A “Spectral Turn”?

From Cambridge’s Department of Geography’s page on Ghost Species: Geographies of Absence and Extinction:

This project explores the idea that there is a spectre haunting conservation policies in the twenty-first century: the spectre of absence. Drawing on the recent ‘spectral turn’ in the humanities and social sciences, this project brings something new to debates about extinction, de-extinction, and restoration. When viewed through the lens of spectral geography, absence is not a lack of something – the opposite of presence. Rather, absence is powerful – it reverberates through landscapes and memories (‘gone but not forgotten’) and disturbs the ‘when’ of spatiotemporal experience and the ‘how’ of perception. This animation of absence has implications for conservation policy in two distinct ways.

Since I’m not exactly plugged into cutting edge research I was not particularly aware there was a “spectral turn” taking place in the humanities and social sciences, but I’m not surprised. Looking around for more, I found a number of recent scholarly journal articles (most behind paywalls) about hauntological subjects—the atemporality that I discuss in The Chaos Conundrum and that others have seen at work on the fringiest of popular culture.

At the very least, this Ghost Species project looks fascinating. The next decade or so should see some exciting scholarly works.

Suburbia and Saucers

Salon has a reasonably good piece up entitled Weird suburbia: How atomic bombs and UFOs created modern America, which is an excerpt from Welcome to Mars: Politics, Pop Culture, and Weird Science in 1950s America by Ken Hollings. It’s a nice introduction to the relationship between suburban growth, the military-industrial complex, and the RAND-style thinktank culture that dominated the postwar west. A snippet:

The Atomic energy Commission and Project RAND are soon studying the flying saucers, AeC chairman David Lilienthal going so far as to make a public statement discounting any direct relationship between such sightings and the effects of atomic radiation. However, the main connection between the saucers and the emergent military-industrial complex will inevitably be supplied by the United States Air Force: an organization that has had to wait until now for an Act of Congress to bring it into being. The 1947 National Security Act does as much to recalibrate the American war machine as von Neumann and Morgenstern’s Theory of Games and Economic Behavior. 

I will be interested to read Hollings’s book, not least because there might be (should be?) some overlap with my Extraterrestrials and the American Zeitgeist: Alien Contact Tales Since the 1950s. The 50s seem like they’ve been done to death by historians and pop culture scholars, but the overwhelming view of the era as Leave it to Beaver seems to persist for the general public.   

In any case, Hollings’s book is now on my to-read list. I hope I remember to look at my to-read list at some point…

Hat-tip to The Anomalist for pointing me to the Salon article.

Archaeoacoustics and Lithophonic Stone

Stonehenge2007 07 30

I see from a post on the Radio Misterioso Facebook Group Page that WNYC’s Leonard Lopate show has a new episode up right now on Lithophonic, or “singing” stones such as those used to build Stonehenge. 

If you’ve read The Chaos Conundrum or listened to my recent interview with Tim Binnall, you know that I’ve discussed this sort of thing before.  

It’s very exciting to see this sort of research start to break through to a wider audience.  While I think there are some interesting applications for the investigation of hauntings and the like, the historian in me is really excited about the archaeological implications of this.

I will, hopefully, be posting a bit more over the weekend—this week was fairly hectic with non-work considerations and I’m slowly getting back into the groove of being productive.  Whether posting to my blog is “productive” or not is still under consideration.

On a semi-related note, the recently posted Radio Misterioso conversation between host Greg Bishop and Nick Redfern (who kindly wrote a great foreword for The Chaos Conundrum) is very good and, as usually with these two, essential listening.

Archaeoacoustics, The Matrix Books, and Bill Cooper

In my continuing effort to write here a bit more in 2014 than I did in 2013 (and 2012, and 2011…) I thought I’d muse a bit on something I discovered yesterday as a means of warming up my fingers before diving into today’s work on ENDLESS WEATHER.

I suppose it’s an example of that phenomenon that once you notice something,  you start to see that thing everywhere.  Last Friday, I had a long conversation with Tim Binnall (of Binnall of America) for an upcoming installment of BoA Audio, about The Chaos Conundrum (still $6.99!).  One of the questions that came up was about the archaeoacoustics phenomenon–which, honestly, I’m surprised hasn’t had wider exposure before now.  We talked about it in the context of hauntings and “ghost” hunting of course, as I do in the book.

Last night, doing some background reading for the new book project, I came across the following passage in the first volume of “Valdemar Valerian’sMatrix series.

Photo Jan 12, 6 33 57 PMI’d read the Matrix books, albeit several years ago, but I was astonished that I’d overlooked this connection to the archaoeacoustics/”stone tape” idea.  This example seems to limit the time period during which sounds (and images?!) could be recalled, but it’s an interesting synchronicity.

Also part of my very fun conversation with Binnall was a discussion of the late Bill Cooper and his continuing influence in UFOlogical and conspiracy circles.  I have a whole chapter in TCC about Cooper and his influence on me and others as well.

Despite being dead and gone for over a decade and–especially–despite his renunciation of the literal truth of the UFO conspiracies he had once championed, he remains a prominent figure. His 1991 book Behold a Pale Horse continues to be in print–and is available in Kindle format, as well as audio book. Crucially for Cooper’s legacy, BaPH is one of the few “classic” UFO texts that I can consistently find on the shelves of brick-and-mortar bookstores.  Its popularity (at least on Amazon) is shown by its sales figures and rankings in a variety of categories (this is for the Kindle version):

  • #3 in Occult/UFOs
  • #3 in Astronomy & Space Science/UFOs
  • #5 in Astronomy & Space Science/Astrophysics & Space Science

So–a book which is made up largely of re-purposed conspiracy material (including the Protocols of the Elders of Zion) is selling better than, among others, Einstein’s Cosmos: How Albert Einstein’s Vision Transformed Our Understanding of Space and Time by Michio Kaku.  Now, a lot of that is due to the way in which Amazon categorizes books (and allows publishers to dictate the categories).  Still, it’s a telling thing about “the field.”

I’ll have info on the BoA episode to you when it’s available.

Archaeoacoustics: Some Background

In The Chaos Conundrum I wrote a bit about archaeoacousitcs, the emerging science (or pseudoscience) of flooding ancient sites with wide-spectrum noise in an attempt to gauge how it was used (aurally, anyway) centuries or millennia ago.

Paul Devereux and Jon Wozencroft have done a lot of work on this, and there’s some interesting information about the procedure here. I first heard of this from a post on writer Warren Ellis’s website a few years ago (this one here, I believe).

Saturday Night

The Mott Foundation Building- Flint, Michigan

The Mott Foundation Building- Flint, Michigan

It’s a Saturday night and this post is mostly to test out some automation stuff at a time when few(er) people are probably paying attention…

The picture to the right is of the Mott Foundation Building in Flint, Michigan.   I took the photo last night, around 11:00 PM, and cranked it about in Instagram to make it look a bit more faux-vintage.  I talk about some of the implications of this sort of atemporal treatment in The Chaos Conundrum of course, but I remain amazed at how easy it is to make these sorts of changes to photos.

As an historian, I find this a bit disconcerting–If new things can be made to so easily resemble old things, the old stuff may lose a bit of its cool-ness.  I don’t have any worries that it will lead to historical hoaxing (at least not any successful hoaxes) but…

Shocking slide of a Transformers cartoon DVD!

Shocking slide of a Transformers cartoon DVD!

The discussion, of late, about alleged slides of the Roswell aliens lead me to consider the uses of modern technology to create a new, previously-nonexistent past.  Now, slides are a physical thing and (the coolness of 3-D printing aside) there’s little danger that the physical slides could be successfully recreated.  But–and I’m really cynical here–the need to produce slides would come after a lot of the actual money and publicity had been garnered by…whoever.  Put some suitably manipulated pics online, drum up some interest, gain some notoriety, and then cash in.  Now, it’s UFOlogy, so the cash in question is pretty limited, but it’d be fun to pull a hoax like this, if I had nothing else to do.

Note: I’m not saying the current Roswell slide thing is a hoax–I’m just using it as an example of how modern digital photo trends could lend themselves to this sort of thing.  

Anyway, some things I’m thinking about tonight, between watching old Transformers cartoons and trying to decide whether I should grade papers tonight or tomorrow.

Chaos-cover3a.jpg

The Chaos Conundrum: Now Available!

The Chaos Conundrum: “‘A compelling and very personal look at the impact the paranormal has had on the way we view ourselves and the world in which we live.'”

NTHUMBNAIL IMAGEOW AVAILABLE from the Redstar books online store, on Amazon in a few days, and in e-book versions as soon as we possible can. Nick Redfern, prolific author on the paranormal calls it, in his foreword, “A major contribution to paranormal research and observation.”

(I, of course, would never doubt the judgement of Nick Redfern :)

Writer and filmmaker Paul Kimball (who, through his wonderful work in editing the book, knows as much about what’s in it as I do), says that it is “A compelling and very personal look at the impact the paranormal has had on the way we view ourselves and the world in which we live.”

Personally, I’m excited to have this out there.  It’s an eclectic book, but Paul Kimball’s edits and suggestions made the book much more cohesive and compelling that it might otherwise have been.  It was the most thorough editing relationship I’ve had since graduate school and the book is much stronger for it.

There are some photos, ranging from a strange radio tower in downtown Flint to a family picture from 1932.  I look at everything from Roswell (ugh!) to the connections between religion, the paranormal, and extremist politics.  The best way I can describe this book (and one that I’ve used in conversations with friends) is that The Chaos Conundrum is what you’d get if you sat me down, bought me a beer and said, “Okay- what do you think about all of this?”

That said, it’s not what you’re expecting.  Honestly, it’s not what I was expecting when I started writing it.  But, in a way, it’s the sort of book I’d wanted to write for a very long time.

BUY IT HERE! (From Redstar)

BUY IT HERE! (From Amazon)

Chaos cover3a