Friday, May 24, 2019

Review of 'Robert Anton Wilson: Beyond Conspiracy Theory'

Robert Anton Wilson: Beyond Conspiracy Theory (ReSearch #18) edited by V. Vale, is a nice treat for the hardcore Robert Anton Wilson. It has a very good, long interview by V. Vale and includes other items, some of them arguably unique. It is well produced and edited. It's not an essential part of the RAW canon, and at 138 pages it's arguably less substantive that Beyond Chaos and Beyond, this year's other posthumous RAW book (466 pages), but it's so well designed it almost seems like an art book.

The bulk of the book is Vale's interview, and fortunately it's valuable. I want to be careful not to give anything away, which would be unfair to Vale,  but I also want to try to characterize it. There is a particularly good discussion about Aleister Crowley and magick. There is a good, long answer to a question about Wilson's "key books," good discussion of William Burroughs, discussion about what it's like interacting with fans and a nice anecdote about RAW meeting a famous American writer.

The book also includes Wilson's 172-question "International Conspiracy Trivia Quiz" (with Wilson's answer key), a list of 50 books from Wilson's library that Vale requested, a marketing document on the lectures that Wilson could offer, two letters from Wilson and an introduction by Andrew Bishop (quite well done.) Bishop is the person who found the forgotten interview. 

The book is illustrated by Vale's photographs of Wilson, plus some irrelevant but artistic "street photography" by Yoshi Yubai.

The book had originally been planned as a special issue of RE/Search while Wilson was alive. It was never published and parts of it later were included in Wilson's Coincidance. The remaining material was rediscovered in 2016. There's an Editor's  Note that carefully explains all this, an example of the book's meticulous editing.

Robert Anton Wilson: Beyond Conspiracy Theory has a list price of $20; with fees, it cost me $25. "While supplies last" a small photo print of RAW signed by Vale is included, a nice bonus.

You can also read my Beyond Chaos and Beyond review. Since I published the review, a paperback edition has been issued, available for $20.

Probably coincidence, but both of the new books have "beyond" in the title.

See the RE/Search website (lots of arty and punk rock publications, with many on subjects of probable interest to most RAW fans.)

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

New RAW book is now out

The new book I wrote about last month, Robert Anton Wilson: Beyond Conspiracy Theory, has been released into the wild by RE/Search Publications. My copy arrived in the mail yesterday, and Joshua Hallenbeck mentioned in a note that he has received and read his copy (and "quite enjoyed it.") So if you pre-ordered it, too, you should be getting your copy any day now, if it hasn't arrived already (they are being shipped via media mail.)

Give me a couple of days to finish my copy and I will post a review here.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Don't miss the comments


The participation in the ongoing online reading group has not been quite what I had hoped for, but the quality of the comments have been good. Rarebit Fiend has a great catch in last week's entry, where he gives the origin of the character Hans Zoesser. Oz Fritz is consistently interesting, and his discussion of Platonism in this week's comments, obviously just getting started, is quite good. And we welcome back Eric Wagner, who has given a barrage of comments. My thanks to everyone who has weighed in since the reading group began.

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Earth Will Shake reading group, Week 13

Jonathan Swift

This week, please read part six, "The Hanged Man," from the quotation from William Blake's "Milton," ("I will not cease from Mental Fight," page 247, to page 264, "Someday. Somehow."

This was one of my favorite chapters, tying together Robert Anton Wilson's interest in personal liberty with his interest in Irish literature. Sir Edward Babcock explains that Jonathan Swift served "intellectual liberty" and "not just political liberty" (page 251) and the rest of the chapter illustrates how personal liberty is important, and not just the liberty to debate "political issues." The chapter is about sexual repression, although Wilson was interested in other personal freedoms such as  freedom to read or freedom to control what foods and drugs you choose to put into your body.

I liked the references to the works of James Joyce on pages 249-250 and the discussion of Jonathan Swift. I probably haven't read enough Swift, as I haven't gotten much further than Gulliver's Travels and "A Modest Proposal."

Years ago, I belonged to a book discussion group in Lawton, Oklahoma, and we would take turns suggesting works to read. I once suggested reading Gulliver's Travels and the others agreed, although when we had the meeting, I was mortified to find out that almost nobody in the book club had bothered to read it.

The capacity to feel a "fierce indignation" and to want to write about it is a characteristic of many investigative reporters.

The William Blake verse excerpted at the beginning of the chapter is from a poem often known as "Jerusalem" and also known as "And did those feet in ancient time." It was set to music and apparently is a popular patriotic song in Britain; many Americans who are my age likely would know it from the cover version by Emerson, Lake and Palmer on Brain Salad Surgery, an album that was popular among my friends when I was in high school. It would also be difficult for even an American to miss the connection to the movie Chariots of Fire. The Blake poem also is referenced in Alan Moore's novel Jerusalem. William Blake is a great favorite of many RAW fans, although I confess that when I studied the English Romantics in my English lit survey course, I wound up going all in for Percy Bysshe Shelley. (Perhaps you should be able to tell something about a reader by asking him/her/they to name a favorite Romantic poet, just as supposedly you can tell about a person by asking which Beatle is the person's favorite. I'm not sure how the latter would work for me, as George originally was my favorite, then John, and finally Paul.)

The section of the chapter in which John Babcock is considering his options -- whether to confess or keep silent, and how that decision will affect both him and Geoffrey Wildeblood -- sounds a lot like the "Prisoner's Dilemma," perhaps reflecting RAW's interest in game theory.  Prisoner's Dilemma also is a novel by one of my favorite writers, Richard Powers.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Jeff Bezos' space colony dream

"If the sci-fi space cities of Bezos’s Blue Origin look familiar, it’s because they’re derived from the work of his college professor, the late physicist Gerard O’Neill."

Of course, O'Neill also influenced Robert Anton Wilson's thoughts on space colonies. I don't like the sneering tone of the article, but I suppose that's probably the price for getting such an article in print at many publications. There are people who do things, and people who are ready to explain why everything is a bad idea, and in 2019 it's the latter who dominate. (The author is a architecture professor, and he objects to the design, although he apparently has other gripes, too.) Hat tip, Jesse Walker for pointing to this on Twitter.

Here is a more contrarian take on Amazon.  

Friday, May 17, 2019

Barbara Marx Hubbard has died

Barbara Marx Hubbard speaks as a vice presidential candidate at the 1984 Democratic National Convention (just over 10 minutes).

Futurist Barbara Marx Hubbard, 89, has died. She and Robert Anton Wilson were mutual admirers. About RAW, she said, "“Robert Anton Wilson is one of the leading thinkers of the modern age.” She appears as a character in Schroedinger's Cat.

If you take a few minutes to watch her speech before the 1984 Democratic National Convention, above, you can hear her mention the eye in the pyramid on the dollar bill as she calls for a peaceful foreign policy and a commitment to space exploration.

The New York Times published an obit.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Gregory Arnott reviews Fly's 'Tale of the Tribe'

By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger

I was a latecomer to Maybe Logic Academy -- I was there for its final hurrah in a semester that saw one of the classes I enrolled in cancelled and another with only two active students and an absentee teacher. I can’t even remember how I found out about it -- something to do with how one can wander over the Internet while working a boring office job. Anyways, that was where I first heard about The Tale of the Tribe.

Later, after I had read more about the Tribe and had read TSOG where the most complete piece of information on the book was in print at the time, I was talking about it to my friend as we stood outside looking at the stars on a hot West Virginia night; Robert Anton Wilson was basically going to explain communication, the Internet, and what was going on. My friend laughed --  “finally!” he exclaimed. Robert Anton Wilson had been dead at least five years.

To say that Wilson’s unfinished Tale felt like a loss is an understatement. In one issue of Alan Moore’s Tom Strong the perfect man finds his heart’s desire as an illusion conjured up by a malignant alien intelligence; a copy of Joyce’s sequel to Finnegans Wake, Finn Wakes Agen. In Steven Moore’s Somnium the protagonist in the protagonist’s novel finds himself in a library of unwritten novels. There’s something sublime about an unpublished work or some valuable manuscript lost to time; it has been easy for me to remain tantalized by the lost promise of the Tribe.

This is all a rather lengthy way to say I was excited when I saw the release of Steven "Fly" Pratt’s Fly On The Tale of the Tribe. Pratt’s book is slim but dense with information -- it’s playful and thought provoking. Fly deals with the Current Situation and how Wilson’s ideas have endured into our young century; appropriately for one of the torchbearers of model agnosticism, the book is full of promise and puzzles. Like Higgs at the end of Stranger Than We Can Imagine, Pratt seems to bank on agnosticism as a solution to the increasingly chaotic information climate: but that’s beside the point as I believe Pratt is more interested in inspiration than pontification.

Much of the book is invitational -- Pratt repeats throughout that it is critical to create one’s own “tale of the tribe.” One excellent example is given earlier in the book when Pratt points out that his and RAW’s cast of characters are all male -- Pratt gives an example of a female “tribe” beginning with Ada Lovelace. Later in the book Fly lays out the schemes for two later tale of the tribe courses that could be reconstructed by the intrepid student. Pratt also gives a healthily circumspect view of Ezra Pound and his complicated life; at one point Pratt seems to decide upon using Ernest Fenollosa as the primary touchstone for Pound’s contribution to the tale of the tribe, ideogrammic language,  as a deft sidestep when the fascist taint becomes too much with Pound. Of course Pratt makes sure to mention that Pound’s antisemitism was a phase that the poet regretted in later life. Everyone’s happy.

The most interesting ideas, for this reader, were the discussions of the hologrammic prose exemplified by Finnegans Wake and, this part really hooked me, Alan Moore’s Jerusalem. Fly is one of the few commentators I’ve seen who have given Moore his due: Jerusalem is a monumental masterpiece that will rank high among our race’s literary achievements if Providence is kind enough to ensure some sort of posterity. Fly is able to explicate how breathtaking the scope of the work is, as it encompasses art, magic, and the facets of our reality, and we seem to have similar tastes, go figure, since we both consider the chapter “Round the Bend” as the crowning achievement of the novel. (He even shares my love of Moore’s The Black Dossier!) In many ways “Round the Bend” serves as a magnificent realization of Tom Strong’s lost novel -- it is a sequel or a continuation of Finnegans Wake. The whole of Jerusalem could be seen as something similar or as an essential commentary on Joyce’s goals but that would belie the empirical majesty of Moore’s work.

While talking about the epic Cosmic Trigger play produced and directed by Daisy Eris Campbell Fly waxes rhapsodical: "Co-create a Universe, a theatre of the mind where each and everyone of us can work on many levels of synchrony, consider set and setting, speech and place. Make the invisible visible." Marching orders to make one's head turn.

Pratt’s little book will give the reader a lot to think about and chew on -- it is a text that is meant to send you into the hinterlands of language to find the foundations of our reality. I’ve brushed over a lot of Fly’s work in the book, partly for the sake of length and partly because I am still figuring out my thoughts and plans for the ideas he brings to the table. Suffice to say that this is an indispensable piece of scholarship for the RAW fan and an all around Important Book. RAW’s original book may have not been able to come to life but Fly proves that the tale of the tribe is still being told and is ready to be explored at any moment. Personally, I’m just grateful Fly made sure to include Moore in RAW’s canon. The book's cover art is by, the Tenniel to RAW's Carroll, Bobby Campbell whose illustrations implicitly make a connection between Fly and the green-skinned Mescalito. Pay attention.

As a postscript to the Maybe Logic story -- it was through Maybe Logic that I found Tom’s blog so even when the initial attraction is in bits and pieces it can lead to something satisfying. The tale of the tribe isn’t over until the last monkey stops squawking.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Hilaritas releases Cosmic Trigger 3

Hilaritas Press, the publishing imprint of the Robert Anton Wilson Trust, has announced the publication of its edition of Cosmic Trigger III: My Life After Death, completing its reissue of the Trigger trilogy. The paperback is $15.23 and the ebook is $9.99. Another fine cover by Scott McPherson.

As in other Hilaritas publications, an important element in the production is the willingness of volunteers to contribute their time and effort to help the RAW Trust, and in the latest announcement, Rasa praises the efforts of Gary Acord, my Texas friend, and Joshua Hallenbeck, my Colorado friend:

"Many thanks to Gary Acord and Josh Hallenbeck for their over the top help in editing and proofing! Gary and Josh also took on the insanely tedious job of fixing the page numbers in the book's index. The page numbers in this newly designed edition differ from the previous edition, and checking each entry to realign the listing was a monumental task. We are extremely grateful!"

More details and other Hilaritas Press news here. 

The Hilaritas Press website has been nicely revamped by Rasa; check it out. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

New Philip K. Dick Tarot cards

Philip K. Dick scholar Ted Hand and tarot artist Christopher Wilkey are wrapping up work on a new 80-card PKD Tarot deck.

Some details:

Unlock the Fool’s Journey and its relationship to the novels, characters, short fiction and other writings by Philip K. Dick. PKD scholar Ted Hand and tarot artist Christopher Wilkey have brought together a new vision of tarot and the great works of Philip K. Dick. It is an original concept of tarot that looks into both the past and the future at the same time.

Ideal for advanced students of tarot as well as novices to the I Ching (or Book of Changes), this 80 card tarot deck takes the seeker through an initiation into the life and writings of one of the greatest writers of recent times. Explore alternate realities and the nature of what it is to be human.

Taking cues from Aleister Crowley and other Golden Dawn inspired traditions, this deck puts forward some of the possible relations between tarot and the hexagrams of the I Ching, including two card games designed to help introduce readers to the symbols of which access that ancient volume.

Much more information here, including a link to preorder for $40. It's supposed to be available by August.

Ted also has begun offering three-card Tarot readings for $10, payable through venmo or PayPal, sent to Ted.Hand (at)

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Earth Will Shake reading group, Week 12

Monument to La Barre in Abbeville, France. (Creative Commons photo)

This week, please read Page 229 (Tomorrow we take the coach southward, back toward Napoli") to Page 245 ("The lights of the city came closer.")

This is an interesting section. One reads about the worst of humanity in the horrible execution of the French nobleman, and the best, in the selfless efforts to rescue the young man who threw himself into the Bay of Naples.

I had assumed the execution of Fran├žois-Jean Lefebvre de la Barre was something Wilson had just made up to dramatize the cruelty of the old regime, but in fact the account is based on a real execution of a nobleman of that name on July 1, 1766. Wilson's account apparently is largely correct although the real la Barre was only 20 when he died. According to the Wikipedia article, the prosecution was secular (albeit for impiety) and the church hierarchy tried to obtain a pardon for la Barre.

Saudi Arabia recently carried out a mass execution of 37 by beheading. Nearly all were members of the Shia religious minority and the "evidence" was largely obtained by torture.