Tag Archives: Thomas Ligotti

Tristram Shandy

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THE LIFE AND AND OPINIONS OF TRISTRAM SHANDY, GENT. by Laurence Sterne

My gestalt real-time review of this 18th Century novel HERE.

Incorporating a potential thesis on this comic novel as a tract of Antinatalism and Internet Grooming.

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“Nor does it much disturb my rest, when I see such great Lords and tall Personages as hereafter follow;—such, for instance, as my Lord A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, and so on, all of a row, mounted upon their several horses,—”

An important aside:
After due investigation, I seem to be the only person in the world to have noticed, in connection with the above ‘Tristram Shandy’ quote, that Mr Ramsay in Virginia Woolf’s ‘To The Lighthouse’ always foundered on getting past Q in the alphabet!

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Perpetual Autumn

I posted a blog entitled FOREVER AUTUMN HERE in September 2012, conveying some of my philosophy of life and literature. And this morning just after 5.30 a.m., the BBC Radio 4 weather forecaster stated that our Winter went missing and it was replaced by what he called “perpetual Autumn” – referring to the serial strong Autumn storms that have been besieging our UK islands for most of the Winter so far and into the foreseeable future.

For me, it seems apt to mention, in this context, Thomas Ligotti’s recent mass audience recognition written by Michael Calia in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), a recognition for Ligotti’s bleak philosophy. Death Anxiety plays a part in this – and probably in some of the Scandinavian fiction bleaknesses they often show on UK TV on Saturday nights – but here the WSJ article concerned something entitled TRUE DETECTIVE of which I have no experience (nor do I have any experience of the Scandinavian TV fictions, for that matter!)

Regarding his Fiction art in particular, Ligotti already had in my view a well-deserved mass audience recognition a few years ago with the Virgin paperback of his fiction entitled TEATRO GROTTESCO, a book that I saw in all manner of public places, at least in the UK.

And I am intrigued by this new recognition for his philosophical standing. Although believing such recognition to be well-deserved by Ligotti in respect of philosophy as well as fiction, I wonder whether — with his perceived tenets of such philosophy within ‘the Contrivance of Horror’ entitled THE CONSPIRACY AGAINST THE HUMAN RACE (CATHR) — the above heightened profile of personal recognition could be seen to be either counter-productive or irrational for his type of bleak anti-natalist philosophy: a dilemma I first raised HERE in 2007 before CATHR was published. (Ligotti replied at that time as shown on that link.)

I remain to this day open-minded about it and would welcome further input from Ligotti and others. If further thoughts of mine should arise on this matter, I shall include them in the comment stream below.

Meanwhile, I suggest that any writers who propound bleakly philosophical anti-natalism and so forth deserve name recognition for their writing where such recognition is deliberately sought rather than ideally or logically subsumed by the nihilistic subject-matter. Financial reward for such writers (as a symbol of such recognition or simply as a human pragmatic need) may also be a deserved consolation to appease their Death Anxiety that often remains otherwise unconsoled by the sublimated or distractive creativity of hard work employed in writing about such matters. Perpetual Autumn indeed, never Winter’s Death. Infinite Fall.

For the record, THIS was my real-time review of CATHR soon after it was first published as a book.

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The Plura-Monist

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Time cools, time clarifies, no mood can be maintained quite unaltered through the course of hours.”
— Thomas Mann (The Magic Mountain)

My month long real-time review of this book is now complete:
http://weirdmonger.wordpress.com/186-2/

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Cathrianity

My tentative, perhaps futile, definition of CATHRIAN:

“One who espouses actively the tenets he or she infers from the great but knotty Ligottian tract upon nihilism or pessimism – further threaded with thoughts about Horror literature – in a book entitled: ‘The Conspiracy Against the Human Race’ (The CATHR)”
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…to be distinguished from Catharism, Cathar, Catharsis, Catholic, Christianity…
Relevant to the ‘ligatures’ of Ligotti.
above image by Tony Lovell

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My reading-lifetime’s Hall of Fame

Image by Tony Lovell (2011)

My reading-lifetime’s Hall of Fame in no particular order:

Charles Dickens, Christopher Priest, AS Byatt, Enid Blyton, May Sinclair, HP Lovecraft, Barbara Vine, Reggie Oliver, Anita Brookner, WG Sebald, Jeremy Reed, Ian McEwan, Elizabeth Bowen, Stephen King, Oliver Onions, Marcel Proust, Salman Rushdie, Glen Hirshberg, Paul Auster, Mark Valentine, John Fowles, Edgar Allan Poe, John Cowper Powys, Lord Dunsany, Algernon Blackwood, Jack Vance, Philip K Dick, Jeff VanderMeer, Samuel R Delany, Anthony Burgess, Susanna Clarke, Rhys Hughes, Lawrence Durrell, MR James, Robert Aickman, Sarban, Ramsey Campbell, Thomas Ligotti, Tommaso Landolfi, Kazuo Ishiguro, Quentin S. Crisp.

This is a list including writers I once considered in my Hall of Fame but now rarely read, and new writers whose works I read quite a lot and have included in my Hall of Fame fairly recently and variations upon that, but all have been major reading experiences some time in my life.  Apologies to those I’ve inadvertently omitted because of my semi-Proustian memory.

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BLACK HORSE and Other Strange Stories

I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt, drawing connections…. A book I recently purchased from the publisher and received a few days ago.

BLACK HORSE and Other Strange Storiesby Jason A. Wyckoff

Tartarus Press 2012

There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years.

CAVEAT: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the book, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading it. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.

All my other real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/ (3 Mar 12 – 8.50 a.m gmt)

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An author whose name is completely new to me. But I relish the promise of ‘Strange Stories’, being, as I am, a ‘sufferer’ from Aickmania.

The Highwall Horror

“…he hung his North American wildlife wall calendar open to April and briefly considered the mallards in flight.”

Joe is a young ambitious architect – with a “honey-do” family of wife and daughters at home – and, at work, he moves into what I see as a glorified carrel or here called ‘cubicle’ whence its predecessor architect had left the firm suddenly.  Ranging between Ligottian ‘corporate horror’ and a Kafkaesque feel, we are suddenly tipped into a Lovecraftian panorama through the cubicle wall…. The prose is textured, sophisticated but easily accessible and highly effective. I sense we  have a significant Weird Fiction writer here – sensed even this early in the proceedings of reading the book.   A story that I am sure will linger with me as emanating from its power of what I gradually felt I was made to see as insectoid wordprint within the “oblong rectangles” of white walls … lingering until I read this book’s next story? “Terrible connections in his head were trying to come together while his sanity strove to keep them apart.” (3 Mar 12 – 90 minutes later)

Panorama

“Down beneath the carpet the small people in the floor creep over electrical wires to the walls…”

Sometimes in my whole reading life – and in latter years, my reviewing life – I wonder at the displacement of a particular work of fiction. Is this the work for which I have been waiting all these years to discover: originally stunned by Lovecraft in the 1960s, next  stunned by Ligotti in the 1980s, now to be stunned by Wyckoff in the 2010s? I have already (only) made a single deliberately concentrated reconnaissance of ‘Panorama’, but it feels more like a passing glance than an act of concentration. It surely needs far more effort and time for cumulative passing glances – just as the panoramic (Sistine roof?) work of art in the story itself needs its own various channels of passing glance to be travelled, created as this work of art happens to be (a cross between Bosch and Escher and more?) with separately autonomous and unsimultaneous ley-lines of tugged eye-path (or, in story-terms, reading’s audit trails)…  all mingled with vital considerations of the artist himself who perpetrated it, of the artist’s model (the artist’s loved one who is tugged herself into the canvas’ ley-lines (or paper insect-trails of print?)), and of the artist’s agent or, here, surrogate third-person narrator who is also in love with the model and who travels to the artist’s studio after failing to raise him on the phone and, after fearing the worst, eventually discovers this ‘Sistine roof’ (that expression of mine does not do it justice)  and the various entrapments of both word and word-evoked images, in turn mingled with images of an erstwhile gallery-showing of this artist’s work. Is this a major, landmark story fundamentally to shake the Weird Fiction world or something of which I shall never reach the bottom however many passing glances I devote to it? I keep my powder dry.  The text, meanwhile, is stunning: and incommunicable to anyone who has not directly experienced the work itself. (3 Mar 12 – ten hours later)

The Walk Home

“It was always the best party they’d ever had.”

A touching, haunting, exquisitely worded vignette of sprites as ghosts or ghosts as sprites, with a death-enduring feminine loyalty theme in the face of everpresent masculine dangers or poignantly masculine protections: a moral ‘thin ice’: hinting to me again of the vaguely adaptable formula for humanity’s selfish/unselfish motive-tussles that I identified in a real-time review that I just completed about another new (to me) writer here.  (4 Mar 12 – 8.35 am gmt)

Intermediary

Who says a ghost has to look like the body it fell out of?”

An intermediary is a broker. So is a fiction author. Without hopefully transgressing my much long-cherished view of The Intentional Fallacy as a literary given, here one of the protagonists – the archaeologist Barclay following aptly the architect Joe in the first story – has his own implied ‘honey-do’ family back home: back home while he is dicing-with-danger-or-amorality (possibly equivalent to writing dangerously weird fiction) so as to wreak honour or benefit for that family. This story, as foreshadowed by ‘The Walk Home’, is concerned with (what is here now called) “moral integrity“, with Barclay also dangerously faced with his own self-perceived edgy job and the archaeological ‘riches’ he and his colleague have found in Ecuador:  wrapped round with guilt, anger, mixed motives of greed and fellowship (even murder!), reminding me of much well-seasoned high-quality literary fiction I can’t put my memory’s finger on (later filmed by Hollywood for Bogart et al to appear in?): as their tent, in the middle of the Ecuadorian nowhere, is ‘invaded’ with their apparent permission by a large poncho man carrying a  shrunken head: with morality to broker and requesting coffee to drink as the excuse for ‘invasion’ [cf: amazingly, the exact same coffee reason given in a parallel edgy situation in another of my recent real-time reviews: i.e. of the story Fake in ‘Nowhere to Go’].  Only at the end does one begin to think. Thinking is thought-provoking. This story in itself is thought-provoking — as well as retrocausally atmospheric with a prose style to die for. “While you can only see fragments of a terrible future, he is weighing options and considering outcomes.” (4 Mar 12 – three hours later)

THIS REAL-TIME REVIEW IS NOW CONTINUED HERE.

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The WEIRD: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories

Weird: A Compendium of Dark and Strange Stories

The WEIRD: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories

Edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer

First published in Great Britain 2011 by Corvus, an imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd.

I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt. I have already ordered this book from an Amazon dealer. I hope to commence this review as soon as I receive it.

There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or weeks. But more likely: months or even years (judging by the enormous size of its contents).

CAVEATS: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the book, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading it. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective. Also, Nemonymous (Cern Zoo) was the original publisher of ‘The Lion’s Den’ by Steve Duffy that is included in this book.

My many other real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/ (2 Nov 11)

“… maintaining a chemical purity in the reaction between product and appraiser. […] Submit to whatever spell, weak or strong, is being cast. Better to praise and share than blame and ban. The communion between reviewer and his public is based upon the presumption of certain possible joys in reading, and all our discriminations should curve toward that end.” – an extract from John Updike’s rules.

Just this minute received delivery of the book itself. Wow! And double-columned text – didn’t expect that. (4 Nov 11 – 1.05 pm GMT)

Having now handled this beautifully handleable tome, as gigantic as it is imposing, I wonder now if I have bitten off more than I can chew by tackling a real-time review of it.  I am thrilled as well as daunted by this project, hoping that I live long enough to complete such an endeavour. As ever with my RTRs heretofore (proceeding apace for three years exactly today), I shall treat each story as it comes. Here, with this book, I shall re-read any story I have read before in my 63 year reading-life, hopefully attuning each reading to an emerging gestalt. Every collection and anthology has a gestalt, in my experience, whether intended or not, sometimes quite an unexpected one. Whether that gestalt has a randomly inexplicable / synchronous power or a more deliberate one, I try to feed back that power to the book itself when reviewing it, e.g. knowing that a  book’s reading journey may be different if one knows, when making that journey, that one is publicly communicating the experience of that journey in real-time. Finally, I usually do not read introductions, story notes etc until I have completed the review, and that will be the case here. (4 Nov 11 – an hour later)

The Other Side (an excerpt) – Alfred Kubin

Now the area had transformed into a monstrous zoo.”

A very promising start for me, containing feral and dream-sickness (my expression, not the story’s) and zoo themes that have obsessed me. A sleeping sickness plague for humans and when they awake the animal kingdom has run amok, with frightening and humorous results. There’s even a bear that eats a pork butcher’s widow. An enjoyable and provocative dystopian fable with implications for immortality and decay. I’m not sure if the excerpted nature of this piece has meant I miss or misread some of the characters’ protagonisms… yet it seems steeped constructively, and at least partially, in War With The Newts – by Karel Capek (4 Nov 11 – another two hours later)

The Screaming Skull – F. Marion Crawford

“One always remembers one’s mistakes much more vividly than one’s cleverest things, doesn’t one?”

Apt talk of November and of drugging people like Michael Jackson so as to sleep soundly and  a tell-tale or five-fingered skull – on the loose – and soliloquised about maniacally then sensibly then maniacally again then wrecked on the rocks of the reader’s craggy mind (i.e. mine) – this is an incredibly modern tale told to us from the unmodern past.  It’s like the animals in the Kubin are emblemised as on the loose with leaden brains and grinning bony carapaces. Each single haunted skull to  betoken another somewhere else or another part of itself with Darwinian jigsaw fitting? A classic horror story that I’m pleased to have brought back to my attention. I remembered it not. Not quite like this – in this book’s heavy-bendy skull-tome context… “…the dog, his face growing more and more like a skull with two little coals for eyes;” — (4 Nov 11 – another 4 hours later)

The Willows – Algernon Blackwood

I. “It was an otter, alive, and out on the hunt; yet it had looked exactly like the body of a drowned man…”

For me, a welcome opportunity to re-read this weird classic after a number of years. Lonely Literature’s ulitmate ‘genius loci’ (gestalt stätte): the boat trip of the narrator with his ‘unimaginative’ companion (the Swede) along the ill-differentiated Danube between land and water, nature and terror. Here we echo the stream of feral beasts or skulls of earlier stories in this book alongside the patternless, human-uncontrolled surge of currencies and debts that pervade our news today, joining a ‘parent river’ then we become another different unexpected parent-in-waiting of children that were misborn years before we were first alive.  Here we have willow-prehensile land and water as a herd or swarm instinct – as accentuated by even Unimagination itself now being impeached by frissons and fears – not Three Men in a Boat with jokey bonhomie, but two men alone together in a clumsy Jungian canoe that is you and me… (5 Nov 11)

II. & III. “It was we who were the cause of the disturbance,…”

Not by (a) ‘our’ disturbing the disturbance into existence, but by (b) creating it at source, from the hands of the head-lease author via the creative narrator towards the even more creative reader?  The story’s overt implication is (a), but re-reading this story in my later years I now feel it is (b) and – with the wind, the patterings, the heaviness of soul and the shapes emerging from some gaia – all take on a new meaning as I disturb – or create? – the story’s hidden gestalt. (5 Nov 11 – two and a half hours later)

IV. & V. “Our thoughts make spirals in their world. We must keep them out of our minds at all costs if possible.”

The above “them” actually being our thoughts themselves (any or all of our thoughts to be kept from our mind!) or is it THEM: the transcendents that lurk like Old Ones beyond the thinning or “veil” (veil or ‘door’, with the swarm of bees or humming gong sound, a la Stephen King’s Todash?) – or the strange disjointed fragments of phrases that make no sense and may be our thoughts disguised? This is all genuinely frightening to the reader who, as I hinted before, is more than implicated by just reading the story – despite the 3-men-in-a-boat laughter that breaks out at one point. Yet, there are three men here after all, the ego, id and nemo, but which is the Swede (cf: ‘the American’ in the Kubin story or ‘the Russian’ in Blackwood’s ‘The Centaur’ novel), which the equally anonymous narrator and which the anonymous victim ‘otter’?  There will hopefully come soon my ‘hole in the toe of my shoe’ moment (rather than my ‘hole in the bottom of my canoe’ moment). A revelation, this re-reading, as I imagine the transcendents’ shapes made up of several animals from another ‘monstrous zoo’.

“The nemo is an evolutionary force, as necessary as the ego. The ego is certainty, what I am; the nemo is potentiality, what I am not. But instead of utilizing the nemo as we would utilize any other force, we allow ourselves to be terrified by it, as primitive man was terrified by lightning. We run screaming from this mysterious shape in the middle of our town, even though the real terror is not in itself, but in our terror at it.”
– John Fowles 1964 (from ‘The Necessity of Nemo’ in ‘The Aristos’)
(5 Nov 11 – another 3 hours later)

NB: ‘The Willows’ seems to be a treatment of self-deception (and indeed the expression ‘self-deception’ in this sense is used in its text). This is appropriate as I am currently reading an academic book by Robert Trivers about ‘self-deception’. (5 Nov 11 – another 30 minutes later)

Sredni Vashtar – Saki

Without his imagination, which was rampant under the spur of loneliness, he would have succumbed long ago.” Cf: the ‘unimaginative’ Swede in the previous story!

 A short densely textured Saki classic masterpiece about a boy fighting (according to how the mood takes you in this welcome thoughtful yet relaxing mode of reading ‘The Weird’) against (or with?) class-conscious, generation-conscious, toast-conscious views of religion and social convention and all idol religion – with a feral god fluted from the Kubin or shape-swarmed, shape-beasted Blackwood. (Loved the TV version of this story but can’t get it out of my ‘thoughts’ when reading the story).  (5 Nov 11 – another 3 hours later)

Casting the Runes – M. R. James

“…Mr Karswell began the story by producing a noise like a wolf howling in the distance,…”

Karswell, Kubin. Sakitribution. Meanwhile, this is a characteristic, if slightly off-the-wall, M.R.-Jamesian story of various civilised and partially academic narrative-levels (one epistolary, another unreliable, others more reliable), i.e. unfictionalised fiction that hides and then tantalisingly reveals a pursuant or stalking evil like a simmering burr you can’t brush off.  A mass of creatures, at one point, and a “dry rustling noise” and, also as in ‘The Willows’, an Unimagination stirred into Imagination (the latter tellingly nearer to the truth about what lies behind any veils and piques) … and a snappish creature under the pillow that I imagined to be like Sredni Vashtar. And pursuant Runes or letters (some embedded in glass not upon it) like the lexic disjointments in ‘The Willows’. “I’ve been told that your brother reviewed a book very severely…”   Following the morally satisfactory conclusion of this spooky story, I nevertheless retain some empathy, if not sympathy, with our man Karswell…. (6 Nov 11)

THIS REAL-TIME REVIEW OF ‘THE WEIRD’ IS NOW CONTINUED HERE.

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All my many other real-time reviews are linked from HERE.

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