Monday, August 30, 2010

ILLUMINATUS! literary reference watch

I have been reading the online serialization of L. Neil Smith's novel, CERES. The novel is the sequel to the same author's PALLAS, which won the Prometheus Award back in 1994. A few paragraphs into Chapter Seven, I came across this sentence:

As the ionopter approached the little town of Curley’sGulch — white houses, picket fences, and a tall church steeple (Our Lady of Discord, as it happened, Reformed) — nestled in the lower folds of the rim range, Jasmeen nudged Llyra awake and the two of them strained to see everything at once.

The reference to the church of "Our Lady of Discord, Reformed" is almost certainly a reference to the Discordians in ILLUMINATUS!, the Greek goddess Eris, and the Roman equivalent of Eris, Discordia.

As I've noted, other references to Robert Anton Wilson's work have cropped up in Smith's work.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

QUANTUM PSYCHOLOGY article

The Denver Examiner's books writer, Zack Kopp, has penned an article about QUANTUM PSYCHOLOGY. Kopp notes that the "Cosmic Trigger" trilogy are "three books I count among my all-time favorites" and links to his previous article about the books.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

A bit about the Prometheus

As I have mentioned that the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award is the only literary award Robert Anton Wilson ever received, and mentioned the Prometheus in my previous two blog postings, I thought I would post a bit of information about it.

The Prometheus was created by a science fiction writer, L. Neil Smith, in 1979, but it did not become an annual event until a group called the Libertarian Futurist Society was set up. Smith himself has received the Prometheus three times, leading to the misconception among some folks that he awarded himself the honor. He received those awards from members of the LFS, who deserve the credit (or the blame) for giving the awards.

The Prometheus is awarded every year for a current work and for a Hall of Fame work. More information here.


Friday, August 27, 2010

Robert Shea's "ILLUMINATUS!" acceptance speech

Robert Shea, co-author of ILLUMINATUS!, showed up in person when the Libertarian Futurist Society presented its Hall of Fame award to the book at the 1986 World Science Fiction convention in Atlanta. From the pages of the "Prometheus," the group's newsletter, here is Shea's gracious and interesting short speech that he gave when accepting the award:

I would not be doing this today were it not for the other half of the team, one of the wittiest, most erudite and lovable people I've ever met, a man capable of sawing the most difficult ideas in two without hurting them, making them jump through hoops, walk into cabinets and disappear and pop out of trick top hats, a man with a universe up each sleeve. He is my very good friend and I miss his presence here today more than I can say — Robert Anton Wilson. So I very gratefully accept this award on behalf of Bob Wilson and myself.

I asked Bob if there was anything he wanted me to say in his place since he could not be here, and he wrote back, "Well, it sure was good news to hear we finally got an award of some sort for ILLUMINATUS! ... The only thing you can do for me in Atlanta is tell as many people as possible that my next American lecture tour begins in January, and anyone who is interested in lectures by me or seminars by Arlen and me should contact us at 3 the Haggard, Howth, Dublin, Ireland." So I have just passed that on to as many people as possible.

I also want to thank the members of the Libertarian Futurist Society who thought enough of ILLUMINATUS! to vote it into their Hall of Fame. The greatest honor of all, I think, is to have our work mentioned in the same breath with the seven great novels that make up the Libertarian Futurist Society's Hall of Fame.* Heady company. And I am very, very grateful to the thousands of readers who have kept ILLUMINATUS! alive from the day it was first published to this moment. It is claimed that ILLUMINATUS! started a cult. I am happy to be a member of the ILLUMINATUS! nut cult, which is responsible for my meeting some of the most delightful people it has ever been my pleasure and privilege to know.

I sometimes think it's remarkable that anybody at all read ILLUMINATUS! When it first came out in 1975 the publisher decided to label it "Science Fiction," which meant that it would be put in an obscure corner of the bookstore where, as we all know, only a handful of weird people ever venture. On the other hand, the editors of all the science fiction magazine then extant refused to review ILLUMINATUS! on the grounds that it was not science fiction — by whatever definition they were using that year. So we were banished from the mainstream but also rejected by the ghetto. A novel without a home. The fact that ILLUMINATUS! survived this inauspicious start is proof that the weird people are even weirder than anybody gave them credit for.

Wilson and I initially had it in mind to write a fairly short international espionage paperback thriller based upon the conspiracy theories in the air at that moment, particularly those about the Bavarian Illuminati and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Well, things got rather out of hand. Bob sometimes puts forward the notion that our minds were taken over by a bunch of super-intelligent dogs living on a planet circling Sirius. It's not hard to believe that, because in my home we have two ordinary Earth-type dogs who pretty much run our lives. But my own more prosaic idea is that the madness of ILLUMINATUS! was implicit in our decision to satirize the theories we were using as premises. To satirize you have to exaggerate, and since the theories themselves were already so wild in their natural state, we had go to to incredible lengths to make them look even more ridiculous. But for satire to work it also has to have a grounding in reality. So we carefully mixed strange things that were true with strange things that were not true. We put into the book things we believed and things we did not believe, things one of us believed and the other did not and things we sometimes believed and sometimes did not. And while writing the book, and afterwards as well, we often forgot which was which. Eventually it dawned on us that we were trying to make a statement about the nature of reality. We didn't start out trying to do anything so grandiose. It just grew on us.

I've been thinking about ILLUMINATUS! in comparison to the other novels that have been chosen for the Hall of Fame, and one major difference has occurred to me. In the other Hall of Fame novels the distinction between fact and fiction is quite clear. In ILLUMINATUS! we made a deliberate attempt to blur that distinction, to suggest that fact may be fiction and fiction may be fact. This blurring is consistent with that statement about reality we were trying to make. But even though our attitude toward reality may be somewhat confusing, I think our values are quite clear. I hope and think it is plain that the message of ILLUMINATUS! is an anarchist message. The novel stands as a record of the anarchists we were in the 1960s and 70s. I still consider myself an anarchist. Bob Wilson does not, more, as I understand it, because he rejects labeling than because he is out of sympathy with anarchism.

We say in the novel that the original Illuminati were dedicated to religious and political freedom and that this secret organization somehow became perverted so that in recent centuries the Illuminati had become a vehicle for a monstrous authoritarianism. Thus the myth of the Illuminati is an archetype for every political movement, from Lenin's Bolshevism to Reagan's Republicanism, that has promised people greater freedom while loading them down with more government. People can be fooled in this way because they are not sure what freedom is. Freedom is a word whose meaning has been worn away by overuse, like a coin that has passed through too many hands. We need to be clear about what it means to us when we use it and maybe not use it quite so much, but use other, more precise words instead.

In ILLUMINATUS! we suggest that freedom begins in your right to define yourself and to insist on the validity of your own perceptions and your own thoughts. To change to a new point of view because you find it convincing is, of course, merely an exercise of that freedom. But freedom is lost when you are coerced or frightened into denying your own way of seeing reality and into accepting a point of view you cannot really believe in, be it that of a family, a teacher, a boss, a party, a church, a state. And an amazing thing is that when each of us insists on his or her own vision, it does not divide us. It unites us as no externally imposed unity ever could. It unites us in reverence for that inner light which we can only find by knowing ourselves, never by denying ourselves, that light by which each one of us can truly be said to be illuminated — the true Illuminati.

* [Editor's note: Those first seven honorees are "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress," Robert Heinlein; "Atlas Shrugged," Ayn Rand; "Nineteen Eighty-Four," George Orwell; "Fahrenheit 451," Ray Bradbury; "Trader to the Stars," Poul Anderson; "The Great Explosion," Eric Frank Russell, and "The Syndic," Cyril Kornbluth.]

The Libertarian Futurist Society is alive and well and is happy to accept new members.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

RAW says, "Thanks for the award"

As I mentioned earlier, the only literary award Robert Anton Wilson received in his lifetime, at least that I am aware of, was a Prometheus Hall of Fame award, which ILLUMINATUS! received in 1986. The award was presented at Confederation, the 1986 World Science Fiction Convention in Atlanta, on Sept. 1, 1986.

The Fall 1986 issue of "Prometheus," (Vol. 4, No. 4) includes Robert Shea's acceptance speech and Robert Anton Wilson's letter from Ireland, thanking the LFS for the award. Here is the text of Wilson's letter, which was not dated upon publication but must have been written in fall 1986, shortly after the presentation of the award:

I want to thank the entire Prometheus group for the Hall of Fame Award, and I want to thank you for your wonderful letter of 5 September.

John O'Hara admits somewhere that he cried when he received the National Book Award. Well, I wasn't that excessive, but I was deeply moved indeed by the Prometheus Award. Writing can be a discouraging and depressing way to make a living, and at times it is hard not wonder if I wouldn't have done better plucking chickens in a butcher shop. This award certainly gives me renewed hope and means a lot more to me than the monetary value of the gold coin.

I am sincerely and eternally grateful.

Robert Anton Wilson
Dublin, Ireland

The Prometheus Awards are given by the Libertarian Futurist Society, which welcomes new members who lean libertarian, as Bob did, and who like to read science fiction.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

News from the "liberaltarian" front

As I've remarked before, Robert Anton Wilson was a libertarian, but perhaps not a conventional one. Explaining his vote for John Anderson in 1980 he said, "Ideologically, of course, I should have voted for Ed Clark, the Libertarian Party candidate; but I am not that kind of Libertarian, really; I don't hate poor people."

The current term for libertarians who favor a social safety net for the poor and who worry about issues such as sexism and racism is "liberaltarian," although the movement scarcely amounts to more than a few bloggers and their followers and commenters. There's some news from the world of liberaltarianism that I thought I would pass along.

First, the good news. Two of the leaders of the nascent movement, Brink Lindsey and Will Wilkinson, are at work on a book, tentatively titled "The Free Market Progressive: How We Can Use Capitalist Acts Between Consenting Adults to Create Peace, Prosperity, and Justice." If it's a good enough book, it could serve as a kind of manifesto for the movement. I doubt it will be a visionary as Robert Anton Wilson's political writings, but it could be a tad more practical. I'll just add that I hope the book discussed Milton Friedman's negative income tax, which both RAW and Wilkinson have expressed interest in.

The possible bad news: Lindsey and Wilkinson apparently have been forced out in a purge at the Cato Institute, the libertarian think-tank in Washington, D.C., according to this report from Dave Weigel. This would suggest there's no room for liberaltarians at the leading libertarian think tank. Also note, however, this post by Ilya Somin, which disputes the "purge" theory. None of the actual principals are talking candidly at the moment, so it's hard to say who has the real story.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wilson the bodhisattva

In COSMIC TRIGGER, VOLUME TWO: Down to Earth," Robert Anton Wilson discusses his Buddhist wedding (in the chapter "The Sangha ... Light in Manifestation," and his interest in Amida Buddhism. He explains that Amida Buddhism is "based on faith in Amida, the Buddha of compassion. Amida refused to accept Nirvana until every sentient being could enter the blessed quenched state along with him."

This is correct, but also a little bit incorrect, a little bit like saying that Methodists don't accept the authority of the Pope. That would be true, too, of course, but it leaves out the fact that Methodists are Protestants, none of whom accept the authority of the Pope.

Broadly speaking, Buddhism tends to divide into two main groups -- Theravada, the "old school" Buddhism mainly practiced in the south of Asia, such as Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Burma, and Mahayana, the later developments such as Zen, which are practiced in northern countries such as China and Japan. In Mahayana, a bodhisattva is someone who has attained enlightenment, or at least is pretty far along, and who dedicates his life to sharing what he has learned to help others attain liberation. In some cases, this is depicted as renouncing nirvana in favor of compassionately helping others. (More here.) Amida Buddhism is a form of Mahayana.

(Rock music fans of a certain age may remember the term from the Steely Dan song, "Bodhisattva," from the band's second album, 1973's "Countdown to Ecstacy.")

I ran across a posting on the San Francisco Bay Craiglist's a few weeks ago that referred to Wilson, Krishnamurti and Terence McKenna as "Buddhas." (It's expired, so I can't link to it.) I don't know what to think about that, but couldn't Wilson be termed a bodhisattva? He gain some measure of enlightenment, and spent much of his life sharing what he learned.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Passage from SCHROEDINGER's CAT II: The Trick Top Hat

I've been re-reading the "Cat" books a bit out of order, so that when I finish No 2, I'll be done. One passage I particularly liked:

"Chaney had studied Textual Analysis of Modern Poetry with Professor Edward Estlin "Sheets" Kelly at Antioch College. He had paid close attention, because poets were all by definition deviates in domesticated primate society. Chaney always tried to learn something from homosexuals, geniuses, cripples, science-fiction writers, schizophrenics and others who were outside the hive caste system and had learned to cope in unconventional ways. Poets were the monstro-deviates of the deviate world, and he was sure he could learn something from them, if he studied hard enough." (From the chapter " 'Sheets' Kelly: Art as Insurrection" in Part One).


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Why?

One of the most moving chapters in THE UNIVERSE NEXT DOOR is the "Why?" chapter, on page 153 of the original Pocket Books paperback.

Benny Benedict, depressed about violence, walks out onto a balcony during the party and encounters Cagliostro the Great (i.e., Hagbard Celine under another name, i.e. a stand-in for Wilson himself). Cagliostro shows him how to perform an exercise in which a "primitive Terran" questions an extraterrestrial from an advanced civilization. The alien explains that violence in endemic to primitive, undeveloped planets, and then Benny, taking the role of the alien after the two exchange roles, suggests that a man's duty is to learn as much as he can about how the world works and how to fight injustice and pain: "The next question is: What do I do about it? How ever many minutes or hours or years or decades I have left, what do I do to make sense out of it all?"

It seems to me that this brief chapter (less than four pages) summarizes much of Wilson's work: Opposition to violence and cruelty, determination to become more enlightened, and how the two concerns relate to each other. The role playing is described twice as a "gimmick," but it seems to me that this is meant to be ironic, that Wilson saw his novels as, however absurd, as a way for the reader "to make sense out of it all." Cagliostro is described as a "magician," a term which in Wilson's work seems interchangeable with "shaman" or "novelist" or "artist."

Saturday, August 21, 2010

More on RAW and Buddhism

I liked Bobby Campbell's comment in the recent "Insufficiently Elitist" post: "Kinda funny how RAW worked it out that since he recommended not accepting all his B.S., that disagreeing w/ him on one hand amounts to agreeing w/ him on the other."

Wilson's frequent pronouncements that everyone has a responsibility to question their own B.S. along with everyone else's, and his suggestions that agnosticism should be applied to every belief system, may have been inspired, in part, by his study of Buddhism, which has many teachings about taking responsibility for yourself or thinking for yourself.

For example, there is a story in one of the sutras about the parable of the raft. A monk has to cross a river, so he builds a raft and uses it to cross. When he is finished, he beaches it and goes on his way. He doesn't carry it the raft on his back when he reaches dry land. Similarly, the doctrine of the Buddha is a useful vehicle, but not something to carry on one's back, the Buddha explained.

Another example is a verse from the 12th chapter of the Dhammapada, No. 160, essentially a collection of Buddhist aphorisms. The verse is translated in different ways, so here are some of the translations, with the name of the translator in parenthesis: "One is one own's refuge, who else could be the refuge?" (Walpola Rahula); "Only a man can be the master of himself: Who else from outside could be his master?" (Juan Mascaro); "Self is the lord of self, who else could be the master?" (Max Mueller).

Friday, August 20, 2010

Progressive rock inspired by RAW

When I was in high school — admittedly not a recent event — the music that the cool kids listened to was known as "progressive rock."

Forgive me if I felt a bit of nostalgia when I listened to this instrumental piece from The Lepufology Project, which began as "as an instrumental composition meant as a tribute to Robert Anton Wilson's book « Quantum Psychology » in which he coins the word lepufology to refer to the study of rabbit-related UFO encounters." I doubt that Robert Anton Wilson spent as much time as your humble blogger listening to the likes of Yes and Genesis, but I thought it was a pretty good piece.

More information on Christopher Stewart and his music here.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

RAW: "Insufficiently elitist?"

On Tuesday, I put up a blog posting on the arcane subjects of science fiction fandom and The Golden APA, an amateur press association devoted to to RAW and libertarianism.

By one of those coincidences that fascinated Robert Anton Wilson, a prominent science fiction fan and former Golden APA writer posted a blog entry the next day that mentioned RAW.

Arthur D. Hlavaty is a multiple Hugo Award nominee for "best fan writer" and writes a popular Supergee blog, which is subtitled, "From the Oval Throne of Pope Guilty 1." His post concerns Robert Heinlein, but he adds that "the only other writer who comparably influenced me, Robert Anton Wilson, ... programmed me in ways that were not obvious for months or even years, but who from the beginning seemed neither feminist nor elitist enough."

I posted a comment at the blog, remarking that I could understand the "not feminist enough" criticism, given RAW's frequent barbs aimed at feminists, but that the allegation that RAW was "not elitist enough" eluded me.

Hlavaty replied in the comments: "He never seemed to accept that humans have a wide range of symbol-using ability, occasionally descending to the leftist 'There is no such thing as general symbol-using ability, it isn't hereditary, and those who are born with it shouldn't be allowed to take advantage of it.' "

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The 'Ground Zero mosque' has a Sufi imam

This is not a blog devoted to politics or religion, per se, but there is an aspect to the current ongoing debate over the so-called "Ground Zero mosque" that might interest Robert Anton Wilson fans. (The Islamic community center, which includes a mosque, would be located a couple of blocks away from the site of the World Trade Center.)

RAW offer mentioned Sufis in his writings. An aspect of the debate over the mosque that hasn't gotten much coverage is the fact that the guy leading the project is a Sufi imam. Here is a New York Times piece that explains how Sufis are different from other Muslims, and how they have been persecuted by the sort of Muslims who were behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Robert Anton Wilson the "science fiction fan"

Robert Anton Wilson, who more or less by accident is known as a "science fiction writer," also can be described as a "science fiction fan."
Science fiction fandom arose in the 1930s or so as an organized activity by aficionados of the genre. They quickly began putting out fanzines, organizing conventions, forming clubs, corresponding with each other, and so on. Many famous writers started out as fans, including Isaac Asimov.
While Wilson never immersed himself into fandom, he did attend a number of science fiction conventions (I don't know how often or how many). There was an attempt years ago to organize a science fiction convention in San Francisco at which Wilson would have been the guest of honor; it fell apart when the hotel arrangements fell through.
He also, for a time, belonged to The Golden APA. In COINCIDANCE, he refers to it as a "little magazine," but it actually was an amateur press association, or APA. Members of an apa produce a certain number of fanzines -- perhaps 20 or 30 or so -- which are mailed in to a central mailer, who staples them together and then sends them out as a mailing to every member of the group.
Participating in apas was a hardcore activity of science fiction fandom (I myself was in APA-50 and, for awhile, FAPA). The Golden APA, as the name implies, tended to attract libertarian SF fans and Wilson fans.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Robert Anton Wilson the "science fiction writer"

Robert Anton Wilson wrote that he and Robert Shea never thought of ILLUMINATUS! as science fiction. Yet, it's interesting to note that every one of his novels were published as part of some publisher or another's science fiction line, and produced by editors in the science fiction world.

ILLUMINATUS! was published as part of Dell's science fiction line and edited by science fiction editors such as David Harris. Jim Frenkel, a well-known science fiction editor, worked to keep the books in print. (More about that soon.)

The three books in the SCHROEDINGER'S CAT trilogy were published as science fiction by Pocket Books. The editor was David Hartwell, a well-known science fiction editor. I am re-reading the cat trilogy now, and I do notice that Wilson referred to it as a "science fiction comedy" and refers to himself as a science fiction writer. MASKS OF THE ILLUMINATI also was published as Pocket science fiction. It's been years since I read it, but at the time, it did not strike me as a science fiction novel.

Even the "historical Illuminatus" books were put out by science fiction publishers. Frenkel was the editor of THE WIDOW'S SON, and the copyeditor was Teresa Nielsen Hayden, a prominent science fiction copyeditor (and a well-known science fiction fan.)

Whatever one thinks of the science fiction genre in general, it is undeniable that science fiction provided RAW with a literary home. It's interesting to compare his career with that of his friend Philip K. Dick, who for many years could only get his novels published because science fiction publishers were willing to publish them.

Can anyone tell me how Wilson reacted, in his later years, when the "science fiction writer" label was put upon him?

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Checking in with Eric Wagner

When it comes to the work of author Robert Anton Wilson, Eric Wagner is one of the go-to experts that many of us turn to, because Mr. Wagner literally wrote the book. His AN INSIDER’S GUIDE TO ROBERT ANTON WILSON is still the only book available about RAW.

A new edition of the book is forthcoming from Wagner, so I thought it would be a good time to pose a few questiona.

Wagner, 48, lives in Corona, Calif., and is “happily married,” he says. (His book begins and ends with a poem for his wife.)

Wagner also explains, “In the universe next door I got a Ph.D. in musicology at UC Berkeley, but I like our universe pretty well. I teach full time at a high school and part time at a community college. I consider Rafi Zabor, Thomas Pynchon, Joseph Kerman, David Thomson and Charles Rosen my favorite living writers. I play bass and study kenpo, and I have yet to get very good at pranayama, but I look forward tuning into that Ganges radiation over the next decade. I find E-Prime a useful tool, and I hope Southern Star comes out on DVD pretty soon."

Eric Wagner (at Wilsonfest II.)

Q. Tell us about the new edition of AN INSIDER'S GUIDE TO ROBERT ANTON WILSON. When is it coming out, and how will it differ from the first edition?

A. The new edition has some terrific illustrations by Bobby Campbell and an afterword by myself. I particularly like Bobby's illustration of the Ninth Circuit, which makes me think about the upcoming date of 10/10/10. Schoenberg wrote about the curse of the ninth symphony, where Beethoven, Bruckner and Mahler all died before completing their tenth symphony. Researching this today I learned that conductor Hans von B├╝low referred to Brahms' First Symphony as "Beethoven's Tenth Symphony." I don't "believe" in this curse, but when I think about the possibility of a ninth or tenth circuit of the brain, it comes to mind.
Unfortunately I did not have the opportunity to correct any typos in the new edition.

Q. When is the new edition of AN INSIDERS GUIDE TO ROBERT ANTON WILSON going to be published?

A. I don't know.

Q. Before you published your book in 2004,did RAW read the book, or portions of it, and comment on any of your work?

A. Yes, I had sent Bob all the issues of my poetry/basketball zine noon blue apples during the 80's and 90's. In 1999 my wife suggested I write a book about Bob, and around the same time Dr. Michael Johnson made a similar suggestion. I mentioned the idea to Bob and he loved it. I sent him parts of it as I wrote it, and I asked him lots of questions. We also discussed it the last few times I saw him in 1999 and 2000. I sent a copy of what I then thought of as the final draft a few years later, although the book continued to evolve until publication.

Q. Could you tell us a bit about your new book, STRAIGHT OUTTA DUBLIN? I love the title, by the way.

A. Glad you like the title. I originally thought of calling it Wilson/Joyce, but I like the new title better. Bob told me he would like me to write more about how Joyce influenced him, so I focused on that in my first book and in my master's thesis. While working on my thesis I imagined writing an antithesis after I finished. (Of course, if one letter of the thesis comes in contact with the antithesis, universe explodes.) This led me to imagine a book on Wilson and Joyce based on the Illuminati theory of history, with five sections: Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis, Parenthesis and/or Paralysis, and Paralysis and/or Paresis. I don't yet know how the Decembrists will figure into it, although four years ago when I finished reading War and Peace, it delighted me that Bob starting talking about the Decembrists and their 1825 uprising about the same time I learned that Tolstoy originally started writing War and Peace as a book about the Decembrists. The novel barely mentions the Decembrists at the very end. Perhaps I will mention the Decembrists at the very end of my book. I have not yet found a reference to the Decembrists in Joyce, but as poet Laurence Binyon said, "Slowness is beauty."
I also love this line from Pound's Cantos, "Only sequoias are slow enough."

Q. Do you have any other books on RAW in the works? Have you published any new articles on him since the book came out?

A. I wrote my master's thesis on The Influence of Finnegans Wake on Robert Anton Wilson's Masks of the Illuminati, which expanded theMasks of the Illuminati appendix of my book. I have begun expanding it further into my new book Straight Outta Dublin. I also wrote introductions to the new editions of Wilhelm Reich in Hell and Nature's God. In addition I wrote up material for the three Maybe Logic courses I've taught, and I wrote a few articles for the old New Falcon website and the Maybe Quarterly.

Q. Why did you travel to Honolulu, Ingolstadt, Egypt, Dublin and other locales "attempting to understand the ideas behind Wilson's works," as the cover copy says? Was that actually the reason you traveled so widely?

A. Well, I traveled for various reasons, but my interest in Bob Wilson's work often shaped my travels. When I first visited Europe in 1985, I arranged my trip so that I would visit Ingolstadt, Bavaria, on July 23. When I visited Cairo in 1994, I made a point of seeing the Stele of Revealing which influenced Aleister Crowley so much. My parents lived in England for a while, and a wonderful article by Wilson inMagical Blend inspired me to visit Dublin during my visit with my parents.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

ILLUMINATUS! the "trilogy"

It's interesting the way the commercial form of a work of art can dictate its contents. All of the Charlie Parker songs from the 1940s on my Parker CDs are no more than about three minutes long -- not because Parker and his buddies couldn't jam any longer, but because that's what the commercial recording technology of the time dictated. That's not all bad -- songs such as "Salt Peanuts" say a lot in a short amount of time.

When my friends and I read the ILLUMINATUS! trilogy back in college, we thought of those cheap paperbacks as three distinct novels. We knew they were part of a whole, of course, but we also thought of them as "The Eye in the Pyramid," "The Golden Apple" and "Leviathan," and judged them that way. If I recall correctly, our consensus was that "Leviathan" wasn't as good as the other two.

It's interesting to realize many years later, through reading my interview with David Harris, that RAW intended ILLUMINATUS! as one big book, and fought against breaking it into three separate novels, until Harris explained that it had to be done that way -- that's how commercial science fiction was published at Dell. It's impossible to guess what would have happened if ILLUMINATUS! had been published as in one volume, as a big mainstream book. Would it have been more, or less successful? Of course, for years it has been available as one book, but it's typically still stocked in the science fiction section. Is that good or bad?

What's interesting to me is that RAW's editors perceived ILLUMINATUS! as a science fiction trilogy, and succeeded in making that perception a reality, despite the intentions of the authors.

I am old enough to remember my years of buying LPs, and how that two-sided format shaped my perceptions of the music. It was usually considered a good idea to get both sides of the album off with a bang. And so, for example, side two of Stevie Wonder's "Talking Book" album begins with "Superstition." For years, when I listened to recordings of LPs, I thought of "side one" and "side two," distinctions that are erased when the same classic recording is listened to on a CD or MP3 player -- even though I can't listen to many of those albums without mentally dividing them into the sides that I remember. Everybody else drew such distinctions, too. I remember reading an article in Creem many years ago which noted that one hard rock band had put all of its slow songs on one side of its album. This was useful, the reviewer noted, because it made it easy to know which side of the LP to use for scraping cat shit off of the speaker wires.

Friday, August 13, 2010

'Some asshole like Plato comes along'

Here is a particularly interesting video: "Who Is the Master Who Makes the Grass Green?" a short film by Portuguese filmmaker Edgar Pera. It's not just a filmed interview, it's a visually interesting film.
Pera is the guy who made "The Manuel of Evasion," the movie that included Wilson, Rudy Rucker and Terence McKenna. (Hat tip to Quackenbush for the link).
My blog title comes from Bob. "Sooner or late, some asshole like Plato comes along and says that leaves really exist. And they don't realize we created them."

Thursday, August 12, 2010

DJ Fly Agaric preserves, posts rare RAW audio

DJ Fly Agaric 23, the Amsterdam DJ who has created music that incorporates Wilson's spoken words, is up to his new tricks. When Robert Anton Wilson spoke on Dec. 16, 2000, in Palm Springs, Calif., DJ Fly (aka Steve Pratt) recorded it on a minidisc recorder. He has now converted that recording into online digital files and posted them.

He's actually posted the recordings in several places, but I'm linking to this post, which has detailed liner notes on the event along with the recordings. The recordings are in order at this link, top to's bottom, starting with the track "Universe Contains a Maybe Monday." The very beginning of RAW's presentation was not recorded.

My link also connects to Steve Pratt's blog, also a resource worth exploring.

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.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Maybe Logic Academy meetup in Oxford

Several Maybe Logic Academy folks in Europe met for a few days in Oxford, England, and the meeting is chronicled in two blog posts at the MLA blog, one by The Purple Gooroo and one by Borsky. Both are illustrated. The accounts are a nice reminder that interest in Wilson is an international phenomena, not something confined to the United States. Intriguingly, Borsky mentions that "some of us have big projects going on."

Monday, August 9, 2010

Page 100 of ILLUMINATUS!

Apparently I am even less hip to popular culture than I realized, because I never heard before of the Page 100 Project, which consists of adapting page 100 from a novel into a comic. Otter Disaster takes up the cause on behalf of ILLUMINATUS!, here.

(Hat tip to Nick Helweg-Larsen of England, who kindly pointed me to this. You didn't know Raw Illumination had a foreign correspondent, did you?)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Movie: "The Number 23"

I don't follow movies very closely, so I only just discovered a few days ago that there was a 2007 movie starring Jim Carrey called "The Number 23" that had a story influenced by Robert Anton Wilson. The New York Times review said the movie "owes something to David Fincher, a little something else to Robert Anton Wilson ... "

The review also called it "an accidental comedy starring a deadly serious Jim Carrey" and other reviews also do not appear to have been enthusiastic.

IMDB link is here.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Where is "Chaos"?

Devin Galaudet does a blog posting on "Inspirational Books to Live By" and includes CHAOS AND BEYOND, about which he writes "This odd collection of essays feels either out of date or far ahead of its time." He notes that the book is "long out of print," which raises a point that bothers me: Why is that so? Couldn't New Falcon or Original Falcon reprint it?

Friday, August 6, 2010

"I think I said it would be tossed in the East River"

Dell editor David M. Harris discusses his experiences in getting Illuminatus! into print

Robert Anton Wilson was not particularly gracious in discussing his experience with Dell Books, which published ILLUMINATUS!, alleging that large sections of the manuscript were cut before the trilogy was published. He also has said that getting the book into print was a struggle that took place over several years.

There is, however, another side of the story which I don't think has been reported. What about the editors at Dell who worked to get the novel into print and help it gain a foothold in the literary world? The unusual book, which made Wilson and Robert Shea into at least minor literary stars, must have been championed by some of its editors. This is a story that has not been reported, and I am researching it. I plan to write an article, but in the meantime, I will share the fruits of my research on this blog.

David M. Harris is a longtime editor and writer. He edits the Rat's Ass Review, an online poetry journal. He was a science fiction editor at Dell Books in the 1970s, when ILLUMINATUS! was pulblished.

When I wrote to Mr. Harris, he explained that he was not the acquiring editor, the editor who bought the book. (I am still chasing that point down.)

"I was, however, the editor who got the book into the schedule and through most of production (I numbered the pages, among other tedious jobs). If it wasn't Jim [Frenkel] who oversaw the end of that process, it would have been Fred Feldman, who was the science fiction editor between us," Harris related.

Mr. Harris kindly agreed to answer my e-mail questions about the publication of ILLUMINATUS!

Q. What had to be done to get the book ready for printing? Do you remember anything about any cuts that were made, or any requests that were made to the authors for revisions?

A. I don't recall any cuts in the manuscript, but we did have to divide it into three volumes. It was originally signed as a single book, I think, and I had to sell the idea of three books to the editorial Powers. I also had to get agreement from the authors. Shea was no problem; I think he was still working for Playboy at the time, in Chicago. Wilson had left, gone to Berkeley, I think, or somewhere near there, without a telephone. In those days, long before email, a lot of business was done on the phone, and it was rather a pain to have to do everything by mail. I was trying to move the book along before the corporate enthusiasm, never very great, disappeared. Wilson was not much interested in cooperating with any of my ideas until I put it to him that I was his only friend in the company, and that if I dumped him his manuscript would be put on a shelf to die. (Actually, I think I said that it would be tossed in the East River.) He finally agreed to the three-volume idea, and I got it into the schedule not long before I left Dell, which would have been October of 1974. I don't believe I was involved in the cover copy or design. If I did ask for revisions, they must have been minor, since I have no recollection of them.
Q. What were Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea like to work with? Has any of the correspondence between them and the editors been preserved?

A. When I left, all my files belonged to the company, so they stayed there. (Again, it was all on paper; making copies would have been prohibitive.) If they still exist, it would be in the archives (if any) of Bantam-Doubleday-Dell.

I do clearly remember Bob Wilson as one of the most difficult authors I ever worked with. He seemed to think of me as his enemy, rather than his ally in getting the book into print. Fortunately for me and the book, Shea was more easygoing -- in those days I would have said rational. We had lunch once when he was in New York, and had a nice time as I recall. Again, no details remain in my memory, just a sense of a pleasant meal.

As it turned out, of course, it was one of the most successful projects I was involved with at Dell (its only serious competition would be Venus on the Half-Shell, by Kilgore Trout). Not many books stay in print for thirty-something years. Of course, I don't know that Illuminatus! is in print, but at least people are still interested in it.
Q. I'm not quite clear on why you decided the book had to be published in three volumes. Can you explain that to me?

A. The book had to go into three volumes because in those days you couldn't publish category fiction longer than about 75,000 words. I published a lot of novels that were only 50K, or even less (unthinkable now). That's why Lord of the Rings is a trilogy, too; no one would buy a fantasy novel that long, or pay the cover price for a single book that big. (Something like Rise and Fall of the Third Reich was notably large, but remember that it was a big best-seller, not genre fiction.)
Q. You were "trying to move the book along" before corporate enthusiasm disappeared. Do you believe that if you hadn't pushed to get the book into print, it might have been shelved forever?

A. If I hadn't gotten behind the book, it would have been shelved at least until the next editor came along. That turned out to be not so long, and it's possible that Fred or Jim would have plucked it off the shelf and put it into production. I wouldn't say that I was indispensable to its fate, but I happened to be the guy who did it. The book has considerable merits of its own. [Editor's note: Mr. Harris is referring to Dell editors Fred Feldman and Jim Frenkel.]

Q. Wilson has claimed that large sections of the book were cut before it was published. If there had been large cuts, would you have remembered it? Or could the cuts have been made before you came on board?

A. Shea and Wilson had very different attitudes toward the book, as well as toward me. Shea told me that it started as a joke and, as far as he was concerned, stayed that way. Wilson decided it was a statement of faith and philosophy somewhere along the line. So it's possible that I asked for (or made? less likely) cuts and don't remember them, and it's possible that the original editor demanded cuts, and it's even possible that Shea made them. It's also possible that Wilson misremembered or made it up. At this point, I have no way of knowing. Remember, when I was working on the book it was a science fiction trilogy, not the focus of a worldview. I did a bunch of trilogies and series, including stuff by Lin Carter and Jack Vance. This was wild and goofy and a lot of fun, but just another trilogy.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

More on the Wilson document trove at The Realist

In an earlier post, I reposted information from tireless Wilson scholar 'bandito' about articles by Robert Anton Wilson published in The Realist that have come to light. 'bandito' is Mike Gathers, who worked with Michael Johnson to track down many of the pieces archived at Robert Anton Wilson Fans.

Gathers has put up a new posting on alt.fan.rawilson, seeking to clarify the distinction between the newly-discovered articles and articles from The Realist already made available at Robert Anton Wilson fans. He notes that indexing of The Realist should be completed in a few months, allowing a complete picture of RAW material available there.

Here's the text of the latest bandito communique:

When Tom Jackson reposted this to his blog, I realized that my post
was a bit confusing. To add to the confusion, let me say that the
links below have not been added to rawilsonfans.com.

However, the following have been posted at rawilsonfans.com for some
time:

From Paul Krassner’s The Realist
“Man Becomes What He Hates” No 6, February 1959
"The Semantics of God" No. 8, May 1959
letters to the editor regarding "Semantics of God" No. 9, June/July
1959
"negative thinking - Detergent Democracy” No. 10, August 1959
"negative thinking - a column of miscellaneous heresies” No. 11,
September 1959
"negative thinking - Sex Education for the Modern Liberal Adult" No
12, Oct 1959, reprinted in The Best of The Realist
"negative thinking - The Morality of Head-Hunting" No 14, Dec 1959/
Jan1960
"negative thinking" No 15, Feb 1960
"negative thinking - The Doctor with the Frightened Eyes" No. 16,
March 1960, reprinted in Coincidance
"negative thinking - Letter to a Lady in Iowa" No. 17, May 1960
"negative thinking - Semantics of the Soul" No. 18, June 1960
"negative thinking - Is Capitalism a Revealed Religion?” No. 27,
June 1961
"negative thinking - What I Didn't Learn at College" No. 29, September
1961
"negative thinking - (Hugh Hefner)" No. 41, July 1963
"Timothy Leary's Psychedelic H-Bomb" No. 52, August 1964
"negative thinking - The Anatomy of Schlock" 1965? reprinted in The
Best of The Realist
“Thirteen Choruses for the Divine Marquis” No. 67, May 1966,
reprinted in Coincidance
"The Cybernetic Revolution" No. 72, December 1966
"The Great Beast – Aleister Crowley" Nos. 91-B, C, 92-A, B; 1971-72
“The Future is Coming!” No. 111, Winter 1990, reprinted in part in
Cosmic Trigger 2
"Out of the Innsmouth Triangle" No. 120, Summer 1992

the realist archive project completes in a few months and we'll have
the full picture.




Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What should I link to?

I've noticed as I work on this blog that there are Web sites out there that distribute apparently unauthorized copies of Robert Anton Wilson's books, audiobooks and videos. (I am referring here to commercial videos, and not to videos that document RAW's public appearances.)

I've avoided linking to places that distribute copyrighted material.

Publishers such as New Falcon have been very good about keeping many of Wilson's books and audiobooks in print, making the work available to fans and to new readers. It seems wrong to undercut them by giving away works that for the most part are reasonably priced, and available for free in public libraries to anyone who cannot afford to buy them. Also, while I don't think copyrights should last forever, Wilson died only in 2007 and surely intended members of his family to benefit from royalties on his work.

At the same time, I don't see a problem with distributing work that is out of print, and otherwise unavailable. I'm planning, for example, to link soon to downloads of the songs Wilson recorded with The Golden Horde, an Irish punk rock group. I've searched Amazon and Emusic and did not see the music for sale at either location. I don't see how posting the MP3 files hurts anyone.

Feel free to weigh in if you think my policy is wrong. I'm willing to think about it.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The structure of THE UNIVERSE NEXT DOOR

I have been re-reading the SCHROEDINGER'S CAT trilogy, and when I finished THE UNIVERSE NEXT DOOR, I realized I had seen a similar structure somewhere else.

During the 1980s, I read a trilogy of novels by California writer Kim Stanley Robinson, all set in a future California, that is referred to as the "Orange County trilogy" or the "California trilogy." THE WILD SHORE (1984) is set in a U.S. which has been largely wiped out by nuclear bombs smuggled into the U.S., so it could be read as a dystopia. THE GOLD COAST is a future California very much like the present. PACIFIC EDGE (1988) is a utopia.

THE UNIVERSE NEXT DOOR has a very similar structure, published in one volume. The first section could be read as a dystopia (it ends with a terrorist group setting off bombs all over the U.S.) The second section is a kind of funhouse mirror of the present. The third rather short section is a utopia. Wilson's book came out in 1979, so it predates Robinson's works. I know nothing about whether Robinson could have gotten the idea for the structure of his own work from Wilson, whether it is just coincidence or whether both writers got the idea from an earlier work.

Interestingly, both writers lived in California at the same time and both were very familiar with the work of Philip K. Dick (Robinson wrote a book about Dick and has lectured about him). I once saw Robinson on a panel at a science fiction convention with another of my favorite writers, George Alec Effinger, and when they shook hands before the panel I wondered if that was the first time they had met. I don't know if Wilson and Robinson ever met.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Health tips from RAW?

It's often interesting to see where Robert Anton Wilson will pop up. Here is a posting on a Web site devoted to health, where the author, posting as a yoga topic, posts a RAW video on the acceleration to 2012. Lots of positive comments, I notice.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Notes on "AN INSIDER'S GUIDE"

I have just finished AN INSIDER'S GUIDE TO ROBERT ANTON WILSON by Eric Wagner and wanted to take a moment to share a few impressions.

First of all, I should say the book is invaluable to a serious fan of RAW. New copies are still available as an inexpensive trade paperback from New Falcon, and all of the usual Internet book ordering sites.

I guess the reason I didn't read it before is because there is so much primary source material available, I wasn't ready to advance to the secondary sources. I am still trying to go through all of Wilson's nonfiction books and interviews on Internet sites such as Robert Anton Wilson fans.

But Wagner has worked hard in INSIDERS GUIDE to provide insight and pointers to where to go for further research. The book approaches Wilson in a variety of different ways. The book included a lexicon of characters and terms, an annotated bibliography, exclusive interviews, and photographs from Wagner's travels around the world to learn more about Wilson's ideas.

For me, the most useful parts of the book were Wilson's essays on THE HOMING PIGEONS and MASKS OF THE ILLUMINATI (finely-observed literary criticism), the lexicon, a discussion of the influence of the kabbalah on ILLUMINATUS! and an annotated chapter on books that influenced Wilson.

I did feel the book could have been better edited. It would have been useful if an editor had second-guessed a few of Wagner's decisions, such as using Burroughs' cut-up technique to scramble Wilson's nine basic winner and loser scripts, which makes it impossible to discern what Wilson actually wrote. (I thought it was sweet, though, that he put in a poem about his wife.) As other reviewers have noted, a number of proper names in the book are misspelled. It doesn't hurt the utility of the book -- it's not difficult to figure out for example that when Wagner writes "H.L. Menken," he means "H.L. Mencken" -- but the spellings ought to be cleaned up if there is a second edition.