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.