The Creep of Life


“In places it rose into horrible, fantastic mounds, which seemed almost to quiver, as with a quiet life, when the wind blew across them. Here and there it took on the forms of vast fingers, and in others it just spread out flat and smooth and treacherous. Odd places, it appeared as grotesque stunted trees, seeming extraordinarily kinked and gnarled — the whole quaking vilely at times.” – The Voice in the Night, William Hope Hodgson

Hodgson’s tale tells the story of a ship crew that becomes infected by a gray fungus leaving them nodding lumps. Beyond the creeping horror of the fungus – it also fills the victims with an “inhuman desire” to consume the sweet tasting matter, to consume the long dead corpses of others grown over.

Ambroise Pare, in his Monsters and Marvels argues that the only restriction of mutation is absolute time and space (which even limits acts of God).  In a particularly odd example Pare describes how a woman with her legs pressed on the womb can cause a plethora of birth defects.  Hodgson’s fungus on the other hand extends biology beyond such absolute space (mutations being at a level far out of sight) and introduces the truly horrifying aspect of biology – the advent of consciousness.

Whereas S.T. Joshi argues that Ligotti’s stories produce a flight from reality, I would argue that his stories are too real, or realistic in a fashion analogous to the weird realism of Speculative Realism – realist but not common-sensically so.  Ligotti’s phenomenality is too immersed in the coils of illusion yet always too aware of the non-phenomenal darkness towards which life inevitably crawls.

As James Trafford says of Ligotti’s work in Collapse IV “the ascesis of the personal takes place within a positively insignificant reality, a realization which dissolves both the intimacy of subjective experience, and the impersonal distance of the mechanics of that experience.” The impersonal distance of Ligotti’s tales do not reintroduce an ideality through oneiric description, but instead consume the concept of the phenomenal through the unreality of the real world – unreal as it appears to us.

In The Red Tower and in My Work is Not Yet Down Ligotti blurs natural and unnatural production suggesting that capital functions as the disperser and producer of objects not too different from nature.

As Ligotti writes: “I was no more than an irrelevant parcel of living tissue caught in a place I should not be, threatened with being snared in some great dredging net of doom, an incidental shred of flesh pulled out of its element of light and into an icy blackness. In the dream nothing supported my existence, which I felt at any moment might be horribly altered or simply. . .ended. In the profoundest meaning of the expression, my life was of no matter.”

Life becomes that of being trapped between (bare) matter and mattering  (being generative and mattering, having meaning).


6 Responses to “The Creep of Life”

  1. hey ben, i’m really interested to see where you take all of this! some sort of bizarre, twisted mutational naturephilosophy? i think this conjunction of naturephilosophy with the life of slime and mold is potentially really fruitful (rotten fruit, of course). i’m gonna have to get a copy of ‘my work is not yet done’ soon, i think.

    • 2 Ben Woodard

      I’m not particularly certain where I am going – I think the problem of emergence versus immanence is what I am trying to diagonally work out via this obsession with muck and slime.

      And yes – I would definitely recommend My Work is Not Yet Done

  2. 3 Mark Crosby

    A recent (2006) novel of human becoming-fungus on a weird world is Jeff VanderMeer’s _Shriek: An Afterword_ (loaded with lots of radical philosophy).
    or see Steve Shaviro’s review at
    Steve writes: “Everything in the city is dankness and rot, which the fungi convert into new, monstrously throbbing, life”.

    • 4 Ben Woodard

      Thank you for this – I had heard of VanderMeer but have not yet read anything of his.
      Most of the fungus monsters I can think of are from D & D bestiaries and other fantasy related games so its good to see a larger treatment of them.

  3. Ben, have you seen Laurence Housman’s illustrations, especially the curious ‘Cauchemar’ (nightmare)? It is surpasses any Ligottian orotund vision of dirty old growth (it’s Freudian thanatropism trapped in weird bios and squirming for the aeons yet to come). Housman actually did a few illustrations for Weird Tales in the 1890s so probably Hodgson had seen the illustration.

    • 6 Ben Woodard

      I have not seen them – thanks for pointing them out – I am glad to slowly construct a creeping gooey and monstrous archive.

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