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Thursday, May 31, 2012

The ILLUMINATUS! cuts -- how substantial?

Jason Pilley sent me an email recently, asking, "You know it just struck me, has *anyone* ever considered whether those 500 missing pages of "Illuminatus!" might be a typical RAW joke?"

I enjoyed Pilley's witty suggestion. It would also be comforting to learn that ILLUMINATUS! was, in fact, published substantially as Wilson and Shea wrote it. But I think the weight of the evidence is that ILLUMINATUS! was, in fact, cut before publication, although the size of the cuts may be a matter of dispute.

In various interviews, Robert Anton Wilson complains that (1) Although he and Robert Shea conceived of ILLUMINATUS! as one long work, it was published as a trilogy by Dell and (2) That Dell made large cuts in the published version.

There is independent verification for (1). When I interviewed Dell editor David M. Harris about his role in the book, Harris recalled insisting on publishing the book as a trilogy, over Wilson's strong objections. Harris said it was the only way to actually publish such a long book, by unknowns, as a genre science fiction book. (He did not say "by unknowns," but I think that is implied. Robert Heinlein only got away with publishing very long, unedited books when he was a celebrity who could dictate terms to his publishers). Fred Feldman, another Dell editor who worked on ILLUMINATUS!, told me much the same thing. (Harris also recalls pushing ILLUMINATUS! along into publication and deserves credit for helping to make sure it was published at all.)

As for (2), if you read my Harris interview, you can see he doesn't recall (or may not have been in a position to know) if ILLUMINATUS! was cut or revised in a major fashion.

I have not yet published my Fred Feldman interview, but I listened to it again as I drove home from work today. Feldman, who apparently finished the job of preparing ILLUMINATUS! for publication, recalls two things about his work (1) He reshaped it to give it more narrative drive and more of a beginning, middle and end and (2) he made cuts that he describes as "significant," although he would not describe them as "substantial." I remarked that the trilogy as published includes long speeches by the major characters, and he replied that he did not alter the didactic nature of the book.

It is possible that the cuts were not as draconian as Wilson has represented them. Pursuing this latter theory, I wrote to three people who I thought might remember what Shea said about whether ILLUMINATUS! was subjected to drastic cuts.

All three replied. While it is dangerous to argue from silence, none  recalled Shea complaining about the matter.

Shea's son and literary executor, Mike Shea, said he could not tell me anything. Arthur Hlavaty, the well-known SF fan who knew both ILLUMINATUS! authors but was closer to Shea than Wilson, likewise remembered nothing. Hlavaty queried Bernadette Bosky (mentioned in the acknowledgments for Shea's excellent All Things Are Lights), who did not remember anything, either.

Finally, I tried Dr. Patricia Monaghan, the author, Maybe Logic Academy member and Shea's widow. She did not remember Shea complaining about the matter. She wrote, "As for the cuts to the original ms--they must not have been overwhelming, because Bob never mentioned them, or at least not in such detail that I remember."

It is also possible that Shea was more accepting than Wilson about the realities of dealing with a commercial science fiction paperback publisher. Harris and Feldman both describe Shea as being easier to deal with than Wilson.


Anonymous said...

... the trilogy as published includes long speeches by the major characters, and he replied that he did not alter the didactic nature of the book.

Not unlike the magnum opus of a certain Russian-American author who is lampooned in the third part. :)

michael said...

from an interview with Lewis Shiner, 1988:

Shiner: Are there any plans to restore the pages Dell ordered cut from Illuminatus?

RAW: No, all that got lost. Dell had the book for five years before they published it. They kept announcing they'd publish it next year, and then the editor would get fired, or quit to take a better job, and the new editor wouldn't know anything about it. The thing dragged on for five years. Finally we got a definite announcement they were going to publish it, but they wanted us to cut 500 pages, and they'd then divide it up into three volumes, which we'd never intended. Shea and I were so worn down, after five years of struggle, we said, "Okay, we'll cut 500 pages." So I said to Shea, "Let's cut it like Godard cut _Brreathless_, totally at random. They're buying it by the pound, they have no concept of literary structure or anything like that, so let's give them a literary structure that's totally original, a stochastic structure." Shea agreed with me, so we just made cuts at random. We didn't use any principle at all - there are cuts in the middle of dialogue, people talking about one subject and suddenly they're talking about another. It's just like Godard did it with _Breathless_, even (sic) ten minutes he made a cut of a few feet of film. It kept the audience off balance. It seemed to work with Illuminatus, too.

When we were doing the cutting I was in Mexico and Shea was in Chicago and Dell was in New York, so in the process of these pages flowing back and forth through this loop, what got cut was lost permanently. I decided to accept it in the Zen way as a lucky accident. It turned out to be an even weirder book than we had planned. And the people at Dell were totally uninterested in literary qualities - they just thought it had enough sex and violence so it might succeed, and had no concept of literature at all. Nobody commented, "Hey you turned your book into total chaos." They were weighing it by the pound. If you've got a big name like Michener you can get a fat book published because everything he writes is a bestseller, but if you're unknown they divide it up into three books, cut it down to a size they can afford to lose in case it doesn't succeed.

michael said...

There's a video on YT, and probably at, about conspiracy theories. RAW sez there that Illuminatus was written 1969-70, then in 1974 he and Shea inserted stuff about Nixon before it got published in 1975.

So here we have yet another bit of narrative about Illuminatus!, this time not about cuts but additions.

michael said...

Interview with New Libertarian Notes/Weekly #39, dated 5 September, 1976:

Columbia Region New Libertarian Alliance: What kind of stuff was the 500 pages that got edited out of Illuminatus?

RAW: It was sacrilegious, blasphemous, obscene, subversive, funny, surrealistic, trippy and much like what did get published. The portion of hard anarchist propaganda in what got cut is perhaps somewhat greater than in what got printed, but I do not attribute that to a governmental conspiracy. Editors always amputate the brain first and preserve a good-looking corpse. I knew that, and told Shea they'd do it, so we put in so damned much anarchist material that a lot would be left even after the ceremonial castration.

CRNLA: Who wrote the _Atlas Shrugged_ parody in Illuminatus? Who wrote the appendices?

RAW: I wrote the _Telemachus Sneezed_section - which is not just a kick at poor old Rand, but also a self-parody of Illuminatus, and of Moby Dick, and of my arcane Joycean use of Moby Dick parallels in Illuminatus. Unfortunately, that section was particularly mauled and truncated by the editors. Originally, it was trans-Melville satire on all ideology and morality, including my own lapses into ethical thinking. I also wrote the Appendices on various occasions when very stoned as a parody on my style in my more academic essays.
Michael: So here we seem to have another wrinkle: the editors mauled parts of it, not just RAW and Shea cutting it up like a Godard film.

There are other clues, but I'm afraid I'm boring everyone here. Suffice: my main model is somewhat along Tom's lines: I suspect the number was less than the nice, round 500, but I still feel like I feel about the Library at Alexandria being burned down: I'd have loved a crazily-cut 1000+ page Illuminatus! The omnibus edition runs to 805; it seems easy to imagine it was originally over 1100 pages.

As time goes on, it gets more and more difficult to believe we're ever going to nail this down to our satisfaction. I realized this hard reality after reading the terrific work Tom did interviewing those editors who tried to remember what went on with the book.
See the David Hartwell and Jim Frenkel pieces across the page here-------->

michael said...

One last bit to thoroughly bore y'all:

Michael Taft: Were you still at Playboy when you started to write Illuminatus?

RAW: Yea. As a matter of fact I was still at Playboy when we finished Illuminatus. It just took five years to get it published. It just didn't fit into the Madison/Lexington Avenue reality tunnel. (Where all the big publishers are.) It took a long, long time. Shea and I never lost faith in it. We really believed we'd written a terrific book. (RAW laughs) But it took us five years to get it published anyway.

Taft: How did you finally end up getting it published?

RAW: Oh, somebody at Dell had the moxy to keep pushing until the superiors agreed. "Okay, we'll give it a chance, but cut it up into three books; that's not such a big risk." (Laughs)

Taft: Didn't you have to remove, like, 500 pages?

RAW: Yea, they wanted it to be shorter so the investment in paper would not be such a big financial risk. Those 500 pages got lost. When they made that decision, I was in Mexico, Shea was in Chicago, and Dell was in New York, with the papers flying back and forth as we made the cuts; most of the cuts got lost. People keep asking me, "Will they ever be published?" No. But some of them _have_ been published, in a sense, because some of them came back to my mind and got incorporated into another novel of mine called Schrodinger's Cat. Which explains why some of the characters from Illuminatus reappear in Schrodinger's Cat; this was material I remembered and re-created in Schrodinger's Cat.

(interview circa 2000)

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

Thanks a bunch for putting this together, Michael.

David Harris does not remember making significant changes, but Fred Feldman definitely did. I'll work on getting that interview up soon.

Eric Wagner said...

When I asked Bob about the missing pages of Illuminatus! in 1986 he said they had disappeared but that he had included a lot of the cut material in Schroedinger's Cat.

John Higgs said...

Interesting stuff!

There's a reference to there originally being 22 appendices with 8 cut "because of a worldwide paper shortage", isn't there, at the start of the appendices? (That's from memory, BTW, I may have the details slightly hazy.) That sounds like it could be a good part of the missing pagecount right there.

Incidentally the above mentions of a "certain Russian-American author" and Telemachus Sneezed above compels me by the laws of synchronicity to plug a blog post I put up last night, a guide to distinguishing RAW from Rand:

--Cheers, jh

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