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Interview with Thomas Ligotti by Luca Fusari c/o PRISMO, English Translation
Interview with Thomas Ligotti by Luca Fusari c/o PRISMO, English Translation
printed with interviewee's permission
Published by Dr. Locrian
06-09-2016
Topic Nominated Interview with Thomas Ligotti by Luca Fusari c/o PRISMO, English Translation

PRISMO: First, could you please introduce The Conspiracy Against the Human Race to the Italian readers? Do you still think of it as a kind of “self-help” book or has your idea of it changed over the years?

Thomas Ligotti:
The Conspiracy Against the Human Race could be described as a nonfiction book with an almost fictional narrative that focuses on three primary themes: fear, suffering, and strangeness. Its plot, so to speak, concerns how real human beings deal with these phenomena, just as characters in horror stories must deal with them in their fictitious lives. In the manner of such characters, we begin with the fundamental assumption that the world and we ourselves are natural. At some point, however, there is the realization of something strange in existence, something that violates the naturalistic conception of life. In horror stories this manifestation appears in various forms, including ghosts, vampires, creatures from dimensions other than our own, inanimate objects that come to life, and so on. Naturally, fear of these things leads to a denial that they can be real. We do not want them to be real, because in one way or another these monstrosities reveal that the world is not natural. It is supernatural. It is strange. And not in a comforting, religious sense but in a fashion we cannot abide and continue to live as we formerly had. Of course, characters in a horror story must confront the strange and the supernatural. They must feel fear. They must suffer. If they didn’t, the story would bore us to death. In all honesty, we must admit that we love evil in the little tales we’ve told ourselves since we became conscious, reasoning beings we are. This is one of the many ways we distract our minds from the evils that act upon us in real life, that is, evils such as loss, disease, madness, and so on. Evil can be quite entertaining when presented in artistic forms and, paradoxically, distracts us from itself so that we hardly need to think of it at all. Nevertheless, while most people require this distraction most of the time, ultimately they insist that there is not so much evil—so much fear, suffering, and strangeness in the world—that being alive is all right, at least on the whole. There are always some people, though, who cannot tolerate evil, even in the smallest amount. This means that they cannot tolerate life, if only in principle, and cannot voice their approval of it. Also, they don’t think that the human race should continue making excuses for the evils it must face. They are characters in a supernatural horror story, characters who may themselves be quite strange and not as real and natural as they believe themselves to be. For the most part, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race is about these people and the evils to which they vigorously object. In any case, this is one way that the aim of the book could be described.

It’s true that I once thought of writing The Conspiracy Against the Human Race as a self-help book for the malcontents among us, those who cannot accept life as it is. There must be some way to do this—some way to convince even myself that being alive was somehow tolerable. However, it wasn’t long before I realized that my ambition was impossible. I wanted to write something that might be titled Living with Despair or How to Embrace Hopelessness and Terminal Anguish. Others had written such books about recovering from some misery in their lives, some specific misery from which they had recovered; for example, Freedom from Depression, Overcoming Chronic Pain, or Learning to Be a Happy Paranoid Schizophrenic. But I knew that for me it was futile to be honest and talk about recovery at the same time. A psychologist once wrote to me that he thought a workbook for recovery could be made of The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, that is, recovery from the profound sense that human life was simply suffering and not worth continuing, either for the individual or for the entirety of our species. Maybe he was right, but I wasn’t the one to write such a book. I would need to lie to myself and to the reader to compose such a workbook. All the same, quite a number of people have written to inform me that The Conspiracy Against the Human Race had helped them endure their lives, if only because it consoled them to discover that they were not the only ones who didn’t think that being alive was all right, that they were among the few that found human life to be utterly objectionable. That’s a rare consolation, since so few people have written about life from that perspective. In The Conspiracy Against the Human Race I discuss the major figures who have written from that perspective in works of philosophy, psychology, and supernatural horror fiction. Naturally, the book has convinced no one that being alive is all right who is already convinced of this view. Instead, I attempted to write a volume that was as entertaining and absorbing as I could make it without falsifying my own opinions about human existence. As a writer of supernatural horror stories, that has meant a great deal to me.


PRISMO: Before working on the 2010 version of The Conspiracy I read a different version of it: could you please tell the “editorial” story behind it? How much did you rewrite, how much do you throw away between the first draft and the final version?

Thomas Ligotti: Much of The Conspiracy Against the Human Race derived from a long interview I did with Neddal Ayad. The first draft of the book was an attempt to organize my responses to the questions of this interview. Ultimately, I found this draft to be a fragmented failure. Afterward I rewrote the book almost entirely, retaining only sections of the original. Even this version of the book was rewritten several times.


PRISMO: By translating your stories – delving into your words/images and looking for the best way to rewrite them in another language/culture – I found myself in a kind of dazed & hyper-vigilant state, as if they shot me into a world that was realer than real. Is it something you consciously try to bring the reader (and yourself while you write) to, or did I simply overreact to your style?

Thomas Ligotti: The Conspiracy Against the Human Race is a pessimistic book, though it has often been found to be comical, even by those who did not endorse its views. Every pessimistic writer desires to write something that will cause a violent reaction in the reader’s mind. E. M. Cioran has written of composing a work that would cause the universe to explode. This is obviously a metaphorical ambition. But it was also my ambition, in addition to writing a self-help book for the terminally desperate and those who were tired of trying to pretend that being alive was all right.


PRISMO: And, speaking of style, is the use of repetition (of a single word or sentence) a conscious move on your part, or a reflection of the way you talk/organize ideas? How much do you throw away between the first draft of a story and the final version?

Thomas Ligotti: The history of literature is a kaleidoscope of influences among authors. Some of these influences are thematic and others are stylistic. I’ve tended to be influenced by the style of certain authors because I felt that style facilitated the ideas and moods I wished to convey in my work. The style of some authors has influenced me more than others. In general, I would say that I’ve been most influenced by those authors who have written in what I would call the “intense first-person voice.” That’s the voice I wanted to use in my fiction as well as in The Conspiracy Against the Human Race. Three authors whose work depended most on the intense first-person voice have been Vladimir Nabokov, Bruno Schulz, and Thomas Bernhard. Bernard’s repetitive, manic style is most influential only on my later works. That’s the simplest and possibly the most honest explanation I can give of my use of repetition, though I use this technique. It’s something that became incorporated into my style at some point rather than appropriated in a conscious manner. The process is very much like that of a musician whose compositions or style of improvisation assimilates qualities of other musicians and musical trends.

Regarding my process of writing a story, I do very little revision after completing an initial draft. However, if given a chance, I’ll always make changes to a story, sometimes decades later, as I did with the stories in my first three collections that were published in revised form by Subterranean Press and that later became the definitive, that is final, versions of these stories. Nothing ever written cannot be improved upon.


PRISMO: Many of your stories have a first-person narrator who often has his own identity erased or transformed by an external event: is it an attempt to “tell the untellable”, i.e. the way a human being could become the human puppet he is?

Thomas Ligotti:
I don’t know what it is. I wasn’t aware of how much I concerned myself with my characters' identities until it was pointed out to me by others. Certainly I’ve been aware of alterations in myself at certain times in my life, specifically during times of emotional and psychological crisis. These changes sometimes became permanent. I definitely don’t perceive myself as having a strong core identity. I don’t believe that anyone possesses anything of the sort, which is why I don’t believe in what some people refer to as a “self,” one that can exercise free will. Some people more than others do experience a continuity in their moods and emotions, which is perhaps the reason they believe in both a self and free will.


PRISMO: Do you still play guitar (I do, by the way)? Can you tell us something about your favourite guitarists?

Thomas Ligotti: Yes, I do still play guitar, buy guitars, and listen to guitar music when the mood comes over me. I’ve admired many guitar players over the decades, beginning the with the guitar heroes of the sixties like Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. I recently viewed one of the Crossroads concerts that Clapton organizes every three years to finance his drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Antigua. For me, the highlight of the concert was Steve Winwood performing his song “Mr. Fantasy.” His solo in that song deserves to be acclaimed as one of the best in rock history. Since the 1990s I became more interested in purely instrumental music than in vocal music. Philosophers, composers, and musicologists have long debated the relative value of one form of composition over the other. I prefer the moods stirred by the former than the emotions aroused by the latter. Given my psychiatric history, I can’t help but equate emotions of every kind with suffering. I believe that to some degree this is true for everyone.

While I appreciate soloists who play nylon and steel-string guitars, I’ve mostly been drawn to ensembles of three or four players centered on electric guitars. Almost all of the guitar players in these groups are unknown to the average fan of popular music and are practically cult figures in their genre, whether it’s jazz, rock, surf, or something else. Coincidentally, since I’m doing this interview for an Italian publication, I’ve most recently come to admire the instrumental trio Guano Padano, which was recommended to me by a friend. The guitar player who writes the group’s song is Allesandro Stefana. His playing combines a variety of styles, from surf to jazz to movie soundtrack themes. Though it might seem strange that a writer of supernatural horror fiction and pessimistic, quasi-philosophical nonfiction is engaged with guitar music, or anything other than the wretchedness of the world, all I can say is what everyone already knows: Life is filled with seductions that have kept it spinning at quite a pace, at least so far. Whether or not it will continue to do so, either for individual persons or the species as a whole, is anyone’s guess.


Original interview in Italian may be found here.
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