At a recent event called the "Weird Symposium", James Trafford and Dr. Ray Brassier gave an extremely interesting talk on the writer Thomas Ligotti. As Dr. Brassier detailed the mental habitat occupied by the narrator in stories by Ligotti, my immediate thought was that it sounded like Ligotti was either describing incredibly accurately or, is suffering from some kind of recognised psychopathology. Dr. Brassier then went onto discuss Ligotti's diagnosed Anhedonia. However, there is also an unusual psychiatric syndrome called Cotard's Syndrome (Le Délire de Négation) that also seems to be well apprehended by Ligotti. I thought it might be useful to give a few quotes from the book "Uncommon Psychiatric Syndromes".
"Cotard's syndrome is a rare condition of which the central symptom is nihilistic delusion which, in its complete form, leads the patient to deny his own existence and that of the external world."
The book goes onto give the following case of a 38yr old woman who exhibited a change of personality after an operation, probably for an ovarian neoplasm...
"She became extremely withdrawn and was admitted into another clinic where she protested that 'all is dead within and outside me'... On rare occasions she would respond to questioning and revert to making spontaneous remarks. Once she pointed to the surrounding countryside and said that all that encircled her 'the sun, earth and the very stars do not exist'. She believed that she alone survived the initial explosion that created the world, and that she wandered in the empty world as 'a carbonized star'. She believed that even time had been consumed and that she was thus condemned to wander eternally in this form."
In another case, that of 67 year old alcoholic man, who was admitted in a severe depressive state with evidence of organic deterioration. "He stated, 'I am already dead','I am finished', 'I am poisoned'. He was preoccupied with his bowels. After 25 days in hospital he asked to be buried because he was 'a corpse which already stinks'. A month later he said that he had no flesh and no legs or trunk. The ideas were unshakable, so that the clinical picture remained unchanged for months."
"[Another] patient who had developed syphilis at 37 years and paranoid ideas at the age of 39 years which then cleared completely. At 62 years years his paranoid ideas recurred and gradually worsened. He was in poor physical health and extremely despondent, 'because people are dead and corpses are on the wall'. He was convinced that he too was dead, that this bowels did not work and that they were calcified. He insisted his toes were dead. He was extremely depressed and although when treated with antidepressants he initially improved, after a few days he relapsed and again stated that he was a 'living corpse with no stomach and bowels; which do not exist'."
Describing other clinical aspects of Cotard's the authors state:
"Accessory symptoms may include analgesia, mutism, self-mutilation urges, suicidal ideas, illusions and, in some cases, hallucinations. The latter may be visual but are much more commonly auditory... one patient 'hears the preparations for his execution, the guillotine being erected.'
Others may have hallucinations of taste and smell, believing that they are rotting away, that their food is completely changed, or that they are being offered filth, faecal matter or human flesh."
Paradoxically, because the sufferers believe themselves to be 'already dead' then there can in some cases be a concommitant delusion of immortality,
"When the patient comes to believe that he is not only dead but also immortal, it means that he will remain in his 'I am dead' state for ever, with no possibility of release through death; in effect a state of 'ever lasting death' and hence everlasting despair..."
More worryingly it has been claimed that,
"In 1968, a study describing 10 cases of Cotard's syndrome drew a distinction between a 'genuine' Cotard Syndrome occurring in depressive states and what he described as a 'pseudo-nihilistic or pseudo-Cotard Syndrome; the latter being a feature of what he termed 'coenaesthetic schizophrenia', which he claimed, had demonstrated as being caused by atrophy of basal ganglia."
A study in 1984 described "a series of patients in whom a sense of being dead or of being close to death was associated with temporal lobe or limbic seizures."
So could a pseudo-Cotard syndrome be experimentally induced? Does this mean that devices like Persinger's Koren Helmet might have the ability to simulate an altogether more unpleasant pleroma?
Worse still might these experiments already be taking place? Is what we perceive as our conscious lifespan, merely the lunch break of some cosmic neuroscientist dabbling with our basal ganglia? Fortean researcher John Keel's concluding paragraph in Disneyland Of The Gods, seems in no doubt:
"We are biochemical robots helplessly controlled by forces that can scramble our brains, destroy our memories and use us in any way they see fit. They have been doing it to us forever. We are caught in a poker game being played with marked cards. Yet, in the closing years of this century[written in 1988] , we are like the inverterate gambler who when informed that the game is crooked, shrugs and says, "I know... but it's the only game in town!""
Put another way by Arthur Machen in the story 'N':
“I believe that there is a perichoresis, an interpenetration. It is possible, indeed, that we three are now sitting among desolate rocks, by bitter streams. And with what companions?”