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Triangulating the Daemon
Triangulating the Daemon
Esoterra Interview
Published by TLO
01-30-2005
Triangulating the Daemon

What are you currently working on, and when can we expect it in the stores? Is it more horror fiction, and short stories, or something different?

I don?t have a next book. I?ve never had a next book, since I?m not a professional writer and have only written horror stories out of the usual impulses for self expression, ego gratification, escapism, and what have you. You can?t support yourself writing short horror stories, and that?s probably just as well. Horror stories were the first form of writing that I took an interest in. Writers like Lovecraft, Poe, Machen, James and Blackwood made a big impression on me in the early 1970s, so much so that when I think about writing anything I only think about it in terms of writing horror stories. As a writer, nothing else interests me. As a reader, it?s a different story. But everything I read always has some definite aspect of darkness and nihilism.

How did you come to work with David Tibet and Durtro Press on the book and CD collaboration In a Foreign Town, In a Foreign Land? What served, if anything, as the unifying inspiration behind these four ?seemingly? connected stories? Which inspired which, the music or the prose?

David Tibet is an incredibly well-read individual, and his reading interests include classic horror fiction of the kind that has served as a model for my own writing. He has read my stories and sent me practically the entire catalogue of Current 93 on CD, sensing that I would discover a fundamental likeness in artistic and philosophic attitude between us and suggesting a collaboration. I did indeed sense that likeness in attitude and proposed that I write several very short stories that he could integrate in some way into a Current 93 recording. The stories became longer than I originally intended them to be and started to bleed into one another to compose a larger piece that was ultimately published by Durtro as, In a Foreign Town, In a Foreign Land, titled after a line in the classic Current 93 song, "Falling Back in Fields of Rape", and issued with an accompanying CD by Current 93. I don?t readily recall what made In a Foreign Town, In a Foreign Land ultimately take the form it did as a more or less integrated work. I don?t usually remember much about beginnings of most of the stories I?ve written. In a Foreign Town, In a Foreign Land seems very much a piece similar to a certain type of story which I?ve written over and over through the years, featuring a quasi-fantastical and deteriorated town where puppet-like characters play out their doom. As I remember it, I sent the stories to David one at a time, and I believe that he and his colleagues were working on the music about the same time I was producing the tales.

Do you have any plans to work with Mr. Tibet again?

Yes I do, although this time I?ll be functioning as a member of the Current 93 unit, which as their admirers know, shifts its participating personnel somewhat from recording to recording while maintaining the core figures of David Tibet and Steven Stapleton. On this project, I actually came through with several short texts that in form are somewhere between song lyrics and nearly free verse poetry. The title of the recording will be, "I Have a Special Plan for This World." [A new collaboration in the works is titled ?This Degenerate Little Town.?]

How about collaborations with other artists or writers in the future?

No.

The stories which make up the contents of In a Foreign Town, In a Foreign Land appear, at least upon the surface, to be connected with each other in some very subtle ways. Were they intended to be linked, or is that merely a literary artifice? One theme I was able to divine concerns the nature of ?haunting?, or of people, objects, houses, and even entire towns being ?haunted?. This idea seems to be a recurring idea throughout many of your stories. Is this close to the truth, or have I been hoodwinked by ". . .a genius of the most insidious illusions" such as is the fate of the narrator of the fourth and final tale in In a Foreign Town, In a Foreign Land, "When you hear the singing, you will know it is time"?

I?ve already explained the first part of this question, regarding links and origins. The haunting of persons and places is hard to get away from for any horror writer, since everyone and everything bears the signs and scars of the horrible history of existence. To be alive is to be haunted by the whole of creation and at the same time to be a creature that participates in and perpetuates this haunting.

Relate your involvement with the recent Durtro Press publication of David Banritz? collection of poems, The Book of Jade.

The way the Durtro edition of this volume came about was this: some years ago I found a copy of The Book of Jade in a bookstore in St. Petersburg, Florida. It occurred to me after I bought the book that it might once have belonged to Robert Barlow, a native Floridian and friend of H.P. Lovecraft who was name by Lovecraft to be the executor of his estate. It is suggested in his letters that Lovecraft owned a copy of The Book of Jade. Could Lovecraft have bestowed his copy on his young friend or had Barlow come into possession of it after Lovecraft?s death? Barlow moved around quite a bit subsequent to Lovecraft?s death, but possibly the book somehow remained or ended up back in Florida, perhaps being passed down from collector to book dealer many times before I spotted it at a place called Lighthouse Books. Later, I read an essay on The Book of Jade published by Mark Valentine in AKLO.

In 1996, Carroll and Graf published the first omnibus collection of your short stories, culled from your first three volumes of tales, as well as six new stories under an enigmatic heading which read: "Teatro Grottesco and other tales". Were these new tales published solely for The Nightmare Factory, or are they part of a new work in progress? I found these six stories to be some of the finest, if not THE finest work you have yet produced, most notably "Severini", which to me, could easily be considered as your ultimate homage to H.P. Lovecraft. Tell me, did you have him in mind when you wrote it? I loved the phrase, "the nightmare of the organism", which sums up in my mind your entire philosophy, a type of dark, nihilistic gnosis of dread, marked by a noted fear of and revulsion for the physical, corporeal world we inhabit. I also detected a certain fugue-like, repetitious rhythm throughout its entirety, serving to both understate and underline the central horror of St. Alban's Marsh. Did any music aid in this particular tale's construction?

The "Teatro Grottesco" stories were just coincidentally written around the same time that Robinson Publishing [the U.K. firm who first published The Nightmare Factory in 1996] proposed doing this collected volume, which was of the nature of a collection of New and Selected Stories. I've always written one story at a time and have never thought in terms of a series of stories that will compose any single particular volume, In a Foreign Town notwithstanding. As far as "Severini" is concerned, I don't recall what got that story started but in writing this story I'm sure I wasn't thinking of Lovecraft any more than I usually am, and far less so than in writing others such as "The Last Feast of Harlequin" or "The Sect of the Idiot". The musical repetition of ideas and phrases in that story can be directly attributed to the influence of the Austrian novelist Thomas Bernhard. Bernhard was a trained musician and often wrote about musicians. I've always been a shameless imitator of other writers' styles, and the "Teatro Grottesco" stories are my Bernhard stories. In fact, I'm doing Bernhard to some degree in this interview, just as "Drink to Me Only With Labyrinthine Eyes" is my Stanley Elkin story; "The Nightmare Network" is my William S. Burroughs story; "The Medusa" is my E.M. Cioran story; "Mrs. Rinaldi's Angel" and several others are my Bruno Shulz stories; and most of the stories in the first two sections of Songs of a Dead Dreamer are my Vladimir Nabokov stories.

Speaking of music, what kind do you listen to? Any favorite bands or composers? What do you like most about Current 93's work?
I listen mostly to instrumental rock music. My favorite bands of the past in this genre are the Shadows and various surf bands, including the Chantays ("Pipeline") and the Sandals ("Theme for 'The Endless Summer'"). My favorite contemporary instrumental bands are the Mermen, Pell Mell, the Aqua Velvets, Scenic, and others I can't recall at the moment. I'm also a big fan of such "guitar hero" figures as Eric Johnson, Steve Morse, and the late Danny Gatton, to whom I dedicated The Agonizing Resurrection of Victor Frankenstein. What I like most about Current 93's work is its sheer visionary intensity, and what I like to consider its morbidity and world disgust. To hear David Tibet screaming, "Dead, dead, dead, dead" or mewling an ode to the memory of Louis Wain, makes me glad to be half-alive.

Someone once told me that you are (in-) famous for continually revising and rewriting your stories, and that the versions of your earlier collected tales published in The Nightmare Factory differ from their originals. Is this true? How many drafts of a story do you usually write?

It is true that I do usually revise my tales several times before I am satisfied with the finished product, but the stories in The Nightmare Factory are not revisions. However, the British editions of my earlier works do differ from their American counterparts in that they form the first drafts of those particular stories, with the exception of the British imprint of The Nightmare Factory. Despite all this though, I usually only write one draft of any given story, with some exceptions.

Do you have any spiritual leanings? Religious observances, habits, etc?

I've had what one might call spiritual dabblings or minor obsessions over the years, much as many kids from the 1960s have had. I was a fairly devout Catholic as a child, less so as a teenager, and not at all since my late teens. Then it was transcendental "this" or "that", "this" or "that" sort of Eastern doctrine, one guru or another. I'll get excited for a while with a new "spiritual" toy and then become bored or irritated, after which I lapse back into ... nothing, really: television, my job, the daily routine.

Have the tenets and philosophy/cosmology of the early Gnostic cults had any influence upon your thinking, and/or writing?

I liked the Gnostics because they cursed the same things I?ve cursed: the Boss of the Bible, the ways of the world, and so on. Of course, they always had their own absentee Boss way out there beyond contemplation or criticism, and I could never follow them to that place.

You seem to enjoy the short story/novella framework. Have you ever considered writing a novel length tale?

No, I haven't. And to be completely honest, I really don't enjoy any kind of fiction of any length, except fiction that is extremely unfiction-like: the essay-like stories of Borges, the novel-length but not at all novel-like rants of Bernhard, the poetic prose of Schulz, the pamphleteering fantasies of Burroughs. Conventional fiction, however, is something that doesn't interest me any more than ballet or opera.

How large a role do your dreams play in the creation of your work? Do you keep a dream journal? Do you have lucid dreams? How often are you plagued/blessed by actual nightmares, if at all?

I've written a number of stories that were inspired by nightmares, if only because they supply an emotional stimulus that is suited to horror fiction and that one doesn?t usually experience in daily life. I dream vividly every night and experience upsetting nightmares every week or so. But I don't brood over my dreams or cultivate them in any way or attribute secret meanings to them. I had a few lucid dreams during my childhood. I also had a lot of nightmares and hypnagogic hallucinations as a child. Prominent among my earliest memories are horrific television shows from the late 1950s and early 1960s, although I can't specify what these shows might have been. I still have nightmares about scary TV shows and movies with unimaginably monstrous images and incidents and no certainty at all about them, just a lingering phantasmagoria of fear. . .

List a few of your literary influences/inspirations. Who are your favorite authors? Do you read any fiction by present day writers?

Over the years there have been quite a few writers whose influence has shown up in my stories, sometimes in subtle ways and other times quite openly and shamelessly. In a number of my early stories, such as "Dream of a Mannikin" and "Les Fleurs", I did my best to ape the lavish language and maniacal first-person voice of Vladimir Nabokov, as well as copping his brilliant strategy of using a fantastic narrative to tell a fantastic story. It's a simple idea, really, although few writers before him had employed this very commonsensical approach to fantastic fiction. Nabokov conjured a spectral world right before the reader's eyes, often, I'm sure, without many readers noticing that he had done so. Of course, there are any number of authors with fancy prose styles and intricate, though not necessarily fantastic, narrative structures, but Nabokov's works also conveyed to my mind a profound perception of a perilous and senseless cosmos upon which art may pose a temporary, though ultimately helpless, order. There's a line in his short novel Pnin that goes, I hope I've got this verbatim: "Harm is the norm; doom shall not jam." It's the background of bleakness with a foreground of hypnotic artistry that has appealed to me in Nabokov as well as in such writers as Bruno Shulz, Jorge Luis Borges, William Burroughs, the Japanese poet Hagiwara Sakutaro, and Thomas Bernhard. Lovecraft was the first writer of this sort that I read, and in addition to being an artist whose works harmonized so well with my literary tastes, he was also the first author with whom I strongly identified. This may sound bizarre or pathetic, but H.P. Lovecraft has been, bar none other, the most intense and real personal presence in my life. Lovecraft was a dark guru who confirmed to me all my most awful suspicions about the universe.

Gothic Tales (or, The Agonizing Resurrection of Victor Frankenstein) is, amongst other things, an homage to classic horror films. Name some of your favorite movies, and are there any recent films which you've enjoyed?

I enjoyed all the old horror movies when I was a kid and saw them on TV. Most of them?Dracula, Phantom of the Opera, and so on?I can no longer watch with any enjoyment. I faithfully attended Saturday and Sunday matinees throughout the 1960s, during the heyday of Hammer Films and William Castle movies. These days, I'll still watch The Exorcist or The Omen, or parts of them, if they turn up on TV. And I'll go to see the latest Alien movie or whatever, but not out of any particular devotion to the genre of horror films. I've never been truly fanatical about horrific subject matter in any other medium than prose or poetry.

Are you sure your film list isn't lacking a few titles? I've always considered your work, especially the stories in Songs of a Dead Dreamer, to be the literary equivalent of the film work of the Brothers Quay. Have you seen their animated movies?

Yes, I have. About ten years or so ago, a friend said the same thing to me, and I eventually saw some of the Quay Brothers short at the local art institute. I suppose you could say that a few of my stories resemble the Quay Brothers' movies, particularly the Street of Crocodiles, which is, after all, based on the Bruno Schulz tale of the same name. I?ve since seen Institute Benjamenta, although I can?t say I was crazy about it.

Do you suffer from any allergies? Any physical/psychological maladies?

No allergies. As to other disorders, I?ve struggled with Anxiety-Panic Disorder since I was 17.

Have you been approached by Hollywood or other film makers yet?

Yet?! That's another world entirely from the minor, small press cult figure one that I inhabit. Oddly enough, I recently co-wrote a script for an episode of The X-Files, but that was done as sort of a lark. Someone I work with named Brandon Trenz, who knows a lot more about television and movies than I ever will, described to me an opening scene for The X-Files that I thought was terrific. We wrote a script treatment and then completed a script. But it's not as if the producers of the show asked us to do it, and I don't expect that it will ever come to their notice, although we're doing what we can to sell the thing, or perhaps turn it into a screenplay that no one except the people we know will ever see. [Since the publication of this interview Brandon Trenz and I have adapted the X-Files teleplay into a full-length script and my story ?The Last Feast of Harlequin? was optioned by a Hollywood production company. Brandon and I provided them with a spec script for this story, although it?s fate is still undetermined.]

After reading Noctuary I felt that the over-powering nihilism and claustrophobia exhibited throughout these stories had possibly led you into a dark psychic/philosophical quandary from which you wouldn't be able to escape. In other words, it seemed to me that you had quite literally written yourself into a "corner", so to speak. How would you contrast these stories with, say, the ones which make up the "Teatro Grottesco" stories? Which tales did you write first, the ones published in Noctuary or the ones in "Teatro"?

Well, as Samuel Beckett has proven, there's nothing to say to begin with but that shouldn't stop you from enjoying the distractions of literature. Seriously, I know what you mean; it's just that one's philosophy has nothing to do with anything. All the systems and speculations of philosophy?The Will, the Thing-in-itself, the Ubermensch, the concept of Nothingness, and so on, are merely characters in a series melodrama. Most literature, and all good literature, is based upon feeling bad, on being sick in a specific way that motivates one to disseminate the pain. Artistically, fear is a very profitable way of feeling bad, whereas, for instance, being depressed is not. There's no section in the bookstore devoted to Depression Fiction. The depression stuff is over on the self-help shelves. Depression has no literary voice. I wrote the stories in Noctuary some years before the "Teatro Grottesco" stories.

Do you ever suffer from writer's block? Is writing easy or difficult for you?

No, I've never suffered from anything like writer's block. Writing is difficult for me only in the sense that it stresses me out so much that I become physically ill after about an hour of doing it. My stomach becomes severely upset, my anxiety level goes through the roof, and I just have to stop. This is why I've never been very prolific and will become less so as time goes by and my little flame starts to go out.

One of my favorite stories of yours is "The Medusa" in Noctuary: "We may hide from horror only in the heart of horror". Absolutely brilliant, that! Almost a Buddhist expression of wholly accepting the appearances of all things as they arise in one's mind, without discrimination, or dualistic prejudice. Do you feel that there is any spark of genuine "divinity", for lack of a better term, within the heart or soul of humanity? Or are we just truly bestial to the core and doomed to entropic decay in abysses of unfathomable annihilation?

I appreciate your reading "The Medusa" as a reflection of some superior consciousness on my part, but I assure you it's not the case. I've been fascinated by mysticism in various forms for some time, probably because my temperament is so alien to the non-dualist mind, or no-nmind or whatever, to which you allude. Obviously, human beings are very devious and complicated, and certainly one has the sense at times that we are in some way wonderful and bizarre creatures. But I think the whole spiritual aspect of humanity is pure self-promotion on our part, and I don't think there's anything behind the curtain of our flesh. Yes, the universe is very strange, but its strangeness seems to me based on a haunting emptiness where one might expect, unwarrantedly, something to be.

Do you have a particular "Muse"?

Yes?sickness of the body and the mind.

Most critics have justly hailed you as the greatest weird fiction writer working today. Do you think this praise is justified?

My horror story collections have gotten a high percentage of favorable reviews. I don't think any of those reviews mentioned my being the greatest anything. But thanks all the same.

Any indications or comments regarding the future forms of horror?

Horror fiction, like all genre fiction, seems to exist in two worlds: one is the world of pure entertainment, which hasn't changed since the days of Ann Radcliffe; the other is a world sparsely populated by a few great mutants like Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, who had the weird luck of finding the most apt and personal means for artistic expression in a mass-market medium. I don't see why it should be any different, say, ten or twenty years from now. On the other hand, perhaps the advent of some really effective psychopharmaceuticals will make the whole enterprise of horror fiction incomprehensible to future generations.

In your story "In the Shadow of Another World", there is a character named after artist/seer Austin Osman Spare. How much of a role does mysticism or the occult play in the construction of your tales, or more importantly, should one look for occult or mystic "truths" in your writing?

I've always considered the occult in horror fiction functioned very much as Lovecraft said it did: as strictly a literary device, a familiar framework within which one attempts to tell a new tale.

Occult books feature in a few of your stories, most notably "Vastarien". Have you been inspired by any occult writing?

Not yet.

What is your favorite piece among all your work?

"The Shadow at the Bottom of the World". Autumn has always held a special magic for me, and I tried to put as much of that feeling as I could into this story.

Did any teacher during your formative years especially inspire you or guide your development as a writer?

Yes. My fourth-grade teacher, Mr. Lutz. But all his work was undone by subsequent teachers, and I had to start all over again on my own several years later.

What do you like about living in the Detroit area?

I really have no special appreciation for the Detroit area that I'm aware of. As long as all the modern conveniences are available to me, I could live in a bubble city on the moon or in an underwater shopping mall. Of course, I've never lived anywhere else, so this idea that it doesn't matter to me where I live could be a complete delusion, and probably is. I exist in pretty much a constant state of nervous agitation so I seldom take any enjoyment in my surroundings, except possibly to the extent that they stimulate my imagination and allow me the fleeting sense that I'm no longer in a physical locale but in some imaginary venue. This sense is often provoked by driving through very shabby urban areas on my way to or from my job. [Unfortunately no longer the case since two years ago the company I work for moved to a pristine suburb west of Detroit.] But this feeling usually lasts for only a split second. I do put a sort of imaginary value on living in Michigan because it's in the northern hemisphere and not the southern hemisphere, toward which I feel a definite aversion. In fact, I feel a definite aversion toward all geography that's not in the northern half of the northern hemisphere. I really don't even like the word "south" or anything that's in southern places, whether it's in South America or Africa or Asia or wherever. On the other hand, I don't have any problem, in my imagination, with North America, northern Europe, northern Asia, and so on. Anywhere in which the natural landscape dies, or at least goes into a state of suspended animation, for a part of the year, is okay with me. I'm imaginatively averse to tropical regions, especially jungles. I'd rather live in a parking lot than anywhere near a jungle.

Does Thomas Ligotti have a "better half", a partner in crime, a mate? If so, how would you characterize the relationship?

No, I just have the one half and that's plenty for me to deal with.

What do you look for in a friend?

Somehow this seems to me an even weirder question than the one about my having any allergies. I guess the quality I most prize in other people is their willingness to be content with relating to me on an extremely superficial basis consisting largely of laughs and an exchange of opinions on movies and TV shows. Or to wax uncharacteristically metaphysical about it, I try to keep most people at arm's length because I don't want to generate any unnecessary future karma for myself by getting seriously involved with them.

[hr]Originally published in Esoterra © Spring 1999 Used with the permission of the authors on this site.
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