The Conspiracy Against The Human Race
A Contrivance of Horror
by Thomas Ligotti
Hippocampus Press (2010)
I received this momentous book in the UK the day before yesterday, i.e on 29 June 2010.
My real-time review: this book is sublimation sublimated by its own dark context. It’s a joy.
All DFL’s real-time reviews can be found here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/df-lewis-real-time-reviews/
These are my original comments on an earlier – quite different – version of this book (plus TL’s own public counter-comments): http://www.ligotti.net/showthread.php?t=1159
When the book itself has fully percolated in my mind, I will conduct a fuller real-time review. If I survive. (1 Jul 10)
And so I begin the book:
“In conceiving Azathoth, that ‘nuclear chaos’ which ‘bubbles at the center of all infinity,’ Lovecraft might well have been thinking of Schopenhauer’s Will.”
Shamelessly, I draw attention to my own novel ‘Nemonymous Night’ in the context of the above quote from CATHR (page 57). I think CATHR is ostensibly the bleakest thing you will have ever read, but by its nature of re-sublimation of sublimation in providing human life its logical dark context, it is paradoxically joyful to experience. This is perhaps because the author so far retains the concept of a human self amid this bleakness as a fixity or certainty, despite, with the metaphors of puppets, a puppet-master trying to jab the self’s limbs elsewise. Only by setting loose the anchor of one’s own identity amid this bleakness can one perhaps portray that bleakness to its full. In other words, open oneself to the Intentional Fallacy both as a long-held literary theory and as a frightening horror trope in ‘the synchronised shards or random truth and fiction’. However, I keep my powder dry till this book has fully percolated in ‘my mind’. The author has yet many tricks up his sleeve to pull the carpet from under me. (2 Jul 10)
Up to page 71 in my current percolation. I find myself looking forward to reading this book each morning – a reason for living. It is so beautifully written and true. Yet, therefore, not true because it is so true? Life is a paradox. This book – for those who have not gained this from my review so far – is an ostensible ‘pessimisitic’ philosophical work (a history of thinkers in that mode of philosophy (suicide, race destruction etc), works of fiction inspired by it and the author’s own extrapolation from that history within himself), i.e. about the grounds for humanity’s predicament: its entrapment by self, a self that was gifted but not asked for, that if you stay with that self you cannot win anything but future despair, but if you don’t stay with that self, you are faced with self extinction in a few hours’ (minutes?) time or tomorrow when you destroy that self: an in-built despair for now. Yet, paradoxically, I, for one, feel boosted by facing such concepts. My self is intrinsic to now not to tomorrow. Meanwhile, my own despair is the thouight of not putting my name to my own ‘work’, a self-imposed Nemonymity. A self that drowns in non-existence while simultaneously it still has a self (a self’s self?) to recognise the sense of that drowning. CATHR (a great book, no doubt) obviates against Nemonymity. It has the author’s name on the spine and a silhouette of his body. And a significant dedication at the front: “To the memory of Peter Wessel Zapffe.” (my italics). (3 Jul 10)
Is CATHR, therefore, a work of philosophy or fiction? Or neither? Or both? I tend to think of it as a real Proustian dystopia … whereby, with its in built oxymoron or paradox, is a utopia we should all strive to share by reading it? (3 Jul 10 – another hour later)
–> Page 95. I see the author is now addressing my earlier ‘self’s self’ point but only, of course, from the point of view of the single self. Shame. We perhaps need to put pieces of opaque paper over the silhouette on the spine to create its zombie soul? In the pages leading up to this, there is essential reading for Horror Writers and those interested in the uncanny and supernatural, including some films, some vampires, some zombies… (5 Jul 10)
P 97 – the author broaches determinism, causality and their implications for Free Will. I wonder if he will broach ‘retrocausality’… Hmmm (5 Jul 10 – 30 minutes later).
–> p 103. As this book has no index or bibliography, I cannot tell yet whether it takes into account ‘retrocausality‘ or the selves of Proust, in its treatement of selves, causality, responsibility etc. Or Fowles’ ‘nemo’ (see comment below on this page). Another consideration: when the author discusses ‘responsibility’ from (wrongly?) inferred causality with regard to asking a friend to mend one’s toilet who then is killed in a road accident on the way to your house: think about the multiform requests and interferences that the internet literally ‘tapestries’ (if that can be a verb). How many of you will have your whole life changed because I wrote this review in real-time? The internet is the new philosophy, not in what it contains but in what it is or does simply by existing. This is an argument for proving, perhaps, that YOU *are* the internet. Until .. The Machine Stops. (6 Jul 10)
–> p. 113: “There are no retroactive fix-ups for the corpses we shall become.”
Ah well, so the author has it. But does that take into account Quantum Physics, the Large Hadron Collider, Cone Zero?
BTW, I admire some of the author’s humour as he enters Metzinger, regarding ‘fridge magnets’ and ‘shoe size’. At the end of the day (if not yet at the end of this book), I ask a single question: how does one judge the selves of others by the yardstick of one’s own self? This book may be a puppet’s book or a predetermined book, a book that has ever existed at this single everlasting point in time? Knowing I am the *only* self makes me feel good, fridge magnet or not, Cone Zero Ultimatum or not – and this book is merely (merely?) an entertaining fiction within a world I created in real-time simply (simply?) by reviewing it here. (I only real-time review fictions, as the regular readers of my reviews over the last few years already know, if readers there are within my wishful thinking). (6 Jul 10 – two hours later)
–> p. 117. Interesting discussion of ‘depression’ and other illnesses and how they affect the perceived integrity of the self. But as the author himself implies, to suffer depression can be the fulfilling of the perfection of existence. To feel everything bad and good is to live life to the full. Without bad, there cannot be good. But what if it’s all bad? Will bits of it seem good?
And a chink of light: the author cites many ingredients of a depressed human in his views on the world, one being that he sees that “The image of a cloud-crossed moon is not in itself a purveyor of anything mysterious or mystical;” – but what, I ask, if that cloud-crossed moon is truly mystical (even when the view of it by the depressed human is initially that it is unmystical), will the human being then gradually feel the lifting of his depression once the moon’s intrinsic mysticism starts to sink into him involuntarily? (6 Jul 10 – another 3 hours later)
–> p.124. “Zapffe, Schopenhauer, and Lovecraft fared well enough without surrendering themselves to life-affirming hysterics. This is a risky thing for anyone to do, but it is even more risky for writers…”
The author seems to scold those who were not pure pessimists, like Nietzsche, i.e. those who did not earn their spurs in the nihilism stakes. I have sympathy with this view. Except I don’t believe it is possible to be a writer and a pure pessimist – and so it is impossible, for me, even to imagine pure pessimism but, as a fiction writer, one can, of course write a fiction about it, one with a suspension of disbelief regarding the state of ‘pure pessimism’ induced by the skills of the fiction thus written.
The act of writing is an act of hope, even if it’s about despair. Or am I being too simplistic here? There is an argument, for example, that writers who write anonymously are at least a notch forward towards purity than those who write with a name that is either their real name or a name they can take pride in as their name. Unless, of course, they are writing lucrative material of which they are ashamed? My take on anonymity is HERE. But I need to return to commenting more ‘purely’ on CATHR itself…. (7 Jul 10)
–> p.129. “We have no idea where our next thought is coming from,”
True, that’s why I invented internet-enabled real-time reviews of literature. And this book, for me, is literature, not philosophy. This part of the book deals with humanity’s losing battle against Evolution. And considerations of Futurism, and some bitter appraisals of specific religions. I have sympathy with it all. It remains a great book that all should read, whether they are into Literature, Philosophy or simply the hard facts of Humanity’s seemingly everpresent predicament amid the perceived cosmos. But I still wonder whether pure Retrocausality and Nemonymity as a mutant form of Jungianism are two tricks in a hidden hand of cards somewhere? (9 Jul 10)
–> p.145. Paradoxes and Buddhisms of existence / non-existence, including some visions that sometimes seemed like a plot of Doctor Who. It made me think that the true pessimistic philosophy is, paradoxically, expressible only by someone who can’t be bothered to express it, perhaps that chap, on the next sunny bench along, munching mindlessly on a sandwich. He knows the true emptiness of the soul simply by the fact that he doesn’t know it at all – and he has no ambition to know it or explain it to others. Mr Who, not a Doctor at all. You see, I took CATHR this evening with me to sit on a bench by the still sun-baked sea to see if there was any difference between reading it there or in my stuffy office at home. But, of course, I couldn’t tell. You can never experience the same thing twice. Never compare. Like life and death? (9 Jul 10 – six hours later)
—> p. 158. ‘They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?’, imputed “filthy creations” from Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’, the extended pain provided by medical advances, the comfort of Theism, dying in an Epicurean blink before one realises one is dying, Tolstoy’s four methods of dealing with the prospect of death (either self-deceiving or bravely (un)faced) – this section is a brilliant summation of the implications and options surrounding one’s nightmare of existence. Each a separate path. Each presumably transcended by this book’s forensic truth. But what, I ask, about taking all paths at once, be religious and irreligious, euthanasic and non-euthanasic, realistic and fantasizing – this whole mix mixed with one’s own dreams or ‘synchronised shards of random truth & fiction’, one’s own ‘filthy creations’, that live as surrogates of self, today’s (not yesterday’s nor, retrocausally, tomorrow’s) self sitting by the sea on a bench, like the child in Shelley, waiting for the grey surging mass to open its monstrous mouth and speak? (10 Jul 10)
–> p.167. “Travesties of immortalism are effected day and night…”
Indeed. Null Immortalis.
An example in this section — eating meat when thinking of the abattoir whence the meat derives is not so easy as when not thinking of that abattoir. Equally – thinking in Life about Death. And vice versa.
Which fits obliquely, in my mind, to the example here of Sweeney Todd – an example that made me think of one’s hair when barbered off compared to a holy relic like a broken off bit or even a mere splinter of Christ’s Cross. Where does one belief or disbelief start or end and the other start or end? It’s like the ‘genius loci’ of your birthplace house (if it still exists and you return but you haven’t been back there for many decades…) (10 Jul 10 – 2 hours later)
There is something elucidatory about the author’s repeated word ‘nonsense’. And that is not a non-sequitur or even a nonsense about nonsense being sense in itself. A clown as a metaphor for optimism. But that is a non-sequitur – like death? (One never can predict a non-sequitur till it happens).
–> p. 174. “Complaining will not help you succeed and influence people.”
Hear! Hear! And there follows a wonderfully written mock-monologue spoken by someone following the rules of mass controlled-hysteric optimism that all Corporations, in my experience, engender as the speaker confidently scolds the complainer or office whinger or life eeyore. Only in great literature such as this book can you find such gems of sarcastic truth. No sarcasm intended on my part. (Sometimes over-praise, like over-publicity, is often counter-productive). (10 Jul 10 – another hour later)
–> p. 182 “…quite a few people make gardens because they cannot withstand the pressure of not making a garden. Others commit murder because they cannot withstand the pressure building up within them to kill someone, either a person known to them or a passing stranger. And so on. Our whole lives consist of pressures to make metaphorical as well as actual bowel movements.”
I think with the above passage, we reach a surrounding core of the depths towards which this book’s literature of philosophy reaches out – with confident or pleading arms? The procreation of children as your own possible totems for the future is not a reason to have children and – via Zapffe and Cioran – as I understand it, to wrap this out within a worldview of mass extinction of the race either quickly or gradually. The reason is that this future is one of suffering as you will surely suffer, too, as you enter the death throes or, at best, suffer the fear of utter sudden loss of self. Why prolong that suffering by procreating others to suffer beyond your own end? Books as totems into the future are OK, I guess, because books can’t suffer.
There can be no real argument against this forensic truth and, possibly, CATHR has said this truth clearest and most engagingly. A valuable truth for its own sake. However, I feel it hasn’t yet reached the utter depths that it could have reached. But I won’t say why. That’s because the author wrote the book and I read it. He can’t read it from fresh because he wrote it. He cannot gainsay my reading of it as he can never have a pure reading of it from scratch, i.e the pure pessimisim that he has gifted me. And possibly will gift you, when you read it. He has sacrificed his own pure pessimism so that we can have it. But I still won’t say truly why because by saying truly why I will be blamed for any repercussions. He is the catalyst, a brilliant catalyst, one who has the unique skills and experience of his own life and of being a superb writer of horror fiction to be such a catalyst, but, meanwhile, of course, he depends on his book’s ‘children’ to be thus catalyzed for such a catalyst as himself to exist. It is good that there exists the well-seasoned literary theory of the ‘Intentional Fallacy’. You see, the book is this totem, not its author.
But the book’s not finished yet… (10 Jul 10 – another 90 minutes later)
–> pp. 183 – 228
Autopsy on a Puppet: An Anatomy of the Supernatural
The book ends with what I consider to be a coda, as in a coda to a symphony. It is a lengthy exquisition on Horror Literature and Fiction – one that exponents (like myself) and readers of such literature will find most interesting. A major work on this subject. It sheds both oblique and direct light and/or darkness upon the preceding pages that carry a major and ground-breaking work of perceived Nihilism (CATHR). Without this coda, I would have had to be more negative.