I listened to a radio interview with magickian Alan Moore, and my heart sank when he said: ‘I have never in my life seen an objective truth’ . And it sank further when I encountered similar sentiments in a book by the writer and professor of religious studies, Jeffrey Kripal.
I loved Kripal’s most recent book, Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred , which is an exploration of rhetorical strategies in the work of key writers on the paranormal. The book perhaps heralds a shift in the academic orthodoxy away from postmodernist theory towards subjective experience. Here’s what Kripal says on his website:
I think the ways… [paranormal] phenomena offend or subvert our usual dualistic epistemologies (subjective/objective, mind/matter, meaning/causality, and so on) represent one possible future of critical theory… I have come to see that the deep resonances, even identities, between eroticism and mysticism that I tracked in my early work are refigured in the deep resonances, even identities, between matter and mind that I am now tracking in the history and study of the paranormal… It’s all one reality, which is fundamentally nondual. 
In Authors of the Impossible Kripal shows how the great writers on the paranormal, although publicly they might pretend otherwise, were often writing from experience. They wrote because something incomprehensible had happened to them, and the ideas and strategies they developed for writing about it were not only a formulation for coming to terms with the incomprehensible, they were that coming to terms. Yet Kripal by a whisker (it seems to me) steps back from asserting that paranormal and spiritual experiences constitute any kind of objective truth. His interest is primarily hermeneutical; he examines the self-contained world of words and meanings created by his authors, with an intentional lack of concession toward any supposed referent of those words and meanings.
Maybe Kripal’s latest book is indeed a positive sign of change within academia, but his earlier work – the work he mentioned on the relationship between eroticism and mysticism – confronts us with some more nakedly postmodern assumptions. Perhaps he is in a process of wrestling free from these.
Evelyn Underhill, author of that hoary classic Mysticism (1911), is the subject of one of the chapters from Kripal’s earlier book, Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom: Eroticism and Reflexivity in the Study of Mysticism . Kripal takes Underhill to task for her assertion that only mystics can write about mysticism; that only experience counts in this field; and that the experience of the mystic is direct, self-sufficient and universally recognisable.
In the end, what Underhill cannot see is that even the most orthodox of mystics are not reporting on some independent objective experience but interpreting a highly subjective state that may or may not be engaging a noumenal ground, and all this with categories that not only describe the experience after the fact but help shape and form and guide the event within the experience itself. Experience itself is interpretation. 
Kripal’s view is that because the language of mysticism is erotic (all that talk of ‘divine union’, ‘surrender to the Absolute’, etc.) then the basis of mysticism is the body. What the mystic writes is therefore an interpretive gloss upon a bodily, erotic experience.
Even though he appends a slightly mitigating footnote, I can’t let pass that ‘experience is interpretation.’ It’s a classic postmodernist tenet, but to hold this view surely perpetuates a sin of which postmodernists like to believe themselves innocent.
Some mystical experiences are not states, but are the understanding of what presents as an experience of no state at all. When I first stumbled into this realm what struck me most was the paradoxical, impossible form that the experience took. What rises during these moments is something experienced not as a thought, not as a feeling, nor as a concept, nor as a sensation. Except there it is all the same, leaving us bewilderedly wondering how we can possibly be experiencing such a thing.
This is my description of my mystical experience. If there’s not enough ‘erotic’ language in it, then let me oblige by saying how it totally fucked my mind!
‘Experience is interpretation’ allows for differing interpretations, but it doesn’t admit that experience itself might take on different forms, from person to person. Kripal’s view allows for differing views creating different experiences, but ultimately this suggests there is only one kind of experience – the kind that arises from holding a view. It’s the same old glaring flaw that haunts the whole postmodern enterprise: the assertion there is no absolute truth, asserted absolutely.
What the mystic describes is more postmodern than the postmodernist: it is the idea that the structure of experience itself varies from one person to the next. So, to someone like me, who has sat on a cushion meditating for hours on end, there can appear something that fits no mental or sensory categories. Because ‘zero’ assumes the same value on whatever scale we choose to measure it, by this means what is seen assumes objectivity. Whereas to someone like Alan Moore, who has perhaps devoted more of his time to developing his prodigious talents, the view is different: ‘I have never in my life seen an objective truth.’
Neurological imaging studies that show structural differences in the brains of long-term meditators (increased cortical thickness, for example ) perhaps argue for this possibility of variations in the structure of experience, beyond the far less radical differentiations between interpretations of an assumed single form of human experience. Mystics are therefore a group for whom experience itself – not just their interpretation of it – is different.
Indeed, ‘experience is interpretation’ itself implies a particular structure of experience, for if experience is genuinely an interpretation then there is no ‘direct’ experience; instead, there is mediation, an interpretive activity, which renders the interpretation to or for something. The nature of experience, in this view, is divided between the interpretation, the interpretive activity, and that to which the interpretation appears to be an experience. ‘Experience is interpretation’ is actually not saying anything very new or clever at all, but merely consolidating what was already the consensus view, that experience is what assumes a particular form for a separate, individual self.
The postmodernist who holds these views has perhaps looked deeply enough to observe how what we call experience is made and not ‘given’. ‘I have never in my life seen an objective truth,’ they might conclude. Or they might decide to look even harder, because where can they situate for whose benefit it is supposed the interpretive activity takes place, if not within experience also? And if the self or ego is in our experience (for otherwise, how would we experience it?) then isn’t it too a product of the interpretive activity?
Once it becomes apparent that there is no one for whom the interpretation takes place, then it follows that what we call experience is not and never could be mediated by and for anything. Yet this is not the consensus view of experience at all, but something else. It is indeed the direct knowing of the mystic, where experience recognises self or ego as just another aspect of itself – self as just another content of experience, rather than something separate that apprehends or creates that content.
This is not a ‘state’. This is not even an experience. It is instead a restructuring of experience, wherein the illusion of an interpretative activity by or for someone has been seen through. Because the interpretive activity has now been seen for what it is, this is direct knowing, clear seeing. But until it is seen for oneself, it cannot be known. ‘Only mystics can write about mysticism,’ as Underhill said. This would be false if theirs were only an interpretation of experience, but instead it is an altogether different kind of experience.
It might be said that, back in the day, mystics perhaps over-eulogised their experience. They used terms that were bodily and erotic in order to do so, but there’s no necessity to do that. It’s a vocabulary that is better than many others, but the aesthetic of mysticism is free to change. Mystics are human beings, and human beings love sex, so if sex flavours their expression more than – say – cybernetics, then no wonder. But that does not mean that mysticism arises from sex. What it might mean is that the first step in transcending the consensus view that ‘experience is interpretation’, which entails an isolated, separate self, is an inclination towards the erotic. But that’s not where mysticism ends. It aims instead toward a radical restructuring of experience, not simply a leaning toward certain kinds of experience.
The good news is that this restructuring is available to everyone who takes the trouble to cultivate it. To entirely misappropriate and misquote Karl Marx: ‘The postmodernists have only interpreted experience in various ways; the point is to change it.’ Hopefully Kripal is already onto this, and the rest of the academic establishment that he currently stands against will one day soon follow suit.
 ‘Expanding Mind’, Progressive Radio Network (14th July, 2011). Moore makes the comment at approximately 8’49″ into the recording.
 Jeffrey J. Kripal, Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred (Chicago and London: Chicago University Press, 2010).
 Jeffrey J. Kripal, Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom: Eroticism and Reflexivity in the Study of Mysticism (Chicago and London: Chicago University Press, 2001).
 Ibid., p. 66.
 Sara W. Lazar, et al., ‘Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness’, Neuroreport, 16 (17): 1893–1897 (2005 November 28).