Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Teatro Grottesco

by Thomas Ligotti

His trembling words also invoked an epistimology of 'hope and horror', of exposing once and for all the true nature of this 'great gray ritual of existence' and plunging headlong into an 'enlightenment of inanity'
- "In a Foreign Town, In a Foreign Land"

reading the collected tales in Thomas' Ligotti's Teatro Grottesco over the course of a rainy, gray day and the rest of a chilly, glum weekend was an interesting experience. it certainly helped to create a gray, glum, and introspective mood, like moving through a kind of self-induced fog, contemplating my place in the grand scheme of things, watching people move about from my window, ignoring various phone calls, watching a couple Cold War era spy films... FUN! well, my kind of fun.

let's just get this out of the way: Ligotti is an icy, condescending misanthrope. in his worldview, life is a trap and living any kind of life, playing any kind of role, is the worst kind of joke... like a person spending their life wallowing in the mud, then sticking their head out of that mud to stupidly proclaim "Look at me, I'm not truly in the mud, not all of me!" reading this book reminded me of reading Zone One - both authors seem to share the same deterministic, rather wearyingly depressing outlook on poor, deluded humanity.

Teatro Grottescoperhaps this sounds like a bad review. it is not! Ligotti is, in a word, BRILLIANT. his perspective may be rote but the way he expresses that perspective is amazing. he is a beautiful writer. his style has a twisted elegance. his voice is, by turns, wry & overwhelmingly pessimistic & nastily bitchy & serenely contemptuous... it all had me constantly reacting to his stories on different levels. and his ability to create morbidly bleak, phantasmagoric, despair-filled landscapes is superb. he's the real deal.

Ligotti does not write traditional tales of suspense and horror. his stories will not 'scare' you - although their implications are quite fearful. they often exist purely on the level of metaphor and often function as analogies for sad aspects or even the entirety of our existence. they are built for contemplation, not for narrative enjoyment. i'm not sure Ligotti actually knows what the term "enjoyment" even means.

the first section of this collection is entitled Derangements and the stories within exist almost solely as metaphor. they feature stunningly stark towns and brutally grim tableau (including an abandoned factory that once churned out an array of vicious little nic nacs and has a 2nd level basement graveyard for chrissakes). my favorite is the first story "Purity", which is almost overloaded with bizarre, beyond-creepy situations and characters... a fatalistic boy drawn to the dark corners of abandoned, junkie-ridden flats in order to contemplate the darkness around him... his father, a mad scientist compelled to drain out the essence of what allows humans to imagine a greater world around and above them... his sister & mother, prone to sinister "vacations" and muttering mysteriously about hermaphrodites... a child-killing, serial killer cop who pays a visit to the wrong house at the wrong time for the wrong reasons. good stuff!

the second section is entitled Deformations and its stories detail the cruelly pointless lives lived in two towns, one south of a border and the other north of that border, both completely ruled by the mysterious and malevolent Quine Organization. this section is perhaps too explicit in showing exactly how pointless Ligotti feels day to day work to be. it is not just drudgery, it is not just being a spoke in the great wheel of business... it is a genuine living death. my favorite story is "Our Temporary Supervisor", a cold and cunning allegory for on-the-job performance improvement. the vision of an amorphous, tendrily shadow figure viewed only behind the frosted glass of his office yet slowly able to transform his workers into completely obedient robots was perfectly accomplished.

i found the third section The Damaged and the Diseased to be the weakest. but perhaps this is a personal thing. the stories were fine, more than fine actually, beyond competent - they were genuinely visionary at times. but i suppose i have a natural antipathy to the subject matter: these stories all concern the dangers and lures of art, the pathetic tragedy of artists, the supposedly sad, frail worlds they build for themselves. i've lived a lot of my life surrounded by artists, so i assume my slight disinterest may come from too much experience rolling my eyes at various artistic stances, pretensions, self-absorption, etc. still, i found "The Bungalow House" - a mordant ouroboros of a tale, one concerned with some exceedingly desolate surroundings that come to obsess our narrator - to be genuinely ingenious. 

this last section also encapsulates Ligotti's perspective on how to truly achieve success in the world: simply let your useless mind and spirit go, and allow your body to function as it should... as an unthinking machine, as an unfeeling virus, as a forward-moving, soulless instrument that strikes the same predictable notes time and again. i'm not sure i'll be seeing that advice on any daily calendars anytime soon.

musical accompaniment

Cranes: Self-Non-Self, Wings of Joy
Einsturzende Neubauten: Tabula Rasa
Chris and Cosey: Trance, Songs of Love and Lust

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