Saturday, September 17, 2016

Lovecraftian Thing a Day No.261: Teatro Grottesco

Teatro Grottesco kicks of what may be a few days of Thomas Ligotti items. I begin the series with this particular collection because it contains 'Purity': probably my current favourite of Ligotti's tales, and one which uses the genre to deconstructs some of the key institutions underpinning contemporary Euro-Ameican democratic nation-states - as well as human society more generally - via a tale involving a rather strange family, a serial child-murderer, and the revelation that some heads are more haunted than others.

Whilst Ligotti's fiction has been widely lauded, astonishingly Ligotti himself has also come in for some criticism from within the horror community for, it seems, taking horror as an artform too seriously. Specifically, the critique focuses on Ligotti's use of the genre - like Lovecraft - as the medium for expressing a philosophy, ideology and worldview: in Ligotti's case, a nihilistic antinatalism which holds that humans are biological automata for whom consciousness (or at least the illusion of consciousness and the subsequent belief that we possess some kind of essentialised self) is the worst thing that could have ever happened to our species.

After encountering Lovecraft's cosmicising of horror, it was difficult for me to see where the genre had left to go - whether it was in fact possible to out-Lovecraft Lovecraft. Ligotti proved to me that this was, indeed, possible via the uncompromising extremity - the purity - of his view; added to which the manner that he personalises the abstractions of Lovecraft's nihilism in a very psychologised and Poesque manner make them all the more papable and visceral.

Returning to the matter of the criticisms levelled at him, Ligotti has been very upfront about the fact that his fiction expresses his own deep-seated anxieties and beliefs regarding the nature of the cosmos, leading to the subsequent accusation that he is effectively presenting his own mental illness as a fully-blown and intellectually coherent philosophy. Such a claim - especially coming ss it does from within the horror community - seems to me to be an expression of a kind of Satrean Bad Faith: that horror and horror writing should not give expression to the author's genuine convictions, thus implying that all the genre is really good for is offering a few cheap thrills. Now I'm pretty certain that this was not the intention behind said claim but, if anything, the fact that Ligotti's fiction is so terrifying to some readers that they simply cannot contemplate or conceive of the possibility that it might represent the genuine order of things, then that in itself is a huge testament to the power of his work. Some heads, indeed, are more haunted than others.

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