Mutants & Mystics: Laying the Scholarly Mask Aside

[This post by Victoria Nelson is part of a conversation on the new book, Mutants & Mystics, by Jeffrey Kripal.  Visit the Patheos Book Club for more.]

Mutants and Mystics is, among many other things, an important milestone in repositioning paranormal studies as a legitimate area of study. This book and its “prequel,” Authors of the Impossible, have exerted a major influence on my own thinking.

Along with his brilliant and trailblazing work in paranormal studies—an area of research that is daring in itself for a mainstream academic to take on—I think what I most admire and take to heart in Jeff’s richly productive writing life has been the fact that he has not been afraid to show how his scholarly interests have arisen directly out of the circumstances of his own life. He has fearlessly put down on the page the connections between his personal life and his professional work—connections that all scholars possess but prefer either to not to admit or (much of the time) remain blissfully unconscious of.

In making these connections explicit, Jeff has revealed the deeper motivations behind his work in a completely ethical way that forces us all to realize just how hopeless it is to try to hide behind standards of “objectivity” the wellsprings of our scholarly work in our private drives and obsessions. When all is said and done, the heart does rule the mind! Our intellectual interests don’t spring out of a void; they are driven by all the desires and hopes and fears we harbor in our private selves. Rationality is best served when we admit it doesn’t live in a splendid fortress sealed off from the rest of what the old alchemists used to call the totem hominem, the whole person. To pretend otherwise is to put a false mask to the world.

Thank you, Jeff, for having the moxie to lay the mask aside.

Victoria Nelson is the author of The Secret Life of Puppets (Harvard, 2002), the forthcoming Gothicka, two short story collections, a memoir, and a book on writer’s block and creativity. She teaches in the Goddard College MFAW program and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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