Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Interview: Thomas Ligotti

Thomas Ligotti is the author of Songs of a Dead Dreamer, Grimscribe, Noctuary, My Work is Not Yet DoneTeatro Grottesco, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, and others. He has won the International Horror Guild Award, multiple Bram Stoker awards, and has been nominated for several World Fantasy Awards. Often considered a successor to Poe and Lovecraft, Ligotti's developed an incredibly dedicated following on fan sites like Thomas Ligotti Online and The Art of Grimscribe. On a personal level, I can think of no living author who's had a greater impact on the way that I think and perceive the world. The results of our conversation are as follows…

1. The Subterranean Press reissues are definitive editions of Songs of a Dead Dreamer, Grimscribe, and the forthcoming Noctuary are, we're told, the "revised, definitive edition[s]." So, of course, the question must come: what's different? Was there a specific element you looked for with your changes, an intended change of focus, or were they more focused on strengthening the effects already present? Would it, perhaps, even be possible for you to quote some later-altered line and its newer counterpart, and state the reason for the changes therein?

One thing I did not do is deliberately seek out changes. Of course there would be errors that needed corrections and phrases that needed to be polished. But I didn’t look to shorten or lengthen the stories or any part of them, or to make my prose leaner or more baroque, or to in any way alter the tone of a given story. I just read the books carefully from start to finish and keep on the lookout for additions and deletions that would enhance each story, at least to my mind. The following paragraph was chosen at random and illustrates typical revisions I made throughout Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe. It’s the penultimate paragraph of “The Last Feast of Harlequin.”

At certain times I could almost dissolve entirely into this inner realm of awful purity and emptiness. I remember those invisible moments when in disguise I drifted through the streets of Mirocaw, untouched by the drunken, noisy forms around me: untouchable. But in instantly I recoil at this grotesque nostalgia, for I realize what is happening and what I do not want to be true, though Thoss proclaimed it was. I recall his command to those others as I lay helplessly prone in the tunnel. They could have apprehended me, but Thoss, my old master called them back. His voice echoed throughout that cavern, and it now reverberates within my own psychic chambers.

At certain times I could almost dissolve entirely into this inner realm of purity and emptiness, the paradise of the unborn. I remember how I was momentarily overtaken by a feeling I had never known when in disguise I drifted through the streets of Mirocaw, untouched by the drunken, noisy forms around me: untouchable. I was the feeling that I had been liberated from the weight of life. But I recoil at this seductive nostalgia, for it mocks my existence as mere foolery, a bright clown’s mask behind which I sought to hide my darkness. I realize what is happening and what I do not want to be true, though Thoss proclaimed it was. I recall his command to those as I lay helplessly prone in the tunnel. They could have apprehended me, but Thoss, my old master, called them back. His voice echoed throughout that cavern, and it now reverberates with the psychic chambers of my memory.           
It would be a lengthy process for me to point out every change and why I made it. One thing I particularly like is the sentence that includes the added phrase “the weight of life.” I feel that it bolsters and encapsulates the theme of the story in four words. I’ll leave it to the reader to consider other additions and deletions, and to judge whether they improve this passage. In several stories throughout the two books—including “Flowers of the Abyss” and “Eye of the Link”—I sat back at some early stage of revision and thought, “What is this story really about?” These cases might involve the addition and deletion of whole pages to focus the original intent of the story.              

2. Revising these stories must have involved countless rereads of them. How did it feel to revisit in your older work in that fashion? If you were to articulate one major way your writing's changed or evolved in the time since Songs of a Dead Dreamer, what would it be?

Well, since I’ve revised only my first two collections, I can’t say that I’ve seen that much change in the stories gathered in these books. If anything, I would have to say that with Grimscribe I started to venture further into more symbolic narratives and landscapes while still keeping them leashed to typical “reality” of the horror tale. I should point out that “The Last Dream of Harlequin” and “The Dreaming in Nortown” were written before the stories in my first collection.

3. Your work is complex and thematically rich, the stories well suited to sprout a variety of different interpretations on TLO and elsewhere. Amidst all that, do you have any stories that you feel have been continually misunderstood? Also, has there ever been a theory (or theories) so strange that you couldn't at all understand how they drew that from your words?

I’ve read only formal reviews and essays on my stories, and I can’t say that any of them have veered toward readings that I didn’t intend for the most part.

4. You write fiction about the darkness of the world, and yet so many have gained great pleasure from your works, myself included. How can you reconcile this? Is there something wrong with enjoying such dark fiction, some sort of suicidal mechanism that makes the rare defective organism enjoy being told of its inadequacies?

Your question implies that there is an ideal human against whom those who read dark fiction may be compared. But there is no such organism. All human beings are randomly generated, arbitrarily conditioned units. What we would call “defects” in a given individual is probably best measured by characteristics relevant to its fitness to survive and reproduce. Everything else has to do with psychological or sociological conventions and peculiarities. By the broad conventions of modern Western civilization, reading dark fiction is a form of escapist diversion like any other. (Getting bored yet?) In this sense, it might be considered one of many survival mechanisms we employ to burn off the cognitive excess endemic to our species. We think too much, and thinking is the destroyer of what we need to live. And what we need are irrational, immediate pleasures or an unreasoning prospect of the same. Nothing of great importance in our lives—what we consider makes them worth living—is rational. This includes pleasurable emotions and sensations derived from a variety of sources, such as sex without reproductive purpose, mountain climbing, and rock and roll. Without these and other irrational enjoyments, life is not worth living for human beings. You could even add to the previous list irrational activities that are not usually considered hedonistic:  devoting ourselves to the well-being of others from whose survival we seem to have nothing to gain; prayer or meditation intended to release us from an egoistic, survivalist way of life; reproducing more human beings for the continuance of a race that cannot be proved to be worth continuing, and so on. All these irrational actions are of the conventional sort, and their purpose of which is not often questioned.

As for psychological or sociological peculiarities, reading dark fiction to burn off the cognitive excess endemic to our species is frequently viewed as a perverse pastime that is especially irrational and practiced with enthusiasm by only a small cadre of human beings. Although it does serve a survival need as an escapist from of diversion like any other, it does so in a roundabout manner that on its face is indefensible and at a deeper level is a negation of what makes life worth living. From the perspective of survival and reproduction, reading dark fiction is a degenerate indulgence that revels in what is against human life. Aside from the common self-satisfying pleasures that we believe make existence worth the trouble, there are other pleasures that are uncommon in their satisfactions. They are unhealthy and sometimes are demonstrably the pursuit of those who have been randomly generated by a corrupted line of genetics or arbitrarily conditioned by traumatic experiences or detrimental environments. People who tend to the use of alcohol or illegal drugs must have some reason for engaging in such self-destructive habits, notwithstanding that these reasons cannot be pinpointed with exactitude. Ultimately, however, their principal reason is analogous to that of more healthy individuals: to experience the pleasurable emotions and sensations that make life worth living over and against those and emotions and sensations which put in question the worth of life—physical or mental illness (either due to genetics, traumas, or pernicious environmental conditions), tragic events that cast a shadow over an individual’s existence, a general lack of existential satisfactions, and other types of awful experience. 

Even if the genetics, traumas, and environments that drive us to alcohol, drugs, or dark fiction are not obvious, they may nevertheless be in play all the same. What makes nightmares? More to the point, what make an individual dwell with a morbid excitement over his nightmares? And what makes someone wish to convey their nightmares in artistic form for the excited consumption of others with a taste for some of the most sick and morbid productions of the human brain? There are those who yearn for the days of carnival freak shows, to lay their eyes on the rare and repulsive beings nature is capable of sprouting forth. While such individuals may not wish to visit hospitals where such aberrations are given birth many times per day in this world, they shiver with delight to read of them on the page or see them on the screen. Like addicts of the emotions and sensations granted to us by nature’s bounty or a pharmaceutical laboratory, fanatics of dark fiction must have what they must have, because their lives would be deprived without it and their bodies and minds would tremble with craving for depraved imaginings. Thus, in my opinion, if your life—or some portion of your life—depends on the consumption of fiction founded on the darkness of the world for it to be worth living, then there is definitely something wrong with you both as a conventional and a peculiar being.

When I was a child reading horror comic books, I was told by my parents that a priest was coming to visit our house. Immediately, I gathered up my horror comics and him them under the cushion of one of the living room sofas. When the priest entered the house, he was invited by my parents to sit down. Of course, he sat upon the cushion of the sofa beneath which I had hid my horror comics. I was terrified because I believed he knew what I had hidden there. I was a very religious child, and I felt intensely that reading those horror comics was a sin. I’m not exaggerating this anecdote in the least. I felt it was diabolical for me to be enjoying horror comics for the same reason that you asked me if it was irreconcilable to take pleasure in reading dark fiction and wallowing in the darkness of the world—because it is diabolical and irreconcilable. Years later, when I had started writing horror fiction, I asked one of my co-workers who was a born-again Christian if he thought that I was doing something sinful. He was someone I considered a work-friend and had conversely with honesty on a variety of subjects. He said he didn’t think that writing horror fiction was sinful. Later, he wrote a book on the conservative thinker Russell Kirk, who wrote what I would describe as moral horror stories. Maybe my work-friend didn’t think that writing horror fiction was sinful because he was thinking of moral horror fiction, which is mostly the kind of horror fiction that is written. The point is that even when I was in my twenties, and an atheist, I still wondered if enjoying horror fiction was sinful—sinful and wrong. Sometime later in life I had ceased to care whether reading or writing horror fiction was wrong. I had read all kinds of literature that was considered sick and evil, and I loved it because it was sick and evil. I loved it because it was against the human race and its values. Perhaps that’s why other readers of horror fiction—or at least certain kinds of horror fiction—get pleasure from it. They can answer only for themselves. You have my confession.

5. The Agonizing Resurrection of Victor Frankenstein is clearly a very different work than the most of your stories, seemingly a homage in large part. What were your intentions when writing it?

I didn’t have any intentions of writing a book of “rewrites” of classic horror fiction and films when I wrote the first piece in Agonizing Resurrection. In the early eighties, I was asked to contribute a short piece to a one-off fanzine with the title and theme of “Animality.” I wasn’t sure what the editor wanted, nor what “anamality” might imply. After thinking a while, H. G. Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau occurred to me as a narrative that could be described as focusing on the idea of anamality. In the novel, Dr. Moreau’s mission was to turn animals not only into human beings, but into human beings of an ideal rationality (if you read the book). In my version, however, the manwolf’s behavior is wholly irrational by its display of courtly sentimentality when he kneels with loving devotion before Moreau’s female assistant (an extra character introduced for my purposes). This is not what Moreau had in mind at all, and once again he has failed. “Now the creature,” as I write in the introduction to The Agonizing Resurrection of Victor Frankenstein, “will require further adjustments in order to nudge its nature closer to that untainted rationality that Moreau values above all else.” He wanted to make men, not silly sops—brutes on the make that will as likely tear out their fellow creatures’ throats as they are to beg pathetically for what they want. Such a gesture implies the capacity for a range of actions endemic to human beings what it meant to be human, something that did not include the courtly sentimentality that the manwolf displays. Moreau’s House of Pain was intended to torture animals into becoming human, to mutilate and brainwash them into the kind of heartless because that Wells portrayed Moreau as exemplifying.

Now, my wont has never been to produce short, stand-alone pieces. Even my so-called poetry collections are cyclical and follow connective theme of some sort. So naturally I wanted to write more pieces along the same lines as “Moreau.” First, I did two more rewrites of horror narratives that featured other scientists—Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll—and thus had a short series of tales with like characters. I also had a theme that was common the series. In my early horror stories, I seldom produced any works that turned on romantic or strongly emotional relationships between people. (Examples include “Les Fleurs” and “Dr. Voke and Mr. Veech.”) At some point I made a conscious decision not to include this element that was so common to horror, and especially Gothic literature. It just seemed irrelevant to what I was trying to do as a writer, which was to portray a wholly nightmarish existence. This was the essence of my experience of being alive, and everything else seemed of little or no import. However, it so happened that around the time I was asked to contribute a work of short prose on the theme of animality to a one-off fanzine I was again ready to write about romantic or strongly emotional relationships, and to use them to express the most excruciatingly painful scenarios I could conceive that were based on such relationships. This was how I expected The Agonizing Resurrection of Victor Frankenstein to be perceived by readers, although I’m not sure it was. Nevertheless, the first person to read the entire book, believe it or not, described it as an “apotheosis of pain.” Bingo.

Titling the first section of the book Three Scientists, I proceeded to write other sections of a like nature, taking my characters and narratives from famous works of horror fiction and films and giving each of them a twist that I thought made them more appalling than the originals. Some of the sections contained pieces of my own devising. These were stylistically and thematically similar to the pieces based on the Wolfman and Dracula, The Phantom of the Opera and the Phantom of the Wax Museum, etc. These were not intended to be homages to the works featuring these characters but extensions or mutations of them linked by a common
subject. Ultimately, the book was an entirely fortuitous project, if I may be generous to myself.

6. The majority of your fiction is not only out of print but scarce, with the rarer works regularly commanding prices well beyond a hundred dollars. How do you feel about the exclusivity that brings, and the cost that any potential fan must pay before reading your work? Are there any authors that you collect in such a manner (by which I mean the hunting down of rare and costly volumes, or the obsessing over particular editions)?

I’ve never been a book collector, but I’ve always found that I had enough money to spend on the books I’ve wanted. I feel bad that readers of my books have to pay high prices for some of my books. I wish my books had more readers and brought in more money. Just because the cost of my books if high doesn’t mean that I make a lot of money from them. In my experience, the more a book cost is in inverse ratio to how much an author makes on the book. Authors receive a certain number of copies of their books from a publisher. Sometimes I make more money selling these books than I do from the advance I received for the book itself. On the other hand, having a pricey book released means that it will be of a higher production quality and will probably be around longer than an author whose book was published in a print run of five thousand copies.

7. A major tenet of the brand of antinatalism you discuss in Conspiracy is that most men are unaware of the horrors around them, that they are deluded in their faiths and securities. But, if asked, the devout Christian would answer that those without Christ are deluded, and the happy atheist would confirm that answer with different words along with the Jew, the Muslim, and anyone of any other faith that you cared to ask. How can you be sure that antinatalism is not just another delusion, that the rationality of depression and/or ego-death is not just another false enlightenment?

I don’t think that a Christian or a believer in any religion is less aware of the horrors around than an atheist. Ask Blaise Pascal. They may be less aware, but it’s not a major tenet of antinatalism that they are or that they are specifically because they believe in Jesus. If I believed in God, I think I would go mad with the horror that the universe is some kind of moral laboratory. Fortunately, no one can prove that God exists, not even God. Whatever wonders He performs for us could be attributed to an advanced life form, even if it tries to pass itself off as one or another of the gods portrayed in religious scriptures. But that advanced life form would have a time of it impersonating all gods at the same time. If he did, then we would be in the same position of factional belief we are in now. Of course, an advanced life form might be able to do anything it wanted. Then we would have to decide whether we are all being fooled into believing in multiple gods or an advanced life form that can impersonate multiple gods.

Antinatalism is based on the principle that suffering of whatever kind or degree should not be caused or perpetuated, and that human existence necessarily entails suffering that we can neither escape nor justify, least of all by experiencing pleasures. Thus, the only way to end all suffering would be to cease producing beings who suffer. In the abstract, I hold to that principle and believe that those who do not hold to it are simply of a different mindset. In everyday life, I live for the most part as a deluded individual except when I sit down and recall what I believe in principle. Writing Conspiracy against the Human Race was the same kind of drug for me as believing in Jesus is for some people. If it hadn’t been, then I wouldn’t have written it. I say as much in the book. As for ego-death, we don’t know what it is or how it happens. Personally I believe that ego-death is a neurological condition that by many accounts mimics what has been called “enlightenment” among those who are concerned with this phenomenon. I also believe with Thomas Metzinger and many other philosophers that ego-life is an illusion. Now, whatever one believes or does not believe, as I wrote in Conspiracy, is an opinion. I quote a lot of antinatalists in my books, but I don’t think that I argue that if someone isn’t an antinatalist they are immoral or knowingly perpetuate pain in the word. To quote from Conspiracy:  “Opinion: There are no praiseworthy incentives to reproduce.” I can’t prove that there are not praiseworthy incentives to reproduce. If someone has an opinion that there is a praiseworthy reason to reproduce, I’d love to hear it. For years I’ve queried parents or women who are pregnant if they could offer a reason for having children that was based on the good of the child and not on the good of the breeders and their society. I do try to contrive perspectives from which this opinion may appear sound, which is why I subtitled my book “A Contrivance of Horror.” And I do say that no one can prove either that life is desirable or undesirable. And no one can. Most people think that they can prove that reproduction is praiseworthy and that life is by nature desirable. But their opinions don’t stand up to scrutiny. They absolutely can’t prove that their opinion proves mine to be wrong. This is not a problem for me, because I will never contribute to the produce of a child whose life may, by conventional opinion, not be worth living. I won’t ever have to imagine the pain of that child or experience pain for having produced it. I can be sure of this. But no prospective parent can be sure that they won’t be responsible for the making of a child with such a fate. No one can say what vicissitudes may cause a life to become not worth living. Parents may or may not blame themselves for producing a life that in the worst way becomes not worth living. But they can always take comfort in the fact that it was not their intention for their offspring to end up having such a life. However, we can at this point in time prevent children from coming into the world with defects that would almost surely—or sometimes surely—make their lives not worth living. I’m not speaking of birth defects of all types. I’m speaking of defects that, barring any beliefs that would preclude abortion for fear of hellfire, would cause few but radical pro-lifers to disallow the parents from exercising the abortive option. So while no one can prove that there is any praiseworthy incentive to reproduce, there are cases in which most would agree there are praiseworthy, or at least not blameworthy, incentives not to reproduce. This fact is not definite proof that antinatalism is the correct stance to take, but it’s not just an opinion either.

8. If the majority of people are existing in a fashion that they consider better than not existing, if they would answer that Life is Alright, how can it be stated that Life is Not Alright for the entirety of the human race?

This question is rather difficult to sort out. It’s certainly possible, subjectively, for an individual to feel that “it’s good to be alive,” but that doesn’t mean that it was always good to be alive for that individual or that it will always be good to be alive for that individual. I know that it’s possible for some number of people not to have a “good day” for practically their entire lives. It’s also possible for some number of people to never have a “bad day” for practically their entire lives. But it’s pretty futile to get into calculating how many people have never had a good day or a bad day, and by this means conclude whether or not being alive is all right. The whole proposition is so hypothetical that it’s not worth giving a moment’s regard. To my mind, it’s also rather crass and unfeeling to propose that as long as a majority of people exist in such a fashion that they consider it better to exist than not to exist, it can be said that life is all right for the entirety of the human race—that the minority counts for nothing in this useless calculation. Furthermore, those in the majority at one time may find themselves in the minority at another.  At the end of any given generation, it would be possible for almost everyone to occupy a place in the majority as well as the minority. Then you would be back to where you started. And where you started is where we are now and have always been, not to speculate that it is where we will always be. The pronouncement of the majority with respect to the value of live is the one that rules. Antinatalists must be insane. My children will not be one of those people who never have a good day for practically their entire lives. My children will be in the majority, if there really is a majority and not just a deluded consensus.

9. While I agree that the minority shouldn't be discounted, can it really be counted equally with the majority with regards to a subjective question (which, without the consideration of some kind of god or objective truth, that of life's worth seems to be)? Regardless of the malleability of the borders and the frequency of migrations between the two, if the larger of the two camps would argue that Life is Alright, can the negative be said to be true in any sense greater than the personal?

In Conspiracy I anticipated your question. On page 44, I wrote that one of the arguments used (by the majority) against the reason that pessimists believe certain things is their “intractable wrongheadedness, a charge that pessimists could turn against optimists if the argumentum ad populumwere not the world’s favorite fallacy.” That is, pessimism must be wrong because, even though it is an outlook that has lived for thousands of years and articulated in the most sophisticated terms, the majority denies its precepts. You’ve applied the same fallacy to antinatalism that others have applied to pessimism. You’ve also entertained the idea that holding to the question of antinatalism versus pro-natalism is a subjective matter. It’s hard to see how antinatalism could be any more subjective than many other, quite reputable, philosophical questions (determinism versus free will, for instance) just because neither side has proved its case, which by its nature may be not be subject to proof. Despite the fact that neither anti- nor pronatalists can prove their positions, pro-natalists have to live with the possibility that they might be wrong. That is a heavy burden to carry, and a heavier burden to pass on to subsequent generations. Antinatalists don’t have a similar burden. When action is taken on their side and a child is not born, no harm is done. No one has to suffer and die. If the whole species chose extinction, the situation would be the same, because extinction is our fate. Someday it won’t matter if anyone lived or died. But that doesn’t mean that we aren’t presently doomed to live in a world where people suffer and die. Personally, I’m afraid of suffering and afraid of dying. I’m also afraid of witnessing the suffering and death of those who are close to me. And no doubt I project these fears on those around me and those to come, which makes it impossible for me to understand why everyone isn’t an antinatalist, just as I have to assume pronatalists can’t understand why everyone isn’t like them. In an essay on David Benatar’s antinatalist book Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence, the Finnish philosopher, Sami PihlstrÖm (Metaphilosophy, Volume 40, Number 5, October 2009 , pp. 656-670), argued that whether or not life is worth living is a question that is intolerable and should never be discussed. I hope things don’t come to that.

10. It's one thing to argue, as you do in Conspiracy, that the joys of life are, essentially, delusions and escape mechanisms, but it's another to argue that that invalidates those joys. Even if our art is created solely to allow us to forget the darkness around us, why would that make the resulting joys less true?

Maybe I let my fingers slip across my keyboard at some time during the writing of Conspiracy, but I don’t recall arguing that joys are delusions. Here’s a quote from p. 43: “Optimists may have fugitive doubts about the basic desirability of existence, but pessimists never doubt that existence is basically undesirable. I you interrupted them in the middle of an ecstatic moment, which pessimists do have, and asked if existence is basically undesirable, they would reply ‘Of course,' before returning to their ecstasy.” Just because a given joy (such as reading dark fiction) is an escape mechanism doesn’t mean it’s invalidated  or untrue, whatever those words may mean  in this context. But the very fact that we can legitimately refer to joy as an “escape mechanism” doesn’t say much for joy.     

Metzinger's Being No One
11. For me – and, I suspect, for others – the section of Conspiracy that was most powerful was on determinism. One of its most memorable parts was your mentioning of a saying by Metzinger, namely: Can one really believe in determinism without going insane? In the light of those words – and your arguments surrounding them and quotation of them – do you believe in determinism? If so, how can you reconcile that with daily life?

I don’t argue that determinism is true in Conspiracy. To do so would be futile.  I do discuss the subject because it’s related to other matters in the book, especially the reality or unreality of the “self.” Whether our thoughts and behavior are determined or free is of no consequence if, as Metzinger argues, no selves exist or have ever existed and there is nothing that can be determine or free. I think the question of the self is far more interesting because scientists are getting closer to being able to test how our perception of ourselves, other people, and the world in general are formed. My own opinion regarding the issue of determinism versus free will is that it has no practical import in our lives. Either of these positions, or any of their many combinations and variations, function more as philosophical doctrines in which one believes than can actually experience in a definitive way. If I stop and concentrate on how I perceive other people, I have to say that they seem to me like robots in their behavior and their being. This is definitely the case when I see people on TV who are accused of murder. I never blame them or hold them morally responsible for their actions. It seems stupid to do so if you look at the situation with a cold eye. Surely such a radical act must have had radical causes, some of which seem obvious and others of which seem unknowable. This perception is more difficult when it comes to considering someone closer to you in your life.  I’ll look at someone I believe I know very well and think: ”Who is that? What makes them act the way they do and not some other way? What’s going on inside them, if anything?” That can be upsetting. People who are getting divorced have been known to say about their ex-beloved, “I thought I knew (him or her), but I couldn’t have been more mistaken about (him or her).”  Supposedly we extrapolate from our experience of ourselves and transfer that experience to other people, and that this gives you the sense that they’re like you—that you can read their minds in some way. While it may seem to work that way, it really can’t. When I turn from other people to myself, I can’t say much more about how I work. I can never know what my next thought is going to be—how it forms or where it comes from, so to speak. I absolutely don’t feel that I’m choosing my thoughts. They just come one after another depending on the circumstances of the past and present, some of which I could name but most of which I can’t. It’s the same with my behavior. In everyday life, none of this matters because we don’t think deeply about it on an hourly basis. I have impulses to do things, but I don’t know how those impulses formed or why they make me do a particular thing and not some other thing. Whether we’re puppets or real human beings, whatever the latter may be, we go on thinking and acting in certain ways because we’re moved to do by certain forces we’re not aware of. You could argue with this perception, but it’s my perception and the whole thing would come down to I say, you say. To me, determinism just seems common sense, but I couldn’t tell you why it does. Since it’s so ferociously opposed by most philosophers and lay persons, it must be a disturbing idea that they don’t want to be true. I can understand that. Even if determinism seems like common sense to me, it does seem to be a component of this world of horror we live in. And just by discussing it in Conspiracy, although not arguing for it, it was my intention to arouse a sense of the uncanny in my readers. When I’m writing for an audience, people don’t seem like robots to me. I’m not sure they seem like anything. In the end, I suppose the best thing is not to think about it.

12. Is antinatalism a philosophy or a lifestyle? By this I mean that, if the sane Christian attempts heaven and the sane Buddhist enlightenment, why do antinatalists not work towards their own paradise, their own nonexistence? Furthermore, how can antinatalists (and, for these purposes, determinists along the lines of those quoted and studied in Conspiracy) profess love or even have children? Do these things make them hypocrites or human? If life is a hell, and nonexistence a heaven, then are things like murder acceptable to the antinatalist? If it is better to not live, then, are murderers and even the perpetuators of genocide not doing good deeds?

I think that the antinatalist counterpart of the Christian’s heaven (Buddhist enlightenment actually is a type of antinatalism in a superficial sense) would be to reduce this world to a place where no one was ever born. Obviously, this is not sane idea. (I’ll leave it to others to decide the sanity of believing in heaven or enlightenment.) As for love or the desire to have children, these are powerful impulses in most people and not possible to override under normal circumstances. Galen Strawson, one of the most deterministic determinists, was asked a version of this question in an interview. He answered that in his everyday life, he was just like anybody else. David Hume said the same thing. This answer makes no rational sense, but neither do love or the desire to have children. They are nature’s way of keeping the species going until something happens and we cease existing, an eventuality that will certainly come about and has almost come about a number of times in the past. As for antinatalists, falling in love has nothing to do with their principles. Some antinatalists have had children before they became antinatalists. From what I’ve read, they love their children as most parent do but regret having reproduced. An antinatalist who does not have children would cease to be an antinatalist if they willfully and knowingly reproduced. Not all people who do not reproduce are antinatalists, although some of them do not reproduce for similar reasons as antinatalists. Nonexistence isn’t anything, so it would have nothing to do with antinatalism. The desire not exist would be a tenet of pessimism, and some antinatalists are pessimists. But pessimism isn’t required for antinatalism. A pessimist believes that being alive is not all right, and even if it occasionally seems all right, this is an illusion. As Cioran wrote, “Pleasure prepares pain.” Antinaltalists don’t necessarily think that life is hell, they just think that it necessarily involves such suffering that anyone would be better off not having been born. Interestingly, those who believe that life is worth living often begin making their case by pointing out the goodness of ice cream. If you’re not diabetic, lactose intolerant, obese, or have any number of other ailments, ice cream is indeed very good. Given the link made between antinatalism and murder or genocide, I hope that the replies I’ve given to this question demonstrate that no such link exists. An antinatalist may have a passion for murder and genocide, but this is by no means an element of antinatalism. Murder and genocide are two phenomena that antinatlists would offer as reasons for why it would be better never to have been born. I hope the logic of this statement is evident.    

13. Let's end on a happy note. What's the most enjoyable thing you did this week?

I watched Little Murders, an old favorite of mine.

Thank you once again for doing this interview, Mr. Ligotti.


  1. Zero comments, really? This was a damn good interview. Thank you, Mr. Ligotti, for doing the interview and thank you, Nathan, for asking some great questions.

  2. Great stuff.
    It really helps to explain some of the material in 'Conspiricy' which I personally find a tough book.
    Its also very interesting to compare the texts of the versions of 'The Last Feast...' as I have been too lazy to to place the volumes side by side myself. The new editions are obviously not just 'revised' by minor corrections to grammer but have substantial reworks. Such dedication only adds to my opinion that Ligotti is one of the finest living writers in the field.
    Thanks to all concerned!

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  4. Adding my thanks for this provocative and (yes) enlightening interview. As a conventional and/or peculiar being with whom there is definitely something wrong, I found some joy in it.

  5. Excellent interview and very interesting and informative. Question 6 is a tad depressing.

  6. Mr Evil Hat:

    I disagree entirely with your review of "My Work Is Not Yet Done"; not only is it enjoyable, but I consider it the most purely entertaining work of Mr Ligotti's I have read. Which, of course, is not to say it is necessarily his best. Nevertheless, I rate it highly among his output.

    With that out of the way, kudos for a good interview, and thanks for a generally valuable blog. Now, where can I find more information on this forthcoming new edition of "Noctuary" you mentioned?

  7. Thanks, everyone, for the positive comments. Good to know I didn't fuck up an opportunity as amazing as this.

    @ Anonymous, Disagreeing's certainly fair, and, who knows, my own opinion on My Work is Not Yet Done might always change if/when I reread it.

    As for Noctuary, it's to be the third installment in Subterranean's reissues of Mr. Ligotti's works (after SOADD and Grimscribe) and is not up for preorder yet. If you want a heads up when it is, I'd sign up for the subpress newsletter or at least check their site semi regularly.

  8. Wow, such a rich discussion; so provocative of thought and emotion. Life is indeed a strange thing, and so difficult to interpret.

    I personally see life itself as an intentionally constructive thing. Though sometimes the construction does falter, the process seems entirely dedicated to creating atleast something in some form or another.

  9. Great interview. Well done on getting it!

  10. Hey man, like Karl said, great interview.

    I have a blog on antinatalism, and I´ve cited your interview on my last post.


  11. Is that a photo of yourself or of Ligotti? Now to the interview...(thanks).

  12. It's Ligotti, Noel. I'm not QUITE arrogant enough to put my picture before the interviews, don't worry.

    @ Shadow, thanks! I've been poking around your blog a bit in the last few days and have found it quite interesting reading.

  13. Thanks for posting this enlightening interview! I bought and read and reread and loved DEAD DREAMER and GRIMSCRIBE when they came out but haven't revisited them for awhile. This is an *amazing* interview and some of Ligotti's answers are the best descriptions of why people read horror fiction I've ever read.

  14. Good questions, good answers, thank You both!
    Made me want to read his books even more. But where's time when you need it...

    All the best,