Monday, November 30, 2015

ERITH - Quentin S. Crisp



I have just received the two books from ZAGAVA

ERITH by Quentin Crisp

WRAITHS by Mark Valentine

My previous reviews of ZAGAVA books are linked from HERE.
…and of Mark Valentine works HERE
…and of Quentin S. Crisp works HERE.

If I real-time review these books, my comments will appear in the thought stream below or by clicking on this post’s title above.

8 thoughts on “WRAITHS and ERITH

    WRAITHS by Mark Valentine

  2. image
    The new publication on the right seems to be a revised second edition of the edition on the left, the text and nature of which I have already reviewed HERE. The new one (mine is numbered 7 out of 50) has an even more tenuous quality that befits its wraith-like slim volume status that is central to its mythos. Both have their luxurious moments, though. Both will vanish before you can read them, I sense, like ghosts of books. A verve with a nerve.
  3. ERITH
    (A Supernatural, Anglo-Saxon I-Novel)
    By Quentin S. Crisp
  4. Pages 9 – 19
    “…without this little patch of Erith I might not be putting pen to paper at all.”
    The Literature of Hesitancy, I always find this author uniquely radiating on stiff paper pages that no Kindle could manage to convey, dwelling on the pronunciation of this South East London place, its spire, its Christian cafe bookshop…
    The narrator is looking for the Town Hall to claim Housing Benefit, and I can empathise with the mazy wordy clause structures of heuristic Hesitancy and its maze of subways where it is easy to get lost, with strange mentionable areas cut off by such subways. I’ve been there, done it, got the Tea Shirt. Except not in Erith. Yet.
  5. Pages 20 – 29
    “At least three people – I could name three now – have warned me that I weaken my writing by including too many literary allusions and self-conscious references.”
    When I advertised this real-time review of ‘Erith’ on my Facebook page, one of my ‘friends’ claimed that Erith is the least likely place on Earth to be deemed ‘supernatural’. I then took a look at Erith and Earth and the ‘patch of Erith’ in this dual carriageway underpass…
    Meanwhile, this text’s heuristic hesitancy continues apace with a style to die for, as we absorb the narrator’s impression of the insides of the Town Hall that he eventually finds. A masterstroke in description, making a heuristic hesitancy a new-found literary tool that actually works well, despite that quote above.
    I see the reality and superreality of such a local authority office embedded in buildings not originally meant for them and the nature of the beings who officiate in them at various levels of pecking order – and the internal accoutrements and decorations range from Baronial to Whovian. And the electronic duties or sought fealty entailed by screens today. No time to be hesitant with paper forms but STRAIGHT IN THERE.
    This text also reminds me of the scavenging amid a palimpsest London laced with dark existentialism of another book I reviewed recently HERE (‘The Haunted Sleep’ by Jonathan Wood.)
  6. Pages 29 – 38
    “Whether Pagan, Christian, or some other thing, my spirit had been excited, my imagination set astir.”
    Although that quote does not demonstrate the phenomenon, there are many en dashes in this section of text. One short sentence with three of them, for example. They seem to replace colons or commas. It is a good job I like such use of en dashes, although, defiantly, I will not use them in this review. Exploring this particular text, for me, is like examining the behaviour of the observed customer in the Town Hall and the officious woman manager in charge of the young men employees, so young they look like boys and, then, after leaving the Town Hall, trying to negotiate one’s way to the spire, having a densely packed array of wordy thoughts about this church and perhaps about joining the church as a vicar because of the nature of the mud and trees and their smell and sense of shelter from the spatters of rain, after passing through the “thewy lintel.”
    The reading of these passages is just like that. And as in all my reviews I pencil in the margin of the books I am processing in real-time, just like this narrator is doing.
    No sarcasm intended, but I am enthralled, and I intend to continue slowly savouring it again tomorrow.
    I may not continue itemising the plot for fear of spoilers.
  7. Pages 38 – 53
    “The true sources of life have been buried.”
    There is something sad here, not now so much a heuristic hesitancy, but more a bookish bewilderment, as we share the narrator’s miserable circumstances of living quarters, and the nature of itches and floaters. (I can certainly sympathise with the floaters (a swirl of which have, at least twice, abruptly and alarmingly attacked one of my eyes in recent years) whilst I can empathise with the miserable living quarters and the question of itches). The text evolves as marginally opaque or clumsy, deliberately so (I infer), but also , in a paradoxical miracle of style, marginally smooth and clearly evocative. I don’t think you will ever read another book quite like this one. It makes the reader feel somewhat different. Not sure of the nature of this new somewhat but I am hovering on the edge of transfiguration into someone else, with the matters concerning the Chesterton book about Francis of Assisi, one of the three books bought in the earlier cafe bookshop. I happen currently to be reading Chesterton’s Father Brown stories and real-time reviewing them HERE. I consider this to be a striking coincidence, and strengthens the surreal and philosophical eye-opener quality of the Father Brown stories that I had already noted, but also of these two Chesterton books now floating about together in the ether of my consciousness.
    There is something inescapable going on here, drawing me into it. Something methodically and naively clever. Such a detached soul encircled or oppressed by ‘them’ – which brings us back to THEIR disguise as ERITH?
    “Hell, I thought, and Heaven, are the same thing.”
  8. Pages 53 – 64
    “When a task makes me especially anxious, I will often try to cope with it by breaking it down into stages like this.”
    Heuristic, hesitant, passive, bookish, bewildered, anxious (encapsulate all that as ERITHIAN?) – I, too, feel I am Erithian, hence my methodical real-time nature of episodic book-reviewing like this one.
    Intrigued by the nature of this narrator’s Erithian reaction to the bus numbers in the Erith area of Earth, and that none seem to want to go to Erith as a destination.
    The nature of the underpass, too, is wonderfully described (can’t do justice to it here, rarefied, down-to-earth mystical, shangri-la?) and the special quality of cut-offedness reminds me of when being on a Narrow Boat on a canal within a city…
    The notebook phenomenon of collecting what-you-hear-people-saying, where middles are more approximate than ends, at least partially explains what I was trying to describe earlier of the appealing awkward-smooth nature of this book’s text. And its en dashes?
    My caps and squared-off word below…
    “How does one ever describe a colour, a taste or a scent, especially if the method of comparison to other colours, tastes and scents is disallowed? Only by THEIR effect,…”
    “They [people] do not fascinate me because of THEIR behaviour, but because of THEIR atmosphere.”
  9. Pages 64 – 73
    “His grip on English words was firm, but curiously at the wrong angle,…”
    Erithian’s encounter with an East European beggar, where generosity is generosity whatever garb of intention it wears, I guess. Change and relief.
    Erithian now adds – to the previous list of epithets above in my review – ‘self-hatred’, plus a complex naivety and a belief in epiphany as a sort of möbius loop – unlike the train’s loop from Erith to Bexleyheath (where he lives) because it is resolved or jumped after rumour and pointing. Trains and buses in London, a symbol for what looks out from them: everyone’s ‘I’.
    That “Anglo-Saxon I” of this book’s subtitle?
    I loved the ineffable oasis of ‘Nothing matters” where the earlier coordinates mentioned in this book are conclusively triangulated at least for a nonce – by dint of my own triangulations of dreamcatching it here? (Four en dashes slipped in above!)
  10. Pages 73 – 94
    “There is a sense in which my story is already over. I have completed its arc inside myself and it only remains to go through the outward motion of a dying fall -”
    …but one senses that this authorial voice is just as likely to remove a paragraph here and there from the pages I have already read so that any such arc is never set in stone.
    I think I said earlier – unless I have since removed it as if gutting the part of a sentence that is contained between a pair of middle not end en dashes – that you will never read another book quite like this one. And I felt – and still feel – I was certainly correct in that assessment, as I reached, this evening, the end of this physically luxurious book’s text some 20 pages beyond its above mention of a promised ‘dying fall’ (a phrase I have used a LOT in my own real-time reviewing, this review included.)
    It is as if Erithian does indeed come from another planet with strange, yet engaging, angles upon thought and language, while also his admitting to some misrepresentations about what he has told us about Erith and his visits to it, this last section being the third such visit so as to complete his Housing Benefit claim. He now uses the word ’empirical’ where I myself earlier used the word ‘heuristic’. What does that make me? Stranger than him? As writers, as he infers, we can only compare ourselves against ourselves not against each other. Delusions, error, fictionalisations about Erith? I believe not a word what he says about that. That’s because I believe every word he says about Erith.
    Well, meanwhile, Erithian adds to my earlier list of epithets about him, like extrapolative, skilful at making imagination real – not seem real but actually real – with his walk down the jetty, the half-submerged pier, the Boiiler Room, the hooded figure he finds there, and a final encounter with the beggar in the underpass. It all rings true. As does the origin of the name Erith, in Saxon, Old Haven (Eyr Hythe). As a boy, I lived very close to an area of Colchester (Essex) named Hythe, a place that was mainly an old small port or harbour on the River Colne, a port that then in the fifties and sixties had jetties and piers. Perhaps, Erithian is another version of myself (except I don’t have a ragworm round my wrist.)
    This book is a methodical struggling to overcome hesitancy and naivety, a struggle by means of conscientious trial and error, to discover why we are here and where we are going. Towards a haven called death?
    This book is a supreme example of the “preternaturally secular”, to use a phrase from ithe book itself. Occasionally, there is a sense of automatic writing, but an automatic writing not like Andre Breton but one geared towards an eventually strict and meticulously carved expression of destiny as a prolonged musical ‘dying fall’.
    At one moment, Erithian seems almost despairing of life, but knowing someone will publish his work (this book), and not at his expense. At the next moment, he is conscientious and disarming. A unique book, and I use the word ‘unique’ here in its true meaning, and I think, self-evidently, without empirical hesitation, that ‘unique’ is a word that I can only use ONCE about any work of literature. So, correction, THE unique book. And when I was a child there was only one channel, not three or four.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Black Static #49

Black Static #49


Fiction by Ralph Robert Moore (Dirt Land), Thana Niveau (Going to the Sun Mountain), Stephen Hargadon (The Toilet), Erinn L. Kemper (Gramma Tells a Story), Tim Lees (The Ice Plague), Simon Bestwick (The Climb).

TTA Press Nov-Dec 2015 – my previous reviews of this publisher HERE.

When I carry out a real-time review of the fiction in this magazine, my comments will be found in the thought stream below or by clicking on this post’s title above……………………………

9 thoughts on “Black Static #49

  1. DIRT LAND – a novelette by Ralph Robert Moore
    “Radishes are so easy to grow. Twenty-eight days, and that redness is ready to be pulled out of the dirt.”
    This is possibly one of the most difficult works I have ever had to review. How do I do it justice, how can I say to some of you that I love it when some of you will strenuously insist that I should hate it, how can I say to some of you that I hate it when some of you will insist perhaps even more strenuously that I should love it? Something like fighting on Facebook over this Dirt Land’s “gold award” for literature. Who can stoop the highest, who can stoop the lowest, in extolling its dire delectation or spewing on about its disgust? I give ALL of you the finger, and say that there is a special award for this work that is neither love nor hate – nor anything in between. There can be no name for such an award, but whatever the case, this work deserves it. Fighting it out each side of a septum, but that’s not half of it. At some points I could hardly bear to read it, then hardly bear to put it down.
    These people live in the ‘hollow’, Hollis’s hollow; their auras as human produce have a sense of believability as real individuals, believable with a deadpan acceptance of their crazy hard lot in life and of what behooved or befingered lot comes out of the ends of their life and limb, cloven or sexually precocious or foully frolicking quite unforgivably with stolen innocence, or whatever. They all have their mutual cohorts of sheer outdoing hate of each other; you gotta love how straight up they are in their hate, but with some shoots of love growing in that Dirt Land, a love that tries to raise its head between the hates, like that struggling love between Audrey and Roy. Roy who is scared of his own feet, and Audrey scared of her own blighted hollows, but love each other they do, not passionately, but enough.
    Rooting for Roy, you sense you are on a loser; rooting for radishes, though, from the Dirt Land is a rooting of quite another desperate sublimation of hope. Onions, too. Hence my raised bed in the lead photo for this my real-time review, taken and placed above hours ago before I had started reading it. This emotionally devastating story. This incredibly inspiring story.
    Inspiring that it was possible for someone to produce something like this at all
    – especially from scratch. Along with dirt’s gold coins. Sausages, too. The eggplant moussaka for Miss Abergine, notwithstanding.
  2. GOING TO THE SUN MOUNTAIN by Thana Niveau
    “I don’t care about scars. I care about not being touched.”
    From the point of view of Lys as one of two sisters, the other named Glacia, this is the evolving tale of their becoming “urban explorers”, then travellers towards Alaska, after, we infer, their father’s scientific experiments and becoming too close to his daughter Glacia, reminiscent of the Dirt Land’s unforgivable onset of men upon innocence, and here the Niveau level is reached, the glitch smoothed, as those men are viciously punished, mixed with images of glaciers, volcanic lava, snow, fire, as we learn powerfully of the synaesthesia of Lys, for numbers, letters, deliberate mis-spellings, sharp and inimical as some of these letters and numbers are, but names like Sun Mountain more amenable, a rite of passage where lily-sharp Lys subsumes her own sister to help carry out the casual killing of those who come too close, with Lys even tearing off her own skin where she herself had been touched. Actually, this is my clumsy attempt to convey a story that conveys an artful traction of symbolism, that, like the Dirt Land, also conveys much more in subsequent resonance than I can ever hope to encapsulate here.
    “…the volcano sitting in the middle like a hollow mountain.”
    As an aside, glaciers, as you probably know, have a technical term for breaking up or multiplying, and that is ‘calving’:
    This fact is a truly astonishing, if unintentional, link to the calving in the Dirt Land.
    “The area was full of U-shaped valleys that had been carved by advancing glaciers…”
  3. THE TOILET by Stephen Hargadon
    “Broad daylight is just the night time with the lights on.”
    The first two pages of this story’s text had the lights off! But I managed to see in the dark, especially as I already knew that Hargadon is my cup of tea as a writer.
    Here the drink is stronger, Knicker Sniffer on the pump, in a basement pub that used to be a public convenience, and whatever name they gave this pub through various ownerships, the locals still called it The Toilet.
    By the way, in the last few weeks I have been pigging myself on Ligotti HERE, knotting my poor privates ‘gainst night piss, and many a Ligotti story does genuinely include an explicit Lavatory (so-named) as well as his trademark dark existentialism, and a prevailing theme is his Scatology of Eschatology. So this Hargadon came as a refreshing (!) coda to that anti-natalist Ligottian binge of mine. But Hargadon’s actual labyrinth of The Toilet’s own lavatory has to be read to be believed. It is something else altogether. REALLY. And the spanner in the works is not just what hits you in the head with it, but a whole gamut of hyper-ripe scatology, because if I described it properly you’d not even GO there.
    And some Detective is mistaken for a Doctor in that toilet’s toilet. Ligotti is full of such Doctors.
  4. GRAMMA TELLS A STORY by Erinn L. Kemper
    “Well, those boys, my brother, and his friends from the big city, they got me, didn’t they.”
    …reminding me of Uncle Hollis and the generative repercussions in the Dirt Land. And the goggled virtual reality, even, of Niveau’s ‘father’ among scientific experiments who got too close…? A sense of inbreeding, too, as with Moore’s version of calving?
    Meanwhile, this story certainly resonates on its own behalf, with or without the context of other stories in this magazine. A striking ghost story from the point of view of the tutelary ghost herself (Gramma), a point of view as spoken through dialogue with a seeming kindred spirit named Nissi (not a ghost herself) who has come to this jungle casita where Gramma once lived, Gramma now a noise in the roof, expressed by a language scribbled in dirt by puppies as well as by Niveau’s synaesthesia of letters, and other sharp things that jungles have, Kemper’s language being poetically jungle-like while also mixed with Niveau’s cleansing symbols of subsuming fire or snow. Cleansing here as cruel to be kind, complete with firefighters. Even a calving-likeness from Niveau’s version: “An earthquake in the area had pushed the reef up, too close to the surface.” And an intensely poignant dual time vision of Nissi’s loved one, once swimming, then cleansed by fire, the doodles left on his book bringing a tear to the eye. Some really strong prose in the Kemper that takes time for the reader to pick through tactilely. And I have not come across a passage as powerful about being a ghost among other ghosts as this one: “It’s a strange feeling being dead, a spirit roaming around, fueled by anger and vengeance. When they crawled up in me, joining their ghost flesh to mine, I was almost solid.” That will likely stay with me forever.
  5. THE ICE PLAGUE by Tim Lees
    “I wheel him down the hallway and his voice is thin and scratchy and it sort of scrapes at me,…”
    With its relatively plain style, this story is, nevertheless, a powerful depiction, through the eyes of a well-characterised porter in a hospital, of a gradual onset upon the population of an icy malaise (the description of which is conveyed very effectively and you need to read it to absorb its subsuming nature), – a sort of Ligottian existential plague (shells, husks, “a faint sound like conspiracy.”) as well as a physical malaise (akin to accretive zombiehood?).
    There is a ‘Ghost Doctor’ in the hospital (cf the ‘Doctor’ in Hargadon), not a ghost of a doctor, I sense, but someone who treats (near-)ghosts as patients, including, we infer, the narrator eventually, who thinks of his own lost love, allowing us to empathise with Niveau’s snow and fire and Kemper’s snowy and heat-fevered bereaved poignancy (“Heat that touched like a flame.”)
    The narrator rubs shoulders with a heated mosh pit of clubbers, I sense, in tune with the sexual nature of the Moore story. With the subsuming snow aside. And just a smidgen of icy ‘calving’-like forces in the “big grey Pelicans come swooping across the waves.”
    The more people that stay well the more likely that others like you may stay well…but with a chilling undercurrent… “A moment when it seems that we are all one person, all the same.”
  6. THE CLIMB by Simon Bestwick (open the third one down for more SB reviews of mine)
    “The hill itself put Bryan in mind of a frozen wave – ”
    Astonishingly, another vision, at the beginning of this relatively short story, of the calving, and, eventually, in this story, of BOTH nuances of calving represented by Moore and Niveau, with the haunting ending, not lambing, so much, in this evocative Lancashire Lake District, although that is possible, but something truly, semi-gratuitously, terrifying in the context of the rest of the story, then, in the context of all the fiction in this magazine. It packs the punch of the whole lot, pent up till now.
    Again, like the Lees, a deceptively plain style, and here conveying, I sense, a genuine personal striving. A powerful tale, indeed, with, alongside the other stories, its own sharpness of scratching twigs and a brittle sound as if of a bird, at the beginning. The ‘lost love’ poignancy, too, this time his Ann who died from cancer, for whom he is climbing this hill (to him an Everest), a promise of ascent he once made, an admission, too, making this final climb full of crucial importance and a sense of guilt (a guilt that, looking back, seems to have threaded all these stories, without my mentioning this fact). And then…
    “And on the churned and sodden turf, something moved.”
    The rest is not history, but this story.
    Short, but hardly sweet.

    Friday, November 27, 2015

    Teatro Grottesco – Thomas Ligotti

    23 thoughts on “Teatro Grottesco – Thomas Ligotti

      ‘”There is nothing in the attic,” he explained to me. “It’s only the way that your head is interacting with the space of that attic.”‘
      ‘Cooties’ as a form of a future premonitory plagiarism?
      Meanwhile, the sense of someone or something working at the writing of this story other than Ligotti himself is so strong that I cannot allow its words to get inside my own head because I was taught as a child not to let strangers talk to me, those ‘child-murderer’ types from THE FROLIC, that Everyman Frolicker. There is an undeniable IMPURITY making the story’s title ironic. Candy for the child inside the reader. The storage of evil in a jar handed over as if it belonged to me already. What is beneath the boxer shorts is not exactly a flashing like that on a toy torn from a plastic flange but a flashing off, a smoothing out, a panacea or sugar-tablet like faith sold from door to door, like the rented house being the ultimate loan or leverage that outdoes even an impure or toxic mortgage… Making the Intentional Fallacy in this work, for the first time in literature perhaps, something the reader suffers as well as the author, because something or someone between the author and the reader intervenes and takes over the autonomy of the story’s telling, a story that changes somehow each time you read it. I really feel that. In the attic as well as the basement. Like a knot round the neck, to ease the head’s syphoning.
      “Nothing that drives anybody makes any sense, if you haven’t noticed that by now. It’s just our heads,…”
      “In the past, no town manager had ever been found, either alive or dead, once he had gone missing and the light in his office had been turned off.”
      This is the ultimate existential Tontine story but one where the Tontine’s value declines or becomes more fabricated like a sideshow, as each Town Manager takes over from the previous one – creating here, at this book’s publication date of 2006, an explicitly premonitory vision of the crucial 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers and the ensuing credit crunch (cf Leeman the Barber who later facilitated the Greek ‘haircut’?)…
      And CARNES the trolley driver with trolley ‘CRANES’… Like a funfair contraption for impossibly pulling up impossible prizes of life and death with a clumsy leverage…
      A maze of lavatories, too, with each system tapped into the next, the essential Ligottian Scatology of Eschatology — followed by a futile search, each Town Manager starting off as a new broom, like history itself. (Have you noticed that major politicians, heads of state, film stars etc. used to be seen as icons, but today they are ordinary people, or worse…)
      An entertainingly absurdist vision with a force that makes it believable and frightening like that earlier syphoning of purity with the plumbing of impurity, all ended by a potentially endless möbius strip ending of this story as a beginning that I had not noticed before. An endlessness that represents a hope – or a despair that is worsened by the very existence of that hope?
      “I began to travel frantically from one sideshow town to another, each of them descending further than the one before it into the depths of a show business world.”
      …like the previous story’s existential tontine of the Town Manager?
      I. The Malignant Matrix
      II. Premature Communication
      III. The Astronomic Blur
      IV. The Abyss of Organic Forms
      V. The Phenomenal Frenzy
      The budding gestalt of this work, seemingly a quite compact short story, is made up of the above five vignettes as foreworded and afterworded by the first person narrator (a writer in crisis) who allows us to read the manuscript (with its own – ostensibly different – first person narrator) containing those five vignettes written by an older seeming man, a sort of casual mentor, a fellow writer, whom the first first person narrator met in a cafe, a fellow writer who left this manuscript behind, which makes me think the sideshow world they both inhabit and decry is made into a deliberately complex patchwork of visionary matters, whence nothing can be gained except the ability to be confused by contiguous titles and dry, crammed meaning which hides an empty centre of meaninglessness, with the two writers thinking all the time that this text with such visionary sounding titles holds the secret of the universe. And so the first first person narrator, intellectually rented by or to the second first person narrator, was encouraged to take up his writing again when he got home, because he didn’t need to think about accessible communication or popular entertainment, but merely to feed his insomnia with pretentious texture and the sense of philosophical fulfilment in by-passing the sides of all sideshows with loaned or mortgaged thought. The ultimate exercise in hoax and counter-hoax, each writer hoaxing the other, until the two ‘half brothers’ became a whole – the master penman of our age – having once mock-raced against each other with the statistical form of thoroughbred horses and the inevitability of a dead heat at the finish line, a dead heat “in which the stars themselves burn low with a dim, flickering light that illuminates an indefinite swirling blur, wherein it is not possible to observe any definite shapes or signs.”
      A masterwork in meticulous deviousness with a sideshow of a reviewer equally devious in exposing or optimising it?
      “; in other words, I then would become obsessed with death nonsense, which is one of the worst and most outrageous forms of all nonsense.”
      As in re-reading each of the Ligotti stories themselves, I have been expecting (constructively dreading?) this ‘visit’ or visitation, maybe because I have read this classic gothic-baroque story before and knew it was coming, the visit of the chilling and unforgettable (I have now proved that it is unforgettable!) clown puppet, who arrives this time when the narrator is working for a migrant called Mr Vizniak in a medicine shop. His version of the Medicine Shop Visitation following all his.previous recurrent Workplace Visitations, as this is my version of the Clown Puppet’s root or literary source Clown Puppet Visitation, the story itself as my visitor.
      And I am again imbued by its swaddling, hypnotic, obsessive ‘nonsenses’, those cries of curmudgeonly affront as well as cries of despair under the expletive ‘Nonsense!’, each nonsense its own special form of visitation. No longer, for me, a new nonsense but now become an old and seasoned nonsense. And my recognition of the clown puppet’s ‘motions’, explicitly its manipulated strings (but manipulated by whom or what?), but also now its Motions representing Ligotti’s trademark Scatology of Eschatology, and Mr. Visniak’s lavatory where I have spent more and more time the older I have become!
      I sense that this chilling story is capable of making itself personal or bespoke to each and every reader. Each of us with our own version of nonsense.
      An amorphously ruined factory with an autonomous sense of its own growth and decay, possibly with more empirical intent than the author himself who ostensibly created this semi-spiritual Heath Robinson architectural-contraptive interface between its own pale, then red, colour of conscious suffusion and the interminable grey territory that surrounds it, at first like an Amazon unit of outgrowth (selling dire novelty goods, dire but scintillatingly described by the text), an Amazon corporation with delivery points in every corner of the world, then like its own ‘birthing graves’ (an anti-natalist concept?) developing within the slowly ratcheting lower levels of thriving production in contrast with its visible decaying upper levels. Selling living parts of itself as hyper-organisms from nemonymous gravestones?
      This is RUMOUR made tangible for the first time in literature, I guess, paradoxically demonstrating as well as dispersing the ‘monumental tedium’ of existence. It is a core Ligottian text that is itself organically amorphous. Nothing can do justice to its suppurating self-awareness as a living autonomous text as well as its narrator’s disingenuous self-negation in being allowed even to talk about it at all.
      Corporate as the promised apotheosis of the Corporeal. Work now done?
      A man who has crossed the border to a tedious storefront office job (reminding me of the paperwork job involved in Kurosawa’s film Ikiru), a branch of their corporateness owned by Quine Organisation, Q. ORG – a job arranged by his doctor on the other side of the border, the same doctor who also deals with an unknown ‘you’ that the man addresses as he tells of the worker Hatcher he has replaced, and the deadpan absurdities of the residual staff and their rivalries, their lunch spots and unaccountable lack of understanding, the smell of smoke or pickle (the store used to be a pickle shop) that gets into the paperwork, and whether this job is part of an experiment on the protagonist or simply as a gratuitous conduit for a dark vision of arachnid transmogrification, a vision that will surely turn YOUR dreams into nightmares. As reviewer I am immune or just allowing my own nightmares to vanish into the text that has been provided for them.
      Reading Ligotti is its own experiment. An experiment where conduits can work both ways, I have found. On this point, I have a conviction that this story title should not have ‘retributive’ in it but ‘redistributive’, and that the former is a typo of the latter. The case for the redistribution of many things including phobias, and also including the fact that ‘nothing is unendurable’ is not a fact at all.
      (This book is not without mistyped titles, as I have just looked ahead in this Durtro edition and found that the next story is headed in stylishly large print: ‘Our Temporary Superivsor’. The Supervisor of this book must have been on sick leave the day that title was print-set, I guess.)
      On the face of it, a more straightforward employment satire – straightforward but intriguing by means of not only Kafkaesque undercurrents but also a new source of generic Ligottian human-like shapes behind the temporary supervisor’s frosted glass office door, time-and-motion work morphed by those shapes seeming to become Lovecraftian, all taking place in the previous story’s Q. ORG scenario beyond the border, full of medications and brainwashing, as the Orwellian employees compare each other’s performances at fitting metal pieces together at the Assembly Blocks…
      The main protagonist strives to fulfil himself in such circumstances. A compelling character study.
      I feel that I myself am now working at a similar Ligottian coalface of real-time dreamcatching, day and night trying to deploy his stories’ strengths, their dreams and visions, in my seemingly endless work since I started a few weeks ago with THE FROLIC onward till now. I look to the side and see others also chipping away at the soft and hard sections of the various texts, and I am hoping I don’t flag and can keep up with the onset of higher forces at work following the Penguin Classics takeover of certain aspects of this endeavour.
      (I hope, too, that I don’t fall short of what is needed of me or get into such a state as this co-worker’s grappling with such texts, plastic cutlery et al.)
      A quarptych of tales. (My expression not the story’s.)
      His Shadow Shall Rise to a Higher House
      Indeed with that new momentous book last month, Ligotti’s own shadow, too.
      “…Klatt was there holding forth on the subject of his relationship to Ascrobius, whom he now called his ‘patient.'”
      Like the previous two stories, we are across the border or near a border, as this town, full of ‘extraordinary gossip’ or ‘twilight talk’, literally takes shape within the artfully rarefied texture of the words on Durtro’s black-edged pages. These border stories, especially this one, remind me of an inversion of today’s Schengen Zone, an inversion of Jungianism, with its ‘uncreations’ summoning up, in a premonitory fashion when this story was first published, today’s false states and borderless wars. Just read it and see. The description on page 121 itself reminds me of a rarefied version of Brussels in the news today (if anyone will be able to remember when they read this what was happening to Brussels today!)…
      The characters of the ‘Ascrobius’ and the ‘charlatan Dr. Klatt’ also summon up for me a recognisable mutation (a mutation physically like the ‘terrors of Ascrobius’) of the developed relationship, since this story was published, of, today, a new Ascrobius and YellowJester (for those of us in the know), also striated through with the ‘extraordinary gossip’, ‘meddling’, ‘annulment’ and the concepts of missing graves, anonymous graves (cf The Red Tower), uncreated graves…
    9. The Bells Will Sound Forever
      “deliriously preposterous”
      Ligotti’s skill is indeed to combine the delirious, in its sense of sickness, with preposterousness, adding the hint that ‘deliriously’ can be a positive adverb as well as a negative one. The latter negative aspect would entail a fevered delirium, the results of which might be mentally stimulating on the temporary surface while embedded as inimical to body and sanity. This second border-town story in this quaptych (CAN there be a four-sided painting that opens up like a diptych or triptych?) reprises brothel-keeper Mrs Glimm (cf Crumm) from the first one, who is now in polarised rivalry across the town with Mrs Pyk (Pyk echoing ptych?) who runs a boarding-house that, in common with many houses in Ligotti, seems to entail an akimbo building akin to an extended Bungalow House [cf in this country of mine the Chalet Bungalow wherein I have lived since 1995] where bedrooms are so close to the roof they become creepy attics, containing strange artefacts, here the eponymous bells of a type of YellowJester suit. QH Crumm, a commercial agent, in business like the two women, tells the narrator all this in a park and imparts a spooky Roald Dahl type tale where he stays with Mrs Pyk, someone like an earlier Ligotti character, with a mannequin’s or wooden hand, that seems to entail Crumm donning the jingly-jangly jester suit and become a sort of extension of that hand, like the inferred bungalow house’s roof rooms. I am left wondering whether flesh and wood need not cross borders to become a single entity? Enemies, too, like Glimm and Pyk? (Syria and Iraq blending as a single BEING from IS-IS?) In a Foreign Town, In a Foreign Land.
    10. A Soft Voice Whispers Nothing
      The start of this story expands on and confirms, fortuitously, what I was saying about ‘delirious’ above. And a soft voice as a telling contrast to the jester’s bells.
      I sense this third portrait of the border town is a core Ligottian work, introducing Dr. Zirk as a more explicit, if softly-voiced, mentor from ‘The Night School’ and prefiguring later CATHRianism… It has some extremely deep-textured emotions in “that remote and desolate place.” As if this town is CATHRIANISM’s birthplace like a wintry Bethlehem. TS Eliot’s “A cold coming we had of it.”
      “To make an end of it, little puppet, in your own way”. And there are many inferred ligotti or knots, like loops, nooses, tangled strings (as CATHRIANISM’s version of crucifixion?) with more accoutrements of this ‘unfaith’, more skewed houses whose business-heavy end is the roof, plus a solitary lackadaisical egg-shaped clown and a ‘thrumming’ parade, a wooden cage with top-unfastened bars hanging the ‘unchurchly’ items (of a new Ecclesiatica?), another metaphysical Swiftian Modest Proposal prefiguring The Spectral Link, and the wonderful wonderful concept of the ‘architectural moan’. And, for me, the ultimate nemonymity: “…nothing is more enticing, nothing more vitally idiotic, than our desire to have a name — even if it is the name of a stupid little puppet — and to hold on to this name throughout the long ordeal of our lives as if we hold on to it forever.”
      Ironically, it is a woman as potential mother, the one possibly named Mrs Glimm – ultimately not recognised by that name but by the ‘gaudy rings’ on a hand – who represents this story’s Pilate? A story that is imbued and ends with a darkly and deliriously musical ‘dying fall’.
    11. When You Hear The Singing, You Will Know It Is Time
      “…a bizarre and jagged conglomerate of massive architectural proportions, with peaked roofs and soaring chimneys or towers visibly swaying and audibly moaning even in the calm of an early summer twilight.”
      The fourth story, or a coda to this internal fiction set, featuring the border town, here where you will die by its means or by your own hand – or you may never leave even if you never die?
      A new Doctor called Pell, but we never really know Who the next Doctor will be in Ligotti, talks of a Reverend Cork, a Preacher either from Truman Capote or retrocausally from King’s Revival, together with ‘threshold-signs’ worthy of the Dark Tower musical todash of jingle bells and soft voices and here, now, a deeper droning garbled preaching speech like the erstwhile architecture moan, thresholds like oubliettes beneath the lowest floor in the house in contrast to the earlier roof attics, this particular basement oubliette (oubliette being my word, not the story’s) beneath what the narrator appropriately sees as a leathery trapdoor. And Mrs Glimm, now seen as ‘idiot-hag’, the common denominator of this internal fiction-set, as a dark catalyst like Mrs Rinaldi.
      A coda, yes, a todash coda, echoing endlessly wherever you happen to read this quaptych of a fiction-set.
      A CATHRian-Catholic blend of communion wine left in an attic with bits of cork floating in it. An oubliette you can never forget. Thrumming, crummy, glimmy yellowmanker of a parade led by the eggman. And a text mentally overlapping its borders. A work you can say anything about with conviction.
      On the day the Turks shot down a Russian jet across an uncertain or duplicitous border.
        TEATRO GROTTESCO (the story)
        “Thus it was not necessary, at this point in my plan, to have actually succeeded in making my prose writings into an anti-Teatro phenomenon. I simply had to make it known, falsely, that I had done so.”
        Now, having re-read this story in full, I can seen why I wanted to jump in straightaway with that reference above about Tartuffe, this story of Teatro Stuff — with that ‘falsely’ as just one example — being utterly so Tartuffe throughout.
        This is an amazing story that any reader of weird literature would deem seminal, dealing with a writer of ‘nihilistic prose writings’, as it does, arriving eventually at a Möbius strip of negation upon negation via a vision of such disturbing, yet absurd or humorous, force. I can only scratch its surface here.
        A story about avant garde or transgressive art that is something I have always been interested in as well as practising since the 1960s, an art cinema theatre, a movement like Zeroism that negates itself by being itself, a motley visceral art of crime hitmen or small men with mittens or paws or wrongly numbered fingers (out of Twin Peaks?), a photographer whose wink is his camera, a madness that both intoxicates and menaces our minds, Teatro stuff as an entrainment of entertainment or a business corporation that infects many memes, with the protagonistic prose-writer’s own intestinal disease combined with the machinations of delirium that I mentioned earlier in my review of this book, while referring, in a premonitory fashion, to the recent news that anti-biotics will no longer work but will turn upon us with their own viciousness, plus more Doctors, Zick and Groddeck…
        And Ligotti’s ‘soft black stars’ that I now see for the first time as an expression denoting the essential ligotti (knots now called soft black stars) that I discovered a few years ago, knots or ligotti now acronymised as “S.B.S.”, here illuminating even my own confusion about this writer’s nihilistic prose writings.
        Written with the panache and chutzpah that only this blend of the mentally depressed and physically delirious can manage.
        And much much more that has taught me that nobody can outdo Ligotti.
        “And I, I boasted, had allowed my mind to be overwhelmed by all manner of Teatro stuff, while also managing to use this experience as material for my prose writings. ‘This,’ I practically shouted one day at Des…”
      “Beside the miniature merry-go-round, which never moved an inch and always stood dark and silent in a remote rural landscape, there would be a miniature Ferris wheel (no taller than a bungalow-style house, Quisser said),…”
      Whilst the previous Teatro stuff was central to the plot, the stuff depicting the writer of nihilistic stories, his grappling with serial negations as well as with his stomach trouble, here the same writer presumably with the same stomach ailment grappling with almost a doppelgänger, between whom and whom we ask which was the culprit of negating a woman artist and her paintings in the Crimson Cabaret, which of them drank mint tea, which wine, who told of the ‘gas service carnivals’ – and who faced the wiles of art-magic as well as the illuminati and esoteric scientists?
      But, for me, Sideshow Des, the glory of this story is not this time in all that writerly teatro stuff, but in the sheer vision of the gas street carnivals themselves, these carnivals in isolation – so haunting, so darkly and delectably Aickman-like, the seedy backdrops as dowdy entertainment, backdrops as appendages to the gas stations.
      The miniature, the freakish and the desolate, so real, so naggingly true, so brilliantly conjured up, that I feel I am the boy who grew up to remember these carnivals, even if they never existed at all.
      Dr. Fingers et al.
      All of us, myself included, part of “a crowd of deluded no-talents–“, the art critic and literary critics in obeisance to the source artist or author, those principals of deposit who in turn bow, in the half light, to the interested reader that is you.
      “…the frayed electrical cords that trailed off from the base of each lamp and, by means of several extension cords, ultimately found a source of power at the gas station,…”
    13. chaletTHE BUNGALOW HOUSE
      “The bungalow house was built with a fireplace, I said to myself in the darkness, thinking how long it had been since anyone had made use of this fireplace….”
      That is a photo of my own bungalow house (called a chalet bungalow in UK), a photo taken a few years ago when it was about to undergo a special plan of treatment. My wife and I moved into this house in March 1995, i.e. the same year as I understand ‘The Bungalow House’ was first published in ‘The Urbanite’ (to which magazine I was also submitting, without success, stories at that time.)
      My version of the bungalow house still has a disused fireplace in the living room. There the similarities stop? I hope so, but I have recorded many versions of my voice reading aloud or sub-vocalising items of my own fiction, and created many on-line happenings of art from this hub! I do sense a link with this story, a spectral link?
      “…especially on late November afternoons.”
      I also sense this story’s prevailing anxiety as to the entropy of any house where one lives and for which one is responsible for its upkeep, here including the growing archetype of the bungalow house when transposed into verminous dreams.
      The story itself echoes the art magic and icy bleakness of previous stories, also the blurring of the narrator and his double-crossing doppelgänger, the audiotape as a sub-vocalising template of meaninglessness and meaning. Another woman catalyst, this one called Dalha who is a gallery’s commercial broker of such art magic. Not only art magic concerning the bungalow house but also a derelict factory and a bus shelter where the doppelgänger is once glimpsed. Plus a Kingian type library where the protagonist works near to the gallery that Dhala keeps. Another lavatory in that gallery, too, his own lavatory not being suitable for certain aspects of his relief.
      “Why should you care what his name is? Why should I?”
      The story is a performance piece you will never forget. The Aesthetics of a performance as opposed to the ownership of an artefact. A dichotomy that is the essence of this whole weird tunnelling into your mind’s structure. The apotheosis of paranoia and self-contradiction as visualised through such Aesthetics. Or just silhouettes and glimpses.
      “…the foul and crummy delights of a universe where everything had been reduced to three stark principles: first, that there was nowhere for you to go; second, that there was nothing for you to do; and third, that there was no one for you to know.”
    14. SEVERINI
      “There are two faces which must never confront each other.”
      I have never met or even privately corresponded with the author of this book, as if that has always been meant to be. i know that I am at best a literary sideshowman and like the disciples of SEVERINI in this story. But I can’t help thinking that illness – here “belly sickness” or “cancerous matter” – is a combining force, those potential doppelgängers in the previous two stories now melding as one in tune with inimical “body changes” or in some diseased spirituality of Aesthetics, a museum of imaginary exhibits or of real sculptures, a marshland hermit called Severini in a shack who wants you to be invited as a kindred spirit, the earlier mention in my Ligotti reviews of the CATHRian-Catholic “pool of snakes” (cf Mauriac’s NOEUD or Knot of Snakes)…
      On a different level, this is a rarefied texture of words building on Ligotti’s Art of Delirium (here as ‘tropical landscape” and “common sewer”), his Scatology of Eschatology, sleeptalking…
      A yearning to become not only kindred spirits but also “sympathetic organisms” – as a guard against this book’s dark truth represented by its backcover emblem of the words “the nightmare of the Organism” originally used in this important story?
      Dysentery and Prostate (Antistate?) cancer as just another pair of “sympathetic organisms”? Who knows? The answer may be in another emblem of words in this story: “The way into the nightmare is the way out.” The knot of knots.
      Scattered throughout this edition of TEATRO GROTTESCO is this symbol as a break-marker. It seems to be something poised to tie itself into a knot – or a knot that has already been untied?
      “Words are a total obfuscation of the most basic fact of existence, the very conspiracy against the human race…”
      Where does one start with this large work? With my own take on the TSALAL earlier in these Ligotti reviews HERE (‘La La La La La, I’m not going to listen to you. La La La La…Until the LAST LA’)?
      The crucial sculptures by the ‘devious ‘ or ‘dubious’ “artistic visionary Reiner Grossvogel” – sculptures synchronously illuminatory of the very recent HPL bust WFA Award controversial Aesthetic war of political (in)correctness – were all entitled TSALAL.
      But that is only one aside among many asides I could summon up regarding this major fiction-philosophical work, a work that ranges from hypnotically obsessive repetitions of its stock phrases (in tune with minimalist Morton Feldman music) to what I see as the Dada or Zeroist happening embodied in gallery shows, embodied by words about death, human ambition / despair and scatological (results of belly illness) / eschatological conspiracies, bodily ailments as intellectual property…and much more.
      Grossvogel’s reluctant disciples (more reluctant than those of Severini) gather in an unsatisfactory diner (“intestinal discomfort which might have been attributed to the poor quality of the coffee and donuts”) in a mutated and decaying Twin Peaks township called Crampton. They await the artist and we readers are word-swaddled in thoughts about his original storefront gallery exhibit showings, his own self-contradictions as to failure and success, his stays in an unsatisfactory hospital with his intestinal trouble, all in interface with the actual writer of the still unwritten CATHR as one of this story’s characters.
      “A metaphysical swindle”, “metamorphic recovery”, “pervasive shadow”, “all-moving-darkness”, “a fog of delirious and sometimes lurid gossip and speculation”, a traveller on buslines, not so much “the artist who has failed” but “a body that has succeeded”, listening to his all pervasive “lecture or fantasy monologue”…
      But who is the “one man artistic and philosophical freakshow”?
      Grossvogel himself or the then would-be CATHR writer or the real-time dreamcatcher? Reading this story does make the reader paradoxically feel more self-important than is warranted. This is by having transcended the word-nihilism in actually buying the book within which it is expressed! The ‘pulling and tugging’ of triggers that are either tangled puppet-strings or ultimately imaginary internal synapses of nothing but “nonsense and dreams”. La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la…
      • The book ends with the following poems over some 50 pages. I have nothing to add to my 2008 review of them towards the end of the page HERE, other than to emphasise my then closing comment: “Reading between the lines: a cancer that suffers its own cancer.”


        What Good is Your Head?
        What Happens to Faces
        What Becomes of the Body
        It’s Okay, It’s All Right
        There Is Nothing to Know
        Those Were Not the Days
        Any Place But Here, Any Time But Now
        There Is Nothing to Do
        Skull Crushing
        Insanity and Nothingness
        From Nothing to Blackness
        The Sellers
        And Aren’t You Glad

        Ten poems: I – X

      • ENVOI

      • end