Friday, April 24, 2015

Mike Gunderloy the Discordian

Adam Gorightly has a new posting up on "Week 59 of Illuminatus! Group Reading: Semaj the Elder (Part 00002)" which mentions a mysterious Discordian Semaj the Elder and Semaj's plans to publish, along with Mike Gunderloy, a document called "Never Whistle While You're Pissing, Part II."

Oh my gosh, Mike Gunderloy! If you are a young weirdo reading this blog post, you may not appreciate how important Factsheet Five was. It was a huge catalog of zines, dating from the time when the zine scene exploded from science fiction fandom into the world at large. I used to send off for some of the zines listed there (and some of the other stuff, such as music tapes), and so did every other weirdo of a certain age.

Read Adam's entry, and please leave a comment if you have any information on Semaj the Elder.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

John Higgs on Discordianism and his big new book

Freelance writer John Wisniewski last contributed to this blog in October, when he interviewed Adam Gorightly.

Mr. Wisniewski now returns with a brand new interview of another one of my favorite writers, John Higgs, author of The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band who Burned a Million Pounds, the Timothy Leary biography I Have America Surrounded, and (as JMR Higgs)  the novels The Brandy of the Damned,  and The First Church on the Moon 

He also published a short book on the monarchy, Our Pet Queen: A New Perspective on Monarchy, and  2000 TC: Standing on the Verge of Getting It On, a limited edition book about the rock band TC Lethbridge published in conjunction with last year's production of the Cosmic Trigger play and festival in Liverpool. Only 111 copies of 2000 TC were published, although you can get a small taste of it from this blog posting.

Everyone, though, will be allowed to purchase as many copies as they like of Higgs' big new nonfiction book, Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense of the Twentieth Century, which will be published later this year in both the U.S. and Great Britain. The new book threatens to give Higgs a bigger audience and take away his status as everyone's favorite cult writer, but you can't have everything.

John Wisniewski is a freelance writer who has written for L.A. Review of Books, Paraphilia magazine, Toronto Review of Books, Urban Graffiti magazine and other publications. He lives in West Babylon NY.

JW: When did you interest in Discordianism begin? Were you also interested in magic/chaos magick?

John Higgs: I was first aware of Discordianism through the Illuminatus! Trilogy, which I bought a copy of in Liverpool in about 1991. I didn't actually get very far with it at the time, I gave up pretty quickly and it sat on my shelf for the next 20 years, slowly contaminating my other books with its presence. But I do recall what I got out of that first attempt to read it. The book gave one explanation for the eye in the triangle symbol, and then a number of pages later gave an entirely different explanation. It sounds daft now, but that made a real impact. It was the first time I was aware that a symbol could have different meanings, that there was not just single explanations for things, and that contradictory statements could be equally valid - or invalid. All that seems self-evident these days, and maybe it says something about the times then or the education that I had had, but it was a real eye-opener.

That was enough for me from that first reading, I put the book away and let it sink in.

Then around 2004 I was researching my book about Timothy Leary, which naturally involved getting a better handle on Robert Anton Wilson, so I started reading him properly — Cosmic Trigger, Prometheus Rising, Quantum Psychology etc., and lots of interviews online, as well as the Principia Discordia. All that helped to flesh out my sketchy understanding of Discordianism.

As for Chaos Magic, I was certainly aware of it during the 90s and over the years, and curious, but I wouldn't say that I was drawn to it. It seemed very Thatcherite, in that it just seemed to be about getting what you want and nothing else. There was something a bit inharmonious about that, the idea that the Universe is your bitch and it has to give you what you want. It also looked isolating. It's possible that the chaos magicians I was aware of were unrepresentative, and I was missing something of value. I can see now that it was absolutely of its time, and a necessary step. But I much prefer the approach of Alan Moore and Steve Moore, in which magic is understood as something that takes place in the immaterial mental world, and which is a tool with which you can produce worthwhile things, in particular creative works.

JW: Are there any important figures in Discordianism that you can tell us about?

John Higgs: According to Discordian lore everyone is a Discordian, even if they don't know it yet, and even if they have no sense of humour and hence can never know it. If chaos is the fundamental universal principle, then everything and everyone in that universe are parts of the chaos whether they like it or not. This was all explained in the original draft of the Principia Discordia (which you can now find in Adam Gorightly's Historia Discordia). Because of this, everyone is an important figure in Discordianism, which explains a lot about contemporary politics.

We can have our favourite Discordians, though, and mine are Robert Anton Wilson, Alan Moore, Ken Campbell, Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty.

JW: Is there a dark side to Discordianism, John?

John Higgs: Oh yes — there's a dark side to everything, if you find the relevant perspective. Discordianism does not look good if you intend to run for public office.

A lot of Discordian thought centres around what Robert Anton Wilson called Chapel Perilous - that state where all your maps have run out and the models you use to make understand the world are shattered, from which it is only possible to emerge agnostic or paranoid. In the 1970s, when people liked to mix their Discordianism with a lot of LSD, many became deeply paranoid. LSD is a good drug to get you in to Chapel Perilous, but a terrible drug if you want to get out. There were a lot of casualties.

These days, though, I think the good outweighs the bad. Discordianism protects you from anxiety, stress and embarking on damn-fool crusades under the illusion that your perspective is the only one that is valid. Modern Discordianism is only really dangerous if you lose your sense of humour.

JW: Are you interested in the writings of Aleister Crowley or The Necronomicon?

John Higgs: Crowley's hard to avoid, if you have any interest in the immaterial. He also makes an appearance in my next book (Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense of the Twentieth Century), thanks to his understanding of the individualism that ran through the 20th Century.

I'm not entirely sure exactly what I make of him. When I first heard about him as a teenager, he was spoken of in terms of a dark, terrible thing you must never go near. Then after reading Robert Anton Wilson and Tim Leary, I saw him as someone whose work had real value. Then I read biographies and some of his writing, and saw him as a horrible person, a proto-fascist. Then I learnt more about the early 20th Century, and saw him as very much a product of his times. Currently, I'm going through a period where he strikes me as funny, like a cartoon character - a dirty old man desperately trying to find excuses to legitimise his own personal kinks. Perhaps in a couple of decades I will have seen enough sides of him to form a valid opinion.

He was cremated in near where I live, so there's a local connection. It caused a bit of a tabloid frenzy at the time, after reporters mistook his ceremony for a black mass. The local paper got his usual nickname wrong, and referred to him as 'The Worst Man in the World'. I like to think he would have approved.

I've not read a lot of HP Lovecraft, one day I'll look into him more.

John Higgs

JW: Did you speak with Robert Anton Wilson frequently?

John Higgs: Sadly I didn't speak with Robert Anton Wilson frequently, I only met him once, in Dec 2004.

JW: What role did Discordianism play in history, John?

John Higgs: You can make a case for Discordianism being an important factor in the development of a whole range of different cultural areas, such as conspiracy theory, the counterculture, parody religions, the creative commons movement, and so on. I think that does it a bit of a disservice, I prefer to see it as a spice spread throughout our recent history. Discordianism has a bit too much of the Trickster spirit about it to fit neatly into cause and effect explanations.

JW: Are there any authors or films that you like?

John Higgs: Oh, many. In terms of film, I'm a big fan of Ben Wheatley's stuff, particularly A Field In England and Sightseers, so I'm very much looking forward to his adaptation of J.G. Ballard's High Rise. A Field In England restored my faith in cinema, which had been all but destroyed by that film where Superman knocks down buildings for five hours.

The book that I've loved most recently is The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth. If anyone is considering reading that book but is put off by the pseudo-Old English dialect it is written in, my advice would be to just dive in regardless. If nothing else, you can use The Wake as a training level for the first chapter of Alan Moore's novel The Voice of the Fire.

JW: Will you be writing a book, John?

John Higgs: I will, I expect to be writing a few. My next, Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense of the Twentieth Century, will be out later in the year. It's an ambitious fucker, if nothing else. Then there's a book called Watling Street, the proposal and sample chapter of which are currently gathering dust in my agent's in tray somewhere. I'm currently writing a spec TV script called None of the Above, which is a long shot but certainly worth a try.

Then there's a novel called The Last Book which is preoccupying me at the moment. I very much want to write it soon but at the same time, to do it justice, you would have to go into it accepting that it would be the last book you would ever write - for reasons that would make a bit more sense if I was to tell you the plot. Which is a horrific thought, but the fact that it is so scary is a reason to do it. I may see how long I can put off starting that one!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Wednesday links

"Why Is This Politician Taken Seriously?" It reminds me of Robert Anton Wilson's remark that people who live in Washington, D.C.,  too long lose touch with ordinary values.

I know the woman targeted by this Tweet. She was a colleague at my newspaper. What women have to put up with on the Internet is unbelievable. Well, I guess men get some of this, too. 

Jesse Walker on Rand Paul. 

What Jeb Bush likes best about Obama. My British friends who fill my Twitter feed complaining about British politics should get a load of this country. Obama's new attorney general loves the NSA, too. 

Norway turning off FM radio. 

Childhood's End miniseries coming. 

UPDATE: Arthur Hlavaty gets the rest of the story about a college incident, decades later.  Forgot to post it. Just look at his blog every day -- the entries are usually short, but there's usually something interesting.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Harlan Ellison wins Prometheus Hall of Fame award

Harlan Ellison

One of my favorite writers, Harlan Ellison, is being awarded the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award for his classic science fiction story, "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman," the Libertarian Futurist Society has just announced. The actual award presentation will be May 9 at Marcon, a science fiction convention in Columbus, Ohio, which I plan to attend.

The Robert Anton Wilson connection, as I've mentioned before, is that the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award is the only literary award (so far as I know) that Wilson received during his lifetime, for Illuminatus!; I've posted Robert Shea's acceptance speech. 

I'm a member of the Libertarian Futurist Society, and in fact, Your Humble Blogger is the person who actually nominated the story, so I bear an extra bit of credit (or blame) for today's announcement. I've always loved Harlan Ellison's stories, so I'm pleased to be able to bring a little more attention to his work.

By the way, the LFS also has announced the finalists for the Prometheus Award, for the best novel published in 2014 which explores themes of liberty; here are the nominees:

The Three-Body Problem, by Liu Cixin (TOR Books)
Raising Steam, by Terry Pratchett (Knopf Doubleday)
A Better World, by Marcus Sakey (Amazon, Thomas & Mercer)
Influx, by Daniel Suarez (Dutton Adult)

As it happens, I nominated the Liu Cixin novel.

Here is most of the official LFS press release on the Harlan Ellison announcement:

The Libertarian Futurist Society has elected Harlan Ellison's story "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman" to its Hall of Fame.

Originally published in Galaxy in December 1965, "Repent, Harlequin!" portrays one man's surrealist rebellion against a repressive future society obsessed with timeliness. Ellison's rule-breaking narrative structure and style have made the story memorable to generations of readers.

The award ceremony will take place Saturday, May 9, at Marcon, an annual science fiction convention in Columbus, Ohio, as part of the Libertarian Futurist Society's participation in the celebration of Marcon's fiftieth anniversary. The LFS will present a Special Award for Lifetime Achievement to F. Paul Wilson in the same ceremony.

The awards consist of plaques with gold coins mounted on them, a symbol of free minds and free trade.

The Libertarian Futurist Society has presented annual Hall of Fame Awards since 1982. The first awards went to Robert Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress and Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. In 2001 the award was opened to works other than novels. Previously recognized authors of shorter fiction include Poul Anderson, E.M. Forster, Robert Heinlein, and Vernor Vinge.

Prometheus Awards for Best Novel and Hall of Fame commemorate works of science fiction and fantasy with pro-freedom themes. Award winners are selected by a vote of the membership. Special Award winners are proposed by the Board and approved by a vote of the membership. The Prometheus Hall of Fame award for Best Classic Fiction honors novels, novellas, stories, graphic novels, anthologies, films, TV shows/series, plays, poems, music recordings and other works of fiction first published or broadcast more than five years ago.

About the awards
The Prometheus Award, sponsored by the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), was established in 1979, making it one of the most enduring awards after the Nebula and Hugo awards, and one of the oldest fan-based awards currently in sf. Presented annually since 1982 at the World Science Fiction Convention, the Prometheus Awards include a gold coin and plaque for the winners.

For more than three decades, the Prometheus Awards have recognized outstanding works of science fiction and fantasy that stress the importance of liberty as the foundation for civilization, peace, prosperity, progress and justice.

For a full list of past Prometheus Award winners in all categories, visit Membership in the Libertarian Futurist Society is open to any science fiction fan interested in how fiction can promote an appreciation of the value of liberty.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Week 61, Illuminatus online reading group

Yog Sototh, the H.P. Lovecraft creature who puts in an appearance in this section of the narrative, as rendered by artist Shane Gallagher. 

(This week: Page 637: In Mad Dog, Texas, John Dillinger and Jim Cartwright looked up from the chess board to Page 654, "Ra Ra Ra." More than 10 pages, but as I write last week, I could not find a convenient stopping place.) 

The passage with the climactic ending to the doings at the rock festival in Ingolstadt nicely illustrates Robert Anton Wilson's theories about model agnosticism; the people who are attending the festival do not perceive the events in the same way. Everyone is trying to figure out "whatever the hell is going on," as znore puts it in the blog post I mentioned yesterday, (In one of those synchronicities that always seem to crop up when you take time to notice them, znore's piece is called, "On the Forgotten Art of Turning Into a Tree." On page 652, Joe Malik has turned into a tree, at least in the eyes of British agent Fission Chips. Znore's essay is about how shamanic visions harden into narratives and received truths, and in one sense, this is what this passage of Illuminatus is about).

The models the authors offer for what happens at the end of the rock festival include (1) The book's dominant model, Eris and the Discordians led by Hagbard vs. the Saure version of the Illuminati; (2) Lady Velkor and her Great Mother, Isis, defeating the Illuminati (page 651); (3) Hagbard freaking out a bunch of acidheads, with no supernatural elements (page 652, "a master con man") and (4) "the final battle between Good and Evil, with Horus on both sides" (same paragraph.) It's likely there are models that I have missed, and more models will likely be suggested as the book continues.

Some notes on the text:

"John Dillinger and Jim Cartwright looked up from the chess board," page 637. I've been very confused about the John Dillinger character; apparently there are three of them.

"Being a woman is bad enough, but being a black woman is worse," page 637. In the midst of all of the action, we get an interior monologue from Mary Lou Servix very reminiscent of Molly Bloom's monologue at the end of James Joyce's Ulysses. 

"He's using what I call the Pentecost gimmick," page 639. Isn't it a novelist's dream to be able to speak to all people in a way they understand, in their own language?

Bible exegete Malaclypse the Elder is referring to a passage of thnb m    , which describes in incident similar to what's happening in Illuminatus! (this is the New International Bible translation of Acts 2 1-13)

2 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.

5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,[b] 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

When I was in high school, I read a modern English translation of the New Testament all the way through (I hadn't been much exposed to it in church, having been raised as a Unitarian) and was impressed with its power. There's a great section of The Earth Will Shake which reinterprets passages of the Bible; I'll have to write about it sometime. Perhaps it would make sense, some time after these weekly chronicles end, to tackle the Historical Illuminatus books?

Eris, from a sixth century B.C. Greek plate. 

"If whites and blacks and Indians were turning colors all the time, there wouldn't be any hate in the world, because nobody would know which people to hate." Page 646. In my favorite Bruce Sterling novel, Islands in the Net, a substance is invented which allows white people to darken their skin and become "colored people."

"It is possible," he said, "to achieve transcendental illumination," page 646. There's more about this in the appendix, as we will see.

"You shall not have those lives, Yog Sothoth. Page 649. Speaking of "model agnoticism," as I did a few paragraphs ago, is it difficult to come up with the right genre definition to describe Illuminatus! Is it a postmodern literary novel? A science fiction novel? An occult detective novel? A fantasy novel? Or is it, as this (and many other passages) suggest, a particularly long and unusual Cthulhu Mythos novel? And for that matter, is Illuminatus! a "trilogy," or a long novel originally published as three separate books for commercial publishing reasons?

"Very well," said Joe. "My Lord, my enemy."  Page 653. Is this passage, among other things, a theory that Jesus allowed himself to be killed in an effort to avoid becoming a guru, only to become the biggest "guru" of all time? Notice how earlier in the book, Hagbard steps down as a "guru," handing the responsibility off to Miss Portinari.

(Next week: Book Five: Grummet, page 655, to page 670, "and you will not be disturbed.") 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

znore continues to impress on his blog

Roberto Calasso

When I read znore's Groupname for Grapejuice blog, I often learn about books that I want to read. When I read his latest piece about a month ago, I wound up downloading a free copy of Jessie Laidlay From Ritual to Romance for my Kindle (I haven't had time to read it yet.) When I read his recent "On the Forgotten Art of Turning into a Tree," he convinced me to read The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony by Roberto Calasso. 

In any event, znore has been a busy guy — two new blog posts in the last few weeks. "On the Forgotten Art of Turning into a Tree," about how unusual experiences harden into religion, may perhaps particularly interest fans of RAW's first Cosmic Trigger book. The new one, "Generic Theography as a Slab of Text," also goes into the history of belief. I liked both pieces.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

San Francisco, on this day in 1993

A flyer for a San Francisco event in 1993, featuring Robert Anton Wilson:

Via Ted Hand.

Also: Flyer for a May 21 "The Lost Worlds of Albion" event that I wish I could attend, in Brighton, featuring John Higgs and others:

The event's related podcast has two episodes featuring Mr. Higgs, so it appears I have some listening to do.