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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A word of mouth writer

AN INSIDER'S GUIDE TO ROBERT ANTON WILSON includes an interview with RAW, including an interesting last section where Eric Wagner runs out of questions and RAW takes over.

In that section, Wilson observes that "the only way to get famous as a writer is to get praised by really important New York reviewers. None of whom have ever admitted I exist ... They not only haven't liked my books, they haven't even panned them; they just simply ignore them. I've never been reviewed in any of the major New York publications." (Pages 152-153.)

The books section of the New York Times Web site allows visitors to search all book reviews since 1981. I ran a search for Robert Anton Wilson, using the "Match Exact Phrase" tab and got nothing, except for a film review of a movie about Philip K. Dick. Admittedly, the time frame leaves out ILLUMINATUS! and the "Cat" trilogy, but it's still kind of a striking result. A search for Robert Anton Wilson on the New York Review of Books site also proved fruitless.

As Wilson observed himself in the interview, it's interesting that his work has remained in print and found readers, considering that he's gotten so little help from the "right" reviewers. Here's Bob: "... anything of mine that's gone out of print hasn't stayed out of print very long. Very few writers have their works stay in print as long as mine, unless they're being really heavily promoted by the New York media. So my career is based entirely on word of mouth, which I think is probably the strongest type of advertisement." (Page 153, same interview.)

The NY Times did run a nice obituary, although a little publicity when Wilson actually still was alive would have been nice.

By the way, a new edition of INSIDER'S GUIDE will come out shortly, with illustrations by Bobby Campbell and a new afterword by Wagner.


Manic The Doodler said...

Thank goodness for the internet! I didn't discover RAW until about 8-9 years ago on this Disinformation video I purchased. I only recently started reading his books this past year after re-watching that video as well as the many clips of him on the net. I wish I had discovered him years earlier but better late than never I suppose. I think part of the excelleration of information includes the books of RAW et. al...

michael said...

I told RAW that the NYT Book Review reviewed his Playboy's Book of Forbidden Words, and he was surprised: he'd either forgotten about it or didn't know. I have a microfilm-printout here in front of me: Nov 26, 1972 NYT Book Review by Robert Burchfield. He reviewed PBOFW along with _The Queen's Vernacular: A Gay Lexicon_, by Bruce Rodgers, and labeled both as "homo lexicographus."

But all in all, I think what RAW said to Wagner was basically right, although there is that crankiness creaking in a tad, in my opinion. RAW was particularly relentless towards "New York intellectuals," and I think it was because that's where the biggest publishing houses were, and RAW was never all that inpressed with most of the NY intellectuals, saying one time that circa 1975, they still think that Marx and Freud are the hottest ideas around. Etc, etc, etc. He loved the more openmindedness of Berkeley/San Francisco and the wilder ideas there. Obviously.