Thursday, December 5, 2019

Thursday links

Ramez Naam, optimist and clean energy promoter. 

Free advice from shrinks. (Via Supergee).

Tweet thread on the John Higgs book about the KLF and Robert Anton Wilson. 

How to help with climate change. I'm a Ramez Naam fan for all kinds of reasons.

Ted Gioia's list of the 100 best recordings of 2019 (wide range of genres, lots of fairly obscure, indy stuff.)

Reason's 2019 gift guide.  Featuring Jesse Walker and other interesting folks.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Not from Illuminatus!

Purported UFO in Passaic, N.J. in 1952. Public domain photo via Wikipedia. 

"You might already be following the Navy UFO thing: over the past few years, the Navy has encouraged its pilots to come forward with UFO accounts, signal-boosted the reports, and sponsored UFO research organizations, as if they’re trying to stoke interest for some reason. Now the plot gets weirder: a Navy scientist has filed a patent for a quantum superconducter antigravity drive capable of UFO-like feats of impossible aeronautics. When the Patent Office rejected it as outlandish, the Chief Technical Officer of naval aviation personally wrote the Patent Office saying it was totally possible and a matter of national security, after which the Patent Office relented and granted the patent. The patent thanks UFO researchers in the acknowledgements, includes a picture of a UFO recently sighted by Navy pilots, and does everything short of print in capital letters ‘THIS COMES FROM A UFO’. Scientists who were asked to comment say the proposed drive is “babble” and none of the supposed science checks out at all. Has the Navy fallen victim to conspiracy-peddlers, are they deliberately trying to stoke conspiracy theories for some reason, or what?"

From the new links post at the Slate Star Codex blog. Lots of other good stuff; blogger Scott Alexander always finds good links.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Holiday shopping news roundup

The Robert Anton Wilson Trust announces (on Twitter): "We just made some long awaited changes to the RAW CafePress shop. Avoid the fnords! Shop for genuine RAW lasagna." You can get tile coasters, coffee mugs, tote bags, t-shirts and other goods with quotations from RAW or other references to him.

I asked John Higgs if his latest full length tome, The Future Starts Here: Adventures in the Twenty-First Century, or his new William Blake book, William Blake Now: Why He Matters More Than Ever is about to become available in the U.S. The answer is, not yet. "There's still no US publisher interested in those books alas, so yes they are only available from the UK. Perhaps the 2020s is when I'll find an American publisher who gets me."

However, any of John's books published only in Britain can be ordered from outlets such as the Book Depository (free worldwide delivery) or from Amazon. I've asked my wife to give me a copy of The Future Starts Here, just as I used Christmas last year to take possession of Watling Street. 

I also asked John about whether The Widow's Son may have inspired the Leary escape scene in his Timothy Leary biography, I Have America Surrounded, and whether Leary's escape could have inspired Sigismundo's escape from the Bastille in The Widow's Son (as Gregory Arnott discussed in a recent blog post.) 

John replied, "No, I still haven't read The Widow's Son, I'm ashamed to say, although I'll get to it sooner rather than later as I loved The Earth Will Shake. I based my description of Leary's prison break primarily on his description of it from Confessions of a Hope Fiend (and a few other sources to correct the deliberate untruths included to protect those involved from the police). RAW would certainly have read the same book, and heard the tale from Tim, by the time he wrote Widow's Son, so the influence seems likely."

Monday, December 2, 2019

Steve Moore's 'Somnium'

The late Steve Moore's fantasy novel Somnium came out in 2011, so of course Robert Anton Wilson never got a chance to read it. But I have noticed that many RAW fans, including me, are fans of the book. I read it a couple of months ago when I was on vacation, and I want to give it a few words here.

Somnium is narrated by a writer in the early 19th century in London who is enamored of the moon and of paganism. Part of the book is a narrative of the writer's present, including his relationships with various women, which in large part may exist only in his head, and parts are a narrative about another person, also enamored of the moon, who lives in Elizabethan times. There are also suggestions that the narrator was himself created by a writer in the future, evidently Steve Moore.

As the novel advances, it becomes harder to figure out what is actually happening and what is in the narrator's imagination. All of this makes it sound like the book is a difficult read, but it actually flows quite well and is a lot of fun.

The book is erotic without being sexually explicit and Moore seems to have a particular fascination with women's breasts. This does not exactly make him an outlier among heterosexual males, but the obsession is rather striking

There's quite a bit about Moore in John Higgs' book Watling Street. Somnium also  is a favorite of Gregory Arnott, who helped turn me on to it, and Alan Moore has an afterward in my edition of the book and calls it a "masterpiece." I listed the book in my recent ten best SF and fantasy books of the last decade list. I do have the feeling that despite the efforts of the book's fans, it has not attracted the attention that it should.

I read the book in a very handsome edition, pictured above, put out by Strange Attractor Press, a publisher with a website that's worth checking out.

Steve Moore, who died in 2014, was a prolific comics writer; Wikipedia has a nicely-done biography. 

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Widow's Son reading group, Week Fifteen

“The worst that had ever been said about Old Kyte was that, many years ago, she had led peasant dances in the woods on May Eve, which some of the Methodists and Ranters had called licentious.”

Week Fifteen (pg. 237-260 Hilaritas edition, Chapter 1&2 Part III all editions) 

By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger 

While staying in my home town over the Thanksgiving holiday, I picked up my relatively old New Falcon edition of The Widow’s Son  to read over this week’s material. When I came home and picked up my Hilaritas edition I was struck by how much Bobby Campbell improved his already excellent illustrations. I’m particularly referencing the illustration that kicks off Part III and incorporates Poussin.

This Part of the novel begins with a quotation from Pound’s Cantos, one of RAW’s favorite works, specifically the section written while Pound was imprisoned for his radio broadcasts against the Allies in Italy. During this part of the poem Pound identifies with Odysseus as Oytis or “no man” (You can also spell it Outis and translate it as “no one” which is one of our cats’ names.) but by this point is beginning to feel after a state of permanence. The next line continues “fire must destroy himself ere others destroy him,” which certainly fits in with the themes of transformation that we’ve been reading about in the narrative. The Canto continues and speaks of a city, Hooo Fassa, destroyed and rebuilt four times before being built in the “mind indestructible” guarded with “the four giants at the four corners” and “a terrace the colour of stars.” From the commentaries I looked at Hooo Fassa seems to be a mixture of Mencius’ philosophy that the mind responsible for its own destruction can be responsible for its rebirth and the Ghanan myth of Wagadu, a divine spirit that inhabited the city of the same same that was destroyed four times; since Wagadu existed in the minds of the people she was able to rebuild her city a fifth time under the name Fasa. (Wagadou was the proper name of the old Ghanan Empire as well.) So self-transformation and life-death-rebirth served all around. We’ll encounter a set of the four giants soon enough.

Old Kyte is a walking caricature of the shaky beliefs in a contiguous pagan tradition continuing throughout the Christian era in Europe and late twentieth century women’s mysteries- a term Maria uses to describe what Kyte has been teaching her during the initial process of her labour. She also serves as an example of the difference between the Matrist/Patrist mindsets that RAW likes to ruminate upon. She is drawn up in Sir John’s mind as the opposite of Dr. Coali who represents rationality, science, and the “man’s way” of handling childbirth. Because RAW is obviously sympathetic for the “woman’s way” of childbirth this is an inversion of the Masonic themes found in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” where the noble, masculine Sarastro triumphs over the dark, feminine Queen of Night. These ideas are especially interesting during a time in our U.S. society where midwives and doulas seem to be making a comeback and women’s bodies are seemingly heading towards the Supreme Court in the near future.

As a reminder that none of the Christian sects are innocent, RAW introduces a dissenter priest who tried, and failed, to run Old Kyte out of Lousewartshire.

The Matrist, earthy, “primitive” sides of Mistress Kyte are further illustrated as John ruminates on how she looks medieval compared to the setting of a “modern” bedroom, and by her Shakespearean use of piss and shit instead of the Norman/higher class terms for excretion. Of course she works with herbs and a dispenses an herbal drug- what else could one expect? This fascination with the use of dangerous herbs and wise women comes up repeatedly in RAW’s work- in Sex, Drugs, and Magick he recommends that the reader check out John Dickson Carr’s The Crooked Hinge for the inclusion of old witchery as part of the plot. (I read it years ago and really enjoyed it. It’s also a perfectly bizarre story in and of itself.) She also has Maria panting before contractions which is reminiscent of the tantric practice of “the breathe of fire” which RAW’s gives instructions for in Sex, Drugs, and Magick.

Kyte also calls upon four cardinal spirits to guard the room and the childbirth. These are further variations on the four archangels like the ones used by the Carbonari in The Earth Will Shake. Unlike the spirits called upon by Sigismundo’s father, which can be traced to the factitious Aradia: or, The Witch’s Gospel, the spirits called upon by Kyte seem to have been RAW’s invention. Sir John identifies Bride as Brigit in his own thoughts after Maria asks where she gets the names from. Robin is probably Robin Goodfellow, another name for Puck, but paired with Marian immediately brings Robin Hood and Maid Marian to mind as well. Marian could also be a form of the Virgin and Orfee is most likely a representation of Orpheus who has somehow ended up being part of an ancient Celtic tradition here. Side and Sidhe are the same and both are described as different places, different times, or different dimensions. Sidhe here has a lot in common with the notion of Magonia. John’s inner commentary illustrates the further themes of syncretization as he notices similarities between Kyte’s philosophy and Platonism as well as the dual use of the term “the Craft.” We can assume that Charles Putney Drake, the Worshipful Master of John’s Lodge who believed all that could access the baraka were once in one Lodge, is an ancestor of that Nietzschean ne’er-do-well Robert Putney Drake of Illuminatus! fame.

Maria, seen through the male gaze of Sir John and the narrator, is a picture perfect representation of femininity in this chapter. She accepts and even relishes the pain of childbirth and later reminisces on how the post-birth glow is better than the other times she has had transcendent experiences. Everything about the process of birth is received by her with grace and good humor. This portrait is heightened as Sir John reflects that no man deserves a woman’s love. I admit that I like this portrait of femininity but am curious how female readers would react to such a male fantasy of what femininity “should” be.

As Sir John wanders around in his own state of bliss he meets James Moon again who has brought his “fookin rock” and blesses him in the name of God, Mary, Patrick, and Brigit, a perfectly Irish formulation of the cardinal spirits.

Kyte gets the last word, promising the child that both her parents, by virtue of their involvement with “the Craft,” will come to know Side.

The next chapter requires little commentary: Signor Duccio is as concise as possible and reiterates his Malthusian belief that population growth is the main driver of societal upheaval. This serves as a fatalistic reminder that all the events we, the readers, know are coming in the narrative’s future are unavoidable even if our characters’ efforts were to play out. Change is inevitable and the future is coming at us like a bullet train. No time to dodge, not even for one who can do miraculous feats using the baraka.

The A.’.A.’. reflects on the mysteries of the vagina before imploring the reader to burn this page.

From Eric Wagner: More Handel in honor of Maria’s baby for this week. Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Jazz bleg

I have been listening to quite a bit of jazz lately, and to jazz's cousin, blues. Robert Anton Wilson loved jazz, but the music form doesn't seem to get much attention lately; maybe it's a good idea to toss out a couple of listening suggestions.

RAW's interest in jazz pops up all over the place, as in this 1980 interview, in response to a question about whether "ours is a cultureless society": "I also think jazz has proven to be a singular contribution to the world’s music. I think the Modern Jazz Quartet will some day be looked back at in the same way we look back at Vivaldi."

The album that's usually recommended as a starting place for jazz is Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, and indeed it's one of my favorite jazz albums. The album features an all-star lineup of Davis on trumpet, "Cannonball" Adderley on alto sax, John Coltrane on tenor sax, Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums.

Listening to the album can lead to explorations of some of the featured musicians; it certainly got me interested in Miles Davis, who helped launch several directions in jazz, and Bill Evans, whose playing I particularly liked.  I have many Davis and Evans recordings. Many others become big John Coltrane fans; RAW mentions Coltrane in one of his "Jazz Haiku" in Coincidance.

John Coltrane

In the enormous complexity
of his mind
he seeks the simplicity of a soul 

Many of these guys unfortunately died young; Evans became a drug addict and died at age 51, Coltrane was only 40 when liver cancer killed him, Adderley had a cerebral hemorrhage at age 46. These are are terrible losses, but jazz musicians typically a prolific and all of the artists I mention made many recordings we can still listen to.

Other suggestions for jazz neophytes: The Cannonball Adderley Quartet in San Francisco, Getz/Gilberto and  Weather Report's Heavy Weather album. These are all popular albums.

I happen to particularly like jazz artists Dave Holland (known for Not for Nothin') Karrin Allyson and Ben Allison.  I also listen a lot to Dexter Gordon and Art Pepper. I like Duke Ellington a lot, too.

Eric Wagner is a big jazz fan and perhaps will offer a few listening suggestions in the comments; Eric is particularly an Art Ensemble of Chicago fan and recently wrote to me, "People in Sorrow seems to me the AEC’s masterpiece. I also love Nice Guys, the first of their albums I bought and still a favorite. I also love Ancient to the Future (Dreaming of the Masters, Volume 1) which includes covers of a variety of artists representing what they call “Great Black Music - Ancient to the Future”, including Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix."

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving!

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

I am certainly thankful for the people who read and support this blog. Whether you have come to my attention by befriending me and writing to me and posting comments or you simply lurk and read it, I appreciate all of you.

Today I learned the first words of Thanksgiving were spoken by a Native American who asked, "Anybody got a beer?"

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The People's Pyramid

A fired brick of Mu. 

In another chapter of "What the British Discordians are doing," you can go here to learn about the pyramid that is being built from the cremated remains of dead people. 

"The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu are building a pyramid. The pyramid will be constructed of 34592 bricks. Each brick in the pyramid will contain the cremated remains of a dead person. This process is called MuMufication."


"MuMufication is the act of having a small portion of your cremated cremated remains fired in a Brickof Mu.

"MuMufied is what you will be after the act of MuMufication has been carried out.

"What you get in the here and now is a Brick of Mu and a signed and stamped Certificate of MuMufication.

"What you get after you die is 23 grams of yours cremated remains fired in your Brick of Mu, which will then be laid to rest on The People’s Pyramid come the following Toxteth Day of the Dead on 23rd of November."

I am still not quite getting this, but perhaps we can love the British without feeling fully confident  that we understand them. No doubt they feel the same way sometimes about Americans.

Via Mondo 2000 on Twitter.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Chad Nelson's tattoo

Chad Nelson writes, "Hey Tom - thought you’d get a kick out of this. It’s my favorite chapter/quotation/book-within-a-book from Schrodinger’s Cat.

"It’s only temporary, but I keep thinking about doing it for real so figured I’d get a feel for it.

"I commissioned Bobby to do a Cagliostro the Great illustration with this text a few years ago. I hope that one wound up in his book - it was really good."

I just flipped through Bobby's RAW Art and didn't find an illustration using the quote. I'm sure it's out there somewhere! (UPDATE: I somehow missed it -- see comment from Bobby.)

Monday, November 25, 2019

Gahan Wilson has died

The great cartoonist Gahan Wilson has died. Here is the New York Times obituary. 

One of Wilson's big markets back in the day was "Playboy" magazine.

On Twitter, @advantardeodus pointed out that "Playboy" editors Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson must have known him.

I'm sure they must have at least known of him, if they didn't know him personally. And although I don't know, I would like to think they were fans.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Widow's Son reading group, Week 14

Nora Barnacle (right) with my daughter’s namesake.

Week Fourteen (pg. 225-234 Hilaritas edition, Chapter Eleven, Part II all editions

By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger

The Prisoner makes his escape. Sigismunundo’s astounding jailbreak was overwhelmingly reminiscent of John Higgs’ description of Dr. Leary’s escape act from San Luis Obispo in the opening chapter of his excellent I Have America Surrounded. Especially the scene of Leary crossing the telephone wire over the fence to freedom on pg. 8-10. Like Sigismundo, Leary has to face a perilous drop (his was only 20 feet but he was fifty and real as opposed to a spry twenty one year old in an, albeit achingly self-aware, adventure novel)  “with nothing but faith and a thin wire between him and the ground below” (Higgs pg. 8). I believe that this is evidence of a feedback loop; did Leary’s account of his stunning escape inspire RAW while writing about Sigismundo’s and was Higgs perhaps inspired by The Widow’s Son when recounting Leary’s escape in his biography? Either way, unlike Leary, Sigismundo has no allies or love waiting for him outside the Bastille. 

(Another connection in those thrilling opening pages would be Higgs’ observations about Leary’s features on pg 10: “But while his face was aristocratic, his mannerisms were restless and American and his eyes and smile had an unmistakably Irish charm. It was this subtle Irish glimmer that overrode the American and classical aspects of his appearance and became the prominent characteristic in the memories of those who knew him. His reckless Irish streak could also be relied on to override the other elements of his personality at pivotal moments of his life.” As Sigismundo heads towards Britain we’ll get to see more of this mix of the Irish and the classical, of aristocracy and recklessness before moving on to the Americas in Nature’s God.) 

Sigismundo’s God or Author is kind to him in this episode as his hand is not reduced to a bloody pulp by ropeburn (a phrasing that made me shudder) from losing his grip on the wall, although at one point he clings on with his “weaker hand”; nor does he have to swim in the moat or scale and descend the second wall. Sigismundo’s belief in the impossible serves him well as he is able to accomplish a feat he considers only possible for an acrobat, and this probably makes his implausible escape successful. 

We are provided with an account of the genesis of de Selby’s romance with Sophie Denevue in “Fuck Off, Buster” and see him shifting his affections from the uninterested-to-the-point-of-feigning-death Denevue to the unknowning Nora Barnacle. Barnacle’s droll attitude towards experimental, high falutin’ writers is transferred from the “real” world (where she wondered why her partner couldn’t just write normal books) to our narrative where she makes the charming understatement that the philosopher, who is trying to “neutralize pleumenary time” and believes he has found an unlikely key to the reoccuring 1132 in the then-unpublished Finnegans Wake, “seems a bit daft.” 

As de Selby anticlimactically collides with Joyce’s personal sphere and Sigismundo finds himself out of the frying pan and into the fire, the reader is left with an image of a rat running across our desperate protagonist’s foot as he tries to focus on a higher self.  Next week we’ll begin Part III- Happy Thanksgiving everyone. 

From Eric Wagner: “I thought Bach’s “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” might work this week. Sigismundo praises this piece in The Earth Will Shake.”

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Top ten SF and fantasy of decade

I'm starting to notice various "ten best of the decade" lists coming out, here is Tyler Cowen's contribution, and here is a compilation of "best of the 2010s" lists. 

For most of these various categories, I don't feel qualified to offer an opinion; I don't keep up with popular music, I don't watch much TV or see many movies.

But I do still read a great deal of fantasy and SF, so here is my list of the top ten SF and fantasy novels of the 2010s:

Surface Detail, Iain M. Banks, 2010.
Somnium, Steve Moore, 2011.
The Yearbook, Carol Masciola. 2015.
Luna: New Moon, Ian McDonald, 2015.
The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin, 2015.
Seveneves, Neal Stephenson, 2015.
Too Like the Lightning, Ada Palmer, 2016.
The Corporation Wars trilogy (first book, 2016) , Ken MacLeod.
Kingdom of the Wicked, Helen Dale, 2017
Gnomon, Nick Harkaway, 2017.

Some honorable mentions:

Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie, 2014.
All Systems Red, Martha Wells, 2017.
Stealing Worlds, Karl Schroeder, 2019.
The Powers of the Earth, Travis Corcoran, 2017.