Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Widow's Son reading group, Week Nine

Frederick, Elector Palatine and Elizabeth Stuart 

Week Nine (pg. 105-138 Hilaritas edition or Part Two, Chapter 1&2 all editions)

By Gregory Arnott, special guest blogger 

I have to apologize for being late this week- I’ve started a new job that required a lot of planning last week in anticipation for the next. Regrettably these two chapters contain an extraordinary amount of information and this will be a short write up. 

Chapter 1 moves the action to Ireland and introduces us to Simon Moon’s ancestor, Seamus Muadhen. This chapter was presumably written while RAW was living in Ireland and his interest, enthusiasm, and expertise on Irish history is on full display. On the first page alone we are given a vivid slice of history that is mind boggling, especially when one is considering annotation.  Naturally much of the subjects brought up are of interest to Joyce scholars; Howth and Vico Road are both in the famous opening line of Finnegans Wake, the discussion of Hamlet is the subject of one of my favorite parts of Ulysses, “Scylla and Charybdis,” and we are provided with Dedalus’ famous opinion on history via Muadhen’s musings. Dalkey Island, where Seamus is introduced to conspiracy and a different fate than his Plan’s intentions, shares a name with Flann O’Brien’s novel The Dalkey Archive which was the first published appearance of de Selby. I’m sure some of the readers caught more relations than I did and am looking forward to reading about them! 

RAW gives us a handful of the atrocities committed by the English against the Irish as Muadhen boats about the bay but balances these accounts; he makes sure to mention the James II and Edward Charles Stuart weren’t the Romantic figures of Jacobite lore and that the violence between Catholics and Protestants are an ugly cycle. I remember while studying in my Tudor and Stuart History seminar the point made by my professor about the reign of Queen Mary and why exactly the English would never suffer another Catholic to sit the throne. Maybe it’s my affection for John Dee, whom she imprisoned, but Mary has always struck me as an abnormally ugly figure in history and I’ve always hated the revisionist attempts to paint her otherwise in popular history. There are many stories being told in this chapter. 

Interestingly enough, in the long footnote concerning the Rosicrucians in Chapter 2 RAW doesn’t mention that part of Dame Yates’ study of the marriage of Elizabeth of England and Frederick V in the light of the Rosicrucian hoax/heresy/revelations focuses on the implications for the balance of power between Protestantism and Catholicism on the Continent. According to Yates, it was widely hoped that the marriage between Frederick and James Stuart’s daughter would ensure Protestant British support if and when the Elector Palatine challenged the Catholic Habsburg hegemony over some strongly Protestant German/central European states. The joke was on them because James evidently didn’t give a shit and the Winter King was defeated at the Battle of White Mountain which served as an overture to the Thirty Years War. But they sure got those Habsburg ambassadors when they tossed them out the window. 

We are (re)introduced to Wilson’s historically accurate portrait of Washington as a hemp-smoking, taciturn, and all-around-bizarre giant of a man. Aside from Wilson, Thomas Pynchon’s George Washington is also a pot-smoking gentleman whose views on liberty and slavery are drawn into sharp contrast while he meets and discusses all-and-everything with Mason and Dixon in the novel of the same name. Although the scene is improved in Pynchon’s novel by the inclusion of a slave character who is Jewish and much smarter than the other three men, a situation he begins to take advantage of when the grass starts burning. 

In the Bastille Sigismundo is going through all the emotions that one would expect a new prisoner to experience: regret, desperation, sorrow, fear, and the need for a shoulder to cry on. Thankfully he is provided with the council of Father Benoit, a Fellow in the Craft. Sigismundo is again able to find strength in his training and initiations. 

In de Selby news we find out that the Professor Hanfkopf has most likely murdered O’Broichain, La Puta, and Le Monade. If they were ever real in the first place. 

From Eric Wagner: “I thought this week we would use the song Seamus thinks about on page 120.” 

Saturday, October 19, 2019

A bit on Bill Maher (and Kevin Williamson)

Bill Maher (Creative Commons photo)

Thanks to Chad and Oz for posting at my Kevin Williamson interview blog post. 

After I read their comments, I wondered if Williamson had appeared on Bill Maher's current show, and he has. A podcast of the August 23  show is available free (and legally) here on Sticher;  Williamson shows up at 30:15. I agree with Williamson on free speech and with Maher on abortion.

You can read an article about the show from a friendly source,  and also read an attack on Maher and Williamson from a left site. We report, you decide!

The Mediaite piece attacks Maher for given Williamson a national platform, but of course Maher is also the only talk show host I know of who gave Robert Anton Wilson a national platform.  (Check the date!)

Friday, October 18, 2019

Trump appoints Illuminati attorney

The Widow's Son online reading group starring Gregory Arnott and a cast of expert commentators will return soon.

In the meantime, some news, via Jesse Walker: "A Colorado Springs lawyer appointed by President Donald Trump to a federal education board is a prolific author of self-help Illuminati books whose education company has been accused of handing out certificates to undeserving applicants."

The lawyer in question is George Mentz, co-author of The Illuminati Secret Laws of Money - The Wealth Mindset Manifesto: The Life Changing Magic and Habits of Spiritual Mastery (First) and The Illuminati Handbook – The Path of Illumination and Ascension: The Testament of the Mystical Order and The Secret Teachings that Make them Great. (Just to be clear, he also has written self help books that don't mention any secret organizations in the title.)

More here from the Denver Post.

Bonus Jesse Walker related link: "The Possibly Pending Death of a Legendary Radio Station
Friday A/V Club: When Timothy Leary, Ayn Rand, and Big Mama Thornton shared a microphone." 

Thursday, October 17, 2019

My Kevin Williamson interview

I recently interviewed the writer Kevin D. Williamson, and you can read the interview here.  It's one of my favorite author interviews for the paper, and Williamson could not have been too unhappy with it, as he did a post pointing to it. 

When I read his new book, The Smallest Minority: Independent Thinking in the Age of Mob Politics, I was surprised that in a couple of places, he sounded like Robert Anton Wilson. This is apparently because they both favor freedom of speech, and both cite James Joyce as an influence, but it was nonetheless kind of surprising. Here are a few sentences from the book to show what I mean:

Those who defended the free speech of Communists in the 1950s were derided as fellow travelers, and those who defend the free speech of neo-Nazis, pedophiles, or other detestable characters today are smeared in the same way. The case for toleration is never more than an inch away from being suffocated by the desire to punish. And those who will not serve the desire to punish are cast out as heretics. The desire to punish comes in many forms -- political, religious, social -- but it is always and everywhere the same in its demand for obedience and service ... "Non serviam," Lucifer said, "I will not serve." These are the words that supposedly led to the brightest angel's expulsion from heaven. (Page 200).

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Footnote on Matthew Manning

Matthew Manning

Part One of Robert Anton Wilson's "Politics of Psi" series, which I posted about Saturday,  included a discussion of one Matthew Manning, who Wilson  says "has demonstrated powers that make him even more astounding than Uri Geller. Some have even said that he’seems to have all the psychic abilities of Geller, of clairvoyant Peter Hurkos and of Edgar Cayce combined — and perhaps, even more."

Jesse Walker points out that the Skeptical Inquirer's Joe Nickell examined some of Manning's alleged powers and was not impressed. Not exactly RAW's favorite publication, as Walker notes, but if Manning had all of the powers that are alleged, it would be hard to suppress knowledge of his talents.

Here is the Wikipedia biography of Manning.   You can also visit his official site. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Reading Theodore Sturgeon

I just finished reading the Selected Stories of Theodore Sturgeon. Oddly, the collection omits "Microcosmic God," one of his most famous stories, but it does collect many of his most famous stories in one volume. My favorites, some of which I had read before, were "Thunder and Roses," "The Sex Opposite," "The [Widget] the [Wadget] and Boff," "The Man Who Lost the Sea" and "Slow Sculpture."

Sturgeon (1918-1985) was best known as a science fiction writer, although he also wrote fantasy, horror and mainstream stories. He is best known for More Than Human, a fixup of three novellas, and generally was better known for his short works than his novels.

Science Fiction: An Oral History by D. Scott Apel, a collection of interviews with science fiction authors from various eras, has a very interesting interview with Sturgeon which reveals he was a big fan of Robert Anton Wilson.  Sturgeon for example calls Cosmic Trigger an "excellent book."

There is also a striking moment in the interview in which Sturgeon mentions a philosophical novel, 2150 AD by Thea Alexander, and Apel tells him it's one of his favorite books. (Apel: "2150 is one of the three books I recommend unequivocally to people who are looking for books on consciousness expansion." Sturgeon wanted Philip K. Dick to read the book: "I feel the philosophical structure is what he's looking for." I never heard of this book, other than the interview.)

Apel's interview with Wilson in Science Fiction: An Oral History (reprinted in Beyond Chaos and Beyond) includes this statement from RAW: "My favorite science fiction writers have long been Stapledon, Heinlein, Clarke and Sturgeon."

Beyond Chaos and Beyond also describes how Apel, after he became friends with Sturgeon, brought him over to meet RAW.

I recently bought an ebook of The Best of Gene Wolfe, and it seems to me there are other writers who would benefit from a "selected stories" or "best of" one volume collection, including Harlan Ellison, Roger Zelazny and Philip Jose Farmer.

All of Sturgeon's stories have been collected into several volumes, which I'll have to get around to reading.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Alias Bogus on 'Laws of Form'

At Only Maybe, Alias Bogus has a new post up that mentions the Widow's Son reading group and remarks, "In the process of looking closely at the text, a fleeting reference came up to 'The Laws of  Form' by G Spencer Brown." He remarks, "It becomes obvious why RAW found him interesting, as the basis of his investigation lies in engineering (logic circuits for transistors), not abstract thinking (formal logic)."

Here is an earlier post on Maybe Logic, and here is earlier discussion of Laws of Form on this blog. 

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Keeping RAW's work alive

On Sept. 15, I posted an item on Rasa asking people not to pirate Robert Anton Wilson's works. You can read it for reference as I offer these thoughts on protecting RAW's copyrighted material, treating his children fairly and preserving his legacy:

1. Copyright lasts too long in the U.S.; works in 1923 only this year entered the public domain (96 years). Yet any reasonable reform of copyright would protect RAW for  years to come; he died only 12 years ago and his children will be around for a long time. It seems to me copyright ought to last 40 to 50 years or so to balance fairness to a writer's family vs. the public interest. Your own ideal term might vary, but it's clearly too early for Wilson's work to enter the public domain.

2. Sales of Hilaritas Press books directly benefit members of RAW's family, as Wilson surely would have intended. Those are the people who benefit when you buy a new edition of Cosmic Trigger or The Widow's Son. And those are the people you harm when you grab a pirated edition instead.

3. Buying a used book of Wilson's works preserves it as an actively read book.

4. For those of you who can't afford to buy all (or even any) of the new Hilaritas editions, there are public libraries, and nearly all libraries have interlibrary loan to help you obtain titles which are not available locally. Checking out a book also helps authors, living and dead. Libraries have a finite amount of shelf space, they are always adding new books, and so they must cull old titles. The books that are not checked out are the ones that are pulled from the shelf and disposed of, by sale or in the landfill. Checking a book out helps keep that work available for other readers to discover.

5. Much more needs to be done, by Hilaritas and other publishers, to make RAW's work available in libraries. When I search for "Robert Anton Wilson" on Hoopla, the premier digital library service, I get only one result: An ebook of The Illuminati Papers. That's good -- if you haven't read it, it's free on Hoopla -- but where is everything else? Wilson also is largely missing from Overdrive, the major library ebook and audiobook service. I also hope there is an ongoing effort to get Hilaritas' paper titles sold to libraries.

6. Wilson's work is kept alive by grassroots efforts of fans in Great Britain, Austria, Argentina, Italy, the Netherlands and other countries, and in the U.S. by active efforts by folks in California, Ohio, West Virginia, New York City, and many other places. These ongoing activities on behalf of an author who died more than a decade ago and never sold a huge number of books is a literary phenomena. It's news and merits news coverage. Maybe some of you are in a position to offer a news tip to the New York Times or some other news organization. I can suggest interview subjects to any inquiring journalist.

7. Everyone can help, by purchasing reissues of Wilson's work, promoting news about Wilson on social media and participating in other activities. You don't have to stage a play based on Wilson's work or write a new biography to be helpful, although such projects certainly have a nice impact.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

RAW on 'Politics of Psi'

From Martin Wagner.

Part One.

Part Two.

Part Three. 

Age of Psi. 

A bit from Part Two:

A few facts about the OTO, however, are beyond dispute. Aleister Crowley really was a member, ran all the English and American lodges from about 1900 onward and became “Outer Head” of the whole order in about 1920. (The “Inner Head” is allegedly, an extra-terrestrial, or extra-human, intelligence of no known address.) And it is also beyond doubt that Adolph Hitler hated and feared the OTO with a strange passion, which led him to place the entire German membership in concentration camps and outlaw the whole organization.

Hitler may have been worried about the overt encouragement of tyrannicide in the ninth of the OTO principles quoted above “Man has the right to kill those who would thwart these rights.” Or he may have regarded the occult arts of the OTO as threatening, or interfering with, the occult arts practiced by the Nazis themselves through the infamous Occult Department (Ahnenerbe) under the directorship of Heinrich Himmler.

Friday, October 11, 2019

The Widow's Son reading group, Week Eight

Madame du Barry

Week Eight (pg. 95-102 Hilaritas edition, Chapter 15 all editions)

By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger

I swear that I hadn’t read ahead when I wrote last week’s post, aside from my initial reading years ago, but this is what I touched on that is addressed in this week’s chapter: the conditions of the Bastille, the identity of the man in the iron mask (and the actual material the mask was made of), Nasrudin, and the career of de Sade.

Jumilhac, the warden of the Bastille, was the predecessor of de Launay who was in command of the Bastille from 1776 until July 14, 1789. On that fateful day de Launay was stabbed by the crowd repeatedly and evidently cried out “Enough! Let me die.” before having his head sawn off, affixed to a pike, and paraded through the streets of Paris. De Launay is noted to have been considered a humane gaolor who made conditions better than the wardens the preceded his tenure. Given how conscientious RAW portrays Jumilhac,  de Launay’s fate can be seen as a bit extreme.

I only alluded to Nasrudin in the last sentence of my part of last week’s post but the fable should be familiar with the audience from Cosmic Trigger and other parts of RAW’s corpus. Mullah Nasrudin was a real person who lived sometime around the 13th century who was mythologized into an irascible teacher in the centuries after his death. Gurdjieff referred to the Nasrudin fables in his conversations and his stories were popularized by Idries Shah. (I believe, at least at the time of the writing of Cosmic Trigger, most of RAW’s information about Nasrudin and Sufism came from the works of Shah.) The quote from Old Orfali found in last week’s reading which Adie brought up in the comments seems to fit well with the moral of the Nasrudin parable in this week’s chapter: "He who understands Speculative Masonry,’ old Abraham Orfali said, ‘does not know despair, for every hour brings him new information to be absorbed and utilized."

For someone who cited Orson Welles as a primary influence it isn’t surprising that RAW tends to write in a cinematic style. He does so explicitly in the earlier Masks of the Illuminati and his later film scripts, Reality Is What You Can Get Away With and The Walls Came Tumbling Down are as readable as most novels.  In Chapter 15 the “camera zooms out” from the Bastille and covers much of France before beginning to pan across the Channel towards Britain for the beginning of Part II. During the shot RAW references way too many characters from history for me to fully annotate so I’m going to take a quick crack at them:

• anyone who has read Dumas’ The Three Musketeers or has seen one of the adaptations will be familiar with Cardinal Richelieu as the villain of the story. He was indeed the Minister for Louis XIII who was as ruthless as any politician.

• Denis Diderot was a prominent French philosopher who at the time of our story, 1771, had completed his Encyclopedie and was indeed employed by Catherine the Great of Russia in 1766 as her librarian. He actually wouldn’t visit St. Petersburg until 1773.

• The Encyclopedie was a huge undertaking mostly headed by Diderot that served as a way to disseminate Enlightenment philosophy and wrest control of information away from the Church. It was as unsurprisingly controversial as RAW suggests. 

• Andre Morellet was an economist, contributor to the Encyclopedie, friend of Benjamin Franklin and Voltaire, who translated the writings of Thomas Jefferson and survived the French Revolution, doing better than most of his contemporaries.

• Madame Du Barry had indeed became Louis XV’s mistress in 1769 and whose life seemed to be made for scandal. From the moment of her arrival at the French Court young Archduchess Marie Antoinette despised Du Barry, in 1772 Louis commissioned a diamond necklace for her that put the crown deeper in debt, and while she stayed with the king on his deathbed he encouraged her to leave before his ultimate demise to avoid further scandal. She was confined to a convent after the King’s death and like some of the privileged prisoners in the Bastille was allowed to leave during the day as long as she was back at night. She was freed and lived in exile in the countryside after that. Eventually, during the Revolution, her slave Zamor joined the Jacobin Club; when Du Barry found out about the depth of his involvement she fired him leading to Zamor’s denunciation of his former-”mistress” before the Committee. Du Barry was subsequently brought to Paris and beheaded in 1793. The fate of her remains, like those of our brigands at the end of the Chapter, was being dumped in a mass grave. Louis XVI’s remains had been deposited in the same mass grave earlier that same year and Marie Antoinette’s would join them there soon. However, unlike Louis and Antoinette, I could find no evidence Du Barry’s remains were exhumed and buried elsewhere.

• Jacques Necker was the Finance Minister under Louis XVI who made the government’s budget public in 1781- a controversial move considering the secrecy of the French crown touched on in this chapter. Necker was liked by the public and his dismissal in 1789 was the catalyst for the Storming of the Bastille. He was later brought back into the government before resigning within a year. Surprisingly, he wasn’t beheaded.

• Catherine II, better known as Catherine the Great was a monarch of Russian who had sex with a horse or something. Anyways, HBO has a series coming out this month with Helen Mirren in the title role that looks great. (HBO please give me money I’ll be your shill.)

• Georges Danton was an early leader of the French Revolution who was either a moderate or a radical depending on who you ask. He was killed on the orders of his bosom friend Rospierre in 1794.

• Jean-Paul Marat was a very angry man with a skin condition that made him need to take baths all the time which must have complicated his career as a writer. He made a lot of people mad which makes his death by stabbing not that much of a surprise. Although he probably wasn’t a very good looking man, what with the debilitating skin condition and all, Jacques-Louis David’s The Death of Marat makes him look pretty sexy. He might have been cleaner than most people at the time: something to think about. He was eulogized by the Marquis de Sade as a martyr of the Revolution though Citizen Sade might have been bullshitting so he didn’t get guillotined at the time.

• Pierre Beaumarchais was as slippery a fish as the text makes him out to be who gained favor as a music teacher in the court of Louis XV before moving into the roles of diplomat and spy. He supplied arms and other sundries to both the American and French revolutionaries, capitalized on the death of Voltaire by publishing his works, and spent some time in exile. Today he is mostly remembered for his celebrated plays mentioned in the text which inspired operas by Mozart and Paisellio. He died peacefully in 1799 which is probably more than he deserved.

• I’m not explaining Napoleon and we’ve already touched on Cagliostro and Casanova.

• Charles Emmanuel III was the Duke of Savoy who did a lot of typical political shit.

• Louis Antoine de Bougainville was a French explorer whose travelogue of the southern hemisphere, Voyage autour du monde- published in 1770, was an early work of biology and anthropology which greatly influenced Jean Jacques Rousseau and Diderot.

• Babcock (fictional), Burke (rea)l, and Watt (real) will all be discussed in Part II. Here comes steam-engine time.

Sartines' version of the Parisian proverb, from having “too many scruples” to being “simple-minded” on pg. 102 is practically relativistic enough to cause a chuckle.

In the final footnote we find out a little more about the chaotic life of de Selby which includes a sprawling refutation of the errors in an 18th century encyclopedia, his rough relationship with Denevue, and the attempted securing of the philosopher’s brain by La Puta.

This week’s music selection from Eric: “This week’s prison setting made me think of the film A Man Escaped which uses the Mozart C Minor Mass to great effect. The prison drama The Shawshank Redemption also uses Mozart effectively, with words by Beaumarchais, by the way. Beaumarchais features in this week’s reading.”

Next week we’ll begin Part II reading from pg. 105-138 (Hilaritas edition) or Chapter 1&2 of Part II all editions. 

Thursday, October 10, 2019

New Susanna Clarke novel

Susanna Clarke in 2006. (Creative Commons photo by Patrick Nielsen Hayden). 

Interesting news for people who like to read: Susanna Clarke, author of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, is about to finally release another novel. It's called Piranesi and it comes out in September 2020; no cover image is available yet.

Publisher's description: "“Piranesi has always lived in the House. It has hundreds if not thousands of rooms and corridors, imprisoning an ocean. A watery labyrinth. Once in a while he sees his friend, The Other, who needs Piranesi for his scientific research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. Piranesi records his findings in his journal. Then messages begin to appear; all is not what it seems. A terrible truth unravels as evidence emerges of another person and perhaps even another world outside the House’s walls.”

More here, but not much more. 

Susanna Clarke interviews Alan Moore. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

New RAW letters

Another nice Martin Wagner discovery: Letters from RAW to the "SRAFederation Bulletin for Anarchist Agitators." 

Five letters are reproduced. Here is a bit from the "Spooner-Tucker Anarchism" letter:

Bob Shea objects that, since I have rejected anarcho-capitalism and anarcho-royalism, as self-contradictory, I should also reject an anarchist army as self-contradictory. Not at all; it depends on how one defines anarchism. Shea, in his next sentence, defines anarchism as non-coercion, whereas I, following Tucker, define it as non-invasion. A's right to swing his fist ends where B's nose begins. If A refuses to recognize this limit and insists on swinging until B's nose is hit, A has become invasive in the Tucker sense. In ending the invasion, B may be as "coercive" as she pleases without becoming "invasive" in this meaning, since B is resisting invasion. Multiply A by 10,000 and you have an anarchist army. Both are equally coercive, A on behalf of their right of "right to invade" and B on behalf of their "right to be let alone." The former right I deny; the latter right I endorse.