Bryan Sentes and Luis Cayetano in conversation

Luis Cayetano (“Ufology” is corrupt) kindly conducted a wide-ranging, freewheeling chat with me about UFOs, ufology, and the UFO mythology, among many, many other things.

Cayetano’s questions, prompts, and curtness allowed me free reign to opine and reflect on topics usually passed over or still to be addressed here at the Skunkworks. This format sometimes saw (heard?) my verbal energies outrun my reflective faculties, but I’m grateful to Luis for the opportunity to explore the field in this way. I may not have been my most eloquent or pithy at all points, but I was, at least, I think, coherent.

Because of technological limitations, viewers/listeners will be treated not to two hours of looking at us yack but to a montage-commentary, often funny and wittily commenting on what’s being said. Thanks to Cayetano for going through the trouble.

You can see the interview, here.

“The theme has vista”: the question of UFO reality and the Myth of Things seen in the Sky

When I announced the launch of Mike Cifone’s Entaus blog (that, since, has been going “like ten bear” as we say), I noted

Cifone’s approach is complementary to and marginally overlaps that pursued here. Where I bracket the question of the reality, nature, or being of the UFO to focus on its meaning, Cifone has resolutely set his sights on thinking through just what a knowledge or science of that reality might be. Of course, the line that divides the being from the meaning of the phenomenon touches both…

Cifone has probed and questioned that “meaning / being” distinction (as has Jeffrey Kripal), interrogations that prompt me, here, to reflect on the field or space wherein that line is drawn.

Anyone acquainted with the topic of UFOs will quickly be struck by its division into Believers and Skeptics or Debunkers if not moved or forced to take a side themselves. The interminable strife between the two sides is fought, more or less, over the question of “the reality” of Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP). Generally, Believers believe that UAP are more properly UFOs, not so much phenomena (or mere “appearances”) but real, anomalous, unidentified objects (however much many of them insist on going one step further and identifying them as, e.g., alien spaceships…), while Debunkers maintain that there is in fact nothing behind the phenomena, which are merely misidentifications, illusions, hoaxes, and rumour. UFOs are either some thing or nothing.

When the UFO curious turn their attention from the unidentified flying object to the subject of the witness or experiencer, it doesn’t (or shouldn’t) take long to discover the phenomenon can inspire a religious or spiritual response. The cognoscenti will know that this dimension of the phenomenon has long been a subject of study among scholars of religion. Part of the methodology of such research is “to bracket” questions of the truth of witness testimony or that of whatever reality might lie behind it all the better to focus on the character of the experience and its effects, changes in beliefs and behaviour. Kripal, for his reasons, is impatient with the assumptions and implications of this practice, and Cifone (in comments here at Skunkworksblog and in private communication with our team) has more rigorously argued, at least, that the border between these two focii may be blurrier than the practicing sociologist is aware or willing to admit. As much as I agree with Cifone’s criticisms (which echo some of Hegel’s criticisms of Kant, that to draw a limit is to think both sides of the limit), it seemed to me that where that limit is drawn is itself only one border of a much larger field.

What first inspired my adult interest in the matter were the abduction accounts increasingly in the air in the early Nineties. My reflexive response was skeptical: no one is really being abducted by aliens. Because I rejected out of hand a literal interpretation of these accounts, a space was opened to understand these stories in another way. Being a poet and literary scholar and therefore not unacquainted with Surrealism and its inspiration in Freud’s Traumdeutung, a view into the matter that hinged on the notions of manifest and latent content opened up before me. Because these accounts were retrieved under hypnosis, it seemed to me they were more like dreams than memories, significant more for their meaning (latent content) than for the story they told (their manifest content). Given the foment in reproductive technology at the time—the Human Genome Project, cloning, and In Vitro Fertilization—should it have come as a surprise that women would have nightmares about being subject to gynecological experiments carried out by impersonal, cold-blooded aliens? (Bridget Brown probes the matter in greater depth and breadth in her They Know Us Better Than We Know Ourselves: The History and Politics of Alien Abduction). It was this initial intuition that quickly dilated to encompass the countless stories about the UFO, to grasp them as a kind of collective dream expressing the anxieties and aspirations of late Twentieth-Century technological society.

What first caught (and continues to keep) my attention, then, was and is not “the UFO itself” but the stories about it, its culturally “virtual” dimension. On this side of whatever experience might motivate sighting reports, there is a vast, practically infinite cultural field, non-fictional and fictional: the reports themselves, articles, books, documentaries, films and television series, graphic novels, on and on. Of course, to those enamoured or otherwise obsessed with the matter of the UFO’s ultimate reality, my interest must seem a wayward dalliance (though I imagine proponents of the Psychosocial Hypothesis might disagree), but there’s little denying that this cultural aspect of the UFO is as “real” a reality for human consciousness in general as whatever experiences are associated with sightings or encounters. It’s in the form of some representation, image or story, that most people know about UFOs as opposed to the relatively small number who claim to have seen or otherwise experienced something. Indeed, that this “spiritual” (German: geistig) aspect is in some ways even more real than whatever physical reality UFOs might in fact possess is a case I have made here, before.

At the level of getting the creative and critical work done and evading the black hole of “the UFO controversy”, the approach I outline does the trick. The aesthetic value of a cinematic work of art, such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, does not depend upon whether UFOs are “real”, and my collaborator and I can quite successfully study the worldview and values and other features of the Raëlian Movement International without having to determine the veracity of Claude Vorilhon’s first witness report. However, from a more philosophical or, strictly, epistemological point of view, Cifone’s and Kripal’s interventions demand attention and even, in the grand(er) scheme of things, threaten to destabilize at least the strictly humanistic study of the UFO phenomenon thought as a “myth of things seen in the sky.”

In the first place, the spatial metaphor that would draw a line between the countless representations of the the UFO (the myth or mythology) and whatever phenomenon or phenomena that in fact stimulate witness reports and the placing of this stimulus in a small corner of the field is misleading, as it effaces the temporal, historical dimension of the whole matter. From the point of view of the Believer, the mythology is continually maintained by ever new reports and revelations (disclosures if not Disclosure). The “space” here is like that of a night sky: however much we might only ever be able to observe the light from distant stars (the mythology), real objects (Unidentified Flying Objects) are the source of this information in however a variously refracted or diffused form it reaches us. For the Skeptic, however, the total phenomenon (mythology and stimuli) is essentially temporal. No observation is ever “naive”. Seeing something as a UFO is an interpretation guided if not governed by pre-existing images and stories already “in the air”, the cultural horizon of the witness. For the skeptic, the UFO is essentially hyperreal; that what one is seeing is a “UFO” is confirmed by representations of UFOs already familiar to the witness. The relation between the mythology and whatever inspires witness reports is distorted by attempting to map them onto some space (aside from the very question of dividing the field into these two spaces in the first place).

Vigilant readers will notice I have, 1) overturned the metaphor of a field or space whereby I first thought to respond to Cifone’s and Kripal’s objections and, 2) skirted the still pertinent question of how the nature of the UFO phenomenon might in fact relate to the mythology that radiates from it (if not maintain it). Not that I imagine to resolve so complex and recalcitrant an issue, but, in my next post, I propose a “radical” “theory” of the UFO (which I doubt today’s Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon hearing before the House Intelligence Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence and Counterproliferation Subcommittee is likely to derail)…

Just what’s up at the Skunkworks (Skunkworksblog, that is)?

The fourth anniversary of this blog came and went last 22 February. I can, I think, be forgiven for not marking the occasion: here, in Montreal, the pandemic dragged on; the nation’s capital was occupied by a Canadian version of insurrectionists (so Canadian, in fact, they couldn’t recognize themselves as insurrectionists); and Russia was gearing up for that invasion of Ukraine it launched before the end of the month.

What prompts today’s clarifications, though, is the surprising and not unwelcome interest in my recent commentaries on some of the plenary sessions delivered at the recent Archives of the Impossible conference at Rice University in Houston, Texas: Jeffrey Kripal’s opening remarks and Jacques Vallée’s keynote address (here) and those of Whitley Strieber and Diana Pasulka.

On the one hand, sckepticks (my coinage) of the UFO phenomenon take quickly and enthusiastically to those remarks of mine that appear to harmonize with their dismissal of the whole matter: my notice of Vallée’s and Harris’ Trinity: The Best Kept Secret or my criticisms of aspects of the talks, above, usually their philological and scholarly lapses. Believers in the reality of the phenomenon, on the other hand, see me as a skeptic, too. Both, I claim, are mistaken, as would any believer who therefore takes it I side with them. Indeed, I would be especially disappointed if Kripal, Vallée, Strieber, or Pasulka reading my remarks (not for a moment that I imagine they have or do) took it I was crankily trolling them. And I am the first to admit that such confusion is a fault both the way my own interests wander and the relative subtlety of the more general stance I take here.

I started this blog in 2018 as a way of keeping myself honest. Since 1994 I’d been at work on an impossibly unwieldy project, an epic-length, poetic treatment of the UFO as, in Jung’s words, “a modern myth of things seen in the skies.” (Interested parties need only click on the ‘poems’ category to see some of the tentative results of this project). I had seen in a flash that year how the countless stories of UFOs and their pilots and their interactions with human beings composed a repressed critique of the technoscientific culture of the so-called advanced societies of the earth, a culture that at one and the same time served to revolutionize (scientifically and industrially…) human societies and has brought them to the brink of dissolution if not extinction. Here was a ready-made, generally familiar body of stories (contrast the recognizability of ‘UFO’ with “Prometheus’…) ready for the artist’s use.

In 1999 (I think it was) I presented this insight in the discourse of the sociology of religion at that year’s Society for the Scientific Study of Religion conference in Montreal in the form of a paper co-authored with a friend, Dr Susan Palmer, “Presumed Immanent: The Raëlians, UFO Religions, and the Postmodern Condition.” Jaws dropped, the editor of Nova Religio buttonholed me immediately after the session, and the paper has since appeared, first, in that academic journal, then, in university syllabi, textbooks, and most recently The Cambridge Guide to New Religious Movements. Though unposed as such, the question that motivated that paper’s argument was that of the appeal of Raël’s message. The answer is that Raël’s “religion of science” is in its essential presuppositions perfectly harmonious with the ideology of technoscience that governs the world’s advanced societies and inspires the imagination of technologically-advanced, extraterrestrial societies among “UFO people” and SETI scientists, alike.

The tendency of this blog has been to articulate that original insight in an ever more varied and hopefully more profound and thorough-going a manner. The vector of thought here has been critique (as opposed to criticism, fault-finding, mockery, or dismissal, the mode of many UFO skeptics…). ‘Critique’ hearkens back to the critical philosophy of Immanuel Kant that sought not to answer the metaphysical questions of his day (Does the world have a beginning or is it eternal? Does the soul survive death?, etc.) but to query how it is possible we have the knowledge of nature, morals, and beauty we do. After Kant, especially with the advent and development of historical materialism down to this day, ‘critique’ has come to sometimes denote that analysis of the presuppositions and implications of some position or body of belief or knowledge, in a word, a critique of ideology, here, precisely, that one Jürgen Habermas posited as that of our modern European or Western society, technoscience.

So, for example, my unrelenting critique of the various pronouncements of Avi Loeb should not be taken as claiming these are in any way false, but as attempts to reveal what goes unthought and uninterrogated in these positions. Of course, imaginably, an argument might be made from these critiques about the tenability of his claims, but this is an avenue my thinking does not go down. In the same breath, however, as anyone who has taken the lessons of deconstruction (namely those of Jacques Derrida and Paul de Man) to heart will understand, maintaining an airtight opposition between strictly “negative” critique (that is, it does not posit any theses of its own about the facts of the world in opposition to the positions it scrutinizes) and the demand to take some position with regard to the truth of things is ultimately unsupportable. Still, one, in all intellectual honesty and self-surveillance, can try….

In a more general sense, the project here, aside from publicizing the essential poetic project, is to bracket the question of the being (nature or reality) of the phenomenon to better bring into view its meaning. In this regard, the general stance most often taken here is phenomenological, in the sense first given that expression by Edmund Husserl and those who went on to develop his method of “philosophy as a rigorous science”. The dispute over the reality and nature of the phenomenon has proven exhausting and fruitless since 1947, and it’s one I consistently eschew. However, the significance or meaning of the phenomenon is an infinitely rich field of research for the more sociologically-minded, an argument I have made with greater force and at greater length, here.

For all that, I do sometimes criticize, but let it be noted not in the spirit of mere negation or dismissal, but precisely because I take the criticized and the matter under consideration seriously. This ethic is especially so in the case of more scholarly discourses, like those, for example, of Jeffrey Kripal or Diana Pasulka. I don’t demand a cold-blooded, heavy, Nineteenth century Teutonic demeanor (as doubtless some readers here hear me assuming) but I do have certain standards of precision, exactitude, and scholarship I can’t bear to see unfulfilled. Because what’s at stake is a grasp of the character and destiny of techno-industrial society, it is arguable that any lapse in such standards is understandably, at least, irritating. And let’s remember that “irritability” (“Does it react if you poke it with a stick?”) is a sign of life.

So, however gratifying it is to be read and, after a fashion, appreciated, I beg readers to remember that if they think the posts here are engaging in the never-ending for-and-against concerning the reality or nature of UFOs or UAP, likely something subtler and, hopefully, more profound is at work.

“In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds”: some haunting echoes between UFOs and ghosts

A clipping of an article about George Adamski (this post’s featured image) shared by Curt Collins recently got me thinking…

Adamski’s description of a flying saucer’s mother ship’s “tester”, its settling to earth “in a form of gelatin” that disintegrates when someone tries to retrieve it, brings to mind, first, “angel hair”, fibres like wool or nylon reported to fall from UFOs, most famously in Oloron, France, 17 October 1952, fibres that “when rolled up into a ball…rapidly became gelatinous, then sublimed in the air and disappeared” (as Aimé Michel recounts in his The Truth About Flying Saucers (New York: Pyramid, 1967, p. 154). Unlike the substance described by Adamski, these fils de la Vierge were temporarily retrievable before dissolving.

The cognoscenti might also be reminded of a UFO crash retrieval tale avant le lettre. According to The Nebraska Nugget, 6 June 1884 “John W. Ellis and three of his herdsmen and a number of other cowboys …were startled by a terrific whirring noise over their heads, and turning their eyes saw a blazing body falling like a shot to Earth.” When they investigated the crash site, what they found burned with a blinding light and with such heat one of their number suffered serious burns. Once the site cooled, the locals inspected the wreckage, which, following a rain storm and flash flood was reduced to small pools of jelly, which were said to have disappeared, in Jenny Randles’ paraphrase (UFO Retrievals, London: Blandford, 1995), “just like a spoonful of salt dissolving in water” (14). Randles cannily observes “this rather suggests that a spoonful of salt was exactly what the writer expected you to take with this entire story”. Nevertheless, the wreckage’s dissolving rimes with the evanescence of Adamski’s crashed “testers” and that of angel hair, and, given Jung’s alchemically-informed reflections on Flying Saucers, it is not insignificant that the wreckage is said to have disappeared like salt dissolving in water, “salt” being an important term in alchemical discourse…

What relates Adamski’s testers, angel hair, and the ultimate fate of what crashed in Nebraska to ghosts and hauntings is their similarity to ectoplasm (that variously slimy or fibrous substance whereby spirits are thought to manifest or other psi phenomena, e.g., telekinesis, are thought to be accomplished), once uniquely associated with Spiritualism and mediumship but now, in popular culture, associated with ghostly, spiritual phenomena in general. Angel hair and ectoplasm are both described as fibrous (regardless of whether this has to do with the various materials mediums used to hoax their manifestations…), and angel hair, the final residues of testers and airships, and ectoplasm are all gelatinous and evanescent, ectoplasm even, however ironically, extremely light-sensitive. And all are associated with Fortean or paranormal phenomena.

UFOs and ghosts share many other features. In no particular order: both are “transmedium”, UFOs and their occupants reported to pass through solid materials, whether walls or mountains, just like ghosts; both are evanescent, appearing and disappearing unpredictably (which makes them difficult to study under controlled conditions); both have been photographed, recorded, or otherwise instrumentally-registered, but in either case the evidence remains controversial. As Whitley Strieber has suggested and Joshua Cutchin’s forthcoming study maintains, both are relatable to death and the nature of the soul or “consciousness” as the discourse of the day has it. Doubtless, further features could be added (as Jacques Vallée has).

As the ellipses above suggest, my point here is not ufological nor parapsychological, for I make no attempt to separate what might count as “hard data” (more or less demonstrably reliable reports) from the more general discourse (or “stories”) about UFOs and ghosts and spirits. Rather, these analogues appear when these discourses are scrutinized as folklore or mythologies. But the implications for the work that goes on here at Skunkworks are not thereby made clearer. What implications such parallels have for ufology or a more general study of the paranormal I leave for interested parties interested in this way to work out. From the point of view of the ideology-critical speculations that compose some of the writing here, no implications present themselves offhand, and I’m skeptical even a close re-reading of Derrida’s Specters of Marx or brow-furrowing, headache-inducing reflections on the spectrology and hauntology developed therein might bear critical results.

Mythopoetically, these analogues, like those between alien abductions, shamanic initiations, near-death experiences, etc., suggest a complication, expansion or enrichment of a theme that already “has vista” (to borrow Whitman’s words), connotations and significations that, like any work of art, remain open-ended and unpredictable, much like the phenomena that are said to inspire these stories to begin with…

The matter has, at least, worked its way into the on-going composition of Orthoteny, the working title of my poetic treatment of that “mythology of things seen in the skies”. I append a draft of a section from On the Phantom Air Ship Mystery that deals with the Nebraska crash remarked above:

Sightings: Saturday 11 December 2021: The “alien” in “alienation effect”: concerning poetry, Martians, and related matters.

Regular readers here might be surprised to be reminded of Skunkworks’ raison d’être, namely, to showcase the work that goes into a long poem project attempting to portray the infinite stories of UFOs as a mythology, somewhat after the fashion of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (that so artfully collated and presented the mythology of his time and place) and somewhat in the manner of Ezra Pound’s Cantos or Charles Reznikoff’s Testimony ( among other exemplars). Some of these attempts are readable here at the Skunkworks via the “poetry” tag.

In this regard, it’s a pleasure today not to have to compose something of my own, but direct readers to an article by Tony Trigilio, the author of Proof Something Happened, a poetic treatment of the Barney and Betty Hill abduction, viewed by many to be the archetype of the experience. In his piece, “Writing What You Don’t Know”, Trigilio describes composing this latest book (among others), referring, along the way to other poets who have dealt—quite explicitly—with “Martians”: Craig Raine, Robert Hayden, and Jack Spicer. As he writes, his book

does not attempt to solve whether something physically happened to the Hills that evening. The poems take no stand on the possibility of extraterrestrial life and alien abduction. The collection presumes only that the three hours of “missing time” the Hills experienced in the White Mountains truly did happen psychologically, whether caused by an alien abduction or something else on the fringes of the known. As the poems explore the aftermath of that evening in 1961, they emphasize the Hills’ struggle to understand their terrifying dreams and disjunctive flashbacks…

Such experiences, or, more importantly, how the come to occupy a place on the margins of culture, “arcane” in Trigilio’s terms, serve, ironically, to reveal as much about the heart of culture, if in a refracted, “alienated” way.

Sightings: Monday 1 November 2021: Plus ça change…

As I observed in the last Sightings post, ufology as that myth-of-things-seen-in the-skies, despite apparent, dramatic developments (novelties), seems to orbit in an eternal-recurrence-of-the-same, which is characteristic of myth as such; myth posits an eternal (ever recurring) order…. That being said, some recent developments caught my attention.

The Galileo Project for the Systematic Scientific Search for Evidence of Extraterrestrial Technological Artifacts (headed by Avi Loeb) recently named Christopher Mellon and Luis Elizondo as Research Affiliates. (I assume these two names and their respective place in recent ufology are not unfamiliar.) I’ve elaborated a number of critiques of the thinking underwriting Loeb’s views concerning extraterrestrial technological artifacts (the most developed can be read here). However ideologically invested Loeb’s ideas, their scientific value remains an open question, depending on Project Galileo’s ultimate—empirical—findings. But it’s precisely the project’s scientific reputation that is thrown into question by its affiliation with Mellon and Elizondo, given their respective backgrounds in intelligence and their overt statements and innuendos concerning UAP (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena). Given Mellon’s and Elizondo’s enthusiastic participation in the drama of “Disclosure”, the scientifically-minded might be excused for wondering just how much of value the two can bring to, e.g., “assessing the societal implications of the data, if any extraterrestrial technological signatures or artifacts are discovered.” One’s tempted to imagine that once History’s The Secret of Skin Walker Ranch has run its inevitable course it might not be replaced by a new reality series, The Galileo Project….

The appointment of Mellon and Elizondo to a research project searching for artifacts of extraterrestrial technology underlines, again, the near hegemony a certain thinking about extraterrestrial life (and, by extension and most importantly, life on earth) holds in both the popular and more specialized imaginations, e.g., that of SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) researchers. Corey S. Powell’s Aeon article “The search for alien tech” reveals both in how SETI research has recently expanded in the wake of the discovery of exoplanets and most acutely in his own reflexive (unconscious) rhetoric just how strong the grip of this thinking is.

Powell describes how “each age has featured its own version [of] yearning for contact with life from beyond, always anchored to the technological themes of the day”. Roughly in the latter half of last century SETI was essentially the search for a demonstrably alien, artificial signal somewhere in the electromagnetic spectrum, whether visible (e.g., laser) or invisible (e.g., radio). However, with the discovery of how to detect and study exoplanets, the search was able to broaden its horizon to include the chemical fingerprints of life and technology, bio- and technosignatures. These latter include, for example, the specific light reflected from solar panels, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs, “highly versatile compounds that are used as solvents, refrigerants, foaming agents and aerosol propellants”), or “nitrogen dioxide, a byproduct of combustion or high-temperature manufacturing,” namely, the kinds of technosignatures human activity leaves in earth’s atmosphere. However, as Powell remarks “Alien technology could take so many forms that it is impossible for the human mind to consider or even imagine them all.” The search for technosignatures, therefore, expands to include “mechanical technosignatures”, such as a Dyson Sphere, or the kinds of artifacts The Galileo Project is on the hunt for.

There is an irony, however, in, on the one hand, admitting that “Alien technology could take so many forms that it is impossible for the human mind to consider or even imagine them all” and, on the other, the tellingly offhand comparison Powell makes discussing technosignatures:

We spew pollutants, belch factory heat during the day, and light up our cities at night. We can’t help it, any more than bacteria can help emitting methane. By extension, any advanced aliens could be expected to visibly alter their planet as an inevitable byproduct of creating a manufactured, industrial civilization.

Powell’s comparison levels the difference between the waste products of an organism’s metabolism and those of social, techno-industrial processes, human or alien, whose societies are thereby (if not therefore) imagined (if not thought) to be organisms writ large. Powell’s rhetoric here (con)fuses the natural and the social, natural history and history proper (Adorno’s critique of the distinction notwithstanding).

Powell’s rhetoric is part-and-parcel with that thinking that governs SETI in general and the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis concerning the origin of UFOs, the (Platonic) idea that life is not shaped only by biology but by some teleology that launches it on a vector to develop the kind of intelligence homo sapiens imagines it possesses, which, in turn, necessarily expresses itself as tool-use and technological development along the lines laid out by “First World” historians (who imagine that the world’s present-day “advanced” societies represent a goal or end of history…). Astrobiologist Jason Wright et al. keep strange company when they imagine alien technology millions or billions of years old (and presumably as much in advance of our own); Maitreya Raël tells us, too, that his Elohim are 25,000 years in advance of us….

More gravely is how this confusion of natural history and history proper evacuates the possibility of even thinking of self-directed social change (societies are ultimately as mindlessly instinctual as colonies of bacteria) and thereby serves a politically “conservative”, reactionary function. David Wengrow makes a not unrelated point with regard to how reigning, inherited narratives of cultural development work as myths (there’s that word again) to drain away the potential for even imagining alternate futures or change. Wengrow rehearses this restraining view of human history as follows:

We could live in societies of equals, this story goes, when we were few, our lives and needs simple. In this view, small means egalitarian, in balance with each other and with nature. Big means complex, which involves hierarchy, exploitation and the competitive extraction of the Earth’s resources. Now, as the human population approaches eight billion, we are left to draw the obvious dismal conclusions. There is no sense fighting the inevitable. Between entrenched neoliberalism and the pressures of our grow-or-die economy, what hope do we really have of making progress? [my emphasis]

Or, as Fredric Jameson so memorably put it: “It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.” Happily, as Wengrow points out and explains “nothing about this familiar conception of human history is actually true.”

The myth that possesses the imagination of believers in or speculators about advanced, extraterrestrial civilizations is as scientifically and philosophically problematic as it is socially consequential. On the one hand, we don’t even know how life appeared on earth, but what we do know, however, is that its evolution has been a precarious, chance-ridden, unpredictable process. On the other, the story of human culture and society is even more aleatoric and varied, underwritten by what Wengrow terms “the spark of political creativity” or philosophers, more generally, “freedom”. Accounts of life, “intelligence”, “development”, or “progress” that merely posit the (self-serving) self-understanding of one culture on earth as the outcome of some natural, necessary, universal process serve to only reify, naturalize and entrench, the social relations of that culture, now at a moment when its unnaturalness, borne out by the daily mounting evidence of its unsustainability (to put it in the most “objective” terms), is most in need of unmasking.

Sightings: Monday October 4 2021: A Not-so Great Silence

Things have been so quiet here at the Skunkworks (six weeks without a post) it prompted a tactful and warmly-received inquiry as to our well-being!

Posting here has slowed for a number of reasons. Materially, after nearly two years without a functioning library, the custom-made bookcases ordered over a year ago are almost finally installed, which has entailed the sorting, schlepping, alphabetizing, and shelving of more than 2,400 books. The ufological library’s soon no longer being a pile of books in the corner will at least facilitate a return to some of the projects undertaken here, e.g., a continuation of the study of the books cited in Jung’s Flying Saucers, categorized as “Jung’s Ufological Bookshelf”, along with some tardy notices if not reviews of recent ufological and ufological poetry books….

Admittedly, other concerns have imposed themselves. Apart from the more philosophical, ideology-critical reflection that goes on here, the raison d’être of the Skunkworks is to make public (and to make me publicly accountable for) the on-going composition of the mytho-ufological epic, Orthoteny (e.g., the last post, “Alexander Hamilton’s Prototypical Cattle Mutilation Tale” that shared a part of that epic, from On the Phantom Air Ship Mystery). Editing and submitting at least two other, unrelated poetry manuscripts and their component poems have also eclipsed for the moment much of the work that goes on here at the Skunkworks. Moreover, readers who recall the last two “Sightings” (4 July and 26 June) will also likely remember how these posts’ concerns, however related to the UFO mythology, were as much if not more the climate emergency (I’m working on an essay about the belief in near-term human extinction) and the ongoing liquidation, cultural and physical, of Canada’s First Peoples (30 September 2021 was the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada).

But, more acutely, is the striking irony that as the phenomenon wins more “official” legitimacy (whether from various branches of the U.S. military and intelligence establishment or even scientifically, in the form of Loeb et al.’s Galileo Project) its cultural significance is all the more staid. As the cognoscenti have observed, in terms of governmental interest, we’ve been here before, nor does the Galileo Project push forward or, more importantly, deepen the research of SETI. How many times need I reiterate the ideological underpinnings of the search for technosignatures or extraterrestrial technological artifacts?

Indeed, these recent, dramatic (at least among some circles) developments, within the modern (post-1947) history of the phenomenon, seem an instance of an “eternal recurrence of the same”, that characteristic of myth that sees history as a pattern of eternally repeating structures. (Little wonder the circularity of the flying saucer reminded Jung of the mandala…). This aspect of the development of the mythology seems to have reached a limit point with the publication of Vallée’s and Harris’ Trinity. As I have argued the book seems a repressed work of science fiction, a provocative characterization of the UFO mythology itself (a discourse whose literality is unstable, questionable and problematic). It’s as if at the moment when the literality of the phenomenon seems to be approaching institutional acceptance (a moment in the unfolding of Disclosure?), its symbolic, mythological (if not ideological) significance presses against that literality to near a bursting point.

The “Disclosure” we are pursuing here is the presentation if not revelation of just that Symbolic, ideological content of the UFO mythology, “the myth of things seen in the skies”, and therein and thereby the myth (ideology) that underwrites, sustains and inspires the civilization and its worldview that finds it easier to imagine the end of the world than its own transformation, no small task and one, like poetry, alienated and distant from the march of “current events”.

Alexander Hamilton’s Prototypical Cattle Mutilation Tale

Over at Mysterious Universe, Brent Swancer shares a collection of premodern tales of cattle mutilation, among them the prototypical if not archetypal story told by Alexander Hamilton during the Great Airship Mystery of 1896/7. Spencer’s reminding us of this report opens the door to my sharing my own poetic rendering of the encounter, one of the many smaller poems that compose a long poem On the Phantom Air Ship Mystery, part of that larger, “epic” project whose working title is Orthoteny.

Since WordPress does violence to the lineation of poetry, I post the poem, below, as a PDF.

Il n’y a rien en dehors du texte? Reading Trinity: The Best-Kept Secret Against the Grain

My earlier notice (if not review) of Jacques Vallée’s and Paola Harris’ Trinity: The Best-Kept Secret has two parts: the first, critical; the second, recuperative. In this second part, I try to salvage some significance from a book that, taken at face value, fails (the evidence is pure hearsay, presented in a barely coherent and, hence, unpersuasive manner, a presentation undermined further by a lack of sharp focus aggravated by frequent digressions, etc.). This salvage attempt is premissed on the insight I express in the notice: Trinity seems to grasp, “in however a tentative, repressed (unconscious) manner” the symbolic (mythological) significance of the story it reconstitutes and relates.

Here, I want to dilate and clarify that insight, venturing a reading of the text unanchored from the intentions of its authors (that it is an investigation of a real event, an early UFO crash/retrieval). The reading I essay here is an exercise or experiment, whose working assumption is that the authors know but repress there is nothing to the story and that its significance is not factual but symbolic. I most emphatically do not pretend to “put the authors on the analyst’s couch” to thereby reveal some obscured fact of the text, but, instead, put into play this faux “psychoanalytic” approach heuristically to account for both how the book is composed and to secure the symbolic truth that Vallée intuits but is unable to grasp as such (It’s as if Vallée “knows not what he writes”).

Perhaps the most immediately striking feature of the book is how it approaches the topic of the crash, retrieval, and debris in an often indirect manner, a lack of focus aggravated by apparently unmotivated digressions (i.e., their pertinence is not immediately clear). Roughly one third of the book is composed of interviews conducted by Harris with the three primary witnesses, “lightly edited… for clarity” (16) by Vallée who also interjects passages of commentary. These interviews are neither the focussed, dogged interrogations that would have dug into the case in the depth needed to make it even initially persuasive, nor have they been pruned down to all the better frame the details pertinent to the book’s argument.What possible relevance, for example, can Paola Harris’ and (the relative of one of the primary witnesses) Sabrina Padilla’s being afraid of snakes have (256)? The same can be asked of many pages, e.g., in the Foreword, the first chapter (that concerns the development and detonation of the first atom bombs), or Chapter Thirteen, the story of a visit to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in 1964. Were Trinity a work of literature, these formal features (the interviews and digressions) might be said to be mirrored at the level of content in the “poisonous” plants (Cocklebur and Nightshade) that suddenly one year are found to cover “the initial oval landing site” (78), supposedly sown by the Bureau of Land Management, and the intentional and natural changes to the landscape that buried what debris might remain “twenty feet down” (79). That is to say that the diffuse interviews obscure the matter while the digressions bury it under ever more text. It’s as if the authors seek to avoid the void at the core of the book,—the absence of the crashed craft, its pilots, the four different kinds of debris the witnesses describe, etc.—the dearth of hard evidence that becomes, as it were, a bottomless pit around which a screen of distraction must be erected and ever more text shoveled in to fill. I do not mean to suggest that the authors are trying to deceive the reader; rather that, following the heuristic premise that governs my reading, the stylistic features I remark appear as ways of concealing the poverty of their case from themselves and to compensate for this lack.

Aside from these positive features, there are, as it were, negative ones, which appear to function in the same, symptomatic ways. In my notice, I remark the persistent orthographic lapses, the typos that riddle the text, a most striking one, the spelling of a book’s title two different ways on facing pages (134-5). Such overt errors are of a piece with the poor organization of the text and its digressions. The way the accused will hem and haw and stumble over their words as they dissemble to conceal their guilt from their interrogators, the text’s lapses are a kind of nervous tic, indicative of graver problems.They are, as it were, a veiled confession, hairline fractures in the surface of the argument’s edifice that hint at the gaping, fatal cracks in its foundation. In addition, both how the book supports and fails to support its claims is suggestive. The first endnote, on the Plains of Saint Augustin or Agustin, is cribbed from Wikipedia, a not-even tertiary source that would fail to pass muster in a college-level research paper. In the footnote on page 33, the authors note that they were put on the trail to William Brothy, an Army Air Force pilot who is said to have seen both the smoke from the crash and the two primary witnesses (307), via the Amazon website. Moreover, many claims are left simply hanging. For example, Vallée states in many of the interviews conducted after the book’s release that the primary witnesses had binoculars as good as those possessed by the army. What binoculars, specifically, did the witnesses have? How does one know? What was the standard set of field glasses issued to the army in the American Southwest at the time? Most importantly, what are the optical specifications of these binoculars and what light can these specifications shed on the testimony of the witnesses concerning what they saw? Many such basic forensic considerations are passed over in silence. Such shoddy, negligent research both reveals and conceals the vacuity of the book’s case. Citing Wikipedia and the Amazon website, for instance, seems an admission that the matter is unworthy of more authoritative legitimation, while omitting or refusing to cite supporting evidence for the most basic yet essential claims ironically “covers up” the baselessness of the book’s argument. It’s as if the authors could not bear to look too closely into the matter for fear of revealing to themselves the absolute poverty of the case they seek to make. I am not claiming in fact that the authors are incompetent or fraudulent, only that the flaws in the text can be read as so many “returns of the repressed”.

One could analyze, as well, the way the authors “protest too much”, e.g., with regards to the reliability of the witnesses (seven and nine years old at the time of the incident), but I would turn now to how the unconscious awareness of the physical, factual vacuity of the case precipitates an awareness, in however no less repressed a manner, of the rich symbolic content of the story the authors tell. Ironically, the francophone Vallée will be the first to understand that the French word histoire (like the German Geschichte) denotes both ‘history’ (a chronicle of factual events) and ‘story’ (a fictional narrative). It is no less the case that contes and récits (roughly, tales) are histoires. Vallée and Harris purport to be relating an histoire but in truth they tell an histoire. Perhaps it’s this brisure (hinge) in the polysemy of ‘histoire‘ that swings Vallée’s thinking (however consciously) from informational patterns to literary texture or folkloric motifs:

Everything, in this story, appears to be going in threes…Three atomic bombs were exploded in the summer of 1945…There were three live Campamochas aboard the crashed craft…there were three ‘short ugly guys’ who ‘started to put things into the mind‘ of the sheepherder…Also, at least three metallic artifacts were recovered… (149)

Vallée remarks, too, “three objects of interest”: Fat Man (the atomic bomb detonated over Nagasaki), the “avocado” UFO observed by the witnesses, and the Jumbo test enclosure on display at the Trinity site (150), to which one could add the number of direct and indirect witnesses and the three peaks that give the Trinity site its name and the book its title. He collates, as well, an additional trio, comparing the San Antonio crash with the Socorro and Valensole landing cases (pp. 183 ff.).

Vallée wrestles with the idea that the details of the story he and Harris investigate are in some profound way meaningful: “Jose and Reme were witnesses to an unexpected dialogue of sorts, an eerie exchange of symbols between the brightest scientists in the world and something else, undoubtedly the product of another mind…” [my emphasis] (282). Regarding the stories of UFO crashes and retrievals, in part or in whole, he wonders

What if those UFO devices had been designed so they could not be reverse-engineered by people with our current level of knowledge and social development? What if their target was at a different level? At a symbolic level, about our relationship to life? At a psychic level, about our relationship to the universe? What if they contained an existential warning? [my emphasis] (287)

At one level, we witness here Vallée speculating about the crash, its spatiotemporal proximity to the detonation of the first atom bomb, the puzzling earthliness of the crashed object, the irrationality of its colliding with a radio tower, etc., ultimately imagining the whole event to be possibly an attempted communication from a nonhuman intelligence. Vallée’s struggle, however, in light of the reading I pursue here, is a process of realization, as if he were waking from a dream whose manifest content is the “literal” understanding of the story of the crash and whose latent content occurs precisely at a “symbolic level.” The story of the crash is “an unexpected dialogue of sorts, an eerie exchange of symbols“, between the witnesses and researchers and “another mind”, just not a nonhuman, extraterrestrial, ultratraterrestrial, interdimensional, or transtemporal mind, but that of the inhuman Other (following Lacan), the Unconscious, Creative, Collective, or otherwise, a dialogue that only becomes audible and one we can take part in only once we suspend our belief in the factual truth of the story Trinity tells, i.e., along the lines of the heuristic (“as if”) reading I here propose and sketch out.

This is perhaps “the best kept secret” of Trinity , that it is best understood not as a true histoire (and Kevin Randle, among others, has given us good reason not take it so) but as an uncannily unconscious fiction (histoire), a book that the science-fiction novelist Jacques Vallée failed to write. (And I am hardly alone in remarking the book’s possessing “all the hallmarks of a fictive account.”) As such, it can enter the engagement with “the myth of things seen in the skies” that extends from Jung to Lynch and beyond, into both the conscious and unconscious elaboration of the myth and the unending Traumwerk of understanding what it is we are trying to tell ourselves that we cannot otherwise face in the light of day and reason.

A Note on Twin Peaks Season 3 and Trinity: The Best-Kept Secret

I ended my review of Jacques Vallée’s and Paolo Harris’ Trinity: The Best-Kept Secret noting that the book, because of its suggesting a connection between the detonation of the first atomic bomb and the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP!) crash it investigates, finds “its place between the covert fictions of George Adamski (whose Venusians came to warn us of the dangers of atomic energy) and the overt fiction of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.” Since, I’ve become aware of certain uncanny motifs Trinity and Twin Peaks share.

Vallée has made no secret of his intuiting a connection between the Trinity “test”, “the emergence of our civilization into, essentially, the nuclear age,” and the San Antonio crash. What crashed was said to be egg-shaped (like an avocado). From a damaged side of the ship, diminutive pilots were said to have emerged, who were compared to Praying Mantises, Fire Ants, or Jerusalem Crickets.

It’s hardly unique to perceive the advent of atomic weapons as a fateful development in human history. For Vallée, evidence of our having entered the Atomic Age precipitated a non-human intervention, however ambiguous. In David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, Season 3, Episode 8, the Trinity test, too, disturbs a barrier between our world and some other, opening the way for no less mysterious, inhuman agents (the “Woodsmen”) and unnatural evil. The otherworldly origin of these beings and others is tied into the UFO mythology by Lynch’s recasting Project Blue Book (that thematically rimes with the series’ motif of “the Blue Rose”) as an investigation into just these beings and their nature.

In Episode 8, the Trinity test is followed in the next scene by the arrival of the Woodsmen through a weird portal in an abandoned convenience store somewhere in the American Southwest. The action shifts to an otherworldly void, where an amorphous if feminine figure emits an ectoplasmic vomit.

This extrusion seems a stream of unnatural evil that will manifest itself in our mundane reality in various ways. One of these is the landing of an egg (some visible in the still, above) in the general vicinity of the Trinity test and the convenience store, which will hatch a weird frog-moth hybrid that eventually makes its way into the mouth and down the throat of a hapless young woman, to possess or impregnate her.

The parallels are as striking as they are mystifying: the Trinity test is supernaturally momentous, triggering an opening between worlds and the intrusion into ours of the denizens of that other. In both imaginings (and Vallée’s and Harris’ is an imagining, being a reconstruction from hearsay), this intrusion manifests as an egg out of which emerge unnatural (however animal-like) beings. Here, I only register these shared motifs and venture no further speculations (though some suggest themselves: the oval shape of the first A-bombs and the connotations of the egg in general, the unnaturalness of mutated creatures, etc.), other than to note that the source of “the myth of things seen in the skies” works in mysterious ways!

Crash / Retrieval Syndrome as Visionary Rumour or Folklore

If, as Jung so long back proposed, the Flying Saucer “mythology of things seen in the sky” is a “visionary rumour”, then the event of the announcement, then retraction, and final appearance of Jacques Vallee’s and Paola Harris’ Trinity: the Best Kept Secret fits this characterization doubly. Most pertinently, the book’s argument is primarily based on three witness accounts, i.e. word of mouth; no less interestingly has been the furor of the book’s online reception. In either case, this dual phenomenon apart from the truth of that “best kept secret” is thought-provoking. I hazard a few of these preliminary thoughts, here.

Even before the e-version of the book was released, there was no little discussion, to put it mildly, about Vallee’s engaging with what Leonard Stringfield so aptly termed “crash / retrieval syndrome”, as the book deals with a presumed 1945 crash and retrieval of what only later came to be called a UFO. This apparent shift from Vallee’s more sophisticated if not uncontroversial approach to the UFO phenomenon, from a broader-based, cultural, sociological, psychological one to one more “nuts-and-bolts” caused almost as much consternation as his collaborating with Paola Leopizzi Harris, a researcher of relatively questionable reputation. Moreover, the event the book investigates was hardly unknown to researchers, so any new interest in so stale a case itself was curious.

Barbara Fisher seeks to spin Vallee’s new work as being more consistent with his modus operandi than would seem at first blush, applying a very approximate thematic comparison between the cases Vallee engages with in the documentary Witness of Another World and in his new co-authored book. I don’t find the shared motifs she posits very compelling, but the suggestion that we look at the tale of the Trinity event as folklore holds promise. On the one hand, the Trinity event is very much identifiable as a type of ufological narrative, that of the crash / retrieval: a UFO is seen to crash, its alien pilots or occupants emerge, local authorities are called in (in this case a father and officer of the law) or appear (namely, the army), the UFO is carted off, and the area more-or-less sanitized but for some stray debris the witnesses are able to surreptitiously recover and retain, all motifs common enough to be subjected to the pioneering kind of analysis developed by Vladimir Propp in his Morphology of the Folktale.

More damningly (or more interestingly), however, the witness testimony around the event is no less (inter)textual. Kevin Randle bases his skepticism of the story in part on the many instances where the account of the supposed 1945 event quotes well-known testimony from the later, much more famous Roswell event. Reme Baca’s description of a piece of “memory metal” he found echoes an analogous description by Robert Smith, interviewed by Randle and Don Schmitt in their research into the Roswell UFO crash. Moreover, both Reme Baca and Jose Padilla, again, echo Roswell witness Bill Brazel about the retrieval’s being carried out at one point by “four soldiers”.

Aside from these rich, textual and narratological features, the Trinity story also invokes at least two pieces of debris. As in other stories of its kind, whether pieces of memory-metal, metamaterials, fibreoptic filaments avant le lettre, or even recovered aliens, dead or alive, all these, aside from their strictly evidentiary value, undoubtedly possess a profound meaning. The character of this significance has been compared to that possessed by religious relics, whether splinters of the One True Cross or the incorruptible bodies of saints or parts thereof. There are important ways the meaning of such crash debris is emphatically not like that of religious relics. Nevertheless, that they are clung to so fiercely as evidencing the truth of the mythology, often in spite of very compelling forensic findings, testifies to the part they play in a belief system.

As Jimmy Church observes in his recent interview with the authors, “This could be another Roswell!”. I suggest here that Church’s words are prophetic, not in the sense that Trinity and Roswell are analogous, real world events, but that the former, with the publication of Vallee’s and Harris’ book, stands to become another seed for an endlessly branching and proliferating story, like that of the latter, regardless of what kernel of truth each might possess. Indeed, the Trinity case, both in itself and its initial reception, seems more grist for a sociological mill, another example of the genesis, development, and elaboration of a visionary rumour, if not a new religion.

Sightings: Saturday 8 November 2020

Production continues slow here at the Skunkworks, due to personal reasons, the fact that the facility is still in the process of settling in to the new digs (thanks to the way the pandemic slows everything down), and, most pointedly, that, despite a lot happening in the field, very little has in fact changed or developed (more on that, below). To remedy the relative dearth of postings, here, therefore, I’ve resolved to try to post, more-or-less regularly, short takes with little commentary, less demanding to write, of what’s caught my attention the past week or so.

What strikes me first is the aforementioned present steadystate of ufology or of the phenomenon and its mytho/sociological import in general. On the one hand, I’ve speculated that the UFO as a vehicle of meaning, a sign, is as endlessly suggestive as any work of art, or even, more extremely, essentially mysterious. But, for a sign whose signifier never lands on its signified, the UFO’s significance seems little changed since the advent of flying saucers more-or-less post-1947.

Ufologically, no developments I’m aware of present data that has not been on the record since the phenomenon’s earliest days. The recent furour around the topic’s appearing in the mainstream media and its being taken seriously by the American government that has given rise to excited rumours about “Disclosure” are hardly unfamiliar to the cognoscenti with Donald Keyhoe’s oeuvre (well-thumbed) on their bookshelves. Exemplary is the second season of History’s Unidentified, which, in terms of the topics it addresses–UFOs near nuclear and military facilities, black triangles, sightings by commercial airline pilots, etc.–is as eye-rollingly dull as Elizondo & Co.’s speculations are risible, e.g., that black triangles observed flying slowly back and forth over the American back country are conducting a mapping operation, when we, with our relatively primitive technology, have been using much less obtrusive spy satellites for decades. Even the suggestion that UFOs (now UAPs), whether foreign or extraterrestrial, may pose a threat to national security is hardly new and is all-too-easily understood as an expression of America’s anxiety over its waning influence in a world that has moved on from its brief moment of monopolar power following the collapse of the Soviet Union and Communist Bloc, even if it’s more likely an unimaginative bid to inspire drama and interest in the series.

Even culturally there is little that strikes me of note. Reviews of the recent documentary The Phenomenon (for example, here and here) hardly move me to rent it, seeming as it does to be a somewhat introductory review of the well-known story pushing the “reality” of the titular phenomenon and (uncritically) its possible extraterrestrial origin. On the other hand, 2018’s The Witness of Another World at least focusses on a single, compelling close encounter case not within the border of the United States, probing more its meaning for the experiencer than seeking to uncover the material “truth” underwriting the experience. In this regard, the documentary is in line with two academic books of note, D. W. Pasulka’s American Cosmic and David Halperin’s Intimate Alien. Both develop lines of inquiry into the religious and collective psychological significance of the UFO, respectively, but neither in a way that introduces any new findings, none new to me, anyway. Pasulka’s work proposes to trace the links between religious sentiments, technology, and the UFO, but doesn’t add to or extend very far the existing literature. Likewise, Halperin develops Jung’s theses about the UFO’s expressing human, all-too-human anxieties and aspirations in a modern guise, but neither presents a reading of Jung’s views in this regard much less a grounding defense of why we should take his approach seriously, merely assuming its applicability. I have addressed these misgivings, in general and more specifically, here.

One development of especial interest here at Skunkworks has been the appearance of three ufologically-themed books of poetry (reviews forthcoming!). First is Judith Roitman’s 2018 Roswell rewardingly read in tandem with Rane Arroyo’s earlier (2010) The Roswell Poems. Though these works went under the literary radar, two more recent books have earned a higher profile. Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge’s A Treatise on Stars, framed in part by a New-Agey exploration of the imaginative implications of Star People was a finalist for 2020’s National Book Award, and Tony Trigilio’s treatment of the Hill abduction Proof Something Happened was chosen for publication by Marsh Hawk Press in 2021 by no less than the esteemed avant-garde American poet Susan Howe. UFO poetry, seriously!

The one other datum that caught my attention of late was an article from The Baffler shared by a member of the Radio Misterioso Facebook page, “Donald Trump, Trickster God”. For my part, I am unsure just how to take the author’s contention that Donald Trump is a “personification of psychic forces”, namely one of the faces of the Trickster archetype, Loki. The article’s tone, ironic and hyperbolic, suggests it’s as much a satire of the failure of the conventional wisdom to explain the rise and enduring popularity of Trump, or, at least of those who represent the failure of such wisdom (“political reporters, consultants and pundits”, “sober, prudent, smartphone-having people”) as an explanation of his demagogic power. Corey Pein, the author, marshals Jung’s explanation of Hitler’s rise to power (set forth in Jung’s essay, “Wotan”) to shore up his own analogous attempt to understand the advent of Trump. Jung famously essayed the UFO phenomenon using the same approach (and that Halperin and Eric Ouellet have since developed), a labour I find of creative if not explanatory value. On the one hand, one needn’t invoke myth, either in its inherited or newly-minted guise, to understand, e.g., the rise of Hitler: a passing acquaintance with German history and a viewing of Leni Riefenstahl’s The Triumph of the Will should suffice. Where Germany suffered a humiliating defeat, the Nazis offered the Germans pride in their culture and new military might. Where the populace had suffered terrible unemployment and want due to the postwar hyperinflation and the Great Depression, the Nazi regime gave it work and food. Where the nation had drifted aimlessly in the rudderless chaos of the Weimar republic (Germany having been one country for less than a century and having had little to no acquaintance with democratic institutions), der Führer offered it leadership and focus. Finally, the distraught and desperate Germans did not side with the international Communists but with the nationalist socialism the Nazis represented because of the atavistic sentiments the Nazis revived and cultured, and, most importantly, because the German corporate class, fearing Communism, sided with the Nazis and bankrolled them. These conditions, combined with the Nazis’ still unrivalled evil genius for propaganda, offer a more down-to-earth, compelling, and useful illumination of a very dark moment in European history. Of course, such explanations go only so far; there remains an obscure, singular residue of irrationality that resists explanation, but, if one is seeking a theory that might offer some praxis, better to take a materialist rather than a metaphysical or mythological approach. Happily, as I write this, the day after Joe Biden seems to have won this year’s election, with luck, the joke is on the Trickster…

Piping in on Hanks and Bullard on the Myth and Mystery of UFOs

Micah Hanks talks with Thomas E. Bullard concerning the folklore and reality of the UFO phenomenon. Hanks and, surely, Bullard are two with whom I share much in common on this matter, but there are some directions their conversation takes that give me pause for thought.

Not unsurprisingly, the problem of the relation between a folkloric (or sociological) study of UFO and entity encounter reports and claims concerning their physical reality or nature comes up. I’ve addressed the matter at least twice, here and, at greater length, here. Briefly, the problem Hanks and Bullard address is in the final analysis a methodologically real one. Nevertheless, it is at the same time perfectly legitimate and in fact quite fruitful for scholars such as Bullard to merely hold the question of the physical reality or nature of the phenomenon in abeyance, to merely leave it unasked, so that the meaning of the phenomenon might be examined all the more attentively. Of course, at a point, that plethora of meaning bleeds and pools into ontological questions, as Bullard is the first to admit up front.

But this methodological consideration dovetails into a more troublesome area, that has as much to do with the prejudices of Anglo-American thought as the phenomenon itself. As the research of Bullard and others has been taken to suggest, the UFO phenomenon, or more properly the UFO mythology, considered as a body of stories, because of the parallels it shares with folklore around the world, e.g., those between alien abduction and what Bullard calls “supernatural kidnap”, arguably arises from some “universal framework”. At those words, Hanks immediately brings up Jung’s Collective Unconscious and the Archetypes. Invoking universals and, even more so, universals posited to arise from the age-old, collective experience of homo sapiens, is, to say the least, problematic. The rooting of archetypes in experience betrays a need or drive for reference, as if stories must ultimately spring from what Hanks calls “a physical instigator or agent.” The same thinking applies to discussions of the Vision of Ezekiel:  did he have a spontaneous religious vision, suffer some kind of psychotic break, sight a complex space ship he described the best he could, etc.? What’s passed over is that this vision is presented in a text, however strikingly original, in a recognized genre, i.e., Ezekiel’s vision does not demand any external stimulus, psychological or otherwise, but may just as easily, and more profitably I would argue, be understood as a work of prophetic literature, with no more external, real world reference than Dante’s Commedia.

More gravely is the way that such mythological thinking dissolves what is uniquely modern about the phenomenon as we experience and communicate it now into some vastly more general distillation of species-wide experience, occluding what light the present version of these stories might throw upon our present predicaments. On the one hand, Jung himself navigates the problem by attempting to explain how the anxieties unique and immediate to the postwar world evoke a response from the archetypal tailored to that world. However, on the other, I would offer, given that stories are narrated in languages in the contexts of cultures, what is most informative about the mythology is its pertinence to what is special to our present historical moment not general to the human condition as such.

Bullard himself, at the beginning and end of his conversation with Hanks, makes statements that imply this more historicist approach. Hanks quotes a passage from Bullard’s research into alien abductions, words to the effect that what is important about these stories is not so much their reference to real-world experiences as their “status as narratives.” Then, near the end of their talk (around 01:23) he pleas for an openness to novelty in thinking. I contend that what is most significant about the UFO mythology is its functioning as a manifest content of a kind of collective dream (what Jung termed a “visionary rumour”) that expresses and articulates the anxieties and aspirations unique to (our) modernity.

Nevertheless, at the same time, I’ll be the first to counter that, just as the relation between the meaning and being of UFO reports and other stories are complexly intertwined, in the same way, the mythological and historicist (ideological critical) interpretations of the mythology are both exclusive but no less mutually implicated.

At any rate, not that Hanks or Bullard need any of the infinitesimally small promotion Skunkworks might offer, I urge parties interested in their approach to the topic to listen in and let their own thoughts pipe in. Bullard begins speaking around the 00:48′ mark.

The Oceans, Anthills, and Elf Churches

Again, the staff here at Skunkworks has received its writing assignment from the Office of Synchronicities.

In an article about the contributions of larvaceans to filtering carbon and plastic from the oceans, Bruce Robison, a senior scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, makes an offhand observation :

“If an alien civilization from some other solar system were to send an expedition to Earth to look at the dominant life forms on this planet, they wouldn’t be up here walking around with us. They’d be exploring the deep ocean.”

Why would these aliens focus their attention on the deep oceans? Because, as the same article reminds us, “scientists estimate that more than 99 percent of the planet’s biosphere resides” there.

The same day (9 June 2020), Chris Savia at The Anomalist linked to an at-the-time unpublished article “‘First in, last out’ solution to the Fermi Paradox” by Alexander Berezin. Berezin’s states his thesis as follows:

“First in, last out” solution to the Fermi Paradox:  what if the first life that reaches interstellar travel capability necessarily eradicates all competition to fuel its own expansion?

I am not suggesting that a highly developed civilization would consciously wipe out other lifeforms. Most likely, they simply won’t notice, the same way a construction crew demolishes an anthill to build real estate because they lack incentive to protect it….

Berezin’s argument is both sophisticated and nuanced (and couched in some assumptions that would normally call for closer scrutiny, here); nevertheless, Berezin and Robison make a similar point. Unlike the science fiction worlds of the Star Wars or Star Trek franchises (and, n.b., no less so in Close Encounters of the Third Kind or Carl Sagan’s novel Contact) or the fantastical imaginings of those who believe earth is being visited by dozens of extraterrestrial civilizations, they posit that homo sapiens would not be immediately recognized as “the dominant life form” or, more substantially, the significantly analogous Other of extraterrestrial explorers. Ironically, it is precisely the Star Trek franchise itself that recognized this problem, in the motion picture Star Trek IV:  The Voyage Home, where the aliens are cetaceans, utterly oblivious to the human population on earth and its civilization their activities threaten.

Berezin’s comparing such inadvertent destructiveness to how “a construction crew demolishes an anthill to build real estate” is telling, as it dovetails from speculation about the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence to huldufolk, Real Politik and ufonauts. Famously, in some places on earth, such as Iceland, precisely such construction projects are halted because they threaten not the habitat of an endangered species, but the abode of a non-human if anthropomorphic Other with which we share this planet, as was the case just outside of Reykjavík in 2013.

rockgreen

Perhaps most famously the relation between the Little People and ufonauts was brought forward by Jacques Vallee in his (in some circles) classic Passport to Magonia. This identification is brought home all the more forcefully in a 1970 close encounter report from Finland, raised for renewed scrutiny just yesterday at UFO Conjectures. The two witnesses report encountering a small humanoid being descended from a classic flying saucer, which one illustrator depicts thusly:Imj9

A diminutive man, complete with pointy hat and funny nose. That the illustrator is Finnish (doubtless raised on tales of Finland’s own Fae Folk) likely influences his sketch, but the likeness of ufonauts to Little People is famously not restricted to this one, exemplary case.

As I have argued ad nauseum here, the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis, that UFOs are spaceships piloted by extraterrestrial beings, is risibly anthropocentric, not least in its assumption of the immediate, mutual recognition of “intelligence” between ourselves and extraterrestrials, whether piloting flying saucers or signalling by some means from their own far-distant planet. Robison and Berezin both call this assumption into question forcefully.

At the same time, Berezin’s fateful example (of the construction crew and the anthill) also invokes both how humankind runs roughshod over nonhuman life and how such behaviour is called into question and curtailed by a respect if not reverence for nonhuman life when it is humanoid. This traditional (if unconscious) reverence finds its ufological expression in the admonitions concerning nuclear weapons and energy received by the early Contactees in the 1950s and the no-less apocalyptic visions of environmental catastrophe often shown to abductees some decades later. That the appearance of flying saucers as such, as circular signs in the heavens, was a compensatory psychological response to a planet divided during the Cold War was famously set forth by Carl Jung in the earliest years of the modern ufological era.

All this is to say that both the points of view of Robison and Berezin that decentre the human being and the reports of ufonauts and Little People that centre the humanoid both critique, each in their own way, that anthropocentric hubris that grasps all other beings (and other human beings, too) as raw material, as means to ends, as being, ironically, of no account. The former places homo sapiens among all the other species of life of which it is a part, not apart from, while the latter puts a human mask on the nonhuman, again, to put homo sapiens in its place, to better secure a livable home.

This line of argument finds its limit, however, in the cultures of Turtle Island. Generally, these non-European societies both perceived nonhuman creatures and even geographical features, such as mountains, lakes, and rivers, as “people” in their own right, while at the same time telling stories of diminutive Little People and Star People. This ethnological fact is cause to open another research department at the Skunkworks….

“UFO-themed poetry”: seriously

Over at Mysterious Universe, Nick Redfern essays a topic dear to Skunkworks (being the site’s raison d’être), UFO poetry. However, despite accessing Poets.org’s page devoted to the topic, he somehow gets sidetracked by Jack Spicer’s joking about how “Martians” dictated his poetry, passes over the poems actually linked, and somehow, like Curt Collins at The Saucers that Time Forgot, serves up laughable doggerel instead of the more, well, serious examples, both at Poets.org (which include American poetry eminences, such as Stanley Kunitz) and like those few I remark here.

Even searching the Poetry Foundation‘s website with the keyword ‘aliens’ turns up a number of poems, some dealing overtly with aliens (one by Bob Perelman, a widely-recognized postmodern American poet) and abduction. More meaty is the link to an article on the British “Martian poets”, a school that explicitly deployed the point-of-view of the alien to reveal just how strange modern life is.

nwgs

Not unlike his British counterparts, the late Missouri poet David Clewell probed well-known ufological topics, flying-saucers-as-such, Roswell, the Schirmer Encounter, and the Face on Mars. Clewell’s UFO poems are part of a more wide-ranging wander through the America of his time and place (Clewell was born in 1955), which includes drive-ins, B-movies, Cold War paranoia, and the Kennedy assassination, among more mundane matters.

Unsurprisingly, Roswell has been the focus of at least two poetry books. Rene Arroyo’s 2008 The Roswell Poems was the first to my knowledge to focus on this now-iconic incident; and I just found out about Judith Roitman’s 2018 Roswell doing my due diligence for this post.

One book-length poem that should be better known, given its author and thematic breadth and depth is Ernesto Cardenal’s Los Ovnis de Oro / Golden UFOs. Cardenal was a world-class poet, who died only this year; Golden UFOs (subtitled “The Indian Poems”) picks up on the story of the god Ibeorgun who “came in a cloud of gold / now in a flying saucer of gold” and goes on to

interweave myth, legend, history, and contemporary reality to speak to many subjects, including the assaults on the Iroquois Nation, the political and cultural life of ancient Mexico, the Ghost Dance movement, the disappearance of the buffalo, U.S. policy during the Vietnam War, and human rights in Central America.

With Cardenal’s book, the potential of the UFO as myth, as literary topic fit as any for serious, poetic treatment is established beyond a doubt.Finally (though the few examples above are hardly exhaustive) we come to Skunkworks, itself. Skunkworks functions as a kind of notebook, where I essay and develop ideas that contribute to the composition of a book-length poem with the the working title Orthoteny. This poem, parts of which are readable here under the category poetry, seeks to set forth UFO mythology as a mythology (in the words of William Burroughs) “for the Space Age.” In this regard, Orthoteny is more akin to Cardenal’s poems than the doggerel often offered up as examples of “UFO poems” or the single poems or books I describe, above. Just what that mythology is about or what it reveals about human being and the cosmos is discernible in what I’ve been posting here since the beginning. To say too much too quickly, the vast literature of ufology expresses the anxieties and aspirations of our modernity in a surreal manner that opens out onto imaginative spaces apart from and beyond the fetishization of humanity and technology that compose the manifest content of this, the nightmare of our history.

The Mindbending Singularity of the UFO Anomaly

UFO believers and skeptics are both convinced that they know. Believers (extreme examples include devotees of the Sphere Being Alliance, the ECETI Ranch, and all those breathlessly waiting for Disclosure) know that UFOs are extraterrestrial spaceships piloted by a wide variety of alien races/species with equally various intentions for humankind; they, I would argue, are not skeptical enough. Skeptics, on the other hand, know that UFO sightings and encounters with their putatively extraterrestrial pilots are merely a mishmash of rumour, misperception, and pathology; they, it seems to me, are (for the most part) neither skeptical enough of their own sometimes strenuous explanations nor curious enough about the cultural, social, and psychological implications of the phenomenon in its multifarious guises even if their dismissals are all well-founded. The phenomenon, as is well-known, also exhibits features that elude both the believers’ beliefs and the skeptics’ debunkings. For my part, the UFO phenomenon remains, therefore, a mystery, whether one appends the adjective Fortean to it or not.

As I’ve ventured on a couple of occasions, the UFO is as much an aesthetic object as a possible object for the physical sciences. By “aesthetic object” I do not mean one that is merely or exclusively “beautiful” (though UFOs themselves and related experiences can possess this quality) but that, following Immanuel Kant’s line of thought, the UFO requires we create a concept for it rather than subsuming it under one ready-to-hand (if we could do that it would hardly be the persistent anomaly it has proven to be). It’s precisely this characteristic I want to touch on here, that the conceptual demands the UFO phenomenon places on our attempts to conceptualize it suggest it is at present a kind of epistemic singularity.

Just as a gravitational singularity (a black hole) suspends the normal laws of spacetime, the UFO warps our thinking about it. The irrationality displayed by both believers and skeptics is a case in point. But even those who have attempted to grapple with the mystery with method, reason, imagination, or speculation find their investigations quickly complicated if not frustrated by the equally wily and protean evasiveness of the phenomenon, aptly characterized with reference to the Trickster of various folklores. Paradoxically (go figger) this denial of understanding and comprehension is at the same time an open invitation to imagine and think in a non-linear, alogical way, “outside the box” of the rules of method, with an impish playfulness of mind equal to that displayed by the phenomenon itself. From this perspective, two, more “out-of-this-world” (how apt) speculations take on a certain appeal.

Since the dawn of the modern era, Kenneth Arnold’s 1947 sighting, analogues between the UFO and more mythic or religious manifestations have been noted. Adamski’s circle identified the flying discs of the time, inspired by their Theosophically-tinged grasp of Hindu and Vendantic lore, as vimanas, the aerial chariots of the gods of ancient India. More recently, similarities between alien abductions and shamanic initiation and practice have been noted. Even more recently, psychonauts for whom dimethyltryptamine (DMT) has been the preferred vehicle for exploring what appear as 3.-Mantis-280x420alternate dimensions have reported encounters with beings markedly similar to entities associated with UFOs and alien abductions. In an attempt to probe this experience more thoroughly, Dr Andrew Gallimore is attempting to develop the means to allow psychonautical explorers to reside in these unusual realms longer than the relatively more transient states of DMT intoxication afforded by smoking it or even drinking ayahuasca, by means of medical technology. Such efforts put the mainstream Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) and the so-called Secret Space Program in a new light!

No less imaginative is the hypothesis of Trevor James Constable , that UFOs are in fact plasmatic life forms native to earth’s atmosphere. What makes Constable’s theory all the more provocative is how it is couched in Wilhelm Reich’s orgone theory and as of 2003 given more mainstream as well as fringe scientific support. Mircea Sanduloviciu and his colleagues at Cuza University in Romania have created plasma phenomena that can grow, replicate, and communicate just like living cells, while Nik Hayes and Leon Southgate have managed to photograph Constable’s orgonotic bio-forms. Just as psychonautical exploration expands our notions of reality, so the investigations of Constable et al. widen our ideas of what might constitute life on (and off) earth.

AFRA09

Such wild research suggests another feature of the phenomenon closer to the heart of the mythopoeic work undertaken here in the Skunkworks:  it inspires equally a rational, scientific and poetic response. That is, just as some ufologists tackle the enigma with forensic and natural scientific methods, its irrational dimension demands a playfulness of mind no less nimble and agile. To paraphrase the idea of Aimé Michel quoted above, the phenomenon puts into question both the laws of our physics and the structure of our societies. In line with Claude Lévi-Strauss‘ argument (in his four-volume Mythologiques) that mythological thinking is no less rigorous or practical than that of our natural sciences, the phenomenon inspires a response from the whole of the human being, as if as a kind of “compensatory mechanism” (Jung) it seeks to balance the deepening perversity of our present technocapitalistic moment and the ecological crises that it engenders. To heal is to make whole, and the spiritual stresses the black (rabbit) hole of the UFO phenomenon places on human understanding might play just that role.

More from Orthoteny (w.i.p.): Magonian Latitudes

Last week, I shared one section from a long poem, “Magonian Latitudes” (from my second trade edition, Ladonian Magnitudes), that rimes with another section from my treatment of the Phantom Airship Mystery of 1896/7.

Here, I share the entirety of the poetic sequence, an attempt to wind together the notion of the myth-as-myth and allusions to ancient (and medieval) aliens. It has six sections, the beginning of each indicated by the bolded, upper-case first letter of the section’s first line.

Poetically, this sketch for a part of Orthoteny (my work-in-progress dealing with the myth of things seen in the sky in its totality as explored here at Skunkworks) draws on a catholic sampling of the poetics of international, Twentieth-century poetry. It ain’t no doggerel!

Magonian Latitudes

…there is a certain region, which they call Magonia, whence ships sail in the clouds…

 

A change of dimension

            not just locale

Like lungs for gills

            or water to air

 

Horses, bison, mammoth, ibex,

            numberless others unheard of

Rendered on cave-walls

            palimpsest thick

Yet on the ceiling alone

            in threes and fours

Flying Saucers hover

            over their occupants

 

The Cabalist Zedechias

            in Pepin’s reign

Sought to convince the world

            Daimonas Sadaim

Neither angelic nor human in kind

            inhabit the Elements

Required the Sylphs show themselves

            in the Air for everyone

Which they did sumptuously

            in the Air in human form

In battle array marching in good order

            halting under arms or magnificent tents

Or the full sails of ships

            riding clouds

 

When winds rose and blew

            black clouds overhead

The peasants ran to the fields

            to lift tall poles

To stay the ships

            from carrying off

What rain or hail

            culled from the crops

Called up by a tempestaire

            for a tithe

Which practice persisted despite

            the Capitularies of Charlemagne

 

The Sylphs saw alarm

            from peasant to crown

Determined to dissipate their terror

            by carrying off men

To show them their women

            and republic

Then set them down

            again on earth

Those who saw these as they descended

            came from every direction

Carried away by the frenzy

            hurried off to torture

Over all the lands countless tested

            by fire or water

 

A marvel in Cloera County

            interrupted Sunday Mass

It befell an anchor on a rope

            caught in Saint Kinarus’ door-arch

Where the line ended in clouds

            the congregation saw some kind of ship

One crewman dove and swam down

            as if to free the flukes from the keystone

But they seized and would hold him

            but that the Bishop

On grounds terrestrial air

            may well drown one celestial

Forbade it

            and freed

Quick as limbs can swim he rose

            to hands on ropes and ladders

The anchor rang and cut

            the line coiled down about them

 

The cave is a long way in from the mouth open to the sky

Generations there stare straight ahead on haunches

Higher up behind a fire burns

A wall before those hurrying past between

Both ways up and down the track there

Their burdens their shadows

 

One over her share

            the water over the earth

The other in the firmament

            the water over the earth

The air a mirror

Whose face is an ocean

            waves electro-magnetic

There they stare dreaming

A quiet blue eye flickers

“What IS that?!”–Notes on perceiving the anomalous

Sequoyah Kennedy over at Mysterious Universe brings to our attention a sighting of a “dancing fireball” over Northhampton, England. Aside from the startling strangeness of the sighting itself, the reaction of one witness, Luke Pawsey, 20, is no less thought-provoking:

I genuinely believe there’s extraterrestrial life out there but we’re just not aware of it or we’re too naive to think there isn’t anything out there. I think it’s an unidentified flying object (UFO) but when people imagine that they think of a spaceship which I don’t think it was. But how do we know what’s out there, especially if it doesn’t exist to us? It could be aliens but I don’t want to say for certain as I don’t know.

Pawsey is clear-headed enough not to identify “UFO” with “alien spaceship”, but it’s telling the way his quoted words here leap immediately to that all-too-common reflexive theory and orbit the constellation of related ideas:  “extraterrestrial life”, “UFO”, “spaceship”, and “aliens”.

Had this fireball been witnessed in 1019 rather than 2019, a chronicler of the time might have recorded it as a dragon or sign from heaven, as either a natural or supernatural occurrence, rather than extraterrestrial or unknown. This speculation prompts at least two questions:  first, why doesn’t the modern witness imagine he has seen, say, some natural, albeit strange, phenomenon, or something man-made, such as some unusual fireworks, and, second, if the category “unknown” was even available to our imagined, medieval scribe, given the closed world he lived in, in contrast to the one opened to scientific investigation by the withdrawal or death of God (here, the theological interpretation of the world). (Curious, how a world with little knowledge of nature might at the same time also lack the unknown, while one in which such knowledge becomes possible and actual simultaneously allows the admission of ignorance).  Also significant is how both posit a potentially extramundane origin, but, for the premodern, “out-of-this-world” means outside of nature, time and space, whereas for the modern it means within the cosmos, from however exotic a locale (e.g., another dimension). At any rate, what is true for both is that the witness to an anomalous experience seeks to make sense of it in the first instance according to an existing set of categories, a set that varies over time and place.

Frederic_Church_Meteor_of_1860

If the Northhamptom fireball had not behaved in so puzzling a way, but had traced a more-or-less straight, regular vector, an astronomer, for example, would have readily identified it as a meteor. The difference between the astronomer’s perception and the mystified one of Pawsey and our fictional scribe can be illuminated by a rough-and-ready reference to a distinction made by German philosopher Immanuel Kant. He distinguishes between two kinds of “judgement” (Urteilen, in German), two ways the subject and predicate of a thought or statement might be joined (e.g., “The fireball [subject] is luminous [predicate]”). A determinative judgement brings a particular intuition (e.g., the luminous body depicted above) under a general rule (the features of a meteor), while a reflective judgement, lacking a general rule for a particular intuition (e.g., the unusual fireball seen by Pawsey), needs to either discover, find or invent, a general rule. The mystified reaction to an anomalous experience is in a sense the bewilderment brought about by the lack of concept that would categorize the experience or otherwise make sense of it, which inspires the imagination’s excited search over a chain of possibilities:  “What is that? This or this or this or this…?”

This approximate application of Kant’s distinction is not especially illuminating, as far as it goes, until we introduce what motivates it. Kant brings the notion of the reflective judgement to bear (in a much more nuanced and complex way than I do here) in his Critique of Judgement, his discussion of the perception of the beautiful in art and nature. Neither the work of art, the sublime landscape, or even an organism in its purposiveness (the way it seems designed for its place in nature) are objects of knowledge the way the instantiation of a natural law is (the subject of a determinative judgement), rather each needs be grasped in their respective singularity. The work of art’s demanding an active engagement for its understanding and appreciation (especially since the advent of artistic Modernism in more or less the Nineteenth century), that we discover, find or invent new concepts proper to it, gives art the purchase to reconfigure or re-articulate the concepts we use to understand the world in general, whereby art can be said to provide a kind of knowledge or truth, reminding us that seeing as is at least as important as the is of identification of the sciences, if not at its foundation. The implication for anomalous experience is obvious:  like the work of art the anomalous experience demands at least a reconfiguration of existing knowledge if not the development of new concepts and hypotheses.

Admittedly, not much has been said here that would essentially differentiate Pawsey’s experience from that of the first European to encounter a platypus. In both cases, something that fails to fit our existing scheme of things demands that scheme be revised, expanded and rearticulated. Kant develops the notion of the reflective judgement not only to make sense of the beautiful but of induction, too. It thus has a function both in our knowledge of nature (where it leads to determinative judgements) and culture, which argues for the thesis that the anomalous UFO phenomenon, specifically and especially, be tackled not only as a challenge to (natural) science or to the social sciences (what the French term les sciences humaines et sociales) but both. That is, it is both a potential object of knowledge and understanding and that the collaboration if not synthesis of what we might term the Symbolic orders of the natural and human sciences is demanded of the phenomenon itself. That is, a key to understanding the UFO phenomenon might be to approach it as much as an aesthetic object as an object to be subjected to the rigors of the scientific method.

We have arrived, therefore, at the same point, though via a different route, as my reflections about the implications of thinking the UFO as “postmodern”. The proposal that the UFO phenomenon in general might usefully be approached in a radically interdisciplinary manner dovetails into more-or-less explicit positions taken in the 2003 paper co-authored between Jacques Vallée and Eric Davis “Incommensurability, Orthodoxy and the Physics of High Strangeness:A 6-layer Model for Anomalous Phenomena”. There Vallée and Davis call for both physics, experimental and theoretical, and semiotics to be be brought to bear on the manifold strangeness of the phenomenon. An implication of Vallée’s repeated idea that the phenomenon of the UFO and related entities is in a sense staged to achieve a subliminal, long-term cultural change is that it need be analyzed semiotically, i.e., with a view to grasping it in the first place as a system of meanings, with a syntax and lexicon, i.e., following that pioneer of semiology, Roland Barthes, as a “mythology”.

An Important Consequence of the “Postmodern” Reality of the UFO

[“Trigger Warning”:  I explore here one implication of the reality, Reality, hyperreality, and hyporeality of the UFO phenomenon sketched here. I refer to this reality of the UFO as “postmodern”, because the discussion takes its initial impulse and orientation from the notion of hyperreality, first developed by that premiere postmodern philosopher Jean Baudrillard. Readers triggered by the expression “postmodern” are urged to read the initial post linked above, before going off half-cocked, like a Jordan-Peterson-with-his-head-cut-off…]

In his discussion of 9/11 and related matters, Welcome to the Desert of the Real, Slavoj Žižek characteristically unfolds one dialectical implication of the attack. On one hand, it represents an intrusion of “the Real” into “everyday social reality”:  the shock of the Event reorients and reconfigures the settled world we thought we knew and assumed to be fundamentally unchanging. In this assumed stability, “average everydayness” represents a kind of spontaneous, perennial “End of History“. However, on the other, despite all the very real destruction and death (which continues to this day in the various health problems suffered by first responders and others), the perpetrators never believed that felling the Twin Towers or even the Pentagon or White House would bring down America’s economy, military, or government. The attacks were primarily symbolic, intended, in part, to disabuse continental Americans forever of an assumed, invulnerable security, hence comparisons of 9/11 to Pearl Harbor. Moreover, for most of the world, the event was purely mediated:  in most minds, the attacks now are, in a sense, those obsessively repeated images of the planes hitting the towers or their collapse. In the theatricality and profound mediation of the attacks the effect of the Real becomes hyperreal, a representation, a sign, a meaning, endlessly repeated, echoing out into the future (though hardly without its real world effects).

The UFO phenomenon (including entity encounters) is curious, because it arguably inhabits not only the real (as ubiquitous pop culture meme), but the Real (as a startling and disturbing experience that upsets settled, assumed notions of reality), the hyperreal (as an existing representation whereby an anomalous experience is identified and confirmed as a UFO experience), and the hyporeal (the highly strange that simultaneously outstrips and potentially expands the existing hyperreal repertoire of recognizable UFO phenomena). But what’s salient here is how the dialectic between the UFO’s Reality and hyperreality might parallel the dialectic Žižek unfolds with regard to 9/11.

Jacques Vallée has over decades consistently argued that the provocative irrationality of persistent features of the phenomenon mitigates against the theory that we are dealing with visitors, explorers, or invaders from other planets, dimensions, or times. Such high strangeness, more a characteristic feature of the phenomenon than a site of hyporeal difference, is a mark of its Reality, its dramatic demand we reorient or reconfigure the categories by which we make sense of the world in order to integrate and assimilate the phenomenon’s bizarre behaviour. However, it’s precisely how destructive (if not deconstructive) the phenomenon is of our existing worldview in just this way that stages the phenomenon’s theatricality:  the phenomenon is no longer what it appears to be (an alien spaceship surrounded by its crew collecting soil and plant samples, for example) but enacts a meaning beyond itself, i.e., it becomes a sign.

Roland Barthes, in his significantly titled work Mythologies, elucidates just this situation with an example drawn from his “everyday social reality”:

I am a pupil in the second form in a French lycee. I open my Latin grammar, and I read a sentence, borrowed from Aesop or Phaedrus: quia ego nominor leo. I stop and think. There is something ambiguous about this statement: on the one hand, the words in it do have a simple meaning: because my name is lion. And on the other hand, the sentence is evidently there in order to signify something else to me. Inasmuch as it is addressed to me, a pupil in the second form, it tells me clearly: I am a grammatical example meant to illustrate the rule about the agreement of the predicate. I am even forced to realize that the sentence in no way signifies its meaning to me, that it tries very little to tell me something about the lion and what sort of name he has; its true and fundamental signification is to impose itself on me as the presence of a certain agreement of the predicate.

In the same way that the significance of the sample Latin clause is not the meaning of its constituent words, so the significance of the UFO phenomenon is not its apparent behaviour but what this behaviour might be understood to point to.

To my knowledge the only time Vallée explicitly refers to the discipline of semiotics is in his 2003 paper co-authored with Eric Davis (“Incommensurability, Orthodoxy and the Physics of High Strangeness:A 6-layer Model for Anomalous Phenomena”). The rigorous implication of Vallée’s longheld thesis concerning the irrational character and behaviour of the phenomenon is that a true understanding is not to be won by the physical sciences but the human sciences, that what is demanded by the phenomenon itself is that it be approached not as an anomalous natural occurrence but a semiotic phenomenon. What is called for, therefore, is not primarily some supplement to or revision of our physics but a semiotics or, following Barthes’ early articulations, a semiology of the UFO mythology.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A speculation on the making of a modern myth

Decades before our era of fake news and the bots who disseminate it, I once half-jokingly pitched a book idea to an old English teacher and friend. I imagined writing a tell-all exposé by a creative writer who had been drafted on graduation into a secret government project whose purpose was to produce cultural materials, novels, television and movie scripts, and so forth, with the intent of tweaking and guiding the culture at large. The UFO mythology, of course, played a central role. But recently having had the opportunity to view Corbell’s Bob Lazar:  Area 51 & Flying Saucers, it strikes me I may well have been beaten to the punch.

Corbell’s documentary omits some very telling details of Lazar’s story, but includes one I hadn’t known, that early in his tenure at Area 51, Lazar was shown a number of briefing documents concerning UFOs and their extraterrestrial pilots. To the cognoscenti, Lazar’s experience is not unique:  Bill Cooper and Bob Dean both tell similar stories of being given materials that deal with crashed saucers, recovered and back-engineered technology, and captured and autopsied ETs. What Lazar, Cooper, and Dean claim to have read seems pulled from the same filing cabinet as the MJ-12 documents. If we refuse to take these at face value, then we need to imagine their possible significance and purpose.

There are a number of potential uses. One not too out-of-this-world is as a kind of test. Given that since the postwar advent of the phenomenon roughly half the general population believes that “flying saucers are real”, it follows roughly half of military personnel will hold similar beliefs. Imagine a junior intelligence officer is up for promotion. You present them with materials like those shown to Lazar and ask them to prepare a brief for a superior. A candidate whose critical faculties fail to filter such material as highly questionable if not outright disinformation is surely unreliable. The all-too-credulous might even be tempted to leak the world-shattering information they’ve been shown, and, when they are, understandably, demoted or dismissed, they can point to their discharge as proof of their claims and start a new career as a ufological whistleblower….

An important inspiration for my unwritten novel was the speculations of William Burroughs’ lifelong experiments on how to destabilize and destroy the reigning control system of image and association. Since, I’ve read Frances Stonor Saunders on how during the Cold War the CIA sought to weaponize the arts and learned about the related, farther-reaching Operation Mockingbird. Robbie Graham has explored ways the cinematic presentation of flying saucers and ETs was possibly spun in similar ways. Given the persistence of reports of the kinds of documents Lazar claims to have read, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that some version of the stable of writers I imagined actually exists.

This Gnostic-paranoid speculation concerning the manipulation if not outright fabrication of our collective imaginarium also brings to mind Jacques Vallée’s proposal that the UFO phenomenon itself might operate as a kind of control system, inspiring and guiding belief. If we combine these ideas, a compelling if somewhat giddy vision suggests itself,  that collective consciousness is a battlefield fought over by human and nonhuman players. In this context, the thought, whether Elon Musk’s or Nik Bostrom’s, that we might be living in a computer simulation appears a cheap rip off of The Matrix.

MMDTHLI_EC010_H

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weaver Twining Curtain: you can’t make this stuff up

Working on a forthcoming review of David G. Robertson’s UFOs, Conspiracy Theories and the New Age (2016), I’m reading Mark Pilkington’s Mirage Men (2010), an important source for Robertson’s history of the phenomenon.

On the pages concerning the Roswell crash, one reads, first, in a passage from the famous FBI memo of 8 July 1947, that:  “Major Curtain further advised that the object found resembles a high altitude weather balloon…” (39).

Pilkington then draws our attention to USAF General Nathan Twining’s memo of 23 September 1947, to the effect that the USAF lacked “physical evidence in the shape of crash recovered exhibits…” (40).

Finally, there’s reference to the USAF’s official version of events The Roswell Report:  Fact Versus Fiction in the New Mexico Desert (1995), whose author is retired USAF Colonel Richard Weaver.

What must strike someone with a literary mind or training is how telling all these names are in the way they evoke textuality (Curtain, Twining, Weaver). One of the delights of reading the UFO myth is just how patterns of this sort present themselves, as if the myth itself were being written in a manner as self-reflexive as Homer’s Iliad or Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Here, the very names wink at us, suggesting an unsettling fabrication of the real itself….

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!

Gerald Heard’s Super-Bees from Mars

Some readers of my review of Gerald Heard’s The Riddle of the Saucers might wonder why I bothered, given my obvious distaste for the book, and why they should bother, given that, considered ufologically, the book’s value is strictly historical, really adding nothing new to solving that riddle of the book’s title.

In the first place, the review is part of one of the projects underway here at the Skunkworks:  to read and review all the Ufo books mentioned in Jung’s Flying Saucers, reviews that will be collated under the category “Jung’s Ufological Bookshelf”. Aside from being an interesting task in itself, the project will contribute to better understanding Jung’s reflections on the subject, and, more importantly, begin the process of concretely articulating the material that Jung develops, connecting it, for instance, to his alchemical studies.

As should be obvious to anyone reading this blog with any attention, my central concern is to reveal the ways the UFO illuminates or takes up in its vortex (considered both poetically and para-scientifically) galaxies of other concerns, including our most pressing, social, ecological, and “spiritual” (Geistig), all in the hopes of someday presenting the work as a book or, ideally, a poem. (Though, I fear, the project will more likely end up a textual version of  Jonathan E. Caldwell‘s…).

I observed already in my review the prescience of Heard’s imagining the ufonauts to be insects. imagesIn the Alien Abduction literature, the ETs are often described as being insectoid in various ways, and the figure of the Mantis is prevalent. So, in the context of the development of the myth (if not the hard core of the mystery), Heard’s book is, intentionally or not, significant.

But consider Heard’s description (150) of how the Martian Super-Bees might appear:

A creature with eyes like brilliant cut-diamonds, with a head of sapphire, a thorax of emerald, an abdomen of ruby, wings like opal, legs like topaz.

From a strictly literary critical, stylistic or philological, perspective, this description is tired, but from a poeticreative one, much more suggestive.

Within the context of the myth as a whole, the insectoid form of the Super-Bee will rime with a more general insectoid theme that reappears, at least, in the context of Alien Abduction stories, as noted. Moreover, the red of the ruby, green of the emerald, and pure white light of the diamonds rimes with the colours of lights reported, for example, on the Phantom Airships of 1896/7. That UFOs are often described as flashing or strobing multicoloured lights or to be scintillating (like gems might be said to) winds another thread into the aesthetic texture.

However doubtful it is that Ezekiel’s Chariot is analogous to a modern-day UFO, that Ezekiel’s vision is read as a premodern sighting report makes it, too, part of the myth. (Parties, skeptical and curious, are encouraged to consult (Milton scholar!) Michael Lieb’s Children of Ezekiel:  Aliens, UFOs, the Crisis of Race, and the Advent of the End Time that unfolds the developing meaning of Ezekiel’s Chariot from the prophet’s own times to the present). In this context, it becomes not insignificant that “the appearance of the wheels [of the chariot] and their work was like unto the colour of a beryl” (Ezekiel I.16) and the throne on the chariot has “the appearance of a sapphire stone” (Ezekiel I.26). This happenstance rime is more suggestive than it might seem offhand.

Jung’s Ufo study is artistically compelling by its associating aspects of the Ufo visionary rumour not only to the concrete historical horizon within which flying saucers first appear but to Alchemy, that vast literature that functions as a subliminal inspiration in the works of Shakespeare, Blake, Yeats, Pound, H.D., Robert Duncan, and others. A few minutes of paging through the indices of Jung’s Alchemical Studies and Mysterium Coniunctionis turn up allusions to a description of

the sapphire stone, [which] takes on divers colours from the highest powers, and works in created things now in one wise, now in the contrary, administering at times good, at others evil, now life, now death, now sickness, now healing, now poverty, now riches (Mysterium Coniunctionis, 447)

taken, unsurprisingly from the Kabbala denudata. One of the goals of Chinese Alchemy was the creation of “the diamond body” (Alchemical Studies, 21). And, if one, understandably, were to associate the Latin lapis (as in the Alchemical expression Lapis Philosophorum, Philosopher’s Stone) with the constellation of  associations generated by just some of the precious stones that go to make up Heard’s Martian Super-Bee, one might be forgiven to call to mind the Alchemical “Visita Interiora Terra Rectificanto Inveniens Occultum Lapidem“: Visit the interior of the earth and rectifying [purifying] you will find the hidden stone.

Hear, the most preliminary tracing of associations leads us to the Hollow Earth, another famous dimension of the myth, as one putative origin of the UFOs (which rimes, too, with other associations, underground bases, or Earth Lights and ELF waves (which pun, in turn, brings in the whole dimension of Faery lore…)). Along with the depths of the earth’s oceans, the deeps of space, or even the depths of past or future time, or equally infinitely distant and near other dimensions, all these homes of the Other, all Other places, rime with Jung’s Unconscious (the psychoanalytic Other)….

Nor should one eschew the phonemic near rime of lapis and ‘laugh’ or the interlinguistic rime with French lapin….As Whitman said, “the theme (or, in this case, a kind of rabbit hole (!)) has vista”….

kircherearthfires

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remarks Re: M. J. Banias’ “The UFO Community; a Counter-Cultural Movement”

Over at  Terra Obscura M J Banias finished off 2018 and began 2019 with a bang, probing the nature of the UFO community and the implications of its more-or-less shared beliefs (read Part I here, and Part II here).

The social and political features of the UFO myth is an important topic, one too often overshadowed by speculations around the mystery of the phenomenon itself. Consistent with the intent of Skunkworks, Banias brackets the question of the truth, nature, or being of the UFO phenomenon to inquire into its, here, social meaning.

And it’s the resonance of that topic and approach that inspires my attempts to come to terms with Banias’ thoughts. I must admit up front I find much of what he writes  obscure and his conclusions often unwarranted, but I have done my best to present what I take to be his positions as strongly as I can and to use them more as jumping-off points for further reflection on the matter than as targets of criticism, though I will register my points of disagreement. (I’ll gladly send him my annotated version of his posts on request!).

Banias’ thesis seems to be that the UFO community is a subculture, some of whose defining beliefs are so at odds with mainstream culture they constitute a kind of critique of that culture, making the UFO subculture thereby into a counterculture.

There is a tension in just how the UFO subculture is to be delimited, a tension not without interesting consequences (that I pursue, below). On the one hand, the subculture is nebulous and ill-defined, to the point that it is “difficult to pin down, [difficult] to be able to clearly ascertain who is a member and who is not,” while, on the other, one can identify certain beliefs with sufficient clarity and force making it possible to claim that this sub/counter-culture “challenges every major established power system” in mainstream culture.

The starkest example in this regard is the belief in nonhuman intelligences, an Alien Other, “whether it be the Greys from Zeta Reticuli, Blue Avians, or a complex and intelligent overarching control system.” The single, and exemplary, example provided are the conclusions John Mack draws from his research into the Alien Abduction phenomenon, that “we participate in a universe or universes that are filled with intelligences from which we have cut ourselves off…”

How is that the Alien Other “challenges every major established power system”? On the one hand, by being above and therefore free to ignore political and legal orders, national sovereignty or laws that protect the person or property:

The UFO as object does not obey laws regarding sovereign airspace or national borders, nor do the extraterrestrial beings apply for visas before landing on foreign soil to scoop up plant samples, mutilate cows, or abduct people.

Moreover, “the events that seem to present themselves throughout the UFO and contactee narrative indicate extreme technological and/or intellectual abilities,” i.e., the UFO and ET are possessed of a technology and intelligence or wisdom that equally ignore our present physics and philosophy in their transcending them. And underwriting these challenges are, perhaps more importantly, the ways the UFO and the Alien Other are an affront to the mainstream view of reality, which, more reflexively that reflectively, denies their reality in defense of its own.

What’s important here is that, regardless of the ontological status of the Alien Other, the very idea proposes that our consensus reality, the self-evident validity of our social order, of our scientific knowledge of nature, and of our understanding of ourselves as human beings and of our place in these orders, is relative and questionable, i.e., in a certain sense, unreal. Of course, what gives the Alien Other this critical purchase is its possessing precisely an ontological ambiguity, an uncertainty as to whether it is merely a fictional delusion or not, its being, in this sense, mythological. That such phenomena may be true in a manner so at odds with what passes for the way things are is what irritates orthodox minds to react with such violent, irrational denial in place of sobre, inquisitive curiosity.

In some regards, Banias is in good company in holding these views, if I have understood him correctly. In terms of the challenges observations of UFOs or UAPs pose to our current knowledge of physics, no less than Jacques Vallee and collaborator Eric Davis state in a paper published 2003 that “continuing study of reported UAP [Unidentifed Aerial Phenomena] events is important: It may provide us with an existence theorem for new models of physical reality.” An important caveat, however, is that UAP or AAP (Anomalous Aerial Phenomena) can challenge our current physics only if they are in fact real phenomena whose behaviour and characteristics are at odds with our theories.

When in comes to potential social repercussions, Banias makes a strong claim:  “alien visitation…would call into question the concept of nationalism, state loyalty, and even citizenship itself. It would call into question the very nature of society and culture.” Ronald Reagan in a famous speech delivered before the UN in 1987 would seem to echo this sentiment:  “…how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.” But, in this case, unlike that of the challenges AAP pose to our physics, widespread public acceptance of an Alien presence, i.e., the mere belief in its reality and its thereby becoming part of our consensus reality, would be sufficient to catalyze the changes Banias imagines, if his claim is true in the first place. Those members of the UFO subculture worried about a false-flag alien invasion staged to usher in a New World Order would, I imagine, agree (not that I take Banias to be among their ranks).

And it’s just at this point that the tensions in Banias’ definition of the UFO subculture become salient. Who might be said to be a member, and why? Membership seems to be, to borrow Banias’s expression, a question of ideology, here, what someone thinks. After addressing the difficulty in delimiting membership, Banias goes on to essay some tentative commonalities:

…one common motif that runs through these communal moments is the notion of the extraterrestrial, the alien Other. Regardless of one’s personal beliefs regarding the notion of aliens, the history and mythology of the UFO narrative has fused the ET construct to the subculture….one ought to be clear on the fact that not everyone in the UFO community interprets the idea of the alien in the same way…

Notions, beliefs, discourses (such as history and mythology), and interpretations are all, in what I take to be Banias’ sense, or at least one of his senses, ideological. Membership in the subculture, then, depends upon one’s beliefs and concerns.

Banias is at great pains to argue that this set of beliefs and concerns is marginal to mainstream society; how else could it be counter-cultural? However, because, I would argue, of its ideological character, an interest in, fascination with, or concern over the Alien Other is, in fact, ubiquitous to, at least, North American society. Banias himself quotes anthropologist Debbora Battaglia in this regard:

…the alien Other is a “lived experience.” It is a construct that is everywhere. The alien, the flying saucer, UFOs, and various other paranormal symbols, appear in film and television, video games, corporate logos, beverage containers, laptop stickers, smartphone cases, and much more. These mythological realities are entrenched in popular culture, and perhaps more interestingly, under the control of human economic and social systems [or at least circulate within these systems…].

If “the alien Other is a ‘lived experience'” in this way, then who counts as a member of the subculture? Those fascinated by the mystery, who consume the videos, movies, books (all the commodities Battaglia lists above), who maybe attend conferences, whose obsessions and beliefs and products are too flaky for the mainstream? Those innocents whom the mystery touches, witnesses and Experiencers? Those who study the mystery in orthodox manners (e.g., David M. Jacobs as a historian or John E. Mack as a psychiatrist) or who, like Vallee or other members of the Invisible College, bring to bear the research methods of the physical sciences? Academics and others, like myself, who may not be focused on the UFO mystery itself but are more puzzled by the social phenomenon, from the point of view of religious studies, sociology, cultural studies, etc.? Members of the police, armed forces, and intelligence communities who themselves are either Experiencers or are tasked with dealing with the mystery or even using the mystery for their own ends, (e.g. the infamous Richard Doty?). Journalists who investigate and write on the mystery, whether a one-off article or a book or books? And, further out, what of those fans of UFO/ET themed fictions, regardless of media, e.g., the X-phile or even Trekkie? And those artists who produce the variegated UFO/ET themed works the members of the “subculture” consume? The subculture seems to run deep in the mainstream.

Nevertheless, one marginal, UFO subculture is, I think, definable, and amenable to much of what Banias says. Let me call its  members here for convenience “ET Fundamentalists”, those who believe UFOs are real vehicles for really existing nonhuman intelligences (Alien Others). Like their Christian counterparts, ET Fundamentalists share a core of beliefs that separates them from the nonbelievers in mainstream society but whose finer points are subject to differences in interpretation to the point of violent disagreement among believers. This space between the core beliefs and their nuances Banias, following Lorin Cutts, calls “the mythological zone,” which opens the way to schisms, sects, and denominations in fundamentalist Christianity or different “ideologies” in the UFO subculture. Both believe in a cosmos inhabited by nonhuman intelligences (angels and demons or Space Brothers or Greys) that take an active interest in the fate of individual human beings and the ultimate fate of humankind. Where Christians believe in the power of prayer and the suspension of the laws of nature (miracles), the ET fundamentalist believes in telepathy or channeling and the transcendence of our understanding of physics by ET technology. Both engage in a variety of pseudoscientific pursuits that mimic and sometimes engage with mainstream science:  think how similar much of ufology is to Creation Science that seeks to prove the truth of some particular, “literal” reading of the Bible. One might object that, where Christianity is essentially a religion of revelation, much of the fascination with the UFO is inspired by its mystery, but, for the ET Fundamentalist, the strip-tease of Disclosure takes the place of revelation, both the Christian and ET versions moving toward their own versions of Apocalypse, whether the millennium following the return of Christ at the End of Time, or the era “After Disclosure” of the truth and nature of the ET presence. Both subcultures create their own institutions, congregations or conferences, churches or groups, media producers and publishers. Nor should it need much pointing out how much intersection there has been between these two groups, whether Christian Fundamentalist interpretations of the UFO phenomenon or taking up of Christian themes and materials by the UFO subculture, e.g., the Ancient Astronaut interpretation of Biblical events that has been part of ufology from very nearly the beginning. Indeed, the parallels between American Fundamentalist Christianity and the American UFO subculture of ET Fundamentalists and their crossover suggest fertile ground for research by sociologists, scholars of religion, or cultural theorists.

This central problem with Banias’ essay, the character and scope of the UFO subculture, rises, in part, from how he (mis)applies (or so it seems to me) the cultural theory of Dick Hebdidge and his work Subculture:  The Meaning of Style (1979). Simply, Banias’ appropriation elides the materialist aspects of Hebdige’s analysis—class, race, socioeconomic conditions, etc.—in favour of the “ideological” (notions, beliefs, interpretations), which is why, once he brings to bear the work of more materialist anthropologists and political scientists, Battaglia and Jodi Dean, the subculture bleeds out into the mainstream.

That the beliefs of ET Fundamentalists are at odds with mainstream culture is well-taken, but the relation between this “subculture” (that awaits a rigorous characterization) is more nuanced than the ways it might be said to be marginal, critical, or counter. Indeed, mainstream culture takes up, envelops, or includes the subculture variously:  as kooky but harmless, as a market for goods and services, as personally dangerous (e.g., Heaven’s Gate), as a threat to national security (both because of the curiosity of its members and how membership might be used to cloak espionage), as a system of beliefs to be experimented with and perhaps exploited, etc. That the mythology, whether restricted or general, can function as a kind of ideology-critique (as I’ve outlined, above) is not uninteresting, but it need do more than merely contradict and thereby relativize mainstream notions (any fiction can do this); it needs to reveal as fictions those truths the powerful maintain as natural and given (“reified”), truths that serve to maintain power and privilege as natural and unalterable, e.g.. Margaret Thatcher’s quip that “There is no such thing as society.”

Indeed, as I’ve long maintained, the UFO myth tacitly repeats and thereby maintains and entrenches the reigning ideology of present-day, advanced societies, instrumental reason if not the commodity form. Banias himself seems to unwittingly agree when he writes in the concluding remarks to his posts: “To look deeply into the UFO phenomenon…we realize that we are staring into a mirror.” When we behold the humanoid-all-too-humanoid ETs and their technology, we do indeed gaze at distorted versions of ourselves. And it is in the failure to recognize ourselves in this distorted form that reifies, makes immediate and unconscious, everything we project there.

For all my points of disagreement with Banias, his brief foray opens interesting and rewarding vistas. The sociology of the community of UFO believers and the more general semiotics of the UFO and ET as a sign in society in general are fields yet to be surveyed with sufficient thoroughness and rigor. The UFO is, further, and more importantly, a site of social struggle, between experience and authority (witnesses and experiencers vs. skeptics and debunkers, official and unofficial), competing claims to knowledge and legitimacy (i.e. the UAP and nonhuman intelligence as topics of institutionally sanctioned research), access to information and political suppression or disinformation, and much more, all informed, if not formed, by class, gender, race, etc. Here, the analogy is not so much to Plato’s Cave as it is to scientists’ dismissing peasants’ claims to have witnessed meteors and finding meteorites. Let the prospecting begin!

truth

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