Wednesday, April 8, 2020

David J. Halperin's "Intimate Alien"

David J. Halperin taught Jewish studies in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, until his retirement in 2000. He has published five nonfiction books on Jewish mysticism and messianism, as well as the coming-of-age novel Journal of a UFO Investigator: A Novel (2011).

Halperin applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Intimate Alien: The Hidden Story of the UFO, and reported the following:
Here’s what someone browsing in a bookstore would see, opening my Intimate Alien: The Hidden Story of the UFO to page 99:

At the top of the page, the chapter title: the lure of the unremembered. Then a summary of what folklorist Thomas Bullard discovered when he examined the alien abduction phenomenon down to the middle of 1985:
He found that abducting aliens come in different shapes and sizes. They include giants and dwarfs, “humanoids” who couldn’t walk down a city street without creating a sensation as well as beings who look entirely human, with a few stranger, more grotesque entities mixed in.…

“The large compelling eyes of humanoids capture attention like no other bodily feature,” Bullard wrote—we know we’re in Communion territory.
(Referring to Whitley Strieber’s best-selling 1987 book Communion and the face that stares from its cover—shaped like an old-fashioned light bulb, with huge slanted eyes of impenetrable black. This is where we get our standard image, unknown before 1987, of what a UFO alien ought to look like.)

The alien eyes, I go on, are variously described as “elongated,” “slanted,” or “walnut-shaped.” “There were exceptions. In the much-publicized abduction at Pascagoula, Mississippi, in October 1973, the UFO entities were wrinkled gray beings like mummies wrapped up in bandages, with no visible eyes at all. As if in compensation, a huge disembodied eye floated around the two abductees, examining them.”
Bullard’s data didn’t allow him to compare the number of cases in which the eyes had an iris and pupil, like those of terrestrial creatures, with those in which, as on the Communion cover, they were solid black. … He cited several reports that speak of them as unblinking. This point is important because it drives a wedge between the aliens of the abduction reports and those in Steven Spielberg’s box-office smash Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), sometimes proposed as a model that the abductees unwittingly followed.
And that’s my page 99.

It’s not quite the best place for the browser to open to. It gives a picture of the book as drier, more detail-driven than it is. Not that this is wholly a bad thing. My aim in the book is to trace the “hidden story of the UFO,” a story not of ETs but of human beings. This demands close attention to historical and cultural context, which can’t be done unless details are carefully noted.

Still, unless browsers get a sense of where these details are leading, they’re apt to come away with a wrong impression of the book. Not so much a story, they may think, as a catalogue of facts.

So I hope the browser will flip a few pages. Look back to page 97, for example, which tells of the kidnap of a Brazilian farmer and his half-seduction, half-rape by a raunchy space female. Or forward to page 102, where the abductors’ eyes become organs of sex, and not very pleasurable sex. (A female abductee remembers an alien staring into her eyes, “flooding my eyes” while she has sex with an older man. A man associates his abduction to a childhood nightmare of a witch forcing him to look into her “huge eyes” so that “I was all hers and she would whisk me away.”)

Or to page 103, near the end of the section to which page 99 belongs:
Often the abducting aliens would be disguised in memory as animals, behaving in ways no animal ought: the owl at Whitley Strieber’s window, the raccoon that said “Good evening, doctor” to Kary Mullis. It’s no accident that both owl and raccoon are creatures with prominent, staring eyes; no wonder that Mullis, looking into the “large inky eyes” that gazed from the cover of Communion, had the sense that he’d seen this before.

Seen it before: that might be the watchword of the abductions…
Skimming these pages, and page 99 in their context, will convey to the bookstore browser the eerie, uncanny quality of the human story I set out to tell, of which “the lure of the unremembered” is a pivotal chapter. And, hopefully, will make him or her want to read more.
Visit David J. Halperin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue