Oblivion Beckons: On Thomas Ligotti’s “Pictures of Apocalypse”

Oblivion Beckons: On Thomas Ligotti’s “Pictures of Apocalypse”

The beautiful is always bizarre. —Charles Baudelaire A SUI GENERIS strangeness suffuses the work of Thomas Ligotti, lingering like an ancient air—odd or archaic choices of vocabulary; set to an uncommon rhythm and canted cadences to keep you unsettled; a pervasive chill of nihilism; and ambiguities, awful and awesome, creeping along the caliginous corridors of his imagination. The unknown is supreme and answers are elusive, perhaps impossible. Traditional notions of logic and rationality are overthrown by the possibilities of terror; you recognize his world, it's familiar, but there's something wrong, an aberration. His cryptic sentences survey the depths of the anomalous. He has the abnormal obsessions and peculiar prose of a man who learned to write from reading old stories, gothic tales of the mad and macabre, and he cut his teeth for little-known genre journals that were willing to take a chance on an amateur writer with such an uncomfortable vision. He is totally uninterested in the popular, more traditional forms of fiction, like the staid style of Stephen King and his everyday anomalies; or the penchant for simple prose and reliance on plot in current genre work; or the easy agreeability you find in modern mainstream fiction, the kind of books, manufactured by any of the homogeneous MFA factories strewn the country, that greet you as you walk into Strand in Manhattan. Ligotti's writing is rooted in a profound sense of sorrow and anxiety; it is the poetic product of a troubled mind. He has said that writing is a “matter of personal pathology,” an “exercise in agony.” He cites Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft as influences, sure, and Algernon Blackwood and Arthur Machen, of course, but he's also indebted to Arthur Schopenhauer and Peter Wessel Zapffe, embedding references to obscure philosophers and archaic texts in his stories and especially in The Conspiracy Against the Human Race (2010), his manifesto on cynicism that cites an intimidating amount of philosophical ideas from intellectuals whom the average horror reader has likely never heard of. He is as erudite as he is unnerving, a scribe […]

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