Monday, June 17, 2019

The Earth Will Shake reading group, Week Seventeen

Naples Cathedral

This week, please read from page 334 ("The afternoon was interminable.") to page 359 ("In vast labyrinthine silence.")

This is the next to the last section we are reading; next week, we will finish the book. Gregory Arnott has volunteered to lead the reading group for The Widow's Son. A start date likely will be announced soon, but we have talked about August.

This section seems to be the one that covers love and death, sex and violence.

And also the dangers of alcohol. This section seems to illustrate the dangers of excess pretty vividly.  Isn't Sigismundo exactly the sort of person who should simply give up drinking?

"Everybody has the right to be a damned fool for one day, I told myself. But I forgot that the consequences can last for more than one day -- can last for the rest of your life." Page 354.

"Outside the 'damnable books of Romance,' sober men do not get themselves into this kind of mess," Page 354.

Robert Anton Wilson certainly enjoyed drinking, but I also get the impression he wasn't a fan of drunkenness. Perhaps some of the folks who actually knew him can weigh in. Beyond Chaos and Beyond has an anecdote, in D. Scott Apel's "Bob and Me" biographical essay, about Wilson not wanting to have anything to do anymore with Apel's friend Kevin Briggs: "After years of weekly social evenings, Bob was afraid Kevin had become an alcoholic and informed me 'it would be better if you didn't bring him around anymore.' Fortunately Briggs had relocated ... he remained blissfully ignorant of his ostracism."

In any event, here is a nice passage: "Sigismundo was aware of himself breathing slowly and easily, in his bedroom, in the Celine villa, high on a hill in Napoli, on the continent of Europe, on the planet earth, in the system of nine planets circling the Inner Sun, in a vast turning spiral, in the womb, in the pink erotic waters, midway between existence and nonexistence." Page 359.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

RAW on 'fakes' and 'real' things

"The Imaginary Mongoose," another Martin Wagner rediscovery, is Robert Anton Wilson's article about F Is For Fake and what "is" "real."


Andy Warhol, as is well known, used to keep a pantry full of Campbell soup cans, and if he liked you, he would autograph one and give to you, so you could own “a genuine Warhol original.” Such is the magic of art and the art of magic. The logical next step, as Hugh Kenner once pointed out, would have been for Warhol to sue the Campbell Soup Company for selling cheap imitation Warhols.

I have pondered long and hard, for many years, on the difference between “real” money and counterfeit money, and the best analysis I can offer is that we are supposed to believe the wizards at the Federal Reserve Bank have a magic wand which turns paper into something of value, but the counterfeiters do not own the magic wand. This can hardly be called fakery or imposture (despite the grumblings of some right-wing money cranks) since the Fed’s notes are indeed accepted as something valuable on international money markets.

But why would a dollar become worth several million dollars if it were hung on a museum wall by Warhol as an example of “found art?” And would it make any difference if such “found art” were blessed by the wizards at the Federal Reserve or just printed in a basement by the Mafia?

Maybe humans are creatures who create realities out of the flux of experience by faking (imposing?) meanings and forms. Or is that too Buddhistic a view for most of you reading this?

RAW also writes, "As for me, I’m already wondering if this is a genuine Robert Anton Wilson article or just another fake I dashed off because I was too tired to write the real thing."

Saturday, June 15, 2019

My Bach listening project

Johann Sebastian Bach

Do you guys ever have "listening projects"? I know that Eric Wagner does, for one; a couple of years ago or so, he listened to every one of Beethoven's piano sonatas, listening to each one several times before moving on to the next. (I can't remember the exact details).

Lately as my latest listening project I have been going through my copy of the Bach Guild's Big Bach Cantatas Box -- 99 cents for more than six hours of Johann Sebastian Bach cantatas I can stream anytime. These vocal works are some the best music ever written by anyone, although the performance of one of my favorites, Cantata No. 140, Wachet auf, is not one of my favorites. (You can get a good performance of it if you get the Bach Guild's Bigger Bach Set. It will set you back $3, but it has more than 14 hours of music.)

When I listened to the instrumental piece that begins Cantata No. 29, a fine composition, I remembered it from hearing the Walter/Wendy Carlos album, Switched on Bach, when I was in college in the 1970s.

Robert Anton Wilson has a nice summary of his feelings toward various composers at the back of Right Where You Are Sitting Now, in "Credo."  He writes, "I believe in Bach, the creator of heaven and earth, and in Mozart, his only begotten son, and in Beethoven, the mediator and comforter; and inasmuch as their gods have manifested also in Vivaldi and Ravel and Stravinsky and many another, I believe in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of error, and Mind everlasting."

Friday, June 14, 2019

Celebrity and its uses

Years ago, when I happened to be in a business that had a TV set on, I was amazed to see a "celebrity endorsement commercial" that featured Mark Frauenfelder (RAW fan, writer, artist, Boing Boing founder, guru of cool etc.) He was explaining why he switched from a Windows machine to Apple. (I don't know when the commercial was made, but this Slate article, written by a guy who apparently has no idea who Mark is, dates to 2002).

This was a rare example of a celebrity endorsement I would actually be willing to listen to, although when I saw it (I think I may have been in a barbershop) I was already following my habit of buying used/cheap laptops and installing Linux on them. (Lately I do my home computer on a cheap Chromebook).

Anyway, it seems to me we need a high profile "celebrity endorser" for Robert Anton Wilson, or some other way to get his name out to the large majority of people who have never heard of him. RAW wrote somewhere once that he wished he could get on TV to share his ideas. During his lifetime, most people never had the opportunity to hear his ideas or find out about him.

My wife is a librarian; he specialty is cataloging. So by the nature of her job, she knows the names of many book authors. (If you describe a book to her, she can probably tell you from memory what the catalog number is likely to be) She never heard of Robert Anton Wilson  until she married a weirdo. Most of the people she works with in the library never heard of RAW.

I even did a blog post last year about a librarian at her library who has read Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Gordon White and H.P. Lovecraft, and he didn't know who RAW was.

So I think there's a potential audience out there for RAW that hasn't been tapped.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Erik Davis interviewed

Erik Davis

With this week's release of High Weirdness: Drugs, Esoterica, and Visionary Experience in the Seventies (about Robert Anton Wilson, Philip K. Dick and Terence McKenna), Erik Davis is busy giving interviews and promoting the book. You can, for example, read his five question interview with the City Lights bookstore.  Here's one of them:

CL: What writers/artists/people do you find the most influential to the writing of this book and/or your writing in general?

ED: Robert Anton Wilson, William James, Lester Bangs, Bruno Latour, Terence McKenna, Hunter S. Thompson.

Follow Erik on Twitter for announcements of events, appearances on podcasts, etc.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

When Burroughs met Dylan

Bob Dylan. Wikimedia Commons photo.

Boing Boing has an interesting post, "When William S. Burroughs met Bob Dylan," about a writer who Robert Anton Wilson admired (Burroughs, of course) and a singer-songwriter RAW unfairly dissed. 

The blog post is an excerpt from a new book by Casey Rae, William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock 'n' Roll.  The book claims that Burroughs' cut-up prose technique influenced Dylan's lyrics, and that the "Brother Bill" mentioned in the Dylan song "Tombstone Blues" is a reference to Burroughs.

Note: Netflix has begun airing a new movie, Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese, a fictionalized account of Dylan's 1970s tour airing on Netflix. Allen Ginsberg, a poet much admired by RAW, apparently is featured in the film.

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Earth Will Shake reading group, Week Sixteen

Edmund Burke. "Everybody knows Edmund Burke's wife is a Catholic," page 328. 

This week, please read from page 317 ("Sigismundo Celine was blocked; the sonata was just not coming to the right conclusion.") to page 334 ("Sir John and Lady Babcock, he thought: We are now legally one person").

We are coming to the end of our reading group; two more episodes after today, and we will be finished. And then in a few weeks, Gregory Arnott will lead the reading group for The Widow's Son.

Page 319: Sigismundo's attempt to invent the automobile seems like an example of "steam engine time."

Mother Ursula has engaged in the sort of self-programming Robert Anton Wilson advocated:

"Mother Ursula meant the special kind of focus, the special concentration on God, which brought the healing power into her hands, for instance, and perhaps gave her other qualities that were not so spectacular but were equally unusual -- such as her unfailing good  humor and optimism in a world where most people were worried and anxious or full of anger at least half of their waking hours." Pages 321-322.

"Jesus had made a joke about that once, she explained, but theologians could not imagine that He had a sense of humor, so they took Him literally."

Is this a reference to Matthew 5:27 through 5:30? "27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell."

On page 324, Sir John Babcock expresses a tenet of RAW's philosophy:

"I do not know what to believe. I have read too much and traveled too far. Certitude belongs to those who have only lived in a place where everybody believes he same things."

Sunday, June 9, 2019

An interview with Terence McKenna

Terence McKenna

I really need to get around to doing some serious reading of Terence McKenna. But in the meantime I read an interesting interview, "The Rollercoaster of Transcendence," that I found out about on Twitter the other day. 

His suggestion that psilocybin mushrooms were created by aliens is interesting although obviously speculative. But I was particularly struck by this question and answer, which in the epidemic of fentanyl and other terrible synthetic opiates seems prophetic:

Gyrus: As far as that concept of prosthesis goes, you’ve talked about machines and cultural artefacts as an extension of humanity, and you condemn laboratory-manufactured psychedelics to a large extent. Why would they not fall into the…

Terence: Well, I don’t condemn them out of some kind of purist “Plants are good, chemicals are bad”… No, I condemn them for very practical reasons. First of all, a white powder drug. You have no idea what it is. You can be fairly sure it was manufactured in an atmosphere of criminal syndicalism where the major goal was to make money. That’s not a very reassuring statement of drug purity and chemical attention to detail. And the other thing is, the vegetable psychedelics, we have our human data—five thousand years of mushroom use in Mexico, and so forth and so on. With a new drug, since it’s illegal to do research on it, we have no human data. And sometimes it takes a generation or two to see what the consequences of exposure to a compound are. So I don’t have an absolutist position against laboratory drugs, it’s simply that if we’re trying to get to a certain place—which is the dissolution of the ego, and the entry into psychedelic space—at this stage, the vegetable psychedelics are just simply more effective, better track record… they work.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Erik Davis 'High Weirdness' podcast

Erik Davis' new book, High Weirdness: Drugs, Esoterica, and Visionary Experience in the Seventies, about Robert Anton Wilson and other visionary figures in the 1970s, will be released Tuesday. 

You can listen to an interview with Davis about the book on the Weird Studies podcast, available here and on the usual podcast apps. Note that episode four of the podcast also features Davis.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Timothy Leary update

About a couple of days ago, I brought up Eric Wagner's idea that we celebrate the Timothy Leary centennial next year by reading one of Leary's books. There have been seven responses so far.

Several seem to think The Game of Life (which also has Robert Anton Wilson contributions) would be fine, although there are also votes for Info-Psychology, What Does Wo-Man Want? and Flashbacks.

So what would you think if we did The Game of Life next year, and then tackled another Leary book if the first reading group went well?

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Read my authentic blog

My current favorite restaurant in Cleveland

Supergee has a blog post linking to an article in Mother Jones which asserts that calling "ethnic" restaurants "authentic" is racist and is linked to discriminatory behavior (i.e., French restaurants can charge high prices, but Chinese restaurants are supposed to be cheap.)

It's an interesting piece, and it makes me wonder what terms I should use to describe restaurants. My favorite Chinese restaurants are the ones in which the customers are mostly Asian, rather than mostly white. Should I just describe my favorite places that way?