Author Thomas Ligotti

Thomas Ligotti is a well-known author of horror fiction. He has been called “the best keep secret in contemporary horror fiction” by the Washington Post. Thomas worked for twenty-three years as an editor for Gale Research (now a division of Cenage Learning). Ligotti’s career began in the early eighties when his short stories where published in many American small press magazines. His most recent collections are My Work Is Not Yet Done and Teatro Grottesco, and his most recent book is The Conspiracy against the Human Race, a nonfiction study of the intersection between pessimistic philosophy and supernatural horror.  He has also lent his talents to albums by the group Current 93. Fox Atomic Comics released two graphic novels titled The Nightmare Factory that are based on his short stories. A short film adapted from Ligotti’s story “The Frolic” was produced by Wonder Entertainment. This is available on DVD and includes a booklet that contains interviews with the principals involved in the film, a reproduction of the screenplay, and revised version of the “The Frolic.” The reclusive Thomas has stated that he is a sufferer of chronic depression and panic-anxiety disorder.

Q:  Have you always had a love of the written word?

A:  Not in the least. From my earliest years in school I loathed reading and did as little of it as I could. If someone gave me a book for Christmas or my birthday, I felt as if I had gotten ripped off. As a child I was a sports fanatic. I was the kid who always got picked first for any type of athletic activity. Kickball and dodge ball were particular favorites of mine.

Later I started playing guitar, and rock music became my whole world. Then I got into drugs and spent as much time getting high as possible. At the age of seventeen, I had an emotional breakdown in the form a panic-anxiety disorder. This was something that ran in my family. It was only when I became a housebound agoraphobic that I started reading. There was really nothing else to do. It was then that I developed an interest in books and a love of the written word, although it wasn’t until several years later that I felt any urge to write fiction. I wasn’t so  much a late bloomer as someone whose life has been utter chaos. I  skipped from one thing to another to keep myself from being bored or depressed. I really don’t have the space here to tally all the ridiculous phases of my existence. For instance, I was a religious fanatic for years when I went to Catholic school. I used to say hundreds of prayers a day and have nightmares about going to hell. Even now my fear of hell may be revived during a panic attack, which causes the peculiar and absurd terrors to arise. In sum, my life has made no sense at all. Nevertheless, I consider myself to be an eminently rational person. Quite likely because I’ve had to struggle with so many irrational forces that threatened to destroy me at every turn, I needed to cultivate my on faculty of reason as a way to fight back.

Q:  What was the first story you ever penned about?

A:  That would have been a story I wrote in elementary school, which I don’t think would have much interest in the present context. In any case, it was a fantasy story about a rubber eraser that comes to life. Later, I wrote dozens of stories that I threw away as I focused more and more on the direction I wanted to take as a writer. The first horror story that I preserved and is in print was “The Last Feast of Harlequin.” I wrote it during my recovery phase of a years long depression in the seventies. The narrator is a depressive sociologist who discovers an antinatalist cult living in a small Midwestern town. Every so-many years they hold a ceremony in which they consume “literally” a female who serves symbolically as a fertility symbol. They despise life and sing to the “unborn in paradise.” In my latest book, “The Conspiracy against the Human Race”, I also express an antinatalist philosophy, so my writing has come full circle.

Q: How do you feel about being called the best kept secret in contemporary horror fiction by the Washington Post?

A:  That was written over twenty years ago. I’m not sure if it’s still true, although that would depend on whom you ask.

Q: There was some mystery surrounding your identity in the beginning of your career. Why do you think that is? Is Thomas Ligotti your real name? Did you find all the speculation annoying?

A:  What you’re talking about was a hoax perpetrated by a friend and scriptwriting collaborator of mine named Brandon Trenz. Both of us were rather amazed when the whole thing got out of hand with a certain group of persons. Others knew it wasn’t true from the beginning. My birth name is indeed Thomas Ligotti. And I’m not a Muslim.

Q: Does it irritate you to hear that some people consider you a nihilist?

A:  I would call myself a pessimist. At one time I thought it simply inaccurate for anyone to call me a nihilist, since the dictionary definition of nihilist applies to me in very few of its aspects. The term nihilist is more apt in connection with someone like Nietzsche, for whom I have no use at all. Nietzsche also considered himself a type of pessimist, but after he ceased to admire Schopenhauer he modified the term pessimism so that it carried almost none of its original meaning.

These days I don’t mind being called a nihilist, because what people usually mean by this word is someone who is anti-life, and that definition fits me just fine, at least in principle. In practical terms, I have all  kinds of values that are not in accord with nihilism.For example, I politically self-identify as a socialist. I want everyone to be as comfortable as they can be while they’re waiting to die. Unfortunately, the major part of Western civilization consists of capitalists, whom I regard as unadulterated savages. As long as we have to live in this world, what could be more sensible than to want yourself and others to suffer as little as possible? This will never happen because too many people are unadulterated savages. They’re brutal and inhuman. Case in point: Why is euthanasia so despised?Answer: Because too many people are barbaric sons of bitches. And even in those places where euthanasia is allowed, you can’t be assisted in dying until you’re suffering to the brink of madness. At the Swiss clinic known as Dignitas, where you can be humanely euthanized, or in Oregon, where euthanasia is still legal, though perhaps not for long, you have to jump through a host of hoops to prove you’re mentally lucid. Who the hell is mentally lucid when they’re in such pain that they can hardly think? What a boon to humankind it would be if we offer everyone euthanasia before they are reduced to zombies of misery, so that they could say good-bye to their friends and families with a smile on their face and a clear mind. And what about people who are in mental pain from which they are not likely to recover? Have some fucking mercy. There is nothing in this world as important as to be able to choose to die in a painless and dignified manner, something we do have the ability to bestow on one another. If euthanasia were decriminalized, it would demonstrate that we had made the greatest evolutionary leap in world history. If we could only arrange society so that we didn’t have to fear every one of us, the throes of agony that routinely precede death, I would be proud to call myself a human being.

Q:  You have said you have suffered from chronic depression and panic-anxiety disorder for most of your life. If you don’t mind my asking, how do you think having such an affliction has helped you in your choice of a career?

A:  There are some people who prefer their own company to that of others for various reasons. If you’re really serious about seeking spiritual salvation, the noise of the world is a fatal distraction. To allow your thoughts and behavior to be dictated by the social order in which you happen to live is the ultimate impediment to discovering what it means to be alive and how you are going to deal with this fact. But neither of these aims, or many others, matters in the least to the average mortal.

Nothing could be more understandable than people wanting the comfort and support of others, even if this is only an ideal and other people are as likely to make your life a living hell as they are to make it sufferable, let alone something close to joyful. All the same, being a recluse is not necessarily the optimal way to live for the multitude. And I would guess that the majority of people who are reclusive did not choose to be so. I know that I didn’t. I’ve just tried to make the best of my life circumstances. I have to say, though, that even before my existence became one of reclusion I had begun to feel that time spent with others was a hindrance to my doing what I really wanted to do that is, become the best horror writer I could be. Of course, some writers require human contact because it’s vital to the subject matter of their work. At some point, however, they must become recluses to get the job done.

Q:  Did you enjoy working with Current 93? Do you find music to be a comforting thing in times such as these?

A:  My only connection with Current 93 has been through David Tibet, the vocalist and lyric writer of the group and easily the most erudite person I’ve known in my life. One day I received a letter from him in which he wrote that he perceived a likeness between his work and mine. Subsequently, we had a number of phone conversations and ultimately David enlisted me to work on several projects that featured my writing.  These included This Degenerate Little Town, I Have a Special Plan for This World, and In a Foreign Town, In a Foreign Land. I also did a home recorded CD of several pieces collectively titled The Unholy City for David Tibet’s publishing company/record label Durtro.This was included as sort of a bonus with the purchase of Durtro’s publication of a screenplay called Crampton which I cowrote with Brandon Trenz.

As for music being a comforting thing in times such as these, I’m sure it is for those who aren’t too depressed to still enjoy it. But music can’t compare with alcohol or drugs, which directly affect one’s emotional state as opposed to music’s indirect effect through our sense of hearing and never fail to provide an escape. Like literature, music is just a harmless form of forgetting the world and doesn’t always work as well as we’d like.

Q:  If you could change one thing about this world we live in what would it be?

A:  I really don’t like the idea that this world, or any world, exists  at all. However, what I mean in saying this is that I don’t like the fact that I exist or ever existed. But this is an impractical response to  your question. As a pessimist, my primary concern is in eliminating of suffering, or at least diminishing it significantly. Toward this end, continuing to think practically, I would have to reiterate that a liberally administered program of euthanasia would be the single most action we could take to diminish suffering. Nothing else even comes  close as a means for ameliorating the worst aspect of the human condition.

Besides euthanasia, I think it would be great if human beings were  more concerned with justice than they have been. I remember seeing a documentary in which several people were asked if the Beatles were right in singing All You Need Is Love.When the sixties radical Abbie Hoffman was interviewed on this matter, he said, with apologies to the
Beatles, that all you need is justice, not love. This reply profoundly resonated with me. Not long ago, I watched a lecture on the Internet in which Chris Hedges, author of The Death of the Liberal Class, proposed a spectrum in which justice was positioned at one end and freedom at the other. His claim was that liberals tended toward the justice end of the spectrum and conservatives at the freedom end. Anyone with a brain can see the truth of Hedges’ assertion. Of course, the implementation of justice far and wide would be impossible, while freedom reigns all over the place, especially the freedom to deny other people justice. If this statement sounds like it was made by a contestant for the Miss America crown, so be it.

Q:  What was it like to see an illustrated novel based on your work?

A:  It was no great thrill. I agreed to it for money.

Q:  How do you feel about having the Thomas Ligotti Online website started by your readers? Do you ever find yourself amazed that you have fans?

A:  In all honesty, it seems perfectly natural to me that I should have fans, which I estimate to number only about two thousand people worldwide. From the beginning, I expressed my idiosyncratic view of the world with as much intensity as possible. If you stick to that program, and if your work is exposed to enough readers, then you’re bound to reach a certain number of people who are enough like you to become your fans. Whoever you are, there are people out there who share your rarest feelings and are just waiting for someone to express them. This is what  I call the “I thought I was the only one who felt that way” syndrome. The farther your thoughts and feelings are from those of the mainstream, the more attached you will become to the writer who speaks for you so. You will feel lucky to have found that writer. And that writer will feel even luckier to have found you

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