I don’t enjoy most popular horror and I don’t normally buy horror to read, but this book attracted me. It has nice cover art (you can judge a book by its cover), and I had noticed it at the bookstore for some time before finally deciding to get it. I might write more about this later, but for now my review from Amazon…
It seems some people just didn’t get this book. I suppose I understand their confusion. Its a very experimental book in how it combines autobiography and story all the while doing this as a collaboration. Its impressive considering how difficult a challenge this must have been.
I liked it. There were some deep insights in this book and they avoided giving easy answers or simple stories. Its not exactly a novel, but I wouldn’t go so far to say the label doesn’t apply. There are many stories within the book. More importantly, its about the process of making stories out of life experience and making sense of life experience through story.
There is a cleverness to this book, but it didn’t seem pretentious to me. What the authors set out to do necessitated cleverness. I enjoyed how smoothly they mixed nonfiction and fiction.
I was satisfied enough with this book that I give it an overall good review. It was worth the money spent. It wasn’t perfect, but its hard to imagine any two authors collaborating to create something better. I’ve never read anything that compares to this book and so reviewing it is difficult. Fortunately, I had no expectations going in and so I was able to judge it on its own merits. However, if someone buys it hoping for a normal novel, then they’d be dissapointed.
There is something specific that I appreciated the most. Horror is too often limited to the perspective of the individual. This book is about how closely related are love and fear.
Its a hard book to get a grasp of, but I think it will grow on me more and more. I immediately read back through the book after finishing it. I’m sure its a book I will return to many times.
I’ll sort of keep with the theme of my recent blogs, but lighten up the mood a bit. One thing I’ve come to enjoy more and more is a good musical. It was either The Rocky Horror Picture Show or Jesus Christ Superstar that first made me fall in love with musicals. Even so, I still don’t like the classic musicals to any great degree.
I’m glad that the musical is getting a modernized revival, but there is a particular category of musical that is quite surprising in its popularity. The category I speak of is the comedy horror musical. Its about as lighthearted and silly as horror can get and still vaguely be called horror.
Maybe it isn’t surprising at all when considering the modern musical’s origin in opera. There are plenty of tragic operas, but as far as I know operas aren’t known for their comedy. In my meager research, it seems that the comedy horror musical was an American invention, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show might’ve been the first.
One other that might be added is Wicked: The Musical. But I’m not sure as I’ve never watched it. Even though its about the Wicked Witch of Oz, it sounds more like a tragic romance story.
Then again, most of the musicals I put in my blog aren’t very horrific. Cannibal hasfew scenes ofpartially realistic ripping and eating of flesh, but its pretty silly for the most part. Sweeney Todd might be the least funny of these, but its definitely over-the-top… althoughmost horror movies are over-the-top I guess. I’ve never watched all of Repo. It looks like it could get a bit graphic.
By the way, you can watch a recording of the entire live performance of Wicked. Its on Youtube and you’ll find it at the link I provided in my previous comment. I just watched it and it doesn’t fit with the others. There is a Wicked Witch, but she is portrayed very sympathetically. I would recommend it thouhbecause it shows what happened before Dorothy ever visited Oz.
The Secret Life of Puppets
by Victoria Nelson
At the same time, however, this demonology is the only avenue open to the transcendental. “You can raise issues in the horror genre that you can’t raise so easily in other types of films,” a Hollywood screenwriter once ingenuously explained, adding, “Characters can talk about the existence of God in a horror movie, whereas in other films that would be incredibly pretentious.” Ironically, beacause of the old Reformation link between Catholicism and the supernatural, the only means for defending oneself against the Devil in these narratives is always represented as a potpourri of faux rituals rendered in Latin or Greek and always erroneously attributed to the Catholic Church, to the unending aggravation of that church’s worthies, who might be less upset if only they reflected on the unavoidable implication—that the Protestant mainstream unconsciously perceives its own rituals as utterly inadequate for warding off demons.
Lacking an allowable connection with the transcendent, we have substituted an obsessive, unconscious focus on the negative dimension of the denied experience. In popular Western entertainments through the end of the twentieth century, the supernatural translated mostly as terror and monsters enjoyably consumed. But as Paul Tillich profoundly remarked, “Wherever the demonic appears, there the question of its correlate, the divine, will also be raised.”
Far from being mutually exclusive, nous and logos share this common denominator of human consciousness, a field that remained constant while its content and focus have swung like a pendulum between the two modes. For the gnosis-oriented authors of the Corpus Hermeticum tractates, consciousness was not only humanity’s distinguishing characteristic but the special feature that connected us with the divine. This position was counterbalanced by the materialist views of their contemporaries the Stoics and Skeptics; indeed, many Greeks and Romans of the time openly mocked graven images. And, as Susanna Elm argues, far from being a “decline into belief” as is usually supposed, the radical iconoclasm of Judeo-Christianity, learnedly argued first by the rabbis and then by the early Christian fathers, represented a scientific revolution of rational discourse that supplanted the gnosis-dominated cults and religions of Late Antiquity analagous to the iconoclasm of the Protestant Reformation, which performed a similar function in relation to the Catholic Church a millennium later.
Secret Cinema: Gnostic Vision in Film
by Eric G. Wilson
Gnostic films understandably migrate toward the gothic genres—science fiction pictures devoted to ambiguous relationships between humans and machines; fantasy movies exploring blurred boundaries between dream and reality; noir movies hovering on the boundary between psychic projection and brute fact; horror films fraught with ambiguous meldings of monstrosity and miracle. There are historical reasons behind this connection between the Gnostic and the gothic. As Victoria Nelson has shown, ever since the early modern age, esoteric ways of knowing including Gnosticism, Cabbala, and alchemy, have been pushed to the margins of culture. There on the edges these heretical visions have attracted the aesthtic mediums rejected by mainstream institutions. This confluence of occult religion and underground expression reached full force in the pulpy sub-world of the twentieth century, the lurid realm of weird tales, comic books, and gothic movies. These historical connections are valid and interesting. However, as I have been suggesting, there are also deep epistemological reasons for the merger between Gnostic vision and gothic cinema. Both modes are dependent upon mental failure: the inability of the rational mind to reconcile opposites and of the physical world to transcend dualistic conflict. However, these failures offer success: the possibility of the mind finding knowledge beyond reason, of the world dissolving into a unity beyond time.
A Biblical scholar I enjoy is Robert M. Price. He is very well respected as a Biblical scholar, but he is also an expert on Lovecraft and writes horror himself. Not surprisingly, he is very knowledgeable about Gnosticism.
Some other examples I’ve heard of: Russell Kirk wrote ghost stories, but he was more famous for his influential political theories. Charles Williams is best known for his horror novels (or supernatural thrillers as T.S. Eliot described them), but he also wrote widely on many nonfiction subjects.
Thomas Ligotti and Quentin S. Crisp have both been highly influenced by religion and spirituality. They’ve both studied diverse topics, but I do know that they were highly attracted to Buddhism. As far as I understand, both had done spiritual practices such as meditation and so their interests aren’t merely in the abstract.
I like how he is usually very reserved and humble about his opinions. He has written that he doesn’t take his opinions as ultimate truths but simply what makes sense to him in the given moment. I like what he says here(this is from the comments section of one of his blogs):
Actually, I feel like adding that, although I used the word ‘pessimistic’ at one point, I don’t really think of myself as pessimistic. I know some people do, because they’ve told me. But for me to call myself that would suggest I had some preformed pessimistic bent to which I wished to shape any conclusion. I don’t. I actually have a sense of enormous potential within existence, which seems, rather tiresomely, to be thwarted again and again by human stupidity, my own included. Some people have tried to find the way out of this trap but it tends to turn to the way back in, because as soon as they call themselves ‘right’ and start preaching about it, it all goes wrong. I suppose that’s why I prefer to be wrong from the start, to be a ‘lost cause’ and to write fiction rather than philosophy.
Is my observation correct? If there is a correlation, what might be the causation?
Some possible answers:
– Suspension of disbelief is hard to sustain in longer works of genre fiction which necessitates both a talented writer and a willing reader.
– In terms of fantasy and horror, maybe it has something to do with the human psyche. It could be related to how we tend to only remember short snippets of dreams. So, this mght imply that the imagination works most effectively when highly focused.
– Maybe it has to do with technique. The loose and limited narrative structure that a short story allows may give more freedom for the imagination.
– It could be as simple as it being the tradition of the genres. Each generation of writers take their inspiration from and thus emulate the writers that came before them. The earliest imaginative stories were short and have been influential.
– Another possbility has to do with the expectations of publishers and readers. The genres have often had a special relationship with anthologies and magazines. Partly, this is because the genres have never been big money-makers. Short fiction is what sold, and publishing magazines is cheaper than publishing a book. If an author wrote enough short stories, they might be able to eke out a living. A short story has a quicker return in terms of making money than spending a long time writing a novel.
(2) Horror is somewhat unique amongst the genres. In some ways its the most respectable of the genres and someways its the least. The earliest horror writers such as Poe aren’t even kept in the genre section, and even many of the fantasy writers that make it into the mainstream are often of a darker persuasion. Horror seems to attact more literary writers than many of the genres, but simultaneously horror is the least popular of the genres in that its almost always the smallest section. Horror gets isolated by itself wheras Sci-Fi and Fantasy usually get mixed together.
Horror has always had a close relationship with philosophy, and it often seems that horror writers can be more loose with their narrative structure than the other genres. In many horror stories, not much happens at all narrative-wise… it can be rather cerebral where your stuck in a characters head and everything is subjective.
(3) I enjoy authors that have distinctive personalities and voices. The two examples that come to mind are William S. Burroughs and Philip K. Dick, but to a lesser degree Kafka and Hesse fit in this category for me. As for WSB and PKD, here ar some of the traits they share:
– They both wrote fiction and nonfiction, and they often mixed the two together.
– As such, they often mixed autobiography into their fiction even to the extent of creating characters that essentially represented themselves.
– Along with this, because of their dstinctive personalities, they were both admired by other writers who also used them as characters in their stories.
– They use repeating themes and chracter types across all of their work.
WSB and PKD are flawed writers (and flawed human beings), but still their writings compel me to a greater extent than do the writings of supposedly better writers. Their is a humanity to their writing in that they both were interested in people and were great observers. Also, you coud tell how much they simply enjoyed telling a good story.
Despite their similarities, they were very different in manyways. For one, WSB travelled widely and PKD hated to travel. One other thing is that WSB was way more cynical, but probably the better writer of the two. PKD was a hopeless optimistic and more overtly spiritual. For sure, they both had their own versions of despair even though they might’ve dealt with it differently.
I sense that they represent different sides of my own personality. I don’t think they ever met even though they probably had some common acquaintances. In my mind I try to imagine what they would be like if they had met eachother.
I’m not sure if they’d even like eachother. They’d both probaly think the other one was crazy. WSB would be more confident and aloof, and PKD would be more nervous and talkative. If they ever became relaxed enough around eachother, they would probably start swapping weird anecdotes, and neither of them would be sure if the other one was telling the truth or merely telling a good story.
My friend reads a lot of horror fiction. I’ve never been all that attracted to horror even though it crosses over with the fantasy genre which is something I read quite a bit. However, because of my friend, I’ve learned a lot about horror and begun to read some. He enjoys reading many of the small press horror writers which actually are some of the better horror writers from what I understand. For instance, my friend says that a number of horror writers consider Ligotti to be one of the best living horror writers and yet Ligotti is practically unknown.
Anyways, my friend and I talk about fiction all of the time. We share some of the same favorite writers (such as William S. Burroughs and Barry Yourgrau), but usually we’re reading entirely different authors. In particular, this past year or so, my friend has read hardly nothing else besides horror. So, even though I’ve read only a smattering of horror, I’ve listened to my friend read quotes from and give synopsis of hundreds of horror stories.
I’ve come to have more respect for the horror genre. Because it deals with human suffering in such a direct fashion, its heavily influenced by philosophical and religious ideas. Interestingly, horror has attracted a number of writers of the Catholic persuasion. Horror writers for sure have been influenced by the ideas of Catholocism: original sin, fallen world, demonology, etc.
I pretty much appreciate any imaginative fiction partly because imaginative fiction tends to be fiction of profound ideas. Philip K. Dick is one of the writers of profound ideas, but he is somewhat opposite from horror writers. PKD used Science fiction for his plots even though his stories were often more fundamentally fantasy. The closest that PKD came to horror would’ve been A Scanner Darkly. That book could be made into horror with only minor changes.
I was discussing with my friend the differences between the genres. I was thinking about how its rare for writers to combine horror and science fiction, and when they do its usually through the mediation of fantasy. Fantasy crosses over easily with both horror and science fiction maybe because fantasy is a more general category.
I’m reading Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson right now. I started it quite a while back but became distracted by other books. I decided to finish it now as its a direct influence on Google Earth and other virtual worlds. It has some similarities to PKD: the average hero and the interspersing of philosophical discussion. But its a bit more hard sci-fi than PKD tended towards.
Hard sci-fi often goes for these massive multiperspective epic narratives. This is quite different from horror. Horror is more likely to go for the small scale and single perspective. Horror writing often creates a sense of isolation and claustrophobia through an extreme subjective narrative voice. This disallows one to see outside of the character and thus magnifies the emotional impact.
Ligotti believes you need the subjective perspective of a single human to register the horror. A horror story can’t be portrayed from the perspective of the monster. The monster portrayed can never touch upon the imagination in the same way as a monster left as a mystery. This is why Lovecraft stories too often make terrible movies because monsters in movies can come off as simply ridiculous. Horror is a profound emotion that isn’t fundamentally about blood and guts. Slasher movies aren’t the most horrific stories.
Besides the claustrophobia of subjectivity, the other technique is intimacy. Almost everyone remembers sitting around a campfire or in a tent sharing ghost stories. This is often recreated in horror stories. Poe used this technique, for instance, in The Telltale Heart. The main character in that story is telling the story in what seems to be a confession. This intimacy creates sympathy all the while throwing one off with questions of the narrator’s reliability. Part of the horror is how the narrator tries to make sense what happened or else tries to rationalize what he did.
How this is different from science fiction is that with sf there is much more action by and interaction between characters. SF characters may spend pages explaining some idea but they don’t tend to tell the story. The narrator’s voice is more likely to be less identified with the subjective perspective or at least not a single subjective perspective.
This is intriguing in what it says about human nature. Science fiction tends towards the optimistic by taking on the big picture. Horror tends towards the pessimistic by confining it to the small view.
This book is one of the best I’ve ever read. My copy is heavily underlined and well-thumbed. There are few authors that connect the topics she does in the way she does it, and there are even fewer who do so with such insight. It’s a hard book to describe as it includes much: puppets and humanity, reality and imagination, philosophy and religion, film and fiction, high and low culture. It’s a fairly large book at around 300 pages of text and also there are useful notes in the back. Even though her ideas may be above the head of the average person, her writing style is easy to follow. If you’re a somewhat curious and minimally intelligent person, then what you’ll probaby enjoy about this book is learning new ideas and discovering new authors. I’m very well read and I came across a number of things I’d never heard of.
Two topics Victoria Nelson covers that are of particular interest to me are Gnosticism and Noir. If you like these topics, then another book you’d like is Eric G. Wilson’s The Melancholy Android: On the Psychology of Sacred Machines and Secret Cinema: Gnostic Vision in Film. Wilson is directly influenced by Nelson. There aren’t many books that look at the religious aspects of Noir, but another one is Thomas S. Hibbs Arts of Darkness: American Noir and the Quest for Redemption. Somewhat oddly, a major connection for these authors is that they all discuss Philip K. Dick who is a favorite author of mine. Dick was mainly a fiction writer, but also wrote non-fiction about what it is to be human in terms of philosophy, religion, and science (in particular the subjects of Gnosticism and androids). If you read Philip K. Dick’s non-fiction, it will give you a richer perspective on the meeting of high and low culture (which is an emphasis of Nelson and Wilson)and on the dark quest for redemption (which all of these authors touch upon). Two Philip K. Dick books I’d recommend are The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings and In Pursuit of Valis: Selections from the Exegesis. If you want a clear overview of Philip K. Dick’s philsophical and religion thoughts, then you should read Pink Beams of Light from the God in the Gutter: The Science-Fictional Religion of Philip K. Dickby Gabriel McKee.
Some of Nelson’s best insights revolve around the notions of imagination and reality, sanity and insanity (which are typical Philip K. Dick topics in both his fiction and non-fiction). This is where she discusses various genre writers (for example, Poe, Lovecraft, Schultz and Kafka) and where she explores the connection between psychology, spirituality and creativity. If you’re intellectually fascinated by imagination and creativity, then there are some truly awesome books out there that would give even greater context to the already large context that Victoria Nelson provides. I’d guess that much of the groundwork for Nelson’s thinking comes from the Jungian tradition of thinkers and she references Carl Jung a number of times (but she also discuses Freud). If you’re interested in further reading about the imagination, then check out these other books: Dream & the Underworld by James Hillman, Imagination Is Reality: Western Nirvana in Jung, Hillman, Barfield, and Cassirer by Roberts Avens, Daimonic Reality: A Field Guide to the Otherworld by Patrick Harpur, and The Trickster and the Paranormal by George P. Hansen.
Besides my mentioning a number of related books, I’d consider The Secret Life of Puppets to be very unique. There are many books out there about these kinds of topics, but she brings it together in a very compelling way. These ideas easily could’ve become lost in abstract intellectuality if handled by a lesser writer.
This post will just be a jotting down of connections. I ordered some books recently and they came in the mail today. New books mean new thoughts. Yeah!
Okay. Two of the books are Metaphysical Horrorby Leszek Kolakowski and The Thomas Ligotti Readeredited by Darrell Schweitzer. They’re more or less related in their respecitve subjective matters.
Kolakowski writes about the problems of philosophy and the question of meaning. Many philosophers have come to the conclusion that philosophy is at a dead-end. Kolakowski calls this anti-philosophy. It seems to me that the Pessimistic philosophy of Zappfe and Ligotti could be categorized as anti-philosophy. So, Kolakowski’s analysis and response would be helpful in seeing Pessimism in the larger context of the development of Western thinking. He writes about Descartes and horror which reminded me of Cartesian anxiety, but I don’t think he uses that specific terminology. I first heard of Cartesian anxiety in discussions about the relationship of enactivism and integral theory (which are theories that speculate about the relationship between subjectivity and objectivity). Kolakowski also writes about the phenomenologists (i.e., Husserl and Merleau-Ponty) who tried to respond to Descartes’ mind-body dualism. Phenomenology was a major influence on enactivism and is of interest to integral theorists. Also, in the volume of the Collapse journal that published Ligotti, there was an essay related to these ideas (“On the Horror of Phenomenology: Lovecraft and Husserl” by Graham Harman)… and Ligotti considers Lovecraft to be one of his most important influences.
The Thomas Ligotti Readerhas an essay by Ligotti: “The Dark Beauty of Unheard Horrors”. In it, Ligotti references Lovecraft quite a bit and he uses a specific quote from Lovecraft that I’ve seen in a blog by Matt Cardin (Autumn Longing: H.P. Lovecraft). This isn’t surprising as Cardin is a fan of Ligotti’s writing and he even has several essays in the Ligotti Reader. Both Ligotti’s essay and Cardin’s blog cover a similar set of ideas. This dark aesthetic appreciation of the world can be put into the context of phenomenology and enactivism (autumn longing is an experience that I’m sure many phenomenologists and enactivists would understand). In the essay directly after Ligotti’s, Cardin discusses the topic of liminality in terms of Ligotti’s fiction. The liminal is another concept that deals with the meeting of and mixing of categories such as subjectivity and objectivity and also the personal and the collective.
One further thought involves something Ligotti brings up in his essay. He describes two tendencies in horror writing… that of making horror concretely specific and that of making horror emotionally evocative. This relates to Ligotti’s desire to present the horrific directly which he acknowledges as ultimately being impossible. He, in a sense, wants to decontextualize the experience of horror. A horror that has no form is all the more horrific, but a horror story by its very nature needs form. In the essay, he recognizes that “Of course, mystery actually requires a measure of the concrete if it is to be perceived at all: otherwise is only a void, the void.” This sense of a hard to grasp truth that must be approached subtly also reminds me of his style in writing about Pessimism in the Collapse journal.
There is a sense I get from Ligotti’s non-fiction writing (and his writing in general) that feels like he is circling around some singular insight. Along with his desire to free this insight from the constraints of the concrete, what it makes me think of is my experience of dealing with a particular person who was a very good example of dominant Introverted Intuition (Jungian typology). I use Extraverted Intuition (Ne) much more and there is a clear difference to the two styles of thinking. When Extraverted, Intuition thinking style goes off in a million directions sometimes simultaneously. It scatters and looks for connections, for context. When Introverted, it’s the complete opposite. It focuses in such an inward fashion that it attempts to leave the concrete entirely and so it’s hard to communicate. The Introverted Intuition type (Ni) has a very convoluted communication style that is plodding and meandering, but there is a core insight around which it all revolves. Going by Ligotti’s fiction and non-fiction and his interviews, that is the way his thinking seems to me (according to my Ne-biased view).
Also, there is the aspect of pessimism in Ligotti’s writing (by which I’m not referring specifically to his ideas about philosophical Pessimism). In that Introverted Intuition causes a desire for freedom from context, there can be a conflict with exterior reality, the concrete world (Extraverted Sensation). Ligotti’s story “The Shadow, The Darkness” seems to be an expression of what I’m sensing. The way Ligotti describes Grossvogel’stransformation feels like a dominant Ni type’s experience of an eruption of inferior Se (or something like that… anyways, not the way a dominant Se type would experience it). Ne types are often just as detached from the concrete, but their abstract and imaginative thinking is focused outward. The expansive nature of Ne can lend a quality of optimism as there is a sense of infinite possibilities (although this would also include negative possibilities as well). For example, I’m a very depressed person with Ne (althought it’s secondary/auxiliary rather than dominant). The expansiveness of Ne counteracts my depression all the while the abstractness of Ne exacerbates it, but no matter how dark my thinking when I consider possibilities I feel inspired and even a bit hopeful. Ligotti’s thinking challenges me and I meet that challenge by seeking to give his ideas a larger context.
I could go on with my thoughts, but those are the basic ideas rumbling around in my brains.