Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea. Blog, Internet resources, online reading groups, articles and interviews, Illuminatus! info.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A conversation in the con suite

As I was eating my lunch in the con suite at the World Fantasy Con, a gentleman next to me remarked about the fear mongering broadcast on Fox News about how a printer cartridge can be turned into a TERRORIST BOMB. (The guy remarked was true, but only in the sense that explosives could be packed into any box). The fellow remarked that the flashing "Alert" notices on Fox News seemed to perform the same function as "Fnord! Fnord! Fnord!" in ILLUMINATUS!

Naturally, this got my attention, and when I inquired further the man said he had read ILLUMINATUS! several times and also other works by Wilson.

I don't mention his name because he did not know when he was chatting with me that I was a journalist and a blogger. He mentioned that he likes to track climate change deniers and had once hacked into the computer of a professional denier, and read a price list for writing a book filled wiht falsehoods, an article filled with lies, etc. He insisted that climate change debunkers know that the science of global warming is true, but make a good living being funded by monied interests who seek to conceal the truth.

One gets into interesting conversations with Wilson fans.

Note: Original post edited for accuracy after I got an e-mail from the gentleman I quoted.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Robert Anton Wilson -- staying power for paranoid readers?

Greetings from World Fantasy Con in Columbus, where I have seen renewed evidence that H.P. Lovecraft, whose work is featured in ILLUMINATUS!, remains an influential fantasy writer. My friend F. Brett Cox remarked that the two arguably most influential science fiction or fantasy writers in the last century were Lovecraft and Philip K. Dick, who both had a consistently paranoid vision of the world. Paranoia is also a consistent theme of Wilson's work, which teaches us to be suspicious of power.

Friday, October 29, 2010

ILLUMINATUS! -- A work of fantasy?

Risus Monkey, continuing a meme launched at Huge Ruined Pile, lists 10 "desert island" favorite works of fantasy and includes ILLUMINATUS! by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson.

It's hard to know how to classify a genre-busting book such as ILLUMINATUS!, and perhaps the work illustrates the difficulty of trying to map the literary territory, but "fantasy" is perhaps not a bad label. I also like another work Risus Monkey lists, Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The marijuana initiative in California

Robert Anton Wilson often spoke out against the "war on drugs" (or, as he accurately, observed, the "war on some drugs." It was one of his signature issues when he founded the Guns and Dope Party to run for governor of California, where he lived for the remaining years of his life.

It has occurred to me that some of our overseas readers, and even American readers outside of California, may not realize that voters in California are about to decide (e.g., on Nov. 2) whether to legalize marijuana. Proposition 19. would legalize pot, regulate it and tax it. No doubt successful passage would inspire efforts in some of the other 49 states.

Discussion on the issue is ongoing at one of my favorite blogs, Unqualified Offerings.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A couple of favorite quotations

A couple of favorite RAW quotations that keep popping up in the Internet:

"Do not adjust your mind. It is reality that is malfunctioning."

"When you define the power elite, I regard that as a losers script. I define the power elite as myself and my friends."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Vatican Bank back in the news

In Cosmic Trigger II: Down to Earth, Robert Anton Wilson wrote about Robert Calvi, known as "God's Banker" because of his ties to the Vatican Bank.

The Vatican Bank is back in the news again; Vatican authorities have seized $33 million from a Vatican bank account. The AP story notes, "The investigation is not the first trouble for the bank - formally known as the Institute for Works of Religion. In the 1980s, it was involved in a major scandal that resulted in a banker, dubbed "God's Banker" because of his close ties to the Vatican, being found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in London."

Hat tip to Fly Agaric for spotting this.

Monday, October 25, 2010

On the road again

I'm going to be at the World Fantasy Con in Columbus, Ohio, on Oct. 29-31. If any any RAWphiles happen to be there, it would be cool to meet.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Robert Shea at Project Gutenberg

Sombunall works by Robert Shea are available at Project Gutenberg. The solo works of Wilson's ILLUMINATUS! collaborator also are available on the official Shea site, in HTML, but the Gutenberg offering provides more formats. Shaman, for example, is available at Gutenberg in HTML, EPUD, Kindle, Plucker, QiOO Mobile and plaint text.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Music for Wilson fans

Robert Anton Wilson fans are likely to also be fans of James Joyce, or at least realize that RAW was deeply influenced by Joyce's writings.

So I thought I would share a discovery I made recently -- a composition by modern American composer Robert Erickson that sets a text from Finnegan's Wake to music. The track is called "End of the Mime" and it can be downloaded here. (The whole album is worth downloading. I particularly like the first track, "Night Music.")

(Via the Avant Garde Project.)

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Guns and Dope Party

A Fox News piece, "It's My Third Party and I'll Cry If I Want To," by Jodie Curtis, discusses memorable third parties, and gives prominent mention to the Guns and Dope Party:

In 2003 the Guns & Dope party gained national attention. If you enjoy aiming high or getting high or simply have your head in the sand, the Guns & Dope Party could meet your needs. According to their website they advocate "guns for those who want them, no guns forced on those who don't want them," as well as, "drugs for those who want them, no drugs forced on those who don't want them." Created by writer, philosopher and/or comic Robert Anton Wilson during his run for California governor during the special midterm recall election of 2003, this party also advocates for replacing one-third of Congress with ostriches. The ideology is reportedly based on Wilson's insight that every ostrich is a tsar and every person has the right to govern himself or herself.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Widow's Son -- editing Wilson's favorite book


The Widow’s Son, the second book of Robert Anton Wilson’s “Historical Illuminatus Chronicles,” may be Wilson’s best novel.

Wilson many times called it his favorite book, according to An Insider’s Guide to Robert Anton Wilson by Eric Wagner. Wilson expert Michael Johnson, who has read all of Wilson’s books over and over, and has also read many books that influenced Wilson, also cites it as a favorite.

The Widow's Son seems uber-RAW to me because he's working all (mostbunall?) of his favorite late 20th century ideas into a novel set in the late 18th century,” Johnson says. “At the same time he's also doing his ‘historical novel’ with a bit of Bildungsroman added in, PLUS he's got that whole other footnote-world counter-narrative, which captures the mad acidhead postmodernist-cum-surrealist Erisian Wilson. I love that book. He did too. He said when he wrote it — circa 1985 — he was ‘really hot.’ He wrote that one in Ireland.”

Horror writer Matt Cardin wrote that The Widow's Son "may be the best thing" that Wilson ever wrote, "a book that actually crosses over into the realm of by-God literature and bristles with enduring value. It's also a darned fun romp, both narratively and philosophically. And it pushes the envelope of his fact/fiction mixing 'guerilla ontology tactic to its most exquisite extreme."

But if The Widow’s Son is an enduring delight for Wilson’s fans, editing it was a hard slog for the two editors who worked on the manuscript — science fiction book editor Jim Frenkel, who published it in 1985 as part of his own publishing company, Bluejay Books, and veteran science fiction copyeditor Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

The first book in the series, The Earth Will Shake, is a straightforward narrative (at least by Wilson’s standards) that introduces protagonist Sigismundo Celine, the apparent ancestor of Hagbard Celine, one of the main characters in Wilson and Robert Shea’s ILLUMINATUS! trilogy.

The Widow’s Son is a much different book, dense with footnotes. Wagner’s book notes that the footnotes “almost take over” the book and asserts, “Wilson developed the footnote device from that employed by Flann O’Brien in The Third Policeman and Vladimir Nabokov in Pale Fire.”

“He said in a talk in Phoenix in 1988 that he considered Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman the best Irish novel since Finnegans Wake, Wagner said.

The difference in style between the first and second books in the series came as a surprise to Wilson’s editors.

“Nobody expected it to be a troublesome book,” said Nielsen Hayden, referring to The Widow’s Son. “The first one is nothing like that. Nobody at Bluejay had expected that the second book in the series would be significant more trouble than the first. I have always strongly suspected that I was the first person at Bluejay to actually read the book.”

Frenkel said that’s incorrect.

“I did read the manuscript before she got it,” he said.

“She and I still agree it was possibly the most challenging copyediting task she ever had,” Frenkel said. “Wilson was all over the place. His mind was like that.”

Wilson was a wild talent and could be called a genius, but was undisciplined as well, Frenkel said.

The work on the book involved a great deal of fact-checking of Wilson’s historical assertions and cleaning up of his spelling of proper names,Nielsen Hayden said.

Although typographically the typed manuscript was “fairly tidy for its day,” Wilson was “one of those people who can spell the same word two different ways on one page,” Nielsen Hayden said. “That is much commoner than most readers think.”

Nielsen Hayden had a strong sense of responsibility as she worked on the book.

She knew that Wilson’s fans cared deeply about Wilson’s work, because she was a Wilson fan herself. She had read the ILLUMINATUS! trilogy more than once and quoted a passage from memory from the Schroedinger’s Cat trilogy when I interviewed her in August 2010. She once interviewed him, and participated in organizing a science fiction convention in the Bay Area in California where Wilson would have been the guest of honor. (The convention fell through because of hotel problems.)

Wilson’s fans would notice all of the details, Nielsen Hayden knew.

“And therefore, they all have to be right,” she said.

Interviewed about 25 years after she worked on the book, Nielsen Hayden could no longer remember many of the specific things she fixed.

She did remember that at one point, Wilson referred to Freemason as “masonry.” That would have been all right if the word was capitalized, but in Wilson’s original use of the word, it seemed to refer to “all of the stone walls in France,” said Nielsen Hayden, who recalls bursting into laughter.

Nielsen Hayden did not work directly with Wilson. In each case where she had a question, she wrote the question out clearly so that Frenkel could ask Wilson about it.

Frenkel remembers Wilson as helpful and cooperative when Frenkel questioned the author, although “sometimes a little maddening.”

“He would be coy. He would be kind of winking at you,” Frenkel said. “He would say, ‘What do you think?’ Or he would give answers that left as many questions as the answers.”

The copyediting was complicated by Wilson’s approach to dealing with the nature of reality. Readers of his books often have to stay alert to figure out where Wilson is playing straight with them, and where he is having fun with them.

In the Schroedinger’s Cat trilogy, for example, Wilson has a brief preface in which he thanks Dr. Blake Williams for permission to quote from his work. Williams is a fictional character.

Wilson had that same deadpan style in dealing with his editors, Frenkel said.

“He could say something to you, and you had no idea whatsoever whether he was making it all up or telling the absolute truth. It was impossible to tell. He said everything with the exact same sense of earnestness,” Frenkel said, recalling a luncheon with Wilson and Wilson’s agent, Al Zuckerman, when Wilson was supposed to be finishing The World Turned Upside Down. It was the projected fourth book of The Historical Illuminatus Chronicles. Wilson said he would finish the book soon, but in fact it was never completed, Frenkel said.

Nielsen Hayden said she understood Wilson’s technique. Reading his books, and assuming that everything in it is fiction, it can be startling to come across something that is true.

“For a horrible moment, you realize there is nothing under your feet,” she said.

Wilson understood “that there were things we will find out and things we will never find out,” she said. “He was conveying to the readers that sense of the world, that experience of the world, that it is full of mysteries. There are strange connections and strange facts.”

Dealing with Wilson’s mysterious prose wasn’t Nielsen Hayden’s only challenge. Her father died, and she lost the ability to concentrate. She wound up having to redo about a week’s worth of copyediting.

Nielsen Hayden said the result of all of her efforts was “a huge amount of tidying up.”

“It would not have been a hugely different book without me,” she said, but it would have been a much untidier one.

She said she is “really, really glad” that Wilson’s fans enjoyed the final result and cite The Widow’s Son as one of their favorites.

“I got in to that book up to my elbows,” she said.

“I'm sure she's right, that it would have been less tidy and consistent and tightly written,” Frenkel said. “I remember when she brought in the manuscript copyedited. There were flags all over the manuscript. Dozens and dozens -- I'm sure there were more than a hundred, easily. I'm talking about copyediting flags. It was amazing.”

“She is a champion copyediter,” he said.


Notes and citations

“Wilson many times...” An Insider’s Guide to Robert Anton Wilson, Eric Wagner, New Falcon Publications, 2004, Page 46.

Wilson expert MIchael Johnson, “Michael Johnson Answers My Questions About Robert Anton Wilson, from the RAW Illumination blog, cross posted at Cleveland Okie (

Jim Frenkel was interviewed on August 5, 2010. Teresa Nielsen Hayden was interviewed on August 15, 2010. I am grateful to both of them for giving me their time.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Jonathan Swift: Another footnote to The Earth Will Shake

In part six of The Earth Will Shake, the section entitled The Hanged Man, John Babcock is waiting to find out if the authorities at his school will discover if he is a "sodomite" when he reads a passage from a favorite writer, Jonathan Swift, which begins, "Last week I saw a woman flayed, and you will hardly believe how much it altered her person for the worse."

Wilson doesn't give a citation, but it turns out the passage came from Section Nine of A Tale of a Tub, which the Wikipedia article says is Swift's "first major prose work."

Years ago, I belonged to a book group in Lawton, Oklahoma, which read books suggested by its members. One meeting was supposed to be devoted to discussing Swift's Gulliver's Travels, which I had suggested. I loved the book and looked forward to the discussion, but when I went to the meeting, I discovered that I was the only person who had bothered to finish it.

Passages of The Earth Will Shake make it clear Wilson loved Swift's writing.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Douglas Rushkoff at Maybe Logic Academy

Writer Douglas Rushkoff, one of the more prominent modern writers influenced by Robert Anton Wilson, is teaching a course at the online Maybe Logic Academy inspired by Rushkoff's new book, Program or Be Programmed.

He explains, "Robert Anton Wilson and his crew set up an online academy for him to teach James Joyce and other subjects to those of us who thrived off his learning and insights. Before he died, he began to invite others to teach courses through the Maybe Logic Academy, and the site has lived on. I was honored to be asked to teach course based on my new book. It goes for ten weeks, and begins October 11. I'll be donating my proceeds to" More here.

Looks like I've missed the start of class, but I'll read the book soon. (bOING bOING, via Some Electronic Drugs.)

Monday, October 18, 2010

A question

The version of The Earth Will Shake is the original Tarcher hardcover, and I noticed just now that the jacket cover copy describes the book as "the first in a trilogy." I had understood that Wilson had planned additional books; was it his original intention to write a trilogy, and did he in fact fulfill that by publishing Nature's God, even if he later planned to add more books?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

"George R.R. Martin is not your bitch"

Since we have been talking about whether Robert Anton Wilson lived up to fans' expectations for finishing the Historical Illuminatus series (and whether any criticism is really fair), I thought I would pass on a classic blog posting by Neil Gaiman, the prominent fantasy writer, after a reader wrote to him to complain that another genre writer, George R.R. Martin, needed to get busy and finish his next novel.

The complete posting is here, but here is the relevant exchange:

Hi Neil,

I've recently subscribed to George RR Martin's blog ( in the hopes of getting some inside information regarding when the next "Song of Ice and Fire" book is due to be released. I love the series but since subscribing to the blog I've become increasingly frustrated with Martin's lack of communication on the next novel's publication date. In fact, it's almost as though he is doing everything in his power to avoid working on his latest novel. Which poses a few questions:

1. With blogs and twitter and other forms of social media do you think the audience has too much input when it comes to scrutinising the actions of an artist? If you had announced a new book two years ago and were yet to deliver do you think avoiding the topic on your blog would lead readers to believe you were being "slack"? By blogging about your work and life do you have more of a responsibility to deliver on your commitments?

2. When writing a series of books, like Martin is with "A Song of Ice and Fire" what responsibility does he have to finish the story? Is it unrealistic to think that by not writing the next chapter Martin is letting me down, even though if and when the book gets written is completely up to him?

Would be very interested in your insight.


My opinion....

1) No.

2) Yes, it's unrealistic of you to think George is "letting you down".

Look, this may not be palatable, Gareth, and I keep trying to come up with a better way to put it, but the simplicity of things, at least from my perspective is this:

George R.R. Martin is not your bitch.

This is a useful thing to know, perhaps a useful thing to point out when you find yourself thinking that possibly George is, indeed, your bitch, and should be out there typing what you want to read right now.

People are not machines. Writers and artists aren't machines.

You're complaining about George doing other things than writing the books you want to read as if your buying the first book in the series was a contract with him: that you would pay over your ten dollars, and George for his part would spend every waking hour until the series was done, writing the rest of the books for you.

No such contract existed. You were paying your ten dollars for the book you were reading, and I assume that you enjoyed it because you want to know what happens next.

It seems to me that the biggest problem with series books is that either readers complain that the books used to be good but that somewhere in the effort to get out a book every year the quality has fallen off, or they complain that the books, although maintaining quality, aren't coming out on time.

Both of these things make me glad that I am not currently writing a series, and make me even gladder that the decade that I did write series things, in Sandman, I was young, driven, a borderline workaholic, and very fortunate. (and even then, towards the end, I was taking five weeks to write a monthly comic, with all the knock-on problems in deadlines that you would expect from that).

For me, I would rather read a good book, from a contented author. I don't really care what it takes to produce that.

Some writers need a while to charge their batteries, and then write their books very rapidly. Some writers write a page or so every day, rain or shine. Some writers run out of steam, and need to do whatever it is they happen to do until they're ready to write again. Sometimes writers haven't quite got the next book in a series ready in their heads, but they have something else all ready instead, so they write the thing that's ready to go, prompting cries of outrage from people who want to know why the author could possibly write Book X while the fans were waiting for Book Y.

I remember hearing an upset comics editor telling a roomful of other editors about a comics artist who had taken a few weeks off to paint his house. The editor pointed out, repeatedly, that for the money the artist would have been paid for those weeks' work he could easily have afforded to hire someone to paint his house, and made money too. And I thought, but did not say, “But what if he wanted to paint his house?”

I blew a deadline recently. Terminally blew it. First time in 25 years I've sighed and said, “I can't do this, and you won't get your story.” It was already late, I was under a bunch of deadline pressure, my father died, and suddenly the story, too, was dead on the page. I liked the voice it was in, but it wasn't working, and eventually, rather than drive the editors and publishers mad waiting for a story that wasn't going to come, I gave up on it and apologised, worried that I could no longer write fiction.

I turned my attention to the next deadline waiting – a script. It flowed easily and delightfully, was the most fun I've had writing anything in ages, all the characters did exactly what I had hoped they would do, and the story was better than I had dared to hope.

Sometimes it happens like that. You don't choose what will work. You simply do the best you can each time. And you try to do what you can to increase the likelihood that good art will be created.

And sometimes, and it's as true of authors as it is of readers, you have a life. People in your world get sick or die. You fall in love, or out of love. You move house. Your aunt comes to stay. You agreed to give a talk half-way around the world five years ago, and suddenly you realise that that talk is due now. Your last book comes out and the critics vociferously hated it and now you simply don't feel like writing another. Your cat learns to levitate and the matter must be properly documented and investigated. There are deer in the apple orchard. A thunderstorm fries your hard disk and fries the backup drive as well...

And life is a good thing for a writer. It's where we get our raw material, for a start. We quite like to stop and watch it.

The economics of scale for a writer mean that very few of us can afford to write 5,000 page books and then break them up and publish them annually once they are done. So writers with huge stories, or ones that, as Sandman did, grow in the telling, are going to write them and have them published as they go along.

And if you are waiting for a new book in a long ongoing series, whether from George or from Pat Rothfuss or from someone else...

Wait. Read the original book again. Read something else. Get on with your life. Hope that the author is writing the book you want to read, and not dying, or something equally as dramatic. And if he paints the house, that's fine.

And Gareth, in the future, when you see other people complaining that George R.R. Martin has been spotted doing something other than writing the book they are waiting for, explain to them, more politely than I did the first time, the simple and unanswerable truth: George R. R. Martin is not working for you.

Hope that helps.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A dispatch from Reason magazine

Here is the text of a three-paragraph article from the November 2010 issue of "Reason" magazine, which for more than one reason might amuse Wilson fans:

Block That Judgment
Jacob Sullum

WHEN A PIECE of legislation with a strained, acronym-grasping name sails through both houses of Congress, it usually isn't good news for liberty. The Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage (SPEECH) Act, which the Senate approved by unanimous consent in July and the House approved by a voice vote the same month, is an exception.

The SPEECH Act, which allows Americans to block enforcement of foreign defamation judgments on First Amendment grounds, is aimed at discouraging "libel tourism" With written material available worldwide on the Internet, wealthy plaintiffs can easily go forum shopping, choosing the venues where they are most likely to win and making Americans subject to damages under standards that would never pass constitutional muster in the United States.

The new law was championed by the Israeli-American criminologist Rachel Ehrenfeld, whom Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz sued over her 2003 book Funding Evil: How Terrorism Is Financed--and How to Stop It. Like many touchy rich guys, Mahfouz chose to file suit in the U.K., even though only 23 copies of Ehrenfeld's book were sold there, because British libel law is notoriously friendly to plaintiffs, requiring authors to prove the truth of any challenged statement. In the U.S., by contrast, plaintiffs have to prove the statement was false; if they are deemed to be public figures, they also must show that the author knew the statement was false or made it with reckless disregard for its truth.

Friday, October 15, 2010

An interesting letter from RAW

Michael Johnson has called my attention to a letter written by Robert Anton Wilson that is quite useful to to understanding RAW's thought. The undated letter written to Kurt Smith, posted at, defends himself against the charge that Wilson is a solipsist. The letter concludes with "DO NOT USE THESE PAGES AS TOILET TISSUE. THIS MAY BE AN IMPORTANT HISTORICAL DOCUMENT." A good joke, but honestly, I think it is an important document, at least for us. Dr. Johnson advises, "Read that letter for a couple of days every month and see what you make of it."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A book suggestion from a hypnotist

As part of my day job for an Ohio newspaper, I interviewed a Port Clinton medical hypnotist named David Prudhomme, who fascinated me with his discussions about hypnotism, neurolinguistic programming and other mind-programming techniques that I had heard about via Robert Anton Wilson. (Prudhomme did not seem to recognize Wilson's name.) Mr. Prudhomme certainly hypnotized me; I meant to only spend an hour on the interview but was there for two hours.

One of Prudhomme's points was that people can avoid a great deal of stress if they focus on the present, instead of pining over the past or worrying about the future. This is an important Buddhism doctrine. Prudhomme recommended a book to me called The Power of Now by Eckart Tolle.

I asked one of my "go to" RAW experts if Wilson had talked about living in the moment, and Mr. Johnson kindly responded (and gave me permission to quote him:

re: living in the moment: because RAW sought to distance himself from the idioms of "New Age" and inspirational lit that tell us to "live in the moment" (and 97 other ways of working that), he seemed to couch his approach to that basic idea - an idea I find "wise" - in terms of zen, Korzybski, "Hedonic Engineering," and yogas. So, rather: philosophy that argues that we can only live in the present, so why not make it sexier, more fun, more inclusive, more interesting than yesterday's "reality"? Korzybski/zen/cannabis: all hover around the Event Level, which is pre-linguistic: try to observe w/o labels, remaining conscious that you're abstracting inevitably from the trillions of energies in the room, see if your perception of "reality" opens up something new to you. DOING, not preaching. This is RAW's pragmatism: it's easy for us to talk about living in the present, how worrying is neurotic and has about as much effect as throwing a glass of water over Niagara Falls, etc: "exercizes"! How to cop the gnosis? You actually put the book down and DO something in order to embody that state of feeling "in the moment."

Short answer: there's a crapload in RAW's oeuvre about forgiveness of one's past indiscretions/regret, the pragmatic benefits of optimism w/o being a "bliss ninny," and oodles of stuff, couched in various non-New Age sentences, that advise you to "Never Whistle While You're Pissing," which seems to me zen as all get-out.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Neal Stephenson and Robert Anton Wilson

I tend to think of Neal Stephenson as the most important libertarian writer to emerge since Robert Anton Wilson. I mean libertarian in a broad sense, not "I pledge allegiance to Ayn Rand."

Perhaps that's a connection that exists only in my own mind, but there is an interesting parallel between the two that I though I might mention.

ILLUMINATUS! was Robert Anton Wilson's breakthrough novel. Later, he wrote the Historical Illuminatus Chronicles, which features characters who are apparently the ancestors of the characters in ILLUMINATUS -- Sigismundo Celine, for example, is the apparent ancestor of Hagbard Celine, and there are other names who fans of ILLUMINATUS will recognize.

Cryptonomicon was Stephenson's breakthrough novel. It's one of my all-time favorite novels. And Stephenson went on to write a series of historical novels, the Baroque Cycle, set in Europe a few decades before the time of Historical Illuminatus, which features the ancestors of the characters in ILLUMINATUS! — Daniel Waterhouse, for example, is the ancestor of Lawrence Waterhouse and Randy Waterhouse.

In the case of both writers, the device helps tie different works together, and the earlier protagonists help illuminate the characters of the books in the more modern setting.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sigismundo Malatesta: A footnote to The Earth Will Shake

The protagonist of The Earth Will Shake, Sigismundo Celine, is described as a descendant of Sigismundo Malatesta. Pages 80 to 85 of the original Tarcher hardcover describe Malatesta and his Malatesta Tempio. The temple is described as more pagan than Christian and Malatesta himself is described in fantastic terms.

I wondered if Wilson made it all up, and in fact, he didn't: Here is the Wikipedia entry on Malatesta (named "Sigismondo" in the entry), and here is the entry in English on his temple. The article in the French version of Wikipedia confirms more of the juicy details in Wilson's novel.

Here is a quote from Wikipedia, which probably explains where Wilson, an Ezra Pound fan, ran across Malatesta:

In 1906, Edward Hutton published the historical novel Sigismondo Malatesta, mostly sympathetic to its hero. It was slightly revised and reprinted under the title The Mastiff of Rimini in 1926.

Hutton's novel and Charles Emile Yriarte's Un condottiere au XV Siècle (1882) were among the main sources of American poet Ezra Pound's Malatesta Cantos (Cantos 8-11), first published in 1923. These are an admiring howbeit fragmentary account of Malatesta's career as warrior, lover and patron.

Largely influenced by Pound, as well as by C. G. Jung, the critic Adrian Stokes devoted a study, The Stones of Rimini (1934), to the art created at Sigismondo's court.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Robert Anton Wilson refrigerator magnet

A boutique that sells through Amazon offers a Robert Anton Wilson refrigerator magnet. From the product description: "This refrigerator magnet will remind you of the cosmic joke every time you see author Robert Anton Wilson's knowing grin."

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Did RAW sell out his muse?

In the comments for my Oct. 6 post, Jason Pilley responds to my description of Historical Illuminatus as a "trilogy." He writes, "It may seem to be a trilogy to you but personally I view it as a pentology which the author abandoned in order to chase cash.

"Which I think explains why the published excerpt from "Bride of Illuminatus!" is so awful: Wilson, for all I love him, for all his brilliance, sold out his muse. "

This has naturally generated some discussion, but I wanted to record some additional thoughts on the matter here:

1. I'm pretty sure that all Robert Anton Wilson fans must regret that he did not complete his planned five novels in the series.

2. Wilson began his career as a book author relatively late -- 1973's The Sex Magicians, his first book, came out when he was 41. Considering his tardy start, the 33 books he published seem like a pretty large number. Assuming reasonable diligence on the part of whomever his literary executor is, this number seems likely to grow.

3. It seems to me that Wilson was pretty loyal to his artistic vision. ILLUMINATUS! is an unusual work, and he fought hard to have it published as one book, rather than three, only giving in when his editor at Dell delivered an ultimatum. Whatever one thinks of Schroedinger's Cat, it seems to me like a pretty radical work, hardly written with an eye toward the bestseller list.

4. Although I am obviously a fan of RAW, I read his work in the same fashion that I read anyone else, i.e., I am not afraid to venture criticism if I think it is justified. For example, I have complained that works such as Prometheus Rising ought to be better sourced. So I hope I am not dismissed as a lackey if I say that the Historical Illuminatus books were really good novels and that Wilson knew they were good. I think it is a shame they didn't find a larger audience and get more attention, and I can't help but think Wilson must have been disappointed they didn't do better. Perhaps if the books had been bigger hits he would have felt more pressure to continue them.

5. Wilson's decision to leave Playboy magazine and to try to make it as a freelance writer brought hard times for his family. His family responsibilities could have influenced his decision to make money on the lecture circuit rather than concentrating on Historical Illuminatus. I know little about his personal finances, but I don't get the impression he had much money when he died in 2007.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A passage from The Earth Will Shake

One of the pleasures of reading Robert Anton Wilson is the way that quotable passages or aphorisms leap out at you as you are going through the text. Here is a passage I liked from The Earth Will Shake (page 33 of the original Tarcher hardcover):

Those who dig very deep, who almost touch the bottom of the psyche, are poets or creators in the general sense. They bring up new metaphors that are new ways of seeing ourselves or our world. When these visions are spread among a people, they become myths and then harden into laws. This is a process that is always continuing. New metaphors and myths are being found by creative people all the time. It can be most violent and explosive.

Friday, October 8, 2010

More on Historical Illuminatus

We have had some discussion about Historical Illuminatus recently (see my post of Oct. 6, and also the reader comments) and I wanted to pass on a posting from another blog that I ran across a few days ago.

The Casting Shadows blog, which covers roleplaying games, had a recent posting about a game called All for One.

After discussing the role magick plays in the setting for the game, the blogger adds, "For an interesting take on that kind of world-to-come, half-way between the real and the imaginary, one would not go wrong to look at the Historical Illuminatus Chronicles by Robert Anton Wilson. Set slightly more than 1 century later than the game, it provides good insight into what kinds of attitudes, practices, secret societies, and levels of technology are yet to come. More than this, it demonstrates a method of storytelling which allows for the existence of magic and the existence of science, as well as an uneasy marriage between the two, with the revisionist power of the human mind over all. I think this shall prove very useful in helping GMs come up with methods of description, story seeds, and insight into the awe in which our forbears held the occult arts."

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Simon Moon's alma mater to reopen?

As I wrote earlier, one of the main characters in ILLUMINATUS!, Simon Moon, studied at a very real Ohio school, Antioch College. (Moon of course also is a character in Schroedinger's Cat, and also pops up in other writings.)

The school ran out of money and shut down in 2008, but progress apparently is being made to get it open again. The Yellow Springs News — a periodical which I'm guessing Robert Anton Wilson read when he lived in the area — reported that the superintendent of the Pittsburgh is visiting the campus next week as one of two finalists for the president's position.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Widow's Son: RAW's greatest novel?

While it is clear that Robert Anton Wilson will be remembered, at least in the near future, for ILLUMINATUS!, his great collaboration with Robert Shea, that leaves open the discussion about his greatest "solo" work of fiction.

Schroedinger's Cat obviously is an important work, so it is interesting to me how many people point to The Widow's Son, the second book of the "Historical Illuminatus" trilogy (which is a trilogy because Wilson never got around to the additional books he had planned.)

Wilson himself described The Widow's Son as his favorite book, according to Eric Wagner's essential tome, An Insider's Guide to Robert Anton Wilson (still in print and soon to be reissued by New Falcon).

When I interviewed RAW scholar Michael Johnson what his "favorite books" by Wilson are, Johnson replied (in part), "The Widow's Son seems uber-RAW to me because he's working all (mostbunall?) of his favorite late 20th c. ideas into a novel set in the late 18th century. At the same time he's also doing his "historical novel" with a bit of Bildungsroman added in, PLUS he's got that whole other footnote-world counter-narrative, which captures the mad acidhead postmodernist-cum-surrealist Erisian Wilson. I love that book. He did too. He said when he wrote it — circa 1985 — he was "really hot." He wrote that one in Ireland."

I have just run across an interesting blog posting by horror writer Matt Cardin (whom I had never heard of before). Here is part of what he wrote concerning the Historical Illuminatus trilogy: "Their heady adventures through an 18th century American and European revolutionary-era tableau of political intrigue, secret societies, Western occultism, religious chicanery, bizarre states of consciousness, explosive philosophical insights, etc., are fairly wondrous. The second volume, The Widow's Son, may be the best thing he ever wrote: a book that actually crosses over into the realm of by-God literature and bristles with enduring value. It’s also a damned fun romp, both narratively and philosophically. And it pushes the envelope of his fact/fiction mixing 'guerilla ontology' tactic to its most exquisite extreme."

More on The Widow's Son soon.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A RAW group on Facebook

I've just discovered another RAW group on Facebook, "Keep the Ravioli in Orbit" -- Robert Anton Wilson. I've duly joined. Various officers are listed, but most of the posts seems to be from tireless RAW disciple Steve Pratt.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Right Where You Are Sitting Now

That's the name of a classic book of essays and short pieces by Robert Anton Wilson, of course, but it's also the name of a Web site in Britain, dedicated to articles and podcasts on "subculture, counterculture, alternative, occult, underground music."

The coincidence of names is no coincidence.

The editor at the site is a guy named Ken Eakins. A biography on the site explains, "Ken is an ‘almost-30-something’ from the UK with a lifelong passion for all things weird and subversive. Ever since inspiration was slammed into him from the pages of Robert Anton Wilson books at an early age, Ken has tried to view the world we live in by defining the map from the territory. This tends to help him keep a balanced view of the ‘world’ we live in, and generally see the funny side of life…as well as the weird one.

"Ken is only happy when he has about 100 things going on at once in his life, these include podcasting, doing a PH.d and a BA at the same time, playing in horribly loud bands, drinking too much, investigating the underbelly of society and shooting all over the place in his car trying to find interesting things to do."

I had to work this weekend, and I have a long commute to work, so I downloaded some of the podcasts and found them friendly and engaging. I haven't gotten to the two-hour Robert Anton Wilson podcast recorded last year (episode 23, of course), but I'll do that soon.

A link has been duly added to the "Resources" links on my site.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

This made me smile

Michael Johnson, posting at under the hearing, "E-Prime Strange Loop."

" ... every map is a simplification." - RAW, p.233, Email To The Universe, arguing for E-Prime.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Why I've added space images

My redesign of the Web site includes a daily "NASA Image of the Day." I happen to like images from space (I often use them for wallpaper for my computers), but this is also a nod to Robert Anton Wilson, who spent much of his life arguing for migrating the human race from Earth to space. Sample quote: "On a planet that increasingly resembles one huge Maximum Security prison, the only intelligent choice is to plan a jail break."

The move to space hasn't happened as quickly as Wilson wanted, but I'm encouraged by the rise of private rocket companies such as SpaceX.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Earth Will Shake: An entry into RAW's world?

I have been brooding for months about which Robert Anton Wilson novel to suggest to readers who have never encountered him. Schroedinger's Cat and the ILLUMINATUS! trilogy employ some radical narrative techniques and are not for everyone. What novel is best for a RAW novice who might be used to reading straightforward prose?

My tentative answer is The Earth Will Shake, which I have begun re-reading. It is a relatively straightforward prose narrative -- no Burroughs-style cut-up transitions, no shifting characters -- but it provides an entry into RAW's ideas and concerns and leads the reader to The Widow's Son, one of his best novels. What do you think?