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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Michael Johnson interview, Part Two

Q. Tell us about your upcoming book about RAW.

A. I've already ditched about 300 pages, because I'm trying to learn how to do this thing called, umm..."writing a book that would not be boring if I were the reader." Lemme see: I will try to show how RAW's oeuvre is similar to many of his contemporaries, but the interest lies in DIFFERENCE. I will trace the trajectory of his career as a particular kind of Artist-Intellectual. I have outlined his outstanding metaphors and recurring tropes as I have read his body of work, and I note that beneath all the deep play there's an urgency. RAW was very much like Buckminster Fuller, in that he wanted humankind to be "a success in universe." The Bomb seems always lurking behind Wilson's work.

I flesh out a minor bio, I have a long interview in there, and I go over each book, not in E-Prime like Eric Wagner's book The Insider's Guide To Robert Anton Wilson, because I find the E-Prime thing too difficult, although the spirit is there...I'm quite fascinated by RAW's sociology of knowledge and the deeper structures of it. I speculate, bullshit, pull legs, put-on...and try to situate RAW as a thinker, a hairy endeavor indeed for a damned eejit like myself.

Ya know? I just realized something profound. Yosemite Sam was right! Bugs Bunny was INDEED a "long-eared ijit-galoot"! Let that sink in a bit...

I recently realized, via Ed Sanders, via Charles Olson, that I'm trying to do my "Saturation Job." See p.420 of Sanders' book on the Manson group, The Family, 3rd edition. Oh? You don't have that on hand? Okay, here is the relevant passage, for any other writers in a similar quandary:

[Sanders is talking about trying to score ultra-elusive videos of
famous people fucking for who-knows why]:
"Then the meeting ended. During the next few days I strove to complete
the deal, to no avail. I couldn't devote full-time to it, since I had
begun writing my book, the biggest book of my life. My mentor, the
great bard Charles Olson, had written about a 'Saturation Job,' as a
rite of passage for a writer of substance. In a Saturation Job, Olson
pointed out, you studied one subject, whether a place or a person or
persons, 'until you yourself know more about that than is possible to
any other man. It doesn't matter whether it's Barbed Wire or Pemmican
or Paterson or Iowa. But EXHAUST IT, Saturate it. Beat it. And then U
KNOW everything very fast: one saturation job (it might take fourteen
years). And you're in, forever.'"

"Writer of substance." Aye, there's the rub!

Q. I hope you will finish the book, rather than spending years working on it. If you have second thoughts, you can always write another book!

Rudy Rucker, in a book called SEEK that collects his nonfiction, described RAW (at age 62) as an unpleasant person who was only easy to be around when he was inebriated on alcohol or pot. What was your experience with RAW, and what did you think of Rucker's account? Was RAW generally kind to fans?

A. I was disappointed in Rucker's aloofness towards RAW. It would've been easy to find out RAW's wife of 40+ years was dying — I either remember or suspect Rucker knew this yet was still kind of a dick writing about RAW — that his post-polio made long plane trips to places like Portugal (where they filmed) far more uncomfortable than any of us could imagine, and that RAW needed the money desperately, having bills and a brood. It was a dark and difficult time for Wilson, and Rucker seems so blase about Bob's pain. Rucker is freaking brilliant though; I love his books. He's distantly related to Hegel, or so I heard him say when he gave a talk in Berkeley three years ago. All of his books have stimulated me, but some of the math is over my head. He's prolific too. In that piece you cite of Rucker's, if I remember, he said he thought RAW was obviously a genius of some sort; I think the same of Rucker. [Editor’s note: The article, originally published in “bOING bOING” magazine, was about a 1994 movie made in Portugal called “The Manual of Evasion.” The Internet Movie Database lists nothing about the movie, but excerpts are posted on YouTube.]

Rucker once said he liked the IDEA of people doing psychedelic drugs; he himself wasn't interested. Maybe there's a bit of a wedge there? And then again he and Terence McKenna (TM was also in that same Portuguese film with RAW and RR) were born in 1946, while RAW was 14 years older. So there was a generation gap? Who knows? (See my bit about Writin' 'N Fightin' below.)

I could speculate too much about the Rucker perspective on Wilson as depicted in that piece in Rucker's Seek! Selected Nonfiction. I don't want to misrepresent Rucker. Wilson is an object of interest by many a writer/artist/musician, and this picture of RAW by Rucker represents an anomaly, in my experience. I have heard numerous accounts of RAW being incredibly sweet with his fans. When I asked for an interview, he invited me and my wife into his home, and made me feel very comfortable. He seemed like a Buddhist sage with otherworldly intelligence, spoke in complete paragraphs from questions I had not given him beforehand, quoted passages of Pound from memory, had limitless jokes. I had the feeling that interviews were a sort of performance for him, but he was also genuine and warm. I've heard similar stories from others.

At the same time I couldn't help but feel this guy doesn't suffer fools gladly, and was so trying not to be one. The documentarians doing the film about him called Maybe Logic were there when I got there, all their equipment set up, so he was warmed up and I was nervous and he made me feel relaxed. By the end of the interview we were discussing things more as equals, and he was extremely open-minded and listened attentively. He complained that it was hard to keep up on everything; he felt like he'd fallen behind. When I asked him if he'd read this or that book and he hadn't, he said there were a lot of books he had not read! (I admitted to thinking it seemed like he'd read EVERYTHING.) His apartment was filled with gifts from friends and fans, books piled up everywhere.

As far as pleasantness and inebriation, one writer who knew RAW since the 1970s said — and I'm quoting this second hand, so maybe I have it right — that he never saw RAW not stoned! (Let us chalk this up as "lore"?)

Wednesday: Vexing questions for Wilson fans


elmyr23 said...

Hey Michael,

interesting interview. When will your book be published? Have you found a publisher for it? What will be the title? I can hardly wait to read it.



dylan said...

Another book about RAW would be awesome!

michael said...

Marc! I imagine you're a professor of Sociology or something by now. Good to hear from you. I have sent a few queries out and there's some interest. I have made zero $$$ (Euros to you)on it as of late...I'm looking at the first half of 2011 for publish...I have changed the title a few times, but lately it's (Mis)Understanding Robert Anton Wilson: 23 Pieces. What? No good? Okay, then you write one!

NOTE to those who don't know who elmyr23 is: he's a German reader of Wilson with a very nuanced appreciation of his work, and maybe it has changed since we corresponded a few years ago. But: ultra-astute and stratospheric intelligence: ask him Qs about RAW too!

michael said...

Note to Dylan: It's seemed much more difficult than I thought it would be, and I went in thinking it would be difficult. A self-fulfilling prophecy? Maybe. When it comes out I hope you like it.

Note to Tom Jackson: I have a Polaroid of me and RAW sitting together on his couch, arms around the shoulders. If I can figure out how to get a digital version to you, I will. Or is it too late?

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

Michael: Not too late.....please send

quackenbush said...

Manual of Evasion on IMDB:

also, I believe the "Who is the Master" clip from YouTube ( belongs to SWK4, but I may be wrong.