Sunday, October 12, 2014

When The Road Forks

Most of us have barely enough time to spend analyzing our cognitive apparatus [our Brain, or ‘thinking machine’].  This is because [for most of us], the ability to hold firm [or cling], to this reality - takes all of our powers - of tenacity, of will, of motivation, of pattern recognition and survival skills, to purely ‘exist’. Many of us understand that this reality is far from benign, for it carries huge risks and is peppered with dangerous crevices, where danger lurks. There is additional danger, of hazards due to the huge influence of ‘randomness’ that is thrown into the proceedings. For all of us, the dangers are physical, as well as mental, and many of these obstacles [or situations] can be fatal, so we find that we use our cognitive apparatus, to just stay in the game – stay alive, and helping others [that share this plane of existence] to do so, also. Survival in this plane of existence can be viewed as our ability to traverse [akin to a speck of dust in a Brownian Motion tube] as safely as we can, in the random probability cloud that envelopes us, in ‘the present’, and what can we term as ‘the moment’ or the perceived, and then, interpreted situation - our reality. 

Some of us are better than others in managing our situation, of surviving reality, and the best we can hope for is that our abilities in using our cognition, hedges our bets. This is because when enveloped in the cloud of probability [that is ‘the present’], the best we can hope for is to be like that horse-racing scout, up early on the training grounds, watching the horses, the weather, the conditions for the race, and making decisions all based on the observations that the racing scout has perceived and then interpreted, in order to predict what the future is likely to be. Therefore, whilst existing in ‘the present’, the greater our ability to interpret the past, and understand how the cognitive process of interpretation in our minds operate [ie our internal operating system] – the better will be our chances in surviving the buffeting current of the probability cloud, and surviving to our future. Though we can at best only hope to hedge our bets, because the limitations of our mind, and our abilities in cognition are further hampered by the randomness that pervades our existence.

And as the Bard once said in Hamlet……..ay, there’s the rub…..

“To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;”

These thoughts make me visualise ourselves, to be that of figures, trapped within the confines of a giant conical tube, like an aviation wind tunnel, bracing ourselves, when the engine of reality, [the turbine] is switched on, and the wind tears at us, at our clothes, at our grip and our footing. Ahead of us, I understand that the turbulence [we find ourselves confronting, the 'situation', ‘the present’] originates from deep within the probability cloud I.

The turbulence is caused by the forces at play within the probability cloud, including our fellow beings with consciousness [as well from the interacting inanimate objects, devoid of consciousness but replete with actions that can come into contact with our hand and foot-holds in the wind tunnel. As we look behind our shoulders, we can see what I term ‘the past’, the results of the random, as well as the ‘erected’ events and decisions that have shaped themselves into the construct we refer to as ‘days gone by.’ - our past.

A key element of survival in this existence, is our ability to interpret the sensory input from the reality that surrounds, filtering this information through our moods, channels of thought, past reflections of what was the outcome of the ‘cause-to-effect’ ratios [ie pattern recognition] et. al. to create the holographic image of our place in this reality ie to use our brains to really delve beneath the surface veneer of the wind tunnel, confronting the turbulence that tugs on us like a solar wind, as invisible, as it is lethal. Therefore one key survival skill is our ability to question what this ‘place’ is, and how it works, or more precisely our interpretation of our ‘situation’, or what we term ‘the present’.

So, for some of us, the more we age, and for the more adventurous [amongst us], and the more analytical we are, then, this allows those of us [with this ‘curious / need to know’ inclination] to ruminate on what this existence is all about. Many of us are looking for clues that might unlock what existence is, and the more we ruminate by examining our thoughts [as to what might be the answers], the more we realise it is likely to be plural, as opposed to singular – ie there are many possibilities as to what this existence is, or how it came into being, especially how crucial the observers are in order to bring this existence into reality.

We should also start to consider that existence, as a shape, is perhaps fractal in design and execution, as well as, being in the shape of many possible existences, all available, all of the time, dimensional as well as functional, and all ‘in-concert’ as an endless array of choices around us. Some of us, from time to time, slip between scenarios, or traverse through the ‘probability cloud’, or as some would term ‘the multiverse’. Others can't, they remain rooted in their belief systems as they get perturbed when a thought or observation conflicts with their value system. This is termed 'Cognitive Dissonance', the inability to manage thoughts and observations that conflict with their ingrained beliefs. This usually affects the deeply religious, the bigoted, the indoctrinated and those who live in denial. 

One way to visualise what reality ‘is’ [or realities ‘are’], and the more robustly we have the ability to do so, then may well hedge our bets in terms of surviving this probability cloud, and making it toward the future [with the least amount of scars], like the racing tipster, in his grey raincoat clutching his note book and binoculars on a misty morning, surveying the stallions, and the trainers milling around and preparing to enter the probability cloud; and betting on the outcome.

Others use another technique, flipping that coin that lies in their pocket, or pinning the existential tail, on the existential donkey.

Some do nothing, but leave their destiny to the hand of fate.

I know which method I prefer.

Age is helpful, but more crucial is the ability to learn from the events and experiences that pepper our past observations, trying to understand causality [‘cause-to-result’] in our lives and the existential parameters that define the rules and events of the game. Age has also made me focus on what is so key to traversing from the present to the future, and surviving, or at best hedging my bets to survive the game. An understanding of the rules is also key to surviving the game, but when we entered the game of life, we were not issued with a rule book. Instead we had to use our skills [within our cognitive sensory apparatus] to interpret the reality we find ourselves in, and piece together the rules that govern the swirls and currents within the probability cloud - to survive to the future, and then the cycle repeats, because if the present is a probability cloud, we have to become good at the decision making process, because when the road ahead forks, as it does many times in our lives [with some forks less important than others], each time we approach a fork, we must understand how crucial it is to make the right decision.

It is useful to look back at the past, turning our heads to examine the decisions we made, and how we came to make those decisions – and what where the results from those decisions, and how they shaped the ‘present situation’ we find ourselves in.
One important consideration is to actually make a decision; and understanding that the internal filters that power our cognition, will influence the decision we arrive at, and one that we travel along. 

We must also understand that the first part is straight forward, ie actually making the decision. Some suffer ‘decision-paralysis’, like that rabbit forever trapped by the magnetic attraction of those headlights coming at us, and so pause worried which direction, which decision we should take as the lights come at us. When we hear the squeal of brakes, and the abrasive tears of the rubber tyres hitting our body, we realise we’re too late. Our hesitation was [when placed ‘in-concert’ with the upcoming lights from the future, colliding with our present] our demise, and the words ‘game over’ come to mind.

So if we can overcome the dithering [and our default position, which is procrastination] when weighing up what decision to make when the road forks, we have a secondary problem to consider. The cognitive process that our consciousness [as well as our subconscious] mind deploys in filtering through our sensory apparatus and signals can pose dangerous traits that must be managed. The inputs that shape what decision we have to come to, have to traverse our mood, our health, the context of our existence [like what handholds we have in the wind-tunnel], our past memories of the effects of causality, our prejudices and preferences – in making the decision. The danger is that unlike the rocks around us, our minds are conscious and therefore have subjective methods of analysis, therefore if we bias our decision upon our mood, then our thinking is swayed away from the objective, so we may well make a decision that is not logical, as our thoughts and cognitive channels that our thoughts traverse, may be disingenuous. Feelings and Mood are dangerous shapes to hook our anchors and decision making process to, because they are not constants, they shift and change and those shifts alter / influence our outlook upon life, and the probability cloud we find ourselves in. This can lead us to make bad decisions, which lead us into difficult situations.

I recall a funny line from Woody Allen’s 1973 film Sleeper when asked about his mind, he retorts …my brain: it's my second favourite organ….” So if we then consider that Allen’s character’s male sexual organs are his favourite organ, then any decision making process, based on his immediate sexual needs, is in turn influenced by the level or concentration of Testosterone in the blood stream [and the production and equilibrium level of that male sex hormone is in turn influenced by our self-worth, our state of mind etc] – so we must take care when confronted with a fork in the road that has a sexual element involved in the decision we must make. This rationale illustrates why so many marriages, partnerships, or relationships will fail, as one or both partners may make very crucial decisions, that will affect the rest of their lives, but are/were heavily influenced by their ‘mood’ [at that moment], which in turn is chemically, as well as cognitively related to their thinking process.
So the way we think is vital to manage [and in turn, survive] the reality, or probability cloud that is ‘the situation’ or ‘the present’ – we find ourselves in, and therefore will steer the path to our future or futures, depending on the conceptualisation we create of what the future holds for us.

One key aspect of managing our cognition or thought process is what is termed Neuro-linguistic programming [NLP] or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy [CBT]; which in its simplest definition is the language we deploy to communicate, which in turn at best influences, or at worst controls our thinking. We must take care in the language and the way we deploy our language to those around us, not just verbal, but also non-verbal communication, because not only does it send signals and alters the thinking of those that co-exist with us in the wind-tunnel, or probability cloud that is ‘the present’, but worryingly, it also shapes what the way we think, and that in turn shapes what we perceive as our reality, and that finally makes us come to the decisions in our lives, when the road forks.

So Descartes was right, when he postulated “I think, therefore, I am.”

Be careful when making your decisions, and always be aware that you are not alone in the “probability cloud”, that is “the present”. You actions and decisions may well have a ripple effect on the others around you, just as their decisions and actions will affect you, as you traverse toward the future.

Sometimes the decisions we make, and the actions we take [or not take] may influence [at best], and define [at worst] who we are; and in the journey that is the movement from the present, into the future, we should understand that the forks in the road, and the decisions we’ve made will change us, make us different to the reflections of ourselves, as we look behind ourselves at the past, and what happened. We must also realise that the cognitive process within our brains also has the ability to alter our recollections of past events and deeds, often as a coping mechanism, but also as a method of rationalising our existence; our place in the probability cloud that is the present.

I think David Byrne and Talking Heads summed it up well 

While Michael Stipe and his colleagues at REM took another view of these themes of confronting the present as we move forward to the future

While Stipe was influenced by the tempo and significance of David Essex, and this song which also resonates with the themes of this essay

So when someone tells you [usually with a disingenuous voice or agenda], ‘hey you’ve changed’. You should smile and remind yourself that, of course you have changed; as the act of decision making and living with the consequences of those decisions, will change you, to lesser or greater degrees, because one of the reasons why Paul Valery remarked ‘the future is not what it used to be’, is because you made a decision today [in the present], as have others, and the fruits of those decisions, is what we term as the future, a future where you are different.

If you prevaricated, or procrastinated when faced with the fork in the road, rather than grapple with the situation in the probability cloud, and face up to the consequences of your decision, you could be that rabbit hypnotized as the lights come at you, and take you out of the game, leaving just a rubber skid mark as a reminder, that you did indeed exist.

You should perhaps also ponder on the fact that the concept of time [that we've been lead to believe] may well be erroneous, as time does not flow in the 'river' analogy, but could be better considered as a construct we've created, to rationalize the events that occur, and linked to the decision making process, interacting with those of others as well as the random interactions of events to the observers trapped in the probability cloud.

More troubling is the question of the veracity of what we term 'free will', because if the axioms discussed here have validity [to greater and lesser degrees], then the whole concept of 'free will' comes into question, for it is far from an absolute concept. 

'Free Will' like 'Time' may well be a construct of sorts.

Why, Why, Why?

The ability to create abstract concepts such as 'time', or 'free will' may well be yet another coping mechanism, a method to cognitively create order where there is none, and also to fool ourselves into believing that we have purpose in this reality, when perhaps there is none, for the probability cloud we term 'the present', physically is a trap we find ourselves in; a trap constructed on a giant rock, caught up in a tiny part of 'space-time', for which the only escape or solace [as conscious beings] is the knowledge [no matter how disingenuous] that there is meaning [to our lives] within the swirls of the probability cloud, and that we have significance, when most of what we perceive, and cognitively distill - indicates that there is none.  

Another coping mechanism, is the understanding that if all this is 'true' then our existence in this 'probability cloud', that we term 'the present' is, above all else absurd, and we must console ourselves with laughter at the situation we find ourselves in.

Because if we didn't then it is 'game over man, game fucking over'

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Managing Reality with Albert Camus

Graham Greene once stated that 

"Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation."

I admire the life and work of Albert Camus, and share much of his way of thinking, which I later learned possibly relates to the similarities of our experience; his being of a 'French / Colonial Algerian background', while I came from 'British / Colonial Indian background'.

Therefore our thinking would always be from the perspective of that of an "Outsider", a "Stranger" if you will. In primary school, when we studied French, we were all given a French name [tagged onto a badge on our blazer lapels], as we had to speak in French for the duration of the lessons. It was a name similar to our own, so Philip became Philippe, Peter became Pierre and Ali became 'Albert'. Our French teacher, who was from Marseille, was a very kind woman. She explained that she thought of me as her little "Albert Camus". I didn't know who this Camus bloke was then. So for a while, 'Albert' became one of many of my nicknames or 'Cassius' [after Cassius Clay, the boxer], and a more pleasant one, than some of the other names I was called, mostly related negatively to my skin colour, which was different to the others around me.

Being a child, and 'different', is very tough, but now, in my fifties, I realize it made me understand much more about this reality, than if I fitted into the class like the rest of the sea of white faces, now faded into the sepia, that colours our memories of days now passed.

I only understood the significance of the nickname, Albert [pronounced 'Al-bear'] years later as I read Albert Camus, and grappled with the thoughts and writings of this Goalkeeper, Writer and Thinker.

I owe a debt to my French teacher for making me seek out who this Albert Camus bloke was, and flattered that she thought that the little boy who sat quietly in the back of the class alone, was her little 'Albear', a boy who didn't say much for fear of ridicule by some unpleasant members of class who enjoyed poking fun at 'the stranger' and hitting him; the boy who was different to everyone else, the boy who hid behind his books for protection; the boy who immersed himself in reading, trying to come to terms with the situation he found himself in - a stranger in a strange land.

Albert Camus' writing and thinking expanded my way of living with my deep consciousness, and therefore altered my thinking over the years.

I admire people [in my case, writers] who have the ability to alter your cognitive process, to challenge your conditioning, to make you grapple and come to terms with the fact that 'all is not as it seems', because often as children, we are conditioned into thinking in a particular way. To alter the neural pathways, one has to have read, and grappled with the concepts and ideas of those gifted with the ability to decipher what I term 'the situation', the place we find ourselves in, trapped on this rock in 'space / time'. It is thanks to those [the writers, the thinkers] who can examine 'the situation' via deep cognitive thought, and elude to it being nothing but a 'probability cloud' in a reality as random, as it is perhaps manipulated.

The manipulation and artifice around us, may not be all bad, for some people it helps manages the anxiety that this place creates, a situation held together by thought and mathematics, and managed by the ability to realize the grand absurdity of it all, and therefore to laugh in the face of the randomness, that is our lives.

Some people cannot live comfortably when confronted with their lives being either meaningless, or random, and with little or no control, for it can be interpreted only as a cloud of probability, which like a raging sea, can turn malevolent. It would be a digression too far, if I debate the lucidity of my growing belief that free will is an illusion we have created cognitively, to help comfort us, from understanding that perhaps our lives hold no purpose, or meaning when contrasted against the cosmic scale of events, which we too have turned into an illusion, we term "time" as a "flow", instead of what it now appears to be.

I'm smiling as I ponder, if you are enjoying my cut-back on posts on FB, the expressing of my views, and of my thoughts, of just another conscious observer of 'the situation' I find myself in. I say this in the manner of one who revels in the absurd. It often takes a goal-keeper to do this, as like Camus, the goal-keeper, he spends an inordinate amount of time watching, waiting, observing, and above all else thinking.

Without observation, and then the interpretation of the signals ['thinking / cognition'] there can be no reality, nor can one prepare for when the ball is fired in our direction. Reality is not solid, and it is not singular, but plural, depending on the context that you pull it from.

Is it no wonder I became an avid reader of crime / mystery fiction, because sometimes I view this reality, this 'situation' or cloud of probability, as a mystery, and due to the dark side of human nature, sometimes a crime. Though the comfort of crime / mystery fiction we get a break from the random nature of reality, and build a cocoon, a blanket, a delusion, that we have and can exert control; when the reality is we're just protecting the goal, watching and observing, thinking - for when the ball comes at us, we need to stop it hitting the netting behind us.

Here's a documentary that is as insightful as it is interesting, about the man we know of as Albert Camus, always the Outsider, the Goalkeeper observing reality from the edge of the stadium, alone and protecting the goal - The Stranger, the man with a past that was as Colonial as it was introspective.

Remember, when reality turns malevolent, relax and understand the absurdity of it all and that you are not alone, for we are all strangers clinging to the belief that we have significance in this place, because it is hard to face the thought that perhaps we have not.

I've left a few words [above] from two blokes I admire, one shares my birthday and rocked the Casaba, the other bloke [amongst others] taught me to think in an existential manner.

They both could be the same person; so did Strummer pose his image to look like Camus, or did Camus create Strummer's image by his thoughts and writings, affecting Strummer when he read them?

When I see the link between 'belief systems' and 'death', the question of 'meaning' and 'purpose' come to mind, as does the role of 'cognitive delusion' we deploy in our thinking, as well as what others have indoctrinated into us, and the media present to us a possible reality?

As the "world" continues to perplex us, due to the insanity of humanity, and the random nature of 'this place', 'this rock' we appear to inhabit, some of us understand that elements of the delusions that we are told, or believe in, are manufactured, coping mechanisms, or reasons to live, and of course reasons to die.

Both the will to live, as well as the will to die are equally valid, as is the coping mechanism we call writing and reading. I view the process of writing as the 'legitimization of thinking / cognition', and a method we have to prove we were here.

The caveman scrawled animal fat and minerals on the cave walls, to prove they existed, but also the start of distractions, depictions, illusions of reality, and 'the arts' were formed.

Reading is more interesting. I consider the act of reading as the pursuit to find out if our own thinking is aligned to the reality we perceive via our holographic consciousness, created by our cranial apparatus, the method we diffract our sensory inputs through our mood, our experiences, our prejudices and urges.

It is also useful to give us the illusion of control in a reality that is random and far from benign - a distraction.

But I could be wrong as it is difficult and takes effort to fight your programming, and discriminate all that is 'delusion' from all that is 'real', when artifice merges the two. What makes it worse is we lie to ourselves and are complicit in creating our interpretation of what we believe 'this' all is.

For some ignorance is bliss, as deep thinking and exploring the edges of your consciousness is hard work. I do a great deal of thinking while driving, as well as my bouts of solitude when I explore my mind, and my observations of 'this place'.

At the close of Planet of the Apes, Dr Zaius said to Taylor [Charlton Heston] as he headed off with his mate Nova into the Forbidden Zone "Don't look for it, Taylor. You may not like what you find"

My belief is that in the end it's all absurd, so we need to cloud our mind, our consciousness with laughter, humour, family and companionship. These are my coping mechanisms, my will to live.

So may I wish you good cheer, and remember your companionship is something I value highly, as you all make me think, for without cognition, we're just another lump of meat consuming and scratching our skins in order to prove we exist.

We all battle the thoughts that are termed "mortality salience", and these intensify as we age; because despite what the Holy Men tell you, no one knows where we came from, or where we're headed following our time trapped on this giant rock, in an insignificant corner of 'space / time'.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Weird and Cosmic World of Thomas Ligotti

I know I am a little late to the party, as many of us thanks to a prompt from Nic Pizzolatto of True Detective fame have been exploring the work of the mysterious Thomas Ligotti and other purveyors of weird / cosmic fiction. Though I had heard of Ligotti, I hadn’t  read any significant  horror fiction [apart from the usual suspects] for decades. In my youth I was an avid reader of weird fiction thanks to my love of HP Lovecraft, Ramsey Campbell, Stephen King, Robert McCammon and many, many others.

My recent enthusiasm for True Detective made me go back to my early reading, as well as catch up on the weird and cosmic end of the horror genre. Of particular interest has been Ligotti’s non-fiction work THE CONSPIRACY AGAINST THE HUMAN RACE
If one were to compile a list of contemporary American pessimists, the list would be short, though Thomas Ligotti's name would likely be on it. To most who are familiar with his work, Ligotti is known as an author of horror fiction.

His 1986 debut Songs of a Dead Dreamer immediately set him apart from his contemporaries. Filled with dark, lyrical prose, it displayed an unabashed appreciation for the tradition of the Gothic. It was composed of short texts that were difficult to categorise, and that barely contained narrative and plot.

When it was published, Songs of a Dead Dreamer stood in direct contrast to much horror fiction of the 1980s, characterised as it was by slasher-style gore and violence, and a more brutalist approach to language. Ligotti's writing, by contrast, tended more towards an effusive, contorted prose that revealed almost nothing – though each of his pieces was steeped in a sombre, funereal mood more reminiscent of the ‘supernatural horror’ tradition of Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft. All the horrors – the real horrors – remained hidden in a stark, unhuman nether region beyond all comprehension, and yet instilled directly in the flesh of the narrators or characters.

In a career that spans almost 30 years, Ligotti's work has remained committed to this tradition of supernatural horror and, given the trends, fads, and wild mood swings of the horror genre, such a commitment is an admirable anomaly. Which brings me to Ligotti's most recent book, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race. Ligotti fans may find this book puzzling at first. For one thing, it is not a work of horror fiction; for that matter, it's not a work of fiction at all. But to call it a collection of essays or a treatise of philosophy doesn't quite do it justice either. Ligotti does comment at length on the horror genre and on a number of authors, from Anne Radcliffe and Joseph Conrad to Poe and Lovecraft. But Conspiracy is not just a writer's personal opinion of other writers. Similarly, Ligotti does spend much of the book reflecting on pessimism, reminding us of the freshness of grumpy thinkers like Arthur Schopenhauer, while also pointing to more obscure or forgotten thinkers, such as the Norwegian philosopher and Alpinist Peter Wessel Zapffe. But Ligotti's approach is much too eccentric and uncompromising to be considered academic philosophy, and as a book Conspiracy is unencumbered by reams of footnotes or jargon-heavy vocabulary. Finally, Ligotti does address a number of topical issues in Conspiracy – research in cognitive neuroscience, the natalism/anti-natalism debate, global warming and over population, transhumanism, Terror Management Therapy, the popularity of Buddhism, and the self-help boom, among others. But the aim of the book is not simply to be topical, nor to present a ‘pop’ introduction to a difficult topic.

So then, what kind of book is Conspiracy? It is first and foremost a book about pessimism; but it is also a pessimistic book. While it contains critical insights into the heights and pitfalls of pessimist thinking, it also contains stunning indictments of our many pretentions to being human: ‘As for us humans, we reek of our own sense of being something special’; ‘What is most uncanny about the self is that no one has yet been able to present the least evidence of it. Conspiracy constantly hovers around that boundary between writing about pessimism and simply writing pessimism, and nowhere is this more evident than in Ligotti's own brand of pessimism, which is at once uncompromising and absurd:

Read More from Eugene Thacker here

After a silence from publication for a decade, which he explains here, including a harrowing medical emergency, Ligotti published The Spectral Link a slim volume consisting of two stories Metaphysica Morum and The Small People [each about 50 pages in length] which I found very unsettling, almost like being in a lucid nightmare. Ligotti describes these two stories as -

As with many, if not most, of my stories, “Metaphysica Morum” is autobiography exaggerated.

The narrator of “Metaphysica Morum” harps on my euthanasia fantasy, except for him it is in connection with longstanding emotional problems having a source beyond the natural. For some people, all experiences of an intensity far surpassing that of ordinary life provoke a need for expression. Another dimension or level of reality opens up, and they begin ranting to a purpose. A few may propound visions as in the biblical Book of Revelation, horrible visions whose author must have felt an insatiable need to make believable and find credence in his readers. Some believe these visions and give them credence; others do not. Which of these postures is assumed could not possibly concern the scribbler of these visions. He has seen. That is enough. This is the state of the narrator of “Metaphysica Morum” and conveying such a state, as I’ve said in interviews and essays, is what supernatural horror fiction does better than any other kind of literature.

I’ve written things in the wake of a previous work, and I think “The Small People” was one of them. It really hit me all at once, and I barely had to think about it either structurally or thematically. “Metaphysica Morum” derived straight from my hospital episode and “The Small People” indirectly. After writing the former story, I was still in an elevated mood from my surgeries. And if I could keep writing, I thought I could keep my elevated mood alive. And only in an elevated mood can I write about the worst. Only in a good mood can I reflect upon what’s in store for me, such as the hospital episode, without fear of overwhelming my consciousness. Only in a good mood can I think about my existence or existence itself without thinking about wanting to be euthanized by anesthesia. I believe this is how it is for many people, though I can’t say how many, and if I claim it is a great many then I would be derided by those for whom this is not how it is. In any case, I think it’s safe to say that the carryover from my hospital episode was more literal in “Metaphysica Morum” than in “The Small People.”

Read More from Thomas Ligotti here

I find that I can only read Ligotti in small doses, due to some of the unsettling atmosphere his work creates in my consciousness, and though a writer of poetry, short stories and the occasional novelette, his work packs a disturbing punch. Most of his work is out of print, so it’s a little expensive collecting his earlier work, but well worth it – if you like the ‘cosmic end’ of horror genre, and also your world-view to be questioned, then Ligotti is a writer you should explore.

Recently I acquired the Ligotti collection The Nightmare Factory, a collection that showcases a vast array of some of his most disturbing fiction, opening with the truly unsettling tale ‘The Frolic’.

A WARNING – ‘The Frolic’ though far from gratuitous, is a very distressing tale that concerns child murder and is very unsettling and is the only fiction from the pen of Thomas Ligotti that has been filmed, and there is a link to view this creepy 20 minute film below.

Wonder Entertainment released a special collector’s edition of Thomas Ligotti’s short story “The Frolic” in a book that comes bundled with a DVD — a 24 minute adaptation of that story directed by Jacob Cooney. Get it soon, because this product is limited to 1000 copies, and there are signed editions available. Remarkably, this is the very first cinematic adaptation of Ligotti’s work — and I must say, it’s an excellent treatment, co-scripted by Ligotti himself, intensely directed, and well-acted.
In my Goreletter reviews, I try to shine light on (mostly independent) “print” books because I feel that other media already get plenty of press and attention. At first I didn’t want to review The Frolic here because it is a new film, but the truth is this edition is more of a multimedia “story event” than your usual DVD release. Here you’ll get a full-blown celebration of the short story in a perfect-bound paperback which features not only a “newly revised version” of “The Frolic” (which originally appeared in Ligotti’s first collection, Songs of a Dead Dreamer), but also an eyebrow-raising introduction by the author, the complete screenplay for the adaptation by Ligotti and his screenwriting partner Brandon Trenz, and also enlightening interviews with everyone involved with the production of the film. Indeed, the book is everything that would normally appear on a “special features” section of an ordinary DVD, but here the printed word is so well-respected that it truly celebrates Ligotti’s mastery as a storyteller above all.
In a nutshell, the short story itself is about the chilling effect a child killer named “John Doe” has had on his prison house psychologist, David Munck. The killer, who justifies his actions by claiming he steals children away to some unearthly place so they can “frolic” together, disturbs Munck at the core, chipping away at his “objective” scientific worldview and replacing it with the supernatural. This foments into sheer terror when Doe refers to a “Colleen” during an interview — a name that sounds a lot like his own daughter’s, “Noreen,” a name Doe couldn’t possibly know. Ligotti does a masterful job of fracturing Munck’s world, from his faith in science and his career to his family relations, and much of the horror of the story comes from its inevitable, unstoppable conclusion.
Read More from Gorelets Here

This is a 2 minute trailer for The Frolic – if you wish to dip your toe into Ligotti’s dark imagination -

Though I would recommend reading the story before viewing the movie, which is available online here, but remember my warning, ‘The Frolic’ is not for the faint of heart -

And here’s a documentary detailing the making of The Frolic

And finally a reminder, it's all a flat circle folks, we hope you have a safe ride

The Death of a "Comedian"

This morning I woke to the news on BBC Radio 4 that Robin Williams passed away. A sadness rippled deeply into my consciousness.

There are many obituaries, eulogies and celebrations of this great man’s life in the print, visual and digital media – all far more eloquently written than I can pen this morning.

All I can add are the thoughts of Albert Camus from his work ‘The Myth of Sisyphus'

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest – whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories – comes afterwards. These are games; one must first answer. 
This is how Camus' essay collection The Myth of Sisyphus starts, when it was first published in 1942. The central essay is the eponymous portrait of the mythological figure of Sisyphus. Sisyphus was one of the wisest men on earth, extremely skilled in trickery and the founder of Corinth. After deceiving the gods, Zeus banished him into Tartarus, a prison-like waste land beneath the underworld. Here, Sisyphus endlessly rolls a rock up a hill, just to have it roll back to start anew. A Sisyphean task became synonymous with senseless work that man has to do nowadays. From the beginning on it is the very clear tone of the book, that the value of life is most important issue.
Read more from the Camus Society here
I would also add a page from Alan Moore, David Gibbons and John Higgins [from the Watchmen Graphic novel] that came into my mind as I listened to the sad news. My consciousness digested and ruminated upon the significance of the death of this remarkable comedienne, and I felt sad.

Robin Williams made many of us laugh, and ponder upon, ruminate upon the absurdity of life; and for that, his presence in our lives [and therefore his own life] held meaning.

RorschachI heard a joke once: Man goes to doctor. Says he's depressed. Says life is harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world”

Doctor says, "Treatment is simple. The great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go see him. That should pick you up."

Man bursts into tears. Says, "But doctor... I am Pagliacci." 

Good joke. Everybody laugh. Roll on snare drum. Curtains.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

True Detective Obsession

This feature contains spoilers – read with caution

With only a few minor issues, I consider TRUE DETECTIVE to be a ‘picture perfect’ crime thriller; combining existential philosophy, gothic horror, and serial killers into a tale of troubled men, investigating a very troubling series of killings along Louisiana’s coast in a post-Hurricane Katrina world.

The genesis of TRUE DETECTIVE comes from literature professor and writer Nic Pizzolatto who took a big risk in life, something that must be admired. Nic wrote a novel entitled GALVESTON a few years ago. It was critically acclaimed including praise from Shutter Island’s Dennis Lehane. The problem was it didn’t sell well, and was not published in the UK, but is now available as an ebook from Little Brown for Kindle and other platforms. As a debut novel, Galveston is an excellent crime-thriller, but also very dark and a perfect antidote for those suffering from withdrawal symptoms due to the end of TRUE DETECTIVE.

Following Pizzolatto’s disappointment that his debut novel Galveston didn’t sell well, his literary agent mentioned that a colleague asked ‘can this writer, craft a screenplay?’ Pizzolatto stepped up to the plate, resigned from his academic tenure and packed his family up and headed off to Los Angeles. He managed to get a job writing screenplays for the US remake of the Danish TV thriller THE KILLING [for AMC] and speculatively worked on his own original screenplay TRUE DETECTIVE. The submitted scripts provoked a bidding war, due to the unusual nature of the narrative structure, with HBO winning out against AMC and many others.

If you’ve read GALVESTON or watched TRUE DETECTIVE you’ll realise that Pizzolatto was influenced by Vince Gilligan’s BREAKING BAD. However what makes TRUE DETECTIVE a “game changer” in terms of TV crime-fiction, is its background in the gothic, and the weird. It is far from a conventional serial killer drama, for it combines existential philosophy, and ponders upon the true nature of consciousness and reality, referencing writers such as Arthur Schopenhauer, Emil Cioran, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre among others – with the cosmic horror of Thomas Ligotti, Laird Barron, John Langan, Simon Strantzas and especially Howard Philips Lovecraft and the curious collection of stories THE KING IN YELLOW by Robert W. Chambers. During my teenage years, I was [and remain] an avid reader of the subgenre, ‘weird fiction / cosmic horror’ from writers such as Robert Bloch, HP Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, William Hope Hodgson, Ambrose Bierce amongst many, many others.

The Wall Street Journal and I09 were the first, to realise that there was more to TRUE DETECTIVE than just a TV Cop show, as the influence of ‘cosmic horror’ was very evident -

This is a detective show, but the echoes of the bleak tradition of weird fiction don’t stop with Ligotti or Lovecraft. We learn in “True Detective” that the murder victim, Dora Lange, had said she had met a “king,” and that she kept a diary in which she mentioned “the Yellow King” and “Carcosa.” These come from Robert Chambers’ 1895 collection of weird stories, “The King in Yellow,” in which several of the stories are connected by a fictional play, about the titular ruler, which drives to insanity whoever reads it. (Chambers, likewise, took Carcosa from an Ambrose Bierce short story.) Chambers’ writing inspired Lovecraft’s work on what came to be known as the “Cthulhu Mythos.” Lovecraft even co-opted parts of Chambers’ mythology to include in his monstrous pantheon of “gods” and otherworldly locations.

I often joke that my eccentricity [and my interest in the existential nature of reality] is related to having read Robert W Chamber’s 1895 collection of weird stories [collected as THE KING IN YELLOW] as a teenager. Some of these peculiar stories reference a forbidden [and fictional] play THE KING IN YELLOW; that if read, makes the reader insane, such is the disturbing content of the narrative.

The KING IN YELLOW was a huge influence on HP Lovecraft on crafting his “Cthulhu Mythos.” Lovecraft referenced his own forbidden [and fictional] work the dreaded book “The Necronomicon”.  It was first mentioned in Lovecraft's 1924 short story "The Hound", written in 1922, though its purported author, the "Mad Arab" Abdul Alhazred, had been quoted a year earlier in Lovecraft's "The Nameless City". Among other things, the work contains an account of the ‘Old Ones’, their history, and the means for summoning them.

Apart from the weirdness, TRUE DETECTIVE features stunning visuals, an amazing title sequence [featuring the cult band HANDSOME FAMILY track ‘Far from any Road’], eclectic soundtrack, outstanding acting performances, edge of seat narrative and cinematography that takes your breath away, like the single-shot 6 minute sequence of the attack at the stash house in the “Projects” with Ginger and The Iron Crusaders that closes episode 4 – click here to view but have the Valium handy as it will shred your nerves.

Much has been written about the Rust Cohle character, played magnificently by Matthew McConaughey and his nihilism / pessimism about the human condition. It is obvious that Cohle has read, and is an advocate of Thomas Ligotti’s non-fiction philosophical work THE CONSPIRACY AGAINST THE HUMAN RACE.

When interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, Pizzolatto stated -

I read “The Conspiracy Against the Human Race” and found it incredibly powerful writing. For me as a reader, it was less impactful as philosophy than as one writer’s ultimate confessional: an absolute horror story, where the self is the monster. In episode one [of "True Detective"] there are two lines in particular (and it would have been nothing to re-word them) that were specifically phrased in such a way as to signal Ligotti admirers. Which, of course, you got.

The philosophy Cohle promotes in the show’s earliest episodes is a kind of anti-natalist nihilism, and in that regard all cats should be unbagged: “Confessions of an Antinatalist,” “Nihil Unbound,” “In the Dust of this Planet,” “Better to Have Never Been,” and lots of Cioran were all on the reading list.

This is before I came out to Hollywood, but I knew that in my next work I would have a detective who was (or thought he was) a nihilist. I’d already been reading E.M. Cioran for years and consider him one of my all-time favorite and, oddly, most nourishing writers. As an aphorist, Cioran has no rivals other than perhaps Nietzsche, and many of his philosophies are echoed by Ligotti. But Ligotti is far more disturbing than Cioran, who is actually very funny. In exploring these philosophies, nobody I’ve read has expressed the idea of humanity as aberration more powerfully than Cioran and Ligotti.

Read the full interview with Nick Pizzalotta here

Having read Thomas Ligotti’s THE CONSPIRACY AGAINST THE HUMAN RACE, I found it most enlightening, but must issue a warning – it should not be read by anyone suffering from clinical depression, because it reveals much about our plight as beings with a “deep consciousness” which is a blessing as well as a curse, because from our consciousness springs what we term Mortality Salience [or ‘Terror Management’]; as well as living and being aware that the random universe we inhabit is far from benign in nature. It also examines strategies to cope with the deep consciousness we’re bestowed with.

Such is the acclaim for Nic Pizzolatto’s work that HBO have given the green light for a second season, though it will feature different characters and a different storyline. Some viewers were so wrapped up in the ‘weirdness’ that they were perturbed at what they considered a ‘routine serial-killer’ riff in the conclusion. Perhaps they expected Childress and the Tuttles to reveal themselves bestowed with tentacles and originating from an alien dimension? I however was not disappointed as Rustin Cohle’s flashbacks such as the flashing lights when he was driving, the birds making the spiral or the universe opening above Carcosa to me was enough to indicate the ‘weirdness’ or if you prefer, the residual effect of drug use when he was an undercover police operative.

I have only two minor issues with TRUE DETECTIVE, and they are minor when contrasted against the 8 hour ride, and both relate to the last episode.

[a] When Martin Hart is asking one of the black cops if he’d like the call when they uncover the killer, the black cop address Hart “..hey white man….” This piece of dialogue was jarring and totally out of context. But this is minor when compared to every other line of dialogue from Pizzolatto, so forgiven.

[b] The clue of the ‘green ears’ and the paint was a little too stretched in logic for me in tracing Childress’ abode Carcosa, but again a minor point.

Two other observations that bother some viewers [but not me] where –

[a] Not all the loose ends were wrapped up, like the influential Tuttle family seemingly getting off the hook. But hey, welcome to reality, life is rarely wrapped up neatly in a bow, and yes the rich and powerful often get away from their evil deeds, sometimes.

[b] Some people couldn't cope with the complexity of the story, the time zones, the density of the narrative, the sexual imagery, all making it hard work to watch the show. This for me was actually a major plus point. I love narratives that provoke thought, not just a mindless array of action and explosions, and narratives that make the reader / viewer work for their entertainment, gaining enlightenment on the way. 

Though Nick Pizzolatto seems to realise, that it was perhaps the weirdness in TRUE DETECTIVE that lured and obsessed many of the viewers; me included as he stated in this interview when the show closed -

I don't know where you are in working on season 2, but has any of the reaction to this season informed what you're doing with the next? 

Nic Pizzolatto: It's informed exactly one thing. It's that I realize I need to keep being strange. Don't play the next one straight.

Can you tell me anything at all about season 2? 

Nic Pizzolatto: Okay. This is really early, but I'll tell you (it's about) hard women, bad men and the secret occult history of the United States transportation system.

Finally, you wrote this entire thing in a vacuum, as someone relatively new to television, not knowing how it was received. And the show comes on, and people go nuts about it, they are penning raves, coming up with elaborate theories about the Yellow King and Lovecraft and everything else. How did it feel to see your creation being received in all of these ways? 

Nic Pizzolatto: I felt like, look, it's all good, and I really mean that. To me, that is what it means to connect and resonate with people. It means that they are going to project onto the work. There's never been anything I didn't love that I didn't connect with on a personal level because to some degree, I projected upon it. That said, I think I've made clear that my only interest in the Chambers stuff (Robert W. Chambers wrote "The King in Yellow") is as a story that has a place in American myth. And it's a story about a story that drives people into madness. That was mainly it. Beyond that, I'm interested in the atmosphere of cosmic horror, but that's about all I have to say about weird fiction. I did feel the perception was tilted more towards weird fiction than perhaps it should have been. For instance, if someone needs a book to read along with season 1 of "
True Detective
," I would recommend the King James Old Testament. I wouldn't tell anyone to go buy Robert Chambers. It's not that great a book. Joseph Conrad and William Faulkner I think are in there far more than Chambers or Lovecraft. But again, I guess I hope that these 8 chapters, once the totality of it is evident, it might provoke a re-evaluation. But if it doesn't, I'm very happy with the reaction we've had. It couldn't have been better. I'm just surprised by it. I remember talking to you three months ago and having to convince you: "This just sounds like every other show," "I know, I know." And now my wife read a comment the other day that said I live out in the desert, and I run some kind of cult. (laughs) I don't know what I can say about that. I think this show answers everything it told you to ask. The questions it didn't tell you to ask are questions best left to one's self.

Read more here about Nic’s thoughts now that season one of TRUE DETECTIVE has run its course, burning itself into our psyche and what lies ahead in season two.

The series concluded with a wonderfully melancholic song ‘THE ANGRY RIVER’, specially commissioned for the series, which HBO released as a video, which choreographs the dark lyrics of T Bone Burnett to some startling imagery.

Though we must issue a ‘spoiler warning’ in case you haven’t seen TRUE DETECTIVE [and are waiting for the DVD release] as the video contains elements spliced from all of the 8 episodes.

THE ANGRY RIVER by “The Hat” [featuring Father John Misty & S. I. Istwa)]
Music by T Bone Burnett, Rhiannon Giddens and Gabe Witcher
Lyrics by T Bone Burnett
Produced by T Bone Burnett