The following is a really old interview (2006, maybe?) I conducted with weird tale author Thomas Ligotti. I copy/pasted it here for the sake of preservation.
For those who've read my work, it shouldn't be hard to see a Ligotti connection.
Devotees of Decay and Desolation
Thomas Ligotti interview
by Venger Satanis
For quite a while I had absolutely no hope of obtaining a complete Thomas Ligotti Q&A session. I'm sure many Ligotti fans are familiar with this nihilistic state. Since there are no guarantees in life, I quietly moved on to my next project...still very much a fan of the Prince of Dark Fantasy. During the interim, I've experienced (and then got over) a particular disappointment. The absence of his stories. Where were his new tales? Who knows, maybe they're still coming? Then again, maybe not.
Yes, this interview was a long time coming. Not just a temporal journey, but a metaphysical one. A year and a half ago, many of us still held to certain illusions. Eighteen months can shatter many a dream. Yes, things have changed...
I read quite a few Ligotti interviews before attempting my own. It seemed the author in question was exceedingly difficult to penetrate; his mask was long and deep. Those few moments that showed us an unmasked Ligotti, revealed a fascinating, alien genius, as well as, an excruciatingly mundane and pessimistic jokester. He is the ultimate unreliable narrator. Beneath all those layers, there's a spark; must be a spark of some kind both eldritch and infernal.
Are my interview questions more penetrating than most? I can't tell, but probably not. This was an experiment...an oscillation of philosophical and ordinary queries, always trying to ferret-out the underlying potency in the man. A power which we can darkly crystal clearly see in his stories.
Though a few replies are masterful misdirections, there are a handful of keys as well. And what do these keys unlock? Gateways to the authentic force behind Ligotti's weird tales! I believe there is, or rather was, some kind of demon crouched upon his left shoulder. A whispering fiend who used the author as a vehicle to disseminate a peculiar, tenebrous vision. The same might also be said of H.P. Lovecraft. But where has this chattering hobgoblin gone? Has he taken root somewhere else? Upon reading this unfortunately unessential Q&A;, which always seems to devolve into a struggle between the masked and the unmasker...remember the blackish green prose which first erected the Ligotti cult...because that is deathlessly profound.
Perhaps you will hope, as I do, that on some not-too-distant night, Ligotti's shoulder crouching demon will whisper once more.
VS: First, just wanted to say thanks for agreeing to do this interview and allowing your fans a peek into your otherworldly mental landscape. As I've said before, I consider you to be the earth's greatest living writer.
VS: So, how's your week been?
TL: My toilet tank was leaking and I had to shut off the water going into it. Fortunately I have two bathrooms. And I went to a urologist. Fortunately I have two kidneys.
VS: After hearing that this interview was a go, I dispersed great crowds while proclaiming, "I'm interviewing the Prince of Dark Fantasy, make way for me!" Sure, it might have been a little arrogant - but certainly justified. Aren't you entitled to a sense of superiority or, at the very least, artistic accomplishment?
TL: My therapist asked me the same question and I transported her to the cornfield.
VS: How does it feel to know that some readers see you as a hero, prophet, or even a godlike being?
TL: All I can say is that I am the fool for Christ and the Paraclete of Caborca.
VS: I'm just curious. How often does someone ask to interview you? Have you ever turned anyone down? If so, then why?
TL: I don't get asked to do interviews that often. I did turn down one request because the would-be interviewer wanted to borrow my litter-box scooper.
VS: Have you ever considered interviews to be a light form of post-modern therapy? Talking about past issues and putting a fresh perspective on them; attempting to illuminate the dark unconscious mind?
TL: I don't know what postmodern therapy is, but it sounds like something that would get its practitioners transported to the cornfield.
VS: Why are most of your protagonists (and HPL's as well) skeptical, unwitting pawns rather than knowing villains? Does that make dark fiction more effective? Personally, I think that's why "Les Fleurs" and "The Chymist" are two of my favorite stories.
TL: I think that everyone is an unwitting pawn since I'm temperamentally drawn to the propositions of hard determinism. The narrator of My Work Is Not Yet Done is effectively a villain, or at least a character who does people in. The same could be said of the protagonist of "I Have a Special Plan for This World." If a story calls for a character to be a monster, I have no problem with that.
VS: What is it about secret groups of freaks and weirdoes that frightens people so much?
TL: Actually, I don't think that people today are as frightened by secret groups of freaks and weirdoes as they were fifty years ago. But it must be said that freaks and weirdoes still have a long way to go before they gain full acceptance in the social order.
VS: Do you ever write on commission? Say a magazine editor wanted you to write a short story about deranged clowns and unicorns for a few hundred bucks (what about a few thousand), would you do it?
TL: "Masquerade of Dead Sword" was written at the request of an editor who wanted a "heroic fantasy" story from me. I had wanted to write something like Poe's "Masque of the Red Death," so the idea appealed to me. But I'm really no good when it comes to writing for theme anthologies. My theory is that most writers who do write for theme anthologies already have an idea for a story that suits the bill.
VS: Anything new on the horizon? Any more of your work being turned into a movie? A new collection of short stories (I hope!)? Is The Frolic available on DVD (fantastic story by the way)? Tell me what you thought of that experience.
TL: 1. My literary agent is now shopping around my nonfiction book The Conspiracy Against the Human Race: A Short Life of Horror, and there are negotiations in process to do something for television or film based on In a Foreign Land, In a Foreign Town.
2. I just published a collection titled Teatro Grottesco last year, so that's it for a while.
3. The short film based on my story "The Frolic" is still available on DVD from Wonder Entertainment. Adapting "The Frolic" with my friend and collaborator Brandon Trenz was a real pleasure. Brandon and I used to work together at the same place and had written a couple of screenplays before "The Frolic." A lot of what we wrote was done on company time. It's always satisfying to do something you want to do while being paid for something you don't want to do. We had a lot of laughs doing those scripts. One of them, Crampton, was originally written as an X-Files episode and was later published as a book by David Tibet's Durtro Press. Another script, unproduced, is loosely based on my story "The Last Feast of Harlequin" and is titled Michigan Basement. Brandon went to Los Angeles for the shooting of "The Frolic." I stayed home as usual. It's a kick now when I see one of the actors from "The Frolic" turn up on a TV show.
VS: I have dubbed a small handful of your stories the Tsalal Mythos. A term which I'm sure will never catch on... do you have any interest in expanding this particular literary cosmology? Is the Tsalal basically your Great Old One? Do you think that H.P. Lovecraft should have focused on Cthulhu and the Old Ones a bit more during his lifetime?
TL: I don't know which stories you're thinking of. "The Tsalal" was written as a stand alone story. I have written a number of times two or three stories that are connected in some way, although this is just something that happens rather than something I plan ahead to do.
VS: As long as we're talking about "The Tsalal", I'd like to ask you about a line from that story. It starts something like this, "The best thing in life is to work the great wheel which turns in darkness... and to be broken upon it." That's got to be in my top 10 Thomas Ligotti sentences. Can you go into detail about the background behind that line - how or why you wrote that? And if it's true, what does it mean for the individual who pursues such a course?
TL: The protagonist of that story, like those in other stories of mine, is a devotee of decay and desolation. To that could be added a masochistic-mystical ecstasy that is expressed as working "the great wheel that turns in darkness, and to be broken upon it." This line suited the character's ambition to go the whole distance of giving oneself over to a sort of Schopenhauerian Will-to-live force that really runs the show of existence. Rather than seeking to negate this force, which Schopenhauer called the Will-to-live and thought should be denied as much as possible in a rather Buddhistic manner, the character Andrew Manness wishes to be blasted by it, utterly pulverized in a perverse way. This desire goes against every normal human impulse to survive and conveys my own anti-life stance. We're all going to perish anyway, so why not do it in style?
VS: You've explored every traditional literary medium (that I'm aware of) except for writing a play (assuming we don't count screenplays). Do you have any plans to write a play intended for the stage? Perhaps something similar to "The King in Yellow" or the work of the Marquis DeSade?
TL: No, I've never thought about writing a play. I really don't like to see plays live. I feel embarrassed for the actors because I don't really buy that they're characters in a literary work and not just some regular folks stomping around a stage and speaking the words of someone else. But I do like film versions of plays because they put a distance between the viewer and the work which for me makes the action and characterizations more engrossing and artistic.
VS: Do you ever get the urge to re-visit some of your past protagonists, such as that poor fellow wearing the magic leg-decaying pants? or possibly his headless-woman-fetish roommate) or past places (like the Bungalow House)? Not revising, but creating other stories with those people or locales?
TL: I did exactly that in the stories that someone called the Teatro Grottesco cycle, which includes "Teatro Grottesco," "The Bungalow House," "Severini," "Gas Station Carnivals," and "The Shadow, The Darkness." All of them feature a circle of artistic types who are kind of ludicrous and suffer some kind of doom that has to do with some kind of art.
VS: Do you prefer obscurity? It seems that if you wanted to be more well-known and "out there" in pop horror culture, you easily could be. Aside from Thomas Ligotti Online you don't have a presence on the internet, right? Plus, your fondness for limited editions as opposed to mass market editions of your prose?
TL: 1. I think the kind of thing I do is destined to be appreciated by a small audience, so it's not my call to be obscure or well known.
2. No, I don't have a presence on the Internet aside from Thomas Ligotti Online, which was originally created by Jonathan Padgett and is now administrated by Brian Poe. The site has always been the project of someone else, and has as much to do with the talents and interests of its members as it does with my fiction.
3. I really don't have a special fondness for limited editions, although I think it's been my good fortune to have some gorgeous editions of my collections put out by specialty presses. A couple of those collections are going to come out in paperback from Virgin. Teatro Grottesco will appear soon in the U.S. market - it's already out in the UK - and My Work Is Not Yet Done is scheduled for publication early next year.
VS: Are you familiar with the Fourth Way, most notably taught by Gurdjieff and Ouspensky? Basically, it's a philosophy that considers man to be asleep and unaware of his vast potential. What are your thoughts on it? What spiritual or philosophical traditions have you incorporated in your stories lately?
TL: In my early twenties, I was really taken by Ouspensky's works because they incorporated so many ideas from a spectrum of disciplines and philosophies and served as a guide to ideas outside the mainstream that I was moved to investigate. Gurdjieff never held much appeal for me. I thought he fell into the same category as Wilhelm Reich or Rudolph Steiner, guys with an all-purpose solution to the disaster of human existence.
I would say that's all the case with all present-day gurus like Andrew Cohen and Ken Wilber. If they really had something, then everyone would be beating a path to their door. But what they have is the same thing as Buddhism, which is a lot of hard work and study that promises a great deal and ultimately just serves as a way of passing the time until you die. This is definitely not such a bad thing if these people or belief systems don't take any sizeable amount of your money.
VS: Are you dating anyone? Any interest there in the foreseeable future? If not, then do you value all the time which is not wasted on sex and relationships (something which probably takes up 70% of most people's mental energy)? I'm suddenly reminded of this Seinfeld episode where George swears off chasing women. He now has all this free time and uses it to better his mind, experience new things, and grow as a person. I kind of envy that.
TL: I've been checking out computer matchmaking sites for years but I can't find anyone whose idea of a good time is dinner and a suicide pact.
VS: In the CD version of "I Have a Special Plan for This World" with your words spoken by David Tibet over a dark ambient / children's nursery nightmare, you describe everything as "densely coiled layers of illusion". I happen to agree with that theory; can you go into more detail? What was your inspiration for this piece?
TL: The title of "Special Plan" has its origins in a questionnaire I happened upon that was designed to determine whether or not someone is a manic-depressive. The question was: "Do you feel that you have a special plan for this world?" I thought that was just too great not to turn to my advantage as a horror writer, not to mention that over the years I have had one special plan or another for this world, or at least for myself and those close to me. The phrases "annihilation by ecstasy" and "beneficent vaporization" come to mind.
Once I have a title or an image, it develops by itself into a work that extends my negative view of life as a living nightmare. As for the densely coiled layers of illusion, you don't have to take my word for that. Psychologists, philosophers, social thinkers, etc. have been saying the same thing for quite some time. We don't even know what the world is like except through our sense organs, which are provably inadequate. It's no less the case with our brains. Our whole lives are motored along by forces we cannot know and perceptions that are faulty. We sometimes hear people say that they're not feeling themselves. Well, who or what do they feel like then? And what is like to feel like yourself? And did ever disagree with anyone on whether or not some objet d'art was beautiful? Just try to prove which one of you is right. Beauty is in the neurotransmitters of the beholder.
VS: Do you believe that you have a special plan for this world? Does Thomas Ligotti fulfill some vital role in the great scheme of things?
TL: While I am bipolar, I do not believe I have a special plan for this world. A mood stabilizer takes care of that. If there were a great scheme of things, we would all fulfill some vital role in it. But we don't even fulfill a vital role in the planet's environment. Is there any other species whose disappearance would have absolutely no ill effect on the natural world?
VS: What's the story behind your lengthy prose poem, "This Degenerate Little Town"?
TL: It was an experiment in which I tried to write a story as a series of poems. It didn't really work, but I liked the result anyway because I like degenerate little towns, or at least the idea of degenerate little towns.
VS: I believe there's a line in the third Hellraiser movie that goes something like this, "There's a secret song at the center of the world, and its sound is like razors through flesh." What is it about revealing the world's hidden truth that makes for a great horror story or weird tale?
TL: Well, first you have to assume that there is some hidden truth in the world. Fiction can do that even better than philosophy, although both are based on the opinions of some writer. But I think you've really hit on what makes for a great horror story, that is, a great supernatural horror story. It's the pretense that there really is some hidden truth in the world and it's the truth that behind the scenes of life there are machinations at work that make a horror of our lives?James's ghosts, Machen's cults, Lovecraft's "gods," Ambrose Bierce's "Damned Things," William Hope Hodgson's various monstrosities, T.E.D Klein's "Dark Gods," Ramsey Campbell's whole world of other-worldly bogeys, Blackwood's menacing natural forces, etc.
For the great supernatural horror writers, this truth in principle has nothing to do with good versus evil, which are concepts that we feel have some reality to them but really do not. But we are forced to see the universe as anthropocentric, which is a real tragedy. If we didn't see it this way, we wouldn't be so at odds with one another and everything else. So even the great supernatural horror writers like have to depict some kind of good versus evil scenarios, or at least a human versus nonhuman scenarios, which is why I added "in principle" above. In his later letters, Lovecraft mused about writing stories in which he described only the play of nonhuman forces in the universe, forces that would be alien to the reader and therefore very disturbing. But fiction doesn't allow one to do this. Lovecraft tried to get his readers to see the world from the perspective of his monsters, but without success. There has to be a human perspective with respect to which nonhuman forces are a horror. I attempted the sort of thing that Lovecraft wanted to do in a story called "The Red Tower," which has no characters until the end, when an anonymous narrator shows up. But that narrator had to be in there or the story would have lacked a perspective that made the preceding events and descriptions horrific, or at least strange. Ultimately we are stuck with ourselves, and that's a pity.
VS: Is the world (or the universe, reality, etc.) something that can be successfully fought and struggled against? Is your writing your personal way of conquering the less-than-stellar world around us?
TL: Schopenhauer thought his Will-to-live could be quelled by contemplating works of art, but that it could never be conquered. The only way that the will, what I called our vital impulses above, can be vanquished is for it to vanquish itself, although this could happen only in individuals and not on a universal scale. There perhaps may be hope that this could happen to the human species - that we would simply lose our vim and vigor and die out. I like to think that this is what happened to the dinosaurs - that after millions of years of existence they just got tired of the same old rigmarole and started passing down genetic material that became progressively worn out and weary. Finally they just stopped eating right and reproducing out of a total disinterest in perpetuating their species. As for my writing, I stated before that it's a sign of a vital impulse, however negative it may seem on the surface.
VS: I remember your response to a question (in a previous interview) about science fiction - that a class you took on scifi literature was more about sociology than anything else. To me, science fiction is best when it emulates horror - great scifi should investigate the unknown. What are your thoughts?
TL: As a lifelong non-sci-fi reader, I'm not qualified to say anything about other readers' choice of entertainment. It's something that's above criticism. I don't care if someone reads the worst-written soft-core pornography in the guise of romantic novels. That's their business, and I'm very adamant about people's right to choose the way they cope with life and their time on this earth.
In the science fiction class I took it was probably just unfortunate that the first thing we read was Ursula Le Guin's Left Hand of Darkness, which is a transparently sociological tract behind a mask of narrative. That was just how I felt about it, and I might have made a mistake in dropping a class where everything we would have read wouldn't be so fundamentally at odds with my own tastes.
I shouldn't talk because my own writing so obviously has its own agenda to further and is as didactic as that of any sci-fi writer. It's just that I didn't care for Le Guin's agenda and didacticism, and I couldn't help but extrapolate that all sci-fi would have some social or political agenda that wasn't anything I cared about. And in general, I don't care about humanity's future, or futuristic parables about humanity's state in the here and now. I don't have anything to say about whether or not sci-fi is best when it emulates horror. I like any well-made sci-fi horror movie. And I wish there were sci-fi movies that were faithful to the books on which they're based, just as long as they're not based on a book by Ursula Le Guin. But it seems apparent that movies aren't able to deal with the complexities of sci-fi novels. Look at Dune.
VS: How do you feel about scifi and horror television? Have you seen any of these scifi/horror shows? Original black and white Quatermass and the Pit, (old) Doctor Who, Red Dwarf, Blake's 7, Tomorrow People, Land of the Lost, American Gothic, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Dexter?
TL: I was a huge fan of the original Star Trek and of Voyager. Those series had self-contained episodes. I would rather avoid series that string you along for years like a soap opera. It's really infuriating when you have to watch five bad episodes before you get to see one good episode. Not to mention the series that you're faithful to and love for years and that burn you in the last season or the last episode like The Sopranos or Deadwood. Non-soap-operatic TV shows have to be good every week, and many of them are at least watchable every week. Nevertheless, I've been following Dexter, even though the conclusion of the first season was lame.
VS: Is your current approach to writing a short story the same as it was 10 or 20 years ago?
TL: I haven't written a story in a while for various reasons, but I'm sure it would be if I did. I get an idea or impression. I let it drift around in my head until it starts to take some kind of shape. Then I plot the whole thing from beginning to end, making lots of notes. Then I start writing it. I really don't want to start writing a story unless I believe it'll be worth finishing.
VS: Ever played a roleplaying game, like Dungeons & Dragons? If so, then what was it like for you?
TL: No, I've never played a role-playing game.
VS: Some of your earlier work consisted of very short vignettes such as, "Ten Steps to Thin Mountain" and the short pieces found within NOTEBOOK OF THE NIGHT -- some of your best work in my opinion. They strike me as a distillation of the Ligotti aesthetic. Do you have any plans to return to these snapshots of horror?
TL: I don't know. I never know what I'm going to do until I get the motivation to do it.
VS: Do you see yourself as part of the Decadent literary movement? In your opinion, what is the current state of Decadent literature?
TL: I've been kind of out of the loop as far as contemporary literature in general is concerned, let alone Decadent literature. If anyone today is writing what could be called Decadent literature, I'm not aware of it. During my Decadent phase from the mid-seventies to the early eighties, I preferred the world-weary stuff to the love-and-corpse stuff, although most decadents wrote both, as is well exemplified by Georges Rodenbach's Bruges-la-morte.
VS: In your stories, why does 'the artificial' appear more real and substantive than supposed "real life"? For instance, towards the beginning of "The Sect of the Idiot" you write:
It is difficult to explain, then, how the old town also conveyed a sense of endlessness, of proliferating unseen dimensions, at the same time that it served as the very image of a claustrophobe's nightmare. Even the infinite nights above the great roofs of the town seemed merely the uppermost level of an earthbound estate, at most a musty old attic in which the stars were useless heirlooms and the moon a dusty trunk of dreams. And this paradox was precisely the source of the town's enchantment. I imagined the heavens themselves as part of an essentially interior decor. By day: heaps of clouds like dustballs floated across the empty rooms of the sky. By night: a fluorescent map of the cosmos was painted upon a great black ceiling. How I desired to live forever in this domain of medieval autumns and mute winters, serving out my sentence of life among all the visible and invisible wonders I had only dreamed about from so far away.
TL: I don't think I would oppose the artificial to real life as much as to nature and the cosmos. As a horror writer, my aim is the opposite of Lovecraft's. He had an appreciation for natural scenery on earth and wanted to reach beyond the visible in the universe. I have no appreciation for natural scenery and want the objective universe to be a reflection of a character's subjective world, which is the tendency of my consciousness. In Lovecraft's stories, the outside is not the attraction for me. What attracts me to his work is his consciousness of the outside. There isn't anything in the universe of any interest except that consciousness makes it so, as Hamlet might say.
VS: Speaking of the blurry line between reality and fantasy, how much should the effective weird tale leave unspoken, shadowy, and obscure? Since you use all manner of twilight in your writing, do you think most of the central horror should be kept off stage?
TL: I have no hard and fast rules about keeping something onstage or offstage. It depends on what the central horror, as you describe it, is. Some phenomena need to be left to the reader's imagination simply because to try and explain them would be cumbersome and dissipate whatever mystique and power they might have.
VS: Some fans consider your middle period to be your very best...such stories as "The Bungalow House", "The Clown Puppet", "Teatro Grottesco", "Gas Station Carnivals" and so forth. Do you consider these some of your greatest works? What made these pieces so fantastic? Do you think you could replicate their effectiveness if you wanted to, or is it more satisfying to always be breaking new ground?
TL: I don't think in terms of breaking new ground or staying on old ground or anything like that. I don't think I can answer the questions you've asked about these stories. I think they are some of my best work, but it's hard for me to judge. Perhaps in these stories I consolidated a number of the themes and moods of my other stories.
VS: What's the most frightening thing about reality?
TL: Suffering and death.