“When he lay down to prepare himself for sleep, he no longer sought amusement, but printable and profitable tales; and after he had dozed off in his box-seat, his little people continued their evolutions with the same mercantile designs. [A]nd, for the most part, whether awake or asleep, he is simply occupied—he or his little people—in consciously making stories for the market. This dreamer (like many other persons) has encountered some trifling vicissitudes of fortune. When the bank begins to send letters and the butcher to linger at the back gate, he sets to belabouring his brains after a story, for that is his readiest money–winner; and, behold! at once the little people begin to bestir themselves in the same quest, and labour all night long, and all night long set before him truncheons of tales upon their lighted theatre.”
—Robert Louis Stevenson, “A Chapter on Dreams”
The next day I got up, thinking about finishing off part one of the opus that never ended. I wondered why I had included the detail of listening to Strieber’s audio in the bathtub. It occurred to me that I had unconsciously chosen a “safe,” womb-like space in order to let myself to see certain things I might otherwise not have been able to see. While all of this apparently related to Strieber, it was just as much about my own psychic formation, or deformation, and presumably a lot more so, since the secret subject of every written piece is always its author. Rather than going straight to work, I decided to read some more of Greg Mogenson’s A Most Accursed Religion while having my morning porridge. I began to read chapter two, “An Infectious Savior.” It begins with a description of a woman’s dream of being in a bathtub, a light shining out of her head. The woman takes batteries out of her head, after which she finds herself in her apartment, watching workmen replacing the glass from her windows with blank sheets of writing paper. I read these words: “He told her that he believed the dream was suggesting that writing could provide a container for what her life could not contain.”
The man in Mogenson’s narrative (who is interpreting the woman’s dream) describes how, after hearing the dream, he reads a book (by Northrop Frye) called The Great Code: The Bible and Literature. The day before, I’d had an email exchange with a spiritual teacher about this present work. He had asked me: “Have you got [Strieber] locked inside a punchbag?” I replied: “It’s more like The DaVinci Code, with the Strieber Body (of work) as the Mona Lisa.”
The man in A Most Accursed Religion (Mogenson’s stand-in?) finds a clue to the woman’s dream when the book he’s reading refers to the Leviathan, whom he identifies with the woman. Less than an hour after reading about Leviathan, I came across this among some Lloyd deMause material:
What I found was that the cartoons, past and present, of the enemy in war were dominated by an image that was even more widespread than that of the dangerous mommy: it was that of a seabeast, often with many heads or arms, a dragon or a hydra or a serpent or an octopus that threatened to poison the lifeblood of the nation.
The man in Mogenson’s narrative asks himself: “How is it that this modern woman in a bathtub with batteries in her head manifests the chaos monster?” The man goes to sleep and has a dream of his own, also with a bathtub in it, this one covered with crosses. He receives a telephone call; a male voice tells him “The anti-incarnational ideas you are now conceiving are very, very evil.” The dream continues some more, and then he wakes.
“Jesus,” he thought, “is it through you that the spirit of the flesh enters, that Leviathan enters bathtubs and persons? Your cross scales the non-human, archetypal world down into man. Are you the carrier of the contagion from which we suffer?”
The crucifixion, writing, Leviathan, and the killing mother were all being linked together by the image of a bathtub! The next passage in Mogenson’s book was about Gnosticism compared to psychotherapy:
Gnosticism is based not in holy writ, but in the holiness of writing itself. It is not the story of Christ that brings salvation; it is the storying Christ. The incorporeal (non-incarnate) Gnostic-Jesus is metaphor, and metaphor is the uncanonical solution for the Old Testament trauma, the Old Testament God. Gnosticism is healing fiction. The nailing of Christ to the wooden cross was, in the Gnostic view, the crucifixion of the capacity to make fiction, the nailing of metaphor, literalism (p. 78, emphasis added).
I realized that this might be a key to the whole project. What I was attempting with my ever-expanding psycho-history of Strieber was a gnostic kind of therapy, “healing fiction.” Perhaps that was even what Strieber was attempting? But, like Frankenstein’s monster or the sorcerer’s apprentice, it had all somehow gone horribly wrong, and the metaphor-maker had become the literalist, the storyteller the scientist, pinned to the cross of his own salvation story. (The fictional Strieber was even pierced in “Pain,” as part of his execution fantasy.)
The Gnostic idea of the Christ-Deity is very different from the Christian (or Catholic) one: Christ is the kingdom within us, the authentic self. He/It is eternally present, waiting for us to discover it. The Christian idea is that Christ was a Man who was also God, who died for our sins in a single historical act of self-sacrifice on which we are forever compelled to gaze. The difference between an external sacrificial event and an internal discovery is the difference between history and fiction, fact and metaphor. To take a psychic reality as a physical one is to take metaphor for fact, externalize it, and give it power over us. It turns trauma into God—which is when transference fails, and religion, accursed religion, triumphs over the soul.
I read on:
But the job of analysis, at least a Gnostic analysis, is to liberate spirit from the contingency of the patient’s life through metaphor. [It] does not aim to repeat the intercourse that has made for the patient’s first birth. Rather, by means of a subtler union, its aim is to reveal the primal scene, interrupt the parental coitus, and free the soul from its Oedipal bondage . . . Reclining in the repose of metaphor, the patient is released from the prose of his incarnational life. By restating in poetic terms the incidents of his life which the language of prose had preserved as trauma, the patient frees his soul to follow its desires (p. 78-9, emphasis added).
Strieber insists the contact experience is universal, and it may well be. What I have seen, however, and what he himself has described—while apparently unaware of the metaphors he has employed and been shaped by—is a psychotherapeutic theater of archetypes. It is a form of daimonic transference process by which Strieber—and by extension the whole of humanity—is being forced to re-witness the primal scene of his/our mimetic desire/Oedipal longing, and have it interrupted.
Strieber’s bondage is the human bondage: that of the infant who wishes to please his caregivers by doing what he is told but who is being told to go his own way. So far he has apparently been unable to reconcile that double bind—the oldest human dilemma of all, fate and free will—and obey the imperative of autonomy. He is forever falling back into the mother’s breast, even as he picks up the pen, the surrogate phallus of his emasculated manhood, to prove that he is free to write his own life story. Yet all the while, silently and in secret, he continues to receive dictation. Judging by the signs (that of his own fiction, intentional and otherwise), Strieber has yet to recognize the metaphor which the visitors have presented to him (that he was mothered and fathered by trauma), and so remains enslaved by the fantastic and horrifying fact of their existence.
“The familial metaphor is called into play as a basic model of propitiating any overwhelming event whatsoever” (p. 80). Whatever trauma we experience in later life, we must always refer back to the original family dynamics, inherent within our psyche, in order to make sense of it. Yet paradoxically, maddeningly, being aware that an original trauma has happened at all depends on our making sense of it. Not only that, but the re-enactment event (Strieber’s close encounter experience of 1985, for example) is likewise limited by our capacity to make sense of it. It is shaped by the sense-making apparatus which we inflict upon it. An early and formative experience of trauma will therefore turn all subsequent experiences that are beyond our comprehension into traumata. Since the nature of God is beyond our comprehension, God (and the psyche) inevitably becomes trauma.
“If what I was dealing with amounted to some sort of deep and instinctive attempt to create a new deity for myself, to remain agnostic was to put the conscious me in the interesting position of opposing my own unconscious aim.”
—Whitley Strieber, Communion
A traumatic event is not pushed out of awareness; it is too big to register in awareness. Traumata only return from repression when a sufficient inventory of comparable events provides a reality schema that can more or less absorb them. The so-called repetition compulsion is a way to trying to create the field of comparable events in whose terms the traumatic event can be relativized and experienced (p. 87).
Strieber seems to have used writing as a way to allow “suppressed memories” (events too large for him to register consciously) into awareness. Judging by the evidence of his own narrative, writing has also been a way for Strieber to re-traumatize himself, in a (possibly misguided) attempt to “desensitize” himself to the traumatic material in his unconscious and make room for the past events to be re-cognized by his conscious mind. If so, this may have inevitably and tragically overlapped with the child’s compulsion to self-traumatize as a way to dissociate and enter into a blissful, fantasy space free from the pain of differentiation—to be re-immersed into the mother’s body.
After his mysterious sojourn in London at the very center of the London countercultural, occult, UFO, LSD-soaked, Processean emergence of Leviathan-like id-energy, Strieber had a kind of breakdown (still unclear to him to this day). As so often occurs when a person gets too close to their unconscious material, he snapped back into conformity and joined an advertising company in New York (Cunningham and Walsh). By 1978, having achieved vice-presidency, he quit “to pursue a writing career” (Wikipedia is my only source on this). A press kit for Majestic in 1990 said “Before he became a writer Strieber worked first in the newspaper business, then in the film business and finally in the advertising industry, leaving in 1978 as a vice president.” 1978 was the year he published his first novel, The Wolfen, which became a best-seller and was turned into a Hollywood movie in 1981, the year he published The Hunger (which also became a Hollywood movie). Both books were about a hidden, supernatural, highly intelligent predator that sees humans as its rightful prey.
Strieber’s younger brother, Richard, had by then become a lawyer like their father, Karl Strieber. Entering the world of advertising in his mid-twenties appears to have been Strieber’s attempt to become a responsible adult, like his father (and like my own father, who entered the business world, also in his mid-twenties, after a period of wandering). Though Strieber, like my father, was successful, he did what my father never did: he turned his back on material success to dedicate himself to (what I can only assume was) his passion, and became a writer. He returned to the world of the imagination. Whether or not he had help making this almost instant passage from advertising vice president to best-selling author, Strieber must have been internally driven to write. Everything about him clearly indicates that fact. According to Strieber, he wrote his first story when he was six—it was about the Moon (a symbol for the mother). This suggests that, from the start, writing for Strieber (as for all serious writers) was a way of accessing, processing, and releasing material from his unconscious. Whatever precipitated his breakdown in 1968, it had been stewing under the surface for almost ten years; eventually it had to come out. Strieber found the safest, but also the most constructive, way to let it: through the appliance of metaphor, i.e., storytelling.
Strieber learned the “Gnostic” art of turning the facts of trauma into the metaphors of transformation. He learned it so well, in fact, that it may have become second nature for him. By 1983, with the release of The Hunger film (with David Bowie, who played an alien in the 1975 Nicholas Roeg film, The Man Who Fell to Earth), he was at the top of his game as an author of horror fiction. His follow-up novels, Black Magic (about government attempts to harness psychic energy) and The Night Church (about a satanic cult), were less successful, and in 1984 he entered into quasi-non-fiction terrain with Warday (written with James Kunetka), about the aftermath of nuclear war. In an article he wrote for MUFON in 1986, “My Experience with the Visitors,” Strieber drew a clear line between the two types of writing: “Before Warday I published four entertainment novels . . . While these were horror novels, I have certainly never been a believer in the occult. My important books concern problems of the real world and are based on carefully researched fact.”
In the light of his current position, it’s curious that, even post-Communion experiences, he chose to dismiss things of an occult nature as not belonging to the “real world”! The year after Warday, Strieber had his close encounter experience and was propelled headlong and literally screaming into the chapel perilous of fantastic non-fiction (a rarified domain he shared with Carlos Castaneda, but precious few others). The line he had drawn between his “entertainment [horror] novels” and his “important, carefully researched” books was effectively erased. How did he feel about that? In 1988, Strieber said to an interviewer:
What have I done? Have I conjured something, in effect by occult means, by writing these books or . . . ? I mean sometimes I have the feeling they’re like breaking through—that I’ve opened a door that is supposed to remain closed, that they’re just sort of coming through it like a bunch of, you know, like they’re hungry little monsters; and at other times I feel like it’s an absolutely wonderful thing that’s happened. I just don’t know what exactly [sic] the direction to go.
Like Robert Louis Stevenson and his Brownies—who brought him not just nightmares but the tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to keep the bankers at bay—Whitley is torn down the middle. The very force that provides him with his livelihood, also threatens to devour him.
As I arrange all of these recently found mirror shards into some sort of shape, I begin to see a distinctly familiar form staring back at me. At a certain point, Strieber had started turning his unseen trauma-parents (and parental traumas) into fiction unconsciously, “imagineering” the events which he then recounted as his first non-fiction best-seller. Communion (for which he allegedly received a million dollar advance) turned out to be his most financially successful work ever, yet it came at a considerable cost to his reputation. A popular horror writer whose sales are flagging and who comes out with an incredible, horrifying account of alien contact—insisting it is a true story—is inevitably going to be met with a degree of skepticism, even hostility. At that precise point in his life and career, metaphor irretrievably and forever crossed over into the realms of fact, Strieber’s horror fiction spilled over into his life, and his life turned into a non-fiction horror novel—literally.
“Is it possible for us to actually disappear into our own imagination?”
—Whitley Strieber, 1988
During the period described above, Strieber apparently entered, an “eternal return” of trauma and retraumatization. This is a realm in which the reality of the psyche becomes a metaphor for imagination, and then flattens itself into physical facts for the author narrating them to validate his existence thereby. By creating his literary Opus Magnus, Strieber was seeing, and gaining, the approval of mother and father both, his twin masters “reading over his shoulders,” keeping him enthralled to the magical tales he told. It was a potentially infinite loop, and Strieber was not just the prisoner of it: he was also the prison keeper. Awe turned to horror as I realized that something similar had happened to me while working on what began as a 4,000 word essay, in response to Jeffrey Kripal’s article on George Bataille, and was now 120,000 words of easily the most all-engrossing work I had ever been involved with. It possessed me like a demon and I too became its prisoner—finding myself in exactly the same predicament as my subject!
No wonder Strieber’s writing captured my imagination over the years and all-but-obsessed me: Communion and Transformation (and later The Key) read as if their author’s life—or at least his sanity—depended on his writing them. I suspect it is because it did, that writing was the only tool Strieber had for coming to terms with his past, and that it became inextricably bound up with reframing, and reimagining, his present until even he couldn’t tell the difference. It was essential to this process that he present the accounts as “true,” ensuring they ended up on the non-fiction shelves of bookshops and libraries. Yet if there is one thing I have learned by writing this present work, it is that there is no such thing as non-fiction—which means there is no such thing as fiction, either.
In writing this first part of the exploration, I have gathered evidence to support my own perspective. To do that, I have had to paper over the cracks and fill in the holes of my own understanding, to conceal all my blind spots from myself, and from the reader, to give an appearance of coherence and make it seem, as Strieber is fond of stressing, that “This is real!” In fact, this is fiction, because fiction is all the fragmented psyche can ever write. It’s the most crucial kind of fiction, the kind that makes sense out of incoherence. But if you have believed any of it, you haven’t understood it.
As Jeffrey Kripal likes to point out, there is no clear line between psychosis and vision. This is especially true for writers. Writers learn to suspend their own disbelief and to summon the forces of the unconscious and command them to materialize before their eyes. When it works, they feel as though the story writes itself, as though the characters have come to life and started to tell the author what they want. The writer becomes a machine of conveyance, reporting the action and events that unfold before an internal eye. That’s the way it goes for the fiction writer, but what about the non-fiction writer? What if the same thing were to happen while writing an autobiographical account of alien encounters, say—or a psycho-history of a horror writer who fell down the rabbit hole of his unconscious and was never seen again? What then?
The idea that the UFO is inseparable from the act of perception itself—is in some inexpressible sense the organ of perception externalized—is an idea which can’t be understood or explained verbally. It can’t be told; it can only be shown. And the text which demonstrates such a perceptual conundrum—such a cosmic mind-fuck—must of necessity itself be only semi-coherent. The UFO is an unidentified flying object that is only relatively unidentified, relatively flying, and relatively an object. It is an observable event relative to the individual observing it. The UFO event is a co-creation of observer and observed. It is the vesica piscis, the intersection of worlds and of narratives.
When we read a book, it is not accurate to say the words in the book replace our own thoughts; we don’t entirely stop our own thought processes when we read, but those processes get mixed together with the written words we recite internally. The result is a hybrid narrative, made up of equal parts inner and outer, of the author’s voice and our own. The same is true of the UFO. Exposure to it imprints our consciousness, even as our consciousness interfaces with the UFO and determines the form it takes; this in turn influences the sort of impact it has on us, and so on, in an infinity loop of forever mutating mutual influence, an infinity of mirrors.
The only way out of this prison is to look all the way in to that infinity and see who, or what, is looking back. We can’t ever identify what we see, however, because that which is identifying and that which is being identified is the same, and because, in the very act of identification, it transforms, and is transformed.
[End of Part One]
2013 MP3: “Writing Wrongs.”
 “Most early cultures believed in this beast as a dragon that was associated with watery caves or lakes; modern wars show the beast as a blood-sucking, many-headed enemy. This serpentine, poisonous monster I soon began calling the Poisonous Placenta, since it resembled what the actual placenta must have sometimes felt like to the growing fetus, particularly when the placenta fails in its primary tasks of cleansing the fetal blood of wastes and of replenishing its oxygen supply.” “Restaging Fetal Traumas in War and Social Violence,” by Lloyd deMause. http://www.primal-page.com/ldfetal1.htm My own mother drank alcohol (heavily) while I was in the womb, including immediately before my birth (which was induced).
 “In 1892, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote to F.W.H. Myers, founder of the Society for Psychical Research, of which Stevenson was a member, describing a series of dreams and out-of-body experiences that he believed to be ‘of a high psychological interest’ (331). Myers published Stevenson’s accounts in the society newsletter. In one fever dream, Stevenson invents a nonsense word, to be ‘compare[d]. . . with the nonsense words of Lewis Carroll.’ In this letter as well as in his 1888 essay ‘A Chapter on Dreams’ he expounds a theory of authorship in which his creative projects are produced not by him, but by a shadowy character he calls ‘the other fellow,’ for whom Stevenson himself acts only as an amanuensis.” “Robert Louis Stevenson and his ‘Other Fellow’: The Dreaming Self and the Death of the Author,” by Audrey Murfin, Victorians Institute Journal Annex 41 (2013)