Michael Johnson interview, Part Three
Q. I want to explore a few vexing questions for Wilsonians. Here's one: What do you think happened to the material that was cut from ILLUMINATUS! at Dell's insistence? Do you believe any of it survives?
A. Jesus H. Christ on a pogo-stick, I wish it would resurface, but I have strong doubts it will. I think if RAW could've recovered it he would've found a way to sculpt it — ideally working in tandem with Shea — into another genius tome and get it into our hands. I see no reason to doubt the official story (from him) that it's lost. 500 pages or so! Can you imagine a 1300 page version of Illuminatus! ??? The reel minds, or rind meals, or...see what I mean?
Q. Do you have any insight into how far Wilson got on BRIDE OF ILLUMINATUS, and why it was never finished?
A. Of this question I have almost no insight. I hope to tease out some more info before my book gets published. When I saw him give a talk after Cosmic Trigger III came out, in Santa Monica, he got that question about Bride. I recall him saying there will be a satire on the OJ Simpson fiasco, and Monica Lewinsky. He said very little about his upcoming book projects, which with hindsight seems like a "smart" thing to do.
Q. How much material was cut from SCHROEDINGER'S CAT when it was reduced from three separate books to one omnibus edition?
A. Quite a lot of really really RILLY cool stuff, to my eyes. I don't have the actual page count difference. I had read the omnibus edition four or five times before I finally scored all three of the originals via Ebay, and I was astonished and delighted there was so much "new" and Wilsonic-trippy stuff that got left out of the one-volume edition. Why? The ways of the publishing houses are inscrutable to me. I have the feeling that if I found out someone who knew the straight answer it would be something like, "Oh yeah. That was Joe 'Bottom Line' Smith who edited that. He took one look at it, said, 'Naw. Sorry. Too big. No one's buying fat books anymore,' then cut out a shitload of pages. He quit soon after that and became a broker on Wall Street."
Do I sound jaundiced?
On the other hand, RAW ended up with New Falcon because they wouldn't tamper-edit his books. The drag of it is: he could've used someone at least proofing his books there. They are filled with typos, and only two of his non-fiction books published by New Falcon have indexes. And I don't think they had any marketing budget to speak of. But I digress...
Q. Did TALE OF THE TRIBE turn into EMAIL TO THE UNIVERSE, or was it never completed?
A. The way I understand it, RAW wanted to write the book that is delineated with tantalizing tidbits at the end of TSOG: The Thing That Ate The Constitution, pp.203-213. He ended up publishing Email To The Universe instead, and there's no bloody way that was what he was wanting for Tale of the Tribe. He ended up finding about half to a third of old pieces that Mike Gathers, Eric Wagner, Dan Clore, myself, and a few others had found in disparate old magazines that had never made it into RAW's published books. We had collected tons of stuff we'd bought on eBay or had stashed in old boxes somewhere, some of it from quite obscure little magazines. Gathers took the time and put it all up at rawilsonfans.com. I think he did a helluva job. One day, New Falcon asked Mike to take certain pieces off the site, and he did without complaint. Those pieces ended up in E to the U. Gathers got a free copy out of it.
There's a quote from RAW in an old entry for him in the reference set found in libraries, Contemporary Authors. He said he had, if I recall correctly, about 1500 articles in print before he made it as a writer. And those articles were in scholarly journals, porno mags, little literary mags, schlocky publications, everywhere. And in a circa 1980 interview with Dr. Jeffrey Eliot he told Eliot he'd rather be "rhino-gored" than to see some of those pieces re-surface. Methinks RAW saw quite a lot of stuff at up at rawilsonfans.com and thought they weren't half-bad at all, at all. I'm glad he was able to put out that last book with our anonymous help. He was having a really tough time those last eight years or so, after Arlen died. His post-polio syndrome really did a number on him; cannabis was a godsend for him, but being stoned all the time definitely slowed his writing down. But I quite like E to the U, don't you?
I think it remains for one of his disciples to carry on and write a heavily-influenced by RAW Tale of the Tribe. The blueprints are on the pages I cited for TSOG, above. And he did an online course for his MaybeLogic Academy that was intensively "Tribe" oriented. There are many others more qualified than I to comment on this projected last book.
Q. Do you believe Wilson's fans will succeed in keeping interest in his writing alive?
A. Maybe it's just selective perception, but I see it, yeah. I think it's building, slowly. I do think Wilson was quasi-tragically ahead of his time. But if it was between dying out or growing interest, my money's on him getting bigger over the next decade or so. Let it ride, too! I hope to be some sort of influence on that, obviously.
Q. How aggressive do you believe Wilson's family will be in bringing his out of print books back into print and bringing new material into print?
A. That one scares me a bit. My impression is that (I will just say "they") they knew he was an author with a particularly devoted fan base; I don't get the impression they understand his work the way fans like you or I do. I hope I'm wrong. Wilson did leave his kids with debts. They may be jaded, I don't know. It's in their best interests — one would think — to maintain control of the rights and to keep him in print, but there are too many moving parts there for me to tell for sure.
If they do have unpublished material I wish they'd let someone like me edit it first! (Am I dreaming?)
Q. You have worked for years as a musician and guitar instructor. Do you have any particular insight into Wilson's writings on music?
A. I asked him why Beethoven, especially the Ninth Symphony, shows up so often and with such prominence in his work. I said, is it because he represents your highest ideas about Enlightenment? He bluntly said he'd had a peak experience while high on acid and listening to the 9th. Ahhh...why didn't I guess that? I asked him if he wrote with music on, and he said he listened to "light" classical sometimes while writing, but his favorites — esp. Ludwig van — were too engrossing; they demanded all of your attention.
He once listed favorite pieces in Usenet under the nym "Mark Chan." I remember they were all classical, maybe a jazz performer or two, and then last, "Iron Butterfly." I think Wilson's take on rock was ironic because he perceived it was the music of his fans, but he thought JS Bach wrote the "sexiest" music in history.
I have a section about RAW and music, so I don't wanna blow my wad here. I will say that I think the hotbed — or one of the hotbeds — for RAW's thinking about music is found in Sigismundo Celine's interior monologues as found within the Historical Illuminatus Chronicles.
Q. I've never noticed any reference to sports in Wilson's writings. Do you know if he had any interest in any sports?
A. I mentioned this to Eric Wagner years ago, and he said RAW had interest and knowledge of Joe Louis, Babe Ruth, and few others, if I recall with any accuracy that email exchange. But by and large, I'd say, comparatively speaking, RAW was not a big sports guy...and can you blame him? Having polio and being as cerebral as he was as a kid? He liked Mailer, I'll say that. Is that sports? He was also an acquaintance of the great Oakland/Berkeley-based writer Ishmael Reed, whose Mumbo Jumbo reminds some of us of Illuminatus! and Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 in tone and antic humor and secret society tropes. Reed says, "Writin' is fightin'!" From Hemingway to Mailer punching Gore Vidal: writers as boxers, trying to knock their fellow (Male? Oh let's let in Joyce Carol Oates for fairness...) writers out of the ring, writin' bein' fightin' 'n all, ya know...
Q. It's my impression that California is a particular hotbed of Wilson fans. Has that been your experience?
A. RAW and Leary had some things to say about the maverick genes lighting out for the territory, and ending up in California, the edge of the Pacific, the Granola State, filled with fruits and nuts. But they were also serious: they thought that genetic neophiles agglomerated in California, where you got Hollywood and Silicon Valley, CalTech and JPL and Berkeley, the progressive-liberalism of San Francisco, and all kinds of weirdo cults and inventors: their kinds of peeps! At times they identified parts of California as the avant garde of 5th circuit Hedonic Engineering: hot tubs and pot, fine wines and tantric cults, surfing and fucking on the beach, then going to a movie after a vegetarian meal. (This all fits more the coast of CA; the inland areas can be pretty conservative and pent-up-regressive, right wing, what have ya. Their point was generally: when there is enough Wealth, more people will activate the somatosensory circuit of "feeling good" floating, which usually leads to tolerance towards others doing their own things. It can happen anywhere.)
I think it's probably right that CA has more RAW readers than any other state, but hell, it's a big-assed state, and the neophilic gene thing was probably a rhetorical flourish not quite fully-baked. I know he has a substantial fan base in Germany. He said he thought it was the children (and their children in turn) who were particularly raised to Question Authority, after the unpleasantness of 1914-45. Anywhere there are freaks like us, we will find guys like RAW. Libertarians and anarchists of various stripe, Discordians and Sub Genii, futurists, New Agers with scientific educations, surrealists, particularly literary science fiction fans, entheogenic enthusiasts, and people who like dense, eccentric and difficult heretical ideas, writers and thinkers will gravitate towards Wilson, wherever they are. Anyone can find him, even right where they are sitting now.
Q. What did you think of Eric Wagner's "An Insider's Guide to Robert Anton Wilson"?
A. 1.) He knows more than he let on.
2.) Any first book on an author starts the conversation in a literal way, for me at least, and for that he's to be commended. Subsequent books on Wilson will have to answer some of what Wagner addressed, if only to take issue with him. I'm grateful he got the first book on RAW out there.
3.) There are some tremendous insights in there; there are some things that really opened my eyes, and we're all lucky he spend time with RAW and corresponded with him.
4.) He carries the E-Prime off really well. No mean feat!
5.) Wagner takes his epistemology very siriusly indeed, and that renders his book as at times wildly subjective, intensely personal...really pretty avant in approach, especially for a first book on the subject. I admire him, but I think he hurt his cause a bit by being so subjective (which seems in keeping with a certain strict reading of RAW and Korzybski regarding "what we can know").
6.) He definitely "knows" more than he lets on. (I know I already said that.) I wrote the first review of the book at the Amazon site.