Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Praying to the Aliens

It is always, for me, a profound disappointment when someone on the very cutting edge of scientific discovery falls prey to the gravitic pull of metaphysical wish-fulfillment fantasies. Though perhaps this isn’t so surprising when said discoveries literally and in a very corporeal sense bring to attention the fact of our very insignificance.

Such, it seems, is the case of Edgar Mitchell, NASA astronaut and New Age mystagogue who walked on the moon in 1971 as part of the Apollo 14 mission. While his involvement in New Age jiggery-pokery is nothing new (he apparently conducted unsanctioned remote viewing experiments on the moon ) Mitchell has (at least according to a short piece in issue 240 of the Fortean Times) now bought wholesale into the Roswell crash shebang - apparently in part as a consequence of his experiences on the moon.

Mitchell has chosen to refute the Lovecraftian strains of 1990s ‘Darkside’ ufology (which was generally dominated by a bunch of paranoid pre-Ickean neo-Nazis) in favour of the reconstructed contacteeism characteristic of post-1990s New Age ufology: in other words, ETs are abducting humans and subjecting us to the ubiquitous anal probe as a means of facilitating our spiritual evolution. A bit like Thelemic magick, by the sounds of it.

Call me cynical, but I’m prone to view this as ET-valorised positive valuation of human beings’ place in the cosmos as a negative reaction to the massive cultural impact of the space age and the likes of Mitchell’s moon walk: finally we were presented - via the first pictures of the Earth from space - with empirical evidence of our insignificance. (Oddly, I’d see the conspiracy theorists who reject the Moon landings as fake as inhabiting the very same conceptual space as Mitchell. As with Mitchell - and like Creationists - their claims are not so much founded on hard evidence as on an deeply rooted psychological need to affirm absolute faith in a divinely ordained pre-Copernican anthropocentrism, albeit one that is usually disguised by ill-considered psuedo-scientific tomfoolery). By no means a new or original point of view, but nonetheless foreshadowed by what are probably the most recognisable lines from the Lovecraft canon:

'The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age'.

In some respects, this returns me to my criticism of Darabond’s The Mist in the previous post. There I talked about ‘the expiation of consciousness’ - a concept that returns me to an article I wrote some years back for Mark Pilkington's Strange Attractor where I stated that

‘the ultimate horror of the Old Ones lies not in their physical appearance, but in the irresolvable existential conundrum they signify: that human sentience generates a desire for meaning and purpose which, in Lovecraft’s abundantly strange and ultimately meaningless cosmos, is denied fulfilment’.

Although I failed to recognise it at the time I was using Lovecraft's pseudo-mythology to paraphrase a point with which Thomas Ligotti’s J.P. Drapeau was already well aquainted. Indeed, Drapeau offers us what is, perhaps, the most concise summation of the materialist nucleus of Lovecraftian horror - and something which, I think, provides an important insight into both Mitchell’s optimistic New Age refutation of a Lovecraftian cosmos and the more general turn towards supernaturalism that seems (almost counterintuitively) to have come to dominate the social, cultural and political life of modernity:

‘But is there really a strange world? Of course. Are there, then, two worlds? Not at all. There is only our own world and it alone is alien to us, intrinsically so by virtue of its lack of mysteries. If only it actually were deranged by invisible powers, if only it were susceptible to real strangeness, perhaps it would seem more like a home to us, and less like an empty room filled with the echoes of this dreadful improvising. To think that we might have found comfort in a world suited our nature, only to end up in one so resoundingly strange!’