All my Real-Time Reviews are linked from here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/df-lewis-real-time-reviews/
I’ve just started a personal on-going critique of this book by Thomas Ligotti here:
PASTED BELOW AFTER THEY ARE FIRST PUBLISHED ON ABOVE LINK’S iNTERACTIVE DISCUSSION THREAD:
PURITY – The narrator is dead pan, logical about illogicality – and, therefore, from among the many narrators I’ve met in all fiction over the years, he or she (here in ‘Purity’) is one of the most dependable, if not 100% dependable. I use ‘he or she’ advisedly.
We never really know what will be under a stranger’s boxer shorts. This is about insulation, disintentionalisation, holding things beyond one’s own ownership, i.e. renting reality from fiction (or vice versa?).
The feel of this story reminds me of ‘Eraserhead’ and ‘House of Leaves’ but something much more which is tantalisingly within my grasp – only to fall into the basement of the story figuratively and literally. The story itself is my (the reader’s) own Candy. The story is not about but is Candy as described by the story,.
“There’s nothing in the attic […] It’s only the way that your head is interacting with the space of that attic.”
“Nothing that drives anybody makes any sense.”
The Purity is the need to disentangle from the story unscathed, unblemished. Any story title is often a loophole we can cling to.
The Father’s three principles are just a nonsensical decoy or subterfuge (Cf. “Nonsense” elsewhere in Ligotti) for something else that truly tries to get through the layers of disintentionalisation towards me … and, luckily, today, I escaped. The next time I re-read ‘Purity’, I may not be so lucky. Or maybe I didn’t escape this time, and I’m still there, hanging in its world? The story is also like the story’s own TV that works without electricity. (I doubt if it works on batteries as the narrator proposes!). Not ‘getting’ PURITY is like not ‘gettng’ ERASERHEAD, I suppose, but none the less ‘enjoyable’ for that. I’ve put some words with ‘ ‘ round them to exact some sort of ‘purity’ for them.
THE TOWN MANAGER – Carnes – Né Scar? – ends with a potential scar, ie DUSTROY TROLY branded into his chest. Echoing the ‘sabbaticals’ in PURITY, the Town Manager is a single entity perhaps but with a series of ‘ ‘ ‘wrapping’ between each version of himself, which makes it even more significant when the (self-knowingly undependable) Narrator eventually emerges from the last sabbatical as this very entity during a ‘Twin Peaks’ like coffee shop scene.
This story is overtly an extended metaphor for the Credit Crunch with a version of the Town Manager giving a ‘fiscal stimulus’ like Gordon Brown ‘saving the world’ – which makes the “He has left us” horrific. Here the stimulus creates a fairground with a Kafkaesque lavatory-complex etc. Futility and degeneration, bleeding the town with each renewal of ‘fiscal stimulus’. The dead lamp at the beginning reminds me of the cordless TV in PURITY.
Less than overtly, however, the story is the (explicit) soup the Narrator feeds us. Mayonaisse, Salami, Eraserchest? At least we can survive the Meltdown on the bare ration of words, but if we can ‘enrichen’ the words into things-in-themselves or by making them into an even greater feast of literature for ourselves by revealing ‘nonsensical’ (as well as meaningful!) assonances and accretions, then so be it. And that’s what I call pure intention.
“We have to know.”
SIDESHOW, AND OTHER STORIES – Having reached the end of this ‘story’ and its nightmarish metafiction, I felt paranoiac and like a literary vampire, sucking on its words and depleting what I read, draining it like one of the lavatories in THE TOWN MANAGER. Anyway, this ‘story’ starts with a coffee shop where that previous story ended. All is indeed Show Business, ie. writing these critiques is Show Business, writing “dreamlike vignettes”(as this ‘story’ pejoratively describes as a certain form of story) and I suppose all our cavorting on the Internet here is Show Business, in this sense, too – but by championing the Intentional Fallacy this at least absolves any “autobiographical wretchedness” (as this story puts it).
This story – forgetting any pompous paranoia for a moment – is a wonderful ‘musical’ symphony of such self-ridiculing (?) “dreamlike vignettes”, with almost random (meaningless?) movement titles just like the Horses’ names used as a paperchase in one of the ‘vignettes’ …. touching on Global Warming and the Cern Experiment and Reincarnation as monstrous animals…
There was ‘renting’ in ‘Purity’, but now seeking a home one fears for its very homeliness!
Like the ‘Purity’ Ghost (cordless TV) and the ‘Town Manager’ lamp, the “stars themselves burn low with a dim flickering light.”
“Everything is ultimately peculiar and ultimately ridiculous.”
The reader here is his own self-important ‘sideshow’ – but that is another story!
THE CLOWN PUPPET – There is a “small lavatory” (Cf. lavatory-complex in THE TOWN MANAGER), “motions” of the clown puppet, “meat-store visions” and Mr Vizniak’s sudden need for the toilet – it is as if the diamond yo-yo is a symbol of a puppet’s metabolism (no need to rid itself of meat waste), whereby human frailty (as meat) is crystallised here (ie ring-fenced, ring-bounced), defeating death (as a work ethic routine itself is said here to be an antidote to ‘nonsense”), trying to make death itself nonsense, by sterilising death … wishful thinking of the plot-leases, plot-teasers here rented (amid the ‘defective streetlamps’) from the top of narration’s pecking-order (Ligotti? God? The Narrator as depicted here by himself? The Clown Puppet, Mr Vizniak, the Nonsense itself?)?
I’d add ‘the Reader’ to that list. There is significant part where this Visit breaks routine of all past Visits – the Narrator is explicitly not the only one this time to whom the Visit is made. And who is new to being visited? Just ask yourself.
The Narrator is puppet-master of this story by knowing what is to happen (or so he says) but not knowing why (or so he says). This story is also gvernon’s allegorical ‘dreamy thinkiness or thinky dreaminess’ but one can enjoy this story as a wonderful disturbing horror tale on a superficial level as well as (if one wants to do so as ‘the Reader’) become part of it, actually (in reality) endangered by being in it.
This is no nonsense literature. The stuff of what literature should be.
“Strange opulence of an old oil painting.”
The face doesn’t work, but the limbs do, and the motions…
THE RED TOWER – I simply love this story. The language texture is complex and savourable (with clause and sub-clause galore), a texture that equally slips down easily into the reading mind like baby food. A rare talent to bring this off.
This texture matches the complexity of the Factory and its prehensile Novelty manufacture.
Fiction ‘fadings’ in and out – like an ill-tuned radio station amid the static grey landscape…
I wonder how many readers symbolise the Red Tower (this factory with its various “stories”) as a phallus, or as the Archetypal Author, or as a Biblical edifice, or a Radio Transmitter, or (on this seasonal day when I write this critique) as Santa Claus’s homebase from where he sends out the Novelties to deliver themselves as presents…
I feel it is a readerly failure thus to ‘symbolise’ fiction, a belief which brings me back again to gvernon’s thoughts on ‘allegory’ and ‘thinky dreaminess’ where such blatant symbols would be out of place.
Instead I make these tantalising quotes:
“my decayed fascination”
“a tempting defectiveness”
“burying graves” “utilitarian” “hyper-organisms”
“desolate purity of the landscape”
The first stories in this TEATRO GROTTESCO collection which I have now treated (‘PURITY’, ‘THE TOWN MANAGER’, ‘SIDESHOW, AND OTHER STORIES’, ‘THE CLOWN PUPPET’ & ‘THE RED TOWER’) are, I notice, grouped (at least in my Durtro edition) under the group title of DERANGEMENTS. That seems to make a nonsense of such ARRANGEMENTS and thus it shall be — but maybe when I see if there is any rhyme or reason to the remaining ‘group’ titles ere long, I shall return to this point. Suffice it to quote this from THE RED TOWER: “After a time, however, things began to fall into place as they always do, rejecting a harmless and uninteresting disorder – never an enduring state of affairs – and taking on the more usual plans and purposes of a viciously intent creation.”
My boldness. The Synchronised Shards of Random Truth & Fiction.
This story, for me, is a fabricated improvisation where the fogs, spiders and other nightmares seem to appear out of nowhere – also the Kafkaesque office and the phobias/anxieties are formulaic. The narration is not so naturally believable or dream-like as some of TL’s other stories. The narrator only addresses a reader whom he seems to know in his own life, which rather un-involves other readers like myself. I am perhaps just another person like Ribello and Pilsen that the Narrator has not fully fathomed.
I like the pickle smell, & the smoking being banned because of it getting into the office’s forms. Actually, as a different reader, I might have noticed more readily that the story is its own venom, its poison moving in a vicious circle in a futile attempt to cure its own ills with an instantaneous vaccine that is itself.
Here, in this story, we have, under cone-shaped lamps, the archetypal machinations of Corporate pecking-orders, new methodologies, productivity schemes to manufacture, I gauge, those knotty Metal-Piece Puzzles for Christmas. Frowley, Blecher, Nohls, the Narrator, all subjected to the Company Line.
All great horror stories (and this is a truly great one, even (or especially) with the humour) have a single lasting image that haunts you for the rest of your life (you know what I mean; like the spider at the window in ‘The Haunting of Toby Jugg’)…and here we have the image of the amorphous shape behind the frosted glass. Genius!
The Temporary Supervisor with ‘sabbaticals’ like the Town Manager?
Here we have another grey landscape making us believe that this factory may be related to The Red Tower. Also, in this story’s last sentence, the recurring theme of the essence of a work ethic allowing us to avoid unwelcome thoughts even as we realise that the trammels of Work are worse than having the unwelcome thoughts in the first place!!
I am now retired from my Corporate existence of the past, but this story reminds me it is only temporary as I wait for the ultimate retirement. My retirement is spent reading Ligotti and maybe there is absurd humour in that, too, as our minds blur into the grey landscape fogs around us (yet unseen, but definitely there, lurking…).
Frosted glass is usually used for toilets….
IN A FOREIGN TOWN, IN A FOREIGN LAND: His Shadow Shall Rise to a Higher House – This is a story of labels. Many words become catch phrases (eg Twilight Talk, Uncreated Grave, Ascrobius Escapade etc) and reputations earned by people as well as things, ‘the charlatan Dr Klatt’, ‘the Uncreated Grave’ etc, many wrapped within “ “ (as I said before, to exact purity for words outside the impingement of any deceptive ‘tabula rasa’?). The “annulment of existence” (as the story tells), a parthenogenetic late-labelling…
Twilight Talk’s Mrs Glimm (another Purity Ghost?) has a lodging-house or a brothel? Reputations proceed as well as follow. The use of a disfigured body as another body’s headstone…most disturbing image. Genius!
With such weak glimmering twilight, can there be a shadow at all let alone a higher house (or astrological mansion)?
I found myself “thinking” about this story even before I first read it (this was a second reading of it). It was as if I had known about this story (which I didn’t) before inventing the word ‘Nemonymous’ because uncreation has to come before creation or because one needs a ‘tabula rasa’ to create anything at all.
IN A FOREIGN TOWN, IN A FOREIGN LAND: The Bells Will Sound Forever – Well, a story connected to the previous one mainly by Mrs Glimm’s rivalry with the new Purity Ghost in this story: i.e. Mrs Pyk (once exotic dancer and fortune-teller). In fact the whole story becomes a ” ” or purity ‘label’ by virtue of being told ‘retrospectively’ (?) to the Narrator by this story’s main protagonist on a park bench.
Another lodging house/brothel with (today) an apt Christmassy doorbell (Sleigh Bells) extended to the bells on the stick-jester that the ‘main protagonist’ becomes. That image (in the descriptive ‘context’ and ‘ambiance’) is truly the stuff of nightmares. An overused word, but it is ‘genius’ the way this happens in TL’s work: not so much a ‘genius loci’ as ‘genius loco’.
Mrs Pyk’s wooden arm (Cf the stick-jester (a ‘fool’s motley’) and ‘candy cane’) gave her extra powers – or, rather, her missing arm (‘tabula rasa’?) was what gave her extra powers … as echoed by Stephen King in Duma Key (also cf: Matt Cardin’s Divinations of the Deep) … but I’m now descending into Twilight Talk myself: i.e. my over-keen extrapolation or ‘critique loco’ that almost becomes an apocryphal Nonsense….
“a great sense of excitation relating to things which he could not name…”
“Perhaps this dream ultimately belongs to no one…”
IN A FOREIGN TOWN, IN A FOREIGN LAND: A Soft Voice Whispers Nothing – A very bleak story, one of assisted suicide, recommended amnesia, metaphysical namelessness…
I’m in the still growing, GLIMMering context of ‘Teatro Grottesco’ as a collection and of ‘In a Foreign Town, In A Foreign Land’ as a narrower group within a wider group entitled ‘Deformations’ within a single reader’s even wider personal reading history outside of Ligotti (and of other stories labelled Ligotti not in this book), and subject to the dislocation of duration that I have already implicitly noted with my critiques — and I’m now led by a pasty-faced clown (amid “shiny sickles of fever”) back to the first sentence of this story: “Long before I suspected the existence of the town, near the northern border, I believe I was in some way already an inhabitant of that remote and desolate place”.
Dr Zirk (Circus Curse?) calls the sickly Narrator (to his face) “little puppet” at the story’s beginning but calls me “stupid little puppet” at its end – with his soft voice whispering.
This story is a genuine dark masterpiece (of hope and horror?), a story that pulls all my strings — as Dr Zirk’s own strings are eventually pulled (jerked out like veins?).
This is a seasonal story for Christmas with “frosted panes” and a genius “locus of winter spirit”.
Meanwhile, “How could we find a pretext to react to anything if we understood … everything?”
IN A FOREIGN TOWN, IN A FOREIGN LAND: When You Hear The Singing, You Will Know It Is Time –
I’m not the same Narrator as before.
“I had lived in the town near the northern border long enough so that, with the occult passing of time, I had begun to assume I would never leave there…”
The leathery trap-door (a vocal flap?) and other “architectural moans” remind me of “The House of Leaves”(Cf. also ‘Purity’). The unlabelled “threshold-signs”, too, are as if Ligotti has left such teasing trapdoors in his ‘Wall of Words’ to provide some potential means of fathoming the very stories (Cf. the vicious circle of spider venom) – but how to choose the correct textual entry or exit thresholds? Via “old town” “demon town” or “other town”?
I cannot even manage to die here!
No easy euthanasia except to lose oneself along the delightful rich Ligottian passageways of clause and sub-clause that expresses the ultimate existential conundrum.
“There was simply no peace to be had no matter where you hid yourself away.”
More characters, Dr Pell and Reverend Cork (to add to the fat, jewellery-rattling lady who is connector of the four stories within the truly classic IN A FOREIGN TOWN, IN A FOREIGN LAND as a whole) gather around a barely visible slow-burning fuse as the glimmer travels up the candy cane towards the tambourine-man’s jingle-jangle head.
“…the town near the northern border, which, whatever else it may have been or seemed to be, was always a genius of the most insidious illusions.”
It’s not over till the fat lady sings.
TEATRO GROTTESCO – the eponymous story is full of “Teatro stuff” etc & seems to be the most personal so far (but how would I know for certain?) and the most satirical (Cf. “Soon he will know about the soft black stars” with “The Owls are not what they seem”).
“Even I, a writer of nihilistic prose works…”
This story (Theatre of Cruelty) seems to have an unavoidable curse, like “Macbeth”, a tipping-point between embracing and rejecting death (between embracing and rejecting avant garde art (Theatre of Absurd)).
I have a similar feeling about my own prose work that both magnifies and diminishes me as a person. Smaller and smaller hands as the photographer’s focus narrows and then widens out. And moods change from day to day.
The story has an “abysmal resonance” (similar to an “architectural moan”?) and a “post-artistic” angst. It is seminal Ligotti, I sense. Even the text has intestinal troubles. And a boil in the shape of a purple woman. A Doctor that seems to me to have a disease for a name: Groddeck. And Herman Zick. (Plus elements of Tarr & Fether?).
Troubles with a landlord? Many writers complain about this, it seems.
I find this story highly disturbing.
“Whether this destructive force is a matter of intention or design on the part of the Teatro, I have no idea (at least none I can elaborate in comprehensible terms). Nonetheless, I feel certain that for an artist to encounter the Teatro there can be only one consequence: the end of that artist’s work. Strange, then, that knowing this fact I still acted as I did.”
GAS STATION CARNIVALS – As we proceed from the Purple to the Crimson Woman, and further paranoia concerning the reality of our own motives excellently conveyed by this classic story of both Horror and Absurdity and by entwining Narrations of Night Club and Sideshow and by deeper Sideshows of meaning (fitting for our world of Credit Crunch entertainment-seediness or of ‘The Swords’ by Robert Aickman), we simultaneously know by means of Magic Fiction (“art-magic delusion”) rather than the more common form of literature often known as Magic Realism that Gas Station Carnivals (described by Quisser as an archteypical reality we can’t avoid) actually do exist (even if they don’t).
A miniature Ferris Wheel no taller than a bungalow-house (as the story describes) and, having lived in a genuine bungalow-house since 1995 (with two bedrooms in the roof with dormer eyes), I feel guilty as if I’m a brazen Showman. A writer should surely not be such a Showman but, rather, a Monk (like MG Cardin’s Monk not MG Lewis’s Monk!) selflessly intent upon close-ordered textual exegesis. I must now return onward, with some trepidation, to that very story, The Bungalow House….
“And any room that I enter may become a sideshow tent where I must take my place upon a rickety old bench on the verge of collapse.”
THE BUNGALOW HOUSE – I’ve just discovered this extremely significant story in the history of Weird Fiction was first published in 1995, the same year as my wife and I moved to our Bungalow House (or known in UK as a Chalet Bungalow). Not relevant perhaps, but interesting to me. What is more relevant, probably, is that the Dalha tapes are reminiscent of the Dharma tapes in LOST. The Narrator arguably has a Lost-type ‘back-story’ co-identical with the artist behind the tapes.
The ‘deformity’ of what is in the Bungalow House has a sterilised mono ‘Purity’ by being ‘told’ between ” ” by the voice on the tape, as does the familiar theme of the Derelict Factory (and the Bus Shelter).
The story has a precise narration of vague matters.
An Art Installation that is the story itself told by the Narrator disguised as the nemonymous artist. “Why should you care what his name is? Why should I?”
Cf. the lavatory in ‘The Clown Puppet’ etc with the optimum Art Installation lavatory here. The library that seems to have carrels. The icy bleakness of things. Killing sadness. The dismembered doll parts one of which kills Dalha. I cannot pretend to even begin to grapple with everything in this story. It is the archetypal Platonic Form of the Ligotti story. It is as if Ligotti has metamorphosed into the Reader. Or Himself.
“Yet I must observe that the effect, as I now consider it, has been just the opposite. If it was your intent to evoke the icy bleakness of things with your dream monologues then you have totally failed on both an artistic and extra-artistic level. You have failed your art, you have failed yourself, and you have also failed me.”
SEVERINI – “There is no way out of the nightmare once you have gone so far into its depths.” And I feel that way with my current expedition into this book.
I hope Ligotti’s work as an “amalgam of hearsay” has by now “attained the status of a potent legend.” Yet it is hard to imagine how a Disease of a Disease (as depicted in this particular story) or a vicious circle of spider venom could ever become a mass market book. Surely those paperback editions of ‘Teatro Grottesco’ that I see these meltdown days in Airports and Supermarkets and Railway Stations are only the ghost children born from virgin “sleeptalking” … teasing you across the frog-choked miasma towards Severini’s shack. Or are you intended to “deliver the self that knows the sickness from the self that does not know”?
Here we see narrations and viewpoints of me and you in full spate along the “tropical sewer” of the reader’s mind – and the jesting smeary scrawl on my back says “the nightmares of the Organism” but I cannot turn on the narrow carrel-shelf of my eternal death to read the melting message.
THE SHADOW, THE DARKNESS – Not so much a story as a philosophical treatise disguised as a story and makes mention of a “Conspiracy Against The Human Race” – with a photographic ‘negative’ Maat called Tsalal. It takes place in a Twin Peaks town (Crampton) (plus mention of “psychic coffee house” and the town’s metamorphosis at the end into, inter alia, “strange peaks”), a ‘storefront’ art gallery (Cf The Bungalow House) and a character called Grossvogel who reminds me of Madoff the disgraced hedge-fund operator. A very apt comparison, I found!
“Soul or self” are dubbed “nonsense and dreams”, and Grossvogel is like the “giantlike” Russian ‘man’ in Algernon Blackwood’s THE CENTAUR. In fact this Ligotti ‘story’ (almost novella length) is the precise ‘negative’ version of THE CENTAUR novel.
It also treats of Art as a “swindle” (akin to hedge funds?) and other Aesthetic matters in ‘The Bunglaow House’ – and, in this respect, reminds me very strongly (but also, in its way, very differently) of the story ‘The Point of Oswald Masters’ (the authorship of which is currently unknown in the ‘Cone Zero’ anthology (Nemonymous 8)).
The style of ‘The Shadow, the Darkness’ is hypnotic, almost like Philip Glass music as well as clumsily amorphous, yet paradoxically tight and sinewy, in the textual texture of Elizabeth Bowen fiction.
The gastrointestinal disease (here seen as a religious Road to Damascus!) echoes the story ‘Teatro Grottesco’ and, not surprisingly in view of this ‘disease’, there is the need of another Art installation lavatory to be placed into the ’story’!
This ‘story’ also has labels like “drab abyss”. A ‘story’ about “absence” and the “useless desire to do something, and to be something.”
In many ways, perhaps against its authorial intent, this ‘story’ uplifts me. I fail to explain why.
I said earlier in respect of one of the stories that Ligotti seems to create Narrators who make a precise (i.e. unvague) recital of vague matters and this seems generally true of all the stories. The poems constructively seem to be the inverse of that process.
The poems that are grouped as ‘Things They Will Never Tell You’ re-rehearse many of the themes of the stories as well as ‘The Conspiracy Against The Human Race’ mentioned in ‘The Shadow, the Darkness’. My favourite is ‘Skull Crushing’ and the one that starts ‘The Prison of Time & Place’.
Those poems that are grouped as ‘The Degenerate Little Town’ make this (god)forsaken town almost a creative destructive force (both Tsalal and Maat). Questions, Questions, Questions, vortices of leading Questions, leading nowhere (as I said in one of my own poems written when I was much (much) younger). These poems have ‘diseased faces / peeking from grimy windows’, ‘crooked houses’, ‘the Sect of the Puppetlands’…
‘Envoi’, the last poem, is just that, the Puppet Colony from nothing to blackness. Reading between the lines: a cancer that suffers its own cancer.
I originally intended to offer a ‘gestalt’ of the whole book, but although it feels like an organic whole, its ‘nightmare as an organism’ thankfully makes it impossible to capture that whole in mere words. As it says somewhere in it: “Words are a total obfuscation…”
It is a great book. A landmark in my reading life. This author, I rank with Aickman, Proust and Elizabeth Bowen (and these represent, for me, the four pinnacles of ‘The Ominous Imagination’ that paradoxically help literature make life worth living). Thankfully, it doesn’t, however, halt the pain or the inexorable expectation of pain. I mentioned the humour earlier on. But don’t let that delude you. The horror goes without saying.
This personal, informal review is my Christmas present to Thomas Ligotti wherever he is, whoever he is. With my apologies because, as he says, in one of the poems in ‘Dead Dreams’:
‘What would happen
if you knew what
these things really are
and how they operate.’
(Review started 20/12/08 and finished 27/12/08)
All my recent reviews of books by other writers are linked from link above. des
3. Steve Dekorte left…
For any interested, I’ve just remembered: I did a review (‘On The Hoof’) of Ligotti’s ‘Conspiracy Against The Human Race’ in 2007 on TLO at link immedately above. Probably, in hindsight, the first such real-time review I ever did! Proud to say that TL himself replied to it on that thread.