Tag Archives: Thomas Ligotti

Impressions of “The Secret of Ventriloquism,” by Jon Padgett

The papers contained words, mostly filled out in a miniature, spidery longhand, that resembles neither your elegant script nor my careful cursive. These pages seem to be in the form of journal entries, though I question their nonfictional authenticity for reasons that will become obvious. I wonder if you’ll have any insight on who wrote them or how they came to be squirreled away under the mattress that I’ve slept upon for so many years. The following is a transcription of the text.
“Origami Dreams,” in The Secret of Ventriloquism

Let me begin with this: Jon Padgett deserves a place in the philosophical horror pantheon along with H.P. Lovecraft and Thomas Ligotti.

By this I don’t just mean that Jon Padgett is knowledgeable about horror like S.T. Joshi, or can write an interesting story like Colin Wilson. Nor that Jon Padgett is capable of writing a competent Lovecraft or Ligotti pastiche. But rather, he can deconstruct the genre to find the essential elements, and reconstruct it in a way that combines a plausible philosophy of the universe with the horror sensibility.

Both Lovecraft and Ligotti had distinct philosophical voices. For Lovecraft it was materialism, and for Ligotti anti-natalism. Lovecraft to a great extent also pushed the idea of a coherent universe that his stories took place in, while Ligotti largely limited himself to shared elements except in certain books, such as the Nightmare Factory. Padgett combines both of these themes by embracing Realism, and then unfolding the stories that show both in their content and pattern the horror beneath Realism.

“Realism” is the philosophical idea that specific things (that dog, this sign, the person crossing the road in front of me right now) really exist. Another example: you really exist. The you you were yesterday, the you you are today, and the you yo are tomorrow are really and truly the same person.There is only one You.

The horror of Realism is an implication that is not obvious: if the real ‘you’ is continuous across time, the ‘you’ today is just a thin sheet of line of that real you that moves across space and time. Throughout The Secret of Ventriloquism, Podgett uses metaphors like “origami” (the careful unfolding-and-refolding of paper), daddy-longlegs (and their painfully thin legs) or “fog” (uncondensced matter, the phase of matter where everything is potential from one solidity to another).

“These are the remains of the transmuted dead. The tainted air feeds the infusoria, transforming vulnerable Dunnstowners into living skeletons. But the fog itself, it has so many names: the Origami, Daddy Longlegs, Snavley’s Ultimate Ventriloquist. It turns the skeletons into more of itself. That’s the punchline. It’s exponential. Every year more of the non-killed transition, every year blacker fog, and one day all the residents will change. And when that final transformation comes, the whole town — everything in it and below it — will awaken from this borrowed reality into another one.
“The Infusorium,” in The Secret of Ventriloquism

Theists can reject Lovecraft’s horror as simply wrong — materialism has become less plausible the more I live, and I suspect that has been the human experience throughout history. Ligotti is subversive — he recognizes the part of “God is good” that theists really need faith for is “good” — that the unhuman God is not an inhuman God — and his horror reflects that. But Podgett cuts to the core: the horror is an intrinsic property of existence. The unfolding of paper, the razor-sharp legs of a moving object, the fog between solid times, the not-quit-realness while we remember what we were and we hope for what we become. This is as true whether you are a Christian exponent of realism, such as St. Thomas Aquinas or C.S. Lewis, or “Solomon Kroth, Esoterician.”

The genre of The Secret of Ventriloquism is post-modern, approaching only the Bible in the variety of forms it takes. The central story — “20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism” — is a how-to document. The closest we get of an explanation of the document is a stage play, complete with stage direction and a one-act structure: “The Secret of Ventriloquism” The book begins with directions to guided mediation which is arguably not a story at all, and then a trope of horror, the first person confession in a timeless situation (two boys who fight). Later in the volume we gain access to a statement from a police officer where expectations are constantly subverted, a Ligottian tale of a vacation gone wrong, and a beautiful pastiche of gas station carnivals — “The Indoor Swamp.” “Escape to Thin Mountain,” which ties together several stories, is a reworking of a one-page Ligotti story, but far exceeds the original. And my favorite is “Origami Dreams,” which the more you think about it the sadder and more realistic it is.

I cannot recommend The Secret of Ventriloquism enough. I remember where I was when first seriously read Lovecraft, and where I was when I first seriously read Ligotti. Padgett has just begun publishing. I can’t wait for his career to unfold.

I read The Secret of Ventriloquism in the Kindle edition. Jon Padgett has narrated stories both by Thomas Ligotti and himself, maintains Thomas Ligotti Online, and has an  active twitter account.

Impressions of “The Spectral Link” by Thomas Ligotti

The Spectral Link is a short collection of two stories, “Metaphysica Morum” and “The Small People.” They are of wildly different quality, and represent two possible directions for Mr. Ligotti’s future work.

The Spectral Link

Let’s hope his future output is more like “The Small People,” because “Metaphysica Morum” is garbage. Thomas Ligotti, besides being a first rate fiction writer, is a fourt rate philosopher. And a fifth rate writer of suicide notes. Whether “Metaphysica” is supposed to be philosophy, or farewell to an uncaring world, there’s one thing it certainly is not: entertaining. Save yourself some trouble, and stare intently into space instead.

That will prepare you for the Smalls, whoever they are.

“The Small People,” by contrast, is Ligotti in top form. The narrator presents a world almost identical to ours: except for the presence of Smalls. Doll-sized mannequin-like creatures who mimic human society, but seem to have no history of their own, most of the “Real People” simply ignore the smalls or avoid them in the way that a man may avoid an annoying bird. “The Small People” works on three levels: the world that’s presented by the narrator, the world the narrator may actually be in, and the metaphors that Ligotti uses to connect the first two layers with the “real” world.

If you are already a Ligotti fan, get the Kindle edition to read “The Small People” in about an hour.

Review of “The Thomas Ligotti Reader,” edited by Darrell Schweitzer

I’ve been a fan of Thomas Ligotti for some time. My friend Michael Lotus (of America 3.0 fame) first recommended I read him when I checked out Songs of a Dead Dreamer from the college library. Teatro Grottesco and The Nightmare Factory are Ligotti at his intellectual best, while My Work Is Not Yet Done is laugh-out loud hilarious.

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But my appreciation for Ligotti dramatically increased after reading The Thomas Ligotti Reader. Like the book H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life by Michel Houllebecq or the documentary, Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown, The Thomas Ligotti Reader provides a context for stories, emphasizing their themes and ideas, and making the body of work seem like an organic whole.

I was particularly surprised at the central role The Shadow at the Bottom of the World plays in Ligotti’s writings. Before reading the Reader, I know of Ligotti’s philosophical horror and non-fiction work (both Ligotti’s The Conspiracy Against the Human Race and David Benatar’s Better Never To Have Been) which are non-fictional expression’s of Ligotti’s nihilophilia. But several piecesin the Reader emphasize unusual aspects of Shadow, including its final position in Grimscribe, its use of the first-person plural “We” as narrator, and the text and symbolism in the story to argue it a high water mark of a gnostic writer.

To me, this last element made Ligotti’s writing more sensible. Ligotti has long struck me as someone who is accurately describing what a Godless universe, by philosophical necessity, would be like. A pandemonium he describes in The Cult of the Idol is a more cynical, and perhaps more wise, view of the pantheism much appreciated by intellectually lazy hippies. But Ligotti’s view is not just that the universe is indifferent, but actively hostile. Thus, atheism ends not in indifference, but in Catharism.

I read The Thomas Ligotti Reader in dead-tree edition.

Review of “Detroit: An American Autopsy” by Charlie LeDuff

The first thing I thought about Detroit: An American Autostphy is that the writing is fantastic. A journalist telling a story of the final days of Detroit reads like a non-fiction work by Thomas Ligotti. Some of the deaths described in the book rival My Work Is Not Yet Done — indeed, reading Detroit, it’s obvious that Ligotti is a Detroiter. The city whose motto is “Speramus Meliora — Resurgent Cineribus” (We Hope For Better Things and Will Rise from the Ashes)– whose city seal features a depiction of Detroit burning to the ground – is a store of fire, ice, and waiting. Author Charlie LeDuff writes like a pulp writer, bringing Detroit to vivid life in teh same way that Mike Daisey brought the iPhone factory to life for thousands who have seen his play or heard his work.

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The second thing is I bet part of it’s made up.

Indeed, binging Charlie LeDuff brings up third sentence in his Wikipedia article, “LeDuff has won a number of prestigious journalism awards, but has also faced accusations of plagiarism and distortion throughout his career” (never a good sign!) No wonder he reminded me of Daisey

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So what to make of Detroit?  It’s great writing?  And the great writer, Charlie LeDuff?

The writing is fantastic. There is no doubt about that. In the same way you are missing part of the human experience if you never hear Mike Daisey, you are missing out on life by not reading LeDuff’s writing.

The story of Detroit is fantastic — firefighters, terrorists, corrupt politicians, hookers, even a reality TV show. As I said, this is a non-fiction Ligotti work. Detroit the book is a great read. Detroit the citty seems really, really terrible. Really bad.

The imagery is vivid, and not necessarily false. I’ve never been to Detroit, but just because LeDuff may be a Mike Daiseyish storyteller does not make the message he has false. I’ve been to China numerous times. I’ve been to factory towns. I’ve spoken with people in the factories. The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs is fundamentally true, even if it’s not fundamentally journalism.

The worst part of Detroit is the lack of context it gives. It’s an excellent piece of thrill-storytelling about a place, but the reasons it give are superficial and impressionistic. Nature’s Metropolis and Seattle: Past to Present both give a sense of place and time, of the economy and the history and the heroes. Detroit only gives the macarbe.

I read Detroit: An American Autopsy in the Nook edition.

Lessons Learned While Traveling

In Up in the Air, George Clooney’s character gives a monologue about the ins-and-outs of air travel. Here is my, much shorter and more idiosyncratic,  version:

Beijing Airport is pretty good

So is Singapore Airport

Xiamen Airport is the most chaotic place in the world

the Kindle app for iPad makes time go by much quicker when you are standing (or sitting besides, as the case may be) the line

Learning that Thomas Ligotti is from Detroit makes everything make sense