ponedjeljak, 28. svibnja 2012.

Thomas Ligotti - Horror za one koji ne vole horror

Thomas Ligotti - najbolji suvremeni horror pisac, suludi filozof i općenito jedan od najzanimljivijih ljudi na planetu koji, naravno, ne cijeni ljudsku vrstu. O njemu sam na ovom blogu već pisao no evo sad i lavine tuđih tekstova.

Thomas Ligotti: A Quietly Extraordinary Career

Thomas Ligotti (born 1953) is a contemporary American author who arguably ranks as the greatest living writer of horror fiction. This is a page of resources for discovering and appreciating his work.

"Ligotti is probably the genre's most committed purist. He perfectly expresses the 'disorienting strangeness' that is the hallmark of the weird." - The New York Review of Science Fiction

"If there were a literary genre called 'philosophical horror,' Thomas Ligotti's Grimscribe would easily fit within it. Provocative images and a style that is both entertaining and lyrical." - The New York Times Book Review

"Thomas Ligotti has had one of the most quietly extraordinary careers in the history of horror fiction." - Philadelphia Inquirer

"Thomas Ligotti is the best kept secret in contemporary horror fiction...the best new American writer of weird fiction to appear in years." - The Washington Post

"Ligotti is wonderful and original; he has a dark vision of a new and special kind, a vision that no one had before him." - Interzone

About Your Guide, Matt Cardin

My name is Matt Cardin. I'm a horror writer and literary critic whose writings about Ligotti have appeared in The Thomas Ligotti Reader and Lovecraft Annual, and also at various sites on the web. In the late 1990s I was directly involved in the founding of Thomas Ligotti Online, which has gone on to become Ligotti's official web presence. Tom himself -- Ligotti, that is -- once told me that my introductory essay about him, "Thomas Ligotti's Career of Nightmares," was the very resource he would like to use as a handy means of introducing himself and his work to newcomers. A few years later, he told me the paper I wrote about his authorial relationship to H.P. Lovecraft, "The Master's Eyes Shining with Secrets," is effectively "the very paper I've been wanting to write about Lovecraft since the 1970s." Then there's the fact that he has praised my work in return. So these are my stated qualifications for being adequate to the job of creating a page about him.

Ligotti: An Orientation

The Making of a Horror Legend

thomas_ligotti_teatro_grottescoLigotti first became known in the horror small press in the early 1980s, when he burst onto the scene with a series of stories that displayed a fully developed and astoundingly powerful authorial vision, coupled with a distinctive voice and an exquisitely modulated prose style. Content-wise, his work was wholly personal and original even as it recalled the cosmic and philosophical horrors of such literary giants as H.P. Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, and Bruno Schulz. Stylistically, it was informed by Edgar Allan Poe, Vladimir Nabokov, William Burroughs, and a host of additional authors.

His first published story, "The Chymist" (Nyctalops, 1981), speculates about the cosmic forces underlying the physical world, and gives a glimpse of what happens when these forces decide to "dream" an individual into new and nightmarish shapes. Another early story, "Dream of a Mannikin" (Eldritch Tales, 1982), offers a horrific take on the eastern philosophical idea of multileveled selfhood. "Dr. Voke and Mr. Veech" (Grimoire, 1983) poses cosmically sinister questions about the true nature of puppets, dolls, mannikins, and other effigies of the human form, and also about the relationship of these figures to their makers and manipulators. "Notes on the Writing of Horror: A Story" (Dark Horizons, 1985) presents exactly what the first part of the title indicates: a series of notes on how to write horror stories. But then it pulls an ingenious roundabout on the reader by revealing that the narrator is not as safely removed from the subject matter of his notes as he has led himself and his reader to believe.

The profoundly dark philosophical slant of these early works had the inevitable effect of creating a cult following for Ligotti. His outlook was a combination of horrific mysticism and stark philosophical pessimism or nihilism, and this proved to be a point of contact with many readers whose thoughts and emotions resonated with such things. Some said they had the unsettling and exhilarating impression that Ligotti was expressing their own deepest, darkest speculations and intuitions, and this, in combination with the continuing amazement at his arrival on the scene as an author in full control of his powers, gave rise to speculations that he did not really exist but was a pseudonym for some other, more famous writer. These rumors were untrue -- Ligotti really did and does exist -- but they added a mystique to his reputation that endures to this day.

Wikipedia: Thomas Ligotti

The Wiki at the Bottom of the World

The Wikipedia article on Ligotti is admirably informative, and serves as an excellent introductory resource.

Here's how it begins:

"Thomas Ligotti (born July 9, 1953; Detroit, Michigan) is a contemporary American horror writer.

Something of a cult figure, Ligotti is rather little known, but has seen high praise as one of the most effective and unique horror writers of recent decades: The Washington Post called him 'the best kept secret in contemporary horror fiction'; another critic declared, 'It's a skilled writer indeed who can suggest a horror so shocking that one is grateful it was kept offstage.'"

The article includes some biographical information about the man that was formerly very hard to come by, as well as other useful and interesting information, such as the following insightful identification of his central themes and major influences:

"Ligotti's worldview has been described as profoundly nihilistic (though he's wary of the label, stating "'Nihilist' is a name that other people call you. No intelligent person has ever described or thought of himself as a nihilist"), and has stated that he has suffered from anxiety for much of his life; these have been prominent themes in his work.

"Ligotti generally avoids the explicit violence common in some recent horror fiction, preferring to establish a disquieting, pessimistic atmosphere through the use of subtlety and repetition. He has cited Vladimir Nabokov, Thomas Bernhard, Edgar Allan Poe, Bruno Schulz, Emil Cioran and William S. Burroughs among his favorite writers. There are similarities between some of Ligotti's work and the stories of Robert Aickman as well. H. P. Lovecraft is also an important touchstone for Ligotti: a few stories, 'The Sect of the Idiot' in particular, make explicit reference to Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, and one, 'The Last Feast of Harlequin,' was dedicated to Lovecraft."

The article is highly recommended (although it could of course change at any moment, given the Orwellian Ministry of Truth-like malleability of Wikipedia's contents).

Ligotti: The Books

or, His Work Is Not Yet Done

thomas_ligotti_the_nightmare_factoryFour years after Ligotti's dramatic arrival on the American literary scene, his first book-length collection of stories finally appeared. Songs of a Dead Dreamer was published in 1985, and then again in a revised and expanded edition in 1989. British horror legend Ramsey Campbell provided the introduction for the book, and deemed it "One of the most important horror books of the decade." He described the author himself as "one of the few consistently original voices in contemporary horror fiction."

Songs of a Dead Dreamer was followed by additional fiction collections that unequivocally cemented Ligotti's status as one of the most important voices in the field: Grimscribe: His Lives and Works (1991), Noctuary (1994), The Agonizing Resurrection of Victor Frankenstein & Other Gothic Tales (1994), The Nightmare Factory (1996, omnibus collection reprising most of the contents of the previous three collections), In a Foreign Town, In a Foreign Land (1997, with accompanying CD by Current93), My Work Is Not Yet Done: Three Tales of Corporate Horror (2002), Sideshow and Other Stories (2003), and Teatro Grottesco (2006, reprinted in 2008).

In 2005, the trade paperback collection The Shadow at the Bottom of the World reprinted a selection of Ligotti's favorite stories

In 2000 his output began to include poetry. I Have a Special Plan for This World (2000) and This Degenerate Little Town (2001) were published in expensive limited editions, and were accompanied by CDs containing music and sounds from the experimental/avant-garde British music project Current93, helmed by the formidable David Tibet. Death Poems (2004) likewise appeared in a limited edition.

Ligotti also wrote a screenplay -- Crampton (2003) -- in collaboration with Brandon Trenz. The project began as an X-Files teleplay but then evolved into a standalone story that was published electronically (and temporarily) at Thomas Ligotti Online and then in book form. Additionally, he and Trenz collaborated to produce the screenplay for the short film adaptation of his early story "The Frolic" (see below on this page). The two authors collaborated on an additional screenplay, Michigan Basement, that aroused much speculation among the online Ligotti community, but word circulated in 2008 and 2009 that Ligotti and Trenz had abandoned plans to market the project.

Beginning around 2004, Ligotti started working on a nonfiction magnum opus that would serve as the full and final expression of his mystically pessimistic/nihilistic vision of human life and the cosmos at large. Titled The Conspiracy Against the Human Race -- after the title of a treatise written by one of the characters in his story "The Shadow, The Darkness" -- it had its genesis in lines of thought suggested by a number of interviews he had given, and also in his reading of the Norwegian pessimistic philosopher Peter Wessel Zapffe. The book went through many revisions over a span of six years, eventually mutating into something dramatically different from its initial incarnation. It finally found a publishing home withHippocampus Press, which issued the book in April 2010.

What the Critics Say

Analyzing a Career of Nightmares

the_thomas_ligotti_readerFrom the beginning, Ligotti's work has drawn enthusiastic praise from readers, critics, and his authorial peers. See the introductory section at the top of this page for a few of the more famous blurbs.

This wave crested after a fashion in 2003 with the publication of The Thomas Ligotti Reader by Wildside Press. In addition to collecting a number of vital critical essays about the author -- some new, some previous published, many written by leading critics in the field (e.g., S.T. Joshi, Robert Price, Stefan Dziemianowicz) -- the book featured interviews with Ligotti and even a brief essay by him. It also presented a winsome personal essay by Current93's David Tibet about his relationship with Ligotti. The volume was edited by renowned fantasy/horror author, editor, and scholar Darrell Schweitzer, who also contributed an essay of his own, and who conducted one of the featured interviews. Google Books offers an extensive preview of the book's contents.

Beyond this, some of the more noteworthy critical items about Ligotti that are available online for full-text reading include:

Ligotti in Triplicate
A review of Ligotti's My Work Is Not Yet Done (2002) for Necrofile, focusing especially on the short title novel. Written by renowned supernatural fiction scholar S.T. Joshi. "My Work Is Not Yet Done displays a Thomas Ligotti at the height of his form -- in imaginative range, in verve of style and precision of language, and in cumulative power and intensity. "

Review of Grimscribe: His Lives and Works
A review for the Agony Column. Written by Rick Kleffel. "The final story, 'The Shadow at the Bottom of the World,' describes a town where the colors of autumn linger long past their welcome, and take on an unhealthy hue and become 'fluttering scraps of lush color...the pages of a secret book" In ,Grimscribe, Thomas Ligotti manages to write that secret book, presenting us with stories that are paradoxically beautiful and horrific, the marriage of gorgeous prose and a macabre imagination."

The Master's Eyes Shining with Secrets: The Influence of H.P. Lovecraft on Thomas Ligotti.
An analysis of Lovecraft and Ligotti in relation to each other, for Thomas Ligotti Online. Subsequently published in Lovecraft Annual #1 (2007). Written by Matt Cardin (i.e., me). "Lovecraft, it seems to me, was emotionally and intellectually focused on the horror of 'cosmic outsideness,' of vast outer spaces and the mind-shattering powers and principles that may hold sway there, and that may occasionally impinge upon human reality and reveal its pathetic fragility. Ligotti, by contrast, seems focused more upon the horror of deep insideness, of the dark, twisted, transcendent truths and mysteries that reside within consciousness itself and find their outward expression in scenes and situations of warped perceptions and diseased metaphysics."

Thomas Ligotti's Career of Nightmares
A general introduction to Ligotti, covering his critical reputation, his work up to the year 2000, his literary style, and his typical themes. Originally written for "The Grimscribe in Cyberspace," a special Ligotti issue of the now-defunct email magazine Terror Tales (April 20000. Subsequently published at The Art of Grimscribe and in The Thomas Ligotti Reader. Written by me. "In the end, it is the direct connection between Ligotti's personal outlook and his fictional world that lends his writing such power. His technical literary skills are truly marvelous, but without the strength of his vision to empower them, they would amount to nothing more than a literary sound and light show. He has devoted himself to a career of nightmares, a career of expressing in literary form the demons that have afflicted him for most of his adult life."

Interviews with Ligotti

Conspiracies, Demons, and Personal Pathology

Among his fans, Ligotti's fame as an interviewee has come to rival his fame as a writer. In his interviews he comes off as alternately brilliant, dry, despairing, hilarious, angry, brooding, and surprisingly approachable. In private he explains that he realized the secret of a good interview long ago -- namely, that the interviewee ought to be entertaining. His success in living up to this ideal is rapidly becoming legendary.

The single best source of collected interviews with him is the "Ligotti Interviews" page at Thomas Ligotti Online, which reprints the full text of several interviews from the 1990s and early 2000s, including some that are now regarded as "classic," e.g., "Triangulating the Demon" for Esoterra (1999), "Disillusionment Can Be Glamorous" for The Art of Grimscribe (2001), "The Grimscribe in Cyberspace" for Terror Tales (2000), and "Literature Is Entertainment or It Is Nothing" for Fantastic Metropolis (2004). The latter of these, conducted by Neddal Ayad (and facilited by yours truly), served as the initial platform where Ligotti aired the ideas that he subsequently elaborated in his magnum opus, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race. Notably, TLO's Ligotti Interviews page also features separately published "outtakes" from that interview.

Some additional interviews of note include:

It's All a Matter of Personal Pathology: An Interview with Thomas Ligotti - July 2006.
This was conducted by me for my personal blog, The Teeming Brain. It was subsequently published in The New York Review of Science fiction, Issue 218, Volume 19, Number 2 (October 2006).

A Conversation with Thomas Ligotti - October 7, 2007
Interview conducted by Geoffrey Goodwin for The Mumpsimus. The main topic is Ligotti's ideas in The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, as well as his reasons for writing it.

Devotees of Decay and Desolation - 2008
Interview conducted by "Venger Satanis" (Darrick Dishaw) for his website Eldritch Infernal. Dishaw is a practitioner of chaos magick, and he incorporates a great deal of Lovecraftian and Ligottian imagery and conceptualization into his belief system. This led him to slant this interview in some unique directions.

Thomas Ligotti: Puppets, Nightmares, and Gothic Splendor - September 15, 2008
Conducted by an interviewer for the UK Sci Fi channel. This one is very extensive, and shows Ligotti at his starkly candid, razor-witted, darkly despairing best.

The Frolic: Deviltry on DVD: An Interview with Thomas Ligotti
Conducted by horror writer Mark McLaughlin for Horror Garage. As indicated, this one is primarily about the short film adaptation of Ligotti's early story "The Frolic," which is discussed elsewhere on this page.

Of course, Ligotti has given quite a few interviews that appeared only in print publications. These are well worth tracking down.

Graphic Novels: "The Nightmare Factory" Vols. 1 and 2

A Plague of Colors to Infect Our Dreams

September 2007 saw the publication of the first in a series of graphic novel adaptations of Ligotti's stories from his omnibus collection, The Nightmare Factory. As Ligotti explained in a 2008 interview for the UKs Sci Fi Channel, "All of the stories in The Nightmare Factory are part of an exclusive option-to-buy agreement with Fox Atomic. So they can do pretty anything they want with them until the option runs out. That's how the comic-book versions of some of my stories came about."

Volume 1 contained adaptations of four stories: "The Last Feast of Harlequin," "Dream of a Mannikin," "Dr. Locrian's Asylum," and "Teatro Grottesco." Each was accompanied by a new introduction written by Ligotti himself. Eric Lieb, Editor in Chief at Fox Atomic Comics, explained the project's origin in a September 2007 interview:

It was all rather direct: Fox Atomic's Chief Operating Officer, John Hegeman (one of the architects behind "The Blair Witch Project") is also a huge horror buff, and has long been a fan of Ligotti's writing. He brought the project into the studio and introduced me to Ligotti's writing, and I immediately dug his style. Given the range and style of Ligotti's work we thought "The Nightmare Factory" would be perfect for a graphic novel adaptation, one that placed an emphasis on the art and design to present a class-act package.

Fox Atomic also produced a lush animated trailer to accompany the first volume (see directly below on this page).

Volume 2, published in September 2008, adapted "Gas Station Carnivals," "The Clown Puppet," "The Chymist," and "The Sect of the Idiot." Once again, Ligotti wrote new introductions.

Animated Trailer: "The Nightmare Factory" Volume 1

Trailer for the first of the Fox Atomic graphic novels



Short Film: "The Frolic"

The Birth of Ligottian Cinema

thomas_ligotti_the_frolic_filmIn 2007 the first-ever film adaptation of Ligotti's work was released. "The Frolic" is a 22-minute film written by Ligotti himself (in collaboration with his friend and Crampton collaborator Brandon Trenz), directed by Jacob Cooney, and released by Wonder Entertainment. It stars Michael Reilly Burke and Maury Sterling as the psychologist Dr. David Munck and his outlandish patient, the sinister John Doe. Both actors are familiar to American audiences from their numerous television appearances.

IMDB summarizes the film as follows:

A prison psychologist returns home from his last day at work, an early retirement brought about by prolonged exposure to his latest subject, a serial killer known only as John Doe, who preys upon children. Doe is a psychotic Peter Pan who describes his murderous actions or "frolicking" as a way of "freeing" the children from their drab, earthly confines.

Ligotti explained the origin of the film project in his interview with the UK Sci Fi Channel:

My script collaborator Brandon Trenz and I knew a producer named Jane Kosek. She used to work with us at a publishing company in Detroit. Then she lit out for Hollywood. She and Brandon went to see an agent in LA about shopping some of our scripts around, but that led nowhere. She'd worked with a number of directors and suggested to one of them doing "The Frolic" as a short film. That didn't work at all because the director had all these loopy ideas for the film. Some years later, she showed the story to another director, Jacob Cooney, and he was amenable to doing something that was closer to what Brandon and I had in mind for the film version.

Teaser for "The Frolic" 

If you like what you see below, be advised that you can watch another segment of "The Frolic" at Film Baby

Ligotti on the Web

The Grimscribe in Cyberspace

Thomas Ligotti's presence on the Internet and web has been rich and varied. The German website The Art of Grimscribe, for example, features much of interest, including German translations of the author's work and critical essays about him.

His official presence, though, is the American-run Thomas Ligotti Online, created by Jonathan Padgett in the late 1990s (evolving out of the alt.books.thomas-ligotti newsgroup, also created by Padgett ) and now run by Brian Edward Poe. Below you'll find the cyber tracks of the latest member and visitor activity at TLO, whose history forms an interesting tale in its own right, since the site was created and continues to function as a fan-run effort, and has evolved into the recognized hub of all-things-Ligottian. Its fan base (it operates on a membership basis) is eclectic and international. In addition to featuring a vast amount of information about the author himself, it is home to tangential conversations about literature, art, film, philosophy, and more. It also occasionally publishes Ligotti's work by his direct permission; the "world premiere" of The Conspiracy Against the Human Race occurred there, as did the first glimpse of Ligotti's screenplay Crampton (co-written with Brandon Trenz)." - www.squidoo.com

by Matt Cardin

Thomas Ligotti is arguably the preeminent living writer of horror fiction. This reputation has grown up around him over a period of twenty years, during which time he has remained paradoxically obscure in the mainstream literary consciousness, and even, astonishingly, among some segments of horror fandom. Probably more people are acquainted with him unawares through his editorial work for The Gale Group (the company for which he has worked for the past twenty years, and which publishes such library mainstays as the Contemporary Authors series) than are acquainted with his stories. Nevertheless, he has produced a substantial body of fiction that has generated a passionately devoted fan base, and his work has been soundly praised by critics and readers alike. Reviewers have written glowingly of his books, and his publisher has mined these reviews for blurbs.
(From The New York Review of Science Fiction: "Ligotti is probably the genre's most committed purist. He perfectly expresses the 'disorienting strangeness' that is the hallmark of the weird;" from The New York Times Book Review: "If there were a literary genre called 'philosophical horror,' Thomas Ligotti's [GRIMSCRIBE] would easily fit within it...provocative images and a style that is both entertaining and lyrical;" From The Philadelphia Inquirer: "Thomas Ligotti has had one of the most quietly extraordinary careers in the history of horror fiction;" From The Washington Post: "Thomas Ligotti is the best kept secret in contemporary horror fiction...the best new American writer of weird fiction to appear in years;" From Interzone: "Ligotti is wonderful and original; he has a dark vision of a new and special kind, a vision that no one had before him.").
His admirers are wont to call him the best author the horror genre has ever produced, and while such sweeping statements are always questionable at best, it has become increasingly difficult to deny at least the possible validity of the claim. At a bare minimum, it seems undeniable that Ligotti has secured for himself a unique and lasting position of importance in the world of horror fiction, and probably in the wider world of literature in general. His career as a professional horror author dates back to the early 1980's, when his stories first began appearing in such small press mainstays as NYCTALOPS, GRIMOIRE, ELDRITCH TALES, FANTASY MACABRE, and DARK HORIZONS. These stories spoke with a shockingly distinct voice, and their subject matter was, to say the least, unique. For example, "The Chymist," first published in 1981 in NYCTALOPS vol. III, no. 2, speculates about the cosmic forces underlying the world of matter itself -- "The Great Chemists," as the narrator calls them -- and offers a glimpse of what happens when these forces decide to "dream" an individual into new and nightmarish shapes.
"Dream of a Mannikin," first published in 1982 in ELDRITCH TALES vol. 2, no. 3, offers a horrific take on the eastern philosophical idea of multileveled selfhood. "Dr. Voke and Mr. Veech," first published in 1983 in GRIMOIRE no. 5, poses disturbing questions about the nature and possible consciousness of puppets, dolls, mannikins, and other effigies of the human form, and also about the relationship of these effigies to their makers and manipulators. "Notes on the Writing of Horror: A Story," first published in 1985 in DARK HORIZONS no. 28, offers exactly what the first part of the title would seem to indicate: a series of notes on how to write horror stories. But then the narrative pulls an ingenious roundabout on the reader by revealing that the narrator is not as safely removed from the subject matter of his notes as he has led himself and his reader to believe. The profoundly dark philosophical slant of these early stories had the inevitable effect of creating a cult following for Ligotti. His outlook was despairing, even nihilistic, and this proved to be a point of contact with many readers who, while they may not have explicitly shared his outlook, still found within themselves a resonance of the black truths about which he so powerfully wrote. Quite a few such readers had the unsettling (and somehow exhilarating) impression that Ligotti was expressing in his stories their own deepest, darkest insights. He also brought to his stories a distinctive literary style to match the distinctiveness of his themes. In his own words, he was for a time a "fanatical student of literary styles, the more bizarre and artificial the better" (cf. Robert Bee, "Interview with Thomas Ligotti," 1999, found at http://www.longshadows.com/ligotti/bee.html). An example of this stylistic obsession can be seen in the fact that when he conceived the maniacal narrative voice of most of his early stories, he was consciously emulating the style of Russian-born writer Vladimir Nabakov (cf. R.F. Paul and Keith Schurholz, "Triangulating the Daemon: an Interview with Thomas Ligotti." ESOTERRA 8 (Winter/Spring 1999): 17). In spite of this imitation -- or perhaps because of it -- his stories were in the end wholly original. When his first book of collected stories, SONGS OF A DEAD DREAMER, was published in a mass market edition in 1989 (having been published three years earlier in a limited small-press edition), readers encountered no less a genre heavyweight than Ramsey Campbell saying in the introduction, "Despite faint echoes of writers he admires,...Ligotti's vision is wholly personal. Few other writers could conceive a horror story in the form of notes on the writing of the genre, and I can't think of any other writer who could have brought it off." In the same introduction, Campbell wrote that the book "has to be one of the most important horror books of the decade," and with these words the proverbial cat was let out of the allegorical bag. Ligotti's readership still remained relatively small compared to the Kings and Koontz's of the world (as should have been expected, considering that his fiction was highly literary and idiosyncratic, and was most certainly not written for a mass audience), but his early reputation as the reigning dark magus of the horror world began to precede him, and more and more genre fans began to realize that this was a writer they simply had to read. In one of the more bizarre and amusing incidents of his literary career, Ligotti's innate reclusiveness, combined with the mysterious reputation he had gained from his fiction, gave rise to the rumor that he did not really exist but was instead a pseudonym for some more famous author. When Poppy Z Brite asked in her introduction to Ligotti's 1996 omnibus collection THE NIGHTMARE FACTORY, "Are you out there, Thomas Ligotti?" she echoed thousands of readers who were asking the same question, readers who wondered what the man was really like, or whether he even existed.
At the time of this writing (April 2000), Ligotti has five more collections of stories to his credit after SONGS OF A DEAD DREAMER. In chronological order, these are GRIMSCRIBE: HIS LIVES AND WORKS (1991), NOCTUARY (1994), THE AGONIZING RESURRECTION OF VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN AND OTHER GOTHIC TALES (1994), THE NIGHTMARE FACTORY (1996), and IN A FOREIGN TOWN, IN A FOREIGN LAND (1997). This last book was written in conjunction with the experimental music group Current93, and was released with an accompanying CD of music to supplement the book. (Since the exact relationship of the book and CD have never been specified, it is also theoretically possible to view the former as supplementing the latter.) Ligotti's story "The Nightmare Network" was published in editor John Pelan's 1996 anthology DARKSIDE: HORROR FOR THE NEXT MILLENNIUM, and in late 1999 he gained his widest exposure yet when his story "The Shadow, The Darkness" was published in editor Al Sarrantonio's high-profile anthology 999: NEW TALES OF HORROR AND SUSPENSE alongside works by such genre icons as Stephen King, Peter Straub, and William Peter Blatty. In February of 2000, Current93 released a CD titled I HAVE A SPECIAL PLAN FOR THIS WORLD in which the narrated text was written entirely by Ligotti. (For the only complete bibliography of Ligotti's work, see Thomas Ligotti Online at http://www.longshadows.com/ligotti).
For the uninitiated who are thinking of delving into Ligotti's work, or for those who have not yet made up their mind, or even for those who have already read some of his work but are wondering where to go next, there are a number of pertinent factors to consider. Firstly, it should be mentioned that Ligotti has repeatedly cited Lovecraft and Poe as being the two most important influences on his life and work, respectively, and many fans of these authors have discovered in Ligotti a kindred spirit. In particular, the Lovecraft connection has continued to bring Ligotti a steady stream of new readers. He is very open about the fact that it was Lovecraft who originally inspired him to try his hand at fiction, and although he has said that Lovecraft's influence on him is more personal than literary, most readers find a very strong Lovecraftian element in many of Ligotti's stories. An example of direct Lovecraftian influence can be found in GRIMSCRIBE in "The Last Feast of Harlequin," which is the earliest-written of Ligotti's stories, and which is dedicated "To the memory of H.P. Lovecraft." Another direct influence can be found in SONGS OF A DEAD DREAMER in the story titled "The Sect of the Idiot," where Ligotti mentions Lovecraft's "blind idiot god" Azathoth. Perhaps the most important and pervasive Lovecraftian influence in Ligotti's fiction is found in his repeatedly reworked idea of a mystical, ontologically absolute evil -- in e.g. "Dream of a Mannikin," "Masquerade of a Dead Sword," "Nethescurial," "The Tsalal," "The Shadow, The Darkness" -- which bears at times a similarity to Loveraft's mythology of certain monstrous extracosmic entities or forces that continually impinge upon the little world of human interests and emotions. While there are significant divergences between the two men's literary styles and personal visions, many Lovecraft fans have felt that, in a way, Ligotti "takes up" where Lovecraft left off -- that is, that Ligotti is saying what Lovecraft might have said if he were alive today -- and it may not be too far off the mark to consider the bulk of Ligotti's fiction as a kind of distillation and expression in contemporary terms of what was best in Lovecraft. In short, those who appreciate Lovecraft will almost certainly find something to appreciate in Ligotti.
Secondly, when approaching any writer for the first time, there is always the question of which book or books one ought to read first. Fortunately, in Ligotti's case the answer is obvious. THE NIGHTMARE FACTORY, as mentioned above, is an omnibus of his work, reprinting most of the stories from the previous collections (with the exception of AGONIZING RESURRECTION) and adding to them six new stories in a section titled "Teatro Grottesco and Other Tales." As such, it forms an ideal introduction to his work. The only drawback is that some of his best and most cherished stories from past collections have been omitted. Gone are his two metafictional explorations from SONGS OF A DEAD DREAMER, "Notes on the Writing of Horror" and "Professor Nobody's Little Lectures on Supernatural Horror." Gone also is the entire final section of NOCTUARY, titled "Notebook of the Night" and consisting of a series of nineteen prose poems or vignettes which in the opinion of this author represent some of Ligotti's most powerful work. Completely unrepresented is the wonderful THE AGONIZING RESURRECTION OF VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN AND OTHER GOTHIC TALES, which consists of a series of vignette-length reworkings of classic literary and cinematic horror tales, and which may in fact be Ligotti's best book when measured against his other books purely in terms of their literary success as collections. Having said this, THE NIGHTMARE FACTORY is still the single best book for the Ligotti neophyte to purchase. It presents a sweeping overview of his perennial thematic and stylistic obsessions, and the new stories in "Teatro Grottesco and Other Tales" represent him at the height of his powers. The book also contains a valuable introductory essay by Ligotti titled "The Consolations of Horror," in which he considers the question of why readers read and writers write such things, and why it is that horror, "at least in its artistic representations, can be a comfort." He considers and rejects several alternative answers to this question, arriving finally at the conclusion that artistic horror offers only a single valid consolation: "simply that someone shares some of your own feelings and has made of these a work of art which you have the insight, sensitivity, and -- like it or not -- peculiar set of experiences to appreciate."
A final consideration that ought to be borne in mind by the prospective reader is that Ligotti's stories tend to have a profound emotional impact. His vision is exceedingly dark, and it is possible for his stories to infect the reader with a mild-to-severe case of depression. It is even possible for them to effect a change in the reader's self-perception and view of the universe. This warning is not meant to be sensationalistic, nor is it meant to turn new readers away. It is simply a statement of fact based upon the experiences of actual readers. Ligotti writes about the darkest of themes with an amazing power, and he means what he says. Often his stories seem to communicate a message below their surface, a sort of subliminal statement that should not rightly be able to traverse the barrier of verbal language. This has not gone unnoticed by his fans and peers in the horror industry. For example, Brian McNaughton, winner of the 1998 World Fantasy Award for his collection of stories THE THRONE OF BONES, dedicated his story "ystery orm" to Ligotti, and in the story (which can be found in Pelan's DARKSIDE anthology) he describes Ligotti's literary power thusly: "To translate dreams into plain prose, into the bald speech of post-literate America, seemed impossible until he read the tales of Edward F. Tourmalign [a fictionalized Ligotti]. In Tourmalign's stories, wind-blown leaflets, clinking light-stanchions in empty streets, neon signs with missing letters -- such banal images assumed, in waking life and in cold print, the horrific significance they so often radiated in nightmares. It had been said of many pathetic hacks that they should never be read at night, but it made no difference when one read Tourmalign, for his work was a poison that infiltrated the bloodstream and changed the structure of the brain."
To illustrate the point from one of Ligotti's own works, let the reader consider the following long passage from "The Shadow at the Bottom of the World," in which the communal narrator of an unspecified rural town experiences strange dreams during an unnatural prolongation of the autumn season: "In sleep we were consumed by the feverish life of the earth, cast among a ripe, fairly rotting world of strange growth and transformation. We took a place within a darkly flourishing landscape where even the air was ripened into ruddy hues and everything wore the wrinkled grimace of decay, the mottled complexion of old flesh. The face of the land itself was knotted with so many other faces, ones that were corrupted by vile impulses. Grotesque expressions were molding themselves into the darkish grooves of ancient bark and the whorls of withered leaf; pulpy, misshapen features peered out of damp furrows; and the crisp skin of stalks and dead seeds split into a multitude of crooked smiles. All was a freakish mask painted with russet, rashy colors -- colors that bled with a virulent intensity, so rich and vibrant that things trembled with their own ripeness. But despite this gross palpability, there remained something spectral at the heart of these dreams. It moved in shadow, a presence that was in the world of solid forms but not of it. Nor did it belong to any other world that could be named, unless it was to that realm which is suggested to us by an autumn night when fields lay ragged in moonlight and some wild spirit has entered into things, a great aberration sprouting forth from a chasm of moist and fertile shadows, a hollow-eyed howling malignity rising to present itself to the cold emptiness of space and the pale gaze of the moon."
In this passage one can clearly feel Ligotti's magic at work. His careful choices of rhythm, sound, and vocabulary work synergistically to produce an oneiric effect, so that the "fairly rotting world of faint growth and transformation" which hints at a spectral presence that is a "great aberration sprouting forth from a chasm of moist and fertile shadows" becomes identified in the reader's mind with the world of dreams and nightmares. Here and elsewhere, Ligotti is remarkably successful in his attempt at using language to convey this most elusive of moods.
On a more philosophical note, we can discern three primary themes (although they are certainly not the only ones) emerging from a survey of Ligotti's oeuvre: first, the meaninglessness -- or possibly malevolence -- of the reality principle behind the material universe; second, the perennial instability of this universe of solid forms, shapes, and concepts as it threatens to collapse or mutate into something monstrous and unforeseeable; and third, the nightmarishness of conscious personal existence in such a world. The stories in the "Teatro Grottesco" section of THE NIGHTMARE FACTORY provide a good example of these themes at work. In many ways these stories are the most personal of Ligotti's works, and as such they provide the literary equivalent of an intravenous dose of his mood. "The Bungalow House" is especially notable in this regard, for in it the narrator states what might be taken for a Ligottian philosophical and artistic credo, if such a thing were possible. Upon discovering a series of performance art audio tapes in the form of "dream monologues," the narrator is surprised and gratified, and also somewhat disturbed, to discover that another person shares his own love for "the icy bleakness of things." He reflects: "I wanted to believe that this artist had escaped the dreams and demons of all sentiment in order to explore 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. Of course, I knew that this view was an illusion like any other, but it was also one that had sustained me so long and so well -- as long and as well as any other illusion and perhaps longer, perhaps better."
This passage recalls Nietzsche's assertion in THE BIRTH OF TRAGEDY that "It is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified." In a universe reduced to those "three stark principles," the only pleasures one can safely enjoy -- that is, the only pleasures one can enjoy without the threat of disappointment and painful disillusionment -- are purely aesthetic. At the same time, the narrator is aware that this attitude is itself an illusion, and that he holds to it merely out of its proven utility. But ultimately even this painfully worked out maze of psychic defenses is not enough to shield him from utter despair. After a series of disturbing events, he finds himself unable to take any more pleasure from the works of this new artist, and is left only with a desperate need to find release from "this heartbreaking sadness I suffer every minute of the day (and night), this killing sadness that feels as if it will never leave me no matter where I go or what I do or whom I may ever know."
This idea is foundational to Ligotti's fictional universe: there is simply no solace to be found anywhere in this or any other world. Nor is this merely a literary affectation; Ligotti is using the vehicle of horror fiction to express his actual experience of life. When questioned by one interviewer about the relationship between his writing and his personal outlook on life, he replied, "My outlook is that it's a damn shame that organic life ever developed on this or any other planet, and that the pain that living creatures necessarily suffer makes for an existence that is a perennial nightmare. This attitude underlies almost everything I've written" (cf. Robert Bee, "Interview with Thomas Ligotti," op. cit.). The close connection between Ligotti's personal outlook and his stories holds true for even his most extravagant fictional creations. In "Nethescurial," for example, he writes of an ancient pantheistic religious cult whose members discovered at some point in prehistory that their deity was evil, and that their religion was in truth a sort of "pandemonism." As commentary to this idea, Ligotti has said, "It seems to me that living beings on this planet suffer at the hands of an insatiable and wildly creative force--which has variously been referred to as Anima Mundi, Elan Vital, the Will (Schopenhauer)--that does not have our interests at heart, or the interests of any particular species for that matter, since it has extinguished more forms of life than it has created. From the point of view of individuals existing in this luxuriant world, this force must necessarily be viewed as inimical to our comfort and sanity, although almost no one holds to this attitude" (cf. interview with Thomas Ligotti in the commentary on "Nethescurial" at Thomas Ligotti Online).
In the end, it is this direct connection between Ligotti's personal outlook and his fictional world that lends his writing such power. His technical literary skills are truly marvelous, but without the strength of his vision to empower them, they would amount to nothing more than a literary sound and light show. He has devoted himself to a career of nightmares, a career of expressing in literary form the demons that have afflicted him for most of his adult life. In interviews he has spoken candidly of his own "erstwhile craving for 'enlightenment in darkness'" (Bee, Interview with Thomas Ligotti, op. cit.), and the fruit of this craving can be seen in the fact that through his fiction he provides an aesthetic approximation of this very enlightenment for his readers. Christine Morris, writing in DAGON 22/23, said, "Receptive reader, be forewarned -- if you read for more than escapist entertainment, if you read to be challenged or enlightened, if you read to explore not only daydreams but nightmares, Thomas Ligotti's stories may transform you, too." For those readers who already possess "the insight, sensitivity, and -- like it or not -- peculiar set of experiences" to appreciate Ligotti's vision, this transformation may already be well underway by the time they encounter the master's books. In such a case, his fiction will act as a catalyst. Perhaps Ligotti's stories will always speak most vividly to those rare persons in whom the seed of darkness has already been sown. In their own half-conscious pilgrimage toward a dark enlightenment, these sensitive seekers will follow Ligotti willingly into the depths of the nightmare, and there in the echoing stillness of the silent, staring void they will find that they are looking into the radiant black reflection of their own shadowed souls.©" Matt Cardin, 2000
This essay appeared first in April 2000 in "The GrimScribe in Cyberspace" (a tribute to Thomas Ligotti) special issue of TERROR TALES by John B. Ford.

“It’s all a matter of personal pathology”:
An Interview with Thomas Ligotti by Matt Cardin

Conducted July 2006. Published in The New York Review of Science Fiction Issue 218, Vol. 19, No. 2 (October 2006)

MC: Thanks so much for agreeing to do this, Tom. Let’s start with a passel of questions about your writing habits, since this is an issue that has long fascinated me. You’re now well into the third decade of your writing career. I know that for you, writing has always been annoying, agonizing, or both. As you’ve said several times, you’re one of those writers who enjoys having written as opposed to the act of writing itself. More than once you’ve resolved not to write any more, only to have something come along that called you back to it. What exactly does this involve? What comes over you that lets you know another project is calling? I’m also curious to know if anything about your experience of the writing process has changed over time.
TL: This is going to be a boring response because I haven’t anything writerly to say about this matter. It’s all a matter of personal pathology. Writing was not really difficult for me in the late seventies and throughout the eighties. There was a period from 1975 to 1979 when I was severely depressed, in addition to my panic-anxiety disorder. I was anhedonic all day every day. I thought my existence was over. But I was young, and it was during that period that I began to write in earnest. Years went by, and I wrote one bad story after another. Then I wrote “The Last Feast of Harlequin,” whose narrator is a depressive. It was very bad, but not so bad that I destroyed it. I kept it in an old beer case that I used to archive my writing. Every so often I’d read it over again, thinking how I could extract the good parts from the bad. In the meantime, I began writing stories that were published in small-press magazines. More than ten years after writing “Last Feast,” I was able to rewrite it so that it was no longer terrible. Around that time I was developing a case of Irritable Bowel Syndrome due to stress. If rolling on the floor of emergency rooms in spasms of intestinal agony sounds like fun, then ask your doctor if IBS may be the digestive disorder that’s right for you. That condition and my increasing panic-anxiety, along with getting older, really made writing an exercise in agony. It also became the basis for the stories of the “Teatro Grottesco” cycle. I still had other stories that I wanted to write, so I wrote them. But whenever I wrote, I would end up in a state of extreme agitation and my gut would be killing me. In 1991, I decided to call it quits as a writer. But I had to do something. So I started playing guitar again—I played from my teens and into the early seventies—thinking that this would be a less stressful activity. I became a complete guitar geek, and it wasn’t any less stressful than writing. This was around 1993 when the company I worked for was going through a reorganization, not its first. I think of 1993-1994 as the time when people working in offices realized their potential for being assholes. That second reorganization disturbed me so much with its blatant idiocies and pod-people mentality that I wrote “The Nightmare Network.” Now I was writing again and playing guitar on top of that. The situation at work kept escalating in its madness and pathos, and I wrote another corporate horror story called “I Have a Special Plan for This World.” By then, a number of my coworkers actually felt that I was going off my rocker and feared I would “do something.” I didn’t feel that I was to that stage yet. It wasn’t until 2000, several reorganizations later, that I began to lose it. I became obsessed by violent fantasies. These became the impetus for writing My Work Is Not Yet Done. I tried to give these stories a larger meaning than simply that of revenge, which is usually not a subject worth writing about as such. Then I wrote two more corporate horror stories, “My Case for Retributive Action,” and “Our Temporary Supervisor.” Labeling these stories as “Tales of Corporate Horror” was my way of organizing a reader’s perception of them but, I hope, not limiting them to the realm of working life. “I Have a Special Plan for This World” takes places in a corporate setting, but, like my other corporate horror tales, was intended to convey a broader perspective relating to themes that are important to me: the fiasco and nightmare of existence, the particular fiasco and nightmare of human existence, the sense that people are puppets of powers they cannot comprehend, etc. These themes just naturally come to the fore when I’m experiencing some especially intense or unpleasant episode in my life. Pain is my muse, so to speak. By 2001, my psychological status was that of bipolar depression. In 2002, my depression let up for a month, and I went into a hypomanic phase. During that time I wrote two more stories, “Purity” and “The Town Manager,” which were based on my enraged reaction to social and political developments in the U.S. at the time. The few things that I’ve written since were written in hypomanic states, for which I now take medication along with my other meds. So I guess there’s an observable pattern in that I write when something in my life pushes me to do so, specifically hatred and hurt. These act as a springboard for the themes of my stories, which I hope transcend my temporary experience and connect with my overall outlook on existence, which may or may not interest the reader but is the essential reason that I write.
MC: Does writing still give you pleasure at all? You’ve said that when you first started doing it, it made you high like the drugs you used to take, only without their negative effects. Is that still the case? Or is it more of release valve for negative inner pressure these days? Or is it a combination of both?
TL: Writing has always brought me more satisfaction than pleasure. I’ve always enjoyed the planning stage of a new story more than writing the story itself. That’s when the story seems to have unlimited possibilities. I try not to work out the elements too quickly because each idea, character, setting, etc. erodes those possibilities. Due to this effect, I deliberately didn’t outline beforehand how the characters in My Work Is Not Yet Done would be done in. This enabled me to look forward to how each of them would get it and how each method would work with other aspects of the story.
MC: So many modern-day pop fiction authors emphasize the old saw that “story comes first.” I think of Stephen King, for example, who has said this many times. Even a lot of literary writers agree with it. “With me,” Bernard Malamud once said, “it’s story, story, story.” I recall once in the past when you were asked about the near absence of plot in some of your stories, you said you had never understood what your readers were talking about when they mentioned this, since you had always thought your stories contained as much plot as anybody else’s. Personally, when I think of the many vignettes you’ve written, and also your more overtly experimental pieces (such as “Notes on the Writing of Horror”), and also such pieces as “Ghost Stories for the Dead,” in which you foregrounded the horrific philosophical speculation and presented the actual story or plot in an oblique and almost subliminal fashion—I have to admit that I understand what your many readers have been asking about. And I certainly don’t consider this submergence of plot to be a detriment. I think all those writers who offer a one-size-fits-all recommendation based on the “story first” approach are simply making an adage out of their private preference. I think they’re probably the type of readers who revel in story, and so when they go to write their own fiction, this is how they approach it. What’s your take on all this?
TL: I agree with your analysis. It seems natural to me that people who like to read stories will, if they are writers, like to write stories. For my part, I don’t care for stories that are just stories. I feel there’s something missing from them. What’s missing for me is the presence of an author or, more precisely, an author’s consciousness. In most literary novels, the author is there in the spaces between the characters and the scenery, but I like to see the author out front and the rest in the background. Aside from the stories you mentioned in your question, I believe my own stories to have story galore within them. But these are only pretexts, coat racks on which to hang what’s really important to me, which is my own sensibility. That’s all I really have to work with. Most writers adore observing other people and the lives they lead, then making up a story about them. They really pay attention to the world around them. This is something I literally can’t do. I just don’t care about what makes people tick, and, as Sherlock Holmes said, I see but do not observe. It just seems completely trivial and useless to pay attention to these things. I’m no more interested in the physical universe, which sends scientists into raptures of rhetoric but doesn’t impress me in the least. I can’t fathom why anyone should care about how the universe began, how it works, or how it will end. More triviality and uselessness. At the same time, I’m in awe of writers who are adept at telling stories, just as I’m in awe of people who speak foreign languages or play a musical instrument really well. But that doesn’t mean that I want to read their stories or listen to them talk or make music. As Morrissey says in the Smiths’ song “Panic”: “Because the music that they constantly play says nothing to me about my life.” The work of writers such as Malamud, William Styron, Saul Bellow, et al. not only says nothing to me about my life, but it says nothing to me about what I’ve experienced or thought of life broadly speaking. By contrast, writers such as Jorge Luis Borges, H. P. Lovecraft, and Thomas Bernhard say plenty of things about both my life in particular and life in general as I have experienced and thought of it. I can take an interest in the writing of these authors because they seem to have felt and thought as I have. William Burroughs once said that the job of the writer is to reveal to readers what they know but don’t know that they know. But you have to be pretty close to knowing it or you won’t know it when you see it.
“I couldn’t possibly write something that would reflect the true depths of my aversion to everything that exists. Assuming that anything has to exist, my perfect world would be one in which everyone has experienced the annulment of his or her ego. That is, our consciousness of ourselves as unique individuals would entirely disappear. We would still function as beings that needed the basics—food, shelter, and clothing—but life wouldn’t be any more than that. It wouldn’t need to be.”
MC: How much conscious effort do you put into the poetic quality of your prose? I’m talking about its prosody—meter and sound and all that. I think I recall Raymond Carver recounting how when he was a student of John Gardner’s, Gardner would analyze his prose in painstaking detail, going through it line by line and performing scansion on it like poetry. Do you do anything like that with your own writing? Do you intentionally write and/or revise with an eye (and ear) to creating effects through the artful deployment of language techniques? Or do you just forage around for the right general feeling?
TL: Unless I’m emulating the style of another writer, such as Bruno Schulz or Thomas Bernhard, I follow a tone of voice that I have in my head. This supplies the rhythm and pace I want, the music of the story, and makes the narrative accommodating to any poetic devices I might want to use, principally metaphor. I can’t imagine scanning another writer’s prose. But Gardner was a scholar of Middle English literature, so his guidance as writing teacher was probably useful to Carver, who wrote short in a sort of blank verse style. The trouble in being too preoccupied with how your work sounds in English is that this has little bearing on how it’ll sound in translation. This is going to sound monumentally egotistical, but at an early stage in my writing I became conscious of using wordplay that I knew wouldn’t translate well into another language. That came out of my obsession with the works of Vladimir Nabokov. So I stopped doing too much of that, which is difficult because wordplay comes fairly natural to me. And the problem with wordplay that’s too abstruse is this: if a reader doesn’t get it, then it was a waste of time to do it in the first place; if a reader does get it, it’s not really that much to get. I’ve analyzed the double entendres and multilingual puns in several of Nabokov’s books. That’s not what’s of most interest about him as a writer. What is interesting is his idiosyncratic persona and his obsession with death, harm, loss, and all those bad things which are at the core of literature in general but which, for a major big shot writer of the modern era, are especially pronounced in Nabokov.
MC: I recall from prior interviews that your earliest introduction to horror fiction came through Shirley Jackson, Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Machen, and H.P. Lovecraft. Do you think any of these initial reading experiences strongly affected the type of fiction you wanted to write? I’m not talking so much about content as authorial approach. I know your breakdown at age 17 provided the emotional and philosophical foundation for all of your writing. But in tandem with the question about plot and story above, I’m wondering if you think your stylistic approach was in part determined by your experiences as a reader, or if it was less a matter of determination and more a matter of confirmation.
TL: Shirley Jackson shouldn’t be included in this group. I read The Haunting of Hill House because I had seen and liked the movie and, in those days without video, couldn’t see it whenever I wanted. So I read the novel when I came across it by chance and was stuck somewhere without anything else to do. It didn’t make me want to write about similar subject matter or in the style of Shirley Jackson, but it did make me want to read other works of horror fiction, even though at the time I didn’t know if there were any or what they were like. Practically the only fiction I had read at that time was the Sherlock Holmes stories. I enjoyed those quite a bit because I identified with the neurosis of Holmes, as well as his use of drugs. The next horror writer I read was Arthur Machen, who wrote very much about the same milieu as the Holmes stories: foggy London streets and creepy countryside settings. Then I read Poe and Lovecraft for the first time and found what I didn’t know I was looking for: writers who put themselves on every page of their work, who wrote like personal essayists and lyric poets. Every fiction writer I’ve ever admired wrote in this manner. I say “wrote,” in the past tense, because they’re all dead now. Any other type of fiction writer doesn’t exist for me.
MC: Have you ever gotten stuck while writing a story? As in, you didn’t know your way ahead?
TL: No, I’ve never gotten stuck. I’ve always had to know enough about the story I’m going to write and be enthusiastic about it to make it worth the bother to write the thing in the first place. So I meditate on it, make tons of notes, ask myself if there is something missing from the story that should be there or something that’s there and shouldn’t be, and rack my brain to take the idea of the story to the farthest limit it will allow. Satisfied that the story will be worth writing, I start writing it. In the process, I usually come up with better ideas than I had originally planned. If that didn’t happen, the story would only be adequate, as a number of my stories have been. It’s not possible to plan every metaphor and structural aspect ahead of time, of course. I’ve had to trust that my abilities in these areas won’t let me down.
MC: That leads me to a separate but related question: Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? I mean as a condition distinct from simply being stuck in the middle of a story. The best description of what I’m talking about comes from poet Thom Gunn: “There are certain times when you are absolutely sterile, that is, when words seem to mean nothing. The words are there, the things in the world are there, you are interested in things in the same way and theoretically you can think up subjects for poems, but you simply can’t write. You can sit down at your notebook with a good idea for a poem and nothing will come. It’s as though there is a kind of light missing from the world. It’s a wordless world, and it’s somehow an empty and rather sterile world. I don’t know what causes this, but it’s very painful.” When I first encountered these words they gave me a literal shiver, because they describe an experience that has hounded me for years. It feels distinctly different from the so-called “fallow period” in the creative process. It’s more like inner death. I was amazed when you told one interviewer that you had never experienced writer’s block, because I would have thought your painful subjective life, and especially yours bouts with anhedonia, would have elicited this experience many times. Or am I using the term in a different sense than you meant when you gave that answer?
TL: Whenever I’ve wanted to write something, I’ve always been able to write it. The problem for me is not being unable to write, but not caring at all about writing . . . or anything else. In a state of anhedonia, everything is revealed in its true purposelessness and inanity. You can argue with my use of “true” in the last sentence. But you’d also have to argue with spiritual traditions such as Buddhism, which have no use for anything, let alone short stories. Buddhism isn’t my point of departure, but I’m in a similar place. I’m completely detached from anything, including myself and anyone around me. Doing anything just seems plain stupid, which in my opinion it ultimately is. This is the lesson of anhedonia, which is an eminently rational state. But if you’re going to do anything, you must be in an irrational state of emotion, and without this irrationality your life is just numbers: how long, how much, how many, how far. Emotion gives an illusory focus and meaning to our lives. When the feeling is gone, so is that sense. This sense is a motivator yet it also fools you into thinking that something is important when it’s not in the least important, except as an engine for your meaningless life. But I don’t feel that anhedonia is “painful” in the way that Thom Gunn is saying that writer’s block is painful. That is, I’m not agonized that I want to write and can’t. Also known as “melancholic depression,” anhedonia is painful, but that pain has nothing to do with not being able to respond emotionally to anything. The anhedonic can’t even conceive of wanting to have his emotions back. That, too, seems stupid and empty and useless. All you want is for the hurt to stop. But even suicide seems pointless. One would have to become emotionally energized past the anhedonia in order to conceive of suicide as a solution. I know that all of this is not possible for non-anhedonics to understand. I could say that it’s like being emotionally blind, deaf, dumb, mute, and totally paralyzed, but such similes aren’t effective unless you’ve gone through the experience yourself. But as bad as anhedonia may be, it’s a cakewalk compared to panic-anxiety disorder. Okay, enough bellyaching about my disorders. Everybody’s got their own shit to deal with.
MC: Then let’s veer away towards some other types of questions, although not before I enter my opinion that you’ve done a great job of talking about panic-anxiety disorder in your fiction, which delivers a potent dose of the horrific sense of reality that characterizes the condition. I’ll also add that I know what I’m talking about from the way my personal experiences of such states have locked hands with the warped world of your stories. But moving on: For well over a year now you’ve been laboring on your nonfiction philosophical magnum opus, The Conspiracy against the Human Race. I recall that when some of your ideas from that one made their way into the excellent interview that Neddal Ayad conducted with you for Fantastic Metropolis last year, you were criticized by a couple of people at online venues for what they took to be your overinflation of your personal opinions into blanket judgments of value. Specifically, I remember somebody taking you to task for comparing Lovecraft to Shakespeare and evidently judging Lovecraft the greater of the two when you said that “for Lovecraft, unlike Shakespeare, the revelation of life as an idiot’s tale is the alpha and omega of his work. He doesn’t just pay passing lip service to what is the most profound and obvious fact of life—he makes it the core of his work.” You have also told me that at least one acquaintance of yours who read an early draft of The Conspiracy against the Human Race simply couldn’t get a handle on the fact that in its dark and despairing diagnosis of life, you’re talking about the way the world seems, and has to seem, to you as a specific individual, as opposed to advancing its outlook as objective truth. Would you care to say anything about all this, maybe to try and set the record straight?
TL: Well, I never said that Lovecraft was better writer than “honey-tongued Shakespeare,” as one contemporary described him. But Shakespeare was a playwright. Today he would be the kind of novelist whose work I’ve described in response to an earlier question. His characters say things that appeal to me, and they say it well, but that’s not Shakespeare talking. Hamlet’s gloomy ramblings were cribbed by Magpie of Avon from Girolamo Cardano’s De Consolatione, which has since come to be known as “Hamlet’s Book.” So I don’t know who Shakespeare was, and I can’t tell from his works. One can form a good idea of who Lovecraft was from his fiction alone, and I definitely feel closer to him than to Shakespeare. This is something that doesn’t matter to most readers, who just want to escape to someplace outside their world and yet at the same time want that other world to be in a significant way like their own, that is, where things happen that they can understand. Shakespeare didn’t write anything that even the dullest imagination can’t understand. It’s all soap operas and romantic comedies, just the kind of thing that people enjoy today. Lovecraft doesn’t write for the same audience. He wrote for the sensitive few rather than the happy many. As for my Unabomber-style essay The Conspiracy against the Human Race, this is by no means a philosophical work, let alone a magnum opus. It’s a synthesis of ideas I’ve formed over my life and of other people’s ideas that rhyme with mine. The disconnect that anyone may perceive in this work between what I think and the way I’ve articulated it is something they can know nothing about. To me, there is no disconnection. I couldn’t possibly write something that would reflect the true depths of my aversion to everything that exists. As far as putting words into other people’s mouths, as if what seems true to me is what is really true, this is just a commonly used device in writing personal essays. Everyone preaches to the converted. If I didn’t believe my thoughts were superior to and truer than the thoughts of people who disagree with me, then I would think something else. And I would think that was superior and truer. Even some scientists who can be almost conclusively demonstrated to be wrong still cling to their erroneous views. This is one of the running themes of The Conspiracy against the Human Race. Truth works within a very tiny, often self-reflexive framework. Three of a kind always beats two pair. Someone believes God exists because a book tells them he does; they believe the book is true because lots of people have told them that it’s the word of God. Plus they like what the book says—that’s the most important thing. If they didn’t like it, they wouldn’t believe it. I think that’s the problem I’m encountering in responses to TCATHR. Its readers not only haven’t liked what it says, they also don’t like that someone they know and to whom they feel otherwise well-disposed could write such a book. It’s disturbing, as if you found out your best friend was a serial killer who liked to eat the brains of toddlers. The essay is essentially about how humans can’t handle unpleasant realities and what those realities are. But we’re predisposed not to think about those things in a way that will affect how we live, or to think about them at all in most cases. I know that’s exactly how I am myself. If I weren’t, I would be in worse shape than I already am. I certainly wouldn’t be doing this interview. I wouldn’t even have written TCATHR. If someone says that I’m stupid and wrong, then there’s nothing I can say in response except maybe, “Am not.” It’s really a pain in the ass living in a world of people, including myself, who can’t just stop thinking.
MC: Then perhaps even lighter fare, relatively speaking, is in order. Word recently came down the pipeline about a planned series of comic books based on The Nightmare Factory. This was quite a pleasant surprise. Can you reveal any details?
TL: No, I can’t. I know only what everyone knows from reading the publicity releases. Fox Atomic, the movie studio that’s doing these comics in conjunction with Harper-Collins, doesn’t have to consult me about any products they create that are derived from the stories they optioned in The Nightmare Factory.
MC: Even as we speak, the short film adaptation of your story “The Frolic” has entered postproduction. You’re reportedly very happy with what you’ve seen of it so far. Can you tell us anything more?
TL: The lastest word is from the producer of “The Frolic,” Jane Kosek, is that she contacted the head guy at Fox Atomic, and he wants to see the short film as well as an outline for a feature film from Brandon Trenz and me. We did an outline in April 2005, so that’s not a problem. The short should be ready in a month or so.
MC: Can you share any new information about the development status of the screenplays for Crampton and The Last Feast of Harlequin?
TL: They were sent out to a lot of production companies by a talent agent, the same one who made the deal for me with Fox Atomic. Some of the companies showed an interest, and Brandon Trenz went to Hollywood. But nothing came of those meetings as far as the two screenplays you mention. They are officially dead.
MC: And that news officially sucks. What a disappointment. Well, then, what about your current writing projects? Do you have anything underway besides TCATHR? And when can we expect to see that one published?
TL: I have no idea when or if TCATHR will be published.
MC: What books and authors are you reading at present, if anything? Awhile back you said you were probably pretty much done with reading, since you had read most of what interested you. How does this stand currently?
TL: These days I read only nonfiction, if I read anything at all. I recently reread all of E. M. Cioran’s works. That took a while. I’ve read a number of works relating to consciousness studies and, of course, mental illness. Those are very technical and hard on the brain, so I often search out video or audio lectures or interviews by the authors of these works on the Web. In the past year I read On Suicide: A Discourse on Voluntary Death by Jean Améry and Persuasion and Rhetoric by Carlo Michelstaedter. Both of these authors killed themselves, but their books would still be interesting if they hadn’t. I still read works by and about Buddhists.
MC: I find your move toward nonfiction to be fascinating for personal reasons, since I moved in that direction myself a few years ago. But it wasn’t voluntary. I simply began to notice that I was unable to read fiction a great deal of the time. It was as if some force within me were operating a valve and periodically shutting off my responsiveness to fiction. I encountered a mental fog, a kind of affective and even cognitive blankness, when I tried to make sense of fiction or respond to it in any way. It just seemed meaningless to me. Does this ring a bell with you?
TL: It sure does ring a bell, a tolling bell. I can no longer emotionally respond to fiction or poetry. That’s the reason I read nonfiction, and very cerebral nonfiction at that. One doesn’t need to respond emotionally to that kind of writing, which is just for the brain and not the emotions or imagination. Strangely, I find that my experience is the same with movies and TV shows. These don’t seem to require emotion or imagination on the viewers’ part to be diverting. The anhedonic thing could change in a second, literally, and I wouldn’t remember the lesson I learned from it. It has let up several times over the past five years. At these times, as I previously mentioned, I go into hypomanic states in which I want to do all kinds of things and have the impetus to do them. But for me these last only a matter of weeks or maybe a month. When these periods are over, however, the depression comes back worse than ever. I take a drug called Lamictal, which is an anti-convulsant that psychiatrist have using instead of lithium on bipolar disorders and treatment-resistant depression. The way this drug works, ideally, is to put a floor on how bad you can feel and a ceiling on how good you can feel. That’s the zone I’m now in. The only reason I’m going into detail about any of this is on the chance that someone reading it will know what I’m talking about and perhaps take an interest in it. My apologies to the rest of you.
MC: What about movies? Have you loved any lately? Or hated any?
TL: Some notable movies that I’ve recently hated have been Spielberg’s Munich and Woody Allen’s Match Point. Also, Mission Impossible III. To that list you can add the French film Caché, which is the worst movie I’ve ever seen. I haven’t seen Lady in the Water, but I know it sucks because the writer-director is just no good: his best effort, The Sixth Sense, was a cheat from start to finish. Plus there was that scene in which the mother leaves the kitchen where the kid is eating breakfast and returns a few seconds later to find all the cupboards and drawers are open. For some reason, she just takes this in stride, and it doesn’t come up again in the story. Usually the movies I like are trashed or ignored, like Man on Fire with Denzel Washington and Don’t Say a Word with Michael Douglas. Lately, I’ve just been renting or taking out of the library movies I’ve seen a dozen times. Horror movies: Wolf Creek, sucked; Hostel, sucked; The Devil’s Rejects, very funny and clever; remake of The Hills Have Eyes, sucked. This may sound stupid to some horror movie aficionados, but I really thought well of the two Final Destination movies. I rented the third installment, which was done by same ex-X-File guys Morgan and Wong who did the first FD. It sucked. I like movies in which everyone is living a doomed existence, which is why I find George Romero’s zombie movies so appealing. From the very beginning of the Dead trilogy, everything is hopeless.
“I’m completely detached from anything, including myself and anyone around me. Doing anything just seems plain stupid, which in my opinion it ultimately is. This is the lesson of anhedonia, which is an eminently rational state.”
MC: How about music? Are you listening to any lately? Awhile back you told me you were encountering some of the best music in the most unlikely places, such as television commercials. Is this still happening?
TL: The reason I hear the best music on television is that I don’t listen to music anywhere else, just as I’m not reading fiction or poetry. So music in TV commercials, programs, and movies is all I hear. The exception is the music sent to me by certain people who have recorded their own compositions. I feel that I can still judge whether or not a piece of music is good, even if I don’t go spasmodic over it. Presently, I like the theme songs of Cold Case and The 4400, even though the latter show blows. It had promise in the first season, very much like The X-Files, but then it turned into a soap opera.
MC: Speaking of The X-Files, I think life in America and the West is pervaded by an apocalyptic feeling right now. How about you?
TL: At the moment, I’m not very emotionally responsive to anything. My medications only add to that non-responsiveness. In the last session I had with my psychiatrist, he started to talk about the situation in the Middle East heating up toward something apocalyptic. In the past, I would have had something to say on this subject, because what I talk about with my psychiatrist is mostly politics and movies. However, this time I had to say that I just wasn’t interested in what was going on in the world. I can’t feel anything for what’s happening now. About three years ago, I was completely enraged by the whole American scene. I’d go out of my way to watch people like Ann Coulter, listen to Rush Limbaugh, and aggravate myself over the evangelical brood. A lot of that is in TCATHR. I might get exercised about this stuff in the future, but it doesn’t penetrate me at the moment. Maybe if somebody nuked someone I’d watch the news stories about it. Short of that, or another 9/11, I don’t find current events very diverting. Also, I’ve had a sense of personal apocalypse for decades due to my psych disorders. I’ve thought that I was dying literally thousands of times during my panic attacks. The end of the line for me has felt imminent for so long that the real-world version of it would just be another occasion of “Oh, lordy, what’s going to become of us.” Anyway, all apocalyptic phenomena take place on a personal level. It just seems scarier when it’s on a larger scale.
MC: I know you’re familiar with Hubbert’s Peak and the theory of peak oil. It’s an issue that I’m following closely myself. Do you have any thoughts about it?
TL: Yes. I would like to see a total depletion of oil occur as soon as possible . . . just for fun. This might be the best thing that could happen to this world, socially and politically speaking. Of course, it could also be the worst. In either case, I am slightly interested in which way it would go. It might go the latter way for a while and then change course. The whole oil thing brings to mind two of my favorite movies in which the fight for natural resources plays a role: The Formula with Marlon Brando and George C. Scott and Three Days of the Condor with Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway. Ultimately, I don’t have any investment in the future, so I can’t get too het up about what’s going to happen after I die.
MC: Let’s close this out with another question of global scope. What would a perfect world be like for you? That’s of course assuming that you and a world would have to exist at all. You’ve made it perfectly clear in numerous stories and interviews that you’re a fundamental pessimist who thinks it a crying shame that there’s something instead of nothing. But given the (supposed) necessity of existence, what would be the best life and the best world for you personally, if you had absolute freedom of choice?
TL: Assuming that anything has to exist, my perfect world would be one in which everyone has experienced the annulment of his or her ego. That is, our consciousness of ourselves as unique individuals would entirely disappear. We would still function as beings that needed the basics—food, shelter, and clothing—but life wouldn’t be any more than that. It wouldn’t need to be. We would be content just to exist. There’s only one problem in this world: none are content with what they have. We always want something else, something “more.” And then when we get it, we still want something else and something more. There is no place of satisfaction for us. We die with regrets for what we never did and will never have a chance to do. We die with regrets for what we never got and will never get. The perfect manner of existence that I’m imagining would be different than that of most mammals, who feed on one another and suffer fear due to this arrangement, much of it coming at the hands of human beings. We would naturally still have to feed, but we probably would not be the omnivorous gourmands and gourmets that we presently are. Of course, like any animal we would suffer from pain in one form or another—that’s the essence of existence—but there wouldn’t be any reason to take it personally, something that escalates natural pain to the level of nightmare. I know that this kind of world would seem terribly empty to most people—no competition, no art, no entertainment of any kind because both art and entertainment are based on conflict between people, and in my world that kind of conflict wouldn’t exist. There would be no ego-boosting activities such as those which derive from working and acquiring more money than you need, no scientific activity because we wouldn’t be driven to improve the world or possess information unnecessary to living, no religious beliefs because those emerge from desperations and illusions from which we would no longer suffer, no relationships because those are based on difference and in the perfect world we’d all be the same person, as well as being integrated into the natural world. Everything we did would be for practical purposes in order to satisfy our natural needs. We wouldn’t be enlightened beings or sages because those ways of being are predicated on the existence of people who live at a lower epistemological stratum.
MC: What you’re saying reminds me of some things I’ve read in the writings of Schopenhauer, U.G. Krishnamurti, and a few others—all of them authors I know you’ve read. I’m also strongly reminded of Ramesh Baksekar’s “euphoric nihilism,” as an interviewer for What Is Enlightenment? magazine described it, which envisions the perfect world as one populated by “body/mind organisms” that act in a completely preprogrammed manner with no hint of free will, no trace of any “doers” in the form of self-conscious “I’s.” The interviewer referred to Balsekar’s imagined utopia as “planet advaita.”
TL: I looked at Balsekar’s Official Web Site. He seems like the perfect example of what U. G. would consider a spiritual huckster. His whole operation seems to be a real racket, and not a particularly distinguished one. Then again, I’m given to snap judgments, and perhaps I’m being unfair in this instance. But I doubt it, especially since he was featured in Andrew Cohen’s What Is Enlightenment? and from what I’ve read, Cohen is the worst guru of all time. Anyway, the phrase “euphoric nihilism” reminds of an electronic book that I downloaded called Conscious Robots, which expostulates very much the same idea. My own perfect world comes from an amalgam of sources, including Skepticism, Nihilism, Buddhism, and accounts of persons who have actually experienced ego-death, including U. G., as you pointed out. Not many people are interested in living in this world, so there is little motivation to work towards it. As much as we complain about life, we’re pretty much satisfied, or think we are, with the ways things are from here to eternity. To me, this is definitive proof that human beings don’t deserve to live in a perfect world. Even in fables wherein people lived in a paradise that is supposedly without ego or unnatural desires—Adam and Eve, Pandora—someone always does something to fuck things up so that the world can become the one we already know and, in our depraved way, love.
MC: Thanks again for taking the time to answer some questions, Tom. It’s been a pleasure.
TL: Same here, Matt.

An Essay
Published by The Silent One

Thomas Ligotti's thirteen-part prose poem I Have A Special Plan For This World, as performed by his friend David Tibet is a perfect example of distorted perspective and nihilistic horror at its best. It is one of the most brilliant, delirious, and surreally horrific examples of poetry- or in Tibet's case, experimental music -in this and many other genres.
In short, IHASPFTW tells the bizarre, self-told, and yet inexplicably reliable tale of a madman who, inspired by his shadowy, half-dead mentor's unsuccessful plans, decides to bring about an end to all things via his "own special plan for this world". We are never enlightened on the nature of the nameless narrator's "special plan", although one neither needs to know or wants to. Even the greater location, the nature of the speaker, and the basic explanation behind the stranger events is left vague at best. One can assume the "funny, funny man" who drives the children taunting him mad in Part VIII is the narrator. But, who knows? At one point his mentor, the lunatic who revealed to him the true nature of all things tells him he has made a grave mistake. "'The world is a mistake,'" he replies. The effect is genuinely disturbing.
The recording, however, only improves the "mal mots". Tibet's vocal combination of a storyteller's soft, musical tone and a cynical demon's scornful hiss is perfect for it. The sound of his slightly altered voice rising out of a comic drunk's reading of a poem, doorbell-like tones, a clock's faint ticking, and heavy static dictating of the first poem as if into a recording device. This conjures up images of the speaker sitting in the depths of a ruined tenement in the pitch black, whispering his schizophrenic ravings into a tape recorder. Then there's the murmuring. This staticky, incomprehensible sound is like the reverse of the earlier message, perhaps only in our anti-hero's mind. The final poem is an electronically warped and drawn out rendition of the first, giving the impression that this is being spoken with his dying breaths. It is agonising, but because of the killing sadness that runs through much of both men's work. At its heart, it is a fatalistic tragedy.
In this piece, most of the motifs of Ligotti's work are quite evident. The most poignant are that of the decay and death of all things; the absolute void beyond descrption, only seen as the swirling blackness that trancends all living things; and the light of innocence, that little bit of paradoxical hope that can be seen in the works of E.M. Cioran and the Inmost Light Trilogy of David Tibet's own Current 93. The last, perhaps, is the most horrifying in its beauty: Is the soul truly a state of purity, an escape from the void of consciousness, a separation from the dark, shapeless entity of Creation? Is our only salvation ignoring the inevitable? Although I am not a nihilist or of a related sort myself, I can not totally agree. I suppose I am slightly deluded for not seeing the bleak truths expressed in this as relevant to all individuals. Anything is possible, to a certain extent. It is still one amazing marraige of music and poetry.

Thoughts on "The Shadow at the Bottom of the World"
Originally Posted to alt.books.thomas-ligotti in April of 1998
Published by matt cardin

As I pondered this story, two themes really began to jump out at me: first, the centrality of liminal motifs; and second, the contrast or conflict between group identity and individual identity.

To begin with, here's my own brief explanation/definition of the concept of liminality (and bear in mind that different people invest the term with somewhat different nuances, so this is only a general definition): the world is much larger and more complex than we humans can ever hope to understand. As human beings we divide the world up into conceptual categories which we then take to be reality itself. We view the world through a culturally created conceptual "grid" which helps us to get along and survive, but which doesn't even come close to accounting for the whole of things. Using the term loosely, we can call our conceptual grid our "world view." Usually we're not even aware that we experience life through world view colored glasses, but sometimes it becomes disturbingly evident, as when we talk with someone from a culture other than our own, someone who simply doesn't share our basic assumptions about life, the universe, and everything. When such encounters occur, we can neither understand how anybody could deny the "obvious" truths which guide our lives, nor how they could believe the "obviously" irrational claims that guide their own lives.

Another situation in which we might become uncomfortably aware of our own world view (and this is where my discussion starts to relate to Ligotti) is the situation in which we encounter a phenomenon that simply has no place in our conceptual scheme. Such phenomena fall on, between, or outside the "lines" of our world views, and they alert us to the fact that there are huge portions of reality which we have chosen to ignore. These phenomena are sometimes described as being "liminal," from the Latin word for line, "limen," which literally refers to the threshold of a door. The term "liminal" means "on the line." When we refer to a time, a place, an event, a situation, etc., as being liminal, we mean that it doesn't conform to the limits of our world view. It falls on or between the lines, the interstices, of our conceptual categories. The perceived strangeness of such phenomena produces in us a sense of psychic discomfort, and ipso facto places them in a sort of "no man's land" outside our normal realm of thought and discourse.

A cinematic example of the theme of liminality is found in the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy, in which the members of a secluded African tribe discover a Coca-Cola bottle and try to decide where it came from and what to do with it. The Coke bottle simply has no place in their world view. Not only do they not know what it is, but they have absolutely no way of knowing how such a thing could come to be. In the end they decide that it must come from the gods, and that it should be returned to them. This is a fairly common reaction to a liminal situation: the object, event, etc., is invested with an aura of strangeness or sacredness. Or, to borrow a term employed by various psychologists and anthropologists, it is felt to be "uncanny." Whenever we contemplate a liminal phenomenon, it is almost impossible for us not to have at least a slight sense of uncanniness, since in a very real sense liminal phenomena come from "another world."

Okay, enough with the setup! Having established the meaning of liminality, it should be obvious that "The Shadow at the Bottom of the World" is shot through and through with liminal motifs. I think this plays a huge part in the story's ability to conjure such a profound mood of strangeness, since the emotional effect of liminal phenomena is largely a subconscious affair, and occurs regardless of whether or not we are consciously aware that such-and-such a place or event is liminal.

There are so many examples of liminality in "The Shadow at the Bottom of the World" that I'm confident Ligotti employed the technique consciously. (This is especially probable in light of his knowledge of anthropology, which is evident in, e.g., "The Last Feast of Harlequin.") Some examples of liminal elements in "The Shadow at the Bottom of the World" (and this list isn't meant to be comprehensive) are:

? In the second sentence of the story, the narrator says the strange mood of the season was evident to everyone, "whether we happened to live in town or somewhere outside its limits." The liminality of the space between town and countryside is a common theme in some anthropological literature. It's a slippery space -- where exactly does town become country, and how do you know whether you're in one or the other? Immediately, Ligotti has called attention to this liminal space, and has thus begun to invest his story with a mood of uncanniness.

? The same issue is brought out even more clearly in the very next sentence: "(And traveling between town and countryside was Mr. Marble, who had been studying the seasonal signs far longer and in greater depth than we, disclosing prophecies that no one would credit at the time.)" The liminal space that was referred to only obliquely in the previous sentence is made explicit in this one. Notice that Mr. Marble's liminal status -- "traveling between town and countryside" -- is reinforced by the fact that the sentence is enclosed in parentheses. In a way, it can be said that we put mental "parentheses" around all liminal phenomena, and so the sentence in which we first meet Mr. Marble has the double effect of situating him in liminal space both in content and in form. The fact that the second mention of him is also parenthetical adds further strength to his liminal position.

? In the second paragraph of the story, the narrator describes a field that lies "adjacent to the edge of town." This is yet another use of the liminal space between town and countryside. This farmer?s field where so many strange events will happen is located in a no-man's-land.

? The strange nocturnal dance of the scarecrow is entirely nightmarish (to me, at least), and liminality is involved here as well. What is it about scarecrows that makes them so horrifying? Why are they used so much in weird literature and movies? One reason, I am convinced, is that a scarecrow is a liminal object. This is true of any effigy of the human form. (Consider especially Ligotti's longtime fascination with dolls and dummies.) Such objects highlight yet another basic category distinction, namely, the distinction between human and not-human. On the subconscious level, dolls and dummies and scarecrows seem to resist being placed neatly into either category, and so they provoke a peculiar emotional reaction in us. To look out on a moonlit night and see a scarecrow begin to kick its legs and raise its face to the sky is about as liminal, and hence as uncanny, an event as can be imagined.

? When the townspeople arrive at the farmer's field the next day, things seem rather dreamy and murky, as if the people are unable to wake up fully: "The sky had hidden itself behind a leaden vault of clouds, depriving us of the crucial element of pure sunlight which we needed to fully burn off the misty dreams of the past night." This highlights yet another basic category distinction: the line between waking reality and dreaming reality. Are you a man who dreamed you were a butterfly, or are you a butterfly now dreaming that you are a man? The inability of the narrator to fully wake up means that the very narration of the story is now taking place in the liminal space between waking and dreaming (and the fact that the story is narrated in the first person means that the reader experiences his or her reading self as being located in the same space).

? The attack of the townspeople on the scarecrow takes place at twilight, another liminal time. When exactly does day become night? Twilight, like the early morning time just before sunrise, is a liminal period.

? The townspeople gather back at the field the next morning "as the frigid aurora of dawn appeared above the distant woods." Another liminal period.

? When the townspeople begin to have their vivid dreams of "a ripe, fairly rotting world of strange growth and transformation," they are beginning to see the dissolution of all their conceptual and perceptual categories, and when the visions from their dreams -- the faces and figures visible on walls, the overripe colors of the leaves, etc. -- begin to make their appearance in waking reality itself, it is apparent that the "other world" glimpsed in liminal spaces is on the verge of breaking through and overrunning the daylight world of conceptual categories. The concluding sentence of this section explicitly describes a liminal presence, an unknown and unknowable something that exists not in the categories of our world (or any other) but between them:

?It moved in shadow, a presence that was in the world of solid forms but not of it. Nor did it belong to any other world that could be named, unless it was that realm which is suggested to us by an autumn night when fields lay ragged in moonlight and some wild spirit has entered into things, a great aberration sprouting forth from a chasm of moist and fertile shadows, a hollow-eyed howling malignity rising to present itself to the cold emptiness of space and the pale gaze of the moon.?

? More than any other single element, the setting of the story in late autumn invests it with an aura of liminality, of uncanniness. When exactly does autumn become winter? Of course, the same can be said of all seasonal divisions, but with autumn the sense of strangeness seems to be particularly pronounced. It is no accident that Halloween, the holiday on which we acknowledge and celebrate the dark side of life, occurs during this season. I could try to explain this point on my own, but I couldn't state it any better than Ligotti himself does in the opening paragraph of the story, where he describes the common thread winding its way through all the autumn scenes pictured on all the calendars in the homes of the townspeople:

?On the calendars which hung in so many of our homes, the monthly photograph illustrated the spirit of the numbered days below it: sheaves of cornstalks standing brownish and brittle in a newly harvested field, a narrow house and wide barn in the background, a sky of empty light above, and fiery leafage frolicking about the edges of the scene. But something dark, something abysmal always finds its way into the bland beauty of such pictures, something that usually holds itself in abeyance, some entwining presence that we always know is there.?

This "entwining presence" is none other than the liminal strangeness that seems to be more palpable during the autumn months than at any other time of the year. In the very next sentence, the narrator tells us that this autumn weirdness is the subject of the story: "And it was exactly this presence that had gone into crisis...."

The liminal strangeness of autumn is also accented in this story by the fact that for some reason, autumn won't end. Winter will not come. The temporal setting becomes more and more strange, more and more liminal, as the leaves that should have fallen long ago instead remain on the trees, and as the field that should have frozen long ago instead remains warm. Autumn is already a liminal season; the end of autumn is even more so, and Ligotti prolongs this end until the story seems to take place in a time nobody has ever known before.

Well, hopefully I've done at least a passable job of making my point about the overwhelming presence of the theme of liminality in ?The Shadow at the Bottom of the World.? Looked at from this angle, the main theme of the story concerns a near transposition of liminal reality with conceptual reality. The "entwining presence" which is usually a background element nearly forces its way into the foreground. (I'm seeing the possibility of a Gestalt psychological analysis of the story. Since the basic insight of Gestalt psychology is the interdependence of figure and ground, and the need to recognize the indispensability of ground in recognizing figure, what would happen if ground became figure, i.e. if the context, the matrix, came to dominate perception? Perhaps this is the very definition of schizophrenia.)

Turning to my second theme -- collective identity vs. individual identity -- we can see at a glance that the narrator of the story is collective. The story isn't being told by a single townsperson, it is being told by all of them. This is evident from the fact that the word "I" is never used, and also from the fact that the narrator is both first person and omniscient. He/She/It speaks with first person knowledge and possessiveness of all manner of locations, thoughts, and emotions. Consider the following passages, in which all emphases are my own:

? On the calendars which hung in so many of our homes....

? The field allowed full view of itself from so many of our windows.

? Soft lights shone through curtained windows along the length of each street, where our trim wooden homes seemed as small as dollhouses beneath the dark rustling depths of the season.

? Our speculations were brief and useless.

? It was not long after this troubling episode that our dreams, which formerly had been the merest shadows and glimpses, swelled into full phase.

? But the truth is that we wanted something to happen to them -- we wanted to see them silenced. Such was our desire.
It seems obvious, at least to me, that in this story Ligotti has succeeded in the difficult feat of telling a story entirely from perspective of the first person plural.

Right away this strikes a note of strangeness, because in reality we never experience groupthink. In fact, we never experience a group. For example, consider the word ?fruit.? You can't hold "fruit" in your hand. "Fruit" is a category, a conceptual grouping that is useful for purposes of classification and recognition, but in truth it has no concrete referent. In existential reality you can only hold a specific fruit, e.g. an apple or a banana. The same is true of human groupings. There is no such existential entity as a group, e.g. a town. There is real land, there are real houses and streets and street lamps, there are real individual people, but the grouping of these separate entities into the collective entity known as a "town" is a conceptual exercise. That's why it's so strange to see a story narrated in the first person plural. The collective narrator can exist only in mental space. Even if you had a thousand people read the story aloud in unison, you would still have a thousand separate voices, not a collective voice. Ligotti?s use of a collective narrator immediately creates an aura of otherworldly strangeness; as we read the story we're placed inside the mind of an entity that is at once entirely familiar (the population of a town) and yet entirely strange (the collective voice of a town).

It is most interesting and revealing to pay attention to the use of the third person to refer to characters in the story, because such instances serve to sharpen the boundaries of the collective narrator's identity. There are only five people in the entire story who are referred to in the third person: Mr. Marble; the farmer who owns the field containing the scarecrow; the anonymous townsperson who says "Maybe there'll be some change in the spring" (although this person may still be considered to exist within the boundaries of the collective narrator); and the mother and son who arrive in town unexpectedly. Whenever someone is referred to in the third person, he or she is placed outside the boundary of the "we" who are telling the story. The logic behind these instances seems to make sense. The farmer is the owner of the field from which the black stalk erupts, and the collective narrator wants to distance him/her/itself from the strange manifestation. The farmer is excluded from the boundary of the narrator's identity simply by virtue of the fact that he is too closely associated with the narrator's greatest fear. The person who speaks of a possible change in the spring may still be considered a member of the group; perhaps "someone said" may be taken as implying "one of us said." The mother and son are complete outsiders; their very alienness to the narrator seems to bring out the narrator's greatest fear: "Our fear was what they might have known, what they must certainly have discovered, about us" (Ligotti?s emphasis).

But these instances are all overshadowed by the extended treatment of Mr. Marble, who possesses by far the strongest individual identity of any character in the story. From the outset he is referred to in the third person. Interestingly, his notable individuality seems to be bound up with the fact of his liminal positioning, discussed above. He is notable because he travels "between town and countryside" both physically and in his thoughts. His deep knowledge makes him opaque: his "eyes, we recall, were gleaming with illuminations he could not offer us in any words we would understand." He is able to "read in the leaves" the activities of that strange presence that is forcing its way into the light (or perhaps dragging the light into the darkness). The fact that he sharpens blades for a living only serves to reinforce his individuality and his liminal status: blades cut, blades separate, just as the sharpness of Mr. Marble's mind recognizes, and perhaps widens, the lines or cracks in our world through which an unsuspected presence might flow. Importantly, he is the only character in the story to be given a separate name, and the name ?Marble? itself suggests the streaking or mottling of separate colors (read: separate conceptual categories) that would occur if the liminal were transposed with the conceptual. (I am indebted to Jeff Suls for this last insight.)

Ironically -- or perhaps all too expectedly -- Mr. Marble's individuality, his ability to see and think on his own apart from the crowd, opens him up to invasion. His mental acuity fades as he is drawn farther and farther into the thrall of the dark presence, until eventually he is under its control, much in the manner of the scarecrow, which was invaded by a "thick dark stalk which rose out of the earth and reached into the effigy like a hand into a puppet.? Earlier on, Mr. Marble had unwittingly stated his own doom: "Doesn't have arms, but it knows how to use them. Doesn't have a face, but it knows where to find one." When the strangers arrive in town on the night when the gathering eruption is obviously coming to a head, the night when Mr. Marble is wandering the streets with his "great ceremonial knife whose keen edge flashed a thousand glittering dreams," the liminal has become central. After having been referred to twice in parentheses, after having spent so much time "traveling between town and countryside," Mr. Marble is now at the center of the town and the center of events, and as the collective narrator knows, by all rights he should kill the visitors. This is the end toward which the entire upsurge of energy has been leading. The proper sacrifice will signal the completion of the strange mutation. The energy has reached a peak and must be discharged.

But at this point the story reveals an even deeper layer, a layer that further complicates the issue of collective identity vs. individual identity. Even though Mr. Marble's "outsideness," his liminality and individuality, are responsible for opening him up to control by the invading presence, they also endow him with the freedom to choose. When he chooses not to complete the sacrifice, and instead to vent the gathering energy on himself, the true heart of the narrator's identity is revealed by the fact that they want the sacrifice to be completed. They want the outsiders to be killed because "only then would we be sure that they could not tell what they knew ....Our fear was what they might have known, what they must certainly have discovered, about us."

Which one has truly surrendered self-control to the invading dark presence, Mr. Marble or the narrator? Mr. Marble can still resist. The townspeople cannot, because they realize that the nightmarish reality attempting to break through into their daylit world is none other than their own deepest self. The dark thing is the root of their own collective identity. It is they who have been controlled by the black stalk rising up into the scarecrow "like a hand into a puppet." The very fact that they have been speaking in a collective voice, which, as noted above, can occur only in a liminal space, shows that the dark root has been behind their thoughts and actions all along. Their horror is self horror. They do not want to become self-conscious, to recognize and know the horrible thing from which they have come and to which they must return.

At this point it is interesting to relate the story back to the framing device introduced at the beginning of the book. In that introduction, the stories in this collection are said to be tales told by Grimscribe, who in truth has no name. It is also said that his name is the name of everyone, and that "he keeps his name secret, his many names. He hides each one from all the others, so that they will not become lost among themselves. Protecting his life from all his lives, from the memory of so many lives, he hides behind the mask of anonymity." This could just as well be taken to describe the narrator of ?The Shadow at the Bottom of the World,? a story which is appropriately the only entry in the final section of the book titled "The Voice of Our [i.e. Grimscribe's] Name." Considered in light of the collection as a whole, this story is being told by Grimscribe in the first person. If Grimscribe is indeed the name of everyone, then the near transposition of worlds in ?The Shadow at the Bottom of the World? represents the near loss of all sanity and identity. The collective identity of the town brings about the horror, because such collectivity is already the beginning of that "backward slide into that great blackness in which all names [i.e. identities] have their source."

The narrator's (Grimscribe's) fear of what the visitors might have discovered about him may arise at least in part from the fact that the discovery of the townspeople's secret is also the discovery of the visitors? secret. The madness passes itself on through the recognition of one's own secret self in another. Grimscribe's careful self-deception almost comes unraveled in a horrible birth of self-awareness. When he/the townspeople drop Mr. Marble's body into the bottomless pit, his/their motives are obscure. On the one hand, they are still horrified by the black substance that has replaced Mr. Marble's blood, and this shows that they are still horrified at the possible discovery of their own identity. On the other hand, they envy and hate Mr. Marble because he represents the individuality which eludes them. The key to understanding their action lies in the recognition that in a perverse way, they/Grimscribe wanted their own destruction to be complete. The murder of the outsiders would have killed the spread of the townspeople?s self-knowledge, but it would also have signaled the successful conquest of the daylight world by the darkness, and thus brought an end (albeit not a pleasant one) to their, and Grimscribe?s, torturous charade. Grimscribe would have met the darkness and discovered it to be himself, and there would have been no one left to say or do or know or suffer or be or fear anything. As it is, Grimscribe must continue the charade, and conscious beings must continue to suffer the ambivalence of simultaneously fearing and longing for ultimate self-knowledge, until at last, in the words of Ligotti?s ?Primordial Loathing,? ?that perfect lid of darkness falls over this world once more.?


A Conversation with Thomas Ligotti by Geoffrey H. Goodwin

Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, and Thomas Ligotti are a reasonable list of the three best writers of horror short stories. In the tradition of gnarled minds that scare more with their thinking than with simple shocks, they're almost certainly the ones who matter most.
Ligotti is a genius at exploring emptiness and nothingness. He has committed his life to rejecting life. It's harder than it sounds. His stories take place in a "world forever reverberant with the horror of all who ever have lived and suffered" (a phrase taken from "We Can Hide from Horror Only in the Heart of Horro: Notes and Aphorisms", excerpts from his notebooks from circa 1976-1982). His many books, including recent works like The Shadow at The Bottom of The World, Teatro Grottesco, and Death Poems, are often released as limited editions that become totemic objects for his readers.
Ligotti's is an important and vital voice, though one that speaks most loudly to a certain and rarified sense of darkness. He has been included in numerous anthologies and been a nominee for and winner of multiple awards, but his focus on the horror of pain, suffering, and death have kept him from coming anywhere close to the mainstream. His long essay The Conspiracy Against the Human Race (still awaiting publication) will shatter those who embrace it fully.

What led to your writing The Conspiracy Against the Human Race?

I could recite a litany of reasons for my writing The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, but the most immediate cause was my reading an essay written in 1933 called “The Last Messiah” by the Norwegian philosopher Peter Wessel Zapffe. Down the ages, pessimistic writers and thinkers have wailed that our lives are predominantly characterized by meaningless suffering and therefore everyone would be better off not to have been born. This is sometimes referred to as a hedonist view of existence, and for one reason or another practically no one is persuaded that there’s anything to it. Even if someone grants that life is mostly, or even entirely, a trail of tears with nothing but death at the end, they still don’t feel that being alive is not worth it. They’ll carry on till the end and pass on this legacy to another generation, perhaps thinking that somehow things will get better.

My own long-held view was that even if suffering as we ordinarily conceive it could be wholly eliminated, there would still be a differential among the pleasures in our lives. The consequence of this would be that some pleasures would be greater than others, and the lesser pleasures would then come to be felt as suffering. You could also turn this around and say that in a world of all-pervasive but variegated suffering, some ways of suffering would be felt to be worse than others, making the lesser sufferings perceptible as pleasures. One solution to this state of affairs seemed to be the achievement of a steady state of non-suffering. Of course, the problem is that to attain a tolerable middle ground between pleasure and suffering isn’t possible without the experience of pleasure on the one side and suffering on the other. This is assuming that we could live under laboratory conditions in which pleasure and suffering, or degrees of pleasure and suffering, could be controlled by some means presently unknown, unworkable, or underdeveloped. That would be a fantastical scenario, of course.

Other solutions that occurred to me were also more or less fantastic or futuristic. Among them was a psychophysical apparatus that could be implanted in us so that we could live much as we do now, except that whenever a certain level of suffering was reached, a combination of mood elevators and, if necessary, painkilling drugs would be released into our system in proportion to our suffering. These agents could also be regulated to work disproportionately as we approached death, thus assuring us that we would leave this world in a state of ecstasy. No one would ever have to witness the agony of a loved one dying from natural causes or imagine the horror of someone close to them who has died from gruesome accidental causes, since they would comforted by the knowledge of an anti-suffering apparatus functioning in the moribund or traumatized individual as well as having their anxiety assuaged by their own anti-suffering mechanisms. Now, the methods outlined here are just extensions of present-day strategies for bettering our lives, and those of future generations, and operate on the premise that suffering has negligible value or none at all. They’re also based on the same hedonist philosophy that, taken to sufficient lengths, is the basis for pessimism.

But hedonism as a life-philosophy isn’t limited to pessimists. All spiritual beliefs and practices originate in hedonist values and they’re not condemned as pessimistic. What could be more hedonistic than to be addicted to the idea of heaven or Nirvana? Belief in an afterlife is a great Plan B if things don’t work out so well for you in this one. And why even believe in a blissful afterlife, or in the salvation of total oblivion if you happen to be a Buddhist, unless you’re already committed to the view that this life is pretty lousy? Nevertheless, this isn’t how religionists consciously look upon human existence, at least most of the time. As far as atheists are concerned, they just have to hope for the best for themselves and for those who mean anything to them. This is the substance of what I would call "functional optimism" -- the idea that on the whole things aren’t so bad and won’t ever become so bad that everyone would be better off not having been born. And it’s impossible to effectively oppose that way of thinking. It really doesn’t work to tell someone who’s already alive that it’s better not to have been born. They’ve already been born. It’s too late for them. So they make the best of things. They try to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. Even pessimists for the most part follow this course. It would be suicide not to, and committing suicide is really hard to pull off in cold blood. Almost no one kills themselves because they think nonexistence is preferable to existence, or because they want to avoid any extraordinary psychological or physical suffering that may be awaiting them. Suicides wait until things are so awful that they can’t stand being alive anymore. Sometimes they’ll kill themselves when it looks like things are going to become really awful in the near future, but there are a lot of pressures against being a proactive suicide. And when it comes around to facing the facts, almost everyone is afraid of death, so they do what they can to hang on as long as they can. They choose the path that they perceive to lead to the lesser of two horrors and keep following it until they keel over dead. And no hedonistic philosophy is going to convince them or anyone else that this isn’t the way to go.

Zapffe was the first pessimistic philosopher to my knowledge who actually came up with a non-hedonist reason for why it would be better not to have been born and not to give birth to others. His observation was that human consciousness, an evolved trait of our species, turned our existence into an untenable paradox. According to Zapffe, it’s one thing to experience suffering and then die. But it’s quite another thing to be acutely conscious that this is our life -- to be aware that we suffer for no good reason and have only a decline into death, or death by trauma, to look forward to. In order to cope with our consciousness of these realities, then, we must smother our consciousness as best we can by using various tactics. The result is a whole species of beings that have to lie unceasingly to themselves, not always successfully, about what they are and what their lives are really like. If we didn’t so this, the rug would be pulled out from under us and we’d have to face up to the fact that we’re a race that can’t come to terms with its existence. Thus we devise ways to mute, distract, and otherwise obfuscate our consciousness so that it doesn’t overwhelm us with what we’re up against in being alive. This line of thought goes beyond hedonism by exposing us as creatures who bullshit themselves a mile a minute in order to keep going. This bullshit takes various forms. Primary among them are simply ignoring that there is anything problematic about our existence, indulging in pleasurable distractions, creating bogus structures of meaning such as a pleasant afterlife in which the books will be balanced for the suffering we endure in this life, and transmuting our suffering into works of art and philosophy wherein we distance ourselves from what real suffering is and in the process reform it into a source of amusement. Even pessimists who believe they have gone the distance of realizing that we lead lives of meaningless suffering are caught up in this game and must brutalize their consciousness into submission or feel the full force of the reality that all our so-called pleasures are based on lies. The only solution to this conundrum, as Zapffe saw it, would be to bring an end to this festival of falsehoods by ceasing to reproduce.

Now, every reading of human life is subject to alternate or contrary readings, and so is Zapffe’s. But his reading captivated me, because I was already predisposed to believe that life was at best worthless and at worst an intolerable nightmare. In essence, Zapffe’s philosophy became another source of bullshit that kept me going so that I could articulate the many aspects of my own grievances against being alive and, I hope, extend or give a greater rhetorical force to what Zapffe had written in "The Last Messiah." I might add that the title character of this essay appears at the end, tells everyone to stop being fruitful and multiplying, and then is murdered for his trouble. Given Zapffe’s reading of the way we are, no other conclusion except utter hopelessness that we will ever change our ways is possible. We’re positively doomed to live and wallow in our own bullshit until we become extinct as a species by one of the many means that have led to the extinction of almost every other species on this planet.

When did you first read Peter Wessel Zappfe's essay, "The Last Messiah?"

I read it not long after it was published in the March/April 2004 issue of the British journal Philosophy Now. Later that year I began work on The Conspiracy Against the Human Race.

Does this mean that Zappfe's work was a confirmation of things that you already knew or were aware of?

I hadn’t conceived of the paradox that Zapffe explained had been incited by the development of consciousness in the human species. Nevertheless, I did feel that being conscious was not a good thing. In my story "Dr. Voke and Mr. Veech," there’s a dummy who suffers for having been awakened into awareness. I just thought of consciousness as a source of suffering rather than as a faculty that made all human existence into a tissue of lies, which was Zapffe’s idea. While it’s not invulnerable to argument -- as is no concept in philosophy -- this idea provided me with a basis for my generic pessimism, which, as I’ve already said, is not conceptually defensible. I could rant on a daily basis that, as Lovecraft wrote in one of his stories, "life is a hideous thing." But anyone could come along and say, "What are you talking about? Everything is beautiful. I’m having the time of my life being alive." There’s no reply to that. You can just say, "Well, if everything is beautiful, even on every other day, then you’re just not paying attention." But Zapffe’s reply was that not only is everything not beautiful, no one actually believes it’s beautiful even if they say they do. All of our actions bear witness to this observation. In a single essay, which was later expanded as a treatise titled On the Tragic, Zapffe beat the stuffing out of the theory on which Arthur Schopenhauer expatiated for thousands of pages -- that everything in the universe is activated by a "Will-to-live," a transcendental force that works the world like a cosmic puppet show. Schopenhauer’s Will does have its appeal, because if you accept it, then everything that once seemed mysterious makes perfect sense. If you ever wondered why things are the way they are or why people do the things the things they do, it all goes back to the Will, which is pulling all the strings. Intellectually and emotionally, it’s very satisfying. The problem is that Schopenhauer’s system only works on paper and can’t be detected as being part of existence any more than a creator-God.

Zapffe’s thought is very down to earth. You can experience how being conscious ruins human life by taking it out of nature, where the imperative of every living thing is simply to survive and reproduce. Human beings, on the other hand, can ask themselves what they are, why they’re alive, what happens after death, and so on. Since there aren’t any credible answers to these questions, we make up answers for the purpose of shutting down our consciousness as much as possible. At the same time, we busy ourselves with all sorts of projects and playthings just to wile away our time, also for the purpose of repressing our consciousness as creatures who know they’re alive and know they’re going to die. At any rate, the whole endeavor of being human is reduced to trying not to be human, which is very messed up. This allows Zapffe to go all the way and make the pessimist’s signature pronouncement -- that instead of continuing to carry on, we should be getting down to giving up on life. Naturally, this line of thought will not sway anyone who thinks that everything is beautiful, or that anything is beautiful, but it does takes pessimism another step forward, which is admittedly something that concerns only other pessimists.

Before reading Zapffe, I too was aware of my life as a series of distractions and denials that staved off thoughts of the terrible things that could happen to me and of my impending death. I was also sensitive, probably overly so, that these terrible things could happen and in fact were happening everywhere in the world. They had always been happening and, barring some radical change in material existence, would continue to happen until doomsday. I knew that I needed something to take my mind off these things and discover some immediate pretext for being alive. I also knew that I was just biding my time until something terrible came along and I snuffed it, something that would probably happen only after I had to watch those to whom I had become attached in one way or another had snuffed it. One of those terrible things, among others, that actually did come along in my life was major depression. This is sometimes called the common cold of mental diseases, but that’s not how it feels to those who suffer from it. Aside from its other effects, depression has a philosophical effect to it that other kinds of pain do not, and its implications very much changed my sense of what it was like to be alive in the world. In depression, everything is just what it seems to be: a tree is just a tree and not something that arouses symbolic meanings or affective associations. Life itself becomes very transparent in all its aspects to a depressive. There aren’t any mysteries left, since all mysteries come from within us. We’re mystery-making machines, and we project a sense of mystery onto a world that has no such thing behind or within it. Certain questions remain that may one day be answered or may not be answered. Either way it doesn’t matter to a depressive.

Recent movements such as transhumanism and abolitionism project a future in which suffering will be transcended with drugs and technology. There’s a guy named David Pearce who runs a Web site called The Hedonistic Imperative, and he very articulately insists that the only worthy goal in human life is that of feeling good all the time. Of course, this is the goal that everyone is concerned with in their lives, but Pearce argues that this could be more effectively and speedily attained by entirely artificial means. The fact that these people are obsessed with making a serious attempt to abolish human suffering, and to establish this aim as the central project of their lives, is nice to see. Thus far in human history, people have put their effort into curing diseases that make us dysfunctional and unproductive or that are obstacles to increasing our longevity. There hasn’t been much interest in confronting human suffering as such. Paradoxically, should the efforts of those who want to annihilate suffering succeed, it could be the end of us as a species. We would be returned to paradise. And reproduction would be irrelevant in a paradisal landscape where all dreams have been satisfied and all fears quashed.

You're best known for writing horror stories and poems. Did The Conspiracy Against the Human Race feel like a different endeavor, even though it was an obvious continuation of certain themes in your work?

Writing Conspiracy was different from writing horror stories in the following way. For me, a story usually has its inception in something irrational -- a dream, an image, a phrase that doesn’t make any sense. This irrational germ for a story will be something that I feel is dense with meaning and possibilities, even if I know it’s going to end up as a horror story. Then some element of the story pokes its head out -- a character, a setting, a particular scene in the narrative -- and everything comes together very quickly. I’m definitely a didactic writer in that my stories can be reduced to some point that I’m trying to get across, something that emerges in the course of elaborating its narrative elements. I may start a story in the irrational, but unlike a lot of writers I’m not content to let a story be its own meaning. I have to move from the irrational to the rational. With Conspiracy, I started in the rational and stayed there. It was kind of like working in two dimensions instead of three. All the force of Conspiracy had to come from concepts and rhetoric, both of which are prominent in my stories. But the imaginative landscape was missing. There wasn’t a sense of being in a world inside of my head as I wrote. It was more like writing a poem, which for me is an elaboration of an idea. I may start a poem with a single line that fits somewhere into the poem, but that line will make sense conceptually. So writing Conspiracy was like writing a very long poem.

What do you think readers will make of it?

I can only say with any degree of confidence what one faction of readers will make of it. Those are people who have read my horror stories and enjoyed them not in spite of their bleak quality but because of it. An analogy could be drawn with fans of Lovecraft’s stories, who read them for their charming regionalism, their mythology of monsters, or for their unusually literate nature -- something prized by readers who are generally well read yet still have a weakness for the horror genre -- or some combination of these and other characteristics of his work. But they don’t read them as expressions of Lovecraft’s vision of human beings as bits of inconsequential organic material quivering in a black infinity that occasionally throws some phenomenon our way that is completely alien to the settled structures of our existence, as if to say: "You can just forget everything you thought you knew about yourselves and everything else in the universe. You know nothing. You are nothing. And the choices you have for dealing with this reality are to go insane or kill yourselves. How about them apples?" This can be a rather consoling vision to those readers who already think as much and are grateful that someone else out there felt the same and had the nerve to make it the basis of his art. I was one of those readers. It was a great relief to discover the writings of someone who didn’t go for the same consolations as most of the rest of the world, even if the consolations they did go for were no less questionable. I think that some of my readers look at my stories similarly. And those are the ones who will appreciate Conspiracy. As for anyone else, I couldn’t say. The book could very well be judged as badly done on its own terms. It would also be easy for anyone to dismiss it by saying that its author is just a nutjob and has always been a nutjob who should be pitied or justly derogated or simply ignored. I would be in no position to argue with such an assessment, since the general estimation of the reading public about themselves and their existence is so different from mine. I myself don’t believe that my experience itself is so different from that of most people, but the conclusions I’ve drawn from my experience are indeed quite different. Furthermore, the whole point of Conspiracy is that pessimism as a resolute life-stance is not welcome to the minds very many people, even when it’s laid out as entertainingly as possible, which I’ve tried to do. But pessimistic works have never been well received as a rule. And I’m not naïve enough to think that it could ever be any other way.

The Grimscribe in Cyberspace
Interview with Thomas Ligotti by John B. Ford
Published by Dr. Bantham

JBF: Welcome, Mr Ligotti. It's quite dark and cold in here. In fact I've a feeling that we've just stepped into the darkest area of cyberspace that anyone could ever hope to find. It's quite an eerie feeling when you think this meeting of intelligences is going to be frozen here indefinitely, that people will be viewing this interaction of our minds long after we've moved on to focus on other affairs. I suppose it's analogical of leaving footsteps in the sand, though in this case it might be more fitting to say on the dark side of the moon. One thing I've experienced for quite a few years now is a deep-rooted fear of death, and so it fascinates me that your fiction often indicates that you actually crave annihilation. It's as though an extremely complex and talented intelligence wants to be nothing more than a cloud of steam which will shortly evaporate into nothingness. Why does this physical existence of ours cause you to dislike it so much, and don't you believe that there's a spiritual existence once the human body has fallen cold?

TL: I discovered a long time ago that it's impossible to convince someone that they would be better off not having been born. If they don't see things that way, there's nothing anyone can say to alter their perspective, and it's a fool's game to attempt to do so. As for a postmortem spiritual existence, I guess I would first have to believe that there was such a thing as a spiritual component to the human entity, which I do not. I can't even conceive of an existence after death that would be any less of a nightmare, and possibly far more of one, than the present-tense, hard time that we're doing now. So why don't I just kill myself now? Anyone who asks a question like that wouldn't understand the answer.

JBF: Authors such as Lovecraft and Hodgson were the first to drive home the message about the sheer indifference of the universe towards mankind. I'd like to know your thoughts as to whether you believe there is one omnipotent intelligence (call it God if you will) behind the universe? I'm sure Lovecraft would have been fascinated by incidents such as Roswell and more recent incidents, do you believe mankind is alone upon this big ball of colour in all the darkness, or do you believe there are other intelligent lifeforms out there?

TL: I think Lovecraft would also have made fine fictional use of the rash of suicide cults in recent decades, not to mention the nightmares of technology. As for the God thing, it seems bizarre to me even to be asked such a question. I know that there are states of mind in which anybody is capable of believing in anything, such as an afterlife or a soul or a god, but I haven't experienced such a state of mind for some time now. Even in those days when I did believe in a god,or at least believed that I believed in one, I never felt that there was anything very real about it. On the subject of intelligent lifeforms existing in other precints of the universe, I just don't care one way or the other. I can't bring myself to feel that it makes any difference. I remember my youngest brother saying something funny about this subject. He's a big sports fan and as a way of expressing his devotion to football he remarked that if an alien landing were being televised on one channel and Monday Night Football was on another channel, he would watch the football game and tape the alien landing. I think that I'd probably watch the alien landing because I'm not a football fan and there aren't any decent tv shows on Monday. I do remember being disheartened to learn that there might exist some form of organic life below the glacial surface of one of the moons of Jupiter. "There's goes another perfectly good wasteland pure of the agitations of creaturely existence," I thought to myself in a mood of relative detachment.

JBF: I'd find it interesting to learn the process you employ for writing a short story. My method is to look upon a story as being a series of visions, almost like a film being projected inside my head. I wondered if it was like that for you? Do you take notes and make an outline of the story you are working on, or do you just let it flow from your mind?

TL: Of course to some extent I do see mental images of what I'm writing about, but it's not the kind of "movie in my mind" that I think most fiction writers experience. I prefer still images to moving ones--photographs rather than films. I find it difficult as a reader to "play" a book in my head, which is one of the reason that I never read conventional novels: everything comes out rather vague and blurry -- especially if there's any kind of action being described. I know that many fiction writers strive to make their words transparent, so to speak, in order to give their narratives a heightened illusion of the lifelike. But that just doesn't work for me at all. If there's nothing interesting about the way words are being used, then there's nothing there for me as a reader. I do make notes before I write a story, as well as during the course of composition. But I tend to look at a story more as an essay than a work of fiction. I think of a narrative as a series of propositions marshalled to make a point. I would feel lost if I just let my mind meander through a story, although I know that this approach works very well for a lot of writers. It does seem like it would be a fun way to write.

JBF: How much influence do you think a story has over the human mind while a person is in the act of reading? I know that you look upon someone reading a book as though they are escaping, losing themselves from all the grimness of life for a while, (and I agree) but for that amount of time does the author really have full control over the thoughts a reader has and the emotion they experience? Or does the author's vision lose the true potency needed to do this during the transference to another mind?

TL: Although the experience of reading has been very important to me, I don't think that anything has ever been written that can exercise the kind of power that I think you're talking about. For me reading acts as a sort of a mild recreational drug, a diversion and not much more. Attempting to read your favorite author when you've got a bad headache or the flu is good way to verify the limits of literature. It's really not much help--just a way for people who are in reasonably good health to pass the time. In other words, I am definitely not a believer in literature as a form of magic or means of personal salvation.

JBF: Over the years I've known quite a few examples of incidents happening that I can't explain. Perhaps I'm talking about the supernatural here, but I don't like to use that word because people tend to immediately think back to the Conan Doyle era, and all the feigned practice of spiritualism which took place during that time. But what would you think if someone told you they genuinely experience things like lightbulbs exploding when they're not switched on, fresh flowers in a vase dying in the space of one night, and things of that nature. Do you think this results from something buried within the human mind itself, or perhaps something external and not yet understood by us? Have you experienced unaccountable 'happenings' yourself?

TL: I once took a class in something called Silva Mind Control. This was back in the early 1970s. The object was to develop your so-called psychic potential. Everybody in the group successfully performed some kind of paranormal feat. I myself diagnosed the illnesses of several people whom I had never met. It was kind of fun and I think I may have been mildly amazed, but it didn't change my life. I know that such experiences can be created by non-paranormal means, which doesn't necessarily disqualify the validity of the paranormal entirely. I'm sure that very weird and inexplicable things happenall the time. So if somebody told me about exploding lightbulbs and fresh flowers dying in a vase, I would probably take them at their word that these things did in fact happen and move on. These are not weird occurences of a very high order. The world is definitely a strange place, and there are a lot of things about it that are unknown. Everybody knows that. Suppose all of the paranormal and supernatural phenomena that you've ever heard were all proven to be true--alien abductions, ghosts, what have you. Then they wouldn't be paranormal or supernatural anymore--they'd just be more stuff happening in the world. I know that a lot people think that it really makes a big difference whether or not any of these things are real or not, but it really doesn't. You still have to haul you're body around this world until you die. And if you live on after your death, then you'll just be living in another world. . . andwhen it comes down to it, one world's pretty much the same as another. Just try to imagine another reality that's anything more than a copy of this one. You can't do it. If you could, it would make for some very interesting weird fiction. But all weird fiction is based on creating a subjective sense of strangeness. It never describes hitherto unimagined orders of being, although it often hints at such things. But that's all it can do is hint.

JBF: It's obvious that much of your fiction has it's roots set deep in your personal nightmare experiences. Are your dreams ever lucid or are you just carried along as a spectator of yourself?

TL: I had only a few lucid dreams when I was a kid but nothing since then. I had an out-of-body dream some years ago after accidently drinking two cups of caffeinated coffee before falling asleep. I fell asleep on the couch and my dream body was floating around the living room. Hey, maybe it was an actual out-of-body experience. Coffee as the gate to another world--just like LeFanu's "Green Tea."

JBF: It's said that within twenty years time we will have the technology to record the dream (or nightmare) experience and play it back to other people. Perhaps this seems far-fetched at the moment, but when you think how people are already using mobile phones and computers almost as an extension of their own bodies, then maybe it really isn't. Technology is moving incredibly fast and the public are embracing everything it comes up with. Do you envisage a time when today's dreamers will be tomorrow's internal 'movie makers'?

TL: I've never given it a thought. But now that you mention it, I bet a videotape of someone's dream would make more sense that most of the movies being released these days.

JBF: Will people ever be able to access a virtual library of dreams and plug into one as a means of entertainment?

TL: If things ever do reach that point, I'm sure we can expect to have product placements and advertisements inserted among our dreams of flying or being chased by monsters.

JBF: "I've noticed how many horror writers die early and in tragic circumstances. To name just a handful: Schulz, Hodgson, Lovecraft, Poe, Maupassant, Grabinski, etc. It worries me quite a lot because I'm aware I'm producing fiction at least as dark as these people did, I think there *may* be a danger in it. I'm speaking from the point of view that I'm already dosing myself with beta blockers and anti-depressants in order to be able to face life. Do you believe that there is a danger in creating intense horror fiction of this mould, or do you think it is a matter of having to get something out of the system -- passing it on to the world and letting them deal with it instead?

TL: (putting the answer to this question on hold for a second) I've never taken beta blockers. Do you find them very effective?

JBF: Yes, they're a drug mostly used to lower blood pressure in people, but they also have the effect of lowering the pulse rate. My heart beats too fast because of the intense anxiety I often suffer, and so I use beta blockers to prevent this. They're very effective, but I can only take them in combination with anti-depressants. If I take them 'neat' my stomach is thrown into total chaos.

TL: How do they interact with the AD's?

JBF: They work in harmony in my case, otherwise I think I would have started pushing up flowers in the local churchyard about four years ago. There must be some ingredient in them to stimulate hunger, and in my case this also reverses the adverse stomach problems caused by the beta blockers.

TL: I find that tranquilizers and a very low dosage of anti-depressants are the best combination for anxiety-panic disorder. AD's alone are bad news, at least for me. But to respond to the question, I think that any kind of writing is both physically and psychologically harmful, but I don't think writing horror fiction is anymore debilitating than other kinds of writing. No one should write, or perform any kind of intense mental labor, if they can possibly help it. I know that this sounds perverse, but consider that most of what we're driven to do as human beings--especially activities that we consider "fun"--take their toll upon us. Writing invariably leaves me in an incredibly agitated and exhausted state, as well as causing me digestive troubles. There have been occasions when I've wanted to commit some act of violence but instead wrote a horror story fueled by my violent impulses. But afterward I didn't feel any less violent. I've never felt that I've gotten anything out of my system by writing a horror story. If anything, I think writing aggravates the emotion that inspired it in the first place.

JBF: Tell us a little about your latest collaborative project, there's a buzz of excitement going round at the moment because we've all heard that you've written a film script of 'The Last Feast of Harlequin'. I've heard the imagery is even more bizarre than that of the story, is this true?

TL: I hope so. The imagery in "Last Feast of Harlequin" isn't all that bizarre -- just the screaming clown face creeps and the crooked-looking town. Plus the worms. But there aren't any worms in the screenplay. That element was to support the thematic material in the story and would look kind of silly in a movie.

JBF: Did you enjoy the experience of working on a film script, or do you prefer to work on your own fiction?

TL: I co-wrote the script with Brandon Trenz, with whom I had previously collaborated on the X-Files episode that was on the TLO website some time back. There's definitely a lot of fun to be had in writing a screenplay with someone else, whereas I never found writing stories much fun. And when collaborating on a screenplay isn't any fun, at least you've got someone else suffering right along with you. But neither of us has been through the whole experience yet. . . and we may never will get to that point, since we wrote the screenplay on spec, and it remains to be seen whether or not the production company that optioned "The Last Feast of Harlequin" will find the film adaptation a financially and artistically viable project.

JBF: "I know that you greatly admire authors such as: Lovecraft, Schulz, Grabinski, Campbell, and Borges, but I'd be interested to learn your thoughts on other legends of the genre. Chambers' most potent work 'The King In Yellow' is often compared to your fiction, and so it makes me wonder if any influence actually came from him.

TL: I was never that big a fan of Chambers' "The King in Yellow." I like Lovecraft's description of the book in Supernatural Horror in Literature more than I like the book itself. I absorbed a lot of the 1890s aura that's associated with "The King in Yellow" from reading other authors of that period like Ernest Dowson, Arthur Symons, Aubrey Beardsley, Arthur Machen, and so on.

JBF: Hodgson's 'The House on the Borderland' is possibly the closest anyone's ever come to capturing the nightmare experience in a novel, I wondered if you've ever read that novel and if you agree with me?

TL: I'm really going to have to read that book again, because I could barely make it through the thing the first time I read it. I apologize for seeming so contrary about this, since I know that so many afficianados have such high regard for this novel. I readily admit that my taste as a reader is very screwy and should be dismissed by anyone who disagrees with me.

JBF: Have you read authors such as Shiel, Blackwood, and Machen, and does their work have appeal for you?

TL: I remember admiring Shiel's horror stories very much when I read them over twenty years ago, but the rest of his work doesn't hold any interest for me. I read all of Blackwood's short fiction around the same time and of course appreciated its power and imagination, although I'm generally put off by the paganist worldview that pervades much his work. I really came to appreciate Blackwood all over again when I read Michael Ashley's selection from his work entitled The Magic Mirror. I actually read Arthur Machen before I read Lovecraft--around 1971--and was first attracted to his fiction because it seemed to me so reminiscent of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Later I came to appreciate Machen's wonderfully vile subject matter and his magic as a prose stylist.

JBF: "I believe you have just had an audio collection called 'I Have A Plan For The World' released. Was this another venture featuring David Tibet?

TL: It's a twenty-minute or so CD performed by Current 93, with words by yours truly: twelve short pieces that's on the theme announced by the CD's title

JBF: What are your plans for the future, Mr Ligotti? Will there be another dark treat for us in the shape of a new collection before too long?

TL: I have no idea. I never had any idea. I have no control over that. Sorry.

JBF: Finally, how would you like the world to remember you when the time arrives and the black curtain eventually descends before your eyes?

TL: Eventually descends? I want that black curtain to come down so fast that I won't feel or hear it. "He never knew what hit him." That's how I want my epitaph to read.

This interview appeared first in April 2000 in the special issue "The Grimscribe in Cyberspace" (a tribute to Thomas Ligotti) of John B. Ford's free e-mail magazine TERROR TALES.

Work Not Done?
Art of Grimscribe Interview
Published by EddieMA

Part 1, March 2003:

TW: Some things in your life have changed since our last interview. You've quit your job at Gale Group after two decades and you moved from Detroit to Florida. We guess you are not too fond of drastic changes in your private life, so these must have been quite big steps... How do you feel when looking back to these changes? Did things change to the better for you?

TL: Human life moves in only one direction-toward disease, damage, and death. The best you can hope for is to remain stagnant or, in certain cases, return to a previous condition when things weren't as bad as they've become for you. For instance, I now work on a freelance basis for my former employer, except the sort of work that I do outside of the company is the work I used to do twenty years ago as an employee of the company. For me, this is a "change" for the better. Broadly speaking, you can argue that there's such a thing as "social progress" because, for example, people are no longer literally enslaved to other people. But slavery was an innovation, a progressive solution to labor shortage I don't think that things ever change for the better in the way that many people believe they do. They only assume different masks of the worst. One can only hope that these masks hold tight as long as possible before revealing what is beneath them.

TW: Speaking of changes: Your latest book "My Work Is Not Yet Done" was a great surprise for many of your readers. Especially the title story: It is a very bitter, grim novella, unmistakably Thomas Ligotti and yet not typically you. In this story, you describe - in a very convincing and almost painfully realistic way - the everyday life in a huge company: conspiracies, disgusting little schemes, the everyday horror the main character Frank Dominio falls victim to. This story seems like an attack against our lauded civilization, where money takes the place of a new Moloch: "The Great Black Swine Which Wallows in a Great River of Blackness". ... Which were your motives to write this story? One can easily feel the authenticity in it.

TL: My motives for writing this story were very much those for writing all of my stories: hatred of the system as considered in its broadest possible sense. In this case, the system of a corporate environment served as a microcosm for the greater system of existence, which explicitly emerges as the ultimate object of abhorrence.

TW: However, we've detected a priceless black humour in "My Work Is Not Yet Done" (as well as in many other of your stories). We guess you're not a "happy" person; we suppose this kind of homo sapiens which thoroughly enjoys existence in a world like ours is as fishy to you as to us ... But what about Thomas Ligotti's sense of humour in real life? Do you face everyday's madness with a grin? S.T. Joshi called you in his review on the book "an authentic heir of Ambrose Bierce". Regarding the black humour there are indeed similarities...

TL: To my mind, a well-developed sense of humor is the surest indication of a person's humanity, no matter how black and bitter that humor may be. If you think of the real bastards in world history as well as those with whom you are personally acquainted, they are people who invariably have no sense of humor. And they will often regard your sense of humor as "inappropriate." Humor is the mark of their enemy.

TW: You did compare the novel MWINYD to the comic strip figure Dilbert as sharing common sources of inspiration. Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, himself worked for years in - what he calls - "a number of humiliating and low paying jobs" in various positions for various companies. So Dilbert seems to be autobiographical. What about Frank Dominio and Thomas Ligotti?

TL: The stories in My Work Is Not Yet Done were most definitely autobiographical in origin, as my stories tend to be. However, aside from attributing some of my own attitudes to the narrators of the title work of the book and the short story "I Have a Special Plan for This World," there are no direct links between the characters and events depicted in these works and those of my own life.

TW: The terms Reorganization and Computer seem to have a quite traumatic meaning for you...

TL: I think that they have a traumatic meaning for many people, especially the computer, which has taken its place beside nuclear energy as the ultimate symbol of what a society needs to "flourish" at this stage of human history. Such dependence always is frightening. For a company, reorganization is traditionally associated with an attempt to fix something, often quite blindly, for specific reasons: profits are down, costs are up, bankruptcy is threatening, competition is getting tough. In the 1990s, reorganization was reconceived by management theorists as an intrinsic good-something like the idea of ongoing revolution in Soviet Russia. No doubt there are great benefits for both a company and its employees in working as efficiently and intelligently as possible. But there are no abstract formulas for doing this, whatever a management handbook may claim. Usually what happens is this: some CEO comes along who is smart or lucky or both, and this person "turns around" a company, at least for a time. This may involve reorganizational measures as a strategy of top-down leadership. I could on about this subject, but I think I've already inflicted enough boredom on you.

TW: Apart from Dilbert: There are also strong kafkaesque elements and even echoes of George Orwell's "1984", e.g. the total control, the manipulation, the whole sick corporate system as the symbol of a paranoid totalitarian state...

TL: That's somewhat reductionist, but one would have to be contemptibly naive to deny that the corporation and the state are now inextricably allied. In English, people often say the word "company" when they mean to say "country." What more needs to be said?

TW: Frank Dominio supplies himself with weapons and makes plans to run amok. The typical image of the "American Nightmare"? From the European point of view, one is constantly irritated by reports of crazed gunmen, pupils running amok at High Schools, gang wars with heavy weapons, etc. The important role that fire arms obviously play in large parts of the US society seems hard to imagine for us. The same goes for the influence that organisations like the NRA have on US politics.

TL: One of my favorite movies is Once Upon a Time in America, which was made by the great Italian director Sergio Leone. The story focuses on a group of gangsters who at one point become involved in the rise of the labor movement in 1930s America. To justify the role of criminals in advancing the cause of the working man, one of the gangsters says something to the effect that "This country is still growing. There are certain types of diseases that are better to get when you're young." The leader of a labor union replies: "You guys aren't the measles. You're the plague." Europe has already had its plagues and seems to have learned from them after a few thousand years. The United States has yet to pass through this phase of development.

TW: Having a length of circa 42,000 words, "My Work Is Not Yet Done" is as far your longest story. This is an amazing fact, regarding your not being interested in novels. ... How much time did you need to write this novella? Are there any chances that we'll be able to enjoy more novellas of this length?

TL: I wrote and revised My Work Is Not Yet Done in about three months. My original plan was to write a book approximately twice as long but I realized that the story would work better at its present length. I have no idea whether I'll ever write any other long stories of this kind. I rather doubt it.

TW: "My Work Is Not Yet Done" differs not only in length, but also stylistically from your former work. The narrative style appears to be straighter, less abstract and metaphorical and at the same time more naturalistic (if we can use such term in this context). And the protagonist Frank Dominio really comes alive for the reader and becomes some kind of role model.

TL: I'm glad to hear you describe him as a "role model" because I very much wanted Frank Dominio to be a character with whom the reader would identify. I'm not at all sure that I succeeded in accomplishing this aim, since a number of people have conveyed to me that they view the protagonist of My Work Is Not Yet Done as nothing more than a dangerous maniac. Regarding the more straightforward style of the story, this is simply how one needs to write when a narrative extends beyond a certain length. Otherwise the reader becomes overwhelmed by a kind of verbal claustrophobia.

TW: Let's take a look at the other two stories: In our last interview you told us that the apocalyptic scenario of "The Nightmare Network" was heavily influenced by W.S. Burroughs. What about the background of "I Have a Special Plan for This World"? "Murder City" seems to be "Motor City" Detroit... Is this some kind of bizarre homage to your former home town?

TL: Yes. I had Detroit in mind as the background of both "I Have a Special Plan" and "My Work Is Not Yet Done" as well as such older stories of mine as "The Chymist" and "The Cocoons."

TW: In which chronological order did you write the stories for this book?

TL: "The Nightmare Network" was written around 1994, "I Have a Special Plan" around 1998, and My Work Is Not Yet Done in 2000.

TW: As far as we know, MWINYD got some very good reviews (e.g. in Publishers Weekly). But what about the readers' reactions? Do you think you attracted a wider readership with this book? Or are there old fans who are disappointed, because MWINYD didn't meet up with their expectations? It's easy to imagine that some of your aficionados might miss the certain touch of black romanticism in it.

TL: I think that you're right. Readers who liked my short stories found My Work Is Not Yet Done too "normal" for them, while readers who were unfamiliar with my short stories found this short novel too "weird," at least by the standards of most horror fiction. So it seems that I managed to please very few readers with that work.

TW: By the way: There is a fourth corporate horror story, "Our Temporary Supervisor", which was published in Weird Tales. Why has this story not been included in the book MWINYD?

TL: "Our Temporary Supervisor" was written after the book was put together, as was a fifth corporate horror story, "My Case for Retributive Action."

TW: One could interpretate MWINYD as a harsh critic on the modern American, or let's say, western society: Human greed is the root of evil. The greed for more and more money and power, alongside with stupidity, corrupts our whole world and leads to unavoidable catastrophes (e.g. in "The Nightmare Network"). But, nonetheless, MWINYD is not some kind of political statement, because you don't show any solution or way out of the dilemma. You view at the world seems to be 100% pessimistic....

TL: My view is exactly that. While My Work Is Not Yet Done uses the corporate system as a starting point, this is only so that the story can go on to depict the all-encompassing system of human existence-in fact, all organic existence-as something fundamentally and inescapably evil. This view is essentially that of Buddhism, except Buddhism offers salvation in the form of an ultimate escape from existence through attaining enlightment and nirvana. For me, the only escape is death. The terms "wabi" and "sabi" that turn up in My Work Is Not Yet Done are aesthetic categories originally associated with Buddhism as practiced in Japan. These terms signify and celebrate qualities in art and life that are the polar opposite of those of the modern computerized world. In the story, wabi describes an old ashtray-a humble, out-of-style, well-used, and often overlooked object whose "beauty" stands in contrast to that of, for instance, a brand-new car. The narrator of My Work Is Not Yet Done finds the quality of "sabi" in ruined buildings, which to him convey the enchantment of loneliness, desolation, and impermanence. Of course, Frank finally abandons the sense of quietude and resignation offered by wabi-sabi when he goes into murderous action and pursues an aesthetic of the grotesque.

TW: In our last interview you mentioned "The Shadow at the Bottom of the World" as your favourite story. What about the stories in MWINYD, especially the title story which must really have a personal meaning for you?

TL: Thematically, the title story of My Work Is Not Yet Done and "The Shadow at the Bottom of the World" are identical. Both of them emerge from the feeling of a dark, hideous power the underlies the nature and guides the workings of all organisms. In that sense, they both have a personal meaning for me, as do all my stories. But I think I understand what you mean: the fact that the stories in My Work Is Not Yet Done were written in reaction to my own experience, as opposed to having their origins almost entirely in my imagination, does make them somewhat tainted and, in a way, less artistic.

TW: Imagine that a big production company would agree to make a movie out of MWINYD. And imagine the impossability that you could choose the actors for the leading parts. Whom would you choose for these roles (non-actors are allowed!)?

TL: Well, I would be forced to pick a younger actor for the part of Frank Dominio. And while there are a lot of terrific young actors, none of them are among my all-time favorites. I guess the closest I could come to an actor who is among my favorites and could possibly play Frank Dominio would be Kevin Spacey. More practically, I think Edward Norton would be an easy choice to make, the part since he has already distinguished himself as being able to play outsider-type characters in such movies as Fight Club. And I think Christopher Walken, perhaps my favorite actor of all time, would be a suitable candidate for playing the villain, Richard.

Part 2, May 2003:

TW: About two months have passed since the first part of this interview, much more time than scheduled... What about time in Thomas Ligotti's life? Does it crawl or fly?

TL: Boredom is not one of my afflictions, so the weeks and months and years are moving pretty fast for me.

TW: Let's talk about the Subterranen Press publication Sideshow and Other Stories, which I enjoyed very much. The conception and the length (or better shortness) of the stories remind me of some of your former works like the "Notebook of the Night" section in Noctuary, and the idea of "a sideshow world, where everything's ultimately peculiar and ultimately ridiculous" represents a basic theme in all of your stories. When did you write Sideshow and what were the motives?

TL: I wrote Sideshow, and Other Stories about ten years ago. The section of the story called "The Malignant Matrix" was based on a dream. That was where the story started. Then I decided to write several similar pieces and connect them into a miniature horror story collection, which is a story structure I had been thinking about using for a long time. The words "peculiar and ridiculous" as a characterization of all existence are taken directly from the notebooks of Paul Valéry. Valéry was a real thinker and the more you think about the world, the more peculiar and ridiculous it seems. Thought is very destructive of everything that gives us a sense of stability and meaning in our lives. I simply extrapolated on this idea.

TW: Reading Sideshow, I felt echoes of Franz Kafka and Bruno Schulz... Especially "The Astronomic Blur" reminds me of the latter one. But, on the other hand, one can also feel the spirit of H.P. Lovecraft in some of the stories. Is Sideshow a little homage to some some of your literary idols? I remember you once called yourself a "fanatical student of literary styles"...

TL: I can understand how "The Astronomic Blur" would recall Schulz to a reader, since it combines the cosmic with the local. But the idea of the "little store" is also one that has haunted my imagination for many years. Such places used to be common in the older neighborhoods of Detroit, which is geographically close to where I grew up, and the sight of them always stirred in me a sense of mystery.

TW: The foreword begins with the words "At the time I met the man who authored the stories that follow, I had reached a crisis point in my own work as a writer of fiction". Did you yourself experience such a crisis point before writing Sideshow? And if so, how did you handle this?

TL: I've had doubts about the value of writing fiction practically from time I started doing it. But other impulses - the pleasure of using my imagination, the craving for attention, my aspirations to be like my idols Lovecraft and Poe - kept these doubts in the background for a long time. With Sideshow I simply decided to use these personal doubts as the subject matter for a story. This is a typical tactic for a writer to use in order keep on doing what, for no good reason, he's been doing for so long.

TW: In "The Abyss of Organic Forms" the narrator's half-brother loves to visit the local race course. I found this interesting, because I read in an older interview with you that you yourself used to attend horse races with your brother. Is "The Abyss..." some kind of dedication to your brother or to your own past?

TL: Yes, it is. My brother and I still attend the local race course on occasion. Since both of us now live in Florida, we're more likely to bet on jai-alai than on horses.

TW: One of my favourites in Sideshow is "The Phenomenal Frenzy". It's amazing, but you need only two pages to evolve an eerie atmosphere of absolute weirdness. I guess the short (and shortest) story is still your favourite literary world ...

TL: Indeed it is.

TW: "The Phenomenal Frenzy" ends in a disillusioned way that I'd like to call typical ligotti-esque: "But this same place, a true resting place in which I should have been able to live out the rest of my life in some kind of peace, was now only one more thing that I had to fear." That's something I found in nearly all of your stories: Even the apparently good things turn out to be just another charade, a facade in a sideshow world and they mutate into something weird or evil. Compared with this, the end of the afterword sounds unfamiliarly positive: "I ... had triumphed over my literary crisis and wanted nothing more than to get back to my desk, my brain practically vibrating with an unwonted energy in spite of passing another night without sleep."

TL: To my mind, the narrator's eagerness to continue writing is actually quite monstrous. At the same time, it is, as you say, very positive. In my observation, the most monstrous and vile people are those who are filled with energy and confidence. The more energy and confidence they have, the more monstrous they are. These people make life miserable for those of us who have doubts about everything we do and above all about existence itself.

TW: Sideshow and My Work Is Not Yet Done have been published by Small Press publishers. Is Thomas Ligotti going "back to the roots"? Apart from the fact that you don't reach a mass market with your works: What are your reasons to be published by Small Press publishers?

TL: It was very fortunate for me as a writer to have been published by larger publishing houses in both the United States and abroad. Without this development, my stories would be known to only a few readers of small-press horror fiction. And, of course, every writer wants as many people as possible to read his work. However, after a time it became apparent that my fiction had reached its optimum audience . . . and that this audience was not very large. So there was no point in continuing to publish with larger presses, especially since I could retain greater control over my work with small presses, which in addition created higher quality books.

TW: Speaking of the Small Press: Durtro Press in London will publish Crampton in June, an unreleased script for the THE X-FILES, written by yourself and Brandon Trenz. Can you tell us something about the genesis of Crampton? Were commercial considerations the main motive or did you find something in THE X-FILES that inspires you?

TL: First, the screenplay that Durtro will be publishing began as an episode of the X-Files but was subsequently rewritten as a feature-length script by myself and Brandon Trenz. This script is no longer part of the X-Files world except for the fact that the two main characters are still FBI agents. As for the genesis of the X-Files script, this came about because Brandon Trenz, who was a colleague of mine at my old job, had an idea for the opening to an X-Files episode that he related to me and a few other people who regularly gathered together to talk about movies, music, books, television shows, and whatever. I thought that Brandon had the beginnings of a good idea for an X-Files episode and encouraged him to develop the idea into a script. By that time, around 1996 or so, I was no longer a regular viewer of the X-Files and couldn't have cared less about writing for that or any other television show. At the same time, I wasn't writing much in the way of horror fiction and thought that perhaps I would stop writing altogether. This situation left me in the position of having nothing to do for the rest of my life - in other words, I had no significant distractions that stood between me and the fact of my death. For this reason - that is, in order to have something to do that would take my mind away from contemplating my death - I became involved with Brandon in developing the idea of this X-Files script. Neither of us had any idea that we had no chance of getting the producers of the show to read this script. We had no conception at all of how things worked in Hollywood. Nevertheless, we pressed on until the script was finished. Then we found out that the only thing that we could do with the script was to submit it to contests that offered the promise of promoting your work if you won. Well, we didn't win these contests, but Crampton was among the top finishers, both as a television script and as a feature-length screenplay. Over the years a series of developments have taken place that hold some promise that we may be able to get people in Hollywood to read our stuff, which now includes not only Crampton but another screenplay by the name of Michigan Basement.

TW: The book will be accompanied by a 6-track CD that features your own music, according to Durtro's promo text you will even sing on some of these songs. I know that music has part of your life for a long time now, but nonetheless that's a big surprise! Can you tell us something about it? How did it feel to create your own Soundtrack for your own work?

TL: For one thing, I do not sing on any of these tracks. These are spoken-word pieces backed by music that I recorded on my home 8-track recorder using my guitars and a synthesizer. The whole production is therefore quite lo-fi, even crude. The six pieces were inspired by the themes of Crampton and the title of the CD is The Unholy City. It was a lot of work for me to put this CD together because I have no talent for the process of recording. Nevertheless, producing a CD that contained both words and music that I had written is something that I've wanted to do for a long time. I wish I had more time and energy to pursue similar projects, but I don't.

TW: Another forthcoming Durtro release will be a book called Teatro Grotesco . Are these the stories from the "Teatro Grotesco" section in The Nightmare Factory or is it new material?

TL: This forthcoming collection will indeed incude the stories from the "Teatro Grottesco" section of The Nightmare Factory, since none of these stories has yet to appear in hardcover. It will also include about 7 other stories and novellas that I've published since The Nightmare Factory, excluding the stories in My Work Is Not Yet Done . I don't know when it will it be ready for publication.

TW: And now the inevitable question: What about Thomas Ligotti's future projects ...?

TL: Durtro has a cycle of poems that I wrote within the past few years. The title of the collection of 14 pieces is Things They Will Never Tell You. Two new stories will appear in Weird Tales. Also, Brandon and I are now in the process of signing with a talent agency that handles screenwriters and have begun work adapting my short novel My Work Is Not Yet Done as a movie, although no one has requested that we do any such thing. Aside from that, I don't really have any plans for future projects. Then again, I never really did.

TW: Recently I've read an old interview with you in the magazine Tekeli-li. I found it very interesting that you mentioned the unknown German author of the book The Nightwatches as some kind of reinforcement for your own work. Is it by chance the book Nachtwachen, that was published under the nom de plume Bonaventura at the beginning of 19th century? This is one of the forgotten masterpieces of the Romantic period and hardly known even in Germany ...

TL: The Nightwatches is indeed a forgotten masterpiece. Any book that is so explicitly at odds with the social and religious culture of the world is doomed to be forgotten. A modern-day counterpart to this book is the work of the Austrian novelist and playwright Thomas Bernhard. But Bernhard was always raging against the nazi mentality that he saw as still holding sway within Austria, so his work has been embraced somewhat, at least in Europe. His work is still too grim for consumption by English-speaking countries. English and American readers will only tolerate books that ultimately uphold the status quo and offer people reasons why their miserable lives are worth living.

TW: Literature is a very important part of your life and there are several writers that you adore or that even inspired you. But frankly: What about modern horror literature? Are there living horror writers whose works you enjoy or who do deeply impress you?

TL: For all practical purposes, I've read all the books that I ever want to read. And that includes horror fiction. I don't follow the horror scene the way I did in the 1970s and 1980s. Even then, there were very few writers whose works I fanatically sought out, but those were enough to make me feel that writing horror fiction was a worthwhile pursuit. My favorites were the obvious greats: Ramsey Campbell, T.E.D Klein, Dennis Etchison, Joseph Payne Brennan for his poetry, and a few others. In recent years, a number of horror writers have been brought to my attention who would have given me the same sense that writing horror fiction wasn't a total waste of time if I had read them during my fanatical years and who I feel are carrying the torch for what I consider true horror fiction in the great tradition of Poe, Lovecraft, Machen, and James. These writers include Matt Cardin, Quentin Crisp, Monika Angerhuber, Mark Samuels, and a host of British ghost story writers.

TW: What do you think about the future development of horror literature? I don't know exactly the situation in the US, but in Germany (as well as the rest of Europe) many of the younger horror writers orientate towards American bestselling writers like King and Koontz. The results are rather boring, because you hardly find a writer with an original voice ...

TL: Except as a form of popular entertainment, I don't think that horror fiction ever had a future. In my view, it has been only pure accident that joined the tastes and temperament of someone like Poe or Lovecraft to a talent sufficient to express these tastes and this temperament, which, as Lovecraft pointed out many times, are the province of very few individuals. Let's say it once and for all: Poe and Lovecraft - not to mention a Bruno Schulz or a Frank Kafka - were what the world at large would consider extremely disturbed individuals. And most people who are that disturbed are not able to create works of fiction. These and other names I could mention are people who are just on the cusp of total psychological derangement. Sometimes they cross over and fall into the province of "outsider artists." That's where the future development of horror fiction lies - in the next person who is almost too emotionally and psychologically damaged to live in the world but not too damaged to produce fiction. It's a delicate balance . . . and the determining factors are not predominantly literary.

TW: Some short questions in conclusion. What is...


TL: Distraction, escape, a way to transform the intolerable into the enjoyable, a booby prize that we give ourselves for continuing to exist.

TW: ...the best reason to laugh?

TL: Because you're high.

TW: ...the worst book you ever read?

TL: I've never read a book I didn?t like. I can tell on the first page, usually in the first sentence, if I'm going to like a book, a story, a collection of essays or poetry. If I know I won't like it, I don't read it.

TW: ...the difference between cats and people?

TL: It's always a sad occasion when a cat dies.

TW: ...a good day?

TL: A day without pain or the prospect of pain, which is to say, none.

TW: ...darkness?

TL: The bottom line.

TW: Last not least, thank you very much for doing this interview with me!

TL: You're most welcome.

No part of this publication (including graphics) may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording or any information storage or retrieval system now known or to be invented without permission in writing from the publisher.

Ten Questions for Thomas Ligotti
As Posed by David Wilbanks
Published by TLO

1. How has the horror genre affected your life?

TL: When I first read Lovecraft around 1971, and even more so when I began to read about his life, I immediately knew that I wanted to write horror stories. I had read Arthur Machen before I read Lovecraft, and I didn’t have that reaction at all. It was what I sensed in Lovecraft’s works and what I learned about his myth as the “recluse of Providence” that made me think, “That’s for me!” I already had a grim view of existence, so there was no problem there. I was and am agoraphobic, so being reclusive was a snap. The only challenge was whether or not I could actually write horror stories. So I studied fiction writing and wrote every day for years and years until I started to get my stories accepted by small press magazines. I’m not comparing myself to Lovecraft as a person or as a writer, but the rough outline of his life gave me something to aspire to. I don’t know what would have become of me if I hadn’t discovered Lovecraft.

2. Gene Wolfe wrote a book entitled THE FIFTH HEAD OF CERBERUS which contained three novellas that reflected different aspects of the same “world,” each one containing subtle hints relating to the others. It is one of my favorite books, and I thought it would be interesting if you attempted something like this. Does that idea appeal to you in any way?

TL: Not at all. It sounds like a lot of work. I’ve never had the excess of energy that it takes to pull off something like that. Furthermore, I don’t particularly admire that kind of prodigality of talent. I’ve always loved writers who were underachievers, those who produced few works or never “fully realized” their abilities. Prolific writers and writers who produce “big books” that are terribly ingenious bore me to death.

3. What do you do to pass time?

TL: I watch a lot a TV and sometimes rent videos. It wasn’t always like that, but it is now.

4. I think it’s time for another Ligotti collection. Anything in the works?

TL: I do have enough uncollected stories to put together a full collection. It should probably be published in the next couple years or so.

5. If someone wanted the clearest picture of how your mind worked, which of your stories would you point them toward and why?

TL: That’s an excellent question. The story that immediately comes to mind is My Work Is Not Yet Done. The main character, Frank Dominio, has been described by the few people who reviewed the book as a dweeb and a psycho. I didn’t exactly set out to do a self-portrait in this character, but he does reflect some major aspects of me, at least as I am in my own mind. Frank is kind of a parasite of a world that he doesn’t much care for. At work, he wants to fit in only to the extent that is necessary to keep at bay the powers that rule over him. At home, he escapes into his melancholy universe of photographing ruined places in the city where he lives. He’s someone that most people would view as sick, unstable, and unsound. Not a model citizen but harmless.

Then he gets screwed over by his colleagues at work, and his sickness, instability, and unsoundness become directed outward toward his enemies. He’s intelligent enough and humane enough to know that his plan to slaughter his co-workers needs considerable justification, although he never manages to work this out to his satisfaction. He’s overcome by his passion for revenge, which in a sense makes him more of a normal person than he’s ever been. Escapism was always Frank’s style, not taking action. That’s the style of the so-called real world. If Frank had been a writer, he would probably have written a story and that would have served as sufficient revenge. But that’s not an option for him. And neither is violence, really, although he prepares to do some real damage. Whether or not he would have gone through with it is unknown, because there’s a supernatural intervention by a power that screws him over even more than his co-workers and that represents them on a metaphysical plane. I’m not sure if this answers your question about how my mind works. Then again, I don’t think of one’s mind in isolation from one’s emotions. As some wise guy once said, “The mind is the whore of one’s passions.” I’d go along with that.

6. What are your activities during an average day?

TL: For the past few years I’ve worked at home as a freelance copyeditor. (Previously, I worked at an office job for 23 years.) People send me editorial projects either by mail or email. I wake up in the morning and within five minutes I’m sitting in front of my computer with a cup of coffee. It’s intense work and I can’t do it for more than five six hours at a stretch. By then, I’m pretty burned out. I often take a long nap in the afternoon to recover. When I wake up there are usually emails to answer. That takes an hour or so. My mother and brother live within walking distance, and I usually have dinner with them and spend the rest of the evening watching TV with them. Then I go home and answer more emails. About once a week, my brother and I go to the local racetrack. We live in Florida, where they have jai-alai, so we bet on simulcast games from Miami or Dania. It’s a shame that this sport never caught on in this country. If you have a high-speed Internet connection, you can watch games most nights and some afternoons at http://www.dania-jai-alai.com. It’s far more interesting if you’re able to bet on the games. That’s not how jai-alai was intended to be played, but that’s how it came to be adapted outside of Spain. You bet on it just like horse racing.

7. Have you read any good books lately?

TL: I don’t read that much anymore. At the moment, I’m slowly making my way through a book called Landscapes of Fear by Yi-Fu Tuan, who is or was a professor of geography. It’s pretty much a basic history of fear in human life. I ordered it along with another book by the same author called Escapism, the premise of which is that everything that human beings do is based on our inability to face reality as it is. I can’t argue with that, although I’m sure most other people in this stupid world would contest it vigorously.

8. Can you tell us your opinion on the future of horror literature?

TL: Horror literature has always moved along two tracks. Writers like Ann Radcliffe wrote popular Gothic thrillers and made a good living, while writers like Edgar Poe wrote unpopular short stories and starved. That’s very much the way horror literature progressed and probably will continue. There haven’t been too many writers of either type at any given time. Everyone else is somewhere in the middle.

9. What is your favorite piece of music?

TL: “In the Court of the Crimson King” by King Crimson. I’m also a big fan of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd.

10. It’s a high honor to interview you. Any last comments you’d like to share with our readers?

TL: In the spirit of Frank Dominio, I’d prefer not to do anything that I’m not forced or paid to do.


The Ligotti Outtakes
Interview Excerpts Not Published
Published by Dr. Bantham

"Human beings are the most retarded organisms on the planet" or The Incomplete Nihilist

The Ligotti Outtakes - From Correspondence 06/2004 - 09/2004
By: Neddal Ayad & Thomas Ligotti

[On evolution]
A mistake or a fluke? A mistake would imply that there was some sort of force directing nature or evolution.

Fluke is more accurate but mistake is more deprecatory, which is why I prefer it. It's also how the term is translated from the Zapffe essay. And Lovecraft attributes the existence of the human race to a "mistake or a joke" on the part of the Old Ones. Schopenhauer talks about human consciousness as the result of human beings "abusing" their brains and the Buddhists simply want to eliminate it. As for Cioran, he condemned the whole of Creation, in so many words, as a flaw in the natural order of nothingness. I couldn't agree more.


I don't know how much good it does to speculate on people's motives in the past, especially going back to prehistoric times. Those were different people. They were human beings, obviously, so there would be certain commonalities but think about it. Look at the difference between the world view of someone from say...Mexico and the U.S., or even the U.S. and Canada. Now consider the world view of someone living even 100 years ago.

I think you're looking at human beings from the perspective of a marketing executive trying to place a product where it will sell the most or a politician hawking a program of positions on various so-called issues. On that level, there are important differences for a manipulative person or persons to play on. But it's also a very superficial level, even if it's where most people spend most of their time as they sleepwalk through their lives. That's a very crazy place, and it just compounds the craziness to give any importance to the tastes, opinions, mythologies, religions, philosophies, or cultural products of a given people in a given geographical region or time. I don't see any difference between humans and, for the sake of example, chimpanzees--except perhaps that chimpanzees generally behave in a certain way for readily apparent reasons. In a laboratory, you can condition a chimp to behave in inscrutable ways, just as people do, through a regimen of conditioning based on punishment and reward. Human beings go through the same process of conditioning, although they don't recognize it as such. They're born into certain society, and they tend to suck up that society's craziness for the sake of their own psychological and physical well being. That isn't what I would call a world view. In fact, there's really no reason to speak in terms of world views if you're not a marketing exec or politician, who are experts in conditioning the chimps, I mean consumers or constituents, to behave as they want them to behave. World views are just adornments that we wear to disguise the fact that we have only one suit in our closet . . . and it's made of flesh and bones. When you're alone in the wilderness, opinions or beliefs of any kind are dropped immediately because they're absurd and useless. This is why the earliest Buddhist texts advice anyone who wants to liberate themselves from their conditioned existence to go out into the wilderness. It's the place to be. And, really, it's the only place there is . . . if we would just admit it.


[From an exchange on music]

Whoever called music the universal language was unbelievably full of shit. Of course, when you consider the heinous uses to which language is often put, I suppose music qualifies is an equally effective means of alienating people from one another, taking their money, and arousing them artificially like some form of emotional pornography. Oscar Wilde said something to the effect that listening to music made you feel as if you had experienced sufferings and joys that you never knew in your actual life. I think that's one of the most astute observations ever made on music.


What about school?

I hated school, and I hate work. The tolerance that people have for bullshit at school, work, and in life as a whole gives one some sense of why our masters have such contempt for us and feel that they can very much have their way in whatever villainies they choose to perpetrate.

You sound like some sort of subversive there.

I guess I would sound subversive if I were advocating that any change in this situation were possible . . . or even desirable. I think of myself as both a victim and a parasite of the system.

I don't understand why more people don't realize that they should be in control?that governments are supposed to serve the people, not the other way around.

Question: Who says that governments are supposed to serve the people? Answer: Governments. It's like that Twilight Zone episode that ends with the revelation that a book titled To Serve Man is a cookbook. And what are governments anyway? They?re just a group of people who want to run the show. They talk about public service, but with rare exception they don?t want to serve anyone but themselves. It?s the same thing with corporations, which is why they go hand-in-hand with governments. A corporation is a little government with a little president and a little legislature. There are just some people who grow up and find that they want to pursue this career path because they have a talent for it and really like being the boss or the prime minister or the king or whatever. What was the American Revolution all about? It was about a small band of rich WASPs who didn?t want to pay their taxes. The English made a real mistake when they planted so many of themselves on North American soil. They didn't stand a chance against the craziest and most opportunist members of their own society. And after the revolution, the English mutated into Americans, whatever those are.

Like every other form of life, politicians and captains of industry can?t help being what they are. They just swim and eat and make little politicians and CEOs. Of course, I?m just raving to no point. It's a symptom of the powerless and the disenfranchised. Someday the government will find a cure for it. Oh, I forgot, they already have, at least in the United States. They call the cure "values"--religion, country, family, and all that sort of excrement. People love them. And if they don't, then they're sick and should undergo cognitive therapy. 1984 was a long time ago. The system is set up to create thieves, liars, and hypocrites. There's a TV commercial that asserts: "Owning your own business is part of the American dream." This was the mantra during the 1990s. My father owned his own business. I worked for a decade in that business, from the time I was eleven years old, and I just never caught the bug. To this day, I have nightmares about working in that place, although I can't blame my father for this--he was a good man. I also have nightmares about other jobs that I've worked for any length of time. Working for yourself or anyone else is a traumatic experience. It's like combat in slow motion, and the result is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Any reform in the way human life is lived has got to start by eliminating the option of either entering the ranks of forced labor or living on the streets. For pity's sake, those in power could at least give us the third option of euthanasia. But I understand why that wouldn't go over too well with the masses, with their reverence for the value of human life and all that. Not to mention their dreams of owning their own business.

I hated school, too, especially elementary school and Jr. High.

I skipped school about once a week and got drunk and stoned with my friends. Only once did I get caught and my punishment was . . . three days suspension from school. What idiots. Why didn't they make me serve extra time in school? Why didn't they do anything that might have made me take an interest in my studies? It was as if they designed the whole curriculum from K-12 were designed to put me into a thirteen-year coma. I wasn't a stupid kid by any means. I simply didn't know what was out there in the world. And my teachers sure weren't going to disclose anything that might stimulate me. My friends and I were like Sherlock Holmes when he didn't have an interesting case to investigate. We were bored and took drugs. Speaking of which, I was a big fan of the Sherlock Holmes movies with Basil Rathbone for as long as I can remember. It would have been nice if someone had asked just once in all those years in school what interested me. Perhaps then I could have found out in my early school years that those movies were inspired, and some of them even based, on the writings of Arthur Conan Doyle. After I had a breakdown between eleventh and twelfth grades, I couldn't take drugs anymore. I hardly left the house, except to attend school, because my panic attacks and agoraphobia were very severe and frequent. So I began to cast about for some other form of distraction, which I discovered one day in the book section of a department store. It was a complete collection of Sherlock Holmes stories. I still have the book. Later I found a collection of Arthur Machen's stories in a drugstore. I loved them immediately because they reminded so much of the Holmes stories. And even better--they were horror stories. More than Sherlock Holmes movies, I loved horror movies. But I had no idea there was such a thing as horror fiction. Unless you grow up in a literate household, which I didn't, although my family was fairly affluent, there was no way for me to learn about anything that suited my interests other than how to make a hash pipe out of the cardboard tube inside of toilet paper or how many milligrams of Dexedrine I needed to take to get high without giving myself a heart attack. H. P. Lovecraft was fortunate that was raised in a home where he had access to his grandfather's library.

What really pissed me off about school is that it's obvious to anyone with half a brain that the whole schooling process is set up to indoctrinate, I mean "prepare," you for the straight world. If you're not an obedient, goal oriented, validation seeking little drone, then forget it.

Right. As soon as I discovered Lovecraft, about two weeks after Machen, it was revealed to me why I couldn't be allowed to follow my interests. No one in the world of normal folks wants you to know that there is any other way of looking at the world except their way. I mean, drugs got my mind off the normal track from the time I was fourteen years old. I had already been drinking a lot for a couple years before that, but it wasn't until I took drugs that I actually began to think about things in a serious way. This, of course, made me depressed, as thinking tends to do. So I knew what kind of lousy, nightmarish world I was doomed to live in. Some of this was bolstered by the whole hippie thing that was happening at the time. But this wasn't the same as reading what Lovecraft had to say about the universe in his stories and letters. Now I had an authority, someone who was intelligent enough to be a writer, in which I found an echo of all the things that depressed and terrified me about being alive. The horror and nothingness of human existence--the cozy facade of a world behind which was only a spinning abyss. The absolute hopelessness and misery of everything. I loved it. Lovecraft really gave me a reason to carry on. And that reason was to communicate, in the form of horror stories, my outrage and panic at being alive in this particular world.

When you say you hate work, I take it you mean work as in a day job?

Yes. It's been my feeling for quite some time that the world owes me a living. Although only two people were directly responsible for my coming into this life, they were egged on by thousands of years of breeders who never stopped humping long enough to think that maybe they were being suckered into saddling themselves with children. If I were to father a child, I couldn't look the kid in the eye. I would be responsible for dragging it into this land of decaying flesh. I would have to explain that it was sentenced to suffer so many years of school and a lifetime of toil before it could rest a bit, with any luck, in the latter years of its term on this pretty blue planet. If people are going to reproduce, they should at least set up a system that will provide all material wants of their offspring for the life of the product. Of course, I understand the urge of pedophiles--this term has really been misused--who just can't resist the idea of a cute little baby or someone to carry on the family name or who knows what rationale. I understand that for people to become full-fledged members of their society, they must offer a sacrifice by birth. I also understand that all of this is completely insane. And I understand that these insane creatures are not about to grant me an independent income.

[On drugs/medication/depression]

The only thing that will keep the human race from seeking intoxication is fear. That's the basis of the so-called war on drugs, which makes about as much sense as the war on terrorism. People have always been suckers for diversionary language, that is, lies.

I will admit that I've always been curious about opiates, but nothing
else really interests me.

If you have to be a drug addict, opiates are the way to go. Although I have to say that the only class of drug that I never cared were barbiturates. Stuff like Seconal and Phenobarbital was liking drinking over-the-counter cough medicine, which I sometimes resorted to.

As for LSD, it never seemed like a good match for me.

I mostly had a great time on LSD, with exception of the last few hours, which I always though of as the "descent into hell" phase of the
experience. This was a forecast of my anxiety-panic disorder to come. I wish my parents had told me that this disorder ran in the family. Before I took LSD, I was looking for a reason not to . . but none ever came along.

Was it (anxiety/panic) even recognized at the time?

Yes. My father was instutionalized for a while, and afterward he attended "recovery" meetings--the group was actually called Recovery--that had a book he gave me by Dr. Abraham Low. The book perfectly described all the symptoms I was experiencing. Unfortunately, it didn't do me any good. I thought I was suffering from acid flashbacks and was going insane. My doctor actually encouraged this delusion and let me go on for years thinking that it was the LSD. He was a rich, moralistic mother####er.

[Antidepressansts & creativity]

If the AD is working, there's no reason it should affect one's creative drive. It's just that they so seldom do anything but keep you going as a productive member of commercial society.

Do you think that's more a function of the drugs or of the psychiatric profession?

Drugs are tools that the psychiatric profession uses to keep people in a functioning mode and thereby support the status quo. No shrink gives the least credence to the attitudes and views of a depressed patient, even though there are studies suggesting that depressives have a more realistic grasp of themselves and the world around them than so-called normal people, who could easily be diagnosed as hyperthymic, or temperamentally upbeat personalities. I'm all for feeling good rather than feeling bad, but that doesn't mean we have to lie to ourselves about the human condition. This self-deception ultimately makes things worse rather than better. In order for human beings to make the best of the bad situation into which we were born, four things have to be exterminated: Gods, Nations, Families, and those Egos of ours that we wear around and encase our heads in a helmet of utter bullshit. I should say that I'm well aware that none of this is ever going to happen and that I'm just indulging my own impulse to be preachy, which is pretty deplorable. If I had any sense, I wouldn't even think about any of this stuff, let alone voice it to other people.

Have you tried cognitive therapy?

I've read Orwell's 1984, which is the handbook for cognitive therapy. I confess that I'm a thought criminal. The world is not double-plus good and never will be. I believe that anyone is better off dead than alive. What's a cognitive therapist going to say to that except that I don't have my mind right? My opinions are not sanctioned by institutions of authority or by the common run of humanity, and therefore what I think is invalid, inauthentic, or whatever dismissive term you care to use.

Please don't take this the wrong way, but you're still here. And fighting. If everyone is better off dead or at least if you believe that, in general, people are better off dead, then why not commit suicide? (I'm sure you've been asked this before but, man, I hope I don't see a news blurb on some site saying: Cult author, Thomas Ligotti was found... Sources say that he was in the middle of an email interview when...)

No, no one has ever asked me that question before. You've answered part of it by your projected reaction of dismay to news of my death. And you don't really know me. There are a couple people who have to go ahead of me before I'll be free to do myself in, although sometimes it does feel that nothing matters more than getting the hell out of this life.

You seem to embrace the contradictions in your world-view - i.e. You have what many people would consider, to put it mildly, misanthropic and antisocial tendencies, yet you seem to be devoted to your family. A lot of people can't handle contradiction or at least try to gloss it over to fit into some social category.

Most people would dismiss the validity of anything I write because of that contradiction, which it is, just as they impugn the validity of Schopenhauer's pessimism because he rather enjoyed himself by normal standards. These are people who have been brainwashed into believing in the integrity of the so-called self, when in fact we're a mass
of crisscrossing wires of memories, sensations, impulses, and so on that do not make an enduring, continuous self but, because they're all happening inside the same bag of skin, trick us and others into thinking in terms of personalities, souls, individual identities, and what have you.

[On why so much horror writing blows...]

Back to horror writing. If Stephen King writes popular fiction and small press writers write for the "horror community" (whatever that is) then who are the King imitators writing for?

They write for King's audience, or the part of it that they have ability engage. Obviously, King?s writing appeals to a great many people. But this applies almost exclusively to his novels. This is the big difference between short stories and novels in the horror genre as well as in literary fiction.

The success of that sort of thing is an indictment, in a way, of genre readers, which is possibly a touchy subject given the sensitivity of genre readers and writers. They're either trying to defend a given genre as just as good as anything else or trying to escape, sometimes both at the same time.

I wouldn't for a second attempt to defend horror fiction from the Gothic era to the present day as anything but popular entertainment, which is fine if that's what engages you. I used to think that I was taken with horror fiction as such. The more of it I read, however, the more I realized that I was attracted to horror fiction by just a few writers. To me, they were the whole of horror fiction. But that, of course, wasn't the case. They were the aberrations, the ones who had only a cult following, usually after their death, and not a wide readership during their lifetime or posthumously. They were very much like the "real" authors that I admired--obscure writers, often foreign. They just happened, who knows why, to write in the horror genre. None of the horror writers I've ever admired were nice guys in a conventional sense. They were aliens to society.

A lot of horror writing (and writing in general) gets bogged down with needless description.

That's what popular novels are all about--needless description, needless
dialogue, needlesss characters, needless everything. Description, like every other element of fiction, can't be treated separately. A work of fiction has to work as an organic whole with no waste at all. If you start describing what a character you've just introduced looks like, you're just wasting your time unless the appearance of that character tells you something about him or her or is material to the story. If it's just for the sake of providing the reader with a image to hold in his mind, then it's just padding. Who can remember what these characters look like anyway unless a writer keeps reminding them over the course of hundreds of pages? A good example of effective description is one of Raymond Chandler's: "It was a blonde. A blonde who could make an archbishop put his foot through a stainglassed window." That kind of description permanently embeds this character into your mind and also serves as an occasion for Chandler to drill home the single most important aspect of all his works--the consciousness of Philip Marlowe.

Novels - Maybe I should have phrased it like this: Your stories are
dense and descriptive, yet concise. You've mentioned several time
that novels don't interest you, I was wondering if it had anything to
do with the potential for wasted words.

I have that experience a lot at the movies. I haven't been able to read horror fiction for a long time now for exactly the reasons you mention. The horror element is always extraneous to story. Almost any horror story or novel of the past 30 years or so could be rewritten as a straight novel, with all the painful everyday details and boring natter about jobs and relationships and all that Oprah Winfrey stuff.

Have you experimented with Burroughs' cut-up techniques at all?

No. And I wish Burroughs hadn't experimented with them either.

Have you read any of Oliver Sacks' writings about people with permanent perceptual disorders? They "taste" sound or "see" tactile sensations.

I've never read Sacks's book, but I'm familiar with them from seeing him on TV and hearing him interviewed on the radio. The phenomenon of synaesthesia was especially captivating to the French Decadent and Symbolist poems, and of course it emerged again when LSD became popular in sixties.

I would imagine there's someone out there who "hears" writing.

I wrote something about this in my horror story The Bungalow House, although it was restricted to hearing a voice reading the writing. Most fiction, however, is written NOT to be heard. If the reader starts to become aware of the language in any way, they just tune out and look for a book that sounds like the voice of someone they could possibly have a conversation with. King is a great example of this.

That leads to this question: Are you a fan of audio books?

I don't drive much anymore, so I don't have any use for audio books. And
when I did drive a couple hours a day, it never occurred to me that I might enjoy listening to one. I can't imagine why anyone would listen to an audio book if they weren't blind or didn't drive long distances. One of my stories, Alice's Last Adventure, was read by a soap opera actress as part of a series of audio tapes based on the horror anthology Prime Evil. She did a nice job--better than I could have done. I received a couple free copies of the audio tapes made for that anthology, but I never listened to the others. I didn't read the stories either.

How much of an influence did the Decadents have on your work?

The Decadents were an extension of Poe. He was the writer who, through the translations of Baudelaire and others in France, really legitimized morbidity as a literary subject as well as a worldview. The French already had a tradition of cynicism, morbidity, and pessimism from the eighteenth-century works of authors like Sade, Chamfort, and La Rochefoucauld. I believe that this made them receptive to Poe's anti-life-affirming genius. He not only appealed to the negative spirit in French writers, but he did it with consummate artistry and technique, which are essential to transmitting one's attitudes. If Poe had been a bad writer, nobody would have taken notice of him. Even though there already existed a philosophical tradition of morbidity and pessimism going back to the Greeks in the Western tradition, it wasn't until Poe came along that poets and fiction writers could feel free to express these feelings in literary works. Take the first couple sentences of "Berenice"--"MISERY is manifold. The wretchedness of earth is multiform." Who in earlier Western literature would have dared to open a short story in this manner except perhaps for the purposes of parody? Poe's authority in the literary sphere inspired others throughout the world to align themselves with him under the same black flag. In the United States, it wasn't much of leap from Poe's declaration in "Berenice" to Lovecraft's opening of "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family"--"Life is a hideous thing . . . ." This is the form of Decadence that has always interested me--the freedom, after thousands of years under the whip of uplifting religions and the tyrannical politics of the positive--which are nothing more than a means for crowd control--to speak to others who in their hearts could no longer lie to themselves about what they thought concerning the value, or rather lack of value, of human life.

What are your favourite Lovecraft stories?

I like his early stories best: "The Music of Erich Zann," "The Festival," "Dagon," "Arthur Jermyn," "Nyarlathotep," and so on.

Do you think that a Lovecraftian world-view can be expressed with a more minimal prose style or without elements of the supernatural?

Sure. Beckett's prose comes close to that description, especially his short fiction like Texts for Nothing and The Lost Ones. And Endgame presents a nice vision of a post-human, post-history world.

Do you still write longhand?

I started writing on a computer when I was working on My Work Is Not Yet Done. I hate typing and knew that MWINYD would be the longest thing I'd written. So I word-processed it.

[On being edited - How he's dealt with editors; if editors have had significant impact on the final versions of the stories, etc...]

Nobody at magazines or book publishers has edited anything for a long time. It slows down production and costs time and money. If I don't find the typos or grammatical screw-ups, they don't get found. Someone editing an anthology will read your story to see if he wants to buy it. But that's the last time it gets read until it hits the bookshelves. The case is different with big-name writers. Someone will read their stuff to keep it from being released in state that's more embarrassing than it needs to be.

It (editing) is also something I think a lot of aspiring writers seem to overlook.

Nabokov was once asked about the role of editors in the production of his books. He replied, in his usual haughty way, "You mean those people who go through a manuscript and look for typos." He was obviously talking about proofreaders, but his point was clear--"I'm too great a writer to need an editor." But if you read some of his books closely, you can see that they could have used some editing.

By the way, how do you feel about animals?

It depends on the animal. Like most people, I have a natural affection for small, furry mammals. Otherwise, I don't think too much about animals. I know in an abstract way that animals are gruesomely mistreated for the purposes of human beings and believe it would be one of the glories of our species if we could refrain from continuing this practice, whether it be for food or scientific advancement.


Literature Is Entertainment Or It it Nothing: An Interview With Thomas Ligotti
By: Neddal Ayad
(Originally appeared at Fantastic Metropolis, Oct. 31, 2004 - http://www.fantasticmetropolis.com/i/ligotti/)

Thomas Ligotti is North America’s pre-eminent writer of weird horror fiction. His work has appeared in dozens of magazines and anthologies. In 1997, his collection The Nightmare Factory won the Bram Stoker Award for Best Fiction Collection. “The Red Tower,” a story in The Nightmare Factory, won the Bram Stoker Award for Best Long Fiction. His novella “My Work Is Not Yet Done” won the 2002 Bram Stoker Award for Best Long Fiction and the 2002 International Horror Guild Award, Long Form category.

His most recent works are the screenplay Crampton (2003), the chapbook Sideshow and Others (2003), and the poetry collection Death Poems (2004). An intensely private person, Mr. Ligotti usually lets his work speak for itself. This interview was conducted throughout July, August and early September 2004. I would like to thank Matt Cardin for facilitating this interview, and would point to two excellent web sites devoted to Mr. Ligotti’s work: Thomas Ligotti Online and The Art of Grimscribe.

Do you read much non-fiction? If so, what sort of non-fiction appeals to you?

I’m completely indifferent to what genre I read provided that I feel in sympathy with how a writer perceives being alive in the world. For instance, I just finished reading an essay called “The Last Messiah” by the Norwegian philosopher Peter Wessel Zapffe. It was written the 1930s and is the only work by Zapffe to be translated into English. In Zapffe’s view, human beings in general and human consciousness in particular are a mistake of nature and that the human species should stop reproducing as soon as possible in order to put an end to the tragic horror of our lives as conscious beings who spend all our time deceiving ourselves that life is worth living. This is a very concise statement of the sort of attitude that I find in authors who have most attracted my interest, including Schopenhauer, Lovecraft, E. M. Cioran, and certain Buddhist writers.

In an interview with Thomas Wagner for THE ART OF THE GRIMSCRIBE website, you stated that, "Let’s say it once and for all: Poe and Lovecraft—not to mention a Bruno Schulz or a Frank Kafka—were what the world at large would consider extremely disturbed individuals. And most people who are that disturbed are not able to create works of fiction. These and other names I could mention are people who are just on the cusp of total psychological derangement. Sometimes they cross over and fall into the province of "outsider artists." That’s where the future development of horror fiction lies—in the next person who is almost too emotionally and psychologically damaged to live in the world but not too damaged to produce fiction."

Who, in your opinion, are some modern (say post-WWII) writers that fall into that category?

I can’t think of any post-World War II writers in the horror genre that fit that description.

I wasn't thinking in terms of horror writing in particular. I meant fiction in general. I'm sure that a lot of writers not considered "horror" writers now, will be retroactively assigned to the category.

I can't think of a case of an author being retroactively demoted to the genre of horror. Poe was solidly in the Gothic tradition that was more than 50 years old before he was born.

Do you consider yourself a horror writer? I see your writing and the writing of some of your contemporaries, DF Lewis and Mark Samuels come to mind, as forming part of a continuum of the weird, but not necessarily what most people thing of as horror writing that has its roots in (on this side of the pond) in Poe and Lovecraft.

It's interesting you should mention the above two authors, because I had considered mentioning them with respect to this question. However, I don't know enough about either of them to pronounce them as troubled in the sense that Poe and Lovecraft were. Lewis has a family, something that pretty much disqualifies him from the degree of alienation required to be included in the group of authors I mentioned, none of whom were breeders.

As for whether or not I consider myself a horror writer, I would assert, for better or worse, that I'm one of the few living individuals who actually is a

What is it about novels that turns you off? That novels need morals?

Something like that. People will accept a short horror story that ends badly. They won't accept this in a horror novel . . . not after they've read so many hundreds of pages. Horror stories in the short form are like campfire tales or urban legends that are just a way of saying "Boo." They have nothing to do with the real world in the minds of most readers. Nevertheless, I think there's a great potential in horror fiction that isn't easily available to realistic fiction. This is the potential to portray our worst nightmares, both private and public, as we approach death through the decay of our bodies. And then to leave it at that—no happy endings, no apologias, no excuses, no redemption, no escape.

Some horror writers have done this consistently, but not very many. I've been entertained the works of these writers—it's all show business after all—and beyond that I've felt a momentary satisfaction that someone could be so audacious as to speak ill of the precious gift of life when we're all brainwashed from childhood never to utter a discouraging word. Of course, it's not really possible to avoid affirming life, even when you're writing a horror story defaming it. The act of writing is an affirmation, as is the act of suicide. Both are vital and idealistic gestures. Joseph Conrad said that he shunned the supernatural because it wasn't necessary to depict the horror of existence. I wish he hadn't. Because the supernatural is the metaphysical counterpart of insanity—the best possible vehicle for conveying the uncanny nightmare of a conscious mind marooned for a brief while in this haunted house of a world and being slowly driven mad by the ghastliness of it all. Not the man's-inhumanity-to-man sort of thing, but a necessary derangement, a high order of weirdness and of desolation built in to the system in which we all function. Its emblem is the empty and inexplicable malignity that some of us see in the faces of dolls, manikins, puppets, and the like. The faces of so many effigies of our own shape, made by our own hands and minds, seem to be our way of telling ourselves that we know a secret that is too terrible to tell. The horror writer has the best chance of expressing something of that secret. It's really a lost opportunity, or perhaps a blessing, that so few take advantage of this potential that lies in horror fiction. Instead, they do the opposite: they discover all the secrets . . . and how trivial they are. A stake through the heart. A silver bullet. An exorcism. We win. All is well. Nighty-night.

Do you see your writing as necessarily subversive?

Fiction can't be subversive. If the reader feels threatened, then he'll stopped reading. The reader will only continue reading if he is being entertained. Subversion in any art form is impossible. Even nonfiction can't be subversive. It may be used to serve some person or group's preconceived purposes, usually to gain power, but its ideas will be recast and deliberately skewed. Freud, Marx, and all religious doctrines are obvious examples of this.

I ask because the view has been put forward that horror writing is necessarily conservative.

Bestselling horror fiction is indeed necessarily conservative because it must entertain a large number of readers. It's like network television. I'm your local cable access station.

Have you read any SF at all? Philip K. Dick seems like someone whose work would appeal to you.

From what I had read about Dick's fiction, I wanted to like it and so I read The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, which seemed a good place to start. I think it would make a great movie, as a number of Dick's books and short stories have, but I couldn't stand Dick's pulpy prose style. There's no doubt that the man had a formidable imagination, but so do a lot of writers.

As for science fiction in general, my only other experience with the genre was in a college course devoted to it. The first thing we read was a story called "Affair with a Green Monkey" by Theodore Sturgeon, which turned out to be a sociological fable about an alien with a really large penis. The next thing we read was Ursula Le Guin's Left Hand of Darkness. That was also a sociological fable. I got to about page twenty of Le Guin's novel and decided that if I wanted to read sociology I would take a class in it. So I dropped the science fiction course.

Has your move to Florida had any influence on your writing?

Not at all.

I seem to call that in another interview you said that the idea of being anywhere "south" repulsed you. You really can't get much further south in the U.S. than Florida. What changed your mind?

Personal circumstances. I still loathe warm climates and the societies, not to mention the sickening flora and fauna, that breed in such places. When the German filmmaker Werner Herzog was filming Fitzcarraldo in the Amazon, he commented on the location by saying, “There is a harmony here, but it is the harmony of collective murder. Even the stars look like a mess.”

Looking back at your time in Detroit, how much of an impact did the city have on your work? Has there been anything that's jumped out at you since leaving that you might not have noticed or may have taken for granted during your time there?

I was born in Detroit, but I aside from my earliest childhood years I didn’t live there. I grew up in an upper-class suburb that bordered on Detroit. However, during high school in the 1960s I spent some time hanging out in dope houses in Detroit’s ghettos, and I worked in downtown Detroit for 23 years. I always enjoyed the spectacle of abandoned, decaying, and burned-out buildings and houses. In my first horror story to see publication, “The Chymist,” I tried to express my fascination with this world of ruins. This also applies to a lesser extent to my short novel "My Work Is Not Yet Done", which is set in an unnamed city patterned after Detroit. The wallpaper on my computer is a photograph of an abandoned house on Detroit’s east side. In many of my stories, I’ve tried to articulate an aesthetic of decay in both small towns and cities. I equate decline and decrepitude with a kind of serenity, a tranquil abandonment of the illusions of the future.

What's your writing process?

If I’m writing, I start work as soon as I wake up, and really before I’m fully awake.

In his book "Fiction" author/editor Michael Siedman wrote that he thought younger writers were shortchanging themselves by not doing longhand or typewritten drafts and then retyping them into the computer. Any thoughts?

There's a lot of truth to that. I found that I edited myself as I wrote in longhand, and then I edited myself again when I typed or keyed the manuscript. The latter was an important step in learning to edit my own writing that's lost if you start off keying your work directly to the computer.

You've stated that several of your stories had their beginnings in dreams (or nightmares.) You've also stated that you have taken anti-depressants. Certain classes of those drugs have been known to amplify, intensify, or alter dreams. Did they have that effect on you and if so, do you think it had any influence on the stories.

I’ve had vivid nightmares for as long as I can remember. Some of the antidepressants I’ve taken have intensified my dreams and some of them have dulled them. It depends on what chemicals in the brain they’re designed to effect. In general, I would say that taking a significant daily dosage of any antidepressant is more likely to diminish one’s creative urges, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Aside from myself, I know people who take these drugs, and I’ve read posts from people in the depression and suicide newsgroups, who have said the same thing. It’s not that antidepressants have a normalizing or emotionally beneficial action that accounts for this phenomenon—would that this were true. The anti-creative effect is primarily due to the fact that antidepressants flatten out one’s emotions and scramble one’s thought processes. You lose the concentration and impulse required to write or draw or play an instrument. This is true of people who are genuinely depressed. A lot of people who don’t really need to take antidepressants, and the drug companies wouldn’t be raking in the money if there weren’t plenty of these, feel energized by taking relatively small dose of an antidepressant.

You're extraordinarily frank in your discussion of depression and its effect on your quality of life. It's something that a lot of people still seem to consider taboo.

Mental illness will remain taboo until it becomes universal. Not that it isn't already universal from a certain perspective. But the very existence of the mentally and emotionally perturbed is a genuine threat to the socioeconomic system in which we are imprisoned. If you're going to be crazy, your craziness better take the same form as that of your boss, the law-enforcement authorities, and the president of the United States. Otherwise, you are screwed.

Have you ever written anything that you consider too dark or too heavy to publish?

No, but I’ve conceived of stories that were just too disturbing for me to write. If you can write something, then it’s only so disturbing. Anything truly disturbing can’t even be written. Even if it could, no one could stand to read it. And writing is essentially a means of entertainment for both the writer and the reader. I don’t care who the writer is—literature is entertainment or it is nothing. Some readers would object and point to someone like Lautremont’s "Les Chants De Maldoror." If they want to see it that way, it’s fine with me. Who am I deny someone their demonic heroes? No one has that much credibility in the history of humanity, nor ever will.

You started using light drugs at a relatively young age. What was the attraction?

That seems like such a strange question to me. Essentially you seem to be asking, “Why would someone want to feel better than they normally feel?” I can understand why some people might have an aversion to drugs and alcohol due to unfortunate experiences in their childhood with drug-using or alcoholic relatives . . . or because they have a fear of losing control . . . or even because they’re lucky enough not to feel the need to alter median emotional state. But none of these was the case with me. Nor do they seem to be the case with the human race in general. There seems to be an inborn drive in all human beings not to live in a steady emotional state, which would suggest that such a state is not tolerable to most people. Why else would someone succumb to the attractions of romantic love more than once? Didn’t they learn their lesson the first time or the tenth time or the twentieth time? And it’s the same old lesson: everything in this life—I repeat, everything—is more trouble than it’s worth. And simply being alive is the basic trouble. This is something that is more recognized in Eastern societies than in the West. There’s a minor tradition in Greek philosophy that instructs us to seek a state of equanimity rather than one of ecstasy, but it never really caught on for obvious reasons. Buddhism advises its practitioners not to seek highs or lows but to follow a middle path to personal salvation from the painful cravings of the average sensual life, which is why it was pretty much reviled by the masses and mutated into forms more suited to human drives and desires. It seems evident that very few people can simply sit still. Children spin in circles until they collapse with dizziness.

Through art, either as creators or consumers, people are transported into other realms of consciousness. This seems harmless enough . . . until the art is taken away. Everyone takes it for granted that they can always fall back on art. But talk to a writer who can no longer write. Or witness the spectacle of a musician or a music lover who suffers from chronic pain or depression and is no longer capable of escaping into their beloved world of sound. Then there are infirm athletes who can no longer avail themselves of the adrenalin rush they once received on a regular basis. And all these methods are mere candy when it comes to getting high. As the saying goes, candy is dandy but liquor is quicker. Drugs, of course, are the quickest of all. The fact that they, too, are more trouble than they’re worth as much due to legal and societal sanctions against them as it is to their primary effects.

Had you not suffered the panic attacks, do you think you would have continued to use street drugs?

That’s almost a certainty. After the initial onset of my panic-anxiety disorder, there was a period of several years in which I recovered sufficiently to be able to drink alcohol, and during my early college years I got blasted almost every night, and many days, while working two jobs and putting myself through school. Then I crashed into a four-year depression and a roaring return of my anxiety-panic disorder. This was possibly as much due to the stress of work and school as it was from alcohol. Since then I’ve lived the chemical life only in the form of prescription tranquilizers and antidepressants. These allow me to function as a taxpaying citizen but not much more.

If so, do you think it would have altered your career path?

I’ve never had a career path. After I stopped taking drugs and drinking, I turned to literature as my escape. I gained enough skills from this pursuit to land a job at a publishing company where I worked for twenty-three years, but I never sought an editorial career. It came along quite by chance.

You mentioned earlier that a bad drug-related experience was a forecast of your anxiety-panic disorder. Do you think your drug use precipitated the onset of your panic/anxiety disorder and depression?

That’s possible. Then again, there’s a definite history in my family of these conditions.

What's your take on artists (in the general sense) who play up mild cases of depression and use it as an excuse for acting out?

It does seem that every writer who has ever been the least bit wacky in the head has written an essay, sometimes even a bestselling book, about their experience. This is just what writers do, and these days there's a demand for this genre. Scott Fitzgerald wrote "The Crack-Up," and Tolstoy wrote A Confession. These probably wouldn't go over very well in today's market because they're not exotically cute in the manner of the book on which the movie Girl, Interrupted was based. The author of that book started a campaign against benzodiazepines--tranquilizers--that continues to this day. Without tranquilizers, I would exist in unending nightmare, as would millions of other people who have panic-anxiety disorder, a condition that is often comorbid with depression.

Can you write during a depressive episode?

I could in the seventies. I can't now. It beats me how I did it back then. I was both dysphoric and anhedonic. I do remember that I really wanted to write about what it was like to be in that state. But most of it is just a blank.

The first story I wrote that I thought was good enough not to throw away, "The Last Feast of Harlequin," was inspired by my depression of 1975-78.

Were you surprised by the reaction to MY WORK IS NOT YET DONE?

I was gratified that I won two awards for the book and that the first edition sold out as quickly as it did. But the book really wasn't widely reviewed because it was published by a small press, so I'm really not aware of what the reaction to MWINYD has been in terms of readers' opinions. For all I know, everyone who read the book hated it. Certainly a number of people, including the guy who interviewed me for Publishers Weekly, saw it as my attempt to appeal to a larger audience. How much larger--a thousand people as opposed to a couple hundred? Geez, if I really wanted to cash in on that book, I would have made it three times as long and not had the protagonist kill himself at the end. I would also have left out the esoteric philosophical aspects of the story, which to my mind were what justified its writing in the first place. Furthermore, it was on the Thomas Ligotti Online website, where anyone could read it for free, for six months before it came out in book form.

Did you get any response from your coworkers or employers?

I had published "The Nightmare Network" years before MWINYD, and, so I'm told, this story made some of my coworkers, as well as my boss, a bit nervous. Unfortunately, by the time "My Work…" was published I had quit my job and so I wasn't around to appreciate any reaction to it. I understand that people at my old work place were reading it as a roman a clef and trying to figure out who in the company the characters were based on. In fact, none of them were based on my coworkers, although the narrator was based on me.

Are there any plans for a trade paperback version?

Not at the moment.

You've professed an admiration for Raymond Chandler. Are you attracted to any other crime writing?

No. I liked Chandler because his prose style kept me from falling asleep. There aren't many writers about whom I can say that. I couldn't care less about detective or noir fiction.

What's the status of the "Crampton" and "Last Feast Of Harlequin" screenplays?

They were officially released to potential buyers over the past year or so by the agency representing Brandon Trenz and me. There was some interest. Brandon even made a trip to LA to talk to some people. This is pretty standard, so I'm not holding my breath or anything. Recently our agent sent out a number of copies of "My Work Is Not Yet Done." Again, no breath holding. I'm not being pessimistic, but eveyone has a sense of how Hollywood works. It's not like publishing. If you write a good story or poem, someone is sure to publish it because it doesn't cost that much to do so and it's easier to judge how a story or poem is going to be received by an audience than it is a screenplay, which is really just a sketch of an idea for a movie.

Given the choice, who would you like to see direct?

I don't follow directors. Actors interest me, but not directors or screenwriters or even director-screenwriters. I think the craft of filmmaking is 90% acting. I just finished listening to the commentary track on the DVD of "Catch-22." Steven Soderberg was chatting with the director Mike Nichols. Neither of them seemed to know or care anything about the story, probably because that was Buck Henry's job as screenwriter, or rather adaptor, of Joseph Heller's novel. So many, if not most, good movies have a book behind them. Anyway, Soderberg just kept saying, "That's a really nice shot." And Nichols kept talking about the guy who photographed the movie. Nichols gave some credit to the actors but was not as concerned about them, by his own admission, as he was about cinematic technique in that particular film. Damn, that movie probably had more terrific actors in it than any other in film history.

Do you have to get into a different headspace to write for the screen?

There are obviously differences between film and fiction, and to some people these differences mean everything. But it seems to me that film is just another form of fiction, just as comic books are another form of fiction. The images in both film and comic books exist primarily to orient the reader or viewer to the setting and to let him know which character in the story is speaking at any given point. Without those basic elements of location and dialogue, movie aren't movies, which is to say that they're not fiction. Then they become pure images and function more or less as documents in the manner of photography. So I think that while movies may have aspects to them that distinguish them from fiction--preeminently acting and music--there aren't in any important ways in which they differ from fiction. Alfred Hitchcock thought that movies resembled short stories rather than novels. I think that this is a brilliant observation that has largely been ignored by critics and movie fans. The first thing a screenwriter needs to do when adapting a novel is to strip it down to its plot and major characters. In the case of popular novels, this is always a good thing because it saves the consumer of the story from having to suffer through all those boring patches that pad out a thriller, a horror novel, a spy novel, or whatever. In the case of more sophisticated novels, the movie has to settle for being a different creature entirely from the book, which it can't hope to render as well as genre novels. But movies can potentially deliver an excellent rendering of a short story, specifically that long short story known as a novella. I don't think it's a coincidence that screenplays and novellas are in the same range as far as word count is concerned--something around 20 to 30 thousand words. An outstanding example of novella-to-screen is "Apocalypse Now", which comes as close as any movie I've seen to rivaling its source material, Conrad's novella "Heart of Darkness." Of course, without "Heart of Darkness" there would be no "Apocalypse Now." And, when it comes down to it, "Apocalypse Now" suffers upon subsequent viewing because, like all films, its images grow overly familiar and lose their effect, whereas this doesn't occur with Conrad's "Heart of Darkness", or any other classic literary work. None of this is to argue for the artistic superiority of literature over film, since both ultimately function as a means of passing time for their consumers and of making a living or a name for their creators. As Blaise Pascal wrote, all human troubles derive from our inability to sit still and alone in a room. But, of course, we live in a world where this is impossible except in rare instances. We're born into a society that encourages us to distract ourselves with such things as movies and books, then we have them forced upon us in schools and by other people, and we're never allowed to have a clue that there might be some other way to exist other than having our brains constantly stimulated and operating like popcorn machines even when afforded the leisure to function, or at least try to function, in a way that would bring us face to face with the inescapable troubles of existence and perhaps enable us to deal with those troubles by more effective means than those offered by the entertainment industry. I see no necessary reason for humanity not to have followed this path, so I have to assume that we never had any idea where our best interests lay. Individually, as well as in superficially diverse yet tediously similar groups, humans are just not the whip-smart life form that we suppose ourselves to be. I don't think that Pascal meant that we should sit still and alone in a room every second of our lives. After all, someone had to build that room, and the person sitting in it needs to eat. But beyond attaining food and shelter, our species has pursued a range of activities every one which always comes back to bite us in the ass. Let's just say it--human beings are the most retarded organisms on planet Earth. So put another movie in the DVD player and pass the popcorn.

In another interview you mentioned that you liked stills from the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari better than the film itself and that you like Lovecraft's description of THE KING IN YELLOW better than the actual story. Is this something that happens a lot?

Of course. Just think of all the trailers you've seen for upcoming movies that are so much better than the movies themselves.

Have you ever had any trouble switiching between your editorial work and your writing?

Not until I started making a living as a freelance editor. Now there's no switching to speak of. After finishing the work I do to earn a living, I don't have much energy or motivation to do anything but sleep. I've never worked harder in my life. But at least I don't have to work in an office under insane rules of management. That's a big plus in this modern world. I don't think I could make it through an interview for an office job--or a job of any kind--without breaking out in mad laughter. I'm simply no longer fit to be part of the American working world.

Have any recent works, in any media, influenced or impacted your writing?

No. A couple years ago, I tried to imagine how I could replicate in language the effect of certain music. But I found that it just isn't possible. At least not for me.

Who are some of your favourite artists?

You mean visual artists? I have what I would call a tin eye for the visual arts. I appreciate the talents of certain artists like Alfred Kubin or horror illustrators like Harry Morris or Jason Van Hollander. But I can look at visual images for only about thirty seconds before I get bored.

Have you attempted other modes of writing other than horror or weird fiction?

Absolutely not.

Is there something tangible about a writer's style that holds your interest or is more of an instinctual thing?

Style in literature is incredibly misunderstood. Most people think of it at the level of pure language and view the poles of literary style as ranging from the dry, impersonal narratives of popular novelists to the juicy, lyrical style of experimental and "artistic" writers like Nabokov, Lovecraft, Bruno Schulz, and so on. I'm really interested in style exclusively as an expression of a peculiar kind of consciousness as opposed to the mere gaudy use of language. I mean, Ronald Firbank and James Branch Cabell wrote with tons of what people usually consider style--with verbal flourishes and curlicues all over the place--but I don't care about their works because I don't share their rather whimsical, even if sometimes cynical, view of the world. Style is the intersection between an author's choice of subject matter and what he does with that subject manner. This is what reflects a writer's consciousness and therefore his style. For example, compare two examples of novels of possession --"The Exorcist" and "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward." In the world of Blatty's novel, certain characters are set up for doom and others for salvation. In the end, good wins the battle over evil. The two priests die good deaths while trying to save Regan's soul, so that's okay. The film director who is murdered by the demonically possessed Regan is a not a terribly sympathetic character, so it really doesn't matter what happens to him. He serves the function of a killable character that won't upset the reader too much. This is the sort of style that readers prefer. After some scary things happen, they want to be reassured that ultimately everything is all right with human life.

In Lovecraft's autobiographical novel, the whole universe is in the hands of forces that are indifferent to human life, just as it is in the real world. Good and evil have no objective reality, just as it is in the real world. And the idea of human beings as creatures with souls, whatever those are, is ludicrous. Everyone, especially the hapless protagonist of the book, exists in the shadow of a world that is pure nightmare through and through.

Lovecraft doesn't want to take you on an emotional roller-coaster ride, at the end of which he tells you to watch your step as your car slows down and you settle back onto steady ground. He wants to shoot your brain into the blackness of the void, whence it will never return. The interesting part is that both Blatty and Lovecraft are perfectly sincere about the worldview that underlies their individual styles. The difference is that Blatty really believes in the supernatural powers on which he based his novel, and so do most readers, not to mention most people in the Western world. This allows him to write in a way that will appeal to a wide audience. He doesn't need to strain the bounds of language to draw readers into his story. Everybody already lives there. In fact, his readers would be put off by any excellence in the use of language or breaking of the rules of mass-market fiction.

On the other hand, Lovecraft can't avoid the demands of expressive language and the shattering of conventional thought because his is a rare vision--which, of course, has nothing to do with the supernatural--that is shared by very few people. And in order to give that vision power he must use words in a powerful and inventive manner. And that is why "The Exorcist" bored me and "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" didn't. It's a matter of the reader's style as much as it is the writer's.

Has the internet had any impact on your writing?

The online Merriam-Webster dictionary makes it easier to look up words that I want to spell correctly. Otherwise, no.

Were you surprised when fan sites started popping up?

Writers are egoists. The only thing that surprises them is when they DON'T command the attention of fans or win awards or have editors begging to publish their work.

Do you read the academic work that's been done on your stories?

It doesn't take long to read what's been written about my horror stories, and indeed I've read it.

Do you ever get the urge to write something pseudonymously about your own work?

No. Why would I?

Curiosity. Contrariness.

I think I see what you mean. It would be a chance to say things about my own stories that wouldn't occur to other people

By the way, I have you on the "never tried other modes of writing" thing. I would say that "Masquerade of a Dead Sword" is definitely a fantasy in the vein of Fritz Lieber or Michael Moorcock.

That was the only story that I was commissioned to write. I had just started getting published and Jessica Salmonson asked me to write a story for her sequel anthology to Heroic Visions. Otherwise, I would never have written that story. Since then, I've been asked to write stories for theme anthologies but I've always turned down the offer.

I saw a line from one of your notebooks on the The Art of Grimscribe site where you wrote something like, "I wonder what creatures such as Lovecraft's Brown Jenkin think and feel." I'd like to see a story written from the point of view of a Deep One.

"The Shadow over Innsmouth" approaches that toward the end and leaves it to the reader to feel it as a horrific or a happy ending. "The Outsider" also provides a "monster's" perspective. If a corpse can tell a story, I don't see why a Deep One couldn't.

Lovecraft never really gave them any motivation for wanting to mate with humans.

I assumed that it was to give the Deep Ones the ability to walk on land and, ultimately, take over the world. That sounds kind of hacky, but Lovecraft could be quite hacky sometimes, as can we all.

You mentioned that "The Chymist"| was your first published story. How long had you been writing before your first publication?

About six years with the unceasing fever to learn my craft, and a few years of dabbling before that.

Have your thoughts on horror literature changed since you wrote "Professor Nobody's Little Lectures On Supernatural Horror" and "The Consolations Of Horror?"

Not in the least. My thoughts on life in general haven't really changed since I was a teenager and first began to reflect on the world.

One of your stories that rarely gets mentioned, but strikes me as one of your creepiest is The Troubles Of Dr. Thoss. How did that story come about?

The main character is hypochondriac, as was I at the time I wrote the story. I based the character's artwork on that of Harry Morris. His first name, Alb, shotr for Alban, was used because Harry lives in Albuquerque. The rest of it is based on my own fears and sickness and delirious dreams of a cure that will be worse than the disease, which in this case was my panic-anxiety disorder. I also wanted the main character to be pursuing a form of horror art, a pursuit that is the path to his undoing. I've never really had any faith in the imagination or creativity as means of purging oneself of demons but more as a degenerate pastime. I'm definitely not a believer in art as a curative catharsis.

I also expressed my atheism in the imagination as salvation in my story "The Spectacles in the Drawer." Some people call me a nihilist, but my story "The Illusion of Order" makes it clear that I don't believe in nihilism either.

I believe that both THE COCOONS and THE BUNGALOW HOUSE had their genesis in dreams? Are they related in any other way?

Actually, both "The Cocoons" and "The Bungalow House" are related by their being set in my imaginary version of Detroit. I was living in a place with a lot of cockroaches at the time. I really don't mind cockroaches except when they run at you out of nowhere. Nevertheless, I find the lower life forms in the collective a constant reminder of the grotesque nature of this world. It's more their mechanical behavior as feeders, fuckers, and fighters than their appearance. They're really a perfect parallel to human beings, except that they act without all the illusory rationalizations. This is what makes them so hideous--the fact that they are us. I've had many dreams in which humans are reduced, or reduce others, to insectoid creatures and then consume them. I don't know what the hell that means.

If you believe some of the psychiatric literature it means that you're deeply disturbed.

I've never put much stock in dreams, even though it might seem that I do. And what could be more disturbed than the twisted theories that psychologists have proffered for over a hundred years now? Jorge Luis Borges said that philosophy should be classified as a branch of fantastic literature. I would say the same about psychology.

This is verbatim from my notebook, "Themes: Loss of control. Loss of control through/of dreams. Dreams as a backdoor. Dreams usurped. Skyscrapers. Mobs. Why so many Dr.'s, Ms.'s, Misses, Mr.'s? The colour yellow." Comment please.

I never notice any of that stuff until someone points it out to me. It was years before I realized how many of my characters were named Dr. Something. Like most people, I've had dreams in which I can't control my body, whether I'm trying to run from something or simply throw a ball. I'm not aware of my use of the color yellow. Now that you mention it, yellow does feel to me like the color of disease and decay. Maybe that's a holdover from my days as fanatic of decadent literature reading the early issues of the Yellow Book.

Did you keep your early, not-ready-for-publication, stories?

No. I destroyed them all. Dozens of them. They were pretty bad.

Do your stories share a common geography? For example, I get the feeling that "I Have A Special Plan For This World", "The Night School", and The Shadow At The Bottom Of The World" all take place in the same region with "The Night School" and "I Have A Special Plan…" being set in different parts of the same city and "The Shadow…" being set in a farming community in the area just outside the city.

I've been obsessed with the settings of my stories since I began writing. I knew that I didn't want to use actual places and place names for the most part. At the same time, I didn't want to invent fictional settings that paralled actual places or worlds that were wholly fantastic and scrupulously detailed like those of Mervyn Peake or James Branch Cabell. But I especially didn't want the burden of trying to emulate reality. I don't know much about reality in the conventional sense anyway--I can't remember things the way realistic writers seem so adept at doing. I've been agoraphobic since I was 17, so I haven't seen much of the world. And I really deplore research as stage in writing fiction. What I wanted, ultimately, was to set my stories in places as I saw them in my imagination rather than describing them from personal observation. So, in the sense that my stories are set in my head rather than in any detailed world either real or fantastic, I suppose they are all part of the same geography.

Many of the characters or presences in your stories have striking names, Dr. Locrian, Miss Plarr, Dahla D., etc... Where do you look for inspiration when naming your characters? I'm going to take a wild guess that "Locrian" comes from the locrian mode?

You got it. The "darkest" mode. I took two years of music theory in college, which demonstrates that these names can come from anywhere. Plarr is borrowed from the surname of the 1890s poet Victor Plarr. Dahla D. is a typical Nabokovian name. A lot of the names I use signify the nothingness of the character who bears the name and have the word "no" buried in them. That's stolen from Beckett. Dr. Thoss was used in two stories and is taken from the abbreviation of my own name.

You've done some translations. From what to what?

One short story and several poems from French. The short story was based on the Ripper murders and was possibly one of the first on that subject, having appeared in the Mercure de France in 1888, although it was supernatural. The poems were from obscure French decadent poets in obscure French decadent journals.

Your story "Alice's Last Adventure" features one of your rare female narrators. Do you have any difficulty writing from the point of view of a female character?

“Alice’s Last Adventure” was a special case. The character wasn’t presented as significantly female, just as my male characters aren’t presented as significantly male in a socially conventional manner. She was an elderly, alcoholic writer of spooky children’s stories. I thought this was the best way to approach a story inspired by Carroll’s Alice books. It never occurred to me before or since to write a horror story from the viewpoint of a female character. Anyway, I don’t think there are too many writers who would have a problem doing a story from the perspective of someone outside their personal experience, especially if it’s just a genre story.

Incidently, do you notice much of a gender split in your readership?

It's pretty much all maladjusted guys with advanced university degrees, although their are some outstanding female exceptions with advanced degrees and literary talents. They're not what people think of as nerds living in their parents' basements. The ones with whom I've been in contact over the years live far more normal lives than I do. In any case, I'd like to put in a good word for nerds living in their parents' basement--they're an undeservedly maligned subculture that I'm proud to count among my readers if they're out there.

Finally, I'm going to give you a list of authors who you have stated were influential on your writing or whose work you admire. I wonder if, for each, you'd talk about one work that you either consider their best, or if not their best, the most influential on your own work…

H.P. Lovecraft:

So many writers have alluded to the insignificance of the human race in a dizzyingly inscrutable universe ruled by forces incomprehensible to our species. They make these allusions, whether they're to the fates or the gods or whatever, and then move on to tell their story on the level of a soap opera. For example, Macbeth has a moment of revelation that life is a tale told by an idiot. This realization, however, in no way prevents him from moving on with the plot of the play, which is simply the story of an up-and-coming gangster who kills his boss and takes over the business, only to be brought to justice in the end. But for Lovecraft, unlike Shakespeare, the revelation of life as an idiot's tale is the alpha and omega of his work. He doesn't just pay passing lip service to what is the most profound and obvious fact of life--he makes it the core of his work. At the heart of it all is a blind idiot "god," whether it's designated as Azathoth or the Colour out of Space or the groaning blackness looming beyond the Rue d'Auseil in "The Music of Erich Zann." To me, it was in "Erich Zann" that Lovecraft came up with the perfect model of horror story.

The subjective world of the nervously afflicted narrator becomes blurred with the objective world of the musician Zann, who seems to be battling to keep at bay unfathomable forces that would destroy the tenous order of an already crooked, creaking world as represented by the decayed and architecturally unsound Rue d'Auseil. It is suggestive horror at its best. To some extent "Erich Zann" resembles Algernon Blackwood's "The Willows," where the menacing forces are as nameless and overwhelming as they are in Lovecraft's story. However, Blackwood can't help but have one of the characters in "The Willows" offer possible explanations for the supernatural incidents in the story, referring, I believe, to the "fourth-dimension" or some other realm of reality in which everything would make sense if one could only attain that perspective. Laughably, this character, the Swede, is described as an unimaginative individual. Lovecraft offers no such comfort in "Erich Zann" but only a world of "weird notes," which only work in a literary form—no film could duplicate these harmonic or melodic impossibilites--and a battle that will always be lost against the nightmare that is our lives if we should be so unlucky as to confront it in the tilted, twisting streets that form both our minds and the world in which they are tossed about until they break.

Edgar Allan Poe:

In his Marginalia, Poe offered a simple guideline for any writer who wanted to be renowned, revered, and revolutionary--write a book called My Heart Laid Bare and be true to the title. At the same time, he acknowledged the impossibility of writing such a book because the attempt to do so would destroy the writer. Nevertheless, I believe that underlying Poe's most important works is the mania and the mission to write this book. And no one before or since has come as close as he did to accomplishing this self-destructive feat.

The mere attempt in this direction did gain Poe the reputation and worldwide influence that he so desperately sought, even if he didn't see it in his lifetime. The problem, of course, is that not only did writing My Heart Laid Bare present a threat to the balance and being of the author, it did the same to readers . . . if they would only read the works as Poe meant them to be read. But almost no one has. With a few exceptions, Poe's works have been viewed from a distance that keeps readers safe from their incendiary power.

His morbidity has been dismissed as vulgar or domesticated as ironic. Respectable writers--writers that students and critics unapologetically relish; Henry James, for example--keep their subject matter at arm's length, writing as if through a microscope about the soap opera the spins about them like a merry-go-round. Poe, on the other hand, WAS HIS OWN SUBJECT--not merely in an autobiographical sense but in a profoundly emotional and psychological sense. I don't think that it's overstating the matter to say that Poe was a true literary, and perhaps even evolutionary, mutant. He also encouraged similar mutant qualities in the French Decadents and Symbolists before that generation died out and left us with the tedium of Modernism.

For a time, Lovecraft raised Poe's black and tattered flag, but even Lovecraft's contemporaries never quite caught on to what he was about, let alone the horror writers of subsequent generations. At this point, let me pause a moment and acknowledge the obvious, namely, that my celebration of Poe and Lovecraft, and my derogation of writers who are unlike them, is a pure outpouring of personal temperament . . . and nothing more. I strongly identify with the viewpoint of these two men, which is no excuse for pontificating on their singularity or their genius. The same could be done--and is done all the time--for writers who are quite the opposite of those whose camp I see myself, for better or worse, as inhabiting. Poe and Lovecraft were among the most alienated authors of all time. They were sick and isolated and well outside the mainstream of any society. And they were both well aware of this fact.

As evidence of this assertion, I refer you to Poe's poem "Alone" and Lovecraft's poem "Alienation." To a significant degree, these poems are rather pitiable lamentations of these authors' inability to fully belong to the common mob of humanity. It is an irrational regret, given the nature of any society throughout world history, but who hasn't felt it at some time or another? So I suppose that if Poe and Lovecraft stand out as anything special in course of literature, as well as society, it is an specimens of a deep conflict between the desire to lose themselves in the world, on the one hand, and, on the other, to smash its illusions to tiny, twitching bits.

Vladimir Nabokov:

The unique thing about Nabokov is that he practiced the writing of fiction as a form of sorcery. His novels and stories draw you in with their language and their humor, not to mention his troupe of demented narrators who seem to be descendants of Poe's band of madmen. But behind the language and the humor there is another dimension, a world of a terrible desperation where Nabokov works like a wizard to make the impossible happen right before the readers eyes--specifically, to defeat the limitations of time and space, to recover the losses brought about by the ravaging vicissitudes of one's life and by the course of history itself, and, ultimately, to defeat death.

This is the underworld of Nabokov's works, and it's most obvious and moving in his masterpiece, Lolita, wherein the principal characters, who are declared as dead in the preface to the book, are all brought back to life in quite spectral ways by the writing of the book itself. Of course, the magic doesn't really work, except from a strictly aesthetic perspective, but perhaps that's the deepest meaning of Nabokov's fiction. In commenting about the taboo subject matter of Lolita, which has since become even more taboo, he mentioned two others that at the time were off limits to American writers: that of a successful black-white marriage and that of an atheist who lives a good and purposeful life and dies in his sleep at an advanced age. Nabokov was himself enough of an atheist not to believe in magic of any sort. Lovecraft argued that only a non-believer in the occult could successfully create the thrill of the fantastic and the supernatural—the feeling that all common sense and the apparent order of the world have been overturned—because such a thing was so alien to their view of the world as wholly materialistic. This was a self-serving remark, since Lovecraft himself didn’t believe in any form of the supernatural.

In his book "The Idea of the Holy," Rudolph Otto contends that horror stories provide a kind of low-level spiritual experience, a pale and primitive hint of a full-fledged encounter with the divine as a terrifying and otherworldly force. But Otto was a professional theologian and a Christian, so his ideas, interesting though they are, are as self-serving as Lovecraft’s.

Nabokov’s statement that portraying an atheist as a decent person is a taboo subject in literature betrays his stance as someone who felt atheism to be an unjustly persecuted intellectual posture. On the other side, believers have made frequent declarations to the effect that they are being shoved aside by what they perceive as the dominant forces of secular humanism.

There’s a Canadian scientist who has modified a football helmet so that the brain of its wearer is affected by adjustable magnetic fields that induce a variety of strange sensations, including supernatural experiences. Atheists have used this as evidence to support their position that anyone’s sense of the supernatural is purely subjective, while believers have written books claiming that the magnetic-field emitting football helmet proves the existence of a god who has “hard-wired” itself into our brain.

A whole field of study called neurotheology has developed around this and other laboratory experiments. It really seems that whichever side of the question you come down upon, you’re doomed to be discredited by the other. The value of this dispute for writers of supernatural horror is that it insures the large part of humanity will remain in the state in which it’s always existed—permanent fear. Because no one can ever be certain of his own ontological status in this world, let alone that of gods, demons, prophetic nightmares, alien invaders, and just plain old weird stuff.

Forget about whether or not all the bogymen we’ve invented or divined are real, the big question is this: are we real? This is presently being determined by neuroscientists, who will no doubt contest the answer until the day that human beings cease to walk the earth like so many ghosts in the making.

Thomas Bernhard:

Bernhard’s fiction is captivating for two reasons. First, he uses repetition. Along with metaphor, repetition is the true mark of the literary. It’s also inherently funny. Repetition has this effect in some of the major works of Gertrude Stein, and it’s the same with Bernhard. Second, repetition in Bernhard, unlike in Stein or any other author I can recall, heightens the expression of his intense rage and the creation of his persona as sort of a literary madman. From book to book, Bernhard harps on a particular set of hatreds, including the malign stupidity of doctors, the malign stupidity of the Catholic Church, the malign stupidity of the Austrian government, the malign stupidity of the Austrian people as stand-ins for people everywhere, and the malign stupidity of life itself. Even in his autobiography, especially in his autobiography, he swings his verbal blade at these targets. The wonderful thing is that he never makes the mistake of trying to argue a case against anyone or anything. He and his narrators just spit bile—for example at Heidegger for being a complacent moron or the relatives of his narrators for being complacent morons—and then moves on to another target. You’re either with him on a specific point or you’re not.

He knows that arguments are useless and pathetic. If you’re not fortunate enough to be above having opinions, and almost no one has this luxury, then the only course available to you, the only source of satisfaction, is to attack inspires hate in you. You could also celebrate what inspires admiration or even love, but this doesn’t happen very much in Bernhard. In this sense, he very much resembles E. M. Cioran, whose philosophical essays are an assault on the highest level of the pure crumminess of all creation, a position that has led some commentators to classify him as a latter-day Gnostic—minus any god.

Like Bernhard, Cioran is a consummate stylist, which is a vital quality for any writer whose essential attitude is that of negation. Readers with put up with the sloppiest, most puerile, and intellectually commonplace writer if only he brings them comforting lies. If you have nothing but bad news to offer, then you had better write in a sterling and entertaining manner. Both Lovecraft and Poe have been criticized for writing badly, which in their case means writing in an overly melodramatic style. It’s true that their prose is high-strung to hysterical. It’s also true that if they had not written in this way, nobody would be reading them today. The quality of their writing is precisely the reason that their works have endured. The darkest vision of life requires the most dazzling pyrotechnics of language. Of course, neither Lovecraft nor Poe is in the same literary class as Shakespeare, but Shakespeare’s plays are more tricked up soap operas than a vision of . . . anything. This qualifies in the eyes of some as that wise man of no opinions mentioned above or at least in a league with Stephen Dedalus’s artist-god who stands above creation paring his fingernails. How lofty and yet how human! It must be nice.

Bruno Schulz:

As opposed to Bernhard’s repetition, Schulz exemplifies the other major road to stylistic distinction—that of metaphor. Like Nabokov, he uses metaphor in a way that is magical, even when the stories he’s telling are as banal as a greasy rivulet of drainage flowing beneath the rotten boards of a backyard fence. That metaphor, or one very much like it, was the first thing I read of Schulz’s when I happened upon his book Street of Crocodiles and opened it somewhere in the middle pages. This was one of those rare occasions when I knew I had struck gold. I didn’t need to read another sentence—I just bought the book. Along with Poe and Lovecraft, Schulz is another of the great sick men of literature, if that’s the sort of thing that attracts you. There’s a word used to describe Schulz’s writing that turns up occasionally in Lovecraft’s writing. That word is “febrile.” This quality seems to me essential for all literature of nightmare, especially horror fiction.

William S. Burroughs:

Definitely febrile. Even more than Poe or Lovecraft, Burroughs is the one whose writing provides that measure of fever, nightmare, and the grotesque by which all other American writers who aspire to representing these qualities in their work should be judged. Even in his last novel, "The Western Lands," he writes of the smell of rotting metal. That’s sick genius if there ever was such a thing. Now, this whole business about febrility and sickness and negativism might raise the question in some people’s minds: if that’s the sort of thing you like, then why don’t you just read case histories of psychos and psychotics, suicide notes, and books like "A History of My Nervous Illness?" As I mentioned earlier, it’s principally a matter of style, of entertainment, and of expression. I know that a lot of people are very interested in real life misery. The evening news is testimony to that. I don’t care for the evening news.

Real life misery is a mess or a bore or simply too heartbreaking to tolerate. And there’s no coherence to it—no vision. As Mark Twain said, “Life is just one damn thing after another.” I don’t want to be a spectator to this any more than I must be. I want to attend to the words of someone who will stand up and say, “Life is just one damn thing after another,” not some grinning idiot who presents this fact as a kind of pornography because corporate knows they can use this kind of stuff to sell advertising minutes. Everyone knows that this is the case. Everyone knows that this is an abomination. Everyone is, more or less, a scumbag. As for Mark Twain, forget "Huckleberry Finn" and read "Letters from the Earth."

Interview with Thomas Ligotti
Robert Bee
Published by TLO

Since the early 80s, Thomas Ligotti's brilliant, innovative fiction has been appearing prolifically in zines, story collections and anthologies. He has managed to establish a career on writing short fiction, a near impossibility these days. His work has been widely praised by writers as diverse as Poppy Z. Brite and Ramsey Campbell, and has won a number of awards including a Stoker for The Nightmare Factory. His other books include Songs of A Dead Dreamer, Noctuary, and Grimscribe: His Lives and Works. The accolades are all the more impressive if you consider the eccentric, surreal nature of Ligotti's writing. His work takes places in nightmare landscapes which unsettle the reader without the use of gore, violence or traditional monsters. Ligotti's work has not received the commercial success he deserves, but he has an avid cult following -- there are at least two websites and an e-mail newsletter devoted to his work.

RB: Tom, your work is unique and does not fit into any simple genre mold. Do you like your tales to be thought of as horror or is weird fiction a better term?

TL: I don't make any fine distinctions between horror, weird, terror, or what have you. I've always thought of my stories as fitting solidly in the tradition of horror tales that began with Poe. It seems odd to me that anyone would think otherwise but apparently this is the case. Possibly the reason for this is that when I began writing horror stories I had a kind of ideal in mind - a radically pure horror story, which in my view is something that very few writers have pursued. A great many stories that are published in the horror field are, to my mind, works that belong to the line of American realistic fiction as practiced by Stephen Crane, detective writers like Dashiell Hammett, modern writers like Bernard Malamud, people like that, and only incidentally include some horrific element which may not even be supernatural. I don't consider these horror stories, but that's just my personal quirk.

RB: A lot of your writing strikes me as dreamlike or surreal (to use that abused term). What role do dreams play in your work? Do your dreams ever inspire you?

TL: A number of my stories have had their inception in the nightmares which I've experienced throughout my life. In all cases these nightmares provide only a mood or an image or a phrase that my waking mind then develops into a narrative. Some examples of stories that had their beginnings in my nightmares are "The Cocoons," "The Bungalow House," and "Gas Station Carnivals."

RB: Metaphysics and the questioning of the nature of reality seem to be at the heart of your work rather than, say, werewolves, vampires and gore. These concerns remind me of Lovecraft's notion that weird fiction portrays the horrifying moment when the cosmos shatters our anthropomorphic understanding of the universe, replacing our merely human understanding with a cosmic perspective. Do you have an interest in what Lovecraft thought of as a "cosmic perspective"?

TL: Lovecraft did a fine job of communicating what he considered a "cosmic perspective" in his later stories, such as "The Shadow Out of Time" and "At the Mountains of Madness," in which the idea, as well as the emotional sensation, that human notions of value and meaning, even sense itself, are utterly fictitious. Not long before I began reading Lovecraft's stories I experienced--in a state of panic, I should add--such a perspective, which has remained as the psychological and emotional backdrop of my life ever since. Most of the time, of course, I think and act like every other goof and sucker on this planet. So did Lovecraft himself. Then there are other times when reality--or unreality, if you prefer--closes in and there's not much one can do except tremble and take extra medication.

It would be interesting to get Lovecraft's reaction to the relatively recent theories that have been advanced under the rubric of the "Anthropic Principle." Of course these ideas are the same ones that Lovecraft confronted in his own time and that have existed since human consciousness balked at the overwhelming lack of respect, or even recognition, that the universe--whatever you conceive it to be--extends to the human race.

RB: A lot of horror writers set their work in clearly defined locales: Lovecraft's Arkham and Innsmouth, Stephen King's Maine, Fritz Leiber's San Francisco and Chicago, Ramsey Campbell's Liverpool, but your work often occurs in a nebulous environment, almost like a Kafkaesque Eastern or Central Europe. I'm curious: where are most of your stories set?

TL: That depends on the story. Most of them are, I think, are quite clearly set in what people usually think of as a modern city or suburb or in some cases a small town with a name, although not a specific geographical designation. Then there are others, such as "The Greater Festival of Masks" or "The Red Tower" that are set in an indefinite nightmarish landscape. You have to remember the obvious fact that Maine or San Francisco are just fictions themselves, ones that we just happen to be familiar with to a greater or lesser degree, but that they don't have any substance or existence outside of fictional convention. People just made up these places.

RB: What type of outlook do you have on life? How does it affect your writing?

TL: My outlook is that it's a damn shame that organic life ever developed on this or any other planet, and that the pain that living creatures necessarily suffer makes for an existence that is a perennial nightmare. This attitude underlies almost everything I've written.

RB: A lot of your characters are artists, especially in the interlinked Teatro Grottesco tales. Why do you write so much about artists? What are your trying to say about art?

TL: Artists are explicitly concerned with unreal worlds, which makes them and their activities very well suited to a type of fiction that deals in the unreal. Artists are also stereotypically eccentric characters with whom I identify and find interesting to portray. I don't think I'm capable of depicting a normal, everyday person, and I'm sure I have no interest in doing so.

RB: What do you most fear and how does it affect your work?

TL: I fear the sort of deranged sense of reality that is elaborated in most of my stories. I also find that I'm very attracted to these states. When I was a teenager I took to drugs and booze like a duck to water. Then I cracked up and couldn't use conventional intoxicants without terrifying results. Eventually I found that horror fiction, and literature in general, was the closest I could come to the sort of escapism once provided by drugs and booze.

RB: I've noticed that you've used mannequins and puppets and automatons as recurring motifs. Why are these figures important for you?

TL: Because they're modeled on humans but are not human just as we are. That's the closest I can come today to an answer to this question. I don't think anyone can explain why so many people find dolls and puppets and manikins frightening. Maybe they're scary because they look like us and we ourselves are scary. To me it seems that everything we do, everything we make is either overtly or secretly scary. Stare at you car or house for a while and see if you can detect that subterranean nightmarishness. Look at the way we conduct the "business" of our lives -- the insane customs and traditions, the kaleidoscopic styles of our clothes, the crazy jobs we work at, our carnivalesque recreational activities, our truly demented ways of relating to one another.

RB: What is the Tsalal? The Tsalal is a figure in "The Shadow, The Darkness" -- the novella included in the 999 anthology -- and of course the long story "The Tsalal." Is the Tsalal related to Lovecraft's God, Azathoth (who is also a presence in "The Sect of the Idiot")? Also, is the nausea in "The Shadow, The Darkness" a reference to Sartre?

TL: I ripped off the word Tsalal from Poe's "Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym," in which it refers to a land where everything is black. Tsalal is a Hebrew word related to the idea of darkness and darkening. In using this word I'm simply following a convention of horror literature which is best known to me in the works of Lovecraft, although I don't think of it as being specifically related to anything in Lovecraft's fiction. At the time I was writing "The Tsalal" and "The Shadow, the Darkness," this seemed like a grand, to the point of grandiosity, word to serve as a sort of summation of what I was thinking and feeling at the time.

As for the "nausea" in "The Shadow, the Darkness," as well as several other stories, this is definitely not a reference to Sartre. It's not even specifically nausea but an undefined stomach disorder. I've used it several times because I myself suffer from a digestive disorder and I think that many people can identify with characters suffering from stomach problems. To me, disorders of the digestive system have a metaphysical dimension to them that other types of physical suffering do not. This might sound crazy, but I think stomach problems provoke an awakening to our general condition in this life as I alluded to above.

RB: Apart from Lovecraft, could you name some writers who are important for you, either as a writer or as a reader?

TL: To name only non-horror authors: Raymond Chandler, Philip Larkin, Vladimir Nabokov, Bruno Schulz, Dino Buzzati, Hagiwara Sakutaro, Thomas Bernhard, William Burroughs, Jorge Luis Borges, E. M. Cioran, Sadeq Hedeyat, S. I. Witkiewicz, Roland Topor. These are some of the authors whose complete works, and most secondary works on them, I've bought and read.

RB: A number of your stories, such as "The Night School" or "The Sect of the Idiot" or "The Cocoons," to name a few, have the theme of a secret brotherhood, a hermetic sect seeking enlightenment in darkness. Could you talk about why that theme attracts you?

TL: This conceit of a "secret brotherhood" is sort of a self-parody of my erstwhile craving for "enlightenment in darkness," which obviously never worked out.

RB: In "Notes on the Writing of Horror: A Story," you discuss the importance of style in horror fiction. What in your mind is the importance of style to horror and how does your dense, poetic style shape or affect your writing?

TL: At the time I wrote that story I was a fanatical student of literary styles, the more bizarre and artificial the better. This story reflects that fanaticism, which no longer burns in me.

RB: What are you working on now? What can we expect to see from you in the future?

TL: For a while now I've been working on writing screenplays. Why I'm doing this is sort of a long story. The short version is that a couple years ago I co-wrote a script that I tried to sell to the X-Files. I didn't know at the time that it was pretty much impossible to get such a script read by anyone who could do anything about it. Since then I've continued to pursue this form with the same co-writer. As anyone with the slightest experience of writing movie or television scripts will tell you, it's a very long odds undertaking. I'll probably return to writing stories eventually.

Disillusionment Can Be Glamorous
Art of Grimscribe Interview
Published by EddieMA
Thomas Wagner and E.M. Angerhuber

Mr. Ligotti, how are you?

Thomas Ligotti
A simple question, but for some reason it triggers something I once read in Kafka's letters. Kafka remarked to a correspondent that his emotional state was so unstable that, as he stood at the bottom of a flight of stairs, he had no idea how he would feel when he had reached to the top of the stairs. Anyway, in answer to your question, I'm not feeling too bad at the moment.

Thomas Wagner
Even if you may have heard this questions several times before: what was your motive to begin writing? What was it that evoked your fascination for the horror genre - what caused you to write such stories?

Thomas Ligotti
Since I was a child I've had a morbid and melodramatic imagination. I went to see every horror movie at the local theaters and stayed up late to watch midnight horror movies on TV. As a teenager I had a tendency to depression. To me, the world was just something to escape from. I started escaping with alcohol and then, as the sixties wore on, with every kind of drug I could get. In August of 1970 I suffered the first attack of what would become a lifelong anxiety-panic disorder. Not too long after that I discovered the works of H. P. Lovecraft. I found that the meaningless and menacing universe described in Lovecraft's stories corresponded very closely to the place I was living at that time, and ever since for that matter. I was grateful that someone else had perceived the world in a way similar to my own view. A few years later, when I took an interest in writing fiction, there was never a question that I would write anything else other than horror stories.

Thomas Wagner
You are an open admirer of H.P. Lovecraft and Bruno Schulz' works. While I can only recognize a faint Lovecraft influence on your stories - mainly the image of a black, omnipotent universe and the impotence of the characters - Schulz may occupy a wider space in your work. In general, I could say that there is a "kafkaesque" (or simply odd) atmosphere in your stories that I chiefly know from European authors like Franz Kafka, Jean Ray, Leo Perutz, Arthur Machen ... Have you been inspired by them? Or does this odd atmosphere simply result from your own point of view?

Thomas Ligotti
From around 1975 I became very interested in the figures and trends of foreign literatures, especially nineteenth- and twentieth-century French literature from the Decadent-Symbolism movement through Surrealism. These movements and the writers associated with them influenced every other literature in the world, with the exception of American literature. Sadeq Hedayat in Iran, Hagiwara Sakutaro in Japan, Spanish-American writers like Ruben Dario, just about every Russian author from the 1890s until the 1917 revolution, and on and on. They all looked to such French writers as Baudelaire, Verlaine, and Huysmans as literary models. And so did I.

E.M. Angerhuber
You've also mentioned two other important literary models, Thomas Bernhard and Vladimir Nabokov. In which way did they affect your work?

Thomas Ligotti
The work of both of these authors frequently features mentally deranged narrators who write highly stylized prose. In this sense they are part of a tradition that also includes Poe and Lovecraft. Those are the footsteps in which I often slavishly followed.

E.M. Angerhuber
What was the title of the first story you published? Do you harbour any special emotions for this particular story?

Thomas Ligotti
The first story of mine to be published was The Chymist, which appeared in Harry Morris's legendary fanzine Nyctalops in 1980. I don't really harbor any special emotions for any of my stories.

E.M. Angerhuber
How did the recognition you earned for your literary work affect the circumstances of your life or the way you see yourself? What does it feel like to be a "cult author"?

Thomas Ligotti
I was very relieved when my stories were well-received by readers of small press magazines and, later, by critics who reviewed my collections. I wanted to be a writer in the fashion of Lovecraft, and until I attained some recognition for my horror stories I could barely stand to live with myself. It was something that I really needed to get out of my system. So, as I said, I was very relieved within myself when I achieved my modest literary ambitions. But as far as the circumstances of my life are concerned, nothing really changed. I go to work every day like most people. I wonder what's going to become of me if I live into old age since one doesn't become rich or famous just by writing short horror stories. As for being a cult author, I've said this many times to people: "There's no obscurity like minor renown." Not that I mind obscurity in the least. I wouldn't want to be well known to a wide public. I'd rather acquire millions of dollars playing the lottery than by writing best-selling books. Don't misunderstand me-as I mentioned before, I wanted to be published in the worst way and I craved attention for what I had written. That true for just about anyone who writes. Poor Poe openly declared that he lusted for a level of fame that he never saw in his lifetime. But I've already gotten all the fame I can handle at the moment, thanks.

E.M. Angerhuber
Do you have any favourite stories among your own oeuvre? If yes, what is it you like most in them?

Thomas Ligotti
I usually name "The Shadow at the Bottom of the World" when I'm asked this question. In that story I think I wrote something subtle and mysterious while still managing to stay within the horror genre, which I've always been concerned to do.

Thomas Wagner
The first Ligotti story I ever read was "Drink To Me Only With Labyrinthine Eyes", and it seemed to me like a blend of Poe and Kafka. It's a strange story that still touches me with its bizarre beauty. Just recently I've discovered that there is an old song entitled "Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes". Thus, one may suspect that the title of your story hasn't been chosen by mere coincidence. If you know the song I'm referring to, is this only a play on words, or is there more to tell?

Thomas Ligotti
At the time I wrote that story I was reading a lot of English and European poets of the seventeenth century. These poets, including Gongora in Spain and Metaphysical Poets like Donne and Marvell in England, were renowned for writing in a somewhat flamboyant style and approaching traditional poetic forms in new and often strange ways. The poetry of Ben Jonson and some of the English Cavelier Poets also displays these qualities to some extent. It was from the lyric by Jonson that borrowed, in a mutated form, the title "Drink to Me Only with Labyrinthine Eyes."

E.M. Angerhuber
One of your books has the title NOCTUARY. I've always been wondering if this word is derived from "sanctuary" or rather from "diary" ...

Thomas Ligotti
It's derived from diary. I thought I had invented the word until I found it in the Oxford English Dictionary.

E.M. Angerhuber
My favourite vignette from NOCTUARY is "The Eternal Mirage", a very abstract, very unreal and exceptionally beautiful piece. What was your motive to write it this way?

Thomas Ligotti
With that piece I wanted to convey my sense of the universe as something thin and unstable, something that barely has the quivering and illusory quality of a mirage and yet, alas, refuses to dissolve completely into nothingness.

E.M. Angerhuber
Your story "The Bungalow House" is partially based on real events - could you please tell us something about the mysterious Bungalow Bill and his tapes?

Thomas Ligotti
The first of the "Bungalow House" tapes is based on an actual dream I had which I tried to describe as accurately as possible when I woke up, something I had never done before and haven't done since. Later I developed the transcript of that dream into a story and invented some more dreams to go along with it. The idea of a so-called performance artist reading these "dream monologues" into a tape recorder was inspired by actual cassette tapes that I and my coworkers used to find left on a bench near the building where we worked in downtown Detroit. They were tapes of an elderly man reading from various sources, including the local newspaper, the works of Sigmund Freud, and librettos from Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. These readings were often interrupted by mad laughter. Later some of us, including me, saw and heard the guy who was leaving these tapes, which were always placed inside envelopes taken from a local bank. These were the sort of envelopes bank's offer to customers who want something in which to put their cash withdrawals. On the outside of the envelopes this eldery gentleman, who walked around mumbling and laughing to himself, would write strange phrases, which unfortunatelyI can't recall any longer, as well as the source material from which the reading on the tape was taken. Bungalow Bill, a name given to him by David Tibet, would leave these envelopes on benches along the sidewalks in downtown Detroit, securing the envelopes in place with the weight of several pennies He was a rather distinguished, professorial looking guy. . .and he was most certainly insane.

E.M. Angerhuber
Did you ever talk to Bill, or otherwise get direct inspiration for your story by him? And what has become of the tapes?

Thomas Ligotti
Since the company I work for moved out of Detroit several years ago, those of us who were following Bungalow Bill's tape-recorded monologues lost track of him. None of us ever talked to him or bothered him in any way. I once heard him mumbling and laughing while I was waiting for an elevator. I recognized his voice immediately as he approached me. It couldn't have been anyone else.

E.M. Angerhuber
In a short story by Daniil Charms, there is a character named Faol. Could there be any possible link to the character Faliol in your tale "Masquerade Of A Dead Sword"?

Thomas Ligotti
The name Faliol is a permutation on the name of a character in a play by the Belgian dramatist Michel de Ghelderode.

Thomas Wagner
Many of your narratives are dominated by style, and atmosphere, rather than by plot. ... In Germany, this "lack of plot" is a popular target for some critics. What is your intention? L'art pour l'art? Are your tales reflections of your own emotions, pictures written down straight from out of your head? Do you follow a certain principle, or a certain way of action when writing stories?

Thomas Ligotti
I don't understand why people can't see that plot is as fundamental to my stories, with the possible exception of some of my short prose pieces, as it is those of any other horror writer. I don't start writing a story until I know all the principal plot points and their resolution at the end of the tale. What I don't do is structure my stories in such a way that my plots development almost exclusively through dialogue, which is the common practice. The reason for this is that most of my stories are told in the first person by a narrator whose consciousness I always want out front where the reader can see and feel it. Most readers don't like this type of story. They don't want to be reminded that they're reading a story at all, which is why very few best-selling novels are written in the first person.

E.M. Angerhuber
In some of your earlier stories, the main character possesses a kind of dark power; later on, the Lovecraftian image of a cosmic evil becomes predominant. Do you think that cosmic evil is an enhanced or higher form of horror, compared to the evil of a single character?

Thomas Ligotti
I think that both sources of evil and horror are present in my stories, although in a given story one may seem more prominant than the other. For example, in my early story "The Chymist," the title character is one of those you refer to as possessing a "dark power." But that power is only a instance of a greater power always at large. Simon Smirk, the chemist, openly refers to the power of the Great Chemists of the universe that he is only emulating. The specific power he's referring to is Nature, which tirelessly produces mutations and permutations using human flesh, which is exactlty what Simon himself does in the story. But I think I know what you mean. My earlier main characters do seem to be a far more hellraising bunch than my later main characters, who may be a bit sinister, like the narrator of "Teatro Grottesco," but also end of suffering at the hands of forces more powerful and sinister than they can ever hope to be.

Thomas Wagner
You've been working for quite a couple of years for a big American publishing house. Did you ever dream of being a professional writer, or do you think you could live with the restrictions a professional writer has to surrender to? I think, as soon as art changes into a job, there's an end to individual freedom.

Thomas Ligotti
I realized a long time ago that I could never be a professional writer for the simple reason that I'm not interested in the same things that people who buy the majority of the books in this world are interested in. Like Lovecraft, I'm not interested in people and their relationships. That alone counts me out as a professional writer. I also have a bad attitude toward the world. I think that life is a curse and so on. People reading a book on a beach or in an airplane don't want to hear stuff like that. They just want to relax and be told a diverting story from a third-person omniscient viewpoint, giving them the sense that they have a movie playing in their mind. I don't blame them in the least.

E.M. Angerhuber
Your job demands a high amount of responsibility from you. Do you feel comfortable with having responsibility?

Thomas Ligotti
I have a low-tolerance for pressure of any kind.

Thomas Wagner
Did you ever have the feeling that writing turns into a torture? Speaking for myself, I know that it gets quite difficult to banish everyday's junk and try to write down a couple of sensible words ...

Thomas Ligotti
To me the actual task of writing is a real pain in the ass. I've fantasized about just imagining the characters and incidents of a story and having it appear in written form before my eyes. I know that there are plenty of writers who genuinely enjoy the nuts and bolts of the literary process. I'm not one of them. I really don't even think of myself as a writer. Probably the only people who think our themselves as writers are the pros who are doing it everyday and have "writer" on their tax forms and passports as their occupation. They're constantly being reminded by one thing or another that they're writers.

Thomas Wagner
Some years ago, Poppy Z. Brite wrote a nice introduction to THE NIGHTMARE FACTORY which starts with the words "Are you out there, Thomas Ligotti?" You are surrounded by the image of a anthropophobic hermit; some people even write about you like you were one of your own story characters - at least this is the case in Germany -. ... What does it feel like to be called the "Prince of Dark Fantasy?"

Thomas Ligotti
Unless I'm in a state of depression, anxiety, or panic, it feels pretty good when someone speaks well of my work in print. But the effect wears off very fast. Nonetheless, I'm certainly not immune to the powers of either praise or criticism. I wish I were. On the other hand, I don't go around thinking, "Here I am, the Prince of Dark Fantasy-make way for me." You need a lot of sycophants and a lot of money to think like that. Thomas WagnerYour stories are quite uncompromising. Either the reader feels cast under their spell and loses himself in the Ligottian cosmos, or he doesn't care for them at all. I think that your aficionados must feel a very special affinity to your work; it's not just entertainment for them. Many readers seem to recognise themselves in your stories, their doubts and fears. Do you think that your stories have influence on their way of thinking? That they might possibly regard them as a kind of philosophy?

Thomas Ligotti
I really don't have much contact with people who read my stories. Judging from those with whom I have carried on a more or less regular correspondence, I find that they were attracted to my stories in the first place because they recognized in them something of their own way of thinking. That's how it was when I first read Lovecraft. That's how it works. There's obviously a literary expression of Lovecraft's attitudes and ideas in his writing, as there is in mine. It's probably impossible to write anything without betraying something that someone would call a philosophy. The philosophy of most writers happens to be this: In the world there is good and there is evil, but overall there's more good than. That's not how I see things at all. Mine is a minority view, which, for better or worse, is what I believe you mean by the words "Ligottian cosmos." It's also what distinguishes my writing from that of most authors. In fact it distinguishes my way of thinking from that of most people, including almost all of those people who read and enjoy my stories.

E.M. Angerhuber
Are there many fans who try to get in contact with you? What does it mean to you to touch the hearts of people you don't know?

Thomas Ligotti
As you might imagine, it can be very moving.

E.M. Angerhuber
Have you ever felt so deeply touched by another artist's work that you wrote him/her an admiring letter?

Thomas Ligotti
Only once. When I was in my early twenties, I wrote a couple fan letters to Joseph Payne Brennan expressing my admiration for what I called his "unabashedly pessimistic" poetry. At the same time I told him that I felt his stories fell far short of his poems. He wrote back to me both times, very patiently and graciously explaining that writing fiction and writing poetry were two different things to him-that his stories were written for largely commercial gain, whereas his poetry was a more genuine expression of himself. I still have the letters.

Thomas Wagner
Up to now, there haven't been many publications of your work in Germany. What about other foreign publications? We've discovered an ad for a Greek publication of THE NIGHTMARE FACTORY on a Greek website.

Thomas Ligotti
The collections translated into German and Greek are the only foreign-language appearances of my stories, if you don't count translated anthologies in which a story of mine appeared. There was interest at one time in Italian and French translations of my collections, but my publisher either didn't respond to these inquiries or they refused to grant permission for translations of my of my stuff because there really isn't much money to be made from them.

Thomas Wagner
We live in a time of all-embracing fast food. In my opinion, mankind is certainly not more stupid than in former eras, but today there's more food for existing dumbness, and the media and many artists sell themselves in an increasingly extreme way, in every respect. Shit sells best, no matter if you produce literature, music or movies. - What is it that goes to make up good literature for you? Or, in your view, what goes to make up art? Are there any living artists whom you admire?

Thomas Ligotti
The last great literary hero of mine was William S. Burroughs, and he's been dead for some time now. I'm really very cynical about art with a capital "A" versus popular art. If you stand a certain distance away, which is the only place to stand, it all looks much the same. I patronize popular art in the form of movies and television. I have favorite movies and TV shows. But no movie or TV show will ever be able to provide me with the near fathomless pleasures I've derived, for example, from the stories of Jorge Luis Borges and Dino Buzzati, the essays of E. M. Cioran, or the poetry of Giacomo Leopardi. However, in the end, it's all just entertainment.

Thomas Wagner
When I heard of your collaborations with David Tibet/Current 93, this was quite a discovery for me - two uncompromising exceptional artists meeting. David Tibet's experimental music may seem as "demanding" to many people as your stories. ... I think both your work harmonizes very well; I've detected a similar atmosphere in both your stories and Tibet's music. How did you come to those collaborations?

Thomas Ligotti
One day I received a package containing most of Current 93's discography and a letter from Davidi Tibet expressing admiration for my stories. He also asked if I'd like to collaborate with him on a project. I listened to the CD's, recognized that there were significant similarities between Current 93's songs and my stories, and said I'd be glad to collaborate in some way with him.

E.M. Angerhuber
Do you have plans for futher collaborations for the foreseeable future? With David Tibet or with other artists? Do you like to collaborate with somebody else and if yes, why?

Thomas Ligotti
I wrote a connected series of pieces with the title "This Degenerate Little Town." At some time in the future, when other projects and committments allow, this will form a third collaboration between myself and David Tibet.

Thomas Wagner
IN A FOREIGN TOWN ... is a very special book for me. It seems almost like a reappraisal, or a kind of quintessence of many former stories. After having read this book, I had the feeling that something had come full circle. And somehow it seemed to me as if you had reached a climax in your black microcosmos of human puppets, a climax that marked an end, perhaps even a turning point in your work. After you keep intensifying the reader's fascination for the strange "town near the northern border" throughout all of the stories, you finally reveal it as a "genius of the most insidious illusions." The main character decides to "just walk away in silence," and he writes: "I was tired and felt the ache of every broken dream I had ever carried within me." This sounds very disillusioning - the dark, glamourous nightmare crumbles into dust, it's almost like the prosaic sobering up after an LSD trip ...

Thomas Ligotti
I had experienced that sort of disillusionment years earlier. The story "The Spectacles in the Drawer" long preceeds In a Foreign Town in conveying this disaffection. But disillusionment can be glamorous too. Anything can be. I would go so far as to say that something absolutely negative, something that has no affirmation whatever at its base, is an impossibility. Even murder and suicide are very positive, very vital and affirmative. There really is no way to escape being pulled into the machine of human existence. Or none that I can conceive of at this time.

Thomas Wagner
Clowns, jesters, and harlequins usually appear in your stories as weird, threatening beings, yet your protagonists often seem to be fascinated by them. ... In the narrative "The Last Feast Of Harlequin" the main character loves to dress up as a clown, which finally doesn't do him much good. In "The Bells Will Sound Forever" you display this element in a masterly fashion: the main character, Mr. Crumm, discovers a clown costume in the attic of the mysterious Mrs. Pyk's house. He puts the costume on and finds himself to be a "head on a stick held in the wooden hand of Mrs. Pyk." Crumm - who is actually engaged in the prosaic profession of a commercial agent - seems to feel a bizarre pleasure when putting on someone else's hide, especially that of a jester. But eventually he ends up as an abused puppet-like object. - What about yourself? Do you feel intrigued by masks, by the idea of putting on someone else's hide?

Thomas Ligotti
My own fantasies of stepping into the skin of another person are much more banal. When I was a kid I wanted to be a baseball player named Rocky Calavito and imitated his batting stance and swing, pretending that I was him. Later I wanted to be any number of rock music stars. And then I wanted to be H. P. Lovecraft. At this time I've run out of other people that I want to be. My ideal persona these days is that of an inmate in a minimum security prison. That really seems like the good life to me.

Thomas Wagner
Another element that keeps re-appearing in your work is the puppet - the conception of being surrounded by puppet-like, doll-like humans, respectively finding oneself transformed into such a being - so to say, bereft of the jester's mask ... The puppets in your stories seem to me like symbols of the main character's hopelessness. Any attempt to change our destiny is futile because we all are marionettes of a superior dark power. Is Thomas Ligotti a fatalist?

Thomas Ligotti
Oh, yeah. Absolutely. . .in principle. In fact, I'm just another sucker like everyone else. I get carried away all the time and desire things that only drag me deeper into the trap of human existence. I'm very attached to members of my family, for instance. And obviously I still write horror stories every once in a while. That's not going to help me when I really need it. There really isn't any difference between me and some religious fundamentalist who thinks about attaining ill-defined state of salvation and then existing forever in a blissful afterlife. Even to carry on until tomorrow is act of ecstatic lunacy, since every tomorrow just brings you closer to that last one, which will probably not shape up to be a very good day.

Thomas Wagner
I've heard that it was your primary dream to become a rock star. Is music still important in your life, does it perhaps even inspire your stories?

Thomas Ligotti
The only important thing in my life is to avoid suffering any more pain than I have to and to assist people who are close to me in doing the same. . .in principle. In fact, music has been a significant diversion for me from the time a got my first transitor radio and heard those dopey songs from the early sixties which now sound so haunting to me. "Popsicles and Icicles" is a tune that particularly stands out, as beautiful and otherworldly as something by the Cocteau Twins. I don't think that music has had any direct influence on my stories, except perhaps in some cryptic way that even I don't recognize. I have on occasion tried to conceive of a work of fiction that would have the intensity and impact of a musical composition. But writing doesn't work that way. Its effect on people is weaker but more intimate than that of music. Music seems to come from a million miles away, while writing is inside you.

Thomas Wagner
On the other hand, I find it quite interesting how many musicians seem to be inspired by your writing. I've launched two virtual radio stations at www.MP3.com to feature experimental music which could serve as fictitious scores to your tales. I was amazed of the great amount of interest I received. Many MP3 artists are very fond of your work; others didn't know you but felt appealed by the quoted text pieces and sent me music which harmonized perfectly with your writing. While most horror best sellers seem to be read by housewives, Thomas Ligotti appears to attract to a quite different audience.

Thomas Ligotti
I wonder if all of that is really true. I would bet that popular horror writers have their fans among musicians. Heck, Stephen King actually played on the same stage with Al Kooper, one of my idols from the sixties for his work with the Blues Project and Blood, Sweat and Tears. I can even testify to one outstanding instance of a serious musician who reads popular horror. I once read an interview with the jazz bass player Ron Carter, who played with Miles Davis and is definitely no housewife, and in that interview he spoke of his interest in and admiration for the horror novels of Robert McCammon. Who knows-Carter might have composed some complex jazz piece inspired by the work of McCammon. Of course that doesn't detract one bit from those musicians who have honored me with their attention and talents-it just puts it into perspective.

Thomas Wagner
In THE AGONIZING RESURRECTION OF VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN & OTHER GOTHIC TALES, your inspirations are taken - among others - from classic horror films. I had the feeling that you know those films very well, perhaps even love them?

Thomas Ligotti
You're right. I did know and love them very much when I was young.

E.M. Angerhuber
The ruin in "Dr. Locrian's Asylum" does resemble, in a certain way, the settings of old Frankenstein movies: the large table with straps; the creation of something that's "without fate or spirit", and that manages to escape and threaten the townspeople. The Frankenstein Monster is, in a way, the prototype of literary automatons or androids, which could be regarded as the primary model for the (sentient?) puppets that people so much of your stories.

Thomas Ligotti
I never thought about the Frankenstein monster that way, but your analysis seems very solid to me.

Thomas Wagner
Do you still find inspiration in films nowadays? When reading your stories, I often see movie-like pictures inside my head - mostly something between ERASERHEAD and DR. CALIGARI ...

Thomas Ligotti
I loved "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" when I saw still photos from the movie in Famous Monsters magazine. When I finally say the movie I thought, "What a bunch of junk and nonsense this is." But I still retained my imaginary, ideal version of "Caligari" and have injected that version into some of my tales. I'm not aware of any direct influence of newer horror movies on my stories. I can't think of the last good horror movie I saw. Probably Alien or John Carpenter's The Thing, whichever was more recent.

Thomas Wagner
Speaking of the subject, you've written two film scripts in collaboration with Brandon Trenz which have unfortunately not been filmed yet, "Crampton" (an X Files episode) and "The Last Feast Of Harlequin" (which is based on your story of the same name). What made you do that, apart from the financial aspect? Which emotions does the idea of getting one of your stories filmed imply?

Thomas Ligotti
Writing "Crampton," which has been rewritten as a non-X-Files feature film, was something that I thought would be fun, which it was because it was a successful collaboration, and which I thought had some chance of being produced as an X-Files episode. I couldn't have been more wrong in the latter instance. I was very naive about how Hollywood works. The only reason that Brandon Trenz and I wrote a movie adaptation of "Harlequin" was that the story had been optioned by David Lynch's production company The Picture Factory. It was pure coincidence that this came not long after we had written the X-Files episode. If we hadn't already gotten some scriptwriting experience doing that, we would never have tried to write a spec script for "Harlequin." And unless you're into screenwriting for the long haul, you're not going to make that much money.

Thomas Wagner
I have a crazy wish: a SIMPSONS episode witten by Thomas Ligotti.

Thomas Ligotti
Yes, that is a crazy wish. Actually, there is a remote connection between my horror stories and The Simpson's. One of my all-time favorite guitar players, Danny Gatton, did a cover version of The Simpson's theme song on his first major-label album. A few years later, Gatton killed himself just as The Agonizing Resurrection of Victor Frankenstein was in production. I dedicated that book to the memory of Danny Gatton, who I always thought was just a normal, happy guy, aside from being a genius guitar player.

Thomas Wagner
Please imagine the preposterous situation of hosting a TV talkshow. You could invite three guests. Whom would you choose (including dead persons)?

Thomas Ligotti
The first person that comes to mind is Ronald Reagan, addled with Alzheimer's and now crippled with a broken hip. I don't think I'd need any other guests if I could get Reagan. But I'd also like a syphillis-ravaged Al Capone as my co-host. And for the band. . .Jimi Hendrix playing his feedback-drenched rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner throughout the entirety of the show.

E.M. Angerhuber
One of your favourite actors is Udo Kier. He once said, "They say that Hollywood movies have no soul. I sometimes think that European movies have too much soul". Would you also accept this statement for European horror stories?

Thomas Ligotti
I understand Udo Kier's quote to mean that Europe has produced a lot of slow and boring movies, which I would agree with. Same goes for Japan, in my Ugly American opinion. If you don't include England as part of Europe, which I don't, then I can't think of very many European writers who wrote horror stories strictly speaking. I once bought an English translation of a collection of stories and poems by a Czech horror writer who had recently killed himself. I thought to myself, "This is going to be great." Unfortunately the most obvious influence on this writer's work were old episodes of The Twilight Zone. I wish there were translations of more European horror writers. Writers like Bruno Schulz, Dino Buzzati, and the Hungarian written Geza Csath I don't consider horror writers but genuinely literary writers. The same would apply to the stories of Georg Heym, even though at least one of them, "The Autopsy," has appeared in horror anthologies. Loosely speaking, I would agree that the work of these writers does have more "soul" than American or British horror fiction, but this is a quality much more suited to literature than to movies. There is an person behind a literary work, a soul if you like. There isn't any such thing in movies, where so many people are involved.

Thomas Wagner
Let's return to merciless reality. Even if this may sound unpopular: I think that it is a cruel fate to be forced to work for other people, dictated by the need to earn one's living. The modern civilized human spends more time at his working place than at home. Problems at work haunt us even in our spare time, thus killing even more life time off. ... Imagination, creativity and even common sense suffer from this fact. In this context, I have very much enjoyed your new stories "I Have A Special Plan For This World" and "My Work Is Not Yet Done" (both are going to appear in 2001 in your new book MY WORK IS NOT YET DONE: THREE TALES OF CORPORATE HORROR, Mythos Books, Missouri, http://www.bibliocity.com/home/mythosbooks). Would you say that you share my repulsion concerning work and working situations?

Thomas Ligotti
In the United States a person isn't required to answer questions that make incriminate him. But I would like to point out that in the stories to which you refer, there are only provisional good guys and bad guys. Ultimately everyone in those stories is bad news, as is the entire human race in my view. And, most importantly, those stories only begin with horrors in a workplace setting. Ultimately they are about something else altogether.

E.M. Angerhuber
Your CORPORATE HORROR STORIES are different from what we know from your earlier works. Your style has changed quite a bit, if I'm permitted to say so. They are located in "normal" surroundings and the characters live through "normal" things (normal only to a certain degree). What was the cause for this radical change of style?

Thomas Ligotti
Actually, the only story that's relatively normal is the title novella. That was dictated by plot of the story, and also by the fact that I originally thought of that story as a movie.

E.M. Angerhuber
Once you told me that you're not interested in Science Fiction. How come that you chose an SF scenario for "The Nightmare Network" (also appearing in MY WORK IS NOT YET DONE: THREE TALES OF CORPORATE HORROR)?

Thomas Ligotti
That story was modelled after the writings of Burroughs, who is the king of the sort of twisted, apocalyptic scenarios that are essential to "The Nightmare Network." Given the Burroughs influence, I knew that I would need to write some gruesome ideas and images into that story, and my usual style would simply not accommodate these narrative elements.

Thomas Wagner
On the threshold to the 20th century, the so-called Millennium horror has been very successful - a play with the fears of modern, civilized humans facing a new era when everything might as well be destroyed. ... It seems that this trend didn't influence you. Doesn't Thomas Ligotti believe in the near apocalypse?

Thomas Ligotti
No, of course not. That would be insane to believe such a thing.

Thomas Wagner
What does religion mean to you?

Thomas Ligotti
Crowd control.

Thomas Wagner
... Politics?

Thomas Ligotti
Also crowd control.

Thomas Wagner
... Psychology?

Thomas Ligotti
Control on the level of the individual. Freud and Jung type psychology is patently insane nonsense, although relatively few people are subject to its control. I prefer psychopharmacology, even if the potential for control is far more extensive that "talking therapies."

Thomas Wagner
... Drugs?

Thomas Ligotti
Like everything else in this world, they're more trouble than they're worth. But if I hadn't cracked up back in 1970 I'd probably still be a drug-hog.

Thomas Wagner
... Are there any things you are afraid of? Do you know "angst"?

Thomas Ligotti
You're kidding, right? I'm afraid of EVERYTHING. I'm even afraid of betraying specific things that I'm afraid of.

E.M. Angerhuber
In your introduction to THE NIGHTMARE FACTORY, "The Consolations Of Horror", you wrote: "In other words, you get the horrors you deserve." Do you think that you, yourself, deserve the horrors you experience?

Thomas Ligotti
The reference, I believe, was to horrors in fiction. As for real life, there is no deserving or not deserving, just as there are no values, no morals, no rights, none of that rhetorical debris that makes our lives a misery far beyond that ordained by the facts of our physcial existence.

E.M. Angerhuber
Which human qualities do you like most? And which ones do you loathe most?

Thomas Ligotti
I'm like everyone else. I like people who are most like I am. I dislike people who are least like I am.

E.M. Angerhuber
If you had a wish to make for the future, what would you desire most?

Thomas Ligotti
I don't even have to think about this one. Here's my wish: That every living thing, at the moment of its death, expires in a state of bliss. All's well that end's well. Of course this would upset the natural order of things, and people would be killing themselves left and right. In order to insure the continuation of this funhouse of flesh that we call Life, it's necessary that we fear the pain and grief of death and at all costs struggle to avoid the inevitable.

Thomas Wagner and E.M. Angerhuber
Finally we'd like to quote you: "My outlook is that it's a damn shame that organic life ever developed on this or any other planet ..." (from the interview with Robert Bee). Is Thomas Ligotti a nihilist? Do you dream of an anorganic black nothingness - the purity of an absolute void? Do you dream of your own "Tsalal" (Tsalal is the Hebrew word for the conception of all-consuming darkness)?

Thomas Ligotti
Well, "all-consuming darkness" kind of suggests that there's something going on in the universe. That's not what I would wish. I don't want a universe in which even nothing could be going on.

Thomas Wagner and E.M. Angerhuber
Thank you, Mr. Ligotti, it was very kind of you to reply to our questions.

Event Horizon Chat with Thomas Ligotti
Online Chat Transcript (December 3, 1998)
Published by TLO

Hello, Ellen, hello, Thomas Ligotti; welcome all the rest of you to Flashpoint. Sorry about my delay. The usual techie weirdness (actually my own ignorance).

Good evening, Ed.

So. Since we're late, I'll just say it's a genuine honor and pleasure to welcome Thomas Ligotti to Flashpoint. I doubt there's anyone present who isn't to some degree -- and maybe to a very large degree -- familiar with his work, beginning with the stories and their first compilation more than a decade ago in Songs of a Dead Dreamer.

Hey, Ed, I could ramble on about something moderately spooky that I saw today.

Feel free to ramble . . .

Will do. Well, I was driving to work and had to stop for a train at a railroad crossing. The street on which I was stopped was on the outskirts of one of those little "historic" towns that have a lot of nicely restored houses as well as some that are . . . not as nicely restored. The house that I was idling my car in front of was one of the latter type -- a crummy old place with two stories of peeling paint and a roof that was missing some shingles. As I was looking this house over I noticed that although there were no lights on inside there were some figures in the tiny front window of the place. At first I thought these figures composed a Christmas display of some kind but then I saw that they were actually large dolls. In another window on the first floor of the house was a doll seated at a desk. And then I looked up at one of the second-floor windows and saw a life-size doll standing over a crib with a baby doll in it. And all the time that I was looking at this crummy house with all those dolls in its windows I was listening to a tape that was playing what might be described as background music for Frankenstein's laboratory. You know, spacey and somewhat cacophonous electronic music. It was a cool moment that was diminished a bit when I noticed a small sign in a corner of one of the windows that said -- you guessed it -- SORRY, WE ARE CLOSED . . .

(sounds just like something you'd write:])

(reminds me of Robert Aickman story)

But it was a really crummy sign and there was no other indication that I could see that this was a business that dealt in dolls.

Tis a Front for the Doll Mafia.

Even with the payoff of the sign, even with the context of the CRT screen, it's still a great compacted chill.

(Inquiring minds want to know what the music was, just to play along at home.)

Current 93?

It has a certain self-referential horror there. Horrorist whose work often involes the themes of abandonment and dolls confronted by weird doll-infested house at lonely railroad crossing.

Coincidently, while driving home from work today I was stopped at the same railroad crossing on the other side of the tracks. But this time my car was standing in front of a place called The Nail Lady, which wasn't a very spooky venue, although it's not a bad title for a horror story.


Right there with the retail sign I saw a short while ago for Mr. Clutch.

My first formal question, Tom, has got to be about H. P. Lovecraft. Hardly anyone seems to discuss or even mention the Ligotti name without evoking the shade of H.P. Lovecraft. I've got to say I see the Ligotti writing persona as a unique voice. So how do you feel about the inevitable linkage with Mr. Lovecraft?

That's fine with me.

Where, how, did you first encounter him?

I first came across a Ballantine paperback of Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos in a drugstore in 1971. This was my first exposure to Lovecraft's stories and those of the so-called Lovecraft circle. It was these stories that made me want to write horror, specifically of the Lovecraftian variety, although it was not until 1976 that I actually started doing so. Over the years there've been quite a few other writers the influence of whose works shows up in my stories, sometimes in subtle ways and other times quite openly and shamelessly.

I believe you found a receptive home in the small presses then. A few years later, was it the artist Harry Morris who approached you about publishing a story collection? And could I ask you to mention some of those other influential writers?

Harry was the first editor to accept one of my stories for his legendary magazine Nyctalops. It was about five years later that he published my first collections, decorated by his amazing illustrations. As for those other writers who influenced me . . . in a number of my early stories, such as "Dream of a Mannikin" and "Les Fleurs," I did my best to ape the lavish language and maniacal first-person voice of Vladimir Nabokov, as well as copping his brilliant strategy of using a fantastic narrative structure to tell a fantastic story. Nabokov's was a simple idea, really, although very few writers before him had employed this very commonsensical approach to fantastic fiction. Nabokov conjured a spectral world right before a reader's eyes, often, I'm sure, without many readers noticing that he had done so. Of course there are any number of authors with fancy prose styles and intricate, though not necessarily fantastic, narrative structures. But Nabokov's works also conveyed to my mind a profound perception of a perilous and senseless cosmos upon which art may impose a temporary, though ultimately helpless, order. There's a line in Nabokov's short novel Pnin that goes, I hope I've got this verbatim: "Harm is the norm; doom shall not jam." It's this background of bleakness with a foreground of hypnotic artistry that has appealed to me in Nabokov as well as such writers as Bruno Schulz, Jorge Luis Borges, William Burroughs, and the Austrian novelist Thomas Bernhard.

That's an impressive and thoughtful list. Do you see horror as its own neat genre? Or is it, as Steve Tem and other writers have suggested, primarily an emotion?

Well, the easy answer is that it's both an emotion and a distinct literary subgenre. Why complicate matters.

Horror seems to run strongly on oral traditions, with recommendations passed along furtively.  I'm curious as to what other authors you'd recommend to us that we might otherwise not encounter, whether or not they've been an influence on you?

Indeed. Other writers who've influenced me to varying degrees have been such nineteenth-century poets as Aloysius Bertrand, Charles Baudelaire (you already know him, though), and Baudelaire's progeny of Symbolist and Decadent poets, such a Maurice Rollinat and the French Canadian poet Emile Nelligan, who went mad at the age of nineteen but lived 50 more years.

Mr. Ligotti, do you have any plans to publish your early works (say, from your early and mid 20s)?

I destroyed all my early works, some two dozen stories only, a long time ago.

Do you envision your stories, or any subset of them, as taking place in a particular and integrated fictional world, a cycle, or "mythos"? And if so, did you plan them that way or did it just happen?

I don't think even Lovecraft projected his mythos and I'd be lying if said I could accomplish such a feat. I don't even find such an enterprise all that interesting.

Mr. Ligotti, in your intro to The Nightmare Factory, you cited The Haunting as the best horror movie. With the Psycho remake opening tomorrow, I ask: what classic horror movie would you like to see remade?

I don't care what horror movie they remake as long they as they do it better than they did the first time, which in most cases was pretty miserable.

I've not read any of your work, despite many recommendations. I was wondering where you'd suggest someone new start, and what music might make a good theme for the work?

I get that all the time. My advice would be to visit the Thomas Ligotti Online website, where you can read a selection of a half-dozen tales for free. I can't listen to music and read at the same time, so I couldn't tell you.

Did HPL's fragments, "The Book" and "Azathoth," influence your writing of "Vastarien" in any way? They seem strikingly similar.

I have to say that those fragments in particular were not a factor in the writing of "Vastarien". However, I tend to take more cues from Lovecraft's earlier work, and certainly "The Book," although written later in his life, was in the style of his early stuff.

I've heard the (sometimes foundationless) complaint from a number of people that your stories lack plot. Like Lovecraft, I believe that in horror tales plot is secondary to the evocation of an emotion. I can get more satisfaction from reading one of your more plot-bare tales than a bookshelf of King. How do you respond to the charge of plotlessness?

I'm not sure why readers see my stories as plotless. Perhaps it's because the storyline is buried a bit farther back than is usual in most horror fiction. Perhaps at this point I should bring up the incredible importance of Poe, who is so often overlooked among contemporary horror readers. Probably the reason I don't often mention Poe is that his significance for my writing is so fundamental and pervasive that I don't even take special notice of it, although any reader can easily detect the both direct and indirect mark of this master, especially in forming my conception of what the literary form of the short story should consist of and apsire to. What Poe invented -- at lest as exhibited in his best stories, such as "Masque of the Red Death" and "Usher" -- was truly a new literary form, one that combined qualities of the lyric poem, the personal essay, and the traditional short tale. It's very interesting that almost no fiction writer has followed the model that Poe is recognized as establishing. After Poe the short story evolved or relapsed into a fictional form that stands in relation to the novel as a one-act play does to a full-length drama -- that is, just a shorter version of the longer form. Lovecraft was outstandingly one of the few writers of his time to have grasped the value and possibilites of Poe's short story. The same could be said of Jorge Luis Borges, who was quite explicit about his familiarity with both Poe and Lovecraft.

I'm an artist myself, though a painter, and I share the same view of an "icy bleakness of things." I often feel like the protagonist in Nabakov's story "The Terror." Can you elaborate more on your worldview and what possible events in your life might've led up to your view? And also, ever heard of the Yugoslavian band Devil Doll? They have similar ideas running through their music. And when is your next collection of tales or any new individual story coming?

Triangulating the Daemon
Esoterra Interview
Published by TLO

What are you currently working on, and when can we expect it in the stores? Is it more horror fiction, and short stories, or something different?

I don?t have a next book. I?ve never had a next book, since I?m not a professional writer and have only written horror stories out of the usual impulses for self expression, ego gratification, escapism, and what have you. You can?t support yourself writing short horror stories, and that?s probably just as well. Horror stories were the first form of writing that I took an interest in. Writers like Lovecraft, Poe, Machen, James and Blackwood made a big impression on me in the early 1970s, so much so that when I think about writing anything I only think about it in terms of writing horror stories. As a writer, nothing else interests me. As a reader, it?s a different story. But everything I read always has some definite aspect of darkness and nihilism.

How did you come to work with David Tibet and Durtro Press on the book and CD collaboration In a Foreign Town, In a Foreign Land? What served, if anything, as the unifying inspiration behind these four ?seemingly? connected stories? Which inspired which, the music or the prose?

David Tibet is an incredibly well-read individual, and his reading interests include classic horror fiction of the kind that has served as a model for my own writing. He has read my stories and sent me practically the entire catalogue of Current 93 on CD, sensing that I would discover a fundamental likeness in artistic and philosophic attitude between us and suggesting a collaboration. I did indeed sense that likeness in attitude and proposed that I write several very short stories that he could integrate in some way into a Current 93 recording. The stories became longer than I originally intended them to be and started to bleed into one another to compose a larger piece that was ultimately published by Durtro as, In a Foreign Town, In a Foreign Land, titled after a line in the classic Current 93 song, "Falling Back in Fields of Rape", and issued with an accompanying CD by Current 93. I don?t readily recall what made In a Foreign Town, In a Foreign Land ultimately take the form it did as a more or less integrated work. I don?t usually remember much about beginnings of most of the stories I?ve written. In a Foreign Town, In a Foreign Land seems very much a piece similar to a certain type of story which I?ve written over and over through the years, featuring a quasi-fantastical and deteriorated town where puppet-like characters play out their doom. As I remember it, I sent the stories to David one at a time, and I believe that he and his colleagues were working on the music about the same time I was producing the tales.

Do you have any plans to work with Mr. Tibet again?

Yes I do, although this time I?ll be functioning as a member of the Current 93 unit, which as their admirers know, shifts its participating personnel somewhat from recording to recording while maintaining the core figures of David Tibet and Steven Stapleton. On this project, I actually came through with several short texts that in form are somewhere between song lyrics and nearly free verse poetry. The title of the recording will be, "I Have a Special Plan for This World." [A new collaboration in the works is titled ?This Degenerate Little Town.?]

How about collaborations with other artists or writers in the future?


The stories which make up the contents of In a Foreign Town, In a Foreign Land appear, at least upon the surface, to be connected with each other in some very subtle ways. Were they intended to be linked, or is that merely a literary artifice? One theme I was able to divine concerns the nature of ?haunting?, or of people, objects, houses, and even entire towns being ?haunted?. This idea seems to be a recurring idea throughout many of your stories. Is this close to the truth, or have I been hoodwinked by ". . .a genius of the most insidious illusions" such as is the fate of the narrator of the fourth and final tale in In a Foreign Town, In a Foreign Land, "When you hear the singing, you will know it is time"?

I?ve already explained the first part of this question, regarding links and origins. The haunting of persons and places is hard to get away from for any horror writer, since everyone and everything bears the signs and scars of the horrible history of existence. To be alive is to be haunted by the whole of creation and at the same time to be a creature that participates in and perpetuates this haunting.

Relate your involvement with the recent Durtro Press publication of David Banritz? collection of poems, The Book of Jade.

The way the Durtro edition of this volume came about was this: some years ago I found a copy of The Book of Jade in a bookstore in St. Petersburg, Florida. It occurred to me after I bought the book that it might once have belonged to Robert Barlow, a native Floridian and friend of H.P. Lovecraft who was name by Lovecraft to be the executor of his estate. It is suggested in his letters that Lovecraft owned a copy of The Book of Jade. Could Lovecraft have bestowed his copy on his young friend or had Barlow come into possession of it after Lovecraft?s death? Barlow moved around quite a bit subsequent to Lovecraft?s death, but possibly the book somehow remained or ended up back in Florida, perhaps being passed down from collector to book dealer many times before I spotted it at a place called Lighthouse Books. Later, I read an essay on The Book of Jade published by Mark Valentine in AKLO.

In 1996, Carroll and Graf published the first omnibus collection of your short stories, culled from your first three volumes of tales, as well as six new stories under an enigmatic heading which read: "Teatro Grottesco and other tales". Were these new tales published solely for The Nightmare Factory, or are they part of a new work in progress? I found these six stories to be some of the finest, if not THE finest work you have yet produced, most notably "Severini", which to me, could easily be considered as your ultimate homage to H.P. Lovecraft. Tell me, did you have him in mind when you wrote it? I loved the phrase, "the nightmare of the organism", which sums up in my mind your entire philosophy, a type of dark, nihilistic gnosis of dread, marked by a noted fear of and revulsion for the physical, corporeal world we inhabit. I also detected a certain fugue-like, repetitious rhythm throughout its entirety, serving to both understate and underline the central horror of St. Alban's Marsh. Did any music aid in this particular tale's construction?

The "Teatro Grottesco" stories were just coincidentally written around the same time that Robinson Publishing [the U.K. firm who first published The Nightmare Factory in 1996] proposed doing this collected volume, which was of the nature of a collection of New and Selected Stories. I've always written one story at a time and have never thought in terms of a series of stories that will compose any single particular volume, In a Foreign Town notwithstanding. As far as "Severini" is concerned, I don't recall what got that story started but in writing this story I'm sure I wasn't thinking of Lovecraft any more than I usually am, and far less so than in writing others such as "The Last Feast of Harlequin" or "The Sect of the Idiot". The musical repetition of ideas and phrases in that story can be directly attributed to the influence of the Austrian novelist Thomas Bernhard. Bernhard was a trained musician and often wrote about musicians. I've always been a shameless imitator of other writers' styles, and the "Teatro Grottesco" stories are my Bernhard stories. In fact, I'm doing Bernhard to some degree in this interview, just as "Drink to Me Only With Labyrinthine Eyes" is my Stanley Elkin story; "The Nightmare Network" is my William S. Burroughs story; "The Medusa" is my E.M. Cioran story; "Mrs. Rinaldi's Angel" and several others are my Bruno Shulz stories; and most of the stories in the first two sections of Songs of a Dead Dreamer are my Vladimir Nabokov stories.

Speaking of music, what kind do you listen to? Any favorite bands or composers? What do you like most about Current 93's work?
I listen mostly to instrumental rock music. My favorite bands of the past in this genre are the Shadows and various surf bands, including the Chantays ("Pipeline") and the Sandals ("Theme for 'The Endless Summer'"). My favorite contemporary instrumental bands are the Mermen, Pell Mell, the Aqua Velvets, Scenic, and others I can't recall at the moment. I'm also a big fan of such "guitar hero" figures as Eric Johnson, Steve Morse, and the late Danny Gatton, to whom I dedicated The Agonizing Resurrection of Victor Frankenstein. What I like most about Current 93's work is its sheer visionary intensity, and what I like to consider its morbidity and world disgust. To hear David Tibet screaming, "Dead, dead, dead, dead" or mewling an ode to the memory of Louis Wain, makes me glad to be half-alive.

Someone once told me that you are (in-) famous for continually revising and rewriting your stories, and that the versions of your earlier collected tales published in The Nightmare Factory differ from their originals. Is this true? How many drafts of a story do you usually write?

It is true that I do usually revise my tales several times before I am satisfied with the finished product, but the stories in The Nightmare Factory are not revisions. However, the British editions of my earlier works do differ from their American counterparts in that they form the first drafts of those particular stories, with the exception of the British imprint of The Nightmare Factory. Despite all this though, I usually only write one draft of any given story, with some exceptions.

Do you have any spiritual leanings? Religious observances, habits, etc?

I've had what one might call spiritual dabblings or minor obsessions over the years, much as many kids from the 1960s have had. I was a fairly devout Catholic as a child, less so as a teenager, and not at all since my late teens. Then it was transcendental "this" or "that", "this" or "that" sort of Eastern doctrine, one guru or another. I'll get excited for a while with a new "spiritual" toy and then become bored or irritated, after which I lapse back into ... nothing, really: television, my job, the daily routine.

Have the tenets and philosophy/cosmology of the early Gnostic cults had any influence upon your thinking, and/or writing?

I liked the Gnostics because they cursed the same things I?ve cursed: the Boss of the Bible, the ways of the world, and so on. Of course, they always had their own absentee Boss way out there beyond contemplation or criticism, and I could never follow them to that place.

You seem to enjoy the short story/novella framework. Have you ever considered writing a novel length tale?

No, I haven't. And to be completely honest, I really don't enjoy any kind of fiction of any length, except fiction that is extremely unfiction-like: the essay-like stories of Borges, the novel-length but not at all novel-like rants of Bernhard, the poetic prose of Schulz, the pamphleteering fantasies of Burroughs. Conventional fiction, however, is something that doesn't interest me any more than ballet or opera.

How large a role do your dreams play in the creation of your work? Do you keep a dream journal? Do you have lucid dreams? How often are you plagued/blessed by actual nightmares, if at all?

I've written a number of stories that were inspired by nightmares, if only because they supply an emotional stimulus that is suited to horror fiction and that one doesn?t usually experience in daily life. I dream vividly every night and experience upsetting nightmares every week or so. But I don't brood over my dreams or cultivate them in any way or attribute secret meanings to them. I had a few lucid dreams during my childhood. I also had a lot of nightmares and hypnagogic hallucinations as a child. Prominent among my earliest memories are horrific television shows from the late 1950s and early 1960s, although I can't specify what these shows might have been. I still have nightmares about scary TV shows and movies with unimaginably monstrous images and incidents and no certainty at all about them, just a lingering phantasmagoria of fear. . .

List a few of your literary influences/inspirations. Who are your favorite authors? Do you read any fiction by present day writers?

Over the years there have been quite a few writers whose influence has shown up in my stories, sometimes in subtle ways and other times quite openly and shamelessly. In a number of my early stories, such as "Dream of a Mannikin" and "Les Fleurs", I did my best to ape the lavish language and maniacal first-person voice of Vladimir Nabokov, as well as copping his brilliant strategy of using a fantastic narrative to tell a fantastic story. It's a simple idea, really, although few writers before him had employed this very commonsensical approach to fantastic fiction. Nabokov conjured a spectral world right before the reader's eyes, often, I'm sure, without many readers noticing that he had done so. Of course, there are any number of authors with fancy prose styles and intricate, though not necessarily fantastic, narrative structures, but Nabokov's works also conveyed to my mind a profound perception of a perilous and senseless cosmos upon which art may pose a temporary, though ultimately helpless, order. There's a line in his short novel Pnin that goes, I hope I've got this verbatim: "Harm is the norm; doom shall not jam." It's the background of bleakness with a foreground of hypnotic artistry that has appealed to me in Nabokov as well as in such writers as Bruno Shulz, Jorge Luis Borges, William Burroughs, the Japanese poet Hagiwara Sakutaro, and Thomas Bernhard. Lovecraft was the first writer of this sort that I read, and in addition to being an artist whose works harmonized so well with my literary tastes, he was also the first author with whom I strongly identified. This may sound bizarre or pathetic, but H.P. Lovecraft has been, bar none other, the most intense and real personal presence in my life. Lovecraft was a dark guru who confirmed to me all my most awful suspicions about the universe.

Gothic Tales (or, The Agonizing Resurrection of Victor Frankenstein) is, amongst other things, an homage to classic horror films. Name some of your favorite movies, and are there any recent films which you've enjoyed?

I enjoyed all the old horror movies when I was a kid and saw them on TV. Most of them?Dracula, Phantom of the Opera, and so on?I can no longer watch with any enjoyment. I faithfully attended Saturday and Sunday matinees throughout the 1960s, during the heyday of Hammer Films and William Castle movies. These days, I'll still watch The Exorcist or The Omen, or parts of them, if they turn up on TV. And I'll go to see the latest Alien movie or whatever, but not out of any particular devotion to the genre of horror films. I've never been truly fanatical about horrific subject matter in any other medium than prose or poetry.

Are you sure your film list isn't lacking a few titles? I've always considered your work, especially the stories in Songs of a Dead Dreamer, to be the literary equivalent of the film work of the Brothers Quay. Have you seen their animated movies?

Yes, I have. About ten years or so ago, a friend said the same thing to me, and I eventually saw some of the Quay Brothers short at the local art institute. I suppose you could say that a few of my stories resemble the Quay Brothers' movies, particularly the Street of Crocodiles, which is, after all, based on the Bruno Schulz tale of the same name. I?ve since seen Institute Benjamenta, although I can?t say I was crazy about it.

Do you suffer from any allergies? Any physical/psychological maladies?

No allergies. As to other disorders, I?ve struggled with Anxiety-Panic Disorder since I was 17.

Have you been approached by Hollywood or other film makers yet?

Yet?! That's another world entirely from the minor, small press cult figure one that I inhabit. Oddly enough, I recently co-wrote a script for an episode of The X-Files, but that was done as sort of a lark. Someone I work with named Brandon Trenz, who knows a lot more about television and movies than I ever will, described to me an opening scene for The X-Files that I thought was terrific. We wrote a script treatment and then completed a script. But it's not as if the producers of the show asked us to do it, and I don't expect that it will ever come to their notice, although we're doing what we can to sell the thing, or perhaps turn it into a screenplay that no one except the people we know will ever see. [Since the publication of this interview Brandon Trenz and I have adapted the X-Files teleplay into a full-length script and my story ?The Last Feast of Harlequin? was optioned by a Hollywood production company. Brandon and I provided them with a spec script for this story, although it?s fate is still undetermined.]

After reading Noctuary I felt that the over-powering nihilism and claustrophobia exhibited throughout these stories had possibly led you into a dark psychic/philosophical quandary from which you wouldn't be able to escape. In other words, it seemed to me that you had quite literally written yourself into a "corner", so to speak. How would you contrast these stories with, say, the ones which make up the "Teatro Grottesco" stories? Which tales did you write first, the ones published in Noctuary or the ones in "Teatro"?

Well, as Samuel Beckett has proven, there's nothing to say to begin with but that shouldn't stop you from enjoying the distractions of literature. Seriously, I know what you mean; it's just that one's philosophy has nothing to do with anything. All the systems and speculations of philosophy?The Will, the Thing-in-itself, the Ubermensch, the concept of Nothingness, and so on, are merely characters in a series melodrama. Most literature, and all good literature, is based upon feeling bad, on being sick in a specific way that motivates one to disseminate the pain. Artistically, fear is a very profitable way of feeling bad, whereas, for instance, being depressed is not. There's no section in the bookstore devoted to Depression Fiction. The depression stuff is over on the self-help shelves. Depression has no literary voice. I wrote the stories in Noctuary some years before the "Teatro Grottesco" stories.

Do you ever suffer from writer's block? Is writing easy or difficult for you?

No, I've never suffered from anything like writer's block. Writing is difficult for me only in the sense that it stresses me out so much that I become physically ill after about an hour of doing it. My stomach becomes severely upset, my anxiety level goes through the roof, and I just have to stop. This is why I've never been very prolific and will become less so as time goes by and my little flame starts to go out.

One of my favorite stories of yours is "The Medusa" in Noctuary: "We may hide from horror only in the heart of horror". Absolutely brilliant, that! Almost a Buddhist expression of wholly accepting the appearances of all things as they arise in one's mind, without discrimination, or dualistic prejudice. Do you feel that there is any spark of genuine "divinity", for lack of a better term, within the heart or soul of humanity? Or are we just truly bestial to the core and doomed to entropic decay in abysses of unfathomable annihilation?

I appreciate your reading "The Medusa" as a reflection of some superior consciousness on my part, but I assure you it's not the case. I've been fascinated by mysticism in various forms for some time, probably because my temperament is so alien to the non-dualist mind, or no-nmind or whatever, to which you allude. Obviously, human beings are very devious and complicated, and certainly one has the sense at times that we are in some way wonderful and bizarre creatures. But I think the whole spiritual aspect of humanity is pure self-promotion on our part, and I don't think there's anything behind the curtain of our flesh. Yes, the universe is very strange, but its strangeness seems to me based on a haunting emptiness where one might expect, unwarrantedly, something to be.

Do you have a particular "Muse"?

Yes?sickness of the body and the mind.

Most critics have justly hailed you as the greatest weird fiction writer working today. Do you think this praise is justified?

My horror story collections have gotten a high percentage of favorable reviews. I don't think any of those reviews mentioned my being the greatest anything. But thanks all the same.

Any indications or comments regarding the future forms of horror?

Horror fiction, like all genre fiction, seems to exist in two worlds: one is the world of pure entertainment, which hasn't changed since the days of Ann Radcliffe; the other is a world sparsely populated by a few great mutants like Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, who had the weird luck of finding the most apt and personal means for artistic expression in a mass-market medium. I don't see why it should be any different, say, ten or twenty years from now. On the other hand, perhaps the advent of some really effective psychopharmaceuticals will make the whole enterprise of horror fiction incomprehensible to future generations.

In your story "In the Shadow of Another World", there is a character named after artist/seer Austin Osman Spare. How much of a role does mysticism or the occult play in the construction of your tales, or more importantly, should one look for occult or mystic "truths" in your writing?

I've always considered the occult in horror fiction functioned very much as Lovecraft said it did: as strictly a literary device, a familiar framework within which one attempts to tell a new tale.

Occult books feature in a few of your stories, most notably "Vastarien". Have you been inspired by any occult writing?

Not yet.

What is your favorite piece among all your work?

"The Shadow at the Bottom of the World". Autumn has always held a special magic for me, and I tried to put as much of that feeling as I could into this story.

Did any teacher during your formative years especially inspire you or guide your development as a writer?

Yes. My fourth-grade teacher, Mr. Lutz. But all his work was undone by subsequent teachers, and I had to start all over again on my own several years later.

What do you like about living in the Detroit area?

I really have no special appreciation for the Detroit area that I'm aware of. As long as all the modern conveniences are available to me, I could live in a bubble city on the moon or in an underwater shopping mall. Of course, I've never lived anywhere else, so this idea that it doesn't matter to me where I live could be a complete delusion, and probably is. I exist in pretty much a constant state of nervous agitation so I seldom take any enjoyment in my surroundings, except possibly to the extent that they stimulate my imagination and allow me the fleeting sense that I'm no longer in a physical locale but in some imaginary venue. This sense is often provoked by driving through very shabby urban areas on my way to or from my job. [Unfortunately no longer the case since two years ago the company I work for moved to a pristine suburb west of Detroit.] But this feeling usually lasts for only a split second. I do put a sort of imaginary value on living in Michigan because it's in the northern hemisphere and not the southern hemisphere, toward which I feel a definite aversion. In fact, I feel a definite aversion toward all geography that's not in the northern half of the northern hemisphere. I really don't even like the word "south" or anything that's in southern places, whether it's in South America or Africa or Asia or wherever. On the other hand, I don't have any problem, in my imagination, with North America, northern Europe, northern Asia, and so on. Anywhere in which the natural landscape dies, or at least goes into a state of suspended animation, for a part of the year, is okay with me. I'm imaginatively averse to tropical regions, especially jungles. I'd rather live in a parking lot than anywhere near a jungle.

Does Thomas Ligotti have a "better half", a partner in crime, a mate? If so, how would you characterize the relationship?

No, I just have the one half and that's plenty for me to deal with.

What do you look for in a friend?

Somehow this seems to me an even weirder question than the one about my having any allergies. I guess the quality I most prize in other people is their willingness to be content with relating to me on an extremely superficial basis consisting largely of laughs and an exchange of opinions on movies and TV shows. Or to wax uncharacteristically metaphysical about it, I try to keep most people at arm's length because I don't want to generate any unnecessary future karma for myself by getting seriously involved with them.

[hr]Originally published in Esoterra © Spring 1999

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