In Haunt

By Rachid M'rabty (PhD Student, the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies)

The symposium 'Detecting Pessimism: Thomas Ligotti and the Weird in an Age of Post-Truth', hosted by the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies at Manchester Metropolitan University on 12 June, was an opportunity for all to come together and revel in weird and wonderful fictions of the still-living American author – and included an exclusive interview transcript from the man himself.

Ligotti Symposium

The Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies has long been attached to the fiction, philosophy and artistry of the cult writer, Thomas Ligotti. A few years back the centre’s in-house reading group started passing around his volume Teatro Grottesco (2008) and his non-fiction treatise on supernatural horror, The Conspiracy against the Human Race (2010). Ever since, his ideas have been slowly burning away inside the minds of members of staff and students within the department and challenging how we approach and appreciate weird fiction, pessimism and supernatural horror.

To coincide with an increased awareness of Ligotti’s works following the Penguin Classics reprint of Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe, and more recently, the new Penguin edition of The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, we at Manchester Metropolitan University decided that the time was right to present Ligotti, his fiction and his ideas, to the wider public in the best way we know how. Detecting Pessimism: Thomas Ligotti and the Weird in an Age of Post-Truth, was an opportunity for academics, creative practitioners and the wider public to come together and revel in the weird and the wonderful fictions and the provocative, sometimes controversial philosophies of an author who, ironically, has always eschewed such attention. Underlying the day’s creative and research-driven activities was, at heart, a speculative attempt to follow in Ligotti’s footsteps: a concern with uncovering a means of rethinking about ourselves and the world around us, through a greater appreciation and awareness of our fundamental weirdness and horror.

Hosted in the appropriately resonant depths of Manchester Metropolitan’s 70 Oxford Street, the symposium was opened by weird expert – by which we, of course, mean expert on the weird – Professor Roger Luckhurst (Birkbeck, University of London). ChaLeonie Rowland nnelling his inner Ligotti, Professor Luckhurst presented four spectacular ‘interventions’ on supernatural horror wherein he discussed Weird Fiction, Supernatural Horror, Anti-Philosophy and ‘Philo-Fiction’, and lastly, the ironies, controversies and importance of the day’s subject, Thomas Ligotti.

This was followed by the first of our two panels and featured four exciting, critical papers, delivered on themes and topics, such as: The Post-Hope society (Rachid M'Rabty); an Eco-Gothic reading of Lovecraft (Fredrik Blanc); Hyperconsciousness and the role of the females in Ligotti (Leonie Rowland - pictured left); and an eco-pessimist reading of Ligotti (Joseph Howsin). The second panel proved equally as stimulating, featuring critical and provocative papers on: Pessimism and Gothic Gaming (Caitlin Jauncey); Suicide and anti-natalism in Ligotti’s work (Dr Xavier Aldana Reyes); Acid Communism and the socio-political possibility of weird fiction (Dr Jonathan Greenaway); and the lucidity of weird and Gothic tropes in the music of the Handsome Family (Dr Morag Rose).

The symposium sought to present a multitude of ideas and interventions that have arisen from the darkest depths of Ligotti’s oeuvre. As such, and in typical Gothic Centre fashion, the speakers each guided the audience through a rollercoaster of emotions and provocations ranging from the bleakest auspices of pessimism, hopelessness and defeatism and then towards a redemption of sorts, in consideration of optimism and a radical use for weird fiction in philosophy and the real world.

Following the panels and after a few moments to recollect ourselves from the depths we had plunged (metaphorically, emotionally…), the speakers then each read from a specially commissioned inHelen Darby terview with the author himself on topics such as: the development in his thinking since the publication of Conspiracy; antinatalism and ecocide; socialism and anti-capitalism; and the role of gender in his philosophy and fiction, amongst others. His responses were both stimulating and lucid in their evocation of a wider pessimistic strand of thought underpinning his works and in this was followed by a powerful and highly-charged performance from Helen Darby (Research Impact and Public Engagement Senior Manager at Manchester Metropolitan University - pictured right) reading a Ligotti-inspired poem she had written for the event, titled Progenitor.

The event was brought to a close with a commissioned screening of a special edit of the most thought-provoking, bleak and eerily-Ligottian monologues from HBO’s critically-acclaimed first series of True Detective, starring Matthew McConoughey and Woody Harrelson. The edit had been specially collated by Greg Walker, of Pilot Light TV Festival and was introduced and followed by a lively open-floor discussion with Greg, Dr Morag Rose and Dr Sorcha Ní Fhlainn (pictured below).

Following all our forays into darkness and hopelessness, it was fitting that the final scene of the first series of True Detective brought proceedings to an end, yet raised debate as to the continued potency and necessity of pessimistic philosophy. While the ardent pessimists in attendance were dismayed at Rust Cohle's conclusion that despite the almost-all-encompassing darkness of the sky above, the light is still winning, it was fitting that we ended with a scene that highlighted the extent to which pessimism remains unacceptable within our culture and society. Though, as the symposium demonstrated, pessimistic and weird fiction and the fiction of Thomas Ligotti provides a means of articulating and understanding our most heartfelt despondency. From this point, through our provocations and interventions throughout the day into critical theory, politics, philosophy, literature and art, the consensus emerged that perhaps we can still negotiate a more acceptable way through life – whether our actions are ultimately futile or not.

Film Screening

It is with special thanks to Dr Jonathan Greenaway that most of the papers presented at the symposium will be published in the forthcoming edition of Dark Arts Journal, along with a full transcript of the specially commissioned interview with Thomas Ligotti and Helen Darby’s profound poem Progenitor. This is a free and open access journal is published by the Dark Arts Network in Manchester, UK with the support of the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies as well as Sheffield University’s Centre for the History of the Gothic. For more information, please go to: https://thedarkartsjournal.wordpress.com/contact

Images with thanks to Dr Xavier Aldana Reyes

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