an infernal paradise

May 28, 2018

a city of the future - London

In Lovecraft’s defining stories, meaning such later works as “The Shadow out of Time” and “At the Mountains of Madness,” there is a sense of adventure. In his letters, Lovecraft often wrote of experiencing moments of what he called “adventurous expectancy,” by which he meant feeling oneself on the brink of some weird and hyper-exciting revelation that is always held in suspension and never known in its particulars. This is patently an aesthetic perception of existence. Borges described a similar feeling of the imminence of a revelation that never occurs as the definitive aesthetic experience. In Lovecraft’s work, unlike that of Borges, the origin of his feeling of adventurous expectancy derives from something terrible that is associated with the inconceivable spatial and temporal nature of the physical universe. I think that a great many people experience the same thing in their lives. I have myself. But it never occurred to me to express this feeling as a source of adventure in my stories.

My focus has fairly consistently been on what I have thought of as an “infernal paradise,” a realm where one wallows in something putrid and corrosive that lies beyond exact perception. In his stories, Lovecraft’s adventurous expectancy ultimately has its origin in something terrible, and not the child’s picture-book wonderland you find in the work of a lot of writers of fantastic fiction. But it’s still thrilling in its own way. It isn’t purely hellish, as is the case with my stories. Lovecraft was an astronomy buff as a child and so this feeling probably stemmed from that time. I was a pathological Catholic as a child, and one might make a connection between my early life and my later writings on that basis. Ultimately, the difference I’m trying to articulate between Lovecraft’s adventurous expectancy and my infernal paradise may seem superficial. I would say as much myself. But it seems to me that what captivates a reader’s interest in one writer’s work as opposed to another’s is quite often based on superficial qualities, even when there are deeper likenesses. Anyone can think of examples among both popular and literary writers. Lovecraft’s defining works portray a variety of monsters. Mine seldom do. What’s the difference? Not much on the deepest level. But monsters are a great literary hook and there is necessarily a surface adventure in dealing with them. If asked to name the definitive image in Lovecraft, one might likely say its tentacles flailing from the body of a monster. For me it would be probably be puppets, manikins, and clown-like things, even though these are more often a matter of metaphor than a literal presence of a monstrous type. Nevertheless, if Lovecraft’s tentacle monsters and my puppets and so on fought each other, I think the monsters would win.

Thomas Ligotti
Interview: Thomas Ligotti and the Realm of Nightmares
Weird Review 15th October 2015

Since I was a child, I’ve used my imagination to escape from life. At the same time, my imagination has plagued me with both reality-based anxieties as well as anxieties based entirely in the imagination, such as the fear of Hell I was taught to have by the Catholic Church. Paired with a talent for literary composition, a talent that it took me over ten years to refine, I became a writer of horror stories. To my mind, writing is the most important form of human expression, not only artistic writing but also philosophical writing, critical writing, etc. Art as such, especially programmatic music such as operas, seems trivial to me by comparison, however much pleasure we may get from it. Writing is the most effective way to express and confront the full range of the realities of life. I can honestly say that the primary stature I attach to writing is not self-serving. I’ve been captivated to some degree by all forms of creativity and expression—the visual arts, film, design of any sort, and especially music. In college I veered from literature to music for a few years, which is the main reason it took me six years to get an undergraduate degree in liberal arts. I’ve loved music for as long as I can remember. Since my instrument is the guitar, I know every form and style in its history and have written the classical, acoustic, and electric forms of this instrument. I think because I have had such a love and understanding of music do I realize, to my grief, its limitations. Writing is less limited in the consolations it offers to those who have lost a great deal in their lives. And it continues to console until practically everything in a person’s life has been lost. Words and what they express have the best chance of returning the baneful stare of life.

Thomas Ligotti
Interview with Wonderbook

I’ve used dreams in my fiction in various ways. In order to keep from writing a long essay on this subject, I’ll provide only a few examples. In some of my stories the protagonist will have a dream that advances the plot, which is the simplest and most often used function of dreams in fiction. In “The Sect of the Idiot,” for instance, a dream turns out to be a vision of something fantastic that turns out to exist in reality. In this case, the dream prepared the revelation of a fantastic metaphysics. The inversion of this method is familiar to readers of ghost stories in which a character meets someone who is later revealed to be dead and therefore could only have been a ghost. In other stories of mine, a dream might explicate a concept, theme, or something that might otherwise come across as too cerebral in the waking section of the narrative. The dream in “The Sect of the Idiot” also serves this function. In “The Bungalow House,” I described a series of what I designated as “dream monologues” that were recorded on tape and intended to be works of art. The first dream monologue was a transcription of an actual dream I had and wrote down soon after I awoke, so it was also initiated my writing of the entire story. A second dream monologue in “The Bungalow House” was only summarized, while a third was simply given a title, because at that point I had established the nature of the dream monologues in their incidents and meaning. For my purposes, to describe each dream monologue in its entirety would have slowed the pace of the story. All of the dream monologues were used to characterize the peculiar nature of the main character’s psychology. Sometimes I’ll characterize the events of a narrative as being dreamlike in some specific way, because over the years I’ve noted qualities that characterize dreams, such as that they have no beginning, an idea that was recently used in the movie Inception to prove to a character that she was functioning in a dream and not in conventional reality. A very short story I wrote called “One May Be Dreaming” is pretty obviously a dream from beginning to end. The whole point of the story was that the protagonist was having a dream at the same time he was dying in real life. Usually, it’s not exposed until the end of the story that the whole thing was a dream. For his story “Where He Was Going,” William Burroughs employs this method, his use of which he credits to Ernest Hemingway’s “Snows of Kilimanjaro.” “Man from the South” was Jorge Luis Borges’s rendition of this narrative structure. Perhaps I should say that I don’t think that dreams are anything more than rearranged experiences, sensations, and emotions. While they may easily be interpreted as symbolic or premonitory or whatever, I don’t believe that they are anything but intrusions upon what might otherwise be wholly unconscious hours of sleep.

Thomas Ligotti
Interview with Wonderbook

head-bird

This, then, is the ultimate, that is only, 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. Amazing thing to say, the consolation of horror in art is that it actually intensifies our panic, loudens it on the sounding-board of our horror-hollowed hearts, turns terror up full blast, all the while reaching for that perfect and deafening amplitude at which we may dance to the bizarre music of our own misery.

Thomas Ligotti
The Nightmare Factory

Flugblatt_Zauberey_1626_witches

Quinn seemed to have become one of a jaded philosophical society, a group of arcane deviates. Their raison d’être was a kind of mystical masochism, forcing initiates toward feats of occult daredevilry – “glimpsing the inferno with eyes of ice”, to take from the notebook a phrase that was repeated often and seemed a sort of chant of power. As I suspected, hallucinogenic drugs were used by the sect, and there was no doubt that they believed themselves communing with strange metaphysical venues. Their chief aim, in true mystical fashion, was to transcend common reality in the search for higher states of being, but their stratagem was highly unorthodox, a strange detour along the usual path toward positive illumination. Instead, they maintained a kind of blasphemous fatalism, a doomed determinism which brought them face to face with realms of obscure horror. Perhaps it was this very obscurity that allowed them the excitement of their central purpose, which seemed to be a precarious flirting with personal apocalypse, the striving for horrific dominion over horror itself.

Thomas Ligotti
The Nightmare Factory