Tuesday, October 21, 2014

From “Eric Zann” to “The Bungalow House”

I know I am late to the party, but I must admit my growing enthusiasm and admiration for the work of Thomas Ligotti which just grows and grows as I read though his work, in between CWA reading / evaluating, and my own writing. 

My interest in Thomas Ligotti was initially sparked by Nic Pizzolatto’s True Detective. The True Detective HBO series really rocked my world with its fusion of crime fiction and the genre of weird fiction. Tracking down his work is rather expensive, as much is now out of print, so I asked my family not to buy me any birthday presents, as I’d like to celebrate my 51st year on this giant rock [trapped in space time] collecting and completing my Thomas Ligotti collection.  

In my youth I was an avid reader of horror, detective, mystery and the fiction of the weird; so I was delighted to revisit my love of horror and the weird, thanks to True Detective.

I have a particular fondness for Ligotti’s dark, and Lovecraftian-influenced tale ‘The Bungalow House’. It reminds me of one of my favourite HP Lovecraft tales, The Music of Eric Zann, an equally creepy tale, with a dream-like quality. It can be read here and a rather good video adaptation is available to view here. This little film version of "The Music of Erich Zann" is a horror film of haunting beauty and terrifying poetry, filmed in the style of the German Expressionist films of the 1920's.

A young student of metaphysics is forced to take the only lodging he can afford, a crumbling and decrepit building in a strange part of the city. Every night, he hears strange and unusual music coming from the room above him, music he cannot describe and cannot ignore.

He finds that the music above is being played by Erich Zann; a mute and eccentric German man who plays at night in a local orchestra. 

Fascinated by the man's genius, the student tries to befriend Zann and understand why such a great talent chooses to live in such squalor. Eventually, Howard learns of the secret behind Zann's music, one too terrifying to imagine.

Anyway, with roots deeply buried in the weird worldview that came from the imagination of HP Lovecraft, comes Thomas Ligotti’s "The Bungalow House", and here’s an extract -

“The bungalow house was such a bleak environment in which to make a stand: the moonlight through the dusty blinds, the bodies on the carpet, the lamps without any lightbulbs. And the incredible silence. It was not the absence of sounds that I sensed, but the stifling of innumerable sounds and even voices, the muffling of all the noises one might expect to hear in an old bungalow house in the dead of night, as well as countless other sounds and voices. The forces required to accomplish this silence filled me with awe. The infinite terror and dreariness of an infested bungalow house, I whispered to myself. A bungalow universe, I then thought without speaking aloud. Suddenly I was overcome by a feeling of euphoric hopelessness which passed through my body like a powerful drug and held all my thoughts and all my movements in a dreamy, floating suspension. In the moonlight that shone through the blinds of that bungalow house I was now as still and as silent as everything else.”

Thomas Ligotti described the story in an interview at Wonderbook -

“In ‘The Bungalow House’, I described a series of what I designated as “dream monologues” that were recorded on tape and intended to be works of art. The first dream monologue was a transcription of an actual dream I had and wrote down soon after I awoke, so it was also initiated my writing of the entire story. A second dream monologue in ‘The Bungalow House’ was only summarized, while a third was simply given a title, because at that point I had established the nature of the dream monologues in their incidents and meaning. For my purposes, to describe each dream monologue in its entirety would have slowed the pace of the story. All of the dream monologues were used to characterize the peculiar nature of the main character’s psychology. Sometimes I’ll characterize the events of a narrative as being dreamlike in some specific way, because over the years I’ve noted qualities that characterize dreams, such as that they have no beginning, an idea that was recently used in the movie Inception to prove to a character that she was functioning in a dream and not in conventional reality. 

A very short story I wrote called ‘One May Be Dreaming’ is pretty obviously a dream from beginning to end. The whole point of the story was that the protagonist was having a dream at the same time he was dying in real life. Usually, it’s not exposed until the end of the story that the whole thing was a dream. For his story ‘Where He Was Going,’ William Burroughs employs this method, his use of which he credits to Ernest Hemingway’s ‘Snows of Kilimanjaro.’ ‘Man from the South’ was Jorge Luis Borges’s rendition of this narrative structure. Perhaps I should say that I don’t think that dreams are anything more than rearranged experiences, sensations, and emotions. While they may easily be interpreted as symbolic or premonitory or whatever, I don’t believe that they are anything but intrusions upon what might otherwise be wholly unconscious hours of sleep.”

Thomas Ligotti interviewed at Wonderbook Read More Here

Listen to a wonderful dramatization from Pseudopod Here which will make you think, about what we term reality.

“The Bungalow House” was first published in 1995 in the horror fanzine The Urbanite and was nominated for a Bram Stoker award for short stories published in that year. Subsequently it was collected in THE NIGHTMARE FACTORY.

THOMAS LIGOTTI is one of the foremost contemporary authors of supernatural horror literature. His works been honored with several awards, including the Horror Writers Association’s Bram Stoker award for the collection THE NIGHTMARE FACTORY (1996) and the novella MY WORK IS NOT YET DONE (2002). Revised, definitive editions of his first three story collections — SONGS OF A DEAD DREAMER, GRIMSCRIBE, and NOCTUARY — were published in 2010, 2011, and 2012, respectively. Revised editions of his collections THE AGONIZING RESURRECTION OF VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN AND OTHER GOTHIC TALES and DEATH POEMS were issued in 2013. Ligotti has also published THE CONSPIRACY AGAINST THE HUMAN RACE (2010), a nonfiction work that explores the intersection of the darker byways of literature, philosophy, and psychology. Forthcoming titles by Ligotti include a collection of interviews and a chapbook consisting of two newly written stories. The web site Thomas Ligotti Online was founded as a forum for discussions of and media related to Ligotti’s writings as well as those of wide range of authors, artists, and musicians whose work is associated with the horror genre, among other areas of interest to devotees of unconventional art and thought.

Incidentally http://pseudopod.org is a great resource for lovers of audio horror, with plenty of weird fiction available for download and streaming.

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'