Sunday, June 24, 2018

Robert Shea on how to write well

Robert Shea

Martin Wagner kindly sent me several letters Robert Shea wrote to SRAFederation Bulletin, put out by the Social Revolutionary Anarchist Federation. I thought this letter, in which Shea offers advice on how to write well, might be of general interest. This is from Bulletin No. 54; I don't have a date. -- The Mgt.  


Dear SRAFriends,

Regarding the problem of anarchists communicating with non-anarchists, which has been discussed by Bill Hall and Bob Wilson, I agree with Wilson that short sentences and limited vocabulary, a la Rudolph Flesch, do not represent the answer. For one thing, I don't think our communications should be aimed at some mythical entity known as the masses, who are presumed to be able to understand only Dick-and-Jane sentences. As a professional writer and editor, I've long believed that the best way to communicate is to be yourself. If you're a working stiff don't try to write like an intellectual. If you're an English professor, don't try to write blue-collar prose. Write it the way it naturally comes out, and you will find the audience that understands and appreciates the way you write -- or they will find you.

Much of the anarchist writing I've found is natural and makes good reading, especially compared to the dreary Marxoid shit that passes for prose on much of the left or the imitations of Ayn Rand and Russell Kirk that one sees on the right. I would venture the generalization that anarchists tend to be better writers than socialists or archist libertarians because their heads are freer. Inner mental freedom has a lot to do with good writing.

For anyone who wants to improve their writing, I would recommend the essay "Politics and the English Language" by George Orwell, which should be available in any well-stocked public or university library. It's one of the best essays on writing, especially political writing, I've ever read. Orwell gives six rules for writing that is free of crap and that communicates honestly what we mean to say: "i) Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do. iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active. v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous."

Thomas Jefferson was a lifelong politician and slave-owner, but I believe we can learn something about writing from him. What he said about drafting the Declaration of Independence could apply to a lot of polemical writing, including arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things that have never been said before, "but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor  yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion."

Both Jefferson and Orwell strove for simplicity and clarity, but neither, I think, would submit his work to a readability scoring.

Bob Shea

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Oz Fritz on Pale Fire and 'books that blow your head off'

Oz Fritz has an entry on his blog about "Pale Fire: Books That Blow Your Head Off." 

The phrase about exploding books is taken from a passage written by Robert Anton Wilson. Oz writes, "I have always granted certain books great power.  I would carry them around with me wherever I went believing that I could continue absorbing their contents by osmosis through the proximity of their physical corpus.  I fully resonate with the quote I heard somewhere that 'great books are monasteries.'I like to live in these monasteries for periods of time, absorbing their program then moving on.

"For  about two to three months a year from the ages of 15 - 17 The Lord of the Rings was my constant companion.  This book had the effect of greatly broadening my vision beyond human society's consensual reality, norms and assumptions feeling new neural pathways opening up."

Illuminatus! would be the most obvious example of such a book for me. Lord of the Rings was an important book for me, too, when I was a teenager. (I still like it now, too).

Oz then goes on to discuss Pale Fire in connection with his theory, also discussed by his comments to the recent book discussion group here, that "Pale Fire functioned as a multi-level didactic experiment of an esoteric/transformational nature; magick and bardo training as the Department of Redundancy Department might put it."

Oz also talks about synchronicities. As it happens, he talks about them in connection with a conversation he had with a woman from Sandusky, Ohio. I read his post as I was sitting in Sandusky, Ohio, at work. (Although since I was at work, I didn't get to read his post carefully until I was off duty.)

Oz promises to do a follow up post.

Friday, June 22, 2018

A talk by RAW

"How to tell Your Friends from the Apes," a lecture from Robert Anton Wilson that's an hour and half long, is new to me and was posted on YouTube a few months ago by Halvor Raknes. I thought it was pretty good. His description: "RAW's sensational lecture given at the Whole Life Expo. When? I don't know. By the recording quality (and a mention of Bush and Quayle) probably in the late 1980s." Much of it concerns the Eight Circuit model, but there's some material that was new to me.

For those you who find it more convenient to listen to this as an MP3 podcast, I've ripped it and posted a file. 

Thursday, June 21, 2018

A book about Buddhism

Robert Anton Wilson was interested in Buddhism and familiar with Buddhist philosophy, so perhaps a notable book about the topic that came out a few months ago would be interesting news for some of you. Robert Wright, who has studied Buddhist meditation of the Vipassana school (i.e., a relatively secular version of Theravada) argues that humans are "programmed" to think and act a certain way by natural selection, and meditation helps us become aware of the programming and to at least some extant set it aside. ("Programmed" is my term, not his, but I hope I don't mar his point). It's a quite interesting book; I listened to the audiobook version.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Another reason to buy Brenton Clutterbuck's book

John Higgs clutches Brenton Clutterbuck's new book. 

If you buy it, you get to read John Higgs' foreward! John Tweets, "Postman brings a long, long awaited copy of Brenton Clutterbuck's Chasing Eris, a global Discordian social study which I wrote a foreword for."

Speaking of John Higgs, he's about to put out another email newletter, so hurry up and sign up here. 

More here soon about Brenton's book. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

A word about comments

Google's system for notifying bloggers that a comment has been posted that needs to be moderated appears to be seriously broken; it has not worked for a couple of weeks or more. So, instead of being emailed when a comment appears and being able to post it relatively quickly, I have to remind myself to check Blogger throughout the day and see if there are any pending comments that need to be posted. I have a full time job and other responsibilities. If it takes a little while for me to post your comment, please do not take it personally. The blog is just me, and I'm doing the best I can.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Antero Alli interviews RAW in bOING bOING

From the Danny Hellman illustration from bOING bOING

I was going through some back issues of "bOING bOING" magazine at the Internet Archive when I ran across an interview of Robert Anton Wilson by Antero Alli, in 1991. I did not see the interview when I checked at, so perhaps the interview is new to you, too. Here is the link to the issue. 

Also, here is a wonderful retrospective on bOING bOING by Mike Dank.  The Internet Archive collection of back issues is here. Some really great stuff. Hat tip: Mondo 2000 on Twitter. 

Excerpt from the interview:

A A: Quantum mechanics is something of a second language for you. How does it help you communicate and live a better life? 

RAW: Quantum physics does help a lot in understanding daily life. The major discovery in this field is that the reality we perceive with our instruments is created by our instruments, partly. It’s not an objective reality. It’s created by our minds - by what instruments to use, what measurements to take, and what experiments to design. That happens in our daily life in the area of our decision- making, which is our instrument ... about what to observe, what to enter into, what to avoid and so on. Quantum mechanics just emphasizes by the magnification of scientific instruments what’s happening all the time, anyway. Modern psychologists, especially those branching out into neurology and perception theory make it very clear that the situation of a brain receiving signals has the same relativity and indeterminacy as you find in quantum mechanics’ “brain plus instrument receiving signals.” Whether there’s an instrument there or not, the brain’s the main creator of what gets organized ... not the only creator but the main one.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

'Beyond Psychedelics' conference in Prague

File under "The rehabilitation of Timothy Leary continues."

From a press release:

Prague, Czech Republic (June 15, 2018) – Beyond Psychedelics and National Institute of Mental Health (Czech Republic), organise the second annual Global Multidisciplinary Conference on Psychedelic Substances, Mental Health, Alternative States of Consciousness and Technologies. It is one of the largest events of this type in the world and on June 21-24, 2018 it will gather over 120 world leading psychedelic scientists and researchers to discuss potential, current challenges and future direction of research and use of psychedelics.

The speakers will share the latest in psychedelic drug research. The topics that will be covered will include challenges and obstacles in sustainable Iboga and Ibogaine drug therapy; Toad medicine and ritual use of Bufo Alvarius secretion for mental health; the therapeutic potential of Ayahuasca for people with bipolar disorder, for preventing of suicides, as well as its risks and benefits for trauma survivors; pharmacology, therapeutics and the future of Salvia Divinorum; LSD and Ketamine therapy; Psychedelic Microdosing; Biohacking; using cyberdelics, moistmedia and mixed reality technologies, and others.

More information here.

Friday, June 15, 2018

'Missing' Joyce scholar is alive

The New York Times magazine has an article about John Kidd, a once-famous scholar of James Joyce thought by many to be dead who is actually still alive and living in Brazil. Thanks to PQ for pointing it out on Twitter. 

I'm not a big Joyce scholar, so please bear with me as I drag in one of my own preoccupations.

Jack Hitt's article talks about Kidd's preference for big books:

It’s not just an aesthetic choice for Kidd but a kind of compulsion toward completedness, suffusing not just how he reads literature but also how he talks about it. We discussed “Gargantua and Pantagruel” and “Don Quixote” and “Tristram Shandy.” He considers them all to be “antic” works, his coinage for books that are marked by a “comic take on the encyclopedic narrative just as the ‘Iliad’ is a tragic take on an encyclopedic narrative.” Those novels are playful, like “Ulysses,” but they mean to embrace and comprehend a sense of everything, and it’s this sense of totality and the longing for it that drives Kidd, too.

So did Kidd read Illuminatus!, an antic work with an encyclopedic narrative? Or did he miss it because it was published as science fiction?

I've been reading a book of literary criticism, largely book reviews, called What to Read (and Not) by Tom LeClair.

In his introduction, LeClair expresses a preference for books that are "monstrous," which he defines as "massive, excessive, both unliterary and super-literary, unique in their narrative combinations and linguistic deformations. Stick with them, and they will stick in you, their effect not to be forgotten. To my mind, these big books did what great literature is supposed to do -- exert emotionally and intellectually transforming power." (His examples of such books include Moby Dick and Gravity's Rainbow.)

Since Illuminatus! sounds like the kind of "monstrous" book he is referring to, and since LeClair 's introduction includes his email address and invites readers to contact him, I wrote and asked if he's read Illuminatus! I told LeClair, "The mixture of popular and esoteric literary influences was at the time (mid-1970s) not so usual as now; the book has references to James Joyce, but H.P. Lovecraft also is an influence and appears in the work as a character."

He replied, " I have not read Illuminatus, perhaps because any ref. to Lovecraft scares me off.  Not that I have read Lovecraft."

Well, too bad. I do wonder if many people who would have liked Illuminatus! skipped it because it was published as paperback science fiction.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

My interview with Marlis Jermutus

Marlis Jermutus' painting "Gravity." 

German artist, musician, writer and mystic Marlis Jermutus has exhibited her paintings in the U.S. and Europe as a successful abstract artist. My interest in her increased after I read her memoir, From Now to Now. 

After I read the book, I interviewed her about art and her friendship with Robert Anton Wilson, figuring that many people who read this blog would be interested in reading it. 

A native of Germany, Marlis lives in northern California, near Mount Shasta. Aside from her art and her philosophical studies, Marlis plays in the band Starseed with her husband, Bastian, and with Rasa.  The band is available on Spotify and the other usual online sources. 

Marlis Jermutus and Robert Anton Wilson in a restaurant. Do you want to publish "From Now to Now" in German? Do  you think Germans will be interested in your background as an artist, and in California and the spiritual scene there?

MARLIS: When I wrote From Now to Now, I sat for hours at a time with Rasa. I would tell him my story in German, with some English and Denglisch, and he would type it into the computer, translating my German and Denglisch into English, or correcting my English grammar. Over the past two years we’ve been working on translating the English version into German, and soon we’ll be looking for a German publisher.

And yes, I think Germans would be interested. In recent years the Germans became much more interested in their own stories about the war, what for years many people did not want to talk about at all. In the 1970’s, Germany had a similar psychedelic revolution of thought as what happened in America, and through that change in perspective a lot of young Germans became more aware of social injustice and the need for an evolution of consciousness. That was expressed in art, in music, in philosophy, in spirituality and in politics as well. In addition, Germans have for a long time had a romantic fascination with America, especially the Wild West. California, in many ways is the new wild west many Germans look to.

Robert Anton Wilson and Tom Sperlich, the European literary agent for Robert Anton Wilson and Timothy Leary,  in a Berlin restaurant in 1992. How did you come to know Tom Sperlich,  Timothy Leary's and Robert Anton Wilson's literary agent in Germany? How did you meet Wilson, and what did you think of him when you met? Did you introduce Wilson to Rasa? 

MARLIS: Tom Sperlich was in our friend-circle in Berlin. Because I had read a lot from both Tim Leary and Bob Wilson, we had a lot to talk about. When Tim came to Germany to speak in Hamburg at a large outdoor gathering downtown and again later that day at the university, after the university event, Tom invited Tim, my husband Joachim and me out to dinner at a famous and elegant restaurant in Hamburg. The Hamburg Bürgermeister had told Tim, the day before, he would only be allowed to speak if he did not talk about drugs. Tim agreed, but then went on to tell the crowd about the whole conversation with the Bürgermeister, which included a lot of talking about drugs. In the restaurant we sat at a table that was in a private alcove up a few steps, but Timothy Leary in Hamburg was big news and most everyone at the restaurant recognized him as we came in. We talked a lot about Tim’s reception in Hamburg during dinner, and after dinner, at the table I rolled a dessert joint to go along with our coffee. I handed the joint to Tim and he took it without comment, like it was on the menu. Soon big clouds of smoke were coming from alcove. The waiter came over, and for a moment we all had a nervous flash. He ignored the smoke and just turned to Tim and said, “Dr. Leary, we want you to know that we really appreciate you dining at our restaurant tonight.”

I met Bob the first time in Berlin when I was still in prison and had a weekend off. I attended a speech Bob gave at the Technische Universität. Privately later, we were talking in a small group, but I didn’t understand a word of his soft Brooklyn accent. I had read his books and so I knew something about what he was saying but at that time I was more watching his body language and seeing his soft humility and his humor.

Years later when my English was better, and we had become close friends, I still sometimes had trouble with some words he said, but often Rasa would translate in the moment. When my husband Bastian and I moved to California we started visiting the Wilsons regularly. That’s when they lived on Brommer Street in Capitola, just outside Santa Cruz. Rasa was bi-coastal, visiting us a few times a year for a month or three each time. When we first brought Rasa with us on a visit to Bob and Arlen, really nothing special happened, we sat around like always. Arlen was doing most of the talking. Bob agreed with pretty much everything she said, and made a few comments, but mostly just sat comfortably looking content and happy to have Arlen in his life. When Rasa and Bob started talking with each other, mostly about Bob’s philosophy, I could see that Bob liked Rasa’s honesty, intellect and humor. Later he really appreciated Rasa’s responsibility, things like helping Bob with his computer, later working with the publisher on the Email to the Universe graphics. [For more on Rasa and his efforts on behalf of the Robert Anton Wilson Trust, please see my interview. -- The Mgt.] You are a vegetarian and you are also careful about when you eat. Robert Anton Wilson was an omnivore. Did you ever discuss food with him? 
What kind of food did he seem to like?

MARLIS: We never discussed food, but Arlen got the idea from her daughter, Christina, that a vegetarian diet would be a good idea. We ate dinner with them a lot, and the food was always vegetarian. If Arlen cooked a lasagna, it would be vegetarian. If we went out to a restaurant, and we went out a lot with them, usually to a favorite Italian restaurant, Arlen would order for Bob. He sometimes had a preference for something, but she would always order the vegetarian version. It could be that with meat eaters they ate meat, but Arlen did like being a vegetarian. I don’t think Bob cared what he ate so much. Christina one time said that you could give him a cheap hamburger from a greasy diner and he would take a bite and say, “Hmmm. Delicious.”

Another of Marlis Jermutus' paintings.  Are you better known as an artist in the U.S., or in Germany? Did being known as the "prison artist" help you become well known quickly? (As she describes in her book, Jermutus went to prison in Berlin after being caught up in a drug raid but nonetheless began becoming known as an artist). 

MARLIS: The newspaper articles about me getting special permission from the prison authorities to attend a gallery opening of my work certainly helped to bring my name to a wider audience than abstract artists usually get, but really the effect of that good publicity was more important to me as evidence to later show the judge reviewing my prison record. I wanted to show that I could be "successfully integrated back into society," and I think that did help later with the judge’s decision.

While living in Germany and Ireland I had many exhibitions with a lot of press coverage, but being known means being there, and I’ve been living in America for almost two decades now. Since 2000, I’ve had one or two exhibitions every year, and have been fortunate to have buyers for my art. The Siskiyou Arts Museum in Dunsmuir, California held a retrospective of my art in 2014, featuring examples of my art from forty-four years of painting. 

Marlis at the Hirschhorn in Washington, D.C.  Rasa says you are "addicted to museums" and will drive for hours to attend one. What are your favorite art museums in the U.S., and who are your favorite artists, European or American? (My favorite art museum is the Hirschhorn, a modern art museum in Washington, D.C.)

MARLIS:  In Europe, the museums I most liked to visit were nearby, like the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Escher Museum in Den Hague, the Hamburger Kunsthalle in Hamburg, the National Staats Galerie in Berlin and the Hamburger Bahnhof - Museum für Gegenwart, also in Berlin. In America, I’ve gone many times to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Hirschhorn and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. In California, I am a member of Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, and I visit there often.

Of the artists I like, German artists Boyce, Richter, and Kiefer. In America, I like all the avant garde, and especially Agnes Martin, Jackson Pollack and Pat Steir. I love the work of many other artists, mostly abstract, and of course, I like my own art. I love the feedback, at an exhibition opening, when a viewer connects to a painting. What they see in an abstract painting means something to them. On some level I have inspired an emotional or rational response. I don’t care which. I just enjoy that they enjoy connecting to the art. What advice would you offer to people thinking of moving to California? (In From Now to Now, she describes deciding to move to California someday under the influence of the writings of Timothy Leary). 

MARLIS:  If people want to come to California they should be comfortable with new ideas. You may not like all the ideas, but California is fast in changing, so maybe you just wait a while and a newer idea will come along. There are a lot of opportunities for widening your consciousness here, aside from new ideas and experiences in art and science. California is beautiful, and sitting alone in such majestic, even bombastic, nature can give you the space and perspective to explore the experience of who you are separate from all the noise both inside and outside your head.

Video about Marlis Jermutus made by Rasa.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

A question about a Shea novel

I've begun reading a Robert Shea historical novel, The Saracen: Land of the Infidel.

One of the characters is a Jewish warrior from Sicily named Lorenzo Celino. quite a freethinker for the time. He has no religious faith despite his Jewish background and says, "I think myself better than no man, and no man better than me." He tells one of his leaders, "But you must understand that if I accept you as our leader, it is of my own free will. I am still my own master."

I am struck by the similarity between the name "Celino" and "Celine," as in Hagbard and Sigismundo. Are we meant to suppose that Lorenzo could be an ancestor, or a relative? Or is the similarity of the surnames a coincidence?

Tuesday, June 12, 2018