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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

RAW defends satire

[This is an email sent out by Robert Anton Wilson on April 1, 2004, to a group email list that included Eric Wagner, R.U. Sirius and others. In this one, RAW responds to Bruce Kodish, who takes him to task for allegedly blurring the lines between real antisemitism and a more satiric variety. Michael Johnson, who seems to know everything, explains, "Bruce Kodish is one of the more prominent writers on the current Institute for General Semantics scene, and published a bio of Korzybski not long ago, although none of the 60-odd libraries I have acccess to have bought it. Kodish wrote a book called Drive Yourself Sane. After that book came out he revealed his rather obvious partisanship for the Israelis and not for the Palestianians. This set RAW off. I remember him writing "He should drive himself sane." Eric Wagner shared this with me, and so I share it with you. I've put RAW's comments in bold. -- The Mgt.]

Dear Bob,
 Where does guerilla ontology end and helping spread rumors begin?

You came in too late on this one. I passed on a
 JFK theory blaming  Israel
along with a parody by meself blaming extra-terrestrials

 I didn't think that I came too late. I read what you were passing on, the
"L.B.J. is a Sephardic Jew," etc. stuff.   And though it goes without
surely don't consider you an antisemite. Not at all, not at all. 

[Why, thank you,sir. Wd you go so far as to say you don't
consider me a fascist, a cannibal or a CIA disinformation
agent? Wot with the death of humor in this moribund republic,
I badly need testimonials on all those issues,
among udders....
--Damned Old Crank]

Guerilla ontology ends where satire becomes invisible...
 which depends on IQ and hilaritas of each reader.


[Oh damn here it comes..

 Where satire approaches invisibility (For example, foo's later missive?) 
then the possibility exists for the 'satire' to get taken seriously and to
affect readers and listeners in a multitude of ways, perhaps negative
ways. And then--does the satirist have any responsiblity for some of those
results? Maybe.

[How much responsibility wd you assign Swift for any English
owners who began buying and eating the babies of their
Irish tennants?
 Or Mark Twain for  those who decided
the oyster really exists to provide a gourmet treat
for JD Rockefeller?
 Or Flaubert for any increase in
adultery among French housewives?
More to the point -- how much do you blame J Joyce
for the anti-semitic ravings of citizen Cusack
in Ulysses?
How strict yr form of Political Correctness?

 Yelling "Fire" in a crowded theatre may qualify as the paradigm of
irresponsible speech. Can passing on conspiracy theories, even with
satirical intent, become irresponsible in a similar way? Maybe. When and
where does it begin to do so? Well, it seems like a matter of degree,
depends upon context, etc.

[Without irony, I cite Rev Ivan Stang as one who
has more sense of humor and more unnerstandin' of my
dumb ideas than you have-- he says  I recognize strong
maybes and weak maybes.
You seem to brood inordinately over very
very very very very weak maybes.

 Antisemitic speech doesn't insult me. I take it seriously because as you
know "as the thinker thinks..." and antisemitic doctrines help create and
perpetuate toxic neuro-evaluational environments. People's lives may be at
stake, including my own and those of close friends and relatives. The
antisemitic garbage that you were 'passing on' and then parodying has
reached pandemic levels in the Arab/Islamic world, thinly masked within
anti-zionism, and has grown among many educated Europeans (especially
leftists) and many of their American academic 'friends', among others.
Synagogues have been bombed in Turkey and North Africa, and burned and
vandalized in Europe. Jews are getting attacked and murdered again for
'being' Jews.

[So I shd fight that yr heavyhanded moralistic way,
and not the way for which
I seem to have some real talent, namely satire a la Swift
and reductio ad absurdum a la Voltaire?

 I have no objection to displaying examples of antisemitism for
examination, critique and parody. I   object to how it is done. For
example, when the example is presented with insufficient quotes, i.e. ,
without framing of the material as an example of "bullshit" or with
insufficient critique. Or if a satire has enough invisiblity that it may
get mistaken for the 'real' thing. Then the satirist may become a
promoter. Or mistakenly get 'identified' as an antisemite. It could

[See my essay "How to Read" in COINCIDANCE:A HEAD TEST
or az Hugh Kenner once said,
"The  fear of the Word is the beginning of reading"

 Such considerations might at least inspire writers and speakers to think
twice or thrice about possible consequences of what they put out--unless
they think of themselves as all-knowing or just could not care less. 
Call it cogitus interruptus to avoid premature verbal ejaculations.

   I do try to follow my own advice, as I don't consider myself exempt.

  [As I wrote 2 years ago ---
Bloomsdayy 2001

  Schrodinger's Jew

       97 years ago today Leopold Bloom, a fictitious man, wandered the
streets of Dublin, a real city; and Joyce scholars still argue about his
odd odyssey. I would like to add to the confusion with a note about Bloom's

"Is" Leopold Bloom a Jew?

Not according to Orthodox Rabbinical law, which defines a Jew as the child
of a Jewish mother. Bloom as the child of a Protestant mother "is not" a

According to Nazi law, however, a Jew "is" a person with a known Jewish
ancestor. Bloom as the son of Rudolph Bloom [born Rudolph Virag], "is" a

See how easily a person can "be" and "not be" a Jew at the same time?

On the third hand, most humanists define a Jew as one who believes in and
practices the Judaic religion. By this definition, Bloom who neither
believes in nor practices any religion "is not" a Jew. But Marilyn Monroe,
who practiced and probably tried to believe in Judaism while married to
Arthur Miller, "was" a Jew by that definition-- for those few years, if not
before or after.

Extensionally or phenomenologically, a Jew "is" somebody considered Jewish
by all or most of the people he meets. By this standard the multi-ordinal
Bloom "is" a Jew again.

Once more: in terms of pure existentialism a Jew "is" somebody who chooses
to consider themselves Jewish. Bloom obviously doesn't consider himself
Jewish but Irish, most of the time. Only when under verbal assault by the
anti-semitic Citizen in Barney Kiernan's pub does Bloom define himself as
Jewish ["And Jesus was a Jew too. Your god. He was a Jew like me."] Here he
obviously has in mind the "known Jewish ancestor" rule, because he adds
"And so was his father," to which the Citizen replies, as a correct
Catholic, "He had no father," and Bloom, unfamiliar with that theology --
logic played with deuces, eights and one-eyed jacks wild -- can only
pragmatically reply, "Well, his uncle then."

But recalling the incident later, Bloom says "And he called me a Jew, which
as a matter of fact I'm not." Here he returns to his customary "believer in
Judaic religion" definition.

I suppose Joyce made Bloom such a tangled genetic and cultural mixture to
expose the absurdities of anti-semitism; but I also suspect that he wanted
to undermine that neurolinguistic habit which postmodernists call
"essentialism" and which Korzybski claimed invades our brains and causes
hallucinations or delusions every time we use the word "is."

--Dam o' Crnk]
 Bruce Kodish's Weblog at

 "Words are powerful enough to lead to love,
but can lead to hatred and terrible pain as well.
 We must be extremely careful how we use them."
 --Joseph Telushkin


I confess that I have never written anything "in prose
or worse" not sbject to misunderstanding. Vide infra, dig?

"Both  Leary and Wilson have been funded by the CIA since at least the late
sixties....Wilson does have a sense of humor, but remember his smirking
antics are at your expense." --Anonymous leaflet, NYU, 30 April 1990

"Wilson describes himself as a 'guerilla ontologist,' signifying his intent
to attack language and knowledge the way terrorists attack their targets:
to jump out from the shadows for an unprovoked attack,  then slink back and
hide behind a hearty belly-laugh." -- Robert Sheaffer, Skeptical Inquirer
Summer 1990

"A male feminist...a simpering pussy-whipped wimp." -- Lou Rollins,
Lucifer's Lexicon

Douglas Rushkoff managed to misread my unbelief in absolutes
as dogmatic belief in Fundamentalist Materialism.


--ye olde crank
a midi pommes bleues

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil,

it multiplies it... Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot
drive out hate; only love can do that.
    --Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

If you look into your own heart, and you find nothing wrong
there, what is there to worry about? What is there to fear?

Hatred does not cease by hatred at any time. Hatred ceases
by love. This is an old  rule.
    --Gautama Buddha


Anonymous said...

This discussion reminds me of one of my favorite bits of Life Imitates Art: Barry Goldwater was precisely as Jewish as Leopold Bloom.

michael said...

Tom: you say I "seem to know everything." If so, I must be pulling the wool over not only my own eyes but others', as I seem to myself like an astoundingly ignorant person. Anyway:

This sort of tete a tete was, in my opinion, RAW's wheelhouse. He seemed to think so too. Either that or he enjoyed this sort of argumentation more than plain expository prose in his non-fiction. He told me he liked writing The New Inquisition and Natural Law because the adversaries were living, known beings. He wrote something very similar to his friend Kurt Smith.

The intimation that one ought to say to your audience, "In this next essay I'm really trying to pull your leg and make you think; I don't believe most of it, but you'll have to try and figure it out for yourself. Most conspiracy theories, to me before you read this piece, just know that what I really believe is blah blah blah..." - which is what Kodish seems to want from RAW - seems to me so ironically RIGID, that it's akin to being with your friends and you're partying and laffing and you say to the group, "I'm going to tell you a joke now that I think is really funny, but I don't want anyone to think I'm sexist/racist/intolerant/or attacking anyone just because some of the language will APPEAR as if I MIGHT be doing On With the Joke: It seems there was a priest who walked into a bar one day..."

What a silly ass Kodish looks like in this exchange. And what a naive, ideological world: there are authors like RAW, Nietzsche, Voltaire, Swift, Twain, and many others, whose hermeticism and Trickster-God-like aspects are the VERY THING that marks them as invaluable to the larger culture: they provoke thought by seducing the reader into seeing the world in a different way.

It seems one of the marks of the too-academically minded is a thorough obliviousness to Hermes and His Ways. Not all academics, but very many, it seems to me.

(Kodish is not an academic that I can tell, but a freelance intellectual. I want to read his bio of Korzybski, but it's on a very small press, isn't reviewed in journals, so no librarians see it, and I guess I'll have to find $35 in order to buy the fucking thing...)

Anonymous said...

Has Anyone read Drive Yourself Sane? I was thinking about getting it off Amazon since it appears to be an accessible exposition of General Semantics. Or should I just go to the source and try to get my hands on Korzybskis book? (which seems like an incredibly daunting read imo).

Eric Wagner said...

I recommend reading Science and Sanity by Korzybski. Reading Bob Wilson's books like Quantum Psychology will help in understanding Korzybski, I think. I think Bob said in the intro to Chaos and Beyond that he read Science and Sanity at least 30 times.

Bruce Kodish said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bruce Kodish said...

I remember this exchange. (Looks like some of my words got chopped out just after you start quoting me). Interesting discussion. Thanks for posting it.

There is nothing I can do if the blogger or other commenters call me a "silly ass", etc. Indeed, there are plenty of times in my life—up to the present— when I've behaved like a silly ass but Michael is reading (mind-reading) a helluva lot into my comments; his inferences about "what I want[ed] from RAW", are not correct. But I can see how the original misunderstanding might have happened.

I met Bob (we were friendly acquaintances) in the 1980s, we corresponded a bit over a number of years, I helped him with something and he helped me with a couple of my books (Drive Yourself Sane and Dare to Inquire) and I never knew that there was some rule that I couldn't ever disagree with him about anything.

In this discussion, he had some good things to say stimulated by what still seems to me as an irate over-reaction to my comments. Does that mean my questions should be thoroughly dismissed? If Bob has valid things to say about the dangers of censorship, etc, does that mean that my questions are entirely invalid? Is this an either-or situation? I don't think so. Where comes the need to turn me into some kind of tight-assed prudish enemy of satire? 'Jesus Christ and Mary', am I the only one with rigidities here?

Bob was entirely correct if he said, "He [Bruce Kodish] should drive himself sane." Yep. I confess he's right. I'm working on it.

By the way, about the Korzybski biography. The lack of its presence in libraries, etc., has as much to do with the lack of mainstream interest in Korzybski and his work, as it does with my limited publicity/marketing budget. I am not an academic and wrote the book under great duress (a large part of the Korzybski archives that contained the original documents, correspondence, etc.. that I used, were being neglected and ultimately were destroyed by some of the eejits currently running the currently floundering Institute of General Semantics, which I have very little to do with). I frankly could use some help with book reviews and publicity, so if you have contacts with libraries, please ask them to order a copy instead of just complaining that they don't have it.

If anyone reading this wants a pdf of the book to look at and review (even if it's on a blog) or on their facebook page, send your email to me and tell me where you intend to review it and I'll send you back an e-copy. If you're genuinely interested in Korzybski and his work, the book is in my humble opinion, indispensable.

To sum up my comments: I loved Bob. No need to turn me into 'The Witch'.

Mindy said...

seems to me that Bruce and Bob "are" both right here, since they're both sharing their informed stances on something that can't be definitively proven as true or false but that rather must stay in that "indeterminate" or "meaningless" area of subjectiveness. Bruce Kodish informed primarily due to "being" Jewish (and who can deny that the Jewish people have been persecuted and killed wholesale throughout history?), and Bob informed by his "being" a satirist.

I don't think Bob would be a very big fan of calling Kodish an "ass" and in fact, hearing it prolly woulda prompted Bob to defend him - disagreement doesn't need to mean disrespect.

My favorite part of this exchange falls in that sentence about Doug Rushkoff - I have not been able to stand that guy since his stoopid comments in the maybelogic movie where he basically calls bob a scientific materialist. I spent a lot less time in person with Bob than Doug, so how can he be so off?

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Prop Anon said...

I don't know. I think I have to side with
Zhenhong Bao on this one