Malignantly Useless

Some time ago I was privileged to receive an advance review copy of Thomas Ligotti's nonfiction treatise, The Conspiracy against the Human Race. I've since read the book (twice) and have been meaning to comment on it in the depth that it deserves. Alas, I simply haven't found the time. Or the words. Perhaps I will have something more to say between now and the end of days.

Fortunately, Jim Crawford has graciously agreed to let me reprint his review, which follows below in preciously edited form (the original version is here). Jim is the author of Confessions of an Antinatalist, now available for only $12 postpaid from the Hoover Hog's publishing imprint, Nine-Banded Books. I should disclose that Thomas Ligotti was kind enough to endorse Jim's book, but don't let the incestuous funk trip your radar; both books are worth your attention, and as Jim Goad might have put it once upon a time, both books are worth hating.

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The Conspiracy against the Human Race, by Thomas Ligotti.

Hippocampus Press, June 2010.

Review by Jim Crawford.

History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.

— James Joyce, Ulysses

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 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 wants 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 secure 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?

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, the knowledge of our
ignorance is 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 appeals. Pessimists have made
theirs, 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.
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 hold
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.

END OF JIM CRAWFORD'S REVIEW

____________________

Memento mori.

8 thoughts on “Malignantly Useless

  1. I have an update to offer from the author, Chip. The publisher takes possession of the books from the printer this Friday, and pre-orders will start going out immediately after that. There’s been some concern about delays, I gather, so I’m sure this will be welcome news to Mr. Ligotti’s fans.

  2. LJP,
    Yes, that’s the guy. The book is (or will soon be) available through Hippocampus Press. There’s a link in my intro above.
    TGGP,
    Thanks. I’ll check this out.
    Fumento has a short comment on the “denialist” ploy wrt scientific controversies here:
    http://www.fumento.com/weblog/archives/2010/06/denialism_has_n.html
    Thanks also for tipping me to the Loftus series on Slate. The subject is just endlessly fascinating, and wouldn’t it be interesting if beneficent iatrogenic memories came to mark the first empirical success story for psychotherapy?
    By the way, once of the reasons false memories interest me is because I have a few of my own. I’ll try to explain in a short post, banking off Loftus.

  3. I wonder if the eerie silence coming from the far reaches of space is indicative of the possibility that more advanced lifeforms have already embraced anti-natalism?
    Yet what about Eternal Recurrence, could it provide a genuine antidote to pessimism?
    Fantastic content in this blog. I was truly sad when I finished reading everything posted here.

  4. “The lie? That ‘being alive is all right.’ And the unutterable secret? That life is ‘malignantly useless.’”
    Hmmm…
    I can think of several rational courses of action for people who honestly believe such things.
    It is almost tempting to attribute more than a modicum of courage to people who are willing to put their own neuroses and vices on such prominent display. But then again, anyone who believes that life is ‘malignantly useless’ and fails to take the rational course of action must either be a pathetic coward or a liar. So the temptation dissolves before it can take any real shape.

  5. Bob: The course of action you allude to may be one rational alternative amongst others, but may not be open to everyone for a variety of what I believe are obvious reasons. Rather than recite the litany of those obvious alternatives, I’d challenge you think a bit beyond your rather superficial judgment, keeping things like fear, conditioning and empathy in mind while you do so. You might surprise yourself with what you’ve so facilely looked over.

  6. This review is a nicely reflective one that catalogs an experience I suspect many others are having upon reading Conspiracy. And the experience is not a one time shot. I find myself returning to this Ligotti work in these wintry months, and I’ve sensed the original feelings they spurred in my mind are no less powerful than the first time.

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