Skunkworks on Kevin Randle’s “A Different Perspective”

I had the honour and pleasure to be a guest on Kevin Randle’s podcast “A Different Perspective”.

We discussed all the things wrong with History’s Project Blue Book, the uncanny parallels between the Phantom Airship flap of 1896/7 and the post-1947 modern era, all that’s spontaneously literary about the history of UFOs, and the enduring, “hard kernel” of the mystery.

You can hear it all here.

Skunkworks: First Orbit

Skunkworks has been at it a year now.

The initial impulse behind this blog was to keep me honest. I’ve been at work  (mainly on various drawing boards) on a long poem, whose working title is Orthoteny, that aspires to do for the UFO mythology what Ovid’s Metamorphoses did for classical mythology. And though I’ve test-flown various prototypes—poems such as “Flying Saucers”, “Will o’ the Wisp”, “Q’ Reveals the Real Secret Space Program”, and “Magonian Latitudes” and the sequence On the Phantom Air Ship Mystery—the work on Orthoteny had stalled, and when UFO Conjectures publicized my chapbook on the Phantom Airship Mystery, I imagined that developing the work in public would be a way of holding myself accountable.

One way of getting toward the poem is to imagine the countless stories around the UFO as constituting a “modern myth of things seen in the sky” and to read it as such. Many of the posts at Skunkworks have been just that, interpretations of various aspects of the myth as it has been developed since 1947. Complementing this hermeneutic labour has been reading classics of the canon to grasp their respective contributions to the myth and the poetic resonances within and between them.

But flying a parallel path to my poetic endeavors has been a cultural critical approach to the phenomenon. Already in 2000 with my collaborator Susan Palmer I published a study of the Raelian Movement International “Presumed Immanent” that argued that the UFO mythology was intimately bound up with and revelatory of the technoscientific spirit of modernity; that, like a collective dream, it expressed the anxieties and aspirations of the “advanced” societies and, at the same time, provided leverage for an ideological critique of that spirit; that, the UFO, like a funhouse mirror, reflected the truth of modernity back to it, but in a distorted form. Many of the posts here this past year have explored this thesis from various angles and in greater detail.

And despite being avowedly concerned exclusively with the meaning rather than the being, nature or truth of the phenomenon, with what I have called “the UFO Effect”, as any assiduous student of deconstruction will know, such distinctions, by their very separating two fields, unify as much as divide. For this reason, I have, at times, touched on matters more properly ufological, despite always attempting to steer back into the phenomenological lane.

On the immediate horizon is an omnibus review of three books that seek to bring ufology into the Twenty-first century, reviews of two books by religious studies scholars that touch on two different aspects of the phenomenon (one of which is D.W. Pasulka’s American Cosmic), and further entries in the series “Jung’s Ufological Bookshelf”. On the drawing board are more than a dozen other posts-in-the-working on the weaponization of the myth, various aspects of its sociopolitical implications, as well as some others on the peculiar logic of ufology. I hope too to address some English-language poetry about UFOs as a way of mapping what in fact has been accomplished in this direction. And of course given the nature of the phenomenon and the mill of rumour and speculation it drives I’ll be always on the lookout for synchronicitious inspirations for developments unimagined by my present philosophy to address.

To this first year’s readers: thank you for your interest and your occasional interventions. And special gratitude is extended on this occasion to Rich Reynolds for outing my ufological predilections a year ago.

Back to the Skunkworks!

 

Phantom Airship Crashes at Jefferson and Aurora

Since this year’s Solstice, Kevin Randle has been writing on the purported crash of an airship in Jefferson, Iowa in April 1897, providing a wealth of original material and even a photograph of an airship that landed in Waterloo, Iowa. He has gone on to contrast this story with that of the other, more famous, crash in Aurora, Texas the same month.

Randle concludes that both stories are hoaxes, perpetrated by the newspapers of the day to increase circulation. Of course, from the point of view of the mythos, what is important is that the waves of both 1897 and 1947 present with what Leonard Stringfield would term “Crash/Retrieval Syndrome”. Indeed, what is most valuable from a textual point of view is that, as Randle notes, the debris from the Aurora crash were dumped down the town’s well, which links the tale, at the level of the signifier, to that most famous crash/retrieval story, that of Roswell, i.e. Rose-well, a name that will bring to the minds of some readers the expression “sub rosa“…. ‘Aurora’, too, is a more suggestive name than ‘Jefferson’ in this context, as well.

For these, and other very likely contingent, reasons, my initial poetic treatment of the Phantom Airship Mystery includes the crash at Aurora, which I include below:

 

                17 April:  Aurora

 

The railroad passed

An epidemic just

 

The West Side burned down

Weevils got the cotton

 

                *

 

One came in from the north low over Wise County with the sun

Ten twelve miles an hour dropping toward the ground

Clear over the square right at Judge Proctor’s windmill

 

Three miles away they saw the flash and explosion

Fragments over three acres east and northeast

Windmill and watertank wrecked

                flowerbeds ruined

 

What remained of a small man disfigured past human resemblance

And his hieroglyphic log penned in violet

Together were buried in the cemetery that day

 

                *

 

I was in school that day and nothing happened

                He saw the air ship when it swung in low to crash

                                They wouldn’t let me see it but told me all about it

 

                                They went to the crash and saw the wreckage and torn-up body

                I heard about it all my life

It passed like any other story

 

In the Masonic Cemetery no unmarked graves

Never was a windmill at the Judge’s

Tons of metal found by the son down the well years later

 

On Faery Lights here and there (for Neil Rushton)

Thanks to The Anomalist, I discovered this site administered by novelist Neil Rushton on Faerie lore. It resonates, as anyone familiar with the work of Jacques Vallee or Hilary Evans will know, with my concerns here.

One aspect of said folklore is the Faery Light, Ghost Light, or Will o’ the Wisp, the topic of a poem from my first trade edition, Grand Gnostic Central, that links a sighting of Yeats’ recounted in his autobiography with tales told me by my great Uncle Peter and Aunt Julia on my father’s (Hungarian) side of their experiences in Saskatchewan; it is also a phenomenon dealt with by a number of researchers, most importantly Paul Devereux, and touched on here under the rubric of the Electro-Magnetic Hypothesis.

 

Will of the Wisp

 

You say suddenly you saw

A light moving over the river

Just where the water rushes fastest

Brighter than any torch or lamp

 

Later a small light low down

Then over a slope seven miles off

You knew by hikes and your watch

No human pace could so quick

 

Here they trail wagons in blizzards

Swoop like owls to rap at windows

Come in view like oncoming engines

Over no tracks up to those waiting

Back to the Skunkworks

Just last week, a friend recently publicized a chapbook of mine composed and published airship2over twenty years ago, and the response, livelier than any to any of my work in recent memory, encourages me to return to the work that chapbook began.

I shouldn’t be surprised, in a way. This poem was the center-piece of the performances I gave during a tour of Germany in 1996, and then, too, the response was gratifying:  one audience member excitedly came up to me to say he would buy everything I would publish, and a friend I made during that tour, the German novelist Georg Oswald, approved with pleasure the approach I took to the material. And a few years later this sequence was well-received by Terry Matheson, a professor of English who has applied narratology to alien abduction reports and who was kind enough to even teach the poem below in one of his classes.

arnold_ufoSo, for interested parties, I append one of the first poems from this project, the last poem of my first trade edition, Grand Gnostic Central and other poems. and return to  back-engineering this “modern myth of things seen in the sky”.

 

Flying Saucers

 

Tuesday three in the afternoon 24 June 1947

Kenneth Arnold of Boise, rescue pilot, businessman, deputy sheriff and federal marshal, U.S. Forest Serviceman

At 9,000 feet crystal-clear conditions

Alone in his Callair between Chehalis and Yakima

An hour’s detour searching for a lost transport

Out of the blue a flash like just before a midair crash

Made him look left north of Mount Rainier

To see at ninety degrees

Nine seeming jet planes in a V pointed south

 

The echelon vaguely bobbing and weaving

Flashing reflections

Twenty-four miles off

Against Rainier’s snows, tailless—

Flying nearly forty miles

Between Mounts Rainier and Adams

Three times the speed of sound

The first crossed the ridge bridging the mountains

As the last came over its north crest five miles back

 

Nine crescents needing to be

Half a mile long to be seen

Flying that fast that far away

So smooth mirroring sunlight

Like speedboats on rough water

Wavering in formation

Like the tail of a Chinese kite

Wings tipping flashing blue white

Each like a saucer skipped over water