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.


Oz Fritz said...

The possibility of new postmortem books by RAW is interesting. Anyone know if anything like this is in the works?

quackenbush said...

1. Wilson at one point indicated that he wanted one long series starting with the Historical series through Masks, onto Illuminatus 3, and dinger 3, with bride in the mix and probably a few others in between to fill in the gaps. The series rests incomplete. Such is life.

2. My impression is that he current estate seeks to pay of the remaining debt and set up a small support fund for Wilson's son. The "buzz" I get around this indicates they want to do it with what's in print already. I'd like to see them get a few OOP books back to the presses before worrying about new books. Certainly, however, there is room for an interview compendium and another compilation book or two in the style of _email to the universe_. Or we could all just surf for our post-mortem needs.

3-4-5: Wilson, like all humans, bore the burden of existence. As documented by some of your interviews, Tom, he was clearly very passionate about his work as art, and fought to have it printed as close as he could to his original vision. He clearly took his responsibility to support a family very seriously as well. Those of us who live to meet our fullest potentials on this planet of the apes likely have similar struggles.

Did he sell out? I don't see it. I see a high volume of quality work, that got repetitive at times. Even a genius like Wilson is going to repeat his self. I have noticed a number of great men, in the twilight of their life, boil down their teachings to the core of their work, and then simply bang that drum as the drum of their legacy. I think Wilson did this with the 8 circuit brain model and his maybe logic model. Yet, he still taught a wide diversity of classes in his final years, even when he was too ill to lecture and too tired to write that final masterpiece.

Let's put it this way, non of us ever saw him do a commercial for McDonalds. I think he did the best that we, as fans, could ever ask for.

Cash is good. Cash pays the rent. Cash feeds hungry children. Sometimes you gotta chase cash.

So fucking what.

Eric Wagner said...

Great comment, Q. I think Bob's intelligence continued to grow and he continued to follow his muse as she transformed into Olga. I still want to see "Southern Star," especially if Prop. 19 passes. I may have to get an all region DVD player and order the English DVD.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps that was a bit harsh; RAW was a lovely mammal and I have no desire to spit on his memory. But seeing an abandoned pentology described as a trilogy rather got my goat. Heigh ho. Dog bless Wobert Anton Rilson.

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