01 November 2004

Thomas Ligotti Interview

One of the best interviews I've read in a while is the new Fantastic Metropolis interview with Thomas Ligotti, conducted by Neddal Ayad. I've only read a bit of Ligotti's fiction, and none recently, but I found the interview fascinating. Here is a writer who names Poe, Lovecraft, Nabokov, Bruno Schulz, and Thomas Bernhard as influences. A few choice moments from the interview to tempt you to go read the whole thing:
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.

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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.

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Fiction can't be subversive. If the reader feels threatened, then he'll stop 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
There's a lot more. It may not be uplifting, but Ligotti's fierce intelligence makes the interview stimulating reading.

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