Art by Lucinda Horan
(Afore we begin, readers may be interested to know that yesterday Whitley Strieber responded to me for the first time publicly, over here; I replied & my comment was placed into moderation queue. It still wasn’t up the last time I looked. A later comment ~ from Linus Minimix ~ went through, however . . .)
“Does the psychic in general—that is, the spirit, or the unconscious—arise in us; or is the psyche, in the early stages of consciousness, actually outside us in the form of arbitrary powers with intentions of their own, and does it gradually come to take its own place within us in the course of psychic development? Were the dissociated psychic contents—to use our modern terms—ever parts of the psyches of individuals, or were they rather from the beginning psychic entities existing in themselves according to the primitive view as ghosts, ancestral spirits and the like? Were they only by degrees embodied by man in the course of development, so that they gradually constituted in him that world which we now call the psyche?”
—C. G. Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul
Still grappling for a way to wind up the first part of this work in a satisfactory manner, I checked Strieber’s website for any new subscriber tidbits and saw that the commentary on “Pain” had been posted four days earlier. I filled a hot bath and settled in to listen, with a pen and pad on hand for taking notes.
Strieber talks about rewriting “Pain” during the days after December 26th, 1985, as the memories of his alien encounters began to surface. Strieber attributes his use of UFO imagery in the story to a book his brother gave him for Christmas on the subject of alien abduction (Science and the UFOs, by Jenny Randles and Peter Warrington). He refers to how the character in “Pain” mentions reading a secret government document, about which he—the 2013 Strieber—insists he knew nothing at the time. Once again this contradicts his later admission of having received inside information about government secrecy around UFOS from John Gliedman in 1984/5, through his, Strieber’s, association with MARS Inc. (Mars Anomalies Research Society). What intrigued me more than this, however, was the idea that Strieber, in writing “Pain,” had allowed his imagination to be so profoundly influenced simply by leafing through a book on UFOs.
In Communion, Strieber writes that, when he first dipped into the book, a few days after December 26th, it frightened him so much that he put it down. He picked it up again in January and this time read it to the end, where he found a description of an experience similar to his own.
I was shocked. I was lying in bed at the time and I just stared and stared at the words. . . My first reaction was to slam the book closed as if it contained a coiled snake . . . My blood went cold: Nobody must ever, ever know about this, not even Anne. I decided to lock the business away in my mind. A few mornings later at about ten, I was sitting at my desk when things just seemed to cave in on me. Wave after wave of sorrow passed over me. I looked at the window with hunger. I wanted to jump. I wanted to die. I just could not bear this memory and I could not get rid of it (p. 40).
Such extreme impressionability is one of the symptoms of a disembodied mind. I am extremely impressionable myself, so I speak from experience, and I would never have been so impacted by Strieber’s work—or been compelled to try and separate his fiction from my truth—were it not the case.
A writer lives much of his life in a virtual realm of language-generated imagery. In such a realm, words can often seem more real than direct experience. The stuff of dreams—especially if a person makes a living from it—can start to seem like the substance of reality. In that context, it makes sense to me that a book given to him by his brother (the person closest to Strieber’s own background) could have provided context for understanding his experiences. A writer’s business, after all, is using words and images (narratives) to translate unconscious material into rational form. If UFO-imagery gave Strieber a framework through which to access suppressed memories and allow them to come into consciousness, as he himself suggests, he would, in effect, have re-imagined the memories into being.
I am now fairly sure I did the same thing, using Strieber’s works. What goes around, comes around, and in an odd way this relates not just to Strieber but to my own father, who aspired to being a writer before he met my mother. Enchanted—or entranced—by the comforting delights of the female body and mind, he promptly gave up the writer’s quest of self-invention and returned, dutifully, to the family fold. Perhaps his failure to develop his “tool” left him powerless to resist the pull of his own past? Was joining the family business an unconscious way of allowing himself to be reabsorbed into the mother’s psyche? Certainly by doing so, eventually, inevitably, he turned himself into his father’s image—which is an unconscious way to repossess the mother.
On the “Pain” commentary audio, Strieber makes a remarkable admission: “Nobody who knows the past truly,” he says, “can really know themselves. They can’t act spontaneously.” The statement is an exact reversal of the psychological wisdom that says becoming conscious of our past is essential to knowing ourselves, to getting free from the mind-generated images which control and direct our actions. Strieber’s point of view is sourced in mystical beliefs that appear to be at odds with psychological principals. He sees the body as “a filtering device that lets us experience life,” by shutting off awareness of the past and the future, giving us the illusion of free will. Paradoxically, he stresses the need to escape the timestream and enter into worlds beyond death. He describes his experiences of doing so on the audio as “a leaving of time as well as space, and you feel it that way, conveyed in a machine that takes you into other worlds at other levels of reality but which is in essence a conveyance, perhaps one that is itself a brilliant and living being.”
A conveyance that is itself a brilliant and living being, the words evoke an infant carried by its mother. Freud wrote that “the ego is ultimately derived from bodily sensations, chiefly from those springing from the surface of the body [and] may thus be regarded as a mental projection of the surface of the body.” So what becomes of that mental projection when the body is imprinted—and the soul wounded—by trauma? A life beyond death, as Strieber imagines it, is a life free from sex, in denial of the body, divorced from life force, a phantom existence that is eternal only so far as it is immaterial, ungrounded, unreal. The only infinity which the ego can imagine for itself is a prison, not of the body but of the mind’s image of the body. Maybe the homunculi of the gray alien is that image, complete with bulging eyes and withered limbs? It would be difficult to imagine a less erotic body image.
Greg Mogenson (p. 56) describes trauma as “the body of the world and the body of man.” He pictures a self that “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.” 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, 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 in order to escape the body of the mother; yet paradoxically, the attempt only ensures it remains forever bonded to her.
“I will never really understand the relationship between mother and son. I will never part easily from her.”
—Whitley Strieber, Transformation
Unlike my father, Strieber did develop his writing ability. 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. And Whitley’s “Greys” have a clear literary precedent in Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Brownies,” as described by Stevenson in “A Chapter on Dreams”:
Who are the Little People? They are near connections of the dreamer’s, beyond doubt; they share in his financial worries and have an eye to the bank-book; they share plainly in his training; they have plainly learned like him to build the scheme of a considerate story and to arrange emotion in progressive order; only I think they have more talent; and one thing is beyond doubt, they can tell him a story piece by piece, like a serial, and keep him all the while in ignorance of where they aim. . . . And for the Little People, what shall I say they are but just my Brownies, God bless them! who do one-half my work for me while I am fast asleep, and in all human likelihood, do the rest for me as well, when I am wide awake and fondly suppose I do it for myself. That part which is done while I am sleeping is the Brownies’ part beyond contention; but that which is done when I am up and about is by no means necessarily mine, since all goes to show the Brownies have a hand in it even then. . . . My Brownies are somewhat fantastic, like their stories hot and hot, full of passion and the picturesque, alive with animating incident; and they have no prejudice against the supernatural. [M]y Brownies have not a rudiment of what we call a conscience. (Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Martin A. Danahy, 2005, Appendix, “Stevenson’s ‘A Chapter on Dreams’” p. 95).
Stevenson also suffered from night terrors as a child and visitations by the infamous night hag. “[He] would be haunted, for instance, by nothing more definite than a certain hue of brown, which he did not mind in the least while he was awake, but feared and loathed while he was dreaming” (hence “the Brownies?”). If both Stevenson and Strieber found their early experiences terrifying and traumatic, was writing the events down a way to placate the beings (the forces of the unconscious) and keep them at bay? At the very least, by writing and doing what they did best, they were able to flatten those forces out and turn them into (non-)fiction, thereby exercising temporary control over them. (Writing is a great way to gain a feeling of control over one’s existence by reframing one’s memories. A select and delete here, an addition or alteration there, and the whole shape of “reality” is magically altered.)
In the afore-cited passage from Oz magazine about The Process, we were told that “no one is actually very keen on mingling with the ‘greys’ in order to put across the message. Thus a Process magazine is born.” Writing is a way to reach people without having to interact with them, to stay safely ensconced inside a bubble and project—via language—an image of the self into the world of “the greys.” It is also a means to recruit the elements of the world that meet the desires of the projected image-self (and create one’s own cult).
Was Whitley trying to write himself beyond the reach of the visitors by giving them what he believed they wanted, simultaneously drawing others into his bubble to support his version of reality? At a deeper level, this would be an unconscious way for Strieber-the-writer to act out Whitley-the-child’s desire to break free of the mother’s influence and become his own father—by wielding his “weapon” (mind) and using his “tool” just as the Master (good father) proscribed. The pen may be mightier than sword, but mind is no match for mater. The visitors even came to check up on him: two of them (mom and dad) were seen in a bookshop by Strieber’s publisher, Bruce Lee (the great martial artist?), clucking and pointing out the bits he got wrong. Strieber describes the incident as a theatrical enactment of parental interest in a child’s activities. The child needs validation from its parents, as the only way to develop an internal sense of right and wrong, true from false.
Back in the bath tub, I heard Strieber read the following part from “Pain”:
She came to me and supported me while one of the others loaded a high powered rifle. I was slack with terror. The bullets clattered into the magazine, and one of them clicked into the breach. She held me under my arms, keeping me erect so that the bullet would pierce my chest in the right place.
This is the failed Oedipal enactment in miniature. Janet—the angelic initiator-dominatrix—holds him erect (obvious sexual connotations, linking mother with lover in later life); she holds him like a mother holds a baby that can’t stand on its own power, teaching it to walk. Those first few steps are the beginning of the end of symbiotic union with the mother. While still enmeshed in the mother’s psyche, the baby experiences itself as all-powerful: the mother’s body is an extension of its will and she seems to move according to the infant’s every desire. To begin the process of leaving the mother’s body is to experience the exact inverse of that feeling: total powerlessness—like a bullet to the heart. If the child is overwhelmed by this feeling, it will desire one thing only: to be enveloped again in the mother’s embrace.
To read full essay, order Prisoner of Infinity: UFOs, Social Engineering, and the Psychology of Fragmentation