• Christine Skolnik

Divine Invasions Part 3: Reflections on Jeffrey Kripal’s Corpus

Coda: The Authors Effect.

In the introductory remarks to Part 1 of this series, I alluded to my personal journey through Kripal’s work. This section is a brief reflection on a very unusual reading experience. When I first started reading Kripal’s work with Authors of the Impossible, I began to experience a very strange string of nested synchronicities. A synchronistic cascade, as it were. Before I describe this experience, which I call “the Authors effect,” I’d like to admit the possibility that I unconsciously ‘authored’ the experience as a means to professionally reengage at a time when I was extremely cynical about academia, perhaps even traumatized by regular institutional abuses of power. However, I would also like to consider the possibility that I was the object rather than, or as well as, the subject of the Authors effect (described below). In a mystical or Jungian context, and certainly within the context of contemporary neurosciences and the concept of the distributed brain, it seems awkwardly Modern to insist that only the individual could be responsible for any given psychological effect.[1] In any case, the following anecdote may be of interest to Kripal’s readers, to readers of mystical texts in general, and possibly may function as an entry point for future scholars to explore similar controversial topics. Many readers have written to Kripal describing strange experiences associated with reading his books books. Indeed, Kripal told me his files are full of reports similar to the one below.


Some thing, some web of relations pulled me in. I was initially prompted to read Kripal’s work by a former professor who was planning to interview Kripal for a podcast. Consequently, I read Authors of the Impossible and Mutants and Mystics very quickly and expediently. (Authors was of particular interest to me and Mutants was the focus of the interview.) What I now call “the Authors effect” of Kripal’s work began with the first chapter of Authors of the Impossible. The monograph seemed repeatedly to resonate with very specific moments and eccentric details of my inner life: strange recurring dreams, inexplicable scholarly preoccupations, haunting interpersonal connections, and various synchronistic events. The effect carried on through Mutants and Mystics, and indeed throughout the whole corpus which I read almost without interruption, motivated by an unprecedented cascade of what I barely grasped as a sustained pattern of nested, synchronistic experiences.

Not long after I had finished the monographs I went back to Authors of the Impossible, to revisit and in a sense test my initial experience. I was amazed to discover, almost immediately, what might be considered a hypnotic suggestion in the Introduction:

Writing and reading, that is, can replicate and realize paranormal processes, just as paranormal processes can replicate and realize textual processes. This is what I finally mean by the phrase “authors of the impossible.” It is also what I am trying to effect with this text.
So look out. (26)

I must have skimmed the Introduction very quickly when I first read Authors, because I had no recollection of the “suggestion” in the months that I was reading the corpus and trying to understand the cause of the synchronistic cascade. In the context of hypnosis, I might hypothesize that Kripal’s suggestion was so effective because it “flew under the radar” of consciousness. I don’t believe that the idea of hypnotic suggestion explains my reading experience, but it does insinuate a very loose working hypothesis.

The Authors effect might be a dramatic response to an earnest authorial intention articulated at the beginning of an inspired book, self-consciously iterating mystical themes and archetypal energies bound to command and keep the attention of an educated reader already invested in its questions and themes. Kripal’s voice might have induced a sort of waking trance state, and this effect may be related to the intimacy of his voice in general, and his habitual, authoritative transgressions of various types of textual and generic boundaries.

Circling back to my opening yantra image (Part 1), it may be that intimate mystical writing creates a sacred, virtual space in which the reader productively forgets “the world” and becomes immersed in the mystical landscape of “the word,” until the external and internal wor(l)ds become folded into one another. While such an experience may be illusory, in a sense, it may also foreground the illusory nature of experience in general, and thus may lead to productive shifts of consciousness, deeper questions, and more original insights.

Since my encounter with Kripal’s corpus I have experienced the Authors effect while reading various other texts. I started reading Phillip K. Dick systematically in preparation for a conference panel, for example, and found that many of his later novels and The Exegesis resonated mysteriously with my contemporaneous idiosyncratic thoughts and complex dreams. A number of strange experiences with William S. Burroughs over the years led me to look more closely at his fiction at this juncture. I revisited some of the classics, but it was The Western Lands, more mystical space exploration than fiction, that overwhelmed me with its eerie, performative, presence.[2]

I have settled temporarily on the idea of hypnotic trance, partly because of one particularly powerful reading experience. I don’t think a hypnosis interpretation excludes a “time-loop” interpretation (a theme of Kripal’s work), but here is my experience of reading as hypnosis. As I finished reading a work of literary criticism focusing on Jung’s concept of unus mundus (The One Mind by Matthew E. Fike), I fell into a shallow but palpable trance state. I remember reflecting on my state as it emerged, genuinely confused by my seemingly contradictory physical and psychological responses. My arm muscles relaxed, and I struggled to keep my eyes open as the book involuntary fell from my hands into my lap. This happened repeatedly though I was intensely interested and focused on the text and had no desire to sleep. Indeed, the intensity of my focus seemed to bring on the trance state.

For the record, and at the risk of damaging my ethos, I also “heard” an OM vibration at one point during the trance, coming from within though also somehow from all directions. (I heard it in my mind’s ear, so to speak. It wasn’t a hallucination, but it was a very clear impression that lasted for a few minutes and then gradually faded.) In metaphorical terms, I felt as though I had entered a living yantra. I didn’t feel that I was at the center, except in terms of my perception; I felt there was no true center, because every point in the universe was a kind of vibrational, energetic center. I didn’t understand the meaning or purpose of OM at that time, though my experience accords with representations of OM as “ground of the universal existence” and a tool for “mystical union with Brahman” (Deshpande). I have never consciously entered such a state before, or since; hence my notion that reading can induce a quasi-hypnotic state.

Shortly after that incident, however, I discovered a similar thesis about reading and hypnosis in a book by Lee Siegal that Kripal reviewed a year earlier, Trance-Migrations: Stories of India, Tales of Hypnosis.

Over the last few years the Authors effect has defined a genealogy of texts that resonates with one another, in various ways, though not in any kind of historical or chronological sequence. This genealogy is a section of my personal library, but I think it points to a larger “family” of texts. I might tentatively conclude, as I have come to believe of extraordinary events in general, that the surface features of each text are not nearly as important in their relationship to one another, to any set of readers, or to the typical preoccupations of academia, as they are in pointing to an excluded, underlying psychophysical dimension from which such texts and effects may emerge.

The Authors effect may ultimately be as conventional as Logos mysticism or as trivial as pop bibliomancy. It may have many historical precedents and contemporary parallels (i.e. Super Synchronicity), or it may turn out to be a dead end (if not an embarrassment). In any case, reader be advised. A little knowledge may be a dangerous thing, but a lot of reading may cause some type of spontaneous mutation. And it may be contagious.

See Part 1 and Part 2 previously posted.

Works Consulted

Atmanspacher, Harald, and Christopher A. Fuchs. The Pauli-Jung Conjecture and its

Impact Today. Andrews UK Limited, 2017.

Burroughs, William S. The Western Lands. Penguin UK, 2012.

Deshpande, Madhav, "Language and Testimony in Classical Indian Philosophy",

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2014 Edition),

Edward N. Zalta (ed.), <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2014/entries/language-india/>.

Dick, Philip K. The Exegesis of Philip K Dick. Hachette UK, 2012.

Doniger, Wendy. The Hindus: an Alternative History. Penguin, 2009.

Fike, Matthew A. The One Mind: CG Jung and the Future of Literary Criticism.

Routledge, 2013.

Fort, Charles. The Book of the Damned. Penguin, 2016. Kelly, Edward F., Adam Crabtree, and Paul Marshall, eds. Beyond Physicalism: Toward

Reconciliation of Science and Spirituality. Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.

Kripal, Jeffrey J. Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred. Chicago:

University of Chicago Press, 2010. Print.

Kripal, Jeffrey J. Comparing Religions. John Wiley & Sons, 2014.

Kripal, Jeffrey J. Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion. Chicago:

University of Chicago Press, 2007. Print.

Kripal, Jeffrey J. Kālī's Child: The Mystical and the Erotic in the Life and Teachings of

Ramakrishna. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995. Print.

Kripal, Jeffrey J. Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the

Paranormal. University of Chicago Press, 2011.

Kripal, Jeffrey J. Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom: Eroticism and Reflexivity in the

Study of Mysticism. University of Chicago Press, 2001.

Kripal, Jeffrey J. The Serpent's Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion.

Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007. Print.

Kripal, Jeffrey J. “Trance and Transcendence,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 9 January 2015.

Noë, Alva. Out of our Heads: Why You are Not your Brain, and Other Lessons from the

Biology of Consciousness. Macmillan, 2009.

Siegel, Lee. Trance-migrations: Stories of India, Tales of Hypnosis. University of

Chicago Press, 2014.

Wolfson, Elliot R. Language, Eros, Being. Fordham University Press, 2005.

  1. [1] Alva Noë’s trade book, Out of Our Heads, for example, synthesizes contemporary neuroscience, cognitive science, and philosophy and potentially informs inquiries into extraordinary experiences and altered states of consciousness. [2] One type of Authors effect I have experienced (before and after Kripal) is a very strong sense that the author of a text, whether the primary author or one quoted in the text (or “inspiring” the text), is present in an unusual way.

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