Thomas Ligotti
November 15, 2012 1:50 PM   Subscribe

... [Thomas] Ligotti's stories tend to have a profound emotional impact. His vision is exceedingly dark, and it is possible for his stories to infect the reader with a mild-to-severe case of depression. It is even possible for them to effect a change in the reader's self-perception and view of the universe. This warning is not meant to be sensationalistic, nor is it meant to turn new readers away. It is simply a statement of fact based upon the experiences of actual readers. Ligotti writes about the darkest of themes with an amazing power, and he means what he says. Often his stories seem to communicate a message below their surface, a sort of subliminal statement that should not rightly be able to traverse the barrier of verbal language. - Matt Cardin (previously)

As for my Unabomber-style essay The Conspiracy against the Human Race, this is by no means a philosophical work, let alone a magnum opus. It’s a synthesis of ideas I’ve formed over my life and of other people’s ideas that rhyme with mine. ... Its readers not only haven’t liked what it says, they also don’t like that someone they know and to whom they feel otherwise well-disposed could write such a book. It’s disturbing, as if you found out your best friend was a serial killer who liked to eat the brains of toddlers. The essay is essentially about how humans can’t handle unpleasant realities and what those realities are. But we’re predisposed not to think about those things in a way that will affect how we live, or to think about them at all in most cases. I know that’s exactly how I am myself. If I weren’t, I would be in worse shape than I already am.
posted by Egg Shen (21 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
I am the hugest Ligotti fan; I bought the reissued 1st edition hardcovers of Grimscribe, Noctuary, and My Work Here is not Done. Anyone interested in weird fiction ought to check his work out; he bears the crown once held by Lovecraft and Poe.
posted by Renoroc at 1:57 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

The shouting done, I sank back into my bed in a state of superenervation resulting from the bodiless adventures imposed upon my slumbering self.

And that's enough for me. Yikes.
posted by Gin and Comics at 1:58 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been meaning to try out Ligotti. Where should I start? A lot of his work seems to be out of print.
posted by dfan at 2:04 PM on November 15, 2012

Where should I start?

The Nightmare Factory won a Bram Stoker Award and World Fantasy Award.

My Work Is Not Yet Done won a Bram Stoker Award and an International Horror Guild Award.
posted by Egg Shen at 2:07 PM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I read Teatro Grottesco recently on a friend's recommendation. It's... something. A few of the stories (mostly toward the beginning) are good stuff -- ominous, inexplicable horror that gives a real sense of something larger than is shown. But after a while they get repetitive and kind of hectoring, more like explications of his (admittedly singular) worldview than like storytelling. I'm glad I read it, but I don't think I want to read more.

If you want modern literary horror in a bleak Lovecraftian vein, more concerned with awe and terror than superficial thrills, may I suggest Ramsey Campbell instead? Midnight Sun, The Darkest Part of the Woods, The Hungry Moon, Alone with the Horrors, all very good. I'm currently in the middle of Ghosts Know, and enjoying that as well.
posted by eugenen at 2:14 PM on November 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

I like Thomas Ligotti; in fact, most of the authors I really like now I found because of Stephen Jones' Best New Horror anthologies. These are authors who rarely, if ever, make the bestseller lists, sell short story collections through excellent small press publishers, and generally write very good fiction. Thomas Ligotti is one I do like, even though sometimes I have to re-read the story in question because it feels so damn dense.
posted by Kitteh at 2:17 PM on November 15, 2012

The Nightmare Factory seems to be out of print, so I guess I'll try My Work Is Not Yet Done. Thanks eugenen for the Ramsey Campbell suggestion; I'll check him out as well.
posted by dfan at 2:27 PM on November 15, 2012

The Nightmare Factory is a great find if you can get your hands on it; pretty much an omnibus of Ligotti's best works.

And I wholeheartedly reco' the Ramsey Campbell.
posted by Renoroc at 3:04 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've only read one story by Ligotti, The Last Feast of Harlequin, which was so Lovecraftian in form and function I was convinced he had simply stumbled on some unpublished Lovecraft texts and was claming it as his own.
posted by Doleful Creature at 3:18 PM on November 15, 2012

I occasionally read the blog of Steve Dekorte, author of the Io programming language, who is prone to posting little snippets of libertarian / currency quack / free market stuff, and Ligotti quotes. The libertarian ideological noise just sort of washes over me, but the Ligotti stuff often leaves a more profound impression. He certainly seems to have distilled a particular outlook pretty thoroughly.

I think he will very likely remain one of those authors I notice from a distance. I don't need all that badly to actively court suicidal ideation.
posted by brennen at 3:26 PM on November 15, 2012

Io's a hell of a cool language, though, innit?
posted by edheil at 3:33 PM on November 15, 2012

Ligotti is the master of the existential horror genre. If you're looking for a few choice Ligotti tidbits, my "favorites," whatever that could possibly mean, are, in no particular order: "Dr. Voke and Mr. Veech", "Gas Station Carnivals", "The Frolic", and "The Greater Festival of Masks". And probably others I've repressed.

I have a particularly weird copy of The Nightmare Factory, in that it contains some stories that other copies and editions do not seem to have. I cannot, or will not, explain this. Perhaps I am myself living in a Ligotti story.
posted by SteelyDuran at 8:11 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

My feelings about Ligotti are hugely ambivalent...I think that as far as sheer quality of prose is concerned, he's one of the finest writers alive. Any given story of his will contain at least one sentence that can stop you dead in your tracks by virtue of it's clarity and expressive power. At the same time, the ideas embodied by that prose are so relentlessly nihilistic and despairing that after reading too much of it I begin to feel that I'm entertaining the elaborate screed of a crazy person. I get this sort of visceral sense that I'm handling unhealthy material. But it's damn beautiful writing.

Remember the Lovecraft story "Pickman's Model"? Reading Ligotti is a lot like What seeing one of Pickman's paintings must've felt like to the narrator.
posted by Ipsifendus at 9:03 PM on November 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

I really, really, really hate Ligotti. I read "The Shadow at the Bottom of the World", and then couldn't quite get all the way through "My Work Is Not Yet Done", and it was all like reading the fiction attempts of a friend I had when we were both 16 and he had just declared himself a nihilist.

I find his prose really, horribly mannered and pretentious, with no flow or rhythm, and his "existential horror", specifically that in "My Work Is Not Yet Done" doesn't actually feel like horror to me, just frustration, the frustration of having a shitty job, or more like the frustration of one of those kinda-nightmares where you're trying to get somewhere but you can't, because everything keeps going wrong. It's exhausting, and leaves me kind of itchy.

He's a worse stylist then Lovecraft, in my opinion, and his view of things is not at all as cosmic and awe-inspiring. He likes conjuring up the possibility of something bigger, but then he leaves it unfinished and frustrating, not in the "indescribable" sense of Lovecraft, but just by deflating all tension and making it fall flat.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:23 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and it doesn't help that both "The Shadow at the Bottom of the World" and "My Work Is Not Yet Done" look like they've been typeset by a six-year-old learning to use Microsoft Word 5.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:24 PM on November 15, 2012

I was impressed by Teatro Grottesco, particularly the concept of SBS, which was pretty original.

Wish I could get my hands on a copy of Nightmare Factory without spending a fortune.
posted by Hickeystudio at 1:27 AM on November 16, 2012

I’ve been a Ligotti fan since I picked up the copy of Songs of a Dead Dreamer in Cardiff Central Library ca. 1992. As a pessimist with a nascent taste for the weird, this was a fortuitous discovery — to adapt a somewhat portentous Ligottian phrase, I genuinely felt ‘the book had found its reader.’

Re-reading ‘Mrs. Rinaldi’s Angel’ not having looked at it for at least fifteen years, was a curious experience. When I first read it I considered it of the middle rank of Ligotti’s stories: neither one of the best nor one of the worst. Phrases like ‘ a state of superenervation resulting from the bodiless adventures imposed upon my slumbering self,’ as noted above, are indeed clunky, and overall I find I am a little less taken with the tale than I once was. Elsewhere, however, I can still get a bit of a thrill from a sentence such as ‘If it could have spoken it might have told, in a soft and reverberant voice, of the lonely peace of the planets, the uninhabited paradise of clouds, and an antiseptic infinity,’ purplish as it may be.

I have had pause for thought about how my admiration for such a narrowly near-nihilistic author might reflect unflatteringly on me. I have not, in general, found his work depressing, but rather perversely heartening. Part of it, I suppose, is the on-going acquaintance with a sensibility akin to mine, but darker and more intense, against the backdrop of which, my own pessimism seems an altogether paler and weaker thing.

I still believe what I wrote in the 2004 thread that ‘his work deserves and can maintain a wider audience than it's had,’ though I feel less confident of that now. Ligotti is ever the specialist. He does give a good interview, though. From the 2006 colloquy behind the last link in the FPP, I was particularly struck by the following:
For my part, I don’t care for stories that are just stories. I feel there’s something missing from them. What’s missing for me is the presence of an author or, more precisely, an author’s consciousness. In most literary novels, the author is there in the spaces between the characters and the scenery, but I like to see the author out front and the rest in the background. […] I believe my own stories to have story galore within them. But these are only pretexts, coat racks on which to hang what’s really important to me, which is my own sensibility. That’s all I really have to work with. Most writers adore observing other people and the lives they lead, then making up a story about them. They really pay attention to the world around them. This is something I literally can’t do. I just don’t care about what makes people tick, and, as Sherlock Holmes said, I see but do not observe. It just seems completely trivial and useless to pay attention to these things. […] At the same time, I’m in awe of writers who are adept at telling stories, just as I’m in awe of people who speak foreign languages or play a musical instrument really well. But that doesn’t mean that I want to read their stories or listen to them talk or make music. As Morrissey says in the Smiths’ song “Panic”: “Because the music that they constantly play says nothing to me about my life.” The work of writers such as Malamud, William Styron, Saul Bellow, et al. not only says nothing to me about my life, but it says nothing to me about what I’ve experienced or thought of life broadly speaking. By contrast, writers such as Jorge Luis Borges, H. P. Lovecraft, and Thomas Bernhard say plenty of things about both my life in particular and life in general as I have experienced and thought of it. I can take an interest in the writing of these authors because they seem to have felt and thought as I have. William Burroughs once said that the job of the writer is to reveal to readers what they know but don’t know that they know. But you have to be pretty close to knowing it or you won’t know it when you see it.
posted by misteraitch at 4:09 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Another Ligotti fan here. I started with Songs of a Dead Dreamer, like misteraitch . The Poe->Lovecraft->onwards vibe attracted me, and still does. There was also the weird emotional heft of some stories, a potent effect of melancholy, alienation, and a sense of the nonhuman.

I've read pretty much everything else by Ligotti, and that's been uneven, with Grimscribe being the best, probably. His later tales make me consider him a Detroit writer, which interests me.

Taught "Harlequin" in my Gothic Lit class every time.
posted by doctornemo at 7:15 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I once had a lovely two or three hour conversation with the man. One of my favorite phone conversations of all time. Smart, funny guy. Very good conversationalist.

His writing definitely...opens doors.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:11 PM on November 16, 2012

Awesome to see a Ligotti FPP on the blue! Ligotti is my favorite author of all time and in fact I'm in the middle of rereading all of his books, something I do from time to time as a sort of philosophical palate cleanser. Teatro Grottesco is my vote for best place to start, and it's one of his few books that's still in print. There are so many classics in that collection; and "The Red Tower" is possibly my favorite short story of all time.

I have mixed feelings of My Work Is Not Yet Done; the title novella is one of my least favorite things of his, partly because he actually tries to write characters that are somewhat realistic, which as anyone who is familiar with his writing can attest is not one of his great strengths (nor is it even necessary for the sort of philosophical horror he writes). On the other hand, the last story in MWINYD, "The Nightmare Network," is one of my favorite of his stories, and it highlights something that is often missed in his work: Ligotti can be fucking hilarious (and intentionally so!), in the bleakest of ways.
posted by Frobenius Twist at 1:20 PM on November 18, 2012

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