Sunday, January 16, 2011

New book alert - "Authors of the Impossible"

Dear readers

The floods which have devastated parts of Queensland, Northern New South Wales and Victoria have also affected the south-east of my own state. After so many years of drought in parts of Australia, it is ironic to now be having floods. In Adelaide we have no problems with excess water. Turning to today's post.

Authors of the Impossible:

I am finally getting to the bottom of the pile of books by my bed. Today's post is about the book "Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred" written by Jeffrey J Kripal (click here for Amazon details.) It was published in late 2010 by The University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-45386-6. My copy through special orders, Dymocks books, Adelaide.

The author:

According to the cover blurb, Kripal is "the J Newton Rayzor Professor in Philosophy and Religious Thought at Rice University in the USA. He is the author of several previous books, including "Easlen: America and the religion of No Religion" and "The Serpent's Gifts: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion."


While researching "...esoteric currents of American popular culture, particularly as these are narrated and illustrated in the superhero comic book..." Kripal found himself "...confronting the histories of Western esotericism, animal magnetism, psychical research, science fiction and the UFO phenomenon..." (pp5-6.)

Along the way he came across the works of Frederic Myers; Charles Fort; Jacques Vallee and Bertrand Meheust. However, he notes that "I have never once encountered another scholar mentioning,much less engaging, three of the four writers whom I came to admire so...My conclusion was a simple one. Myers, Fort, Vallee and Meheust are not part of the scholarly canon that has come to define what is possible to be reasonably thought and comparatively imagined in the professional study of religion." (pp6-7.) Kripal's new book sets out to remedy this situation.


Kripal defines the psychical " the sacred in transit from a traditional religious register into a modern scientific one." The paranormal as "...the sacred in transit from the religious and scientific registers, into a parascientific or "science mysticism" register." (p.9.)

The sacred is "...a particular structure of human consciousness that corresponds to a palpable presence, energy or power encountered in the environment." (p.9.)

Kripal then notes "Unlike the sacred, neither the psychical nor the paranormal has survived in any active form within the professional study of religion." (p.9.)

Four books:

The major part of this work is a series of four "books", namely:

* The Book as seance: Frederick Myers and the London Society for Psychical Research

* Scattering the seeds of a super-story: Charles Fort and the Fantastic Narrative of Western Occulture

* The future technology of folklore: Jacques Vallee and the UFO phenomenon

* Returning the human sciences to consciousness: Bertrand Meheust and the Sociology of the Impossible.

For each of the four "authors of the impossible" Kripal presents a review of their contributions to their respective subjects; then provides an analysis of their thinking.

As readers of this blog will be aware, I value highly the work of Jacques Vallee, so will use the "Book" on Vallee as an indicator of Kripal's observations on all four authors.


"When I first read Jacques Vallee, I knew immediately that I had found a writer who had something important to teach us about the history of Western esotericism, about the truths of traditional folklore, about the mysterious attraction of modern science fiction, and about the reality of paranormal phenomena..."(pp143-144.)

Kripal was impressed " he makes the impossible possible through the sophistication of his suspicions and the complex ways that his comparative investigations puts together the pieces and parts of his historical data in order to from a radically different picture-puzzle of things." (p.144.)

"He is thinking of something that is mythical and physical, spiritual and material at the same time." (p.146.)

Kripal reviews Vallee's early life, his interactions with Aime Michel; his work with Allen Hynek; and his development of the idea that UFOs cannot be studied without taking into account parallels with earlier reports of occult beings as described in "...folklore, magic, witchcraft, and religion..." (p.156.)

Vallee "...remains convinced that the UFO phenomenon will never be solved by the believers or the rationalists...he thinks that we have to reject the dogmatisms of both religion and science and confront the phenomenon on its own terms..." (p.158.)

Kripal takes us through the published works of Vallee. "Vallee's method here is quite interesting. He begins with the hypothesis that the absurd is meaningful, that the dilemma signals new thought, that we should be looking for the cracks or glitches in the stories in order to begin divining their latent messages...In my own terms, they are hermeneutical events that share in both the mythical and the physical." (p.162.)

Kripal summarises Vallee's approach as:

"What I read him reading in the history of folklore is a future technology projected, somehow back into our present...The future technology of folklore that Vallee is imagining here, in other words, is a technology that we may be using on ourselves to manipulate our own past, to control, as it were, our belief system and mythologies that lies well below the present political system or cultural fad of the day...It is precisely these religious systems that control our history for Vallee..." (pp173-174.)

In ending this "Book" on Vallee, Kripal notes "It should be patiently obvious by now that the models of reading and writing the history of religion that Jacques Vallee ascribes to are fundamentally esoteric ones..." (P.187.)

Kripal summarises what he sees as three Vallee "secrets." Firstly, the "gnosis of the future" where "Jacques Vallee thinks backwards, from the future to the present and then, like the rest of us, to the past." (p.187.)

Secondly, "the gnosis of multidimensionality...namely, the idea of multiple dimensional space-time and its implications for thinking about the history of religion..." (p.188.) "His journals, for example, are peppered with examples of tantalising precognitive dreams and remarkable synchronicities or what he calls "intersigns"..." (p.189.)

Thirdly, "the gnosis of the rosy cross," the Rosecrucian tradition which Vallee spent several years exploring, and which "...taught him the basic structure of esoteric thinking..." (p.192.)

In summarising Vallee's thinking, Kripal notes "...most of his own mystical experiences, which have involved intimations of the future, have inevitably come to him during writing..." (p.196.)

Kripal's own hypotheses:

Kripal reveals his own working hypothesis, similar to that of Meheust's. "The humanities have something important to offer the study of psychical and paranormal phenomena...By the humanities, I mean the study of consciousness encoded in culture..." (p.201.) "...psychical and paranormal phenomena have something important to offer the humanities..."P.201.)

"They provide us with some of the most suggestive evidence that consciousness and culture cannot be collapsed into one another but work together , in incredibly complex ways, to achieve different human potentials, different forms of reality, different (im)possibilities." (p.202.)

"My own intuitive sense is that paranormal phenomena are expressions of a deeper nondual reality that possesses both "mental" and "material" qualities that manifest according to the subjective or objective structure of an experience or experient." (p.257.)

Final comments:

This book is a very deep and complex work, which brought my own thinking back from specific UFO cases and theories, to a broader plane. Kripal certainly increased my understanding of where Vallee is coming from.

The book will not be for everyone, believers and sceptics take note. It is you, who should be reading this book.

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