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Old 04-07-2005   #1
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Flicker

My outlook is that it's a damn shame that organic life ever developed on this or any other planet, and that the pain that living creatures necessarily suffer makes for an existence that is a perennial nightmare.
-Thomas Ligotti

It would seem that TL is not the only one that feels this way. In fact, or rather in the fiction of Theodore Roszak, there are people who not only feel this way but are prepared to do something about it. Even if it means ending one nightmare with the onset of another!

Has anyone read Theodore Roszak's novel Flicker or is anxious to see Darren Aronofsky's film adaptation of it? Flicker is a metaphysical novel about horror movies. A Los Angeles film student studying the work of Max Castle, a horror director from the 30s and 40s, discovers a dark secret about his work: In the background and margins of his films there lurks hidden images of horrors more sinister than those portrayed on the screen.

Subliminal imagery is nothing new to horror films. Alfred Hitchcock, master of subliminal suggestion, superimposed a skull of over the face of Anthony Perkins in a scene in Psycho. Referring to his film The Exorcist, director William Friedkin stated "There is subliminal imagery throughout the film. It is used to convey what is occurring in a character's mind's eye. It is like the flashes that we get constantly in our own lives, some of which are past memories, some of which are simply fantastical creations by our subconscious. And in the case of The Exorcist, they are often used as premonitions." At least one of the subliminal images was a flash cut of the devil.

But in Roszak's Flicker the waters get very deep. There is an 'unclean' subtext within his films that hint at a larger conspiracy of diabolical proportions. This novel mixes mystery, theology, history, and horror into quite a yarn. Roszak also throws in some interesting film lore. For example, Orson Welles started to direct Joseph Conrad's novel The Heart of Darkness before he directed Citizen Kane but it was never completed.


While I enjoyed the novel, I can't wholeheartedly recommend it. I thought it was overlong, even for an unraveling conspiracy novel, and I thought some of the characters and scenes were superfluous. But it did present some interesting ideas and was very captivating at times. I look forward to seeing what Aronofsky and screenwriter Jim Uhls (Fight Club) can do with this material. I don't know when it is being released, but the new printing of the book has the blurb "Soon to be a Major Motion Picture from the Director of Pi and Requiem for a Dream".

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Old 04-07-2005   #2
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Re: Flicker

I read FLICKER when was first issued in paperback form back in the early 1990s, and I absolutely loved it. Of course, what attracted me to it in the first place was the fact that Roszak wrote it. I was already a confirmed Roszak fan of several years' standing, having had a rather life-changing experience under the tutelage of his classic nonfiction works WHERE THE WASTELAND ENDS and THE MAKING OF A COUNTERCULTURE. As it turned out, FLICKER worked well on its own merits for me, and not simply as an extension of the heartfelt liking I already felt for Roszak's philosophy.

I agree with you that the novel may be a little overlong, but then, for some reason its extra length didn't bother me, probably because I didn't want it to end.

You might find Roszak's nonfiction to be of interest, since the cultural nihilism that he confronts in fictional form in FLICKER forms the core target of his nonfiction books as well. In the 1960s he established a reputation for himself as the "respectable philosophical voice" of the American counterculture -- in fact, he was the person who coined the term "counterculture" itself, in a series of articles that he wrote for THE NATION and then later expanded into THE MAKING OF A COUNTERCULTURE -- and in FLICKER you can see his characteristic concern with, and opposition to, anti-life, anti-organic attitudes and philosophies coming through. The fact that in this novel he wedded his philosophical concerns specifically to the gory-nihilistic imagery of horror films, and even more specifically to the horror films of the late 1960s and 1970s, arguably the greatest era in American horror film history, all but predetermined my enthusiastic response to it.

In case you're not already aware, Roszak is also the author of the novel THE MEMOIRS OF ELIZABETH FRANKENSTEIN, in which he again tackles his favorite philosophical issues in fictional form. The novel is a kind of revisionist reading of FRANKENSTEIN from Elizabeth's point of view, which allows Roszak to inject all sorts of earth-based feminist/paganist/occult themes into the story. I've not read it, and have heard mixed reviews, but my long-running interest in the Frankenstein mythos, and also in Roszak, surely means I will get to it some day.

In a specifically Ligottian vein, I might mention -- and this represents a spoiler for FLICKER, so readers be warned -- that the idea, expressed in FLICKER, of a gnostic anti-life cult working behind the scenes to indoctrinate the world with its nihilistic worldview relates to one of Roszak's ideas that I've long thought to be profoundly Ligottian. Near the end of WHERE THE WASTELAND ENDS, Roszak opines that the modern world's scientized, reductionist view of life and the universe as a soulless machine (and remember, he was writing this over 30 years ago, so he's not dealing with the most recent scientific attitudes, but more the mid-twentieth century's holdover/hangup from nineteenth century-ish materialism and positivism) corresponds in significant ways to the classic gnostic attitude of hatred toward physical life. But science, unlike gnosticism, denies or refuses to address or acknowledge the existence of spirit altogether. Thus, the modern cultural zeitgeist is fueled by an attitude analogous to gnostic nihilism, which views this world as Hell itself, the level below which and worse than which there is no other, and yet the modern attitude is not counterbalanced by gnosticism's belief in, and straining after, salvation via escape into a realm of pure spirit that transcends this Hell-realm. In other words, we have Hell but no Heaven. There is only the nightmare, with no possibility of escape.

Does this seem Ligottian to you?

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Old 04-07-2005   #3
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Re: Flicker

Although I haven't read "Flicker" I hope the film version is going to be satisfactory. I love Aronofsky! His previous two films were pretty nihilistic so I'm sure he is not going to disappoint us with this one.

As to Roszak's THE MEMOIRS OF ELIZABETH FRANKENSTEIN, has anyone seen its adaptation - "Frankenstein: Unbound" by Roger Corman (the king of trash)? I don't know anything about the book, but the movie was terrible. So don't even try to see it, if you still haven't!

"In my imagination, I have a small apartment in a small town where I live alone and gaze through a window at a wintry landscape." -- TL
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Old 04-07-2005   #4
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Re: Flicker

I, too, am looking forward to the film adaptation of FLICKER. It'll be fascinating to see how Aronofsky, and also the cinematographer, editor, etc., handle the visualizing and presenting of the fictonal Max Castle films, and also the subliminal images with which Castle populated them. I'm also interested to observe how much of Roszak's overt philosophizing ends up making it into the finished film.

Regarding FRANKENSTEIN UNBOUND, that's actually based not on Roszak's Frankenstein novel, but on the novel FRANKENSTEIN UNBOUND by Brian Aldiss. I haven't read the novel, but I think I'm one of maybe three people on the planet who actually liked the movie a great deal. I tend to agree with Raul Julia, who played Victor Frankenstein in it and later said that when he finally saw the finished film, it was much better than he had expected it to be. I think he, like everybody else, myself included, expected quite a trashy and inept product. Of course, that's exactly what most people perceive this movie to be, but I personally think there's a kind of subtle intelligence that shines through it all. Plus, the actor who played the monster did a great job, as did all of the other performers. Well, with the exception of whatsisname, the front man from INXS, who was frankly embarrassing in the role of Percy Shelley.

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Old 04-07-2005   #5
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Re: Flicker

I didn't even know the name of Theodore Roszak before I read Flicker a couple of years ago. I came by the novel shortly after Darren Aronofsky's name became attached to it. I think he is a director to watch. After reading the novel, I did look up Roszak on the internet and read descriptions of his other books. I was very close to ordering Where The Wasteland Ends and The Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein (The Making of a Counterculture sounded too beatnik) but then I looked at my overflowing and teetering bookshelf and thought better of it.

But if his nonfiction work echoes some of the ideas in Flicker I feel compelled to take a look.
The universe is a soulless machine, gnostic nihilism. Yep, that sounds like it is right up my alley. I sensed a sympathy with Ligotti's ideas as soon as the true goal of the conspiracy was discovered. I was hoping a few Ligottians would have read or heard about the film.

I just ordered Where The Wasteland Ends. It was inexpensive, five bucks and some change and that includes shipping. You can usually get college books cheap. I eagerly look forward to reading it.

An interesting paradox: that the contemplation of nihilism should engender so much enthusiasm.

I think some people find unpleasant truths (or less elaborate delusions) to be more palatable than those candy-colored mass mind absurdities that most people glut themselves on with ignorant abandon. Like ravenous, grazing sheep stuffing their lying, filthy maws....oh, never mind.

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Old 04-07-2005   #6
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Re: Flicker

This discussion has certainly piqued my interest, and I'll be sure to look into at least a couple of the various work cited above. Looks like most of my reply below is a bit off-topic, but here goes.

Quote Originally Posted by bendk";p=&quot View Post
An interesting paradox: that the contemplation of nihilism should engender so much enthusiasm.
Indeed, bendk. For myself, I've had a long term obsession with such bleak contemplations, which often have the paradoxical effect of lifting my spirits rather than dashing them. Much like the narrator's (admittedly illusory) intellectual and emotional kinship with the artist responsible for "the dream monologues," I find solace in the idea that other similar beings are considering (and obsessing about) the same kinds of worst case scenarios that I am. It was this fact that made me an instant Ligotti devotee from "The Folic" on. Here on the page were ideas and subjects that I instinctively understood. These were hells I recognized. Sharing ideas with other people who shared this recognition has been and is fantastic. A strange high.

Quote Originally Posted by bendk";p=&quot View Post
I think some people find unpleasant truths (or less elaborate delusions) to be more palatable than those candy-colored mass mind absurdities that most people glut themselves on with ignorant abandon.
Well put, though I'd be a hypocrite to say that I don't fairly often lap up the cotton candy of conventional entertainment (sometimes for sedation, sometimes for simple pleasure). I always end up coming back to the font of bleakness, though.

I think I'll close my brief reply with an apropos quote from "The Bungalow House" which encapsulates so concisely much of what I have always felt after reading the best of TL's work:

"I wanted to believe that this artist had escaped the dreams and demons of all sentiment in order to explore the foul and crummy delights of a universe where everything had been reduced to three stark principles: first, that there was nowhere for you to go; second, that there was nothing for you to do; and third, that there was no one for you to know. Of course, I knew that this view was an illusion like any other, but it was also one that had sustained me so long and so well -- as long and as well as any other illusion and perhaps longer, perhaps better."

Funny, since I don't (usually or perhaps I should say wholly) subscribe to those ideas personally, but, like a potent drug, Ligotti's work sends me into this altered state--a kind of frozen euphoria of nihilism.

"...the uncanny is to me the defining trait of this strange and terrible world and our strange and terrible minds." --Thomas Ligotti
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Old 04-09-2005   #7
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Re: Flicker

You are right, Matt. Sorry for that mistake with "Frankenstein:Unbound" and Roszak. What I find really funny is that Brian Aldiss is also the author of "Dracula: Unbound".

As to the movie I agree with you that there is this subtle intelligence that shines through. The last sentence of the Monster :" You think that you have killed me. But I will be with you forever. I am unbound." caught my attention. I like the ending of that film, however really cannot stand Roger Corman's motto that all the films should be done the cheapest possible way.

"In my imagination, I have a small apartment in a small town where I live alone and gaze through a window at a wintry landscape." -- TL
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Old 04-09-2005   #8
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bendk -- You wrote,
Quote
But if his nonfiction work echoes some of the ideas in "Flicker", I feel compelled to take a look. The universe is a soulless machine, gnostic nihilism. Yep, that sounds like it is right up my alley. I sensed a sympathy with Ligotti's ideas as soon as the true goal of the conspiracy was discovered.
I hope I didn't inadvertently imply that Roszak actually espouses this quasi-Ligottian philosophy. In WHERE THE WASTELAND ENDS his goal is to demonstrate the extent to which, and the means by which, the scientific-materialist worldview, with its reductionist portrait of human beings and the cosmos as seen through the "eyes of a dead man," rejects humanity's spiritual side and visionary/poetic powers -- he calls this "the old gnosis" for short -- and is thus responsible for the rise of the soulless urban-industrial nightmare of the modern world. The roots of this line of thought in the American counterculture movement, and before that, in the Romantics and mystics of ages past, are fairly obvious. Roszak is particularly keen on Goethe and Blake. His presentation of anything resembling a Ligottian idea forms more of a muted, intermittent backdrop than a foregrounded image in this book. I do hope you enjoy it, in any case. As I said, it was literally life-changing for me to read it.

FYI, if you want a quick window into one of the book's dominant moods, you might check out the wonderful experimental film KOYAANISQATSI, which I first watched around the time that I read the book. The credits for the film list Jacques Ellul's THE TECHNOLOGICAL SOCIETY as an inspiration, and this book figures largely in Roszak's book. Also, the despair at modern life expressed in MY DINNER WITH ANDRE resonates with Roszak's ideas and emotions. The edition of WHERE THE WASTELAND ENDS that I own begins with a retrospective introduction that Roszak penned in 1989, twenty years after the book's first publication, and he prefaces this essay with a long quotation from the screenplay for MY DINNER WITH ANDRE that states the human being, i.e. humanity itself in its full humanhood, may have died with the end of the sixties.

Regarding the idea of artistic representations of nihiliam and despair generating enthusiasm, I, too, am fascinated with that paradox, since I, too, experience that very same emotional jolt.

Doc L -- I love your description of this experience above, which resonates perfectly with my own:
Quote
like a potent drug, Ligotti's work sends me into this altered state--a kind of frozen euphoria of nihilism.
A "frozen euphoria of nihilism." Yes, that's it. And the quote from "The Bungalow House" that you provide is also quite apropos, since it hints at the secret that makes this story so dear to me. Like the narrator, and I suppose like you and many other TLO members, I find it a positively electrifying experience when I encounter literary or other artistic expressions of nihilistic despair -- preferably combined with a Lovecraftian cosmicism, although this isn't absolutely necessary -- because this somehow catapults me out of my individual selfhood and makes me briefly feel an almost godlike sense of widened viewpoint and icy clarity. It is indeed the embodiment of that one true consolation of horror that Tom has written about.

On the other hand, I also experience episodes of extreme enervation, as opposed to exhilaration, under the influence of the same stimuli. Usually these come after the euphoria has dissipated. That "killing sadness" with which "The Bungalow House" concludes is an all-too-familiar emotional companion. These two emotions are of course fundamental complements, representing opposite faces of the same underlying emotional predisposition.

Slawek -- I'm not fond of Corman's exaltation of low budget crappiness for its own sake, either. But I felt FRANKENSTEIN UNBOUND was a felicitous departure from the truly awful depths that some of his other movies have plumbed.

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Old 04-09-2005   #9
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Re: Flicker

Matt,

I was on the verge of purchasing WHERE THE WASTELAND ENDS at one point anyway. I'm sure I will get something out of it. It was inexpensive in any case. I realize it would be difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to go beyond 'accepting' purely nihilistic ideas. As TL pointed out, even the act of writing is 'life-affirming'.

I love the film KOYAANISQATI. I always regretted not seeing it at the theater, which I'm sure would have enhanced the experience. I also saw the movie POWAQQATSI, which I liked, but less so. I just happened by those movies by flipping through my Maltin's Movie Guide and noticed the four star review.(You have to beware of Maltin though, he trashed Taxi Driver and Blue Velvet).

I also love the movie MY DINNER WITH ANDRE, though I am careful about recommending it. It is definitely one of those movies you either love or hate. My girlfriend hates it - too sedate. That reminds me of the joke by Christopher Guest at the end of the film WAITING FOR GUFFMAN; in Corky's film/theater collection he had both MY DINNER WITH ANDRE 'action figures' - they where both cast in an inflexible sitting position, of course. I have watched MY DINNER WITH ANDRE numerous times, and I even happily stumbled across the screenplay in used book store years ago, and snapped it up. I also love the book THE LITTLE PRINCE.

Dr. L.

Great line -"frozen euphoria of nihilism." I look forward to your recording of "The Bungalow House." It is one of my favorite stories by Ligotti. I'm not alone there, as I recall in the poll on the old site, it had the majority of votes, and in such a strong collection of stories, that is saying something.
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