21.3.16

JUST IMAGINE

Whitley Strieber and Jeffrey J Kripal. The Super Natural: A New Vision of the Unexplained. Tarcher, 2016.

There is no doubt that Whitley Strieber is a person of rare imagination, who produced some very effective horror stories. He also says claim to an extraordinary number of anomalous experiences, some more of which are related in this book. These include encounters with blue kobolds, a feral boy, a succubus, luminous orbs and much more including past life memories. He no longer thinks that these are due to the actions of aliens, though what they are remains moot. Reading all of this makes one wonder how he ever had the time to eat his breakfast let alone write his novels.

Everyone will have their own take on this, mine, for what it is worth, is that for whatever reason from childhood onward Whitley Strieber retreated into a world of private imagination, an imagination always in danger of overwhelming him. As an adult he was able for a good few years to channel and control this imagination into his successful novels. Then in the mid 1980s he co-wrote a book called War Day in which he and his family became fictional characters in this novel of a post nuclear apocalypse America. The line between imagination and reality was breached, and, one suspects, the subject matter of that book sent him into a very dark place indeed, in which he was haunted by all sorts of nightmares and dark imaginings. 

When he read about alien abductions this provided him with a template around which these dreams and visions could be organized into some sort of coherent narrative.There is little of that coherence now, as if material from the deep imagination is just pouring out, with little structure, and his various attempts to construct the start of narratives soon collapse back into confusion. Are his experiences real, out-there things, or something in his own head, or something else entirely. Nothing is resolved. I guess (and only guess) that nearly all of this only exists in his own imagination, though whether that is spontaneous or crafted, or even whether for him there is now any difference is another moot point. Indeed one suspects that for Strieber the difference between imagination, spontaneous or otherwise, and “reality” has long since blurred away.

Can his co-writer, Professor of Religion Jeffrey Kripal make any sense of this. He sees Strieber’s experiences as a kind of proto-religious experience, but like all too many “anti-materialists” Kripal actually seems more “anti-imagination”. Or rather he sees imagination as only having real validity as if it exists in some transpersonal realm 'out there', where dreams can leave traces on the ground. Like so many others in this field Kripal is in search of signs and wonders, which reveal that the universe is somehow warm and cuddly and is running to a pre-setplan, as if human beings cannot ever be trusted to come with meanings and plans of their own. 

Sometimes this leads to odd conclusions. For example he narrates a story of how a colleague found a honey jar in flour tin, as if it had been teleported there, and that meant that “materialism is false”. No it doesn’t, if true, all that would show is that the physical world is a lot weirder than we thought it was. It seems to me that all of these narratives are myths which deal with fundamental human concerns, rather than hypothetical external realities. - Peter Rogerson.

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