Underlinings (#37)

Michael W. Clune on Ligotti (and “the psychology of cosmic horror”):

Things are not what they seem. This is the mantra and the practice of cosmic horror. Lovecraft wrote stories in which familiar appearances — mountains, stars, old New England houses — melt away from things that now wear an unspeakably different aspect. While the focus in Lovecraft is always on the alien reality below the appearances, Ligotti is fascinated by the simple capacity of changing appearances to suggest a different reality. He pursues the inhumanist psychology of the process in which appearances come loose from their anchor in the human world.

Ligotti in The New Yorker

An erratic overview, with an off-beam title. This — for instance — is absolutely not getting it: “… the essential quality to truly terrify: an aspect of the unreal.”

This, though, is getting it:

Ligotti’s stories, which have been reissued in a new Penguin Classics volume that brings together the books “Songs of a Dead Dreamer” and “Grimscribe,” are fugues of the creeping unknown. They often begin with a moment of banality: a visit to a new town, an academic’s research project, the tearing down of an old building. His narrators are fairly nondescript, if occasionally a tad morose. But they are all sensitive to or attracted by a slight bend in reality. Something leaks through into the known world, and the protagonist, often already on the edge of sanity, is doomed by the encounter with whatever it is — say, the spectre of a demolished house that seems to exist in a liminal place between wintry nights and the realm of the dead.

Horror is about nothing at all except reality. Unreality is for everything else.

Summa Technologiae

Stanislaw Lem discussed (by David Auerbach) in the LARB:

[Lem’s] subjects, among others, include:

Virtual reality
Artificial intelligence
Nanotechnology and biotechnology
Evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology
Artificial life
Information theory
Entropy and thermodynamics
Complexity theory, probability, and chaos
Population and ecological catastrophe
The “singularity” and “transhumanism”

Lem was one of the very few thinkers at the time to examine these burgeoning subjects in the context of both the humanities and the social sciences. Yet despite the far-ranging explorations, Lem tempers his speculations with a de-romanticized and often grim view of humanity. Indeed, part of Lem’s genius was his keen awareness that the possibilities of science and the possibilities of humanity do no more than scarcely overlap, and so our investigations must be conducted with our limited vantage point in mind.

(Craig Hickman has been on Lem with some consistency — plug ‘Lem’ into his search widget and a torrent flows out.)

Underlinings (#24)

Pynchon in Cow Country?

Hmm. Somewhere I have heard of an author as reclusive as J.D. Salinger (who has no further need to defend his privacy). No, not the Italian Elena Ferrante (also a pseudonymous invention), but an American. Rather than face what he (assuming the gender itself is not fictional) calls “a false and destructive system” that is nonetheless “a reality of our world,” Pearson notes that his response is to “manufacture disposable authorial personae for every book,” making each one earn its own way rather than piggybacking on whatever reputation a previous title may have earned its author. … […] … The great Portuguese poet and novelist Fernando Pessoa created what he called heteronyms, alter egos or personas that allowed him to write as “them” instead of himself, a liberating and fruitful creative approach, he found. It is possible that something akin to that is going on here, if the same sensibility is behind both names, and that freeing oneself and one’s book from the connotation-heavy name seemed a good idea. However, Pessoa’s heteronyms are characters in his fiction — they express themselves and feel and act as personas — and that is not the case with Pearson, who, except outside the novel as his reality is created online, is merely a name affixed to Cow Country. So far.