an interview with Thomas Ligotti
by E.M. Angerhuber (EMA) and Thomas Wagner (TW), January 2001
for The Art of GrimScribe

TW/EMA: Mr. Ligotti, how are you?

TL: A simple question, but for some reason it triggers something I once read in Kafka's letters. Kafka remarked to a correspondent that his emotional state was so unstable that, as he stood at the bottom of a flight of stairs, he had no idea how he would feel when he had reached to the top of the stairs. Anyway, in answer to your question, I'm not feeling too bad at the moment.

TW: Even if you may have heard this questions several times before: what was your motive to begin writing? What was it that evoked your fascination for the horror genre - what caused you to write such stories?

TL: Since I was a child I've had a morbid and melodramatic imagination. I went to see every horror movie at the local theaters and stayed up late to watch midnight horror movies on TV. As a teenager I had a tendency to depression. To me, the world was just something to escape from. I started escaping with alcohol and then, as the sixties wore on, with every kind of drug I could get. In August of 1970 I suffered the first attack of what would become a lifelong anxiety-panic disorder. Not too long after that I discovered the works of H. P. Lovecraft. I found that the meaningless and menacing universe described in Lovecraft's stories corresponded very closely to the place I was living at that time, and ever since for that matter. I was grateful that someone else had perceived the world in a way similar to my own view. A few years later, when I took an interest in writing fiction, there was never a question that I would write anything else other than horror stories.

TW: You are an open admirer of H.P. Lovecraft and Bruno Schulz' works. While I can only recognize a faint Lovecraft influence on your stories - mainly the image of a black, omnipotent universe and the impotence of the characters - Schulz may occupy a wider space in your work. In general, I could say that there is a "kafkaesque" (or simply odd) atmosphere in your stories that I chiefly know from European authors like Franz Kafka, Jean Ray, Leo Perutz, Arthur Machen ... Have you been inspired by them? Or does this odd atmosphere simply result from your own point of view?

TL: From around 1975 I became very interested in the figures and trends of foreign literatures, especially nineteenth- and twentieth-century French literature from the Decadent-Symbolism movement through Surrealism. These movements and the writers associated with them influenced every other literature in the world, with the exception of American literature. Sadeq Hedayat in Iran, Hagiwara Sakutaro in Japan, Spanish-American writers like Ruben Dario, just about every Russian author from the 1890s until the 1917 revolution, and on and on. They all looked to such French writers as Baudelaire, Verlaine, and Huysmans as literary models. And so did I.

EMA: You've also mentioned two other important literary models, Thomas Bernhard and Vladimir Nabokov. In which way did they affect your work?

TL: The work of both of these authors frequently features mentally deranged narrators who write highly stylized prose. In this sense they are part of a tradition that also includes Poe and Lovecraft. Those are the footsteps in which I often slavishly followed.

EMA: What was the title of the first story you published? Do you harbour any special emotions for this particular story?

TL: first story of mine to be published was The Chymist, which appeared in Harry Morris's legendary fanzine Nyctalops in 1980. I don't really harbor any special emotions for any of my stories.

EMA: How did the recognition you earned for your literary work affect the circumstances of your life or the way you see yourself? What does it feel like to be a "cult author"?

TL: I was very relieved when my stories were well-received by readers of small press magazines and, later, by critics who reviewed my collections. I wanted to be a writer in the fashion of Lovecraft, and until I attained some recognition for my horror stories I could barely stand to live with myself. It was something that I really needed to get out of my system. So, as I said, I was very relieved within myself when I achieved my modest literary ambitions. But as far as the circumstances of my life are concerned, nothing really changed. I go to work every day like most people. I wonder what's going to become of me if I live into old age since one doesn't become rich or famous just by writing short horror stories. As for being a cult author, I've said this many times to people: "There's no obscurity like minor renown." Not that I mind obscurity in the least. I wouldn't want to be well known to a wide public. I'd rather acquire millions of dollars playing the lottery than by writing best-selling books. Don't misunderstand me-as I mentioned before, I wanted to be published in the worst way and I craved attention for what I had written. That true for just about anyone who writes. Poor Poe openly declared that he lusted for a level of fame that he never saw in his lifetime. But I've already gotten all the fame I can handle at the moment, thanks.

EMA: Do you have any favourite stories among your own oeuvre? If yes, what is it you like most in them?

TL: I usually name "The Shadow at the Bottom of the World" when I'm asked this question. In that story I think I wrote something subtle and mysterious while still managing to stay within the horror genre, which I've always been concerned to do.

TW: The first Ligotti story I ever read was "Drink To Me Only With Labyrinthine Eyes", and it seemed to me like a blend of Poe and Kafka. It's a strange story that still touches me with its bizarre beauty. Just recently I've discovered that there is an old song entitled "Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes". Thus, one may suspect that the title of your story hasn't been chosen by mere coincidence. If you know the song I'm referring to, is this only a play on words, or is there more to tell?

TL: At the time I wrote that story I was reading a lot of English and European poets of the seventeenth century. These poets, including Gongora in Spain and Metaphysical Poets like Donne and Marvell in England, were renowned for writing in a somewhat flamboyant style and approaching traditional poetic forms in new and often strange ways. The poetry of Ben Jonson and some of the English Cavelier Poets also displays these qualities to some extent. It was from the lyric by Jonson that borrowed, in a mutated form, the title "Drink to Me Only with Labyrinthine Eyes."

EMA: One of your books has the title NOCTUARY. I've always been wondering if this word is derived from "sanctuary" or rather from "diary" ...

TL: It's derived from diary. I thought I had invented the word until I found it in the Oxford English Dictionary.

EMA: My favourite vignette from NOCTUARY is "The Eternal Mirage", a very abstract, very unreal and exceptionally beautiful piece. What was your motive to write it this way?

TL: With that piece I wanted to convey my sense of the universe as something thin and unstable, something that barely has the quivering and illusory quality of a mirage and yet, alas, refuses to dissolve completely into nothingness.

EMA: Your story "The Bungalow House" is partially based on real events - could you please tell us something about the mysterious Bungalow Bill and his tapes?

TL: The first of the "Bungalow House" tapes is based on an actual dream I had which I tried to describe as accurately as possible when I woke up, something I had never done before and haven't done since. Later I developed the transcript of that dream into a story and invented some more dreams to go along with it. The idea of a so-called performance artist reading these "dream monologues" into a tape recorder was inspired by actual cassette tapes that I and my coworkers used to find left on a bench near the building where we worked in downtown Detroit. They were tapes of an elderly man reading from various sources, including the local newspaper, the works of Sigmund Freud, and librettos from Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. These readings were often interrupted by mad laughter. Later some of us, including me, saw and heard the guy who was leaving these tapes, which were always placed inside envelopes taken from a local bank. These were the sort of envelopes bank's offer to customers who want something in which to put their cash withdrawals. On the outside of the envelopes this eldery gentleman, who walked around mumbling and laughing to himself, would write strange phrases, which unfortunatelyI can't recall any longer, as well as the source material from which the reading on the tape was taken. Bungalow Bill, a name given to him by David Tibet, would leave these envelopes on benches along the sidewalks in downtown Detroit, securing the envelopes in place with the weight of several pennies He was a rather distinguished, professorial looking guy. . .and he was most certainly insane.

EMA: Did you ever talk to Bill, or otherwise get direct inspiration for your story by him? And what has become of the tapes?

TL: Since the company I work for moved out of Detroit several years ago, those of us who were following Bungalow Bill's tape-recorded monologues lost track of him. None of us ever talked to him or bothered him in any way. I once heard him mumbling and laughing while I was waiting for an elevator. I recognized his voice immediately as he approached me. It couldn't have been anyone else.

EMA: In a short story by Daniil Charms, there is a character named Faol. Could there be any possible link to the character Faliol in your tale "Masquerade Of A Dead Sword"?

TL: The name Faliol is a permutation on the name of a character in a play by the Belgian dramatist Michel de Ghelderode.

TW: Many of your narratives are dominated by style, and atmosphere, rather than by plot. ... In Germany, this "lack of plot" is a popular target for some critics. What is your intention? L'art pour l'art? Are your tales reflections of your own emotions, pictures written down straight from out of your head? Do you follow a certain principle, or a certain way of action when writing stories?

TL: I don't understand why people can't see that plot is as fundamental to my stories, with the possible exception of some of my short prose pieces, as it is those of any other horror writer. I don't start writing a story until I know all the principal plot points and their resolution at the end of the tale. What I don't do is structure my stories in such a way that my plots development almost exclusively through dialogue, which is the common practice. The reason for this is that most of my stories are told in the first person by a narrator whose consciousness I always want out front where the reader can see and feel it. Most readers don't like this type of story. They don't want to be reminded that they're reading a story at all, which is why very few best-selling novels are written in the first person.

EMA: In some of your earlier stories, the main character possesses a kind of dark power; later on, the Lovecraftian image of a cosmic evil becomes predominant. Do you think that cosmic evil is an enhanced or higher form of horror, compared to the evil of a single character?

TL: I think that both sources of evil and horror are present in my stories, although in a given story one may seem more prominant than the other. For example, in my early story "The Chymist," the title character is one of those you refer to as possessing a "dark power." But that power is only a instance of a greater power always at large. Simon Smirk, the chemist, openly refers to the power of the Great Chemists of the universe that he is only emulating. The specific power he's referring to is Nature, which tirelessly produces mutations and permutations using human flesh, which is exactlty what Simon himself does in the story. But I think I know what you mean. My earlier main characters do seem to be a far more hellraising bunch than my later main characters, who may be a bit sinister, like the narrator of "Teatro Grottesco," but also end of suffering at the hands of forces more powerful and sinister than they can ever hope to be.

TW: You've been working for quite a couple of years for a big American publishing house. Did you ever dream of being a professional writer, or do you think you could live with the restrictions a professional writer has to surrender to? I think, as soon as art changes into a job, there's an end to individual freedom.

TL: I realized a long time ago that I could never be a professional writer for the simple reason that I'm not interested in the same things that people who buy the majority of the books in this world are interested in. Like Lovecraft, I'm not interested in people and their relationships. That alone counts me out as a professional writer. I also have a bad attitude toward the world. I think that life is a curse and so on. People reading a book on a beach or in an airplane don't want to hear stuff like that. They just want to relax and be told a diverting story from a third-person omniscient viewpoint, giving them the sense that they have a movie playing in their mind. I don't blame them in the least.

EMA: Your job demands a high amount of responsibility from you. Do you feel comfortable with having responsibility?

TL: I have a low-tolerance for pressure of any kind.

TW: Did you ever have the feeling that writing turns into a torture? Speaking for myself, I know that it gets quite difficult to banish everyday's junk and try to write down a couple of sensible words ...

TL: To me the actual task of writing is a real pain in the ass. I've fantasized about just imagining the characters and incidents of a story and having it appear in written form before my eyes. I know that there are plenty of writers who genuinely enjoy the nuts and bolts of the literary process. I'm not one of them. I really don't even think of myself as a writer. Probably the only people who think our themselves as writers are the pros who are doing it everyday and have "writer" on their tax forms and passports as their occupation. They're constantly being reminded by one thing or another that they're writers.

TW: Some years ago, Poppy Z. Brite wrote a nice introduction to THE NIGHTMARE FACTORY which starts with the words "Are you out there, Thomas Ligotti?" You are surrounded by the image of a anthropophobic hermit; some people even write about you like you were one of your own story characters - at least this is the case in Germany -. ... What does it feel like to be called the "Prince of Dark Fantasy?"

TL: Unless I'm in a state of depression, anxiety, or panic, it feels pretty good when someone speaks well of my work in print. But the effect wears off very fast. Nonetheless, I'm certainly not immune to the powers of either praise or criticism. I wish I were. On the other hand, I don't go around thinking, "Here I am, the Prince of Dark Fantasy-make way for me." You need a lot of sycophants and a lot of money to think like that. TW: Your stories are quite uncompromising. Either the reader feels cast under their spell and loses himself in the Ligottian cosmos, or he doesn't care for them at all. I think that your aficionados must feel a very special affinity to your work; it's not just entertainment for them. Many readers seem to recognise themselves in your stories, their doubts and fears. Do you think that your stories have influence on their way of thinking? That they might possibly regard them as a kind of philosophy?

TL: I really don't have much contact with people who read my stories. Judging from those with whom I have carried on a more or less regular correspondence, I find that they were attracted to my stories in the first place because they recognized in them something of their own way of thinking. That's how it was when I first read Lovecraft. That's how it works. There's obviously a literary expression of Lovecraft's attitudes and ideas in his writing, as there is in mine. It's probably impossible to write anything without betraying something that someone would call a philosophy. The philosophy of most writers happens to be this: In the world there is good and there is evil, but overall there's more good than. That's not how I see things at all. Mine is a minority view, which, for better or worse, is what I believe you mean by the words "Ligottian cosmos." It's also what distinguishes my writing from that of most authors. In fact it distinguishes my way of thinking from that of most people, including almost all of those people who read and enjoy my stories.

EMA: Are there many fans who try to get in contact with you? What does it mean to you to touch the hearts of people you don't know?

TL: As you might imagine, it can be very moving.

EMA: Have you ever felt so deeply touched by another artist's work that you wrote him/her an admiring letter?

TL: Only once. When I was in my early twenties, I wrote a couple fan letters to Joseph Payne Brennan expressing my admiration for what I called his "unabashedly pessimistic" poetry. At the same time I told him that I felt his stories fell far short of his poems. He wrote back to me both times, very patiently and graciously explaining that writing fiction and writing poetry were two different things to him-that his stories were written for largely commercial gain, whereas his poetry was a more genuine expression of himself. I still have the letters.

TW: Up to now, there haven't been many publications of your work in Germany. What about other foreign publications? We've discovered an ad for a Greek publication of THE NIGHTMARE FACTORY on a Greek website.

TL: The collections translated into German and Greek are the only foreign-language appearances of my stories, if you don't count translated anthologies in which a story of mine appeared. There was interest at one time in Italian and French translations of my collections, but my publisher either didn't respond to these inquiries or they refused to grant permission for translations of my of my stuff because there really isn't much money to be made from them.

TW: We live in a time of all-embracing fast food. In my opinion, mankind is certainly not more stupid than in former eras, but today there's more food for existing dumbness, and the media and many artists sell themselves in an increasingly extreme way, in every respect. Shit sells best, no matter if you produce literature, music or movies. - What is it that goes to make up good literature for you? Or, in your view, what goes to make up art? Are there any living artists whom you admire?

TL: The last great literary hero of mine was William S. Burroughs, and he's been dead for some time now. I'm really very cynical about art with a capital "A" versus popular art. If you stand a certain distance away, which is the only place to stand, it all looks much the same. I patronize popular art in the form of movies and television. I have favorite movies and TV shows. But no movie or TV show will ever be able to provide me with the near fathomless pleasures I've derived, for example, from the stories of Jorge Luis Borges and Dino Buzzati, the essays of E. M. Cioran, or the poetry of Giacomo Leopardi. However, in the end, it's all just entertainment.

TW: When I heard of your collaborations with David Tibet/Current 93, this was quite a discovery for me - two uncompromising exceptional artists meeting. David Tibet's experimental music may seem as "demanding" to many people as your stories. ... I think both your work harmonizes very well; I've detected a similar atmosphere in both your stories and Tibet's music. How did you come to those collaborations?

TL: One day I received a package containing most of Current 93's discography and a letter from Davidi Tibet expressing admiration for my stories. He also asked if I'd like to collaborate with him on a project. I listened to the CD's, recognized that there were significant similarities between Current 93's songs and my stories, and said I'd be glad to collaborate in some way with him.

EMA: Do you have plans for futher collaborations for the foreseeable future? With David Tibet or with other artists? Do you like to collaborate with somebody else and if yes, why?

TL: I wrote a connected series of pieces with the title "This Degenerate Little Town." At some time in the future, when other projects and committments allow, this will form a third collaboration between myself and David Tibet.

TW: IN A FOREIGN TOWN ... is a very special book for me. It seems almost like a reappraisal, or a kind of quintessence of many former stories. After having read this book, I had the feeling that something had come full circle. And somehow it seemed to me as if you had reached a climax in your black microcosmos of human puppets, a climax that marked an end, perhaps even a turning point in your work. After you keep intensifying the reader's fascination for the strange "town near the northern border" throughout all of the stories, you finally reveal it as a "genius of the most insidious illusions." The main character decides to "just walk away in silence," and he writes: "I was tired and felt the ache of every broken dream I had ever carried within me." This sounds very disillusioning - the dark, glamourous nightmare crumbles into dust, it's almost like the prosaic sobering up after an LSD trip ...

TL: I had experienced that sort of disillusionment years earlier. The story "The Spectacles in the Drawer" long preceeds In a Foreign Town in conveying this disaffection. But disillusionment can be glamorous too. Anything can be. I would go so far as to say that something absolutely negative, something that has no affirmation whatever at its base, is an impossibility. Even murder and suicide are very positive, very vital and affirmative. There really is no way to escape being pulled into the machine of human existence. Or none that I can conceive of at this time.

TW: Clowns, jesters, and harlequins usually appear in your stories as weird, threatening beings, yet your protagonists often seem to be fascinated by them. ... In the narrative "The Last Feast Of Harlequin" the main character loves to dress up as a clown, which finally doesn't do him much good. In "The Bells Will Sound Forever" you display this element in a masterly fashion: the main character, Mr. Crumm, discovers a clown costume in the attic of the mysterious Mrs. Pyk's house. He puts the costume on and finds himself to be a "head on a stick held in the wooden hand of Mrs. Pyk." Crumm - who is actually engaged in the prosaic profession of a commercial agent - seems to feel a bizarre pleasure when putting on someone else's hide, especially that of a jester. But eventually he ends up as an abused puppet-like object. - What about yourself? Do you feel intrigued by masks, by the idea of putting on someone else's hide?

TL: My own fantasies of stepping into the skin of another person are much more banal. When I was a kid I wanted to be a baseball player named Rocky Calavito and imitated his batting stance and swing, pretending that I was him. Later I wanted to be any number of rock music stars. And then I wanted to be H. P. Lovecraft. At this time I've run out of other people that I want to be. My ideal persona these days is that of an inmate in a minimum security prison. That really seems like the good life to me.

TW: Another element that keeps re-appearing in your work is the puppet - the conception of being surrounded by puppet-like, doll-like humans, respectively finding oneself transformed into such a being - so to say, bereft of the jester's mask ... The puppets in your stories seem to me like symbols of the main character's hopelessness. Any attempt to change our destiny is futile because we all are marionettes of a superior dark power. Is Thomas Ligotti a fatalist?

TL: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. . .in principle. In fact, I'm just another sucker like everyone else. I get carried away all the time and desire things that only drag me deeper into the trap of human existence. I'm very attached to members of my family, for instance. And obviously I still write horror stories every once in a while. That's not going to help me when I really need it. There really isn't any difference between me and some religious fundamentalist who thinks about attaining ill-defined state of salvation and then existing forever in a blissful afterlife. Even to carry on until tomorrow is act of ecstatic lunacy, since every tomorrow just brings you closer to that last one, which will probably not shape up to be a very good day.

TW: I've heard that it was your primary dream to become a rock star. Is music still important in your life, does it perhaps even inspire your stories?

TL: The only important thing in my life is to avoid suffering any more pain than I have to and to assist people who are close to me in doing the same. . .in principle. In fact, music has been a significant diversion for me from the time a got my first transitor radio and heard those dopey songs from the early sixties which now sound so haunting to me. "Popsicles and Icicles" is a tune that particularly stands out, as beautiful and otherworldly as something by the Cocteau Twins. I don't think that music has had any direct influence on my stories, except perhaps in some cryptic way that even I don't recognize. I have on occasion tried to conceive of a work of fiction that would have the intensity and impact of a musical composition. But writing doesn't work that way. Its effect on people is weaker but more intimate than that of music. Music seems to come from a million miles away, while writing is inside you.

TW: On the other hand, I find it quite interesting how many musicians seem to be inspired by your writing. I've launched two virtual radio stations at www.MP3.com to feature experimental music which could serve as fictitious scores to your tales. I was amazed of the great amount of interest I received. Many MP3 artists are very fond of your work; others didn't know you but felt appealed by the quoted text pieces and sent me music which harmonized perfectly with your writing. While most horror best sellers seem to be read by housewives, Thomas Ligotti appears to attract to a quite different audience.

TL: I wonder if all of that is really true. I would bet that popular horror writers have their fans among musicians. Heck, Stephen King actually played on the same stage with Al Kooper, one of my idols from the sixties for his work with the Blues Project and Blood, Sweat and Tears. I can even testify to one outstanding instance of a serious musician who reads popular horror. I once read an interview with the jazz bass player Ron Carter, who played with Miles Davis and is definitely no housewife, and in that interview he spoke of his interest in and admiration for the horror novels of Robert McCammon. Who knows-Carter might have composed some complex jazz piece inspired by the work of McCammon. Of course that doesn't detract one bit from those musicians who have honored me with their attention and talents-it just puts it into perspective.

TW: In THE AGONIZING RESURRECTION OF VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN & OTHER GOTHIC TALES, your inspirations are taken - among others - from classic horror films. I had the feeling that you know those films very well, perhaps even love them?

TL: You're right. I did know and love them very much when I was young.

EMA: The ruin in "Dr. Locrian's Asylum" does resemble, in a certain way, the settings of old Frankenstein movies: the large table with straps; the creation of something that's "without fate or spirit", and that manages to escape and threaten the townspeople. The Frankenstein Monster is, in a way, the prototype of literary automatons or androids, which could be regarded as the primary model for the (sentient?) puppets that people so much of your stories.

TL: I never thought about the Frankenstein monster that way, but your analysis seems very solid to me.

TW: Do you still find inspiration in films nowadays? When reading your stories, I often see movie-like pictures inside my head - mostly something between ERASERHEAD and DR. CALIGARI ...

TL: I loved "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" when I saw still photos from the movie in Famous Monsters magazine. When I finally say the movie I thought, "What a bunch of junk and nonsense this is." But I still retained my imaginary, ideal version of "Caligari" and have injected that version into some of my tales. I'm not aware of any direct influence of newer horror movies on my stories. I can't think of the last good horror movie I saw. Probably Alien or John Carpenter's The Thing, whichever was more recent.

TW: Speaking of the subject, you've written two film scripts in collaboration with Brandon Trenz which have unfortunately not been filmed yet, "Crampton" (an X Files episode) and "The Last Feast Of Harlequin" (which is based on your story of the same name). What made you do that, apart from the financial aspect? Which emotions does the idea of getting one of your stories filmed imply?

TL: Writing "Crampton," which has been rewritten as a non-X-Files feature film, was something that I thought would be fun, which it was because it was a successful collaboration, and which I thought had some chance of being produced as an X-Files episode. I couldn't have been more wrong in the latter instance. I was very naive about how Hollywood works. The only reason that Brandon Trenz and I wrote a movie adaptation of "Harlequin" was that the story had been optioned by David Lynch's production company The Picture Factory. It was pure coincidence that this came not long after we had written the X-Files episode. If we hadn't already gotten some scriptwriting experience doing that, we would never have tried to write a spec script for "Harlequin." And unless you're into screenwriting for the long haul, you're not going to make that much money.

TW: I have a crazy wish: a SIMPSONS episode witten by Thomas Ligotti.

TL: Yes, that is a crazy wish. Actually, there is a remote connection between my horror stories and The Simpson's. One of my all-time favorite guitar players, Danny Gatton, did a cover version of The Simpson's theme song on his first major-label album. A few years later, Gatton killed himself just as The Agonizing Resurrection of Victor Frankenstein was in production. I dedicated that book to the memory of Danny Gatton, who I always thought was just a normal, happy guy, aside from being a genius guitar player.

TW: Please imagine the preposterous situation of hosting a TV talkshow. You could invite three guests. Whom would you choose (including dead persons)?

TL: The first person that comes to mind is Ronald Reagan, addled with Alzheimer's and now crippled with a broken hip. I don't think I'd need any other guests if I could get Reagan. But I'd also like a syphillis-ravaged Al Capone as my co-host. And for the band. . .Jimi Hendrix playing his feedback-drenched rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner throughout the entirety of the show.

EMA: One of your favourite actors is Udo Kier. He once said, "They say that Hollywood movies have no soul. I sometimes think that European movies have too much soul". Would you also accept this statement for European horror stories?

TL: I understand Udo Kier's quote to mean that Europe has produced a lot of slow and boring movies, which I would agree with. Same goes for Japan, in my Ugly American opinion. If you don't include England as part of Europe, which I don't, then I can't think of very many European writers who wrote horror stories strictly speaking. I once bought an English translation of a collection of stories and poems by a Czech horror writer who had recently killed himself. I thought to myself, "This is going to be great." Unfortunately the most obvious influence on this writer's work were old episodes of The Twilight Zone. I wish there were translations of more European horror writers. Writers like Bruno Schulz, Dino Buzzati, and the Hungarian written Geza Csath I don't consider horror writers but genuinely literary writers. The same would apply to the stories of Georg Heym, even though at least one of them, "The Autopsy," has appeared in horror anthologies. Loosely speaking, I would agree that the work of these writers does have more "soul" than American or British horror fiction, but this is a quality much more suited to literature than to movies. There is an person behind a literary work, a soul if you like. There isn't any such thing in movies, where so many people are involved.

TW: Let's return to merciless reality. Even if this may sound unpopular: I think that it is a cruel fate to be forced to work for other people, dictated by the need to earn one's living. The modern civilized human spends more time at his working place than at home. Problems at work haunt us even in our spare time, thus killing even more life time off. ... Imagination, creativity and even common sense suffer from this fact. In this context, I have very much enjoyed your new stories "I Have A Special Plan For This World" and "My Work Is Not Yet Done" (both are going to appear in 2001 in your new book MY WORK IS NOT YET DONE: THREE TALES OF CORPORATE HORROR, Mythos Books, Missouri, http://www.bibliocity.com/home/mythosbooks). Would you say that you share my repulsion concerning work and working situations?

TL: In the United States a person isn't required to answer questions that make incriminate him. But I would like to point out that in the stories to which you refer, there are only provisional good guys and bad guys. Ultimately everyone in those stories is bad news, as is the entire human race in my view. And, most importantly, those stories only begin with horrors in a workplace setting. Ultimately they are about something else altogether.

EMA: Your CORPORATE HORROR STORIES are different from what we know from your earlier works. Your style has changed quite a bit, if I'm permitted to say so. They are located in "normal" surroundings and the characters live through "normal" things (normal only to a certain degree). What was the cause for this radical change of style?

TL: Actually, the only story that's relatively normal is the title novella. That was dictated by plot of the story, and also by the fact that I originally thought of that story as a movie.

EMA: Once you told me that you're not interested in Science Fiction. How come that you chose an SF scenario for "The Nightmare Network" (also appearing in MY WORK IS NOT YET DONE: THREE TALES OF CORPORATE HORROR)?

TL: That story was modelled after the writings of Burroughs, who is the king of the sort of twisted, apocalyptic scenarios that are essential to "The Nightmare Network." Given the Burroughs influence, I knew that I would need to write some gruesome ideas and images into that story, and my usual style would simply not accommodate these narrative elements.

TW: On the threshold to the 20th century, the so-called Millennium horror has been very successful - a play with the fears of modern, civilized humans facing a new era when everything might as well be destroyed. ... It seems that this trend didn't influence you. Doesn't Thomas Ligotti believe in the near apocalypse?

TL: No, of course not. That would be insane to believe such a thing.

TW: What does religion mean to you?

TL: Crowd control.

TW: ... Politics?

TL: Also crowd control.

TW: ... Psychology?

TL: Control on the level of the individual. Freud and Jung type psychology is patently insane nonsense, although relatively few people are subject to its control. I prefer psychopharmacology, even if the potential for control is far more extensive that "talking therapies."

TW: ... Drugs?

TL: Like everything else in this world, they're more trouble than they're worth. But if I hadn't cracked up back in 1970 I'd probably still be a drug-hog.

TW: ... Are there any things you are afraid of? Do you know "angst"?

TL: You're kidding, right? I'm afraid of EVERYTHING. I'm even afraid of betraying specific things that I'm afraid of.

EMA: In your introduction to THE NIGHTMARE FACTORY, "The Consolations Of Horror", you wrote: "In other words, you get the horrors you deserve." Do you think that you, yourself, deserve the horrors you experience?

TL: The reference, I believe, was to horrors in fiction. As for real life, there is no deserving or not deserving, just as there are no values, no morals, no rights, none of that rhetorical debris that makes our lives a misery far beyond that ordained by the facts of our physcial existence.

EMA: Which human qualities do you like most? And which ones do you loathe most?

TL: I'm like everyone else. I like people who are most like I am. I dislike people who are least like I am.

EMA: If you had a wish to make for the future, what would you desire most?

TL: I don't even have to think about this one. Here's my wish: That every living thing, at the moment of its death, expires in a state of bliss. All's well that end's well. Of course this would upset the natural order of things, and people would be killing themselves left and right. In order to insure the continuation of this funhouse of flesh that we call Life, it's necessary that we fear the pain and grief of death and at all costs struggle to avoid the inevitable.

TW/EMA: Finally we'd like to quote you: "My outlook is that it's a damn shame that organic life ever developed on this or any other planet ..." (from the interview with Robert Bee). Is Thomas Ligotti a nihilist? Do you dream of an anorganic black nothingness - the purity of an absolute void? Do you dream of your own "Tsalal" (Tsalal is the Hebrew word for the conception of all-consuming darkness)?

TL: Well, "all-consuming darkness" kind of suggests that there's something going on in the universe. That's not what I would wish. I don't want a universe in which even nothing could be going on.

TW/EMA: Thank you, Mr. Ligotti, it was very kind of you to reply to our questions.

No part of this publication (including graphics) may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording or any information storage or retrieval system now known or to be invented without permission in writing from the publisher.