Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Ask Eric Wagner

Eric Wagner

"Ask Eric Wagner" is a new occasional feature of this blog, in which readers pose questions to Eric Wagner, RAW confidant and the author of An Insider's Guide to Robert Anton Wilson. If you have a question, post a comment, and Eric will answer it when he has time. The Management. 

Do you know if there are extant copies of the MLA courses RAW guided - Illuminatus, Crowley, there was one on politics, Tales of the Tribe or any others? -- Oz Fritz

Eric Wagner:  I do not know about copies of the MLA courses. Other readers of Tom’s blog likely know more than I do. I have seen some of the material on various websites over the years.

My second question: how do you think RAW would have responded to the current pandemic and the resulting social isolation and economic slowdown? -- Oz Fritz

Eric Wagner:  I do not know how Bob would have responded to the current world crisis. I feel less in tune with his nervous system than I used to. Twelve years ago i wondered what he would have made of Obama’s campaign and presidency. I don’t know how he would have responded to Trump’s presidency or our current crisis. (Rasa has commented that Bob did not want anyone to channel him.)

Man, I don’t seem like much help.

Beside the wonderful and colorful list of rock bands in the final chapter of illuminatus, there‘s hardly any mentioning of neither popular nor underground music in his texts.
Taken the important role, that different styles and scenes have had in the development of counter culture, expression of freedom and conscious altering techniques (e.g. Underground Rock in the 60/70s, Rap and HipHop in the 90s and Techno in the 90/00s) it seems interesting that it never really appeared on his screen. But maybe i am just not aware of certain thoughts and output on this issue?

Could you talk a little bit about that from your point of view?  -- DMS

Eric Wagner: Rhoda Chief, a rock singer who reminds me of Grace Slick, appears in Schroedinger’s Cat. Bob recorded with a punk rock band. He wrote approvingly of Madonna. In general, he tended to focus on the music that worked for his nervous system, mostly classical, and especially Beethoven.

Eric, I know this has been discussed elsewhere but I'm wondering if you have any specific memories: how did RAW feel about the less-than-impressive trajectories for life extension and space migration? I can't imagine he was a big fan of the space shuttle program...aside from the ISS I've always been bitter about the switch to the shuttle. -- Rarebit Fiend

Eric Wagner:  It seems to me he would see space migration as slowly happening, just as he would see life extension as slowly happening. Robert Heinlein commented that it "never pays a prophet to be too specific”. (I think Heinlein quoted someone else here). I think the trajectories of S.M. and L.E. continue as Bob predicted they would, but they continue more slowly. Intelligence increase seems a different kind of challenge. The declining popularity of science and democracy might have given him pause. He did discuss this somewhere. He commented about the declines in America’s educational systems. On the other hand, world literacy continues to advance, and I’ve read that the current pandemic might improve science’s popularity.

Thank you for the questions.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Monday, March 30, 2020

Review: 'Ishtar Rising'

For many years, I've had an old Playboy Press edition of The Book of the Breast, one that I picked up cheap somewhere, from a library sale or garage sale or something.

I never read it because I assumed it was written quickly an an excuse for Playboy to publish a book with a bunch of breast pictures; I couldn't think of it as an "official" Robert Anton Wilson book. More recently, I didn't read it because I was waiting for the Hilaritas Press edition of the book published under its later title, Ishtar Rising: Why the Goddess Went to Hell and What to Expect Now That She's Returning.

I finally read it this weekend, and I have something interesting to report: It IS a Robert Anton Wilson book. RAW took Playboy's money and wrote the book he wanted to write (as I mentioned the other day, the editor printed liked it and printed it just as RAW wrote it.)

The book cites or discusses many of RAW's preoccupations (Principia Discordia, Aleister Crowley, James Joyce, etc.) and has many of the Wilson-style passages that may or may not be "true," but are certainly stimulating and entertaining:

In ancient Egypt, evidently, woman and the moon were the original religious objects because their mutual 28-day periods were the earliest markers of time. When the cycles of solar time were discovered, the male sun god, Osiris, and the male phallus, became sacred, and woman and the moon were pushed into second place. Eventually, under Christianity, the female-lunar rites became identified with witchcraft and black magic, and their appearance provoked the horror and hatred of the great witch-hunts. It is within this context that the Christian feeling that the breast is "obscene" must be understood. (Similarly, the use of drugs in the lunar-female religions explains the Christian antipathy to drugs.) 

The book's erotic theme allows RAW to talk about sexual alchemy.

A few points about the new Hilaritas Press edition: It includes not only the original 1973 introduction, but also RAW's 1989 introduction, which is one of the best parts of the book. In addition, Hilaritas adds a foreword by Grant Morrison, quite long, full of interesting observations, and obviously something Morrison didn't just quickly toss off.

Rasa was not able to get permission to use some of the original images (which were all in black and white) , but he worked hard to replace them and match them with RAW's original captions (and many of the illustrations in the new book are in color). In every instance in which Rasa has made a substitution, he has bettered the original; for example, an original black and white photo of Carole Lombard is replaced with a very nice color photo. Rasa even convened the Robert Anton Wilson Advisors so they could weigh in on which artistic color breast illustration to use early in the book.

So I am pretty sure that if you do plan to read the book, the new Hilaritas Press third edition is the one you want. And I also think the book is worth reading, if maybe not as important a part of the canon as Cosmic Trigger or Illuminatus! 
-- Tom Jackson

Sunday, March 29, 2020

A RAW prediction that's coming out nicely

N.K. Jemisin (Creative Commons photo) 

Some of RAW's predictions have not happened as quickly as many would like -- immortality has not arrived for anyone, I'm not typing these words from a space city in orbit around the Earth, and, well, many of you will notice I'm not suddenly getting any smarter.

But I've been reading Ishtar Rising, and there's a prediction in RAW's "Introduction to the 1989 Edition" that has turned out rather well:

 Ishtar and Inanna are archtypes of historical, as well as personal, psychological processes. The last 3000 years of history have followed the classic Ishtar/Inanna pattern: the Goddess has descended to Hell -- gradually at first, as Patriarchy emerged in the early city-states, and then with catastrophic speed as Christianity arose to damn the female half of humanity to sub-human status -- and now, in this century, the Goddess is beginning to rise again, through a thousand cultural transformations of which Feminism is only the tip of the iceberg.

You'd have to be asleep to not notice the more prominent role women are playing in the culture as they emerge from "Patriarchy" -- witness for example the rise of the MeToo movement, or Joe Biden's recent pledge he'll select a female running mate.

One particular piece of literary culture within the wider culture I happen to be familiar with is science fiction, once largely a male venture. Consider these names: N.K. Jemisin (Hugo Award, best novel, 2016, 2017 and 2018), Mary Robinette Kowal (Hugo Award, best novel, 2019), Ann Leckie (Hugo Award, best novel, 2014), Martha Wells (Hugo and Nebula awards), Ada Palmer (John Campbell Award for best new writer), Jo Walton (lots of awards including a Prometheus), Catherynne M. Valente, Becky Chambers, Arkady Martine (so new she hasn't won anything yet but I loved A Memory Called Empire), Johanna Sinisalo (Prometheus Award), Sarah Hoyt (Prometheus Award)  and more names could be offered. If you don't agree with me that women have been dominating science fiction, you will at least have to agree with me they've never played a more prominent role. (I like most of these writers and Ada Palmer is my favorite new writer.)

Friday, March 27, 2020

RAW's 'Mammaries'

I've started reading the new Hilaritas Press edition of Ishtar Rising, and then realized I had read some of it before. Chapter 4 (of the 7 chapters), "Mammary Metaphysics," is one of the essays in Coincidance.

RAW's introduction to the piece in Coincidance provides a summary of how he felt about the book, looking back years later when he had become an established author:

The next essay comes from another potboiler I did for Playboy Press, called The Book of the Breast [footnote: Now published by New Falcon Publications as Ishtar Rising]. As usual, my philosophical and sociological speculations got in the way of lubricity which the editor really wanted, but he got fired along about then and a new editor, Martin Ebon, liked this book so much it was printed just as I wrote it. Curiously, it was the only one of my books for Playboy Press that sold well enough to earn regular royalties for me over a period of several years. 

Kudos to the late Martin Ebon for not screwing up the text, read more about him here.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

RIP Steve Stiles

Steve Stiles in 2006

Steve Stiles, a great science fiction fan and professional artist, died of cancer in January. He won the Hugo for best fan artist in 2016.  I want to belatedly note his career here; I've seen various signs that he was a Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea fan, or at least knew of them.

For example, when I searched for "Steve Stiles Robert Anton Wilson" on Google, I found this archived email exchange:

Date: Sat, 13 Jan 2007 17:43:09 -0500
Subject: [WSFA] Re: Robert Anton Wilson
From: "Steve Stiles"
To: WSFA members
Reply-To: WSFA members

>From: "Keith F. Lynch"
>To: WSFA members
>Subject: [WSFA] Robert Anton Wilson
>Date: Sat Jan 13, 2007, 1:11 PM

>Robert Anton Wilson, author of the Schroedinger's Cat trilogy,
>coauthor of the Illuminatus trilogy, died on January 11th at age
>74 after a long illness.
>I met him and his sometimes-coauthors Robert Shea and Timothy Leary
>at the 1991 Worldcon in Chicago.  Now all three of them are dead.

I remember seeing the young Robert Shea walking down the street near
Rockefeller Plaza in the '60s, but, being a shy kid, didn't say hello.
Thought he looked like a young FDR, and the long cigarette holder perched
jauntily between his teeth enhanced that image. I knew him then as the
editor of "The Scene," a non-s.f. mimeographed fanzine, and a sometimes
contributor to Paul Krassner's "The Realist." I think his writing career was
in its early stages and I probably recognized him from an appearance at a

--Steve Stiles

You can read the File 770 obituary, or the Wikipedia article, or the official website. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Free James Bond movies on Pluto TV

In the interests of keeping everyone's spirits up, I wanted to note that Pluto TV (the free substitute for cable TV, apps for smartphones and tablets) is showing a bunch of old James Bond movies right now (and a lot of other movies and stuff -- I like the rock concert movies.)

I watched "Never Say Never Again," one of the few Bond movies I'd missed. Not bad, and a nice bonus is the early scenes feature Prunella Gee. I'm pleased to report her character isn't killed off (unlike many other Bond galpals). It might have been traumatic to Daisy to see her mother being killed onscreen by SPECTRE.

Yes, I know the Bond movies are kind of sexist and not art flicks. I'm also planning to make time for the free Metropolitan Opera broadcasts. See the link for the schedule; "Nixon in China," a great show, is April 1. 

There's lots of other free stuff at Tubi.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Review: 'Pigspurt's Daughter'

Americans have had little opportunity to enjoy the work of Daisy Eris Campbell, the British writer, playwright and performer, and the daughter of British theater legend Ken Campbell. Her adaption for the stage of Robert Anton Wilson's Cosmic Trigger has never been performed in the U.S. (an attempt to stage it in California was aborted when it unexpectedly received government funding for another run in Britain) and her tour for her "Pigspurt's Daughter" dramatic monologue only took place in Britain.

Now, however, Hilaritas Press has published a book adaption of the monologue, making it available to everyone. I just read my copy, and Hilaritas has provided a real service for Americans who want to check out Daisy's compelling madness. Pigspurt's Daughter, a short book that can be read in one sitting,  is the funniest book I have read in a long time, but it's also touching and oddly wise.

The book's subject is Daisy coming to terms with the 10-year anniversary of her famous father's death and becoming a successful artist in her own right. How she does so is quite a story. (Ken Campbell is not her only notable parent. Illuminatus! has a British secret agent who is a parody of James Bond; Daisy's mother, in one of those synchronicities that seem to flare up around Daisy, is British actress Prunella Gee, who was in a James Bond movie, "Never Say Never Again.")

Robert Anton Wilson's work often makes it difficult to tell what is real and what is made up, and Pigspurt's Daughter has similar effects on the reader. There's quite a bit about the pyramid of the dead in Liverpool being built by the KLF, and while it's as crazy as anything else in the book, apparently it's either real or the BBC is on the plot to put one over on everyone. 

John Higgs wrote a witty and gracious foreword for the book which says Daisy's work includes a fictional incident that came true. So I suppose it may or may not be true, as the book says, that Higgs phoned Daisy to warn her about one of her schemes, "I have a feeling this is a very bad idea, and that bad things may happen if you go ahead." And I am kept guessing whether Daisy really did have a solemn moment in a graveyard while wearing a fat suit. But you'll want to read the book and find out what I am talking about.

The book includes color photos and occasional staging notes that provide a clear picture of Daisy's performance, and there are family photos in the back, along with a review of the play by Jason Watkins which won a prize for arts journalism.

There are lots of references in the book to the works of both Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea (there is quite a bit about the Cathars, the subject of my favorite Shea novel, All Things Are Lights, and the monologue begins with a mention of Illuminatus!). The rather arresting cover nicely shows off Rasa's design skills.

-- Tom Jackson

Footnote: I did not get a review copy; I bought it like everyone else.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Ask Eric Wagner

I recently had a post in which Eric Wagner, author of An Insider's Guide to Robert Anton Wilson,  answered a question posed to him on Facebook. Eric says he is willing to take other questions, so if you have one, please post as a comment to this blog post.

Here is question I asked Eric to get things started:

Tom Jackson: In honor of the the 250th anniversary for Beethoven, I would like to dig a little deeper into RAW's interest in Beethoven. What were his favorite Beethoven pieces, and did he have favorite performers? What other classical music did he seem to particularly like to listen to?

Eric Wagner: Well, Bob wrote about Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony over and over again, especially the final movement. The Hammerklavier Sonata plays a major role in The Schroedinger’s Cat Trilogy and Bob also mention it in Prometheus Rising. Beethoven’s Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Symphonies also show up repeatedly in Bob's writings, as does the very early Emperor Joseph Cantata. Years ago I asked him for his ten desert island discs. I think you published that once. I can’t find the list at present, but in addition to the above and the Beethoven Piano Concertos it included the Mozart Piano Concertos, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”, Carmina Burana, and Scott Joplin played on harpsichord. Bob does a great job creating the musical world of Sigismundo Maldonado in The Earth Will Shake. Sigismundo particularly loves Domenico Scarlatti. Bob also loved Mahler.

I don’t know about Bob’s favorite performers. Christina Pearson and Scott Apel would know better then I would. I spent far less time with him than they did. I do remember the one time he came over to my house for a Finnegans Wake study group in 1988, I asked him what he would like to hear. He asked for a number of Beethoven pieces, all of which I had recordings of except the Triple Concerto. Then he asked for Bach’s Goldberg Variations as a change of pace.

(Incidentally, I have no news yet on when the new edition of An Insider's Guide to Robert Anton Wilson will come out. Eric prepared extensive revisions and it was supposed to be issued late last year, but it's been delayed. Eric has not received an update yet, and I got no reply when I emailed the publisher recently. Does anyone have any news on New Falcon? -- Tom)

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Oz Fritz on the 'Widow's Son' reading group

Oz Fritz was one of the mainstay commentators in the recently-finished reading group on The Widow's Son. Apparently he still had points he wanted to make, because on his blog, he has a new posting up, "The Widow's Son Discussion Group," where he talks about how important the book is in RAW's canon and how the discussion "opened my eyes to a great deal of magic and to mysteries of life in general."

I don't want to try to summarize Oz' post, which is pretty substantial, but although I've already posted a comment (paying him back a little, as it were), I did want to offer a couple of footnotes.

Oz finds a possible reference to the number 23 at the end of The Widow's Son, and writes:  

I interpret 23 as a number indicating the Bardo.  The correspondences suggest both death and life, or perhaps, death and rebirth.  A primary instruction in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Bardo Thodol, = “maintain the thread of consciousness.  If you look at the transmission of the 23 Enigma from William Burroughs to Robert Anton Wilson as described in Cosmic Trigger I, this number, 23, most frequently came up in relation to death.  Outside of physical death, the Bardo represents a space in between where change occurs between one thing and another.  It makes sense to end the book with this correspondence, we enter the Bardo in between the second and third books of the Historical Illuminatus series.

Of course, another change between one thing and another is that Sigismundo heads west to America, along with some of the other characters who are crossing the waters. Could this be analogous to RAW growing up on the East Coast, migrating west, and spending the last few decades of his life on the West Coast?

But getting back to death, earlier in his post, Oz writes,

Many confrontations with death in the first two books of the Historical Illuminatus series have been noted.  Death appears to become as much of a behind-the-scenes-character in The Widow’s Son as it does in Gravity’s Rainbow.  I pointed out several associations or simultaneous occurrences of Tiphareth with Death.  This resonates with the instruction given many times in The Egyptian Book of the Dead for the voyaging soul to unite with Osiris upon departing the physical sheath at death.

A quote from Scott Apel's Beyond Chaos and Beyond In the autobiographical essay at the end of the book, Apel describes how his girlfriend Catherine kept RAW company during RAW's final days, and adds, "And at night, she read to him -- as she had done to Arlen -- from The Egyptian Book of the Dead, in the hopes of easing his transition." (This is an example of how the book has a lot of interesting material, including previously uncollected RAW writings, not found anywhere else.)

Also in Oz' post, Oz quotes the famous Calvin Coolidge quote on persistence, rendered into a poem: "Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent." Etc. I can't resist pointing out that RAW's observation on the power of persistence is an important episode of Cosmic Trigger II (to avoid a "spoiler" for those who haven't read the book, I want to avoid being more specific.) 

BTW, speaking of the reading group, I've gotten all of the links caught up for it on the right side of the page, if any of you want to finish participating the group (you can still post comments -- I moderate and approve comments every day) or even want to start, with all of the free time everybody supposedly has these days. 

The reading group for Nature's God, the third Historical Illuminatus! book, starts April 30. I had an old paper copy, but I just got the ebook from Hilaritas so I can read the extra material and run searches. 

Saturday, March 21, 2020

News from John Higgs

John Higgs

John has released another newsletter.  And while I say it has news, in a sense it has "not news," as instead of listing events it lists canceled events.

The work-in-progress presentation in April of my play HG Wells & The Spiders From Mars in the Cockpit Theatre, London has, needless to say, been cancelled. This will resurface at some point further down the road, so more news as and when. The Berkhamsted Book Festival, at which I was going to do an event with Robin Ince, is also cancelled. Basically – if in doubt, everything’s cancelled.

John has a lot of interesting thoughts -- on COVID-19, individualism, and on what to put into  your brain while you're forced to stay at home:

Those that are self-isolating may suddenly find themselves upping their brain food intake considerably, so it’s worth remembering the importance of a balanced diet. Not all brain-nosh is the same. Social media is a lot of empty calories, for example, and it is easy to snack on, being always within reach. But a prolonged binge will not leave you feeling good, which is why I don’t have Twitter or Facebook apps on my phone.

That’s not to say that a blast of sugar and additives should not be part of your head diet – Doom Eternal is released this week, after all. But a balanced diet is the key. Books are the fruit and vegetables of the brain food world. You don’t consume as many as you should, and you make excuses for leaving them on your plate. Yet a book heavy diet is the most satisfying, and it leaves you feeling much better than any other form of head-scran. I’m biased here, I admit, but it’s still true.

I mostly agree with this, although I think social media has been useful during the crisis (hence my COVID-19 Twitter list.) Also wish John had put in a good word for newspapers, but that's MY bias.

Friday, March 20, 2020

COVID-19 links [UPDATED]

CDC illustration of COVID-19 virus

Here is the latest updated version of my COVID-19 links.

A briefing on COVID-19. The document is being periodically updated.

New York Times COVID-19 coverage. The New York Times has removed the paywall for its COVID-19 coverage. Many other newspapers have adopted a similar policy. See this link.

ProPublica. The public interest news site is never behind a paywall and has good COVID-19 coverage.

CDC on proper handwashing (important, see for example this MIT study).

The Johns Hopkins dashboard tracking cases. 

The CDC's COVID-19 page.

The World Health Organization COVID-19 page.

Erie County Health Department (lots of additional resources.)

Current national U.S. forecast from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.  Somewhat more optimistic forecast than some projections, from a well-respected organization.

Current Ohio forecast from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. (You can change the forecast to your own state with one click.)

I've also created a COVID-19 list on Twitter, featuring people who Tweet a lot about it and who seem informed. I am also mostly Tweeting COVID-19 for the duration of the emergency (@jacksontom).

A little levity from Scott Adams, to cheer you up!