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

Monday, September 30, 2013

'Coincidance' Week Three

Minoan snake goddess (context here)

"Mammary Metaphysics" was one of my favorite essays when I first read "Coincidance" a few years ago and responded by launching this blog. I can hardly hope to do justice to it (one problem is that I'm in the middle of working 10 days in a row), but here are a few notes:

 " ... anal persons worship reason and follow it with remorseless tenacity wherever it leads, although often having an equal capacity to ignore facts, which are after all on the sensory or sensuous level and therefore somewhat suspect." (page 48).

Wilson's target is Catholic theologians, but this could equally by applied to many libertarians on the right wing side of the movement, who have largely ignored the experiences of women and minorities. Libertarians of course stress the oppressive nature of the government. It was the intervention and power of the federal government in the U.S., however, which ended segregation and "Jim Crow" laws in much of the U.S. and many of the overt practices of discrimination against women. This inconvenient fact has left the libertarian movement in the U.S. mostly a movement of white males.

More generally, these seems like a restatement of "the map is not the territory," e.g., no ideology or model can cover all of the known facts, and there is a tendency to try to make the facts fit the ideology, rather than vice versa.

"The first early waves of the new paganism appeared in southern France in the 11th and 12th centuries." (Pages 50-51)

Many of the features of the movement Wilson writes about here appear in Robert Shea's excellent novel, All Things Are Lights, including Tantric sex, the courtly love movement and its poets, the Cathars and the Knights Templar.

Wilson's essay here would seem to illuminate his remark, in one of his letters to Green Egg, that " Christianity is only degenerate Eleusianism: on the occasion when it has come alive it was, briefly, revived Eleusiniasm, e.g. France 1100-1300."

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Timothy Leary RAW correspondence at the New York Public Library

The official opening of the Timothy Leary archives at the New York Public Library naturally leaves me curious about the correspondence between Leary and Robert Anton Wilson that might be housed there. A Twitter exchange:

Saturday, September 28, 2013

John Higgs KLF book now out in paperback

John Higgs' The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds has been released in paperback in the United Kingdom.

If you've arrived late to the party, this is ostensibly a pop music biography. But the KLF was a very strange musical duo deeply influenced by Illuminatus! and the ideas of Robert Anton Wilson, and the book is about RAW as much as it is about pop music. (This isn't just special pleading by me. Higgs: "One of the main reasons for writing it was a desire to write about Robert Anton Wilson and Discordianism, because that was the obvious next step after writing a book about [Timothy] Leary.") There are many references in the duo's lyrics to the Justified Ancients of Mummu mentioned in Illuminatus! (The KLF book is to ordinary pop music bios as Gulliver's Travels is to ordinary travelogues. Indeed, the book is so odd and fascinating that Higgs recoiled a bit from the weirdness of it and briefly considered not releasing it.)

The new paperback is augmented with color photos, all the more striking for the perfectly straightforward cutlines explaining the odd events that are being depicted, e.g. " 'I Died for Ewe.' A dead sheep, which narrowly avoided being dismembered on stage and thrown into the audience, seen here dumped on the venue steps."

No U.S. paperback has been released, although in this day and age, that seems like a quaint complaint; Americans can order the book from Amazon UK, the Book Depository, etc.

My interview with Higgs  on the book — quite interesting, see for yourself — is here.

Friday, September 27, 2013

New Maybe Logic Subreddit

Bobby Campbell has created a new Maybe Logic Subrreddit for Robert Anton Wilson fans. It has a nice design and useful links. I've subscribed and wish Bobby best of luck with it; I've added it to my "Resources" list on the right side of the page.

Bonus link: This blog seems interesting, if rather intermittent.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Talking with the editor of Illuminatus!

Back in the early 1970s, before it was published, Illuminatus! was a manuscript of hundreds of pages, sitting in a corrugated cardboard box in the offices of Dell Books in New York City.

The Dell editor who edited Illuminatus! (or at least did most of the editing -- see below) was a guy named Fred Lawrence Feldman. About a couple of years ago, I tracked him down and he agreed to let me interview him.  As you're about to read, Feldman also is the guy who introduced Wilson and Shea to Al Zuckerman,  who became their agent. (Mr. Feldman is not a philosophy professor or a Marxist activist, so he is neither of the “Fred Feldman” listings in Wikipedia.)

Although Dell editor David Harris apparently made the decision to separate the book into three parts, turning it into a fantasy/SF trilogy, a format familiar to readers of the genre, most the editing of the book apparently was done by Feldman. At of this late date, my interview with him apparently is the best record of how much editing (and cutting) was done.

Unfortunately, one question that my interview doesn’t answer is who acquired the manuscript for Illuminatus! When I interviewed David Hartwell, he thought it was Feldman. Feldman, however, insists that someone else had acquired the book before he began work on editing it.

I interviewed Mr.  Feldman in November 2010, recording the interview using Google Voice. I am sorry that it has taken to so long to publish highlights of the interview, but transcribing interviews is a long, hard task. This is not the whole interview, but I’ve attempted to transcribe everything that would be of interest to RAW scholars.  I hope you will enjoy it as a look at the Illuminatus! editing process, and how the books fit into the publishing world of the 1970s.

For more insight into the editing of Illuminatus!, see my interview with David Harris. For other interviews with editors who worked with Robert Anton Wilson, see my James Frenkel and David Hartwell and Teresa Nielsen Hayden interviews.

Feldman has written a number of novels and now works with nonprofits in their fund-raising campaigns.

“It’s a fancy way of saying I’m responsible for a lot of the junk mail you get,” he said.
His latest book is How to Save the World on $5 a Day.

I opened my interview by asking Feldman how he became the editor who handled  Illuminatus!

Tell me just a little bit about yourself. When did you work at Dell, and how did it come about that you published these books?

I graduated from college in '72 and traveled for awhile. Had some friends in New York. I knew kind of that I belonged in New York.

I was always a writer/English major kind of guy. So I went to New York and looked for some jobs -- you know, first job out of college, real job. The one that I got was an entry level position as publicity associate at Dell Books. I worked there for about a year, publicity, and became friends with a guy named David Harris, who was a science fiction editor there at the time.

I've interviewed Mr. Harris, too.

Cool. I think he must have acquired the Illuminatus! manuscript because it was there when I got there. But anyway -- David told me -- I'm pretty sure we became friendly. I think we ate lunch together. It was so long ago. I’m pretty sure we became friendly. He told me was about to leave Dell, was planning on leaving Dell.

I made it known -- I had gotten pretty close to some of the editors. They were kind of mentors to me. They were older guys but they were  mentors. I said I would be interested from moving from publicity to editorial. I got that job, I got David's job.

This is interesting, because I had understood you were the acquiring editor --

No, no, it was definitely there. It's my recollection that it was there. When David was showing me around his office, which was going to be my office, which was windowless  and like an elevator… he was showing me around and he said, "And then in this box, there's this." It was like God only knows, 1,500 pages of manuscript, Illuminatus!.

I can't tell you how that book got to Dell. I really do not know.

Is it possible that literary agent Henry Morrison's wife bought it when she was running the department? 

Who was she? What's her name?

I think her name may have been Gail.

I'm trying to think of who was running the editorial department. I think it was a woman named Robin Kuriakis [I'm guessing at the spelling here, can anyone help? -- Tom] , for some reason, rings a bell..... I can name some of the editors there. There was a guy named Bill Gross. There was a guy named John Boswell. Bill might have been senior executive editor.

I can't tell you. I really don’t know.  I just seem to remember there was a box, there was a corrugated cardboard carton on the floor. There were a lot of pages in this thing.  We need another source to explain that deal.

Mr. Harris told me that he did a lot of the production work. He told me he made the decision to split the book  into three parts.

I don’t who who did that.

I’ll tell you this. Obviously, there was no way a book like this, a genre book, would be published this large.  The largest book at the time, and it was precedent setting, it was the history of Germany, I can’t remember the title -- “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.”

Here’s the deal -- you have to remember back then how this business worked, the mass market paperback business. There were approximately 26 titles a month put out. That sounds like an incredible number of titles. We put out that many. There were tons of category books.  Again, you have to remember -- no Internet, no Walkman, no alternative portable entertainment except the paperback book. And they were cheap. 95 cents, a buck and a quarter, a buck fifty. You could buy them in multiples even then.

Men bought science fiction, westerns, mysteries. I don’t mean to generalize, but the market being what it is, men bought those kinds of books, more masculine books, soft core, risque, R-rated kinds of books. Women tended to go with historical romances, Regency romances. And this was how you filled out your list. You had a lead title, you had several secondary titles, you had one each of these titles.

And publishers had to do this to protect their rack space.

Today, when you go to the supermarket, Pepperidge Farms might have 18 different kinds of bread. They don’t have those 18 kinds of bread because they want to have those 18  kinds of bread. They have them because they have to protect their shelf space. If they don’t fill up their quota of shelf, other brands will encroach upon them.

That’s how the paperback business worked. There were no Borders, no Barnes and Nobles. We had third party distributors who would take books on consignment.

And they’d send out salesmen who went around to drugstores and what have you, and  filled up what they called pizza racks, which were these rotating racks with paperbacks, and at the end of the month, they’d come back and take them back. You sometimes used to see, you don’t see it much anymore, paperback books with no front cover. Because you didn’t really need to send back the whole book to get credit from the publisher. All you had to do was send back the cover. And sometimes, less than scrupulous people would resell them on the secondary market.

In one of those pizza racks, if you tried to put, I’m looking at my three copies here, you could maybe get two or three copies of a book like Illuminatus! in.  Those two or three copies may or may not sell, but once they were gone, nobody would remember what was there. To protect ourselves, and to get a sufficient number of copies of the book into  the wire rack, we had to make it thin enough to fit multiple copies. So that’s why we did it, and also it filled up space. If you can get three months of science fiction product out there, versus one month, that’s what you do.

Mr. Harris, when I interviewed him, he remember clearly making the decision to divide it up into three books.

He may well have.

He said he had to argue with Robert Anton Wilson to persuade Mr. Wilson that publishing reality being what it was, that was the only way they could do it.

I suspect he’s right when he said that. Robert Anton Wilson was not trusting -- I don’t think he was happy .... I seem to remember it was a struggle to get him to get on board with the way we were going to produce the books.

Do you remember if you had to make cuts in the manuscript?

Oh yes. I remember that. I dove into that with all of the enthusiasm of a guy like a first lieutenant. I dove in. I was totally confident I could do it. I felt very good about my abilities. I just felt I could do it, I felt like I was the right guy to do it. I had hair in those days and I was in the counterculture with the rest of them. I felt like, I’m the guy to do this. I don’t remember having any qualms about doing it. I just felt that I had to shape this into a story -- a beginning, middle and end story. I felt that very strongly. I may well have looked to advice from some of the guys who were mentoring me, like I told you. I remember definitely cutting, and I think that might have been a sore point with Robert Anton Wilson, not so much Robert Shea.

I introduced both of these guys to, at the time, a new agent who I had become very close to ----

Would that  be Al Zuckerman? 

Al Zuckerman, right.

Now, of course today, Al is one of the premiere agents in the business. He had a new client at that time, a young untested British guy by the name of Ken Follett. That seems to have worked out for them. Of course, Al has many other very important clients, a thriving agency, Writer’s House, and I think is a patriarch of the business at this point.

But at the time, he didn’t have any clients. At the time, believe it or not, I’d sometimes vacate my office for a little time so he could use my phone. It was just a different time. He was just starting out. He got his first office, Writer’s House, and I remember going over to see it, I was so pleased. He’s older than me. He came from an academic background.

But anyway, I introduced them both. I remember Bob Shea remembered doing a couple of historic Japanese sagas with Al that did very well, and then I kind of lost track of him.

[As I wrote in this blog post on August 29, 2012, I eventually got Zuckerman on the phone and asked the famous literary agent who bought Illuminatus! He replied, “Fred Feldman.” When I explained that Feldman said it was there when he got there, Zuckerman said, “Then I don’t know.”]

Do you remember what changes you made in the book or what you felt you had to cut to shape it into a publishable work?

Do I remember?

Do you remember what kind of changes you made -- 

I think I was probably motivated, as I said, by  trying to develop some sort of momentum, a plot momentum, so that it had a plot. I probably felt that I needed a beginning, middle and end, so that if somebody bought the first one,  they’d want to buy the second one, and the third one, to know what was going to happen.  I think that was probably the weakest part of the raw manuscript, of forward story momentum.  I probably tried to bring a little of that to it.

You have to understand, when one does this, one has page limits. There are so many signatures you can have. I was probably driven by working with the copyeditors to make sure each book fit into the quota for paper. You have to buy paper. You just can’t go on forever. There’s a certain amount of paper you have.

I was probably driven by both practical and aesthetic reasons to edit the way I did. But specific editing choices I made, I could not tell you …..

When you read the book in places, it reads like sort of like a late Robert Heinlein novel. The characters are giving some pretty long speeches and lectures. 

That’s part and parcel of what it is. It’s a philosophical, it’s like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, if you know what I mean. It is a fairly didactic book, as I flip through it. I probably tried to keep it moving, but  I wasn’t going to change what those guys wanted to say, although I probably rewrote a little bit. I can’t remember. I won’t say I rewrote.

It’s the nature of line editing, which is what I did. I was not a copyeditor. We had a whole staff of folks who knew like i before e except after c, and where the colon goes, and all that stuff, when it’s a semicolon, when it’s not. I don’t know any of that stuff, I never did.

I was the guy who would, you know, go out, buy a paperback original, punch up the sex scenes, punch up the violence. That’s what a line editor does. A line editor makes it a good read.  There are other folks who do the proofreading and the queries and make sure that it’s fairly close to real English. A lot of times they want to change it into real English, and a guy like me, the line editor, the acquisitions editor, says no, this is how  we want it to be, because it’s a better read this way.

Do you remember at this late date, and of course it’s been more than 30 years, whether you had to make really substantial cuts and take a lot out of it, or just a little bit.

I seem to remember there might have been some arguments with those guys. I don’t know if both guys, or just Wilson. But  I do think I probably had to make significant cuts. I won’t say substantial but significant.

Do you remember anything at this point about whether Mr. Shea was easier to work with than Mr. Wilson? 

I don’t remember Mr. Shea being even that involved. I do think I met him once or twice. I seem to think I did.  I probably took  him out to lunch  because that’s how I ate. I was making like nine grand a year, but I did have an expense account.  So I tried to book as many lunches as I could ….

What do you think about the fact that this book that you worked on so long ago has remained in print? You could probably go to your local Borders and there’d be a one volume omnibus of it. What do you think of the fact it’s been able to last for so long?

I just think it’s funny. Your know, it’s ironic. Go figure. You never know what’s going to work out. I take pride in it. I take pleasure.

I rarely run into anybody who knows about it. It’s a cult thing. It never comes up in my life. I never run into anybody who knows about it.


I just never have. I’m touched by your letter to Al Weatherhead, I think you said people know who i am, attached to this. It never even occurred to me anybody would have know who I was.

I gather by the time the books you came out, you were the guy in charge, and Mr. Harris had left.

Harris left before we started editing, as far as I know. Now if he says differently, he’s right. I’m only telling you to the best of my memory something that was a long time ago, and was not that significant at the time.

I seem to think I edited the raw manuscript. If he had already taken a chop at it,  and he says so, then he’s right.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Introducing Klaas Pieter van der Tempel

So a few days ago, Andrew Crawshaw writes to me and points out a document that Nick Helweg-Larsen pointed him to: A master's thesis by a guy named Klaas Pieter van der Tempel on Joseph Campbell and Robert Anton Wilson.

I did a Google search for the author and found his High Programming website. Click "Essays" and you'll  find the aforementioned master's thesis, and several other documents, including a piece of Aleister Crowley, an analysis of RAW's Quantum Psychology, articles on modern physics and Wilhelm Reich, an article on Timothy Leary, and a free ebook, Pause, Play: A Higher Consciousness Handbook. I have not had time to read much of this yet, but the master's thesis looked interesting when I skimmed it. I'll be reading more soon.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

News from California and London

Nick Helweg-Larsen wrote to me to point out that on the official Robert Anton Wilson page, there is a link asking for donations to help pay off debts to the RAW Estate.

It's on the auction page, and I don't know how long it has been up. It says, "You can make a donation here, directly to the Robert Anton Wilson Estate bank account that will help with ending the debt load. This donation is not tax-deductible, but it is a direct link to manifesting Bob's final wishes - to help his disabled son, preserve his works, and to keep the lasagna flying! None of this can occur until we manage to eliminate the Estate debts. Any gifts received will be acknowledged by a thank you letter from the RAW Estate, and you will also receive your personal Tsar Card and a Praise Bob MAYBE decal to decorate your own reality tunnel! Much love, Christina."

Meanwhile, over in England, John Higgs has gotten a look at Daisy Eris Campbell's to bring Cosmic Trigger to the stage  (she's Ken Campbell's daughter, remember). John Tweets, "Been to an early read-through of Daisy Campbell's stage version of Cosmic Trigger. Phenomenonal."

Monday, September 23, 2013

Coincidance, Week Two

Judging from Robert Anton Wilson's introductory remarks to his article "The Motherfucker Mystique," the original manuscript of his book Playboy's Book of Forbidden Words would appear to be the great lost RAW work that none of us have ever read, or are ever likely to read.

If the corrected excerpt here is any way to judge, it would have been an interesting book. Given Wilson's apparently inability to preserve his literary papers, and his frequent moves, it seems unlikely that there is a manuscript anywhere that would allow the original book to be published.

Wilson's observation that the word "motherfucker" is often used "casually and cordially" was brought home to me years ago, when I was at a heavy metal bar in Lawton, Oklahoma (where I lived for many years). The lead singer (I am paraphrasing from memory, but this is close) said, "I think we have some drunken motherfuckers here who like to get drunk and party! Do we have some drunken motherfuckers here who like to get drunk and party?" (Loud cheers in response.) It occurred to me at the time that it was unlikely the conductor of the Lawton Philharmonic Orchestra would be likely to try to bond with his audience by saying, "Do we have some drunken motherfuckers here who like to get drunk and party?"

I'll let someone who knows more about werewolves than I do analyze Wilson's poem. I've put a photo of Werewolf Bridge, near Chanute, Kansas, at the top of this blog post, taken from this photo gallery.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Hail Eris, Sol's satellite

Eris is more than a Greek god and Ares' sister. She's also the biggest dwarf planet in the Solar System, considerably larger than Pluto. It has its own moon, Dysnomia, or "lawlessness," named after Eris' daughter.

The astronomer who named her, Mike Brown,  who has explained that he named the dwarf planet after his favorite goddess. Brown's book, How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming, goes into considerable detail about the legend of Eris and the golden apple and the origin of the Trojan war. Brown's book title is oddly reminiscent of the subtitle of Principia Discordia, "How I Found Goddess and What I Did to Her When I Found Her."

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Various links

I did not know that Thomas Paine suggested a basic income guarantee. But Michael Johnson knew. 

Michael (on a hot streak lately) also talks about a possible Pynchon movie.  And here is Michael on how visuals alter listeners' appreciation of music. ("It has always been quite an 'open secret' that the coolest-looking guitarist will always be more impressive to the fans than the guy who is not all that attractive but plays circles around the cool looking dude.")

Speaking of Pynchon, hey, take that, well-reviewed recluse! (For context, go here.)

The AP on the Leary papers collection going public.  The article answers the main question I had: "For now, the library has no plans to make the archive available online."

Van Gogh fake not a fake. Hat tip, Ted Hand.

Oz Fritz continues his series about Aleister Crowley, and brings Robert Anton Wilson and Timothy Leary into the discussion.

Friday, September 20, 2013

'Find the others'

One of the most important features of this blog, at least for me, is that it has helped me "find the others," in Timothy Leary's phrase. When I was in college in the 1970s (University of Oklahoma) I read Illuminatus! for the first time and met libertarians on campus who also had read the book. But since then, except for contacts with with old friends from OU, I can't remember interacting with other RAW fans.

I have found it very gratifying that because of this blog, I have met other RAW fans. I hope this blog has been a vehicle for some of the rest of you to find the others, too.

In connection with that, here is a fine illustration of Timothy Leary's "find the others" rap from Zen Pencils.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Daily Grail on RAW

The Daily Grail website ("Exploring the fringes of science and history" -- it seems to have a lot of material RAWheads would like) puts up a piece about the Maybe Logic movie (and includes a video of the film.) The post, written by Greg Taylor, says, "The world is full of wanna-be leaders, teachers and sages, keen to tell you how to live. Strangely enough, in my own mental travels the closest I've come to finding one is a man who was totally antithetical to the idea of one person holding a greater truth: Robert Anton Wilson."

The site includes a blog called "Air Lasagna."

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Timothy Leary news

A handsome new Timothy Leary website has just gone up, related to the new R.U. Sirius Leary biography. The "Offshoots" area, about work influenced by Timothy Leary, features an interview with Antero Alli about the Eight Circuit Model of Consciousness, as developed by Leary, Robert Anton Wilson and Mr. Alli.

The New York Public Library's collection of Timothy Leary papers is supposed to open to the public this month, and there was some sort of NYPL event Tuesday night, apparently to celebrate it, according to a series of Tweets from the Timothy Leary Futique Twitter account. More about the Leary papers when I learn more.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Jesse Walker on Illuminatus!

The Cato podcast interview of Jesse Walker by Caleb Brown opens with a question about Illuminatus, which I take the liberty of transcribing:

Caleb Brown: I guess my introduction into conspiracy theories was Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea's  The Illuminatus trilogy, which for those who haven't read it, sort of wraps up all of the great conspiracy theories  effectively into one grand conspiracy theory --

Jesse Walker: Or a mosaic of conspiracies --

Caleb Brown: That have somehow been going for thousands of  years.

Jesse Walker: The great thing about that book, which is in  my book -- People sometimes say it treats every conspiracy as true.  It might be more accurate to say that it treats every way at looking at the world as equally true and equally absurd, and then sort of sees what it can tease out from that.  Those two, particularly Wilson, represent what I call in the book the ironic style of political paranoia, or the ironic style of conspiracism, I should say. That's people who, they're not interested so much in talking about conspiracy theories to debunk them, or to say hey this is one that I think that is true, although sometimes they might do that their own merits,  but just to have fun with them, to explore them.  They're this big mutant mythology. Let's find what kind of laughs we can find in there. Let's find what kind of social insights can be found in there. [I  snip the last part of the answer, which explains how Walker's book does something similar, treating conspiracy theories as folklore.]

Transcribing is a pain, so I hope Jesse forgives me for truncating his answer. The whole podcast is worth listening to (about 15 minutes) and Illuminatus! comes up again. Walker observes, "The authors have said that some of the fun pranks that they pulled, is there are some things that sound like plausible history that could be true, but they just completely made up historical details. There are other things that sounded completely absurd but are actually true that they threw in there."

Monday, September 16, 2013

'Coincidance' Week One

Here's a good sentence from Robert Anton Wilson's essay, "Synchonicity and Isomorphism in Finnegans Wake":

"Vico said that every verbal coincidence was a poem showing a new reality."

That's at the top of page 23 in my New Falcon edition, and it seems to be like a pretty good one sentence summary of the article.

I am no Joyce scholar, and I am counting on the James Joyce experts to weigh in, using the comments. I suppose everyone reading the article will have his own verbal coincidences that come to mind. Every time I see Joyce's name, I can't help think of another Joyce, a young woman I got a crush on in college at about the time I was reading Illuminatus! A verbal coincidence: Joyce's middle name is Elaine. My wife Ann's middle name is Elaine.

On page 21, Wilson mentions a Dublin bookstore named Brown and Nolan. Barnes and Noble, a bookstore with the same initials, is the last major bookstore chain standing in the U.S. -- if I had chosen to buy my copy of Coincidance at a bookstore rather than from Amazon, it's where I would have gone.

Wilson writes repeatedly of the two girls and three British soldiers who encounter H.C. Earwicker in the incident in Phoenix Park (page 10, for example); Wilson doesn't say so, but wouldn't this be an example of the Law of Fives? Also on page 10, Wilson offers the theory that the incident occurred at 11:32 a.m. When I got in my car Sunday morning to run the first errand of the day, trying to think of what I should write in this blog entry, I glanced at the clock in my car's dashboard and noticed that it was 11:32 a.m.

Wilson mentions on the last page of the essay that Ireland is divided into four provinces.  Coincidance is divided into four parts, each of which has a James Joyce essay.

Reading Wilson's essay made me aware of more holes in my reading: I haven't read Tristam Shandy or The Golden Bough. I downloaded them both and put them on my Kindle. Reading the essay also reminded me that I simply have to read Frances Yates Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition. (As he often did, Wilson misspells her name as "Francis.")

For a reading schedule for the online discussion of Coincidance, see this blog entry.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Reed's 'Mumbo Jumbo' and Illuminatus!

I just finished reading Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo, in the course of which I made an interesting discovery: Illuminatus! misquotes the book (or, depending on how you look it, Illuminatus! paraphrases it.)

At the beginning of Illuminatus!, on the title page for Book One:

The  history of the world is the history of the warfare  between secret  societies.

                                                              -- Ishmael Reed, Mumbo-Jumbo

This is what Reed actually wrote: "Someone once said that beneath or behind all political and cultural warfare lies a struggle between secret societies." I'm not clear if Wilson and Shea were relying upon memory or if they felt the need to rewrite what Reed actually wrote. The Reed quote would arguably have been stronger if Wilson and Shea had actually quoted what he wrote, lopping off the first four words. Note also that the title of the book is wrong. It's  Mumbo Jumbo, not Mumbo-Jumbo. 

The resemblances between Mumbo  Jumbo and Illuminatus! are interesting; both describe the struggles between secret societies, although in Reed's work it's the white monotheists (the bad guys) versus the black polytheists (the heroes). In an interview in The Illuminati Papers, Wilson says, "I didn't read Mumbo Jumbo until about 3 years after Illuminatus! was finished. The same is true of Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. The astonishing resemblances between those three books are coincidence, or synchronicity, or Higher Intelligence (take your pick). I love everything Ishmael Reed writes, and I once sent him an official Discordian certificate making him a Pope in the Legion of Dynamic Discord." So the paraphrase from Mumbo Jumbo presumably was inserted late in the publishing process.

Here is a good review of Mumbo Jumbo from one of my favorite critics, Ted Gioia. I am not sure I can agree, however, with Gioia's comment that "you are best served if you come to this novel with a deep knowledge of history." Ignorance of history is helpful in many places in the section near the end of the book where Reed offers his grand conspiracy theory of history, because the narrative has many jarring mistakes. Constantine was not converted to Christianity in "the late 4th century B.C.," A.D. 378 is not the correct date for the destruction of pagan temples by Emperor Theodosius (the Alexandrian Serapeum was destroyed in A.D. 391 or so), an ancient Egyptian could not have come to South America and made contact with the Incas, and so on.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Pynchon vs. Wilson

After I wrote yesterday's post, Jesse Walker called my attention to a 2006 blog post, by one Rufus Flypaper.

Mr. Flypaper writes that

" ... many of the things that I enjoy in Robert Anton Wilson's novels- the endless array of characters and events, the silly surrealism, the corny names, and complex physics and philosophy thrown in- annoy me in Pynchon's novels. And I think maybe it's partially because Thomas Pynchon is supposed to be a great novelist, and Robt. Wilson is a "stand-up philosopher". I definitely don't think of Wilson as a great novelist; but then again, I don't think of Voltaire as a great playwright either. It's the fun of watching a deeply humane gadfly tossing out ideas that I enjoy. Maybe the reason that I like R.A.W. more is simply that I've never felt any pressure to take his books seriously in any way, while the massively overestimated Pynchon has always been presented to me as A Great Writer.

"I don't think of Pynchon as a great writer any more than I do Wilson. But, there's something deeply childish about Pynchon's novels that irritates me. They seem to have been written by someone with very little interest in humanity. Robt. Wilson is deeply humane, and I just don't get that with Pynchon, even with his sympathetic characters. Of course, a novelist needn't be humane- many of the best aren't! But, a pile of fascinating minutiae should add up to something aside from a paranoid/autistic tangle. And I'm not convinced that it ever does in Pynchon."

It seems to me what what Rufus put his finger on is that expectations play a large role in how we receive works on art; when I get around to reading Pynchon, it better be pretty darn good, or it won't live up to the hype. Similarly, I would guess that many of us have had the experience of seeing a heavily-panned movie and finding that it turned out to be pretty entertaining; it can be easier to enjoy something if your expectations originally were low. Robert Anton Wilson probably benefits from the fact that his readers are allowed to enjoy a sense of discovery. You're not discovering anyone if you read Pynchon or Don DeLillo. You're reading an author you've been told over and over again is a Great Author.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Great writers and underdogs

The other day, I admitted on Twitter that I've never gotten around to trying any Pynchon, that it was a "hole" in my reading record, and Roman Tsivkin teased, "Jesus, Tom, that ain't no "hole" in your reading, it's a black hole! Quick, read some Pynchon before you destroy us all :)"

Of course, it is embarrassing. But I wanted to say, "But I am reading someone I'm supposed to read, right now! I'm reading Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Read."

The whole business of reading writers that one is "supposed" to read fascinates me. I asked a friend of mine a few years ago if he had read anything by Don DeLillo. He answered, "No, and don't tell  anyone." I loved that answer. I didn't tell  anyone. I haven't read DeLillo, either. But I've read a lot of Richard Powers; does that count for anything?

Also, although I know I need to try writers that are new to me, and I do, my instinct is to keep exploring the authors I love. I have a Vladimir Nabokov at the house I haven't gotten around to reading yet! (Ada.)

For me, it's not just a matter of Great Writers, it's sticking up for writers who are maybe great and definitely in danger of being forgotten. I love underdogs. I view Robert Anton Wilson as a kind of underdog, someone who never seems to have gotten  his due from literary critics. Illuminatus! does have an audience, but not as large as I would like. But at least people mention it. How come nobody but RAW fans talk about The Widow's Son?

I count RAW as a favorite writer, but it's not like he's the only writer I like. But many of my other favorites don't need any help from me. Neal Stephenson, Iain M. Banks, Vladimir Nabokov ... they don't need a blogger sticking up for them.

I did a fan page for George Alec Effinger a few years ago. He was a really good writer, quite an original one, and I'll bet most of you have never heard of him. Maybe instead of Roman  Tsivkin trying to get me to read Pynchon, I should be trying to get Roman to read George Alec Effinger.

Who is  your favorite "underdog" writer?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Third Head of Cerberus and other science fiction news

Today's blog post provides a bit more information on a couple of items that I have just mentioned in passing. Supergee (aka Arthur Hlavaty) a noted science fiction fan and Robert Anton Wilson expert, will be one of the guests of honor at Detcon 1, a NASFiC being held  July 17-20 2014 in Detroit.

Mr. Hlavaty is, as he points out in a comment a couple of postings ago, the third head in a triad attraction; the official announcement on the Detcon1 home page lists "Bernadette Bosky, Arthur D. Hlavaty and Kevin J. Maroney," explaining, "A long-term triad marriage, combining fan, academic, and pro activity in F/SF." There are biographies of the trio if you click on this link; Mr. Maroney is the publisher of the New York Review of Science Fiction, and as I've noted, you may download the 300th anniversary issue for free.

Mr. Hlavaty, the guy on the right in the red shirt if you check out the official Detcon1 portrait that I've posted with this item, is a very prominent fan writer nominated multiple times for the Best Fan Writer Hugo Award. But let's pursue the "local angle" for a moment: He is a big fan/scholar of Robert Anton Wilson. In the olden days, i.e. before the Internet, the way in fandom to pursue a group discussion on a topic was to found an apa. Arthur founded The Golden APA in 1979, and both Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson were contributors. My interview with Arthur about the Golden APA is here.  Arthur's review of The Illuminati Papers (dated, but still interesting, he says) is here. 

A NASFiC (or "North American Science Fiction Convention")  is held in the years when the worldcon is overseas; as I understand it, it is meant to provide a big convention for folks who normally would attend a Worldcon but are not rich enough to journey to Australia, the United Kingdom, Japan or wherever. Next year's worldcon will be in London, so hence Detcon1.

About the above photo: I only met Kevin Maroney in person because years ago, I visited my old friend Brett Cox in North Carolina, before he obtained his Ph.D. and became an English professor (he's now at Norwich University in Vermont). Brett gave me a tour of local bookstores (this is what you do when the book nerd is visiting) and I met Kevin at the science fiction bookstore where he worked in North Carolina's Triangle area. In one of those wonderful coincidences, if you look closely at the above picture, you can see Brett's head, in between Kevin and Bernadette. The photo was taken at the International Conference of the Fantastic in the Arts.

The Detcon1 announcement and even the Hugo Awards are not the biggest science fiction news of the last few days; the biggest would be the death of science fiction writer, editor, fan and memoirist Frederick Pohl. For my attempt to explain why Pohl was perhaps the most remarkable success story in the field, go here.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Housekeeping and links

I've added some new links under "Feature Articles and Interviews" for the latest original articles and republished 'lost' RAW articles featured recently on this blog, including five RAW letters to Green Egg magazine, Wilson and Shea's article on crime and anarchist, Jesse Walker on his new book and Nick Mennuti on his new book.

A few links:

The lies behind this war by Justin Raimondo.

Michael Johnson on the looming war with Syria.  ("This invention of a "red line" that Assad wasn't to step over or the world-straddling Cop On The Beat Unistat will retaliate? It's fucking phony and misses the whole point. Once dropping bombs on civilians from planes was crossing a red line.")

Reading a river passage in Finnegans Wake (by PQ)

Journalist faces 105 year for posting a link. (True, threatening an FBI agent's family on YouTube was certainly a mistake).

RIP science fiction writer Fred Pohl.

Bruce Schneier on how to protect yourself from NSA surveillance (if  you're a total nerd, I guess. Gary Acord understands all this stuff, I don't.)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

R. M. Johnson on H. P. Lovecraft

OK, so I take a few days off -- off from work, off from the blog (I wrote all of last week's entries in advance), and I find there's cool stuff to get caught up on. Supergee is the guest of honor for a big convention! Obama is serious about this war thing!

But first, I wanted to say that I hope you didn't miss Michael Johnson's excellent essay on H.P. Lovecraft. Excerpt:

It's cool that maybe a few thousand MA and PhD theses will be written on Lovecraft, but for me: Contra the common claim of critics that HPL's style was "execrable," I love his baroque catachreses and mixed metaphors, his obscure words and borrowings from science and Egyptology and late 18th/early 19th century archaisms, his psychedelic mixture of factual content with the speculative and eldritch bizarre imaginings. If academics see fit to worm Cthuhu into canonicity, fine, but trying to assert that he's not tainted by "being" a science fiction or horror writer (declared declasse and out-of-bounds among the Highly Learned long ago) and rather his classification is now respectably "Weird" like someone in, I don't know.

More here.

Dan Clore plugs his Lovecraft book here. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Coincidance: Reading schedule and introductory remarks

When I recently posted a proposed reading schedule for the online discussion of Coincidance, which officially begins next week, the main feedback I got was that 10 weeks was too fast. So here is a new schedule which spreads the discussion out over 12 weeks, with about 21 pages a week. (Some weeks will be a few more pages, some a few less; I want to discuss the essays as a whole, not bits of them. So rather than listing page numbers I'll just name the pieces in the book for that week.)

I also thought I'd give a little background  on the book.

Coincidance: A Head Test was published in 1988, when Robert Anton Wilson turned 56. The publication date falls at the end of his second period, which ends with the publication of Nature's God in 1988. (His work seems to fall within three broad periods; the middle period is when he published his novels and the third and last period was devoted solely to nonfiction.) However, like other later collections such as Email to the Universe, Coincidance is a collection which draws pieces from a long span of years from Wilson's career. Also in 1988, Wilson published Neuropolitique (with Timothy Leary and George Koopman, a revision of Neuropolitics, and  Sex, Drugs & Magick: A Journey Beyond Limits (revision of the earlier book). Quantum Psychology, the topics of an earlier online discussion, came out in 1990.

(Note: In the comments, Eric Wagner objects that Sex, Drugs and Magick came out in the 1990s; I was relying on the bibliography at the Wikipedia article and don't have anything handy I can double check. Eric also pointed out that RAW publishes two screenplays in his reputed third period, so I have changed the word "fiction" in the above paragraph to "novels.")

While Coincidance covers a wide range of topics, the book has four long pieces about James Joyce's writing and begins and ends with a Joyce article.

Wilson's publisher, New Falcon, says that Coincidance was one of Wilson's favorite books.

The book illustrates New Falcon's strength and weakness as a publisher. One the one hand, New Falcon put the book out no doubt exactly as Wilson wrote it and has faithfully kept it in print. On the other hand, there are few signs of editing or marketing, and New Falcon has failed to make it available as an ebook.

Incidentally, I was inspired to begin this blog after I read Coincidance for the first time.

The online discussion begins Sept. 16 with Week One.

Coincidance discussion schedule:

Week One: "Fore-Words," "Synchronicity and Isomorphism in Finnegans Wake." (Sept. 16).

Week Two: "Werewolf Bridge," "The Motherfucker Mystique." (Sept. 23).

Week Three: "Mammary Metaphysics," "Jazz Haiku." (Sept. 30).

Week Four: "How to Read/How to Think," "How to Read/How to Think Afterwords," "Shrapnel," "Why Do You Live in Ireland, Dr. Wilson?" "The Poet as Defense Early Warning Radar System." (Oct. 7)

Week Five: "Death and Absence in Joyce." (Oct. 14).

Week Six: "Introduction to Three Articles from THE REALIST," "The Doctor With the Frightened Eyes," "Thirteen Choruses for the Divine Marquis." (Oct. 21),

Week Seven: "The Married Catholic Priests Convention," "Self-Reflexive Surrealists Haiku," "The Godfathers and the Goddess." (Oct. 28)

Week Eight: "The Physics of Synchronicity," "Semper as Oxhousehumper," (Nov. 4).

Week Nine: "Interview with Sean MacBride." (Nov. 11).

Week Ten: "Religion for the Hell of It," "Comix and Cut-Ups." (Nov. 18).

Week Eleven: "No Waters in Cherry Valley by the Testicles," "Shrapnel." (Nov. 25).

Week Twelve: "The Hidden Variables." (Dec. 2).

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Murray on the basic income guarantee

Yesterday, I linked to a couple of essays on the basic income guarantee idea as propounded by a leftist writer. I wanted to follow up with a couple of resources for Charles Murray, the controversial libertarian writer who also is an advocate for the idea.

Here are 10 questions for Murray, a reasonably-sized article which offers an introduction to some of his ideas. And here is an hour-long C-Span video from 2006 in which he discusses his advocacy of a basic income, also explored in his book, In Our Hands: A Plan to Replace the Welfare State.  (Apparently I can't embed the video, I can only link to it.)

Here is a New Yorker article about Murray shocking a conservative conference by expressing support for gay marriage.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Two basic income guarantee essays

Robert Anton Wilson advocated a basic income guarantee -- he was agnostic about the form it would take -- and the idea continues to bubble up.

Allen Sheahen has written a new book about the idea, A Basic Income Guarantee: Your Right to Economic Security. Well, actually it's an updated version of an old book.

The excellent Dangerous Minds blog recently has run two pieces by Sheahen, one here and a followup piece here.

Sheahen is a leftist. But interestingly, a look at the reviews of Sheahen's book on Amazon show that his book is endorsed by Charles Murray, the libertarian writer who advocated a basic income guarantee in his book, In Our Hands. 

I suppose it doesn't have anything to do with Sheahen's argument, but I notice that while the Kindle price of Murray's book is a reasonable $11.72, Sheahen's tome costs $25.27.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The war they didn't tell us about

I recently read The Secret Sentry by Matthew Aid, which is a history of the National Security Agency. (I snapped it up for $2.99 when Amazon put the Kindle version on sale.)

Many of the book's revelations were news to me, such as the fact that American forces intervened directly in the civil war in El Salvador (as opposed to sending supplies and advisers, which everyone knew about at the time.)

The El Salvador revelation is included in Chapter 10, Aid describes how reconnaissance aircraft were used to monitor the FMLN, the leftist rebels. He writes, "If he location of FMLN radio transmitters were triangulated, U.S. Air Force AC-130 gunships were called in from Panama to destroy the guerrilla bases, all of which was done in complete secrecy. It was a very serious and very secret war that was being fought in El Salvador." (Aid's notes on the chapter cites a "60 Minutes" TV program from May 21, 1995, as his source for the gunship attacks.)

I was paying close attention to the El Salvador news at the time, and I don't remember anyone reporting this. As usual, the information that U.S. gunships were actively involved was carefully hidden from the American's government's main enemy, the American people.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The science of Maybe Logic

We've talked before on this blog about "maybe logic," about Robert Anton Wilson's suggestion that people would be saner if they qualified their opinions with "maybe,"  and about his goal to convince people to approach opinions in a state of generalized agnosticism.

In an article published in 2008 at Salon, Dr. Robert Burton argues that we would all be less certain that we know the truth about a particular issue if we understood that certainty isn't always connected with a firm grasp of the facts.

"But modern biology is pointing in a different direction. It is telling us that despite how certainty feels, it is neither a conscious choice nor even a thought process. Certainty and similar states of 'knowing what we know' arise out of primary brain mechanisms that, like love or anger, function independently of rationality or reason. Feeling correct or certain isn’t a deliberate conclusion or conscious choice. It is a mental sensation that happens to us."

Burton writes that understanding brain biology explains "why your red is not my red." Who is the master who makes the grass green?

The article is excepted from a book. Since then, Burton has written another nonfiction book, A Skeptic's Guide to the Mind. He's also written three novels. Burton apparently is a neurologist and novelist; more information here. (Actually, it appears his name is "Robert A." Burton).

Via Timothy Leary Futique on Twitter. Despite the new vogue for uncertainty, I'm pretty sure it's worth following.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Academic Paper on Robert Anton Wilson and Discordianism

Eric Wagner spots something interesting: has made available a paper called "Making the Donkey Visible: Discordianism in the Works of Robert Anton Wilson" by David K. Robertson, available here (after you jump through a couple of registration hoops.) The work only was previously available in an expensive hardcover book.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Extraterrestrial gargoyles on medieval Scottish church

Gargoyles found on a Scottish 13th century church seem  like pretty conclusive evidence that medieval folk may have had contact with extraterrestrials, Dangerous Minds reports. The creatures on the abbey in Paisley, Scotland, look like critters from a science fiction movie or from the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

As authority figures are always telling us, however, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Dangerous Minds explains that many of the original gargoyles were replaced during renovations in the 1990s. "Minister of Paisley Abbey, the Reverend Alan Birss suspects that one of the stonemasons involved in the renovation may have been having a bit of fun."

Hat tip, hagbard celine on Twitter.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Coincidance Discussion

UPDATE: The reading schedule has been updated. Please see the Sept. 9 post.

Let's get the Coincidance discussion going on Sept. 16. Here are some suggestions on how to proceed -- as always, I welcome your suggestions and comments.

I'm going to suggest reading the book over 10 weeks. That's a pace that seemed to work OK for Masks of the Illuminati. My New Falcon edition is 248 pages, so it works out to 24 pages a week, and of course with a collection of short pieces it's easy for everyone to drop in and drop out, according to their interest in the varied subjects Wilson addresses.

A proposed schedule:

Week One: "Fore-Words" and "Synchronicity and Isomorphism in Finnegans Wake."

Week Two: "Werewolf Bridge," "The Motherfucker Mystique," "Mammary Metaphysics."

Week Three: "Jazz Haiku," "How to Read/How to Think," "How to Read/How to Think Afterwords"

Week Four: "Shrapnel," "Why Do You Live in Ireland, Dr. Wilson?" "The Poet As Defense Early Warning Radar System," "Death and Absence in Joyce."

Week Five: "Introduction to Three Articles from THE REALIST," "The Doctor with the Frightened Eyes," "Thirteen Choruses for the Divine Marquis."

Week Six: "The Married Catholic Priests Convention," "Self-Reflexive Surrealist Haiku," "The Godfathers and the Goddess," "The Physics of Synchronicity."

Week Seven: "Semper as Oxhousehumper,"

Week Eight: "Interview with Sean MacBride," "Religion for the Hell of It."

Week Nine: "Comix and Cut-Ups," "No Waters in Cherry Valley by the Testicles."

Week Ten: "Shrapnel," "The Hidden Variables."

I might do more than one entry per week, particularly during weeks that feature wildly different pieces. The titles sound pretty interesting, do they not? It's a good book, I'll enjoy re-reading it.

The book is still on sale at New Falcon, but for those of you who aren't flush, there's always the used book market or libraries or interlibrary loan.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

'Illuminate' list on Twitter

Some months ago, when I realized there was no way I could keep up with all of the people I "follow" on Twitter, I put together a list called Illuminate. The description is, "Sombunall of this would be of interest to a Robert Anton Wilson fan," and the list is mostly, but not entirely, folks who are likely to give me leads on something worth mentioning in this blog.

I kept the list private for a long time, because I don't pretend that it lists everyone worth following, and I did not want to hurt the feelings of anyone who I mistakenly (or out of ignorance) did not include on the list. I still don't claim the list is complete or free of errors, but in case anyone else might find it useful, I have made it public and you can see it here.