From the 1980s on, and without mainstream success, Thomas Ligotti has established himself as one of the foremost contemporary horror and weird fiction writers in English. Often dubbed "philosophical horror", his distinctive variation on supernatural horror breaks apart the very foundations of human existence. Human agency withers, sanity cracks, and reality variously expands and contracts as Ligotti's characters confront the absurdity of their consciousness and actions in abject spaces ranging from grimy cities, isolated houses, and decaying farms to what might or might not be dreams. In other stories, characters become involuntary votaries of strange knowledges palpably transgressing the confines of ordinary space and time, and sometimes whole communities see their customary world-view shattered to the core. 

In this class, we will read a selection of fiction from the first two of Ligotti's short story collections, Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe: His Lives and Works. We will discuss leitmotifs of his oeuvre such as puppets, masks, out-of-place places, and dreamlike states, thereby pondering the philosophical significance which Ligotti gives them — from metaphysics and epistemology to nihilism. Also, we will on occasion dwell on Ligotti's reworking of tropes and themes culled from the tradition of horror and the weird. Later in the course, we will complement our readings in philosophical horror by discussing a text from the opposite end of his writing career, The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror. Ligotti's book-length essay outlines his pessimism and the concerns surfacing in his fiction on a more theoretical level. We will end the course by reflecting on the related topic of the craft and significance of horror literature.