I have (always?) believed - but not articulated - that I was born simply to make bowel movements, assuaged by my (only) drugs of alcohol, art and family-building.

I shall make more comments when I've finished 'Creating Horror'. The greatest despair of all has not yet been articulated within CATHR, the despair of Namelessness. Perhaps that's why Lovecraft did not major on the Unnameable but on Azathoth.
To doff one's name, to remove it from the authorship of CATHR for example, would be the way to bring a Death-before-Death as trenchant as one could hope, a meaning to meaninglessness so meaningless it would no longer seem important to reach it. One's Name is the last God to write out of existence.

I call it Nemonymity. I, for one, have failed to reach this Heaven.

Addendum: For Easter (a short novelistic take on death):


I have now completed my first reading of CATHR up to the end of 'Sickness' in 'Living Horror'.

Maybe I can be forgiven being a 'breeder' during my lifetime, by having named my daughter Berenice in 1974. :-)

Under this thread title, I think it appropriate to quote this extract from Stefan Grabinski:

"Wrzesmian wasn't too popular. The works of this strange man, saturated with rampant fantasy and imbued with strong individualism, gave a most unfavourable impression by inverting accepted aesthetic-literary theories and by mocking established pseudo-truths. His output was eventually acknowledged as the product of a sick imagination, the bizarre work of an eccentric, maybe even a madman. Wrzesmian was an inconvenience for a variety of reasons and he disturbed unnecessarily, stirring peaceful waters. Thus his premature eclipse was received with a secret sigh of relief." FROM "THE AREA" BY STEFAN GRABINSKI.

Re Nabokov and metaphor, is it a metaphor that what I consider to be his greatest novel is entitled ADA but pronounced ARDOR?


The fiction and the non-fiction by Thomas Ligotti are symbiotic. But which is which?

Is CATHR, in view of its articulations formally here labelled 'non-fiction', going to entail that the printed book of CATHR is going to be anonymous, i.e. when all traces are removed from this site? Authorship will then be a rumour ... like death.


I have now finished my first reading of CATHR. I can't tell if I am a changed man as a result of reading it other than, perhaps, by having the foresight to record my initial thoughts piecemeal during the reading! Is this a new way to review books - a whole review spread in time split between two electronic threads, i.e. this thread (Potentially Suicidal Gods?) and the other thread (What is Natural is Futile), both of which badly need other posters than me to complete the Jungian circle, the universal review in time and electronic space. But these spaces (infinitely wide threads?) have remained mostly far.

I am enormously impressed by CATHR as a whole. It is original and thought-provoking, encouraging the readers to become even more original in their reactions. It is a template for us. The author of CATHR calls us you in the long seemingly heart-felt Shakespearean soliloquy at the end of 'Plot' which is about losing the plot. You to us to them. How do we know we are the only creatures on Earth who are aware of our future death?

Death is Natural. But we are Supernatural, immune within our body-car, till it crashes...

If there is the sense of the Supernatural which is tantamount to the Supernatural itself, why can not there also be a sense of our immortality, where we learn all the mistakes of life and become essentially happy forever? A sense of fiction. A sense that is magically stronger than reality. A regaining of the lost plot. A regaining of Proustian lost time. A casacade of selves that is us.

I am, however, ominous:

How can CATHR infer a mind that writes CATHR as well as being the same mind examined within CATHR? Perhaps by disassociation created by word clones and word clowns. Puppet strings tied to the letters before the post-performance letters become indelible insects squashed to the page in deceptively neat ranks ... and by brilliantly 'anchoring' (to recoin that word) the thoughts in CATHR to a learned array of references elsewhere in the literature of morbidity.

Would this also solve the danger of CATHR - in some hands - becoming its own Bible of multi-destruction?

Is CATHR a conspiracy against the world, rather than a description of that conspiracy.

Is it ontologial suicide?



Something I wrote some years ago below. It's a bit dated. Now I'm gone neo-ominous!

The Ominous Imagination

My greatest love in fiction is the 'Horror/Dark Fantasy' core that I find in most sorts of literature, old and new, literary and otherwise.

For me, this core should be and is being expanded by the current vogue in fiction genre-crossing and genre-betweening (Interstitiality), i.e. acting like a magnet, and making other fiction traditions conducive to the 'Horror' spirit or, as I would like it to be called, 'The Ominous Imagination'. Indeed, I believe, most good fiction is (and has always been) imbued with and steeped in this type of imaginative spirit, in any event.

Those who publish genre-specific outlets in the Horror fiction field, for example, perhaps allow the hard-fought beach-heads of 'Horror/Dark Fantasy' to crumble and separate out, thus allowing these particles of fiction already gathered for the 'Horror/Dark Fantasy' core to escape from that core because such genre-narrowing outlets tend to crystallise that core AS a core rather than as a magnet.


I hope Thomas Ligotti will accept being the high priest of the magnet, not of the core.


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