Wednesday, February 07, 2018

The Lovecaftian Thing a Day (2018) No.38: Songs of a Dead Dreamer

Whilst the works of Thomas Ligotti appeared various times during 2016’s Lovecraftian Thing a Day, I’m still surprised that, given its profound effect on me, his premier collection was never mentioned.

After encountering Lovecraft and familiarising myself with his work, I felt as if I had experienced the
end of horror, lacking the capacity to imagine where else the genre had left to go after reaching what seemed to be its conceptual and philosophical outer limits in Lovecraft’s cosmicism. Reading Ligotti’s Songs of a Dead Dreamer in 1989 (the first UK edition published by Robinson) was, therefore, something of a road to Damascus moment; and as with such encounters with the ineffeable, it remains for me an experience which eludes a ready means of description. In the wake of True Detective (Ligotti simplified and made noirishly hip for impatient and entitled millennials) it has become all too easy to categorise Ligotti’s work as a literary expression of nihilistic antinatalism (of which, ultimately, True Detective proves to be a betrayal), the writer himself appears to maintain an absolute and unwavering committment to the utter truth of the horror in his writing - even to the extent that, because of this, at least one other extremely well-known horror writer (who I consider cowardly and guilty of an act of bad faith as a consequence) has virtually condemned Ligotti’s workWhich probably has me coming across as a bit of a Ligotti fanboy...

In any case, I still have difficulty trying to ‘explain’ Ligotti to others.

Let Ligotti, then, speak for himself.

Thus, dear reader, I leave you with a few choice paragraphs plucked from Songs of a Dead Dreamer. Whilst not quite Ligotti at the height of his powers, these morsels perhaps give an inkling of the tone and themes of the work of someone who, I would argue, should be recognised as one of the greatest - if not the strangest - horror writers of the present time:

“Think of it: wood waking up. I can’t put it any clearer than that. And let’s not forget about the painted hair and lips, the glassy eyes. These, too, are aroused from a sleep that should never have been broken; these, too, are now part of a tingling network of dummy-nerves, alive and aware in a way we cannot begin to imagine. This is something too painful for tears and so the dummy laughs in your face, trying to give vent to a horror that was no part of his old home of wood and paint and glass. But this horror is the very essence of its new home—our world.”

Mr. Locrian has been true to his promise; he has told me of certain things when I was ready to hear them. And he has other things to tell me, secrets surpassing all insanity. Commending me to an absolute cure, he will have immured another soul within the black and boundless walls of that eternal asylum where stars dance forever like bright puppets in the silent, staring void.

Rampant oddity seemed to be the rule of the realm, while imperfection was the paradoxical source of idealities—miracles of aberrance and marvels of miscreation. There was horror, undoubtedly. But it was a horror uncompromised by any feeling of lost joy or a thwarted searching for the good. Instead, there was proffered a deliverance by damnation. And if Vastarien was a nightmare, it was a nightmare transformed in spirit by the utter absence of refuge: nightmare made normal.

Songs of a Dead Dreamer is currently available in a revised Penguin Classics edition.

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