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

Friday, September 30, 2011

Proposal for ILLUMINATUS! reference book

Editor's note: John Merritt is on Twitter as @17beowulf. I noticed him when he got into a dialogue with Ted Hand about RAW (reproduced here in the Sept. 21 posting.) We began following each other. On Sept. 24, he Tweeted, "Working on a precis for a annotations volume for "lluminatus!" Mater deoruum, would it be a lot of work!" Naturally, I was interested and I asked for more information, and he kindly shared the following article with me. Mr. Merritt is not nominating himself as the editor of the proposed volume but wants to get a discussion going. -- Tom.

Notes concerning a Concordance and Commentary for Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus!.
By John Merritt

(Divina Mater deorum, would this be a lot of work!)

The following represents some thoughts about a concordance and commentary on the Illuminatus! trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. This work was originally published in three volumes by Dell in 1975 and is now available in a one-volume edition first published in 1984. The basis of Illuminatus! is a general lampoon of various conspiracy theories and the mentality that goes along with them. This is a free-wheeling, drug-fueled free-for all, the Dionysian counterpart to Umberto Eco’s more Apollonian Foucault’s Pendulum.

Illuminatus contains numerous references to events in American history, especially between 1968 and 1972. Other historical subjects touched on are the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on 22 November 1963 and the many conspiracy theories deriving from that event, the history of American gangsters in the 1930s, the anti-Vietnam War movement, the 1968 Democrat Convention in Chicago, the drug scene of the period, UFOs, alternative religions, and various occult currents. The work is also full of a Gawd-awful number of puns, many of which are tied to cultural and/or literary references which may not be apparent to the casual reader.

The physical structure of the work is based on the Tree of Life in Kabbalah in its normal form. The overall work is divided into four parts, corresponding to the Four Worlds of Kabbalah, the three parts of the narrative and the appendices at the end. The story parts are divided into ten chapters, named by the ten Sephrioth, and thirteen appendices named for the first thirteen letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The continuity of each of the three parts of the narrative is further broken into smaller parts by sudden changes in plot and/or location. There is a further division of the narrative into five parts, corresponding to the “Illuminati’s Theory of History”, which is explained in Appendix Gimel.

This compilation would consist mainly of a series of short articles explaining the historical and fictional persons and places mentioned, historical events, and geographical places real and imagined, and the explication of puns. The order of the articles should be that of the subjects’ occurrence in the work, an approach taken in similar commentaries for Joyce’s Ulysses, Pound’s Cantos, and Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow.

An example of a pun: "Purple Sage": sage = wise man, also a  plant used as a seasoning. _Riders of the Purple Sage_: a novel by Western writer Zane Gray. Possible reference: "Riders of the Purple Wage", a short story by Philip Jose Farmer first published in _Dangerous Visions_, edited by Harlan Ellison, first published in 1967. Wikipedia also lists several bands with the name.

Since the work was published in two different formats, the page references should be given for both.

While it perhaps would be possible for one person to do this, it would be better if there was a general editor and several sub-editors for major topics:

• One for the Kennedy assassination and related conspiracies.

• One for American politics and the Viet Nam War (one for each?).

• One for the literary references and allusions.

(An example: General Tequila y Mota uses Edward Luttwak's; _Coup D'Etat: a Practical Handbook_ as his guide for taking power in Fernando Poo. Here's some links on Luttwak.  A tough bastard.)

• One for music allusions (?).

• One for occult references.

• One for libertarian politics and non-standard (i.e., not Keynesian, monetarist or Austrian “free market”) economics.

The following are some further thoughts:

• The three biggest sections would probably be those on the Illuminati—with or without the “regular” masonic groups—, the JFK hit and the fallout therefrom, and Atlantis.

• At the beginning of “Leviathan” is a long list of rock bands going to the big festival at Ingolstadt. How many are/were real and how many fictitious at the time that Illuminatus! was written?

• Sort biographies and bibliographies of the various libertarian and alternate economics authors and works mentioned, which are mostly in Appendix Zayn.

• Possible real-life basis for characters, e.g., how much of Joe Malik is based on Hugh M. Hefner, publisher of Playboy magazine. Both Wilson and Shea were assistant editors at Playboy when they started work on Illuminatus!

• Occult references: Aleister Crowley, Tarot, Kabbalah, the Black Mass.

• Chicago politics and the Daley Machine.

• Religions: Catholicism, Fundamentalist Protestant Christianity, Zen Buddhism, Discordianism. Discordianism as a spoof of revealed religions.

• In the bibliography of works mentioned in Illuminatus!: full bibliographic information for the first edition and any current printings should be given, as well as whether older books are available online.

• Writers mentioned or referred to: Joyce, Pound, Lovecraft, R. W. Chambers, William S. Burroughs, Edgar Rice Burroughs (?), Raymond Chandler, J-K Huysmans, Hart Crane, Ambrose Bierce, Zane Gray (in pun), Ayn Rand, Allan Ginsberg, J. G. Ballard, Dante, and Arthur Machen. This is a partial and incomplete list.

• The various Atlantis stories, starting with Plato’s Timaeus and including Mu and Lemuria as Pacific Ocean variants. How much of the film that Joe Malik sees is from previous post-Plato Atlantis yarns and how much is Shea and Wilson’s invention?

• A big part of the second and third volumes is taken up by a spoof of Ian Fleming’s MI6 hitman, James Bond—particularly, the last three books Fleming completed: Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. These are the books concerning SPECTRE and its chief, Ernst Starvo Blofeld. This is intertwined with a variation on the Cthulhu Mythos during the part of Illuminatus! that takes place on Fernando Poo.

• One big help would be Shea and Wilson’s Nachlass; where are they and are they available for study?
In Cosmic Trigger I Wilson mentions that, at one time, he had a fair sized collection of conspiracy books. What happened to them? If the collection didn’t survive, is there a surviving list of titles?

• A list of translations should be given, with notes on completeness, illustrations, and any other interesting points. Here is an example for the German translation.

Illuminatus! Die Trilogie. Aus dem Englischen von Udo Breger. Reinbek: Rowalt, 2011. Copyright © 1977, 1978, 1978 der ersten deutschesprachigen Ausgabe by (sic!) Sphinx Verlag, Basel. Copyright © 2002 der deutschsprachigen Ausgabe by Heinrich Hugendubel Verlag, Kreuzlingen/München.
I have no idea what is going on here with the copyright notices, unless Breger’s version is the second German translation. I also don’t know if Hugendubel the publisher is related to Hugendubel the bookstore chain. (I did buy my copy at a Hugendubel. Synchronicity strikes again.) The German Wikipedia article on Illuminatus! says that Breger’s is the only translation, and lists the different editions.

(The German Wiki article looks to be a lot better than the English one.)

The individual volumes are also available. The one-volume edition is not paged continuously, but keeps the pagination of the individual parts. It also keeps the introductory sections of the 2nd and 3rd volumes, which are omitted in the Dell one-volume edition.

Breger leaves some American slang untranslated, but otherwise this seems to be a complete, unexpurgated version. There are some interesting inconsistencies, though. On III, 276-7 he leaves the quotation of Chapter 23 of Crowley’s The Book of Lies untranslated, but the nearly complete quotation of Liber Oz at the beginning of volume 2 (p. 7) is translated entire. And in the other quote from The Book of Lies (on I, 183) he opts for the in German nonsensical half of Crowley’s pun on ass, translating it as Ärsche (‘arses’) and ignoring the equine reference (German Esel), though admittedly there is no way to get the pun to work in German—or in British English.

The chart of conspiracies from The East Village Other is reproduced untranslated on p. I,128. The other illustrations in the original are also present.

There is also a German translation of Masks of the Illuminati.

On the Internet
There is an Illuminatus! wiki at, but it seems to just be an outline for now.
There is a character index to Illuminatus! at

Thursday, September 29, 2011

RAW on Philip K. Dick

Cosmic Trigger Vol. 3: My Life After Death has a chapter on Philip K. Dick, "The Black Iron Prison."

I thought it was pretty good, but although I've read PKD for years (I read him when he was a paperback SF writer not not a prominent member of the modern canon) I wondered what someone with a really serious in Dick would think of it.

So I asked Ted Hand via Twitter. He replied, " I like it. But along with his mentions of PKD in CT1+Selected Letters of PKD introduction too tantalizing! I wish he'd said more."

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

My three books

Yesterday, I posted Supergee's three books that changed his life, and Oz Fritz (in the comments) listed his three. After thinking about it for a day or so, here are mine:

1. ILLUMINATUS! Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. There's obviously a lot that can be said about this book, but just one of the things I like about it is the philosophical agnosticism — none of the characters can ever be sure they are getting a real idea of what's going on. That's true even of the protagonists  narrowly focused on solving a problem in their area of expertise, i.e., the New York City police detective trying to investigate a crime, a missing persons case that might be murder. Wilson remarked many years later (in Cosmic Trigger 3, Chapter 31) that "I see the  universe as Puzzle to Work On, Joyce-Welles fashion, and not as Puzzle Solved," and that's one of the major themes of the trilogy.

Notice also that the "puzzle" of what kind of novel ILLUMINATUS! is can't really be solved. Is it a literary novel, or a pop culture novel? (How many readers notice right away that Hagbard Celine is sailing around on a yellow submarine, just like the Beatles song?) Is is a literary novel, a mystery, an occult-horror novel, a science fiction novel, a political novel a la Ayn Rand or a Cthulus Mythos novel? (H.P. Lovecraft even appears as a character in the book.) It would seem to be all of those things.

2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen. I've always liked fiction that is "out there" — science fiction, ambitious literary fiction (I've liked Vladimir Nabokov since high school), complex books like ILLUMINATUS!

More than any other book, Pride and Prejudice taught me about the power of fiction that is straightforward, written in clear prose, about everyday people in the present doing ordinary things. I went on to read all of Austen's works, and I still read many "Austenite" comic novels about everyday people in the present (I've read everything by Tom Perrotta, for example, including his new one, and most of Elinor Lipman's books.)

3. The World of Late Antiquity, Peter Brown. This book, and Hugh Elton's Warfare in Roman Europe AD 350-425 helped focus my interest in late antiquity, a wonderfully interesting period in history which is neither classical history not medieval history, but something in between. At the same time that the Angles and Saxons were invading Britain and creating "England" — the putative time of King Arthur, in other words — the inhabitants of Constantinople, the new Rome, were still going to public baths and watching "Ben Hur" style chariot races.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

List three books

Supergee, asked to list three books that changed his life, picks Catch 22, Stranger in a Strange Land and ILLUMINATUS!

I would pick ILLUMINATUS! too, but I don't know what my other two are yet.

Monday, September 26, 2011

RAW and Madonna

I've been re-reading Robert Anton Wilson's Cosmic Trigger 3: My Life After Death and I just finished the chapter on Orson Welles F Is for Fake and Madonna's movie, Truth or Dare. The Welles  part is not a surprise, as RAW's interest in Welles is well known, but the Madonna part surprised me a bit. It's clear from the essay that RAW made an effort to find as many reviews of Truth or Dare as possible and that he made a point of watching her music videos (it's interesting to picture RAW, normally not known for his interest in pop music, earnestly squinting at MTV to spot moments of postmodern ambiguity in "Like a Virgin." Does anyone know how RAW got interested in Madonna?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Audiobook of Finnegans Wake

Here is something for the James Joyce fns: Ubuweb has posted an audiobook of Finnegans Wake, in  MP3s, read by Patrick Healy.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sarah Hoyt accepting her Prometheus Award

Apart from any intrinsic interest, Sarah Hoyt is an interesting person. English is her third language, after Portuguese and French. She read Robert Heinlein in translation. Apparently Heinlein made a lasting impression on her; the book she won the award for, Darkship Thieves, is dedicated to Heinlein, and she named one of her sons "Robert Anson."

Robert Shea's Prometheus acceptance speech is here.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Optimist and Pessimism

I often read, and sometimes understand, Tyler Cowen's and Alex Tabarrok's blog, Marginal Revolution. (It's kind of like Overweening Generalist, with more economics.)

Tyler recently published a list of "About what I am optimistic and pessimistic," and it inspired a similar list from libertarian economist Bryan Caplan, which I thought was interesting and might interest RAW fans. Some of them relate pretty directly to RAW's ideas.

Caplan's No. 4: "4. I am a pessimist about life extension. The only path to centuries of healthy life (as opposed to mere simulation) is probably genetically engineering embryos - and it's too late for me and everyone I care about."

On the other hand, he thinks that in 100 years poverty will be gone and a major war will be unthinkable.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

More from Ted Hand on RAW

Some recent Tweets from Ted Hand (@t3dy). Hand's Twitter profile says he is "ex-Nova Cop digs Renaissance Magic Alchemy Gnosis+Angels, Discordia/Psychedelia/Pataphysica, SF Fantasy BodyHorror+VGame Theory, Music,Cats,Comedy,Detectives."

R.A.W.'s allegorical use of flames, ambulances, protest tactics as weird models of consciousness change in illuminatus! deserves more study.

R.A.W.'s "The Widow's Son" is one of his most successful experiment. Hilarious+highly readable, original use of "fake" footnotes, thrills...

I'm surprised I haven't seen more studies of R.A.W.'s The Earth Will Shake in the light of Joyce's "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man."

R.A.W.'s "Masks of the illuminati" has some weird joycean elements but they don't interfere with it being a ripping good suspense novel/trip

The R.A.Wilson nonfiction book I'm most interested in is Coincidance. Long fascinated with the hints/wonder if anybody's decoded his cabala.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

An exchange on Twitter

Ted Hand: @17beowulf I'm sure there are a ton of closet RAW fans in English departments by now. We need more graduate students interested+brave enough

Ted Hand: @17beowulf It should simply be obvious that RAW was doing something really interesting when he applied Cabala and Semantics to Joycean prose

John Merritt: @t3dy Joyce & Pound's influence on RAW: two dissertations looking for authors. But RAW's too plebeian for snooty English departments.

John Merritt: @t3dy To you and I, yes. To theory addicted English professors, maybe not.

John Merritt: @t3dy The problem is waiting for the oldsters to retire, like the Yeats "expert" I know who won't touch "A Vision" or the G. D. stuff.

Ted Hand: @17beowulf Burroughs and Dick have prepared the way, I suspect. But I understand the pessimism. Might be quitting academic for good myself.

Ted Hand: @17beowulf I guess we need to encourage more students to publish papers addressing theory addict concerns with RAW, easy to do I'm sure

Ted Hand @17beowulf That's ridiculous. To refuse to study something your guy wrote? Golden Dawn is getting plenty of scholarly attention in rel.stud.

Ted Hand: @17beowulf illuminatus! would be perfect for an American Studies course on the 60's, but I like reading it as a critique of Hobbes+Ayn Rand.

Ted Hand: @17beowulf really we need to do linguistics to understand what he's doing when he plays around with post-joycean prose. interdisc. RAWstudy!

John Merritt: @t3d, Perhaps I'm too pessimistic. Detectives and SF were once off limits also. RAW uses tropes from both.

John Merritt: @t3dy Hammett's Continental Op is in Schroedinger's Cat.

Ted Hand: @17beowulf yeah I would love to see a study of Detective story in illuminatus! I like to compare it to Firesign Theatre Giant Rat of Sumatra

Ted Hand: @17beowulf since RAW was in some ways a card-carrying postmodernist, but especially since he misunderstood so much, he should be theory gold

Lots of other RAW observations recently from Ted Hand. I'll reprint some tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Michael Johnson on free love and related topics

Michael Johnson, apparently partially inspired by the RAW essay reprinted here earlier this week, riffs on "Free Sex, Free Love, Sex-Politics and Neat Stuff Like That."

Inspirational sentence: "Feel free to use these lines from me and Woody Allen if you're trying to hookup with someone at the airport." You have to read the post to get the context.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Death of Charles Percy

U.S. Sen. Charles Percy has died. NY Times obit is here.

Percy is mentioned in The Universe Next Door, the first book of the Schroedinger's Cat trilogy, in the Boston Cream Pie chapter, describing Benny "Eggs" Benedict's attempt to cope with the grief from the murder of his mother:

Then, one day looking through the old files in the newspaper morgue, Benny found an interview with Senator Charles Percy given in 1970, two years after the murder of his daughter. "For the first year after the murder," Senator Percy said, "my whole family lived in terror."

(Page 20 of the omnibus volume; page 32 of the 1979 Pocket Books first printing.)

Percy was a U.S. senator from Illinois when Wilson lived there as an editor for Playboy magazine. Grief over the murder of his own daughter is one of the major themes of Wilson's trilogy. (Hat tip: Michael Johnson in

Sunday, September 18, 2011

No Governor posted

I have posted a copy of the first issue of Robert Shea's fanzine, No Governor, here. I'll also post a link  under "Feature Articles and Interviews." As I mentioned yesterday, it includes a Robert Anton Wilson article.

My thanks to the University of Michigan library, and to Mike Shea, who gave me permission to post it.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Robert Shea's No Governor

Robert Shea, the co-author of ILLUMINATUS!, published an anarchist fanzine called No Governor. The Labadie Collection shows issues 1 through 11, published from 1975 from 1990. I don't know if this is a complete collection. It is my belief that Robert Anton Wilson was a frequent contributor; I do know that RAW wrote an article, "Free Love, Sexism and All That," that was published in the first issue, which I'll post a PDF of tomorrow.

If anyone has a complete collection and is willing to turn them into PDFs, that would be cool. I have obtained permission from Shea's estate to post the zines.

Friday, September 16, 2011

What to name after RAW?

Officials in Pittsburgh are talking about naming a bridge after David McCullough, a writer who has twice nabbed the Pulitzer Prize. (The city already has bridges named after Andy Warhol, Roberto Clemente and Rachel Carson.)

Which prompts today's question: What should be named after Robert Anton Wilson?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Carl Oglesby has died

If you are reasonably familiar with the works of Robert Anton Wilson, you will recognize the name Carl Oglesby,  the writer and political activist. RAW appeared to be particularly found of The Yankee and Cowboy War: Conspiracies from Dallas to Watergate.

Oglesby has died, age 76, from cancer. Here are some obituaries, all worth reading: from Jesse Walker; a writeup in the Boston Herald; and one in the New York Times.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Word from a couple of fans

The Gourds, an Americana band, hail from Austin, Texas. The band's leader, Kevin "Shinyribs" Russell, was interviewed a few days ago. Excerpt:

There is a real intellectual edge to the Gourds. What do you read when you’re on the road, or at home?

The classics of course, Homer’s “Odyssey,” Socrates, Buddha, Confucius and Jesus, James Joyce, Burroughs, Neruda, Robert Anton Wilson, Kurt Vonnegut, Hemingway, James Hillman, Joe Campbell. That’s just me. The other guys have their faves as well.

At, Nika Danilova lists what she's reading now, and look what's at the top of the list:

Illuminatus Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea: This has trained me to watch for the fives. Robert Anton Wilson is a majestic vigilante hero of Truth. It should be noted that TSA has re-run my copy of this book through the X-ray machine multiple times.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Do you wish you lived in California?

Nick Herbert has announced a couple of events on his blog that I wish I could go to.

Herbert will be the featured reader at Poet/Speak, hosted by Poetry Santa Cruz, 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 18, at the Santa Cruz Main Library meeting room, 224 Church St., Santa Cruz, CA. Free event. "A rare chance to experience quantum tantra live," Herbert said.

David Kaiser will give a presentation on his book, How the Hippies Saved Physics, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday Sept. 20,  at the University Club in San Francisco. Hippie physicists expected to be present include Jack Sarfatti, Fred Allen Wolf and Russell Targ, Herbert says. "$25 including refreshments. For more info contact Michael Sarfatti at," Herbert says.

Hat tip,Eric Wagner (at

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Death of a Book Nerd

Michael Hart, who founded Project Gutenberg and virtually invented the electronic book, has died at age 64. The New York Times obituary is quite interesting.

There's nothing by Robert Anton Wilson at Project Gutenberg, but several Robert Shea titles are listed, although my favorite, All Things Are Lights, isn't there. (You can find it at the official site.)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Rush vs. Rushkoff

Douglas Rushkoff, a great favorite of many of us around these parts, has a commentary up at CNN, arguing that in the age of automation it may not still be possible or desirable to center domestic policy on trying to make sure everyone has a job. He doesn't use the words "guaranteed income," but that's the concept: "We're living in an economy where productivity is no longer the goal, employment is. That's because, on a very fundamental level, we have pretty much everything we need. America is productive enough that it could probably shelter, feed, educate, and even provide health care for its entire population with just a fraction of us actually working."

It's an interesting essay. But this is, truth to tell, not a suggestion that originated with Rushkoff. Robert Anton Wilson said similar things many years ago, and before him, Philip Jose Farmer explored similar notions in his Hugo Award winning novella, "Riders of the Purple Wage" (one of my all-time favorite stories.)

But it's certainly a bold opinion to post at a mainstream site such as CNN, and there has been pushback.
Rush Limbaugh went on the air to read much of it aloud, and attack it. (Transcript here.)

Limbaugh claims not to know who Rushkoff is; I'm not sure if he meant it or just used it as an excuse to get off an amusing line ("Now, he's got a Wikipedia entry, but everybody has a Wikipedia entry ... ")

Limbaugh also mocks Rushkoff for being a "media theorist," but perhaps if Rush read Program or Be Programmed, he'd realize that Rushkoff's ideas deserve to be taken seriously. Rush can get off to a good start by reading my interview with Rushkoff.

Friday, September 9, 2011

We add links

I wanted to mention that I have added a couple of links under "Resources" — Quantum Tantra, "hippie physicist" Nick Herbert's blog, and Supergee, from Discordian Pope Guilty I, aka Arthur Hlavaty.

I have tried not to be promiscuous about adding links, but to try to provide a useful directory of RAW resources and writers influenced by RAW. I meant to add Supergee a long time ago; I've linked to it again and again. Here is his memorable tribute to Star Trek, posted today: "Happy 45th anniversary, Star Trek! You gave a generation a vision, and, to be completely egocentric about it, you changed the gender balance of fandom to the point where I could get laid and provided me with gainful employment for years."

Yesterday's Jesse Walker interview had a great quote from Hlavaty that I'd missed.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Jesse Walker talks to RAW Illumination

Prominent libertarian journalist Jesse Walker is the managing editor of Reason magazine, which for years has been the best-known and most influential libertarian magazine.

Yet his personal history suggests that he could just as easily wound up as a music journalist, or concentrated on writing books. His first book, Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America, grew out of his experiences as a DJ for a radio station at the University of MIchigan, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in history. He freelanced for No Depression, the alternative country magazine, authoring pieces that defended Bob Dylan’s temporary excursion into Christian music and an article describing the Kinks as “the lost fathers of country-rock.”

His wide range of interests include the writings of Robert Anton Wilson. He appears to have read nearly everything Wilson ever published in book form, and quite a few articles and interviews from obscure libertarian journals and fanzines. His two pieces about Robert Anton Wilson for Reason are here and here.

Walker, 41, lives in Baltimore with his wife, Rona Kobell, a staff writer for the Chesapeake Bay Journal, and their two daughters. He maintains a prolific Twitter account, @notjessewalker.

I neglected to ask Mr. Walker about the time “he was once hired to help move a clandestine dog farm,” as his official Reason biography states, but I did remember to start the interview by asking about his new book project.

Tell me about the book you’re working on, The United States of Paranoia. And can you say something about how Robert Anton Wilson fits into it?

It's a history of American political paranoia. The central argument is that conspiracy theories aren't just a feature of the fringe but have been a potent force across the political spectrum, in the center as well as the extremes, from the colonial era to the present. I also argue that conspiracy stories need to be read not just as claims to be either believed or debunked but as folklore. When a tale takes hold, it says something true about the anxieties and experiences of the people who believe and repeat the yarn, even if it says nothing true about the objects of the theory itself.

The first half of the book will lay out five primal conspiracy narratives that keep recurring in American history, zeroing in on particular examples from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. The second half will look at how those primal stories have played out in different contexts in the last four decades. One theme in the second half is what I call the ironic style of American conspiracism -- a sensibility that treats alleged cabals as a bizarre mutant mythos to be mined for laughs, metaphors, and social insights. Not surprisingly, this is where Robert Anton Wilson comes in: He's the godfather of the ironic style.

I'm writing the book for HarperCollins, and we're tentatively planning to have it in stores in fall of 2013.

How did you get interested in Robert Anton Wilson's writings?

It started with Steve Jackson's Illuminati game. In high school I had some friends who were into role-playing games, a hobby that didn't interest me much. But they managed to convince me to try a new game -- not a role-playing game, they promised me, but a card game -- with the promise that it was (a) funny and (b) filled with weird conspiracy theories. Sure enough, it was fun. And since the game was inspired by the ILLUMINATUS! trilogy, I started looking for a copy of the books to read. Fortunately, the one-volume omnibus edition had come out a year or two earlier, just in time for me to devour it. Soon I was buying other Wilson books at the local science fiction and comics shop. And then he came to town to give a talk, and I found out that he was very funny in person too.

What are your favorite RAW books?

ILLUMINATUS! is the book he'll be remembered for. It's both an amazing document of its time -- as good a guide as you'll ever find to the strange apocalyptic fever dreams of the '60s and '70s -- and, underneath all that satire and horror, a very thoughtful novel. It belongs in the same postmodern canon as Pynchon, Burroughs, and Ballard, but it doesn't get the same level of respect, possibly because it's so eager to entertain the reader.

I also think WILHELM REICH IN HELL is a very good play, though its attack on the Cold War arms race might make it feel out of date if it were performed today. THE EARTH WILL SHAKE shows that Wilson can write well in a more realistic mode, and then the sequel, THE WIDOW'S SON, pulls the rug out from under the reader and throws us into another fun postmodern exercise filled with footnotes and pastiches. On the nonfiction side, I think COINCIDANCE and THE ILLUMINATI PAPERS are probably the best collections of essays.

And then there's the original COSMIC TRIGGER, which is one of my favorite memoirs. You never know how seriously to take some of the claims he makes in it, which of course is deliberate and part of the point. And just when you think it's all oddball speculations about drugs and conspiracies and New Age weirdness, there's that wrenching final chapter about his daughter's death and you wind up taking the book very seriously indeed.

You are obviously a big movie buff, and so was Robert Anton Wilson. Did you ever get to talk to him, or correspond with him, about movies?

I wrote a short article about Wilson's work for Reason in 2003, and after it came out he added me to his email list and we periodically corresponded. We hit the subjects you'd expect, politics and books and so on, but in retrospect it feels like the main topic was movies. Most Wilson fans know that he loves Orson Welles, but he was a big Clint Eastwood fan too. We both liked COOGAN'S BLUFF a lot.

I met him in person a few times in the late '80s and early '90s, chatting briefly after his speeches and at a couple of libertarian gatherings we both attended. I have no reason to believe he remembered me from one of those quick encounters to another. So I'm in the odd situation of having met him long before, but not after, we knew each other.

I also was lucky enough one evening to have dinner with his ILLUMINATUS! collaborator, Robert Shea, along with several other writers who participated with him in a round-robin zine called the GOLDEN APA. I asked Shea if anyone in particular had inspired the creation of Hagbard Celine. Yes, he told me: Anthony Quinn.

Have you saved those email exchanges with Robert Anton Wilson? Do you plan to make any of them available?

I save all my emails, and I'll be going through the Wilson correspondence again when I write my chapter about him in the paranoia book. If there's anything particularly interesting that might make sense as a standalone document, I'll pass it along to you. A lot of it is already floating around out there somewhere, since he usually cc:ed his whole email list.

As I’ve written on the blog, I never met RAW, but I met Shea once, at the 1989 Worldcon in Boston, at a Golden APA party -- a big thrill. I assume you saw my interview with Arthur Hlavaty about the Golden APA that I posted on my blog.

I forgot about that interview! Yes, I did read it. Hlavaty is the author of one of my favorite lines about school prayer. Quoting from memory and probably botching it: "I'm against this creeping socialism of prayer in the public schools. If the government would just get out of the way, our free-market churches would supply all the prayer our children need."

The GOLDEN APA dinner where I met Shea was in Chicago in '91, so I missed you by two years. I was in town for a libertarian shindig, where Shea and Wilson spoke on a panel with Carl Oglesby and Timothy Leary. Wilson and Leary did a big presentation on virtual reality in another part of town the same weekend, and they both also spoke at a rally against the drug war in the park. And there was a big science fiction convention -- possibly WorldCon -- in town at the same time, which is probably why the GOLDEN APA crew was getting together. So Chicago saw a great big confluence of the subcultures that weekend.

When NPR released its list of the top 100 science fiction and fantasy books, you noted that you've read about 40 of them. Are you now, or have you ever been, a science fiction nerd?

If the cinema of the '80s taught us nothing, it's that we're all nerds deep down inside, so let's gather together by the bleachers while the soundtrack blares a Queen song:

Wait, what was the question? Oh, yeah: I read a lot of science fiction growing up. I was especially attracted to the New Wave writers of the '60s and '70s, the cyberpunk writers of the '80s, and the sort-of-sf category that these days gets called "slipstream." You still run into a prejudice against genre fiction in some quarters, but it's clear to me that genre writers -- not just in sf, but in crime fiction, horror, and so on -- are as capable of producing good writing as the mainstream. The only major genre category that I've never explored is the romance, but I wouldn't be remotely surprised to learn that there are hidden geniuses there too.

That said, the modal science fiction nerd's taste might be a little different from mine. My idea of a great sf movie is REPO MAN, not STAR WARS.

I don't publish a lot of fiction, but the short stories that I do write usually have science fiction or fantasy elements. The best of those is called "A Short History of the Roosterville Poetry Massacre," and you can find it in the third issue of the slipstream journal POLYPHONY.

How did you get interested in alternative radio, and how did that grow into your still-in-print first book, Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America?

I guess I got interested in it by listening to it. I was fortunate to grow up in the shadow of WXYC in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, which is a very good station, and then in college I had the wonderful experience of DJing at WCBN in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which is an even better station. That got me interested not just in the history of radio but in the regulatory reasons why creative broadcasting is so rare. By this time it was the '90s and a new wave of pirate broadcasters was going on the air, and I started covering them sympathetically. Soon I was a full-fledged part of the movement to legalize low-power radio, helping organize a march in D.C. All that journalism and activism and explorations into radio history turned into the book.

You wrote articles for No Depression, a country music magazine, but your blog links to sites about Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, James Brown and Charles Mingus (among others). What kind of music did you play as a DJ in Ann Arbor, and what do you listen to now?

I was a freeform DJ, so I mixed all kinds of music together, from Scarlatti to the Sex Pistols. I also was one of the rotating hosts of the country show, which was ultimately a freeform country show, so there were ways to smuggle in the occasional punk or jazz record if I did all the segues just right.

These days my favorite kind of music is the stuff that's right on the boundary between country and soul, where Charlie Rich and Ray Charles rub shoulders with each other. But I listen to all kinds of things. Dylan, the Kinks, P-Funk, Haggard, you name it. As far as new stuff goes, I love mashups, which have a lot in common with the spirit of freeform radio.

I don't want to make any facile assumptions about your politics, but you seem to lean libertarian on at least some issues. How did you get interested in libertarianism, and did ILLUMINATUS! play any role in shaping your political philosophy?

My parents are liberal Democrats, and I adopted their politics as a kid, moving further to the left as I entered my teens. In practice, this meant I was strongly opposed to censorship, to draft registration, to U.S. intervention overseas, to mixing church and state, to bigotry, and to concentrated power -- all positions that I still hold today. Becoming a libertarian was largely a matter of reading free-market economists and getting convinced that their arguments were stronger than the economic views I had absorbed rather haphazardly before then.

But it also helped to read explicitly libertarian books making the case for a consistently anti-statist worldview. And ILLUMINATUS! is one of the first forthrightly libertarian books I read. I've joked that the great invisible divide in the libertarian movement is between the people who were transformed by reading ATLAS SHRUGGED in high school and people who were transformed by reading ILLUMINATUS! I never went through a Rand phase, so you can put me firmly in the ILLUMINATUS! camp.

My wife and I have visited Ann Arbor, and it seems like an interesting, arts-rich college town. Did you enjoy your time there? How did you wind up as a Wolverine?

By the time I finished high school, I considered myself a libertarian but I still identified myself with the left: Coming from North Carolina, where the most prominent conservative was Jesse Helms, I thought of the left as the place to find defenders of civil liberties. Moving to Ann Arbor shattered that. Suddenly I was surrounded by leftists who wanted to censor speech they disagreed with and to trample on due process, and suddenly some of the loudest arguments for civil liberties were coming from the right. That didn't make a Republican out of me, but it did drive home the lesson that progressives were just as capable as conservatives of trampling on the Bill of Rights.

That said, I loved my time in Ann Arbor. It's a fun town to live in, I made a lot of friends, and I enjoyed the arguments. And Jerusalem Garden makes the best felafels in the world. My wife did a fellowship at the University of Michigan in 2008-09, so I got to spend another year back there recently. Turns out it's a nice place to live as a grown-up too.

In the New Libertarian Notes interview with Robert Anton Wilson -- which I was able to reprint because you collected the perodical -- RAW says, "I also read at least one periodical every month by a political group I dislike -- to keep some sense of balance. The overwhelming stupidity of political movements is caused by the fact that political types never read anything but their own gang's agit-prop."

I get the impression you read a lot of people you disagree with. True?

Well, it's not as though the world is filled with people who agree with me about everything. Even if I tried to impose a litmus test on the people I read, chances are good that an unapproved thought might sneak its way through and corrupt me before I managed to stop it.

But yes, I'd rather read a thoughtful argument that challenges me than a rote recitation of the libertarian catechism. For that matter, it's illuminating, and often fun, to read people whose arguments *don't* really challenge you but still offer a window into another way of viewing the world. Think of it as armchair anthropology. I'll certainly be doing a lot of that as I write this history of American paranoia.

Why did you begin collecting obscure libertarian journals with articles by Robert Anton Wilson in them?

I never really thought of myself as a collector. I've just been accumulating zines for decades: I like to read them, and I don't like to throw them out. Many of them have Robert Anton Wilson articles in them.

When I was a student at Michigan, I read a lot of old radical magazines at the Labadie Collection, including some journals that ran a lot of Wilson articles: WAY OUT (which he edited for a while), NO GOVERNOR (which Robert Shea edited), NEW LIBERTARIAN, ROGERSPARK CHICAGO, MINORITY OF ONE, etc. Sometimes I would run across articles or letters with a byline of "Simon Moon" or some other name that would later surface in ILLUMINATUS! If I thought like a collector, I would have had the library make copies of all those articles for me -- I wish I had, because writing this book would be much easier. Now one item on my agenda is to go back to Ann Arbor and dig those up again.

My favorite Reason magazine piece in the last few months was your interview with Thaddeus Russell, who interests me partially because I can't quite figure him out. Apparently he doesn't quite understand libertarians, either. I was amazed by his Tweet, "I don't understand why libertarians aren't aligning themselves with the London rioters." Do you think he's an up and comer among American public intellectuals?

He's certainly a very sharp and interesting writer, and I'm glad he's now contributing to Reason. He has a great piece about Obama in our October issue. I doubt the establishment organs that take it upon themselves to decide who is or isn't a "public intellectual" will ask him to be a part of their next symposium, but so much the worse for them.

Thad and I corresponded a bit during the London riots, which I believe he saw, or at least initially saw, purely as a reaction to police brutality. He has done interesting historical work on anti-cop riots in the Old South, arguing that they played a significant role in ending Jim Crow. But it became clear pretty soon that the London rioters were attacking a lot of innocent third parties, and when I pointed that out to him he said that it gave him pause. So I don't know if he'd still stand by that tweet. (You should ask him! He's very approachable.)

Who are your favorite current libertarian thinkers and writers? Is there anyone you pay particular attention to?

I'm fortunate to work with some of the best libertarian writers in the country at Reason magazine, and I encourage everyone out there to read all my colleagues. Aside from Reason's staffers and columnists, the currently active libertarian and libertarian-leaning writers that I regularly enjoy reading include Radley Balko, Randy Barnett, David Beito, Paul Cantor, Tim Carney, Kevin Carson, Hernando De Soto, Mark Frauenfelder, David Friedman, Glenn Garvin, Anthony Gregory, Thomas Hazlett, Gene Healy, Robert Higgs, Kerry Howley, Jeff Hummel, Charles W. Johnson, Bill Kauffman, Tim Lee, Peter Leeson, Jacob Levy, Roderick Long, Daniel McCarthy, Deirdre McCloskey, Joanne McNeil, Robert Nelson, Elinor Ostrom, Virginia Postrel, Ralph Raico, John Shelton Reed, Julian Sanchez, Jack Shafer, Thomas Szasz, Timothy Virkkala, Eugene know, at this point the list is so long that I'm worried the many people I'm temporarily forgetting will feel like they've been deliberately snubbed, so I'll just say the world is filled with smart libertarian writers and I do my best to persuade them all to write articles for Reason.

As this is kind of a long list, are there one or two blogs you want to recommend, or one or two recent books you wish you could get everyone to read?

My favorite libertarian blog is -- honest to God -- Reason's own Hit & Run. The most important libertarian books I've read in the last few years are Kurt Schock's UNARMED INSURRECTIONS and James C. Scott's THE ART OF NOT BEING GOVERNED. The authors would probably object to being called libertarians, but I'm going to claim their books anyway.

I like your division of libertarians between RAW folks and Randians, but perhaps another split is between the people who march to the polls every election and participate in Libertarian Party politics, and the folks who don't vote and have given up on the system. Do you see any point to actually participating? Many libertarians who hoped to see Obama as an improvement on peace and civil liberties have been bitterly disappointed.

I'm not *against* political participation, but I think libertarians need to be aware of its limits. I'm less interested in electing officials who agree with me than in building movements that can pressure elected officials who *don't* agree with me. And those movements should be modular. When you assemble coalitions around issues rather than candidates, you can bring people together who don't agree on (say) trade policy but do agree on (say) the need to restore the Fourth Amendment. And then you can be a part of a different coalition a week later when it's time to take a stand on a trade issue.

At every stage of this process, you need to be not just ready but eager to reach across traditional left/right lines. One of the biggest barriers to serious change in this country is the way people get channeled into these Red Team/Blue Team poo-throwing matches. You have Americans more worried about some nightmare scenario of the far left or far right taking power than they are about the cozy bipartisan center that produces most of the bad ideas that actually get enacted.

It's also important to keep a bottom-up perspective. Let the people in Washington look at the world from Washington's point of view; the rest of us shouldn't be seduced into thinking like a legislator. Useful libertarian activism is a matter of defending and extending the zones of free action. The majority of the most promising transformations in America over the last few decades took place not because officials decided on their own to relinquish some of their authority, but because grassroots institutions either seized new ground or crept onto it while no one was watching. Examples range from the homeschooling revolution, which achieved tremendous victories while school choice legislation was at best sputtering forward, to the various DIY alternatives eating away at licensed professions from building to broadcasting. With any domestic policy you dislike, someone somewhere has probably found a way to route around it. Libertarian activists should look for ways to turn that route into a superhighway.

Finally, you should try to think in both the long and short terms. It's a pretty safe bet that the America of one year from now is not going to be very different from the America we live in today. But it's an even safer bet that the America of 100 years from now will be drastically different. Radical change isn't just possible—it's inevitable. The question is how to nudge that change in the directions we like.

When I was in high school, I was a liberal Democrat who opposed the war in Vietnam but didn't like Communism; when I went to college, I finally figured out I was a "libertarian." Do you see any hope for pro-peace liberals and libertarians to get together to change U.S. foreign policy in a "Glenn Greenwald coalition," or should I grow up and forget about it?

The coalition shouldn't just include antiwar liberals and libertarians -- there are antiwar conservatives as well, and they need to be part of the team too. I'm part of a group called Come Home America that's trying to build bridges between people whose opposition to U.S. foreign policy comes from different ideological perspectives. I don't know if we'll get anywhere, but we have yet to decide to grow up and forget about it.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A sad article about books

The New York Times ran an article the other day about how sales of mass market paperbacks are dropping sharply.

For years, as a teenager and young adult, virtually all the books I bought were mass market paperbacks, or cheap Science Fiction Book Club editions. Many of my favorite books were grubby little paperbacks. I still have my original ILLUMINATUS! mass market PB's from the 1970s.

Michael Johnson had a particularly good posting about book collecting the other day.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What to think of Ron Paul?

Libertarians everywhere have to decide what they think of Ron Paul, and as he runs the president yet again, it's dividing opinion perhaps even more than four years ago. (When I say "libertarians" I am using an inclusive definition that includes folks such as Robert Anton Wilson and myself -- not just the "if you don't like Ayn Rand, you can kiss my ass" folks).

I wish Wilson was around to weigh in, but in the meantime, all manner of other folks have interesting things to say. Will Wilkinson, more of a classical liberal than an anarchist, says Paul is an embarrassment to libertarians. Matt Welch offers a qualified defense. I thought leftie Charles Davis was interesting.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Another side of conspiracy theories

Saturday's blog posting had some fun with the Watch Unto Prayer conspiracy theory Web site, which is produced by someone named Barbara Aho. Aho is by no means an idiot -- she does a lot of research and doesn't write badly -- but it's hard to take her judgment seriously when you notice that she treats the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as an important document.

Some conspiracies (or at least government secrets) are real, however. Gary North obviously does not believe the official account of what happened at Pearl Harbor and how it got the U.S. into World War II (Robert Anton Wilson did not, either) and thinks the nation would benefit from a careful investigation of what happened during the 9/11 attacks.

North writes, "My point is simple: every Establishment rules in terms of lies, spin, and cover-ups. Most of the citizenry is vaguely aware of the lies and the spin on this or that minor matter, but voters side with the regime on the big lies. To do otherwise is to call into question their own wisdom. I is to admit that you were successfully taken in on some major matter -- you and millions of others. This undermines the religion of democracy. It means that republican patriotism is based on widespread gullibility. "Fool me once, shame on the government. Fool me 20 times, shame on me." So, once the masses have adopted the Official Party Line, to abandon it means abandoning your old self and your old world of political legitimacy. It means that you are now on your own -- an outlaw, a pariah."

North also argues it's very difficult for people in academic to question accepted historical truth.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Where are the ebooks?

There are more than 25 books by Robert Anton Wilson still in print. It's hard to know exactly how to count them; is the Schroedinger's Cat trilogy one book or three? When I say "in print," I am referring to books printed on paper.

More and more readers have been switching to reading electronic books at least part of the time, and this is where Wilson's estate ought perhaps to become a little more active.

Only a relatively few Wilson books are available on Kindle, for example. ILLUMINATUS! is there, as you'd expect, but the missing books include the Historical Illuminatus books, the Cosmic Trigger books (only a "study guide" for the first CT book is listed) and Prometheus Rising.

Meanwhile, ebooks have helped keep Bob Shea's work alive.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Time to confess!

In the course of doing this blog, I have let slip that I have libertarian leanings, despite my doubts about certain dogmas of the libertarian movement. Well, I have been found out. Despite the many philosophical differences among the different folks who call themselves "libertarians," we're all just a front group for the cabal of Jewish bankers who run the world.

I admit to being disappointed and a little hurt that none of my libertarian friends let me in on any of their cool Rosicrucian secrets or opened up a pipeline of money from any of those Jewish bankers, but that's life, I guess.

You can learn about the secrets of libertarianism and much else besides at Watch Unto Prayer. For example, you can read about how the Merovingian Dynasty is the "Satanic bloodline of the Antichrist," and how that bloodline is connected to those of some of the recent U.S. presidential candidates. This may be one of the best conspiracy sites, ever.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Using music to enter new spaces

The reliably interesting Oz Mix blog has two particularly good entries which should be read in sequence: An entry, inspired by a recent posting on this blog, This Is The Space Age, on entering new spaces, and a sequel, Music spaces, on how music can take us to different places and help us gain new insights. (My lame summaries don't do the blog entries justice; just read them.) Obviously, Robert Anton Wilson used Beethoven the way that Oz Fritz used music from the likes of the Rolling Stones and Eno and Byrne. There's a large overlap between music fanatics and RAW fans, so if you recognize yourself as a music nut these entries are must reads.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The 9/11 surveillance legacy

Today's posting is about a topic that I assume Robert Anton Wilson would have been interested in: 10 years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks (or whatever you believe it was), domestic surveillance of U.S. citizens has scaled up, as this Los Angeles Times article discusses. (The government can bug your phone and break into your home these days, without having to get permission from a judge first. What could go wrong?)