November 13th, 2010

S.C. Hickman

Thomas Ligotti: Epicure of Pessimism - Part III

"We need books that affect us like a misfortune, that hurt us a great deal, like the death of someone whom we loved more than ourselves, like a suicide, a book must be an ax in a frozen sea inside us.”
               – Kafka writing to Ernst Pollak

Harold Bloom writing on Edgar Allen Poe told us that "something primordial in Poe tapped into a universal anguish." Bloom also subscribes to the dictum that the subtle art of criticism, and art for that matter, can only teach us "how to talk to ourselves and how to endure ourselves... the proper use of one's own solitude, that solitude whose final form is one's confrontation with one's own mortality.... the rest is silence." 

Within that strange realm we call the modern weird tale one can see the 'universal anguish' shaping itself into an aesthetic splendor full of cognitive power and deep wisdom. The modern weird tale marks out a territory of myth and imaginative literature which gives to both its practitioners and its readers a counter-sublime. At the heart of this dark fantastic is a raging confrontation and displacement of the real by the 'Order of the Unreal'.

As one of its post-modern masters, Thomas Ligotti, inhabits a special place where the confrontation with mortality takes on an agon which is at once a lie against time and ignorance, a battle against the illusionary traps that engulf people in a nightmare world of panic and anxiety. A cascade of stimulants and hormones - adrenaline, epinephrine, glycogen, cortical, norepinephrine, among others - flood all the cells of the body via the bloodstream releasing a dread anxiety that sends each victim scurrying irrationally into the dark recesses of imagined safety. Agoraphobic. Full of that dread of others that is the earmark of certain type of insanity the victim falls prey to paralyzing terror, begins to shake uncontrollably, nauseous, trembling, sweating... The victims of this dark fate are part and partial of what Ligotti calls the 'human phenomenon':

"The human phenomenon is but the sum of densely coiled layers of illusion each of which winds itself on the supreme insanity that there are persons of any kind when all there can be is mindless mirrors laughing and screaming as they parade about in an endless dream."  
 
 

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