Monday, June 28, 2010

Thoughts on ENOCH

Enoch, 2010, by Autumn Williams

The comments on Williams new book Enoch have come flying in since the OSS last weekend, where the book made its debut. Autumn Williams has been accused of outright lying, trying to make a buck, slopppy -- or no -- research, being gullible, and (in, sigh, I’ll say it, sexist attacks) being too emotional about her own Bigfoot sighting. Another reaction by critics of Williams work is the proudly stated comment they aren’t going to read the book (!) yet they offer opinions on the book anyway.

Others, myself included, think the book is fantastic, and highly recommend it.

I don’t know Autumn Williams very well; we’ve known each other on-line for years, and I was very glad to meet her and talk with her a couple of times at the OSS. I don’t have the impression she’s a liar. As to her making money from her book, I hope she does. Why is it that, when it comes to the field of the strange, be it Bigfoot, UFOs, etc. it’s considered an immoral act to make money from your research?

I’m also alarmed, but not surprised (sadly) at the vitriolic nature of some of the criticisms. Williams has been in the Bigfoot field for twenty something years; doesn’t that count for something? Whether you end up agreeing with her or not, it seems a researcher with the kind of history Williams has, who offers something different in terms of research and the nature of Bigfoot, deserves to be carefully considered.

It’s possible Willaims was duped by the witness referred to as “Mike” but, all any of us have when dealing with others is, ultimately, our intuition. I trust that Williams knows what she's doing in that regard. She’s a researcher and a witness -- and as we’ll see, this combination is key -- and so, I choose to believe that both “Mike” as well as Williams, are telling the truth.

If I'm wrong, if Williams is wrong, so what? Yes, I said “so what?” Williams message in Enoch is about the nature of research; it’s relationship to the witness and the hugely important question of goals in searching for Bigfoot.

This message cannot be stressed enough. Regardless of any potentional gullibility on Williams part, the point isn't whether the book is fiction or not, it's what Williams has to say about the nature of research, including protections of Bigfoot.

Throughout the book, Williams asks the reader to consider the witness in relation to researcher as well as motivations in searching for Bigfoot. Consider your personal agenda in looking for Bigfoot. Why do you want to find Bigfoot? Vindication? Confirmation? Proof? Williams points out (as I have regarding UFO research) if you’ve seen a Bigfoot, you know they exist. You know they are, what they are, is a different  issue. In continuing to search for Bigfoot, the question becomes: why? Do you want another sighting for personal reasons? Or to prove it to science? If the latter, that agenda needs to be very carefully thought through. If the story of Mike turns out to be a “lie” (and I’m not saying it is) those points still stand.

There were several times while reading the book I said to myself "Wow, you can replace the words 'bigfoot research' with 'UFO research." Not that Autumn addressed UFOs in her book; I don't want to imply that she did or put words in her mouth. She has enough trouble right now; she doesn’t some Bigfoot researcher going around saying that “Williams believes Bigfoot researchers need to study UFOs” or some other misinterpreted nonsense. The parallels I see in her work to UFO research are mine, and I think fellow saucer heads would see those parallels if they read the book.

Bigfoot or UFOs, whichever world you find yourself in --  and some of us find ourselves in both -- the reasons why we haven't found "The Really Big Answer" has to do with a mindset, a world view, a philosophy of research that, ironically, so many researchers don't get. Until that changes, nothing else will.
Except for the witnesses. If you're a Bigfoot witness, you don't need proof; you've seen a Sasquatch.  Who are you going to prove it to, and why? Williams asks this question many times. We have to know ourselves before we go out there in the field. The same, in many ways, is true in UFO Land. I'm a witness, many times over. Since childhood. I know they exist. I know weird things happen related to them. I don't know what they are. But they are. I don't have proof of any UFO encounter I’ve had. None. No photos, no scrap of metal from a flying saucer, no artifact, no dead body of an alien. Nothing. "Just" my story. If that's not good enough for some, that's tough. I'm not going to go away or shut up. I'm going to continue to explore. Reasons for my writing and researching UFOs and related topics vary and are no doubt complicated at times, but I'm not out to prove anything. Part of my journey is to share, and have others feel safe and respected in sharing their stories with myself and others.

Of course, with UFOs we’re talking about machines  and I don’t mean to compare the vitally important need to protect Bigfoot at all costs with a nuts and bolts flying saucer. As to aliens; whatever, whoever, those are... here we start to veer off into another area. The point is, witnesses are valuable and need to be treated not only with respect, but the power shift between researcher and witness needs to change.

These are the points both UFO and Bigfoot researchers need to understand if we’re to “get anywhere” or rather, to get somewhere different. Researchers need to understand their own agendas and intent. Witnesses need to be respected and listened to. Some researchers are also witnesses; how does that affect “research?” 

As far as the relationship between witness and researcher and their roles, what Autumn is saying isn’t new or even radical. It is, apparently, for a lot Bigfoot researchers out there but in other fields, say Folklore, (my subject in college, including  grad school,)  this dynamic between the “informant” (witness) and the interviewer/researcher was an important part of our training; the issue couldn't be discussed enough.  Responsibility of researcher, responses to witnesses, response of the researcher to the witnesses responses to her, ... it’s an ever deepening and growing relationship. Growing, morphing, shifting. “Research”  doesn’t always have to start and stop with a plaster cast, or a UFO sighting report on paper.

(A few years ago, Lisa Shiel's Backyard Bigfoot: The True Story of  Stick Signs, UFOs and the Sasquatch came out. Shiel, also a researcher as well as a witness, has similar things to say, though in very different ways, as Williams. I’m not suggesting Williams and Shiel's books are interchangeable, just that both books were written by researchers/authors, and both offer new perspectives on Bigfoot research.)

Enoch, aside from fascinating looks into the “Skunk ape” culture from Mike’s interactions with them,  is also about the nature of research and the witness; a new paradigm in the search.

Autumn Williams has really put herself out there by publishing this book. Why would she do such a thing unless she had the courage of her convictions? Publishing Enoch was a brave thing for her to do, and I thank her for choosing to do so.

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