Quentin S. Crisp: Fiction Writer and Blogger

Quentin S. Crisp: Fiction Writer and Blogger

Posted on Dec 23rd, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade
A favorite writer of mine is Quentin S. Crisp.  He is a fiction writer, but I admit I haven’t read much of his fiction.  He is moreso a favorite writer of my friend.  I primarily know him through his blog writings and I will say he is my favorite blogger.  He shares many of my interests and views.  I think he was raised by a psychotherapist or something.  Maybe that is the reason that, despite his occasional cynicism, he has a very accepting and easygoing attitude about life.  He is often designated as a horror writer, but does’t like that designation.  He is more just a weird write with dark streak.

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.

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Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

37 minutes later

Marmalade said

Its funny how similar he is to me. He admires Ligotti and Burroughs, two very dark and cynical writers. But he also reads writers like Tolle.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 2 hours later

Marmalade said

Its true, though, that I’m much less reluctant to philosophize than he is. I don’t find that I ve to assume I’m entirely right before stating my opinions. Even so, I get what he means about the difference between fiction as compared to philosophy, but some writers even let their ideology rule their fiction.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

3 days later

Marmalade said

I have a comment that I’ll put here because it more or less relates. Crisp and Ligotti are of that common variety of great varieties that are mostly unknown. I’m not surewhat that says about ourculture, but it doesn’t seem to be uncommon for great artists to die poor.

Fortunately, Philip K. Dick escaped this fate near the end of his life. Crisp and Ligotti may yet escape this fate also. They’ve both been stuck in the small press world where actually some of the best writers get published and where many writers get their start.

Anyways, I mentioned Ligotti because he is another horror (or weird to be more exact) writer. Crisp admires Ligotti as many writers do. And if any dark weirdwriter could make it out of small press horror and getsomewhere near the mainstream (even if only the genre mainstream),I’d be willing to bet onLigotti.

It seems he may be have gotten a toe in. I was at the bookstore and noticed an anthology which was I believe titled The New Weird edited by Vandermeer. Vandermeer is a major force in the cross-genre field sometimes called Slipstream amongst other things. It makes sense that Ligotti is included. Horror writers have too long been stuck in their very small genre, and too many writers get labelled as horror never to escape. Crisp and Ligotti write stories that go beyond traditional horror even if horror might describe the general mood of many of their stories.

I likea lotof the writers that get into these new anthologies. I prefer stories that don’t easily fit into genre conventions which simply means that the authors are attempting to push the limits of imagination. I’ll have to blog about this later on.

Response to a Response About DFW

Illustration by Harry Aung

I noticed a blog post about David Foster Wallace’s suicide.

It’s the one year anniversary of DFW death already?
By junkdrawer67

I should begin by saying I’ve never read much of DFW, but I plan to.  I think I may have read a short story of his and I barely started Infinite Jest years ago.  However, I’m impressed by how much people are impressed by him.  I should check out some of his essays.

The reason I’m writing this post is because of the emotional hurt this blogger was trying to communicate.  The blogger said he was angry but seemed to be expressing a complex emotional experience.  I’ve seen similar responses to DFW’s death by other bloggers.  I was trying to get a sense of what is at the root of this response.  Why anger?

For very personal reasons, I have a strong emotional reaction to such strong emotional reactions.  It makes me feel sad to know that people feel anger about anothers’ sadness… or something like that.  I mean these people who are angry consider themselves fans of DFW.  From reading about DFW, it seems to me that he gave his heart and soul to his writing.  He gave all he had to give which (going by the responses) was immense and apparently he had nothing left to give.  What more do his fans want from him?  It’s not a matter of judging DFW’s angry fans as being selfish for having wanted more from DFW.  Rather, it just makes me wonder how well these fans actually understood him… but I shouldn’t be critical.  These fans, of course, have every right to feel anger or any other emotion for that matter, but… I don’t know.  It just makes me feel sad.

As for suicide, my perspective is different.  I can feel anger towards a world that leads someone to suicide, but I’m incapable of feeling anger for anyone who commits suicide.  In fact, I’m constantly surprised more people don’t end their lives.  There is a whole lot of suffering out there in the big bad world.  The desire to end one’s suffering is a completely rational response and I suspect it’s because people aren’t rational that they go on living in despair.

My usual response to suffering is compassion or at least sympathy.  For me, suffering is a personal reality as I’ve had depression for a couple of decades and little has been of help.  Many years ago, I attempted suicide.  As I personally understand the absolute suffering and desperation someone feels before a suicide attempt, I just don’t have it in me to feel anger.  There is nothing wrong with feeling angry and anyways there isn’t much use in judging an emotional response no matter what it is.  It’s just not my response.  I feel plenty of anger towards many things, but not towards suicide.

A while back, I heard in the news of a young girl who killed herself (which I wrote about in my post Suffeing… two responses).  It may seem odd, but my immediate response was a mix of sympathy and relief.  The emotion I felt was almost positive in that I was glad someone had escaped a life of suffering.  If someone is already feeling suicidal at a young age, it’s quite likely life is only going to get worse.  Maybe I’m a cynic, but it’s the way I experience the world.

Killing oneself is one of the hardest things to do, harder than killing another person.  There is somewhere between 8 and 25 attempts for every suicide death.  So, quite likely DFW had attempted suicide a number of times before and it was probably constantly on his mind for years.

I must admit I feel a desire to defend DFW… and all the other severely unhappy people in the world.  If I were feeling suicidal and I personally knew someone who felt anger towards someone who had killed themselves, I very well might feel even more suicidal.  Nothing makes a depressed person even more depressed than the sense that others don’t understand their despair.  Depressed people generally already feel enough anger towards themselves that they don’t need any help in that respect.

I do have a hard time understanding anger towards suicide.  I understand it in a sense, but I just can’t feel it.  I’ve come across a number of people who were angry at DFW for his suicide and it truly bewilders me.

I wonder if part of it is fear.  After all, if one admires someone like DFW whose writing was grounded in his emotional experience, then that brings up some difficult issues.  Is there danger in admiring someone who killed themselves?  If someone truly understood DFW’s suffering, wouldn’t that lead one to despairing in the same way?  We all have the potential for suicide and that can be a scary thought when considered seriously.  It might take the wind out of one’s anger and I’d guess that many people feel anger so that they won’t feel despair.

Any death can bring up many negative emotions.  This is especially true when a person’s life ends when they still have much potential.  I can think of a few favorite writers I wish had lived longer lives.

Somewhat comparable to DFW might be Philip K. Dick.  PKD died at the top of his game.  His name became very well known and his family grew rich off of his writings.  He knew much suffering and struggle, and he attempted suicide about 10 yrs prior to his death.  His years of drug use probably led to his dying at the peak of his career.  I could be angry that he flirted with death a bit too much and didn’t live long enough to manifest all of his potential, but I’m not.  His disturbed state of mind led to a precarious life and it led to a depth of insight that is rare.  I’m not sure there is a way to have one without the other.  Artists often suffer for their art and often die young… that is no new idea.

But why anger towards an artist who sacrificed himself in plumbing the depths?  Artists like DFW and PKD give more to the world than most people who live twice as long.  Why not instead feel anger for the vast majority of people who don’t even come close to living up to their potential?  Or is that it?  Do people feel anger when their heroes fail because they know they couldn’t do any better?  Is the anger some of DFW’s fans feel in actuality anger towards themselves?  I suppose I could understand that… but if so, why not just say that?  Is it hard to admit what that means if you feel anger for a person who you realize even in failure is a greater person than you can ever hope to be?

Is that being too harsh?

When our heroes fail, we realize that they too were human.  An artist, no matter how great, is first and foremost a human just like the rest of us.  However, the fan knows and loves the artist as an artist.  It’s strange the ways someone tries to communicate the loss of a hero.  Junkdrawer67 was himself responding to another blogger (John Moe: I Did Not Read Infinite Jest This Summer) who used two analogies.  That other blogger described it in terms of a superhero:

We’re an urban metropolis that’s collapsing under the weight of corruption and moral degradation, gangs are everywhere and no one collects the garbage. Dystopia, right? But! We do have this one super hero who occasionally rescues us and occasionally he can’t quite rescue us but even then he provides us with the idea of hope, the idea of salvation and redemption being possible from our little hell. Only now David Foster Wallace has hanged himself and so our superhero has just announced that screw this city, I’m moving to Australia and you’ll never see me again and so we’re just left with rot and sorrow and no one will even collect the garbage and the cops are shooting people for no reason and everything’s on fire. Wallace left us.

That is what a good artist does.  They make themselves feel present.  This blogger hadn’t ever met DFW or even read his greatest work, and still he felt that DFW had somehow personally left him behind.  Ultimately, though, that is an illusion the artist creates.  We don’t even hardly know the people who are immediately in our lives.  For the reader of DFW, he has never left for his words remain and words are all a reader has.

It’s interesting that people look to artists with hope.  An artist offers the possibility of redemption, the possibility of saving us from our drab lives.  In participating in the artist’s creation, we fill inspired by the potential of life.  Creativity, after all, is a seemingly life-affirming activity and so the suicide of an artist hits even harder.  What the blogger doesn’t mention here is that not only couldn’t DFW rescue us but couldn’t even rescue himself.

Before this description, the blogger began his post with another analogy:

I’m still upset at the author for being a thief. Ever been robbed? Like had your house burglarized and your stuff rummaged through and stolen? There’s this period right after it happens when you can’t believe that someone got into where you live, the space where you sleep and bathe and eat, and just took stuff you had bought and taken care of. David Foster Wallace hanged himself and robbed us of all the work he would have produced in the future. Our homes were stocked floor to ceiling with the promise of the best goddamn writing people could make and Wallace fucking ripped it off. I’m still walking around wanting to punch someone. Don’t bother calling the goddamn cops, they won’t do anything.

There is a sense that a fan has toward an artist.  It’s a sense of ownership.  When an artist puts his work out into the world, it stops being simply his own and becomes something like public property.  Along with the sense of knowing the artist, there is a sense that the artist’s life is public property.  Even in death, someone like DFW lives on in the mind of his fans.  That has happened for me as well with a few writers.  PKD is very much a living person to me even though he died when I was beginning elementary school.

I guess my sense of PKD is a bit different.  Maybe it’s different because he was already dead when I discovered his writing.  His suffering was something of the past.  I never thought PKD would rescue me.  I quickly understood the dark path down which PKD’s writing could take me and I accepted that whatever redemption PKD offered me it was a redemption mired in suffering.  Also, I’m not sure I feel either that I possess PKD’s writings or that I’ve lost anything, but maybe that once again has to do with his death being a foregone conclusion.  I never had the hope of having anything more from PKD.  It does sadden me that he didn’t get around to finishing the stories he had in mind when he died, but it’s just the way it is.  Death, even when chosen, rarely comes at a convenient time.

My sense is that the anger about the loss of a hero is about a loss of hope.  In admiring an artist especially a living one, maybe it’s always a risk that we end up expecting too much from them.  But this is the problem of all of life.    Everyone starts off in life with more expectations than life itself can meet.  It’s the fate of being human.  The artist for a moment helps us to believe in something greater.  Nonetheless, the artist shares our fate in being human.

I’ll give the last word to DFW:

File:Infinite jest cover.jpg

A quote of David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest (p. 695-6) from willhansen2’s blog The Ambiguities:

Hal isn’t old enough yet to know that… numb emptiness isn’t the worst kind of depression.  That dead-eyed anhedonia is but a remora on the ventral flank of the true predator, the Great White Shark of pain.  Authorities term this condition clinical depression or involutional depression or unipolar dysphoria.  Instead of just an incapacity for feeling, a deadening of soul…. Kate Gompert, down in the trenches with the thing itself, knows it simply as It.
It is a level of psychic pain wholly incompatible with human life as we know it.  It is a sense of radical and thoroughgoing evil not just as a feature but as the essence of conscious existence.  It is a sense of poisoning that pervades the self at the self’s most elementary levels.  It is a nausea of the cells and soul.  It is an unnumb intuition in which the world is fully rich and animate and un-map-like and also thoroughly painful and malignant and antagonistic to the self, which depressed self It billows on and coagulates around and wraps in Its black folds and absorbs into Itself…. Its emotional character… is probably mostly indescribable except as a sort of double bind in which any/all of the alternatives we associate with human agency — sitting or standing, doing or resting, speaking or keeping silent, living or dying — are not just unpleasant but literally horrible.
It is also lonely on a level that cannot be conveyed….  Everything is part of the problem, and there is no solution.  It is a hell for one….
The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square.  And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing.  The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise…. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames.

Burroughs, PKD, and Ligotti

William S. Burroughs had a powerful influence on many writers, two of note being Philip K. Dick and Thomas Ligotti.  PKD wrote about Burroughs in his Exegesis a number of times and he experimented with Burroughs cut-up technique.  Ligotti considered Burroughs to be his last artistic hero, but disliked his cut-up technique.  Burroughs, for me, acts as a middle ground between these two writers and also between the visions of hope and of despair. 

PKD, like Burroughs, was attracted to Gnosticism and saw something fundamentally or at least potentially good in a dark world.  Burroughs cut-up technique fits in with PKD’s belief about God in the gutter, divine truth revealed where one is least likely to look for it.  Both believed that, however difficult, God could be discovered.

Ligotti also started out as a spiritual seeker with his studies and meditation practice, but lost his faith along the way.  Ligotti, like Burroughs, takes very seriously the suffering of the human condition.  Ligotti takes the dark pessimism of Burrough’s to the extreme which he writes about in his Conspiracy Against the Human Race (an excerpt is published in the Collapse journal).  Both present insights that most people would rather not know about.

PKD sought the spiritual and had revelatory visions of what to him felt divinely true.  Ligotti sought the spiritual and yet discovered no truths to be consoled by.  Even though both accept the world is filled with much suffering, the difference is whether one has faith in the face of it.  Can our suffering be placed in a context of meanng?  Or are we simply animals who can’t comprehend the trap we find ourselves in?  Burroughs presents a very challenging view of reality.  PKD and Ligotti represent two very different responses.  So, why this difference?

PKD and Burroughs seem to have been more restless in their seeking than Ligotti (or so this is what I sense from my readings of these authors).  It’s possible that Ligotti is just better medicated.  He speaks about being more restless before his moods were modified with prescriptions, and also said something along the lines that this dulled his creative edge as he no longer had the extreme manic phases to motivate his writing.  PKD, on the other hand, did his best to magnify his manic phases by self-medicating himself with uppers (to the point of mental breakdown.. and maybe divine breakthrough).  Burroughs was also an experimenter with illicit drugs.  It makes me wonder what kind of view Ligotti might’ve come to if like Burroughs and PKD he had spent his whole life destabilizing his psyche.

This is important from another perspective.  For Burroughs and PKD, there instability drove their minds, their seeking, and their writing.  They were restless and had long careers and wrote profusely.  Ligotti has said that he at present doesn’t feel compelled to write.  I don’t mean to romanticize mental illness, but their is some truth to the connection between non-ordinary (including disturbed) states of mind and the creativity of artists.

Another issue is that both Burroughs and PKD were very interested in people and the human experience.  This included spirituality, relationships, and politics.  They were restlessly curious about this world that humans both live in and help to create.  Ligotti, however, wishes to see beyond the human, but realized that as a fiction writer he had no choice but to convey the horror of reality through the experience of the human.  The truly monstrous can’t be conveyed in its own terms whatever that may mean.  The problem is that this sense that one’s humanity is a failing or a limitation possibly doesn’t lead one to a long career as a fiction writer.  Afterall,  fiction is ultimately about human experience which necessitates to a certain extent a desire to sympathize and to understand. 

I appreciate what Ligotti has written as he has a probing intellect and communicates well.  However, some of Ligotti’s fans have said that Ligotti has said all that he could possibly say and has said it as best as he possibly could, and so what more is left for him to do?  Ligotti easily could be argued as a consistently better writer than Burroughs and PKD, but what good does it do if his understanding of the human condition has come to a deadend? 

I’m not saying that Ligotti can’t come to further insight.  However, without the restless seeking that drove Burroughs and PKD, is he likely to feel a desire to seek further insight?  Burroughs and PKD believed there was meaning to be found, but Ligotti dismisses meaning as just another way of avoiding suffering.  Other than the momentum of his identity as a writer, what is to inspire Ligotti to continue his creative career, to continue to share his thoughts and publish them?  Without a sense of purpose, what is the point of writing at all?

Anyways, Burroughs symbolizes the ideal of the person who simultaneously strives to be an artist and a truth seeker.  It takes something like courage (or maybe just a perverse compulsion) to confront suffering, grapple with it, try to understand it, and to convey whatever insight one has gained.  But there is danger in delving so far into the morass of the human condition.  You don’t know what you’ll find… or what you’ll become in the process.