Thomas Ligotti’s Puppet Show of the World: A Philosophy of Darkness

Perhaps Ligotti’s stories will always speak most vividly to those rare persons in whom the seed of darkness has already been sown. In their own half-conscious pilgrimage toward a dark enlightenment, these sensitive seekers will follow Ligotti willingly into the depths of the nightmare, and there in the echoing stillness of the silent, staring void they will find that they are looking into the radiant black reflection of their own shadowed souls.

—Matt Cardin,

Pessimistic, determinist, and inhuman Ligotti’s fiction is replete with the gothic metaphoric of darkness. A devotee of decay and dissolution he affirms a “masochistic-mystical ecstasy that is expressed as working “the great wheel that turns in darkness, and to be broken upon it.” This line suited the character’s ambition to go the whole distance of giving oneself over to a sort of Schopenhauerian Will-to-live force that really runs the show of existence. Rather than seeking to negate this force, which Schopenhauer called the Will-to-live and thought should be denied as much as possible in a rather Buddhistic manner, the character Andrew Manness wishes to be blasted by it, utterly pulverized in a perverse way. This desire goes against every normal human impulse to survive and conveys my own anti-life stance. We’re all going to perish anyway, so why not do it in style?” One remembers the ancient Greek myth of Ixion who was expelled from Olympus and blasted with a thunderbolt. Zeus ordered Hermes to bind Ixion to a winged fiery wheel that was always spinning. Therefore, Ixion was bound to a burning solar wheel for all eternity, at first spinning across the heavens, but in later myth transferred to Tartarus. Only when Orpheus played his lyre during his trip to the Underworld to rescue Eurydice did it stop for a while. This is the mad wheel of Time itself, the darkness of existence in which we all turn and return in a wheel of torture, pain, and suffering. We are all bound to the “wheel of darkness” where in the eternal nocturn(e)ty of Tartarus (hell) we live out our deaths.

He tells us that he wasn’t even aware that he was using “shadows, darkness, and blackness as an overarching metaphor for the puppet show of the world” until he read “Brian Stableford’s sketch about my stories in a reference book titled, I think, Horror, Ghost, and Gothic Writers. So much for my self-conscious, postmodern brain.”

In many ways we are all asleep in hell, a hell of our own choosing, a personal vastation, an eternal emptiness or – kenoma (Gnostic) in which we wander alone or with others in a realm of absolute darkness where there is nothing to do and nowhere to go because we are not. We are nothingness exemplified as pain and suffering without end, bound to a vicious circle without outlet or ending. Suicide is only a retreat back into the circle, another round of unending immiseration without any hope of salvation or redemption. This is the state of the unreal as Real. Asked if he believed in an “All-Consuming Darkness” Ligotti replied:

“Well, “all-consuming darkness” kind of suggests that there’s something going on in the universe. That’s not what I would wish. I don’t want a universe in which even nothing could be going on.”

For Ligotti the use of “darkness as a device and practically a character throughout a number of the stories” he’s written pervades this sense of deterministic fatalism in his view of existence. As he’d say to one interviewer of this bleak darkness: “there it was, as big and ugly as life. And it seems to have been there from the beginning. I just wasn’t quite as didactic in those days.” Brad Baumgartner offers a reading of Thomas Ligotti’s horror tales as part of the apophatic tradition of the unsayable darkness much in the dark negative mysticism of John of the Cross:

“In “Thomas Ligotti: The Poetics of Darkness,” we show how horror fiction deploys apophatic techniques in order to describe negatively the indescribable. In so doing, this chapter will consider Ligotti’s horror fiction, especially the logic of negation found in Noctuary (1996), in relation to the horror of reality—a horror effectuated by our alienation from absolute unreality, horror’s analog to the medieval mystic’s God. Ligotti’s characters are forever banished to wander the world in a state akin to John of the Cross’s “dark night of the soul,” never to find oneness with their own unreality. He sees in human consciousness not only “a vortex of doleful factuality” (Conspiracy 41), but additional fodder for existential suffering because the horrors we cannot yet comprehend are rooted within us. In Ligottian horror fiction, we find a perverse darkness mysticism: always already living in immanent darkness, a state of, we might call, noct(e)rnity, there is nothing to “wake up” to, and even if there were, it wouldn’t be worth waking up for it.”1

If as Ligotti says in an interview that the “supernatural is the metaphysical counterpart of insanity,” then is the mystical a form of insanity and madness, a psychosis of melding dream and reality, of breaking through the gap between reality and the Real and entering the frozen world of mad Time? Is this the surreal dream from above, or the counter-surrealism of Bataille of the nightmare from below in base materialism? The poet Federico García Lorca once suggested that “All that has black sounds has duende.” —commenting, “there is no greater truth. Those black sounds are the mystery, the roots fastened in the mire that we all know and all ignore, the mire that gives us the very substance of art.” Maybe in the end this is Ligotti’s style, the style of the duende’s black sounds that reverberate in the dark void like the clamor of nothingness.

“Ligotti is not concerned with a Bataillean sense of communication, one in which “the impossible” takes us into the mystical, but rather with positing an ungrounded pessimo-mystical discourse, a negative and deictic mode of discourse designed to invoke the very darkness it describes. As such, what readers encounter is less of a worldview and more of a modern, skewed form of apophasis designed to speak away the absolute elements of unreality, evoking a stark sense of dread.” (36)

I’d say that Ligotti’s dark mysticism if one wants to use such a term is concerned with the absolute dissolution of self and consciousness, world and cosmos. He is concerned neither with creation nor destruction of the cosmos since for him it’s all unreal. In this sense rather than a metaphysics of Being his is a non-metaphysical thought of unbeing and nothingness. He posits nothing – not even the possibility of distinctions for or against something since nothing is not and we are not. Instead of invoking darkness he would rather dissipate everything in absolute darkness. Baumgartner keeps seeking some positive mode in Ligotti’s thought which is not there. Even in the statement above the notion of invoking darkness is a positive act that Ligotti himself would not see himself doing. Baumgartner sees Ligotti’s thought as a “skewed form of apophasis designed to speak away the absolute elements of unreality, evoking a sense of dread.” I see Ligotti undoing all names, all thoughts, all elements of absolute and un-absolute alike leaving the reader in that ultimate state of frozen solitude and self-emptying kenosis in which nothing is and nothing is not. Neither thought nor being, and especially not the merger of thought and being as in Parmenides. No. Ligotti undoes and unbinds the unreal by way of the Real and leaves us in the “enlightenment of darkness”.

The morbidity in Ligotti’s work is there for a reason, he’s a writer that delves into his own subjective moods and perceptions and expresses them through his art and thought. As he puts it: “From my side, I can’t take seriously literary works that haven’t in some distinctive way emerged from what purportedly normal people would call an unhealthy affect. It’s not possible to appreciate what doesn’t jibe with who you are by genetics, nurturing, and everything else that happens throughout your life. In my opinion, it’s tragic that we can’t fully appreciate one another as artists as well as persons. This is simply one of the sorry facts of life.” To understand his work is to delve into the various mood disorders that have troubled his life from the age of seventeen:

“When I first began writing, I realized that my subject matter would necessarily derive from my own life. I’ve never been a worldly person. Thus, I never had at my command either much in the way of practical knowledge or a wide range of lived experiences. This has mostly been due to the psychological disorders from which I’ve suffered nearly all my life. More specifically, from the age of seventeen to the present I’ve been subject to clinical mood disorders. I can understand why someone would dismiss everything I’ve written as being nothing more than a symptom of my diagnoses relating to anxiety and depression, thereby making my literary output all but worthless.”

As he’d put it in another interview: “my moods are only slightly regulated by medication. This means that I’m agitated, anhedonic, and anxiety-ridden to some degree every day, aside from periods of lesser hypomania when I become sufficiently activated to do things like spend money I don’t have because, to give an example, I get it into my head that I absolutely need to replace the rug and linoleum in my condo with all-wood and slate floors. Before then, I never in my life had the least impulse to redecorate my living space except with shelves of books. Anyone who has read interviews with me has already been subjected to my true tales of emotional derangement, so this is information I regret repeating for their non-enjoyment.”

Ligotti affirms his subjectivist stance many times as in: “Among the major schools of literature from Romanticism to the present, I most identify with Expressionism. All of my stories have had their origins in a mood or attitude that I wanted to convey to the reader.”
German Expressionism’s emphasis was laid not on the outer world, which is merely sketched in and barely defined in place or time, but on the internal, on an individual’s mental state; hence, the imitation of life is replaced in Expressionist drama by the ecstatic evocation of states of mind. The leading character in an Expressionist writing often pours out his or her woes in long monologues couched in a concentrated, elliptical, almost telegrammatic language that explores youth’s spiritual malaise, its revolt against the older generation, and the various political or revolutionary remedies that present themselves.

Ligotti would take hints from this but add his own unique perspective and oneiric negations, turning in rather than showing forth any political revolt he’d follow Kafka in the sense of being cast adrift in a cosmos of impersonal forces whose purposeless purpose was neither good nor evil but just there. He’d portray a Gnostic cosmos without its saving god of the abyss, a realm of absolute emptiness and darkness. This sense of a “haunting emptiness” behind the facade of existence comes in one interview where he’s asked about his story “The Medusa”:

“I appreciate your reading “The Medusa” as a reflection of some superior consciousness on my part, but I assure you it’s not the case. I’ve been fascinated by mysticism in various forms for some time, probably because my temperament is so alien to the non-dualist mind, or no-nmind or whatever, to which you allude. Obviously, human beings are very devious and complicated, and certainly one has the sense at times that we are in some way wonderful and bizarre creatures. But I think the whole spiritual aspect of humanity is pure self-promotion on our part, and I don’t think there’s anything behind the curtain of our flesh. Yes, the universe is very strange, but its strangeness seems to me based on a haunting emptiness where one might expect, unwarrantedly, something to be.”2

  1. Baumgartner, Brad. Weird Mysticism (Critical Conversations in Horror Studies) (pp. 3-4). Lehigh University
  2. Paule, R.F. and Schurholz, Keith. The interview was “Triangulating the Daemon An Interview with Thomas Ligotti Interview,” by R. F. Paul and Keith Schurholz.

Negotiating the Fantastic: Paraxis, UAPs and the Cultural Real

“Everything works, in my opinion, as if the phenomenon were the product of a technology that followed well-defined rules and patterns, though fantastic by ordinary human standards. Its impact in shaping man’s long-term creativity and unconscious impulses is probably enormous.”

—Jacques Vallee

“The fantastic is moving towards the non-conceptual. Unlike faery, it has little faith in ideals, and unlike science fiction, it has little interest in ideas. Instead, it moves into, or opens up, a space without / outside the cultural order. The notion of ‘paraxis’ introduced optic imagery in relation to the fantastic and it is useful to return to it in considering topography, for many of the strange worlds of modern fantasy are located in, or through, or beyond, the mirror. They are spaces behind the visible, behind the image, introducing dark areas from which anything can emerge.”

—Dr Rosemary Jackson, Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion

Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.) confirmed in framing the hearing. “UAPs are unexplained, it’s true, but they are real,” he said, via NBC News.”They need to be investigated, and many threats they pose need to be mitigated.”

The notion of what is real or unreal is as old as Plato. Our negotiations of reality and the ‘Real’ have always been controversial. It’s true most of our modern pessimistic and nihilistic weird tales are usually in landscapes where nothing is going on but the mindless existence of machine-like forces, realms of anti-life rather than life. Yet, there are some that take the opposite tack of imposing a world of total organic insanity, of insatiable worlds of appetite and cannibalistic nightmare of plant, insect, animal and climacteric decay and corruption. Worlds of either no meaning or too much meaning – realms of non-signification or overdetermination. In many modern weird tales, there is a sense that our eyes and vision are at issue, that the various things we are seeing are not as they appear to be but other. The world of modern UFOlogy is such a realm, one in which our contemporary notions of reality and the Real are being hotly debated. But what was once a part of fiction, popular folklore, and conspiracy theory has recently taken on an all-too realistic tack in our news, government, and military:

Over the past few years, Congress has slowly admitted that it is just as confused as the rest of us about the numerous unidentified aerial phenomenon (UAP) incidents reported by reliable US military and government personnel. In 2021, for example, Congress charged the Department of Defense (DoD) with establishing a replacement for the short-lived Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force after releasing a largely inconclusive preliminary assessment of 144 documented UAPs. We haven’t heard much about it since then, and neither has Congress, apparently. What’s more, it just made it very clear that it thinks we aren’t moving fast enough to address the issue.

Deep within an addendum to the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023, as first discovered by Motherboard, elected officials expressed their frustrations with the lack of progress in establishing a new group dedicated to UAP sightings. “The [Select Intelligence] Committee is disappointed with the slow pace of DoD-led efforts to establish the office to address [UAP] threats and to replace the former Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force,” reads the congressional filing, later adding that the committee “was hopeful that the new office would address many of the structural issues hindering progress.”

—Andrew Paul, Congress sounds really concerned about unidentified aerial phenomenon 

This movement away from our normalized vision of the world and reality into a realm in which our world suddenly becomes something else, estranged from the meaning we have up till now given it comes into play. The distortions, illusions, and breakdown of our normalization of the world lead into nightmare, psychosis, and strangeness. When we use the notion of normal/abnormal we’re always talking about the mainstream ideological take on the reality of one’s contemporary culture and civilization. It’s not some monolithic view of existence and can be multifaceted and have many patterns that fold into various lifestyles and sub-cultures, but for the most part we in the West hold reality to be bound by some notion of the order of natural law – ‘scientific reality’ which is supposed to be an objective statement about how the world is ordered and works. When this reality based on the natural laws of physics breaks down then we seem to fall into a realm outside of the normative inferences and referential frames that guide our sense of what’s real and unreal.

“For the first time in over 50 years, Congress on Tuesday held a public hearing on UFOs (which have been rebranded as UAP, or unidentified aerial phenomena). The hearing followed on an unclassified report issued by a Department of Defense task force last June and the establishment of a permanent UAP office at the Pentagon.” —Rizwan Virk

For example, think of the recent controversies surrounding the acceptance of the notion of UAPs or ‘unidentified aerial phenomena’ by the U.S. Congress opens up a world of strangeness that up till now was kept in a sub-cultural zone of paranoia, psychosis, and contemporary folklore. With the recent admission of a threat from objects that are not made by humans coming into purview a whole world of strangeness is opening up in the no man’s zone of non-meaning. What was once seen as folkloric and a modern mythology, had in our time become part of the elemental threat and fears of contemporary reality – an actual horror and paranoia of the unknown which we are now navigating. The worlds of acceptable and unacceptable cultural inclusion and exclusion zones of comfort are being tested. Watching how our culture and civilization navigates such phenomenon is fascinating in itself, in that it shows us how the gap between reality and the Real is a matter of cultural praxis and negotiation. That which was once excluded from normalcy, is now being integrated into the boundaries of the possible.

Jackson’s notion of ‘paraxis’ comes into play in such negotiation, because of its relation to the place, or space, of the fantastic, for it implies an inextricable link to the main body of the ‘real’ which it shades and threatens.1 As she describes it:

This paraxial area could be taken to represent the spectral region of the fantastic, whose imaginary world is neither entirely ‘real’ (object), nor entirely ‘unreal’ (image), but is located somewhere indeterminately between the two. This paraxial positioning determines many of the structural and semantic features of fantastic narrative: its means of establishing its ‘reality’ are initially mimetic (‘realistic’, presenting an ‘object’ world ‘objectively’) but then move into another mode which would seem to be marvellous (‘unrealistic’, representing apparent impossibilities), were it not for its initial grounding in the ‘real’. Thematically too, as we shall see, the fantastic plays upon difficulties of interpreting events/things as objects or as images, thus disorientating the reader’s categorization of the ‘real’. (12)

As we see the various footage of these UAPs from Naval and other military films we are caught in this paraxial moment.The fantastic exists as the inside, or underside, of realism, opposing the world’s closed, monological forms with open, dialogical structures, as if the world had given rise to its own opposite, its unrecognizable reflection. Hence their symbiotic relationship, the axis of one being shaded by the paraxis of the other. The fantastic gives utterance to precisely those elements which are known only through their absence within a dominant ‘realistic’ order. The fantastic transforms the ‘real’ through this kind of discovery. It does not introduce novelty, so much as uncover all that needs to remain hidden if the world is to be comfortably ‘known’. Its uncanny effects reveal an obscure, occluded region which lies behind the homely (heimlich) and native (heimisch). As the term ‘paraxis’ has already suggested, fantasy lies alongside the axis of the real, and many of the prepositional constructions which are used to introduce a fantastic realm emphasize its interstitial placing. ‘On the edge’, ‘through’, ‘beyond’, ‘between’, ‘at the back of’, ‘underneath’, or adjectives such as ‘topsy-turvy’, ‘reversed’, ‘inverted’. This area, according to Freud, is one of concealed desire. ‘Something has to be added to what is novel and unfamiliar’, he claims, ‘to make it uncanny (…) it is in reality nothing new or alien, but something which is familiar and old—established in the mind and become alienated from it only through the process of repression.’ (38)

The strangeness of UAPs remains in this in-between zone of the paraxial, because it is such a fantastic element of our contemporary folklore that we do not feel it to be integrated within the symbolic order of the cultural norms that have up till now guided our scientific view of reality. As we negotiate this strange world of UAPs we begin to enter that paraxial realm where it exists alongside the ‘real’, on either side of the dominant cultural axis, as a muted presence, a silenced imaginary other, Structurally and semantically, the fantastic aims at dissolution of an order experienced as oppressive and insufficient. Its paraxial placing, eroding and scrutinizing the ‘real’, constitutes, in Hélène Cixous’s phrase, ‘a subtle invitation to transgression’. By attempting to transform the relations between the imaginary and the symbolic, fantasy hollows out the ‘real’, revealing its absence, its ‘great Other’, its unspoken and its unseen.

As D.W. Pasulka in his investigation into the folklore of modern ufology ‘American Cosmic’ tells us “not only is the technological infrastructure the basis for widespread belief in UFOs, through media technologies and other mechanisms, but also technology itself is a sacred medium, as well as the sacred object, of this new religiosity.”2  He goes on to relate the epistemological shocks sustained in his research of this phenomenon:

The shock to my epistemological frameworks, or to what I believed to be true, occurred on two levels. The first is obvious. Several of the most well-regarded scientists in the world believe in nonhuman intelligence that originated in space. The second level of epistemological shock was galling. Rumors of the findings of these scientists inspired hoaxes, disinformation, media, and documentaries based on bogus information that purported to inform the public about UFO events and created UFO narratives and mythologies. I watched several of these unfold in real time. It was hard to remain aloof when confronted by what I knew to be misinformation, some created as disinformation, some created for the sole reason that it sells. I was so embedded in the research, on the one level of observing the scientists and on another level of being involved with the producers of media content, that it was impossible to be neutral. It was at this point that I felt myself fall headlong into Nietzsche’s abyss, stare into it, and see it grin mockingly back at me.(9)

In such a realm where elements within society seek both to reveal and conceal the ‘truth’ of such phenomena we are left in the fantastic, our sense of reality being tested by the ongoing battle of forces which we do not understand much less trust. This negotiation between our accepted realities and those of the unknown Real seem to be fraught with the troubling powers of authority and power. Once again, we fall back into the oldest of metaphysical dilemmas: What is real and unreal? The UFO phenomenon has been part of our age of conspiracies ever since the Roswell Incident. From that time forward we’ve lived in a realm of the fantastic in-between, a realm in which the world has teetered under various global threats from nuclear war to climacteric catastrophe. The UAP phenomenon has wandered through our cultural mind as part of a realm of government cover-up, conspiracy, and secrecy: a world of secret bases, military weaponry, black projects, spies, and all the various folkloric elements of literature, film, and public media.

Tabloid Realities: Conspiracy and the Crowd

In many ways the great populism of our times is bound to tabloid realities, to the various social and political agendas that set the boundaries of our doxa. The ubiquitous presence of conspiracy theories in Western societies has unsettled and changed many citizen-institution relations. As one commentator put it: “It is not for no reason that many commentators have branded this historical era as “post-truth”, that dubious and confusing word meant to describe a world in which the Truth is not sacred anymore and “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”. (Jaron Harambam: Contemporary Conspiracy Culture)

The politics of conspiracy in such a post-truth society is about who gets to decide what is true, on what grounds, and with what means. With the recent governmental acceptance of what was formerly a mainstream conspiracy theory surrounding the UFO now relabeled UAP – unidentified aerial phenomena, we are seeing a strange inclusion rather than exclusion of such phenomena. So what happens when a conspiracy turns positive and accepted? What does the public do with such strangeness? Of course, a certain amount of the public will just incorporate this back into conspiracy narratives, a new loop of insanity and false agendas for the eternal gristmill of conspiracy advocates. But what of the rest of us who are left wondering about just what such things mean? How do we stabilize our world, our sense of normalcy, continue to work and play as if nothing has really changed? Or, do we? What has this actually changed? Do we now accept the notion that our reality has changed, that there are unknown things ‘out there’ that the Outside has just entered our little domain of reality with its strange and uncanny sense of the Unknown. Are we like Lovecraft’s notions of horror to fear this thing that is unknown?

Most conspiracy theories fall under the labels in academic discourse as bad science, political paranoia, societal danger, and all the other pathological phenomena of contemporary strangeness. This most dominant strand in the academic study of conspiracy theories thus conceives of conspiratorial forms of knowledge in rather uniform ways as implausible and flawed understandings of how reality works, as the delusional thoughts of paranoid or psychologically disturbed minds, posing sincere threats to democratic societies. Conspiracy theories are, in other words, framed as the irrational and extremist opposite of modern science and democracy. They are, in the eyes of such scholars, our pathological Other.4

Jaques Valle said it “may not be true that flying saucers represent visits from outer space. But if large enough numbers believe it, then in some sense it will become truer than true, long enough for certain things to change irreversibly.”3 Nick Land a post-Cyberpunk philosopher who would incorporate much of our contemporary paranoia, fear, and pop-cultural folklore into his critique of our ideological worldviews once stated:

“What is concealed (the Occult) is an alien order of time, which betrays itself through ‘coincidences’, ‘synchronicities’ and similar indications of an intelligent arrangement of fate. An example is the cabbalistic pattern occulted in ordinary languages – a pattern that cannot emerge without eroding itself, since the generalized (human) understanding and deliberated usage of letter-clusters as numerical units would shut down the channel of ‘coincidence’ (alien information). It is only because people use words without numerizing them, that they remain open as conduits for something else. To dissolve the screen that hides such things (and by hiding them, enables them to continue), is to fuse with the source of the signal and liquidate the world.”5

This notion that behind the screen of our contemporary worldview, the ideological filters that control what is normal and abnormal, the world-as-we-know-it and believe it to be there might be another alien order, one in which the very structures of our sanity that stabilize and maintain the facade of culture and civilization might be illusory, and not only illusory but a delusion and trap – a realm of power, authority, and control that imprisons us in a false view of ourselves and the world is at the heart of most conspiratorial thinking. This way lies madness is its motto. And yet we have begun to go down a rabbit hole that is opening an abyssal world of thought, horror, and realties that even our official gatekeepers are beginning to realize must be negotiated if we are to prepare for the changing face of the Real that is upon us.

Land would offer something else that is a part of our current immersive negotiations between the actual and virtual worlds we are living in. He termed it ‘hyperstition’:

Hyperstition is a positive feedback circuit including culture as a component. It can be defined as the experimental (techno-)science of self-fulfilling prophecies. Superstitions are merely false beliefs, but hyperstitions – by their very existence as ideas – function causally to bring about their own reality. Capitalist economics is extremely sensitive to hyperstition, where confidence acts as an effective tonic, and inversely. The (fictional) idea of Cyberspace contributed to the influx of investment that rapidly converted it into a technosocial reality.

Abrahamic Monotheism is also highly potent as a hyperstitional engine. By treating Jerusalem as a holy city with a special world-historic destiny, for example, it has ensured the cultural and political investment that makes this assertion into a truth. Hyperstition is thus able, under ‘favorable’ circumstances whose exact nature requires further investigation, to transmute lies into truths.

Hyperstition can thus be understood, on the side of the subject, as a nonlinear complication of epistemology, based upon the sensitivity of the object to its postulation (although this is quite distinct from the subjectivistic or postmodern stance that dissolves the independent reality of the object into cognitive or semiotic structures). The hyperstitional object is no mere figment of ‘social constuction’, but it is in a very real way ‘conjured’ into being by the approach taken to it. (ibid.)

This notion that the UAP phenomenon is a hyperstitional entity and artifact that we are conjuring out of the cultural matrix of the fantastic and political worlds we are negotiating, caught in-between our superstitions fear and fascination of various false belief systems, but opening ourselves to the need for hyperstitions which are functioning causally to bring about their own reality seems all too apparent. We do not know where this will lead, whether to the detriment of human catastrophe or transformation, all we know is that it is happening. We are all part of the fantastic now whether we will or not. In Land’s strange mixture of conspiracy, philosophy, and cultural praxis he envisions the alien as an invasive force from the future: “From the side of the human subject, ‘beliefs’ hyperstitionally condense into realities, but from the side of the hyperstitional object (the Old Ones), human intelligences are mere incubators through which intrusions are directed against the order of historical time. The archaic hint or suggestion is a germ or catalyst, retro-deposited out of the future along a path that historical consciousness perceives as technological progress.” (ibid.) Using a combination of the Lovecraftian mythos and philosophical templexity or the mad machinations of time he envisions future civilization as enabling communication into the past that helps engender through hysperstitional thought the very worlds it seeks to conjure up. Such a mad notion seems the vision of either a crackpot or a visionary, a work of philosophical theory-fiction or the mad ravings of an overly wrought intellectual whose grafting’s of cyberpunk fiction and culture onto the mental frames of a philosophical metaphysics portends either catastrophic collapse or mutant metamorphosis.

As Jaques Vallee surmised many years ago:”

For a long time, I have believed that science would gradually realize the importance of paranormal phenomena as an opportunity to expand its theories of the world. I thought that here was our only chance to redefine human dignity in the world to come. I now believe differently. It is not simply our freedom that is in danger now. It is a certain concept of humanity. And it is no longer to science that we must turn to understand the nature of this psychic crisis and find its key. Nor will the answer be discovered in some secret file in Washington. The solution lies where it has always been: within ourselves. We can reach it any time we want. (ibid.)

We are moving into strange new worlds in thought, culture, and the sciences. It’s as if the powers that have covered over this hidden reality for so long realize the game is up, that they better become a part of it or their political, economic, and social regimes are finished. What was once conspiracy theory and paranoia is our new reality. As Valee put it: “Far from revealing government authorities engaged in quiet research, they give a picture of incoherent restlessness in every country. Meeting behind closed doors, scientists and military men swap scary stories, while the real phenomena go on, unstudied, unconcerned, UNIDENTIFIED!” But now even the official government seeks answers and is providing the power, authority, and money to investigate and negotiate this fantastic realm of the new Real. As Harambam asks: “The real sociological question is not whether conspiracy theories are right or wrong, rational or delusional, good or bad, but one of exploring the meaning these forms of knowledge have for all those concerned, and how they influence people’s everyday lives and their societies at large.” (19) Ultimately the UAP phenomenon may be more about our changing needs in society than about the underlying shadow worlds of these unidentified objects. Our need for a more expansive horizon, for an open-ended narrative of space exploration and advancement of humanity into the cosmos may be at stake, rather than some dark agenda of alien invasion and takeover. We see this in the entrepreneurial spirit of various space ventures that seek to capitalize on the myth of Mars. Maybe Land is right, and we are engendering and conjuring our own future out of the contemporary strangeness of our own conspiracies. In an age of epistemic instability, when the truth can no longer be guaranteed by one epistemic authority, institution, or tradition, we seem to be wandering in the liminal zone where the gap between reality and the Real are growing thinner every day.

  1. Jackson, Dr Rosemary. Fantasy (New Accents) (p. 11). Taylor and Francis.
  2. Pasulka, D.W.. American Cosmic (pp. 2-3). Oxford University Press.
  3. Ph.D. , Jacques Vallee. UFOs: The Psychic Solution.
  4. Jaron Harambam: Contemporary Conspiracy Culture: Truth and Knowledge in an Era of Epistemic Instability. Routledge. 2020
  5. Carstens, Delphi. ‘Hyperstition: An Introduction’. Delphi Carstens Interviews Nick Land. 2009. (see: <;)