“Pain” and the Killing Mother

Trauma is the body of the world and the body of man. “Chance, and death, and mutability” are our existential lot. To defend himself from the ontological insecurity of his existence, man has developed schizoid defenses. To use Laing’s terminology, the self has been divided. The self splits off from the body and hovers above it—a false self. World becomes mere worldliness, and a transcendental, heavenly world is split off and affirmed (Mogenson, p. 56).

The projected “heavenly world” of the false-child-self is an image of the mother’s body, and of itself becoming its own father and conceiving itself. It is an imaginary future projected from a traumatic past, recreating itself in its own image. It is the image of the body projected out of the mind, to disconnect from the body. Mirrors within mirrors, gazing, abysmally. The image of the mother-bonded child projected outside the reach of the mother, incorporeally, is eternally rejecting its own body so as to escape the body of the mother, while, paradoxically, remaining bonded to her.

In 1986, when he embarked on the writing of Communion, he also initiated a new career for himself as a non-fiction writer and became the Chosen Scribe for “the visitors.” Superhuman beings dictated to him (literally, by the time the Master of the Key came along) what to write. They admonished him when he got it wrong. Since Strieber found these early experiences both terrifying and traumatic, was part of his motivation for writing the events down to placate the beings (the forces of his unconscious) and keep them at bay? At the very least, by writing and doing what he did best, he could flatten those forces out and turn them into (non)fiction. He could have temporary control over them.

From Strieber’s “Pain”:

Over it all there was a soft and gentle song. They love us. They do. We are their grass, their trees, their rooting piglets. They have grown immense on us, sapping us, whipping us with war and famine and pestilence, designing brain and body for more and more breeding, until the world is choked with billions upon billions of shining, brilliant human souls ready for the slaughter. Ready also, for growth. [Strieber interjects a comment: “We are harvested here. And it’s not a bad thing!”] The point of a sacrifice is that it satisfies the need of a higher being. This need is not for suffering, though, or death: it is for the enrichment of the soul. . . . The horror of the sacrifice is an illusion, for the end beyond—the soul absorbed into the breast of these mighty beings—is rapture as well as oblivion. . . . She [i.e., Janet] comes not only for me, but also for those yet unborn, for the old upon their final beds, and the millions from the harvest of war. She comes for me, but also for you, as in the end for us all.

The sub-Nietzschean passages in “Pain” which wax lyrical about mass slaughter and then frame it within a quasi-Catholic context of redemption through sacrifice seem to illustrate how Strieber reconciled the horror of his experiences—whatever their actual nature—and his own fear of death and/or damnation, with his Christian faith in the goodness of God. But, for me at least, it sounds more like a hideous rationalization for, and glorification of, war and destruction—and worse, a spiritualization of it. And the flip side of this is a seeming incapacity to recognize something that has become more and more glaringly obvious to me: that by rewriting his past, Strieber, the man, has been trying to become the father of Whitley, the child, and to rescue himself from the all-consuming reach of his mother’s psyche.

This is what Strieber has been fleeing from, in my estimation of the material: the psychic womb that so few men ever identify, much less pull free of, which he represents in “Pain” via Janet’s devouring sexuality, and in Communion via the psychic caresses (and brutal penetrations) of the visitors. The visitors, and Strieber’s own metaphoric re-enactments in the form of fiction and non-fiction and every variation in between, underscore this one truth, the most appalling realization of all to the infantilized psyche, that of the “killing mother.”

So if this is the unspeakable secret of “the dangerous sacred,” then Strieber is right when he says “this is not a sex story.” It goes even deeper than sex.

2 thoughts on ““Pain” and the Killing Mother

  1. “The sub-Nietzschean passages in “Pain” which wax lyrical about mass slaughter and then frame it within a quasi-Catholic context of redemption through sacrifice seem to illustrate how Strieber reconciled the horror of his experiences— whatever their actual nature—and his own fear of death and/or damnation, with his Christian faith in the goodness of God.”

    It’s interesting how charged Strieber’s book titles are with references to the catholic sacrament of the eucharist. “Communion” is an obvious one. “Transformation” carries with it the hint of transubstantiation. Though I’ve never read them, one gets the impression that Strieber’s early works appear to be studies in blood.

    To complete it, the translation of “pain” into french is “bread”. Bread, of course, represents the body of christ.

    Interesting, also, that the catholic church has been outed as an institution steeped with a long history of child sexual abuse.

    When does Whitley recognize his first encounters with the visitors happened? About the time of his first communion? Age seven or eight…

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