Thomas Ligotti has in the past collaborated with the English industrial band Current 93. In this track Ligotti himself reads the poem This Degenerate Little Town over music from Current 93.

This Degenerate Little Town

Thomas Ligotti

The greatest secret,
which appears in no religious doctrine
and is found nowhere
in the world’s overburdened library
of myths and fables
nor receives the slightest mention
in any philosopher’s system
or scientist’s speculation…
The greatest secret,
perhaps the only secret,
is that the universe,
all of creation,
owes its existence
to a degenerate little town.
And if it were possible
to strip away the scenery that surrounds us,
to pull up the landscape
of every planet,
to rip away the skies
and shove aside the stars and suns,
to tear from ourselves our own flesh
and delve deep into our bones,
we would find it standing there eternal,
the origin of all things visible
or invisible,
the source of everything that is
or can be,
this degenerate little town.
And then we would discover
its twisted streets
and tilting houses,
its decaying ground
and rotting sky.
And with our own eyes
we would see the diseased faces
peeking from grimy windows.
Then we would realize
why it is such a secret.
The greatest and most vile secret.
This degenerate little town
where everything began
and from whose core of corruption
everything seeps out…

From the beginning,
if there was a beginning,
this degenerate little town
has become ever more degenerate;
its streets more twisted
its houses more tilting
its ground more decayed
its sky more rotten,
those faces behind ever more grimy windows
have become ever more diseased
And in the end…
But there can never be an end
for this degenerate little town.
No more than an end will ever come
for the worlds that have seeped out of it
for everything we can know
is degenerate from the beginning,
everything becomes more twisted and tilting,
more diseased and decayed
rotting from the very sky.
This is the law of things,
if there can be any law
in a universe that has its source and origin
in a degenerate little town,
which has been degenerate from the beginning,
if there was a beginning,
and will go on with its degeneration,
its ceaseless twisting and tilting,
its disease and decay,
its infinite shades of rottenness
forever and without end.

We cannot help but wonder,
in our most perverse moments,
what it would be like
to inhabit this degenerate little town
where the sky is forever dripping its rottenness like rain
to be among those faces
that are diseased faces
eternally diseased faces
eternally peeking through the glass of grimy windows
and out into twisted streets
lined with tilting houses
in a town that is forever degenerating
and will be degenerating forever.
We cannot help but wonder
in our most perverse moments
as we look through bleary eyes
and see the stars that seem to form
so many twisting roads through the blackness,
or feel our flesh rotting upon our bones,
and yet we can only wonder
we can only whisper
or cry out in our dreams
“O Where is the way to this degenerate little town?”

There are those among us
who claim to have seen
this degenerate little town,
although they may be unaware
of its true nature.
There are those who have emerged
from some painful ordeal of the body
or of the mind,
and then begun speaking
of how they saw in the distance
an outline of crooked houses
tilting this way and that,
or walked along some twisted street,
and felt the ground soft with decay
beneath their steps,
or even glimpsed those diseased faces,
their skin rough and pale as plaster,
peeking from behind grimy windows.
But those who claim to have seen such things
always seem to tell a somewhat different story –
failing to compose a consistent picture
of what they may have seen,
or imagine they have seen.
And so we stare at them suspiciously
for a moment,
and then start to walk away,
leaving them to their lies or their illusions,
which of course are the very essence
of this degenerate little town.

“Where is this place?
This degenerate little town?
What is its name?
And who were its creators?”

Such questions are inevitable
and a matter of course
whenever a world knowledge
is attained about anything.
Never mind the greatest secret.
The greatest mystery.

“Are there seasons in the land of this town?
Is there a springtime in which great rains poor down day and night from that rotting sky?
Are there sultry summers that lay a heavy stillness upon those twisted streets?
And what of its autumn, which must be so succulent with all the colours of decay?
Do the winters there, in this degenerate little town, pile their weighty snow upon the roofs of those tilting houses? “

So many question about this secret place.
But as long as such questions are asked,
and countless answers are offered,
the greatest secret will always remain protected,
for no questions will ever be asked,
no answers will ever be allowed
concerning those diseased faces
that have gazed forever
behind the glass of grimy windows.

Like every phenomenon
that we cannot fully face,
this degenerate little town
must remain a cult in its essence
and serve as a limit
for such as we care to know
about what is beyond
the blackness of night
or what is deep in our bones,
for like every phenomenon
that we have actually come to face
this degenerate little town
can only pain us,
adding to our lives
a mere surplus of the pains
we have known so well
throughout the agonised ages
of a degenerate creation.

But like no other phenomenon
that we have ever faced,
this degenerate little town,
under its rotting sky,
standing upon decayed ground–
a landscape of a pain
that is like no other–
may be our last hope,
the only hope we have
of killing all the hopes
we have ever had
and murdering every mystery
we have ever cherished,
so that we may step forth, finally,
into that great shining kingdom
of which we have always dreamed.

It may be quite likely
that we are grotesquely mistaken
to think there is anything special,
anything remarkable at all,
about this degenerate little town.
Far from being the greatest secret,
the worst or the finest of all our dreams,
it may be quite likely
the greatest commonplace,
the supreme banality.
Consider the possibility.
Who among us
have not found ourselves
beneath a rotting sky?
A sky broken and rotting
from what has been heaped up to it
during every epic of this earth,
this ground that is miles deep
with the decay of everything
that has ever lived upon it.
Who has not traveled
through twisted streets,
and under the shadow of houses,
even the straightest of which,
if our eyes could only see it,
is veering towards to tilt?
As for diseased faces,
they are ever prevailing
to the point of embarrassment.
And so much for this civic marvel
that is beyond the blackness of night,
or resides deep in our bones.
Yet if this is the case,
as it quite likely may be,
what remains for us in a universe
where there is nothing special,
nothing of any account,
let alone the saving miracle
of this degenerate little town?

It seems entirely natural that,
should anyone gain full knowledge
of this degenerate little town,
they would deny the truth
of this greatest, most terrible of secrets –
and, as a consequence,
as an act of self-protection,
would fabricate some other
set of circumstances,
a more companionable picture
of the way of things.
This would explain so many
of the deranged idols and beliefs
that have arisen in our world.
At least we would be able to account
for the multitudes of Mannequin Saviours,
as one might view them –
their faces smooth and serene
behind display windows,
welcoming the faithful who,
upon their death,
will enter a department-store paradise
of the most vague and intangible delights.
And some mention must be made
of what might be called
the Sect of the Puppetlands,
whose highly deranged adherents
posit a transcendent universe
of infinite and harmless antics
that are imperfectly mirrored
in the chaos and crises of our own world,
which, in any case, will end nicely
when the Great Puppet Play is concluded
in a sweet bedtime of slumber…
until the next show begins.

Yet, who would begrudge anyone
the denials or alternate renderings
of the twisted streets and tilting houses
the diseased faces and grimy windows of
this degenerate little town,
which itself seems so perfectly bleak,
so in tune with the world we know
forever inclined to ever greater degeneracy
that even the few enlightened ones among us
sometimes doubt it to be real.

We sometimes imagine
that we have heard voices.
Strange and harsh voices,
faintly calling from beyond
the blackness of night
or from deep in our bones.
And even if there are no actual words,
no actual language we know
in which the voices speak,
still there is a terrible understanding
delivered into our world
that only a few may comprehend,
and none would desire,
for this understanding,
this message of strange harsh voices
from beyond the blackness of night,
or from deep in our bones,
declares that this degenerate little town,
that greatest of secrets,
is only a facade
or a mirage,
a picturesque lie
or illusion
in the guise of twisted streets and tilting houses,
all the rottenness and disease which we sense
as the source of all the things we know
or can ever know
when in fact there is something else altogether,
something which none could comprehend,
or desire to comprehend,
yet which they cannot fail to hear
when it slips through the sounds
of those strange and harsh voices,
when it drifts through
during the briefest moments of silence
and from beyond the blackness of night,
or from deep in our bones
comes forth as the hollow resonance
of a most dismal laughter.

Even though there is no evidence
that a degenerate little town
forms the greatest secret
and is the source
of all the things we know
its truth and its existence remain assured
and there do seem to be certain indications
certain aspects and elements of our lives
that in no uncertain terms
inform us of one fact:
sooner or later we will find ourselves
in this degenerate little town
whether we wish to go there or not.
Because when the sky
begins to darken,
as if rotting before our eyes,
and when our bones
begin to change,
growing soft with decay,
we know that all the ways
of our lives
have been leading us,
and can only lead us,
to this degenerate little town.
And then we may understand
that everything around us,
everything within us,
has a direct point of contact
to that secret place,
that source of all things.
Dreams, for instance,
the dreams of our sleep
wherein every mind is destined
to go twisted and tilting
into lands of swift magic.
These dreams alone would make the case –
if anything were ever needed
in the way of evidence.
These dreams alone
would put us in close view
of those grimy windows
behind which diseased faces
peek out through the glass,
as if they are waiting for
someone to arrive –
as if they are waiting
for everyone, sooner or later,
to enter their little town.



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