Thursday, June 3, 2010
The Conspiracy Against The Human Race
History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake- Ulysses by James Joyce
Herein lies the problem of consciousness. Before its refined emergence as the node called human, there is only sleep. An uneasy sleep, to be sure. A tranquility punctuated by appalling interruptions of rumbling stomachs and tearing flesh. No nobility in pre-solipsistic savagery, perhaps, but the agonies keep to their assigned beats and only bother those who actually cross their paths. A dream within a dream.
Then, the worst thing imaginable happens. The dream awakens within itself, becomes lucid. A shard of the latency breaks loose. Falls out of the sky. There is a sense of plummeting, of scrambling for altitude in the midst of obstacles. Worse yet, there comes an awareness of gravity, and of the maxim ‘What goes up...’. The dream becomes a nightmare.
In ‘The Conspiracy Against the Human Race’, a work of non-fiction soon to be released, acclaimed horror author Thomas Ligotti strikes at the heart of the lie we maintain to shield ourselves from the contemplation of that nightmare, lest we find ourselves face to face with the secret ‘too terrible to know’. The lie? That ‘being alive is all right’. And the unutterable secret? That life is ‘malignantly useless’. And so we shut our eyes to that particular horror, sleepwalking our way from one oasis of distraction to the next, as we grope by faith toward whatever version of Zion happens to suit our soteriological temperament.
But even as that nightmare is not of our own making, neither are our somnambulistic defenses against it. For we are puppets, one and all. Forgotten toys dangling from the imbecilic fingers of the First Urge, moved by the mephitic winds of heritage and circumstance, believing all the while that we are real boys and girls. Condemned to dance, and twirl, and dream of what it might be like to be autonomous, rather than automatons. Of course, none of us really want to believe this. Question: What do you call a puppet that refuses to acknowledge its patrimony of woodpulp and ashes? That claims not to feel the tug of the wire at its wrists? Answer: An optimist. But what of his counterpart, the pessimist? The ‘man with a morbid, frantic, shuddering hatred of the life-principle itself? (Lovecraft) Does he occupy some loftier position in the kingdom of wood, cloth and string, a perch from which he can gaze down upon this play of absurd passions with-dare I say it?-objectivity?
Herein lies the conundrum of the hard determinist, of which Ligotti is fully aware. How to build a case on reason, when reason’s foundations are ultimately no more secured than the sound of wind whistling through cracks in the mortar? Origins are lost to us in the stifling complexity of our causative heritage- we are stuck with who we are, and with what we think we know. Our perceptions have been handed over to us bearing neither manufacturer’s label nor warranty. This being the overriding circumstance in the duchy of puppetry, what is the justification by which we can possibly proceed to make our respective cases?
In the end, there is none. We push forward- or speaking with a tad more accuracy, perhaps, are pushed- weighing the quality of music issuing from our squeaking joints, as well as that conjured up by our ideological opposites, against the standard of sawdust between our ears. Knowing that we do not know, including the knowledge of our ignorance, splayed out against the leading edge of a juggernaut whose engines exist in a realm we’ll never be privy to, even after we’re torn to pieces.
We push forward. Make our cases. Pessimists have made their cases, though you’d be hard pressed to hear them in the midst of the Official Life Affirmation Choir and Jug Band. There are names- Schopenhauer. Nietzche. Sartre. Camus. Mainlander. Zapffe. Others. Some motivated by disdain, others by despair. Still others by misanthropic intellects unwilling to take their seats at ringside. Some of these held more or less true to their offending creeds, while others sought and wrought loopholes, straining for illusory beams of light in the cloud cover. Ligotti has made his case as well, drawing from his background of horror and phantasmagorical literature, polishing the mirror of our self-reflection to an astonishing degree, in my opinion. Each time I gaze into it, I catch another glimpse of the darkness behind my eyes. The emptiness. An awareness made more palpable by the knowledge of my own nothingness, realizing that that nothingness is everything I am. A nothingness that one day will be swallowed by its own shadow.
There’s a picture on my desk, a piece of paper confined within a frame of wood and glass. These are my daughters. Little bits of the Nothing that coalesced into temporary simulcra of something. They will remain briefly, moved by the wind, fading in the sun, and finally dissolved in darkness. Once they were not. Soon they will return to that former station, and it will be as if they never were. There is an infinitude of raw material existing in potentia, driftwood in danger of being lifted and shaped by the madness at the core of creation. Carved into the likeness of futility, given breath, and with that breath, hope, and with that hope, pain and dissolution. Carved into the likenesses of sons and daughters. Daughters like mine. At the end of the rainbow? Splinters of broken wood. Bits of rusty wire, and springs, scraps of cloth, and hope, and aspirations. A junkpile.
‘The Conspiracy Against the Human Race’ is a work of non-fiction by Thomas Ligotti, with a forward by Ray Brassier. It is an important contribution to the literature of pessimism, as well as antinatalism; of which, unfortunately, there is a paucity, especially in the contemporary sense. It is sober, insightful, and supports the feeling I’ve always had that fiction writers often have a better grasp on reality than philosophers. For those interested in the subject, I can’t recommend a better piece of reading material- well, unless...er, never mind :)
Sorry for the delay in getting this review finished, both to the author and to my readers. I’ve got LOTS of excuses, most of which I’ve previously enumerated, so let’s just leave it at the fact that I SUCK, and be thankful I trimmed it down enough so that I didn’t give the whole book away. Special thanks go to the author for giving me an advance copy, as well as giving me a blurb to use on my own book cover. It means a lot to me, and I brag about it often :)
UPDATE: For those interested, here's a very good review of the book. Check it out!
at 2:45 PM