“H.R. Giger: His Dreams, Our Nightmares” Article by John A. DeLaughter

“You know, it takes profound art and profound insight into Nature to turn out stuff like Pickman’s…only a real artist knows the actual anatomy of the terrible or the physiology of fear- the exact sort of lines and proportions that connect up with…hereditary memories of fright, and the proper colour contrasts and lighting effects to stir the dormant sense of strangeness…Doré had it. Sime has it. Angarola of Chicago has it. And Pickman had it as no man ever had it before or- I hope to Heaven- ever will again” (1).

When H. P. Lovecraft penned those words in 1926, little did he know that out of the earth’s primal ooze, another man would arise, one who captured the ancestral memories of fright.

The man was Hans Rudolf Giger. That Pickman-incarnate was born February 5, 1940, in Chur, Switzerland. Giger’s morbid artwork work inspired the Xenomorph extraterrestrial in the movie Alien. The influential director Oliver Stone is not known for delving into existential darkness. Yet, his opinion about Giger’s place in the world of art and culture is noteworthy:

“’I do not know anybody else,’ he said, ‘who has so accurately portrayed the soul of modern humanity. A few decades from now when they will talk about the twentieth century, they will think of Giger’” (2).

And H.R. Giger departed from the earthly spheres on May 12, 2014.

Giger dredged the hereditary memories of immemorial fear. Like the Grecian god Charon, he poled the haggard ferryboat to the dark underworld. Upon Giger’s return, he captured hints of the demons and dreamscapes that vibrate with life beyond the prosaic world.

In this essay, we will try to gain a sense of the cosmic grandeur in Giger’s art that excites in us.

Seven Ways H.R. Giger touched Our Instinctual Fears:

1) Giger’s art stirs up desires for the forbidden and taboo. Once, Giger’s paintings would have been declared blasphemous. Zealots would have burned him at the stake as Warlock. As one whom interviewed Giger, surrounding the making of Alien wrote:

“…The hint of witchcraft was surely confirmed when the chief warlock – Giger – ordered crates of freshly boiled animal bones directly from the slaughterhouse. They were used to create molds for the derelict’s cadaverous walls: horizontal ribs crossed with vertical spines cords. If you want an egg to appear fleshy, use real flesh. If you want an alien spaceship to feature a carapace of bones, use real bones…” (3).

Normally, when one wishes to summons a demon, they inscribe the pentagram, sit in the resulting symbol and protective circle, and recite the necessary invocation. Giger’s art bypassed the Ouija board or the Scything Crystal, to contact the darkness in each of us.

2) Giger’s art titillates us with Necromantic Puzzles. When one lovingly fondles the bones of another, strange thing happen. Occult visions are invoked.

Giger was an artist of the ossuary, mimicking the bone chapels of the world in his cosmic pyramids and cyclopean temples. He took old dead bones from our primeval past, and like a modern Joseph Curwen, revived them into living, breathing, slavering nightmares.

As Giger aficionados tattooed themselves with the artist’s otherworldly images, they mystically enter one of those off-world temples, and join the pageant of weird adherents in worshiping the Old Ones:

“…The…tattooing process, which involved complex ritual and taboos…was associated with beliefs which were secrets known only to members of the priestly caste…historically tattooing had originated in connection with ancient rites of scarification and bloodletting which were associated with religious practices intended to put the human soul in harmony with supernatural forces and ensure continuity between this life and the next.” (4).

3) Giger’s art captivates the morbid curiosity that causes us to gaze on car wrecks.

Giger’s work imitates descriptions of Pickman’s art:

“God, how that man could paint! There was a study called ‘Subway Accident,’ in which a flock of the vile things were clambering up from some unknown catacomb through a crack in the floor of the Boston Street subway and attacking a crowd of people on the platform” (5).

Giger’s work was the art of the train wreck, where twisted bodies, fused with metal and glass, recombine in all matter of surrealistic forms – art as mutation, art as mutilation. Giger captured in art, the prose of Clive Barker’s, Midnight Meat Train – with subways cars filled with butchered human bodies, suspended as if in a slaughterhouse, awaiting their consumption by Manhattan’s Old Ones.

Was it any reason why Clive Barker said of Giger:

“…Like all great visionaries, Giger…plunges his hands into the raw stuff of our subconscious, and using methodologies that are unique to him creates a state that is rigorous, hierarchical and, for all its abysmal depths, inviting. ‘ In mapping the tribal lands of our psyches, Giger gives us fresh access to them. He frees us, in essence, to wander there, encouraged by the fact that others have gone before. He makes us brave, and I can think of few higher ambitions for any art. Following where he’s gone, we discover that this new country, which we came into fearful of our sanity, about our lives in countless places. We are not, after all, strangers here. It’s the world we must return into the world of the mortgage payment and the tax return; of the domestic tiff and the public slight that seems chilling, repulsive, alien…” (6).

4) Giger’s art illuminates the primal worlds of the Witchdoctor. Giger traffics in the unwashed, undefined realms of the Shaman.

Where others fled, Giger made his home. What others dread, he made his habitat. What others fight to suppress, he drug back to the surface. Giger brought to a canvas near you the hidden world that ancient shamans saw beyond our own, as they sat in mescaline-induced stupors, with shining streams of drool, driveling down their chins, and onto their heaving chests.

The sum of other worlds remained largely unexplored in either man’s lifetimes. Life beyond the electron microscope, beneath the ocean depths, behind the three dimensions, and beyond the twinkling stars remains unknown and untouched.

Entire libraries of DNA remain unread and untapped.

Giger’s images bore inside you, like the insidious Brown Jerkins, or Giger’s own immature alien chest-buster. The fear it happens upon eats away at your insides. The raw things of the world that cultivated and civilized Homo sapiens avoid are, with little warning, thrust upon our screaming senses. His Xenomorph mimics the dark that slithers out of our collective darkness.

Will they enrich or eviscerate us, as we begin to explore their domains?

5) Giger’s art dissects Lovecraft’s living cosmos. He performed an autopsy on the universe, while it still vibrated with life, aware of its violation.

The maniacal chaos of the demon-sultan Azathoth who inspired lines like:

“…Outside the ordered universe [is] that amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the center of all infinity—the boundless daemon sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud, and who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond time and space amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin monotonous whine of accursed flutes…” (7).

That same Azathoth lies butchered by Giger’s palette knife like a common lab frog.

The archaeology of the cosmos is a study in anatomy versus a study in architecture: veins and sinews appear instead of electrical conduits. Ligaments and ribs show up where you expect potable water lines and sewers. Bridges and scaffolds have mouths and faces.

Giger, as Lovecraft before him, turned the cosmos is some kind of an enormous, incomprehensible entity:

“…Lovecraft’s…focus on the cosmic horrific theme of existence-as-nightmare was balanced and complemented by a deep craving for liberation into transcendent realms of beauty and bliss…The stories of H.P. Lovecraft are…about incursions from the cosmic beyond that open up vistas of wonder and awe. They’re…about dislocations in time and space that offer a paradoxically fearsome and exhilarating experience of liberation from natural law. They’re…about the longing for a transcendent experience of absolute beauty. This duality…is a part of the age-old tradition of fantastic storytelling…Should incursions from beyond the cosmic order, breakdowns in natural law, and the destruction of the physical body be viewed as joyful or terrifying, exhilarating or horrifying, dreadful or liberating? The answer has long emerged from the collective unconscious, often in the form of fantastic stories…as an unqualified, ‘Yes…’” (8).

Each of Giger’s paintings represents a sensuous invitation to join oneself with Azathoth, to lose oneself in the immense, corporeal conflagration.

6) Giger art embraces the aesthetics of death rather than life. Giger fell madly in love with death, long before his brief infatuation with life. His tryst with the Grim Reaper became a driving passion that formed the core of his life.

Giger’s biomechanical orgies capture the necrophiliac thrills of the tomb given breath in The Loved Dead:

“…I haunted the death-chamber where the body of my mother lay, my soul a thirst for the devilish nectar that seemed to saturate the air of the darkened room. Every breath strengthened me, lifted me to towering heights of seraphic satisfaction…” (9).

Giger brought his homicidal photo-realism to everything he touched. And his disturbing photographic memory emptied the undigested contents of the bowels of the heavens and the earth onto his canvases; the things we could not stomach were the curtain of normalcy to be pulled aside, and we saw the darkness that lay just beyond our five senses.

7) Giger’s biomechanoid visions of humanity bother us. Our lives are now governed by machines, from the smartphones we constantly pore over to the computers many of us serve before each day.

The fine line between being served by our machines to having to serve them blurs with each new jump in technology. The borging of humanity will not come at the hands of an all-powerful race that invades out space in enormous technological Rubik’s cubes.

Since most of the enslavement will be done invisibly, by future enhancements of Wi-Fi connections, the horror of assimilation portrayed in Star Trek will become an accepted rite-of-passage.

Giger’s art X-rays the reality of man/machine interface. That art reveals how far we are separated and alienated from nature, the environment for which we were bred.

Ultimately, Giger’s art threatens to release the dark jinn that resides in each of us, one who is willing to do our darkest bidding – yet we fear the unintended consequences if those primal urges are fulfilled.

Conclusion:

Hans Rudolph Giger touched on the existential tensions that confront and confound current generations.

Giger employed the tools of today’s alienated youth. His use of the airbrush allowed HRG to crystallize in paints, the personal estrangement and loss of a sense of self that Graffiti and Tattoo artists strive to express.

In a cosmos, where we have become machines, where we have become functions, in a world where the marks of individuality become fewer and stereotypical – Giger has captured the ultimate mechanization of man. He depicted on canvas a future when we become cogs in the machines. The day many modern philosophers once warned us about – one where man serves machines when man becomes machine – has arrived.

——-

End Notes:

(1) Pickman’s Model, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1926.

(2) “H. R. Giger and the Zeitgeist of the Twentieth Century,” by Stanislav Grof, The Primal Psychotherapy Page, 2005.

(3) “How H.R. Giger’s Brilliant Madness Helped Make Alien ‘Erotic’,” by Charlie Jane Anders, IO9, October 20, 2011.

(4) Tattoo History: A Source Book, by Steve Gilbert, December 1, 2000, p. 158.

(5) Pickman’s Model, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1926.

(6) “Introduction,” by Clive Barker, Giger’s Necronomicon 2, English Edition, 1992.

(7) The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1927.

(8) “Lovecraft’s Longing,” by Matt Cardin, http://www.teemingbrain.com, November 1, 2009.

(9) The Loved Dead, by H.P. Lovecraft and C. M. Eddy, Jr., 1919.

***

John A. DeLaughter M.Div., M.S., is a Data Security Analyst and Lovecraft essayist, horror, and fantasy author. He lives in rural Pennsylvania with his wife Heidi. His work has appeared in The Lovecraft eZineSamsara: The Magazine of SufferingTigershark eZineTurn To Ash, and The Eldritch Literary Review Journal. John is presently editing his original epic fantasy work, Dark Union Rising.

Mr. DeLaughter says about this article:  “The essay “H.R. Giger: His Dreams, Our Nightmares” is a distillation of two articles I wrote about H.P. Lovecraft and H.R. Giger (September 21, 2014 & July 10, 2015) on the Lovecraft eZine website.”

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Question: Do these two women resemble each other?

I put the two images below in my previous post about vampires. As I was looking at it just now, it seemed to me that they resemble each other. Is it just my imagination? Do you see it too?

One is Elizabeth, Countess Bathory in a portrait made circa 1585. The other is a public domain image of a vampire by darksouls1 that is available on Pixabay.com. I don’t know if darksouls1 intended this, but to me the lower image looks like what the “blood countess” might if she wore modern make-up, modern clothing, and a modern hairstyle. What do you think?

Elizabeth, Countess Bathory, circa 1585.

A Few Thoughts on Vampires

As with lycanthropy, vampirism has a corresponding psychiatric disorder, clinical vampirism, in which a person has an erotic obsession with drinking blood. It is related to Renfield’s Syndrome or Renfield Syndrome, which is an obsession with eating living creatures such as insects. Renfield’s syndrome is named after the character Renfield in Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, who had an obsession with eating insects. However, neitherclinical vampirism nor Renfield’s syndrome is a valid medical diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disordersproduced by the American Psychiatric Association.

That said, in legend and mythology and not including those found in literature or in cinema, there are probably thousands of species (for lack of a better term) of vampire. Each culture seems to have had its own variant. In the X-files episode “Bad Blood”, Mulder gives a quick rundown of the many types of vampires in legend and mythology.

Vampires in traditional folklore are much different from the modern conception of a vampire as an immortal, erotic figure that can come out into the open only at night and that feeds on the blood of the living. In bygone days, a vampire was most likely someone cursed, or who had committed a grave sin or crime, who rose from the grave to plague the living, most likely the vampire’s relatives or someone who knew the vampire in life. To keep someone someone with the potential to be a vampire from returning from the dead, various peoples used various preventive measures. One of the most common was to drive a stake through the vampire and into his/her coffin, theoretically pinning them down. Sometimes the body was decapitated or its legs cut off. I don’t recall offhand the use of garlic and crucifixes to repel vampires in legend, but it’s not impossible. To my mind, they are most likely inventions of Hollywood, just as werewolves transforming under a full moon or a silver bullet being necessary to kill them are inventions of Hollywood.

John William Polidori (1795-1821) Date of portrait unknown.

The modern concept of a vampire as a cultured, sexually attractive individual became most popular with Dracula. However, before Dracula (1897) was Carmilla (1872) , by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu and The Vampyre (1819) by John William Polidori. These models probably led to vampires being imagined as attractive, seductive aristocrats in the films of the 1970’s and 1980’s. From there the titillating sexual aspect gained greater importance over time to where it is today, probably more as a way to attract a larger audience or readership than for any other reason.

Illustration from Carmilla
Illustration from Joseph Sheridan leFanu’s 1872 novella, Carmilla

Vampires have mostly been one-dimensional characters until the last few decades when writers like Anne Rice gave them considerable depth.

I have no real impulse to write anything about vampires. Though I will occasionally watch a movie or read a story involving vampires, they (or at least the modern stereotype) haven’t yet interested me enough to take the time and effort to write about one. If I were to write about one, it would most likely be to resurrect (no pun intended) the original concept of a vampire as a cursed person, most likely a peasant, who rises from the grave to plague the living. There would be a lot of psychological angles to use in forming the backstory of the characters and revealing their depth, the inner workings of their minds and emotions.

Assume the father of a family dies and they, for whatever reason, believe he might rise again as a vampire., but they poo-poo the idea only to have neighbors report than they saw the father walking about the village or killing someone. How would each member of the family feel? Would the mother, who used to quarrel frequently with her husband, readily believe the reports? Would the children be in denial? Maybe vice versa. Who goes out to see if the reports are true? What do they feel? What do they feel on seeing the father? Is it actually him or someone who looks like him? How can they be sure? Does the father attack one of them? How do the rest feel about that? Do they feel the killing or any killing is justified or at random? Maybe the children who are abused by the mother set her up to be killed. Maybe the mother sets up the children or uses them as bait to trap the father. Taking another tack, maybe the mother was so passionately in love with the father that she decides to join him in death. Does she try to bring the children along against their wishes? There is a lot that can be done without resorting to clichés of the supernatural and the erotic to make the story interesting. Everyone these days is writing about super sexy vampires with super powers. It’s take to approach this subject from another angle.

Writing about a serial killer who revels in blood, a realistic vampire rooted in reality, fascinates me considerably. Then I would b able to explore vicariously through a fictional character the psychology of someone like Bela Kiss, the Hungarian serial killer of the early twentieth century; Peter Kuerten, the “Vampire of Duesseldorf”, who terrorized Duesseldorf, Germany in 1929; or Countess Elizabeth Bathory, who is said to have killed hundreds of young girls in central Europe in the early seventeenth century. Some say that Countess Bathory killed the girls to bathe in their blood and thereby remain youthful, but others say that element of the legend wasn’t concocted until decades after her death. In any event, that does make for an interesting psychological aspect in a work of fiction.

Peter Kuerten, April 1931
Mugshot of Peter Kuerten, April 1931

In fact, I started a story involving Countess Bathory some years ago. I have yet to finish yet, but only because my imagination for magic and the supernatural was weak and hit a bout of writer’s block crossing the cerebral highway. If I sit down and focus, I may be able to come up with some interesting ideas. In fact, this article is helping spur some ideas.

My recommendation to my readers is to find some reliable sources and read up on Bathory (what I am writing here are just notes off the top of my head based on research I did several years ago). The countess becomes more fascinating the more you find out about her actual life. Describing her simply as a psychotic, bloodthirsty villainess is specious. The historical Elizabeth is exceptionally complex. The accepted story is that she bathed in the blood of young girls to preserve her beauty. This facet of Elizabeth’s story is quite likely false. However, if we were to assume it was true, then we have to ask ourselves, why was maintaining her beauty of such importance? Vanity would be the obvious explanation, but why was she vain? Was it a matter of insecurity? Why?

Elizabeth_Bathory_Portrait 1585
Elizabeth, Countess Bathory (1560-1614) Portrait 1585. a late sixteenth century copy of the only portrait (now lost) known to have been painted of her in her lifetime.

From what I have read, my theory is that she loved her husband passionately and wanted to always be attractive to him. This is not a streak of closet chauvinism in yours truly. In my admittedly spurious readings, history supports this theory.

Alternately, if we decide to avoid this angle of a search for eternal beauty, then why did she torture all those girls? Accounts state that she killed at least eighty and maybe as many as 650. Was it a twisted power trip as with modern serial killers or was it something else? One source I read said that her husband taught her how to torture people. So was this like a hobby they shared? From what I have read, Elizabeth’s rampage against young girls increased after her husband’s death. Apparently, her husband exerted enough control over her (or maybe he had a calming influence) that she was able to control her urges toward violence. That would explain why she threw herself into her macabre pastime after his death.

Maybe her violence was rooted in jealousy. When Elizabeth married her husband, she was about the same age as the girls she would later torture.

Maybe Elizabeth had Intermittent Explosive Disorder, a mental disorder in which a person is susceptible to sporadic urges to violence.

Maybe the sight or taste of blood was erotic to her, for reasons that can only be speculated. This would be clinical vampirism and would put an interesting spin on the currently prevalent image of vampires in pop culture.

As you can see, a historical vampire can be a considerably more intriguing character than someone who is all superpowers and sex.

Anyway, that is my post for now. I have to attend to other matters.

Thoughts? Comments?

Thoughts on Werewolves and Lycanthropy

As two of my published stories, “Shapeshifter” and “Wolfsheim”, concern werewolves, I thought I would write a post expressing my thoughts on werewolves and lycanthropy. This is not a scholarly article. It is just a summary of the conclusions I have reached over the years having researched the topic to a small degree as the basis for a novel (not yet written) involving a werewolf.

First and most importantly: I do not believe actual werewolves exist nor have they ever existed. It is simply impossible for person to change into an animal or into some sort of human-animal hybrid.

However, to paraphrase Nietzsche, what people believe is more important than fact.

I do believe there are people who believe they can become a wolf or another animal. The scientific name for this is lycanthropy.

Wikipedia, for better or worse, defines lycanthropy thus:

Clinical lycanthropy is defined as a rare psychiatric syndrome that involves a delusion that the affected person can transform into, has transformed into, or is, an animal. Its name is associated with the mythical condition of lycanthropy, a supernatural affliction in which humans are said to physically shapeshift into wolves. It is purported to be a rare disorder.” [“https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clinical_lycanthropy” accessed December 15, 2020]

I feel that is a simple and straightforward summary based on everything else I have read. I am not familiar with the source, which Wikipedia states as “Degroot, J.J.M. (2003). Religious System of China. Kessinger Publishing. p. 484.”

An internet search for “clinical lycanthropy” will find many well-researched articles on lycanthropy as a psychiatric disorder.

Undoubtedly, it was the occasional case of clinical lycanthropy that gave rise to werewolf stories throughout history, before the science of psychiatry (or any science for that matter) arose, when people were more likely to take rumor as proverbial gospel and legends and myths as history. That people with this disorder confessed (often under torture) to being a wolf ingrained a belief in shapeshifting into an uneducated populace.

Someone who believes his/herself to be a wolf will act on those beliefs, which could, and I feel certain often did, result in crimes of extreme violence according to what that individual believes a wolf would do. Whether that belief is an accurate portrayal of what a wolf would actually do does not matter. The individual will act in accordance with his/her beliefs, whatever those beliefs are. This would, of course, have been the reason behind at least some of the infamous werewolves who were executed during the infamous werewolf trials of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Another reason is that, for whatever reason, a person wanted to become a werewolf and therefore found a way to chemically induce that hallucination. Quite often in the historical record one will find that several people who wanted to change into a werewolf wore a belt that had a mixture of herbs and fat smeared on it. Some of these herbs, like nightshade, are quite poisonous. I believe that applying some of these poisonous herbs to the skin in a salve would allow a minute portion to soak through the skin and induce hallucinations. If a person wanted to become a wolf, for whatever reason, then he/she could actually induce the hallucination of being a wolf. Two of the most infamous cases of werewolfery involved use of a belt to become a wolf: Peter Stumpp and Gilles Garnier.

It is possible that someone might commit one or more brutal murders and then try to avoid responsibility for his/her actions by claiming to have been a wolf at the time and therefore not in his/her right mind. I sincerely doubt the likelihood of this defense succeeding in past centuries. In 2020, claiming not to be responsible for a murder because you were a wolf at the time would probably get you several years in a mental facility. However, in 1620, you would probably have been burned at the stake.

From a literary perspective, what fascinates me the most is the use of a werewolf as a symbol of human versus the most primitive animal nature, the superego/ego versus the id. Similar symbolism crops up in mythology, legends, and history repeatedly in one form or another. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson is one example in literature. One example from Greek/Roman mythology is the centaur, half human and half horse, educated, intelligent, and refined but susceptible to animalistic drives and impulses.

That’s all the time I have for this today. I have errands calling me. Perhaps I can pick this up at a later date in more detail and with my sources cited.

Thoughts? Comments?

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2020 Goodreads Choice Awards Winners — At the BookShelf

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