Go on, consume!



Crop-circle researchers can loosely be divided into two main camps: those who believe that the circles are produced by extra-terrestrial forces, and those who believe they are produced by paranormal forces. The latter also include those who believe the circles are the result of 'energy points' on the earth's surface. What both camps share, though, is a belief in the spiritual importance of the manifestations. This is reinforced by the fact that all the major crop-circles have been made in Wiltshire, the metaphysical home of English paganism and New Age mythology. Covered in barrows, standing stones, tumili and other earthworks (such as Silbury Hill), and numerous pathways, the area is claimed to be connected by an ancient network of sight lines. Moreover, it is home to a number of famous chalk symbols, such as the Alton Barnes White Horse, etched into the county's hillsides. In these terms Wiltshire is a rich palimpsest of ancient myth and historical record, a place literally pitted with arcane signs and significant remains. Crop-circles and ancient standing stones and tumuli form a 'metaphysical continuum'. This melange of paganism and the occult is largely a product of the 1970s, when Alfred Watkins' discovery of ancient ley lines (Anglo-Saxon for cleared strips of land) in The Old Straight Track (1925), (2) was rediscovered and became mixed in with the counter-cultural revival of Celtic fairy lore (fairy paths) and an interest in the new earth sciences, to create a cult of the landscape as criss-crossed with 'energy centres' ( places of magnetic force). Wiltshire seemed to have more than most making it the favoured place of occult lore, and one of the favoured areas for UFO 'sightings'. As one theory of UFO the phenomenon puts it: spacecraft were attracted to places such as Wiltshire because of the predominance of its magnetic pathways, which they used for navigation!
It is no surprise that Dickinson and his colleagues chose to work here, for the location allows the crop circles to enter a pre-existing mythological value system of 'earth mysteries'. Thus when the enormously complicated 'fractal' or 'Julia Set' design appeared in a field adjacent to Stonehenge, the literature was quick to assume that some extra-terrestrial intelligence was trying to establish a significant connection between the phenomenon and the standing stones, given the occult importance of Stonehenge. This is echoed in the way the literature analyses the crop-circle designs, claiming that ancient site lines and standing stones and crop-circles not only share 'unexplained' energy levels, but a sacred geometry. (3) Morever in some instances where obviously icons of modern science are concerned such as the 'Julia Set', this 'sacred geometry' is stretched to include the non-linear theories of nature of the New physics, as if the earth was producing its own computer print out!
What is remarkably absent in this literature is any awareness that the crop-circle makers are mirroring back to the 'true believers' their own mythologies, knowledges and histories. Dickinson is as well versed in the geography, historical lore and occult of the Cerealogists and Ufologists as the researchers themselves. This makes his interventions extremely context-sensitive, insofar as the crop-circles are made with the desires, fantasies and occult knowledges of the 'true-believers' in mind. They are not ironic. Thus if the complexity of the recent designs is partly a response to Dickinson's own technical and aesthetic ambitions, it is also a way of upping the ante in response to the Cerealogists' theories. This play-off between producer and consumer, mythologizer and believer, is at one level very similar to the practices and rhetorics of art and its theory. In a strange mutation of classic avant-garde practice, Dickinson seeks to outmanoeuvre, or undermine, the claims and expectations of those theories that would seek to explain or predict the crop-circle designs. Concomitantly, there is also a sense in which the anti-materialism of the Cerealogists' theories ventriloquises the idealism and special pleading of much art criticism: a set of practices which are notoriously malleable ideologically in the face of economic pressure and personal flattery. But if this is something to be borne in mind when reading the crop-circle literature this is not what is primarily interesting about the play-off between, or co-presence, of mythologizer and Cerealogist. For Dickinson's crop-circles enact one of the most widespread psychological conditions in contemporary late capitalist culture, iatrogenesis, or co-dependence.

West Stowell, Wiltshire, Wheat, Approx 170ft across, 22 July 1994
In the therapy-situation between doctor and patient it is common to witness a process of narrative suggestiveness on the part of the doctor come to shape and define the patient's illness in concordance with the social expectations of the illness itself. Thus the symptoms of the hysteric or neurotic can easily be produced out of the therapy situation - as in fact Freud recognised balefully towards the end of his life. There is strong evidence of this occuring in the current widespread outbreak of hysterical epidemics and imaginary illnesses (chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple personality disorder, recovered memory of sexual abuse). Multiple personality disorder is particularly significant in this respect. Between 1922 and 1972 there were less than 50 cases documented in the medical literature. (4) Today, in the US alone, there are tens of thousands, due largely to the popularization of a feminist therapy culture in conjunction with a professionally aggressive psychoanalysis. What this new therapy culture has created, it can be argued, is a form of widespread permission-giving allowing women, in particular, to narrativize their own unhappiness and disappointments in unprecedented ways. The issue is not that this unhappiness and disappointment is imaginary - far from it - but that its symptoms are either medicalized or projected onto an external agency, placing more and more women - and men - in positions of victims and accusers. Consequently, as therapy culture widens, iatrogenesis becomes more and more symbiotic with others agendas (such as radical feminism, conspiracy theory and religious beliefs), as patients become more susceptible in therapy to the narrative suggestions of the analyst. In effect the patient learns to tell his or her story from the narratives publically disseminated by the therapists, which is then extended and reinforced in the therapy session itself. This, no more nor less, is the mediatization of illnesses, producing an unprededented closed loop of believers learning to be believers (from real sufferers) which in turn produces more believers. This might also be extended to the huge increase in number of alien abductees in the US, who shape their neuroses and fantasies in the form of narratives learnt from fictional abductions and the abduction stories of others.
The overall result of this is an extraordinary diffusion and dissemination and mongrelization of therapy stories, as patients live out the confusions, paranoias, threats of the moment. In this the exponential rise of these symptoms can be seen less as a dysfunctional epidemic or evidence of a widespread irrationality, but, as in the post-Freudian definition of hysteria, as an oblique form of communication, and therefore, as Elaine Showalter has argued, as a "cultural symptom of anxiety and stress". (5) Hysterical syndromes,are not marginal and prone to appear in the weak and feeble, but a universal part of everyday experience, whose increase gives a indication of levels of internalized fear and crisis. Accordingly, hysteria is a mimetic disorder, in which the individual ventriloquises culturally acceptable expressions of distress. This is why patients increasingly present their symptoms in the way therapists define them, because this allows the patient to give a legitimate voice to their feelings of anxiety. This process of iatrogenesis, though, is rarely seen as a crucible of story-making by the new therapy culture, because the issue of hysteria as a cultural phenomenon is invariably subsumed under the therapeutic dictates of 'self-help' and personal redemption. This leaves these new symptoms of hysteria severed from any examination of the wider social forces that shape and sustain their rise and diversification.
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