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

Friday, February 28, 2014

'The Allure of Reading'

PQ has a nice piece up "On the Allure of Reading" and the difficulty of getting to everything that he wants to read. I totally relate -- I have started listening to audiobooks on my commute to work more often because it increases the total number of books I am able to consume.

When I got out of college, more than 30 years ago, I was swept with an enormous feeling of relief, because I could choose which books I wanted to read in my spare time, as opposed to having to read the books my college professors wanted me to read.

Each time I choose which book to read next, I have to decide between a book that relates to this blog and one that has no connection. There's always a little bit of guilt when I'm not doing my "homework."

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Adam Gorightly on 'The Honest Book of Truth'

Adam Gorightly has a big scoop up at Historia Discordia about The Honest Book of Truth, which as y'all will recall, is quoted at the beginning of Illuminatus!

Mr. Gorightly explains,

As for The Honest Book of Truth, it has been commonly held over the years that no such book actually existed, because all that anyone had ever seen of it were short quotations from either Illuminatus! or the Principia Discordia.

During a conversation with RAW once, I asked him what he thought of Thornley’s writings, and he stated unequivocally that the best thing Kerry had written was The Honest Book of Truth. Of course, sometimes I’d wonder if RAW was pulling my leg about certain things, so I filed this anecdote away in my memory banks for future pondering. Later, after having acquired the Discordian Archives, I one day happened upon a most amazing discovery: none other than The Honest Book of Truth, which is 15 pages in length and includes 'The Book of Uterus,” “The Book of Explanations,” “The Book of Predictions,” “The Book of Advice,” “The Book of Gooks,” and “The Gospel According to Fred.”

The Honest Book of Truth will appear in its entirety in the forthcoming book compilation, Historia Discordia: The Origins of the Discordian Society.

As if that's not enough, Mr. Gorightly is participating in the Iluminatus! book discussion and is promising to offer commentary on the Discordian elements of the book.

He is unhappy I didn't start the discussion on Feb. 23, but in the comments, Remy Porter bails me out and explains that the Law of Fives still holds.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A couple of Illuminatus! notes

Arthur Hlavaty has a recent blog posting about the Illuminatus! trilogy that's worth reading.

I like these sentences: "I met the authors, whom I liked, and I read and enjoyed later work by them. They admitted that the book was half bullshit, but they were never sure exactly which half. Me neither."

Nick Helseg-Larsen is working on an Illuminatus! annotation project, using a document on Google docs. If you'd like to help, email him as fuzzbuddy at gmail dot com.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Feb. 23 in Liverpool as Cosmic Trigger play advances

Liverpool Confidential publishes a story on the Feb. 23 "Cosmic Trigger" event in Liverpool, featuring Daisy Eris Campbell and John Higgs. There are also a bunch of photos. I've copied one above; what's going on in the picture?

John Higgs also has published a group of photos on Facebook of the event. 

Update: Nick Helweg-Larsen explains that it's a scene from Daisy Eris' "Cosmic Trigger" adaptation, dramatizing RAW's first acid trip.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Illuminatus! online reading group, week one

(First part, till the bottom of the Page 13, "we're closer to the pet shop here." I'm using page numbers in the standard Dell Omnibus edition, but I'll also use quotes to make things easier for anyone using an ebook version.)

The three books of what was originally the Illuminatus! trilogy were published in 1975. The work has pretty much remained in print every since and currently is available as a one-volume omnibus, an ebook and an audiobook.

I read Illuminatus! for the first time in the 1970s, sometime when I was a student at the University of Oklahoma, probably not too terribly long after the three paperbacks came out. I still have those three books. I can't remember where I bought them or how they came to my attention, although if I had to guess, I would blame my libertarian science fiction reading friends such as Steve Browne and Richard Onley.

One account I've found from Robert Anton Wilson about the origin and saga of Illuminatus! is this one "The Illuminatus! saga stumbles along."  In that telling, "Bob Shea and I began the Illuminatus series in 1969, inspired directly by our work as co-editors of The Playboy Fo­rum. The Forum (not to be confused with The Playboy Advisor) deals with civil liberties, the rights of the individual, and abuses of government power. Natu­rally, in addition to a great many intelli­gent letters from people justifiably indignant about real cases of unconstitu­tional behavior by judges and legisla­tors, the Forum – especially in those days – received a lot of paranoid rantings from people imagining totally baroque conspiracies. One day, either Shea or I­ – we don't remember which-asked whimsically, 'Suppose all these nuts are right, and every single conspiracy they complain about really exists.' "

In other accounts, however, Shea is credited with  coming up with the idea of writing a novel. For example, in this interview:

STARSHIP: Can you discuss the genesis of Illuminatus!? How did the idea originate?

WILSON: It started with the Discordian Society, which is based on worship of Eris, the Greek goddess of confusion and chaos. Actually, the Discordian Society is a new religion disguised as a complicated joke, although some skeptics think it’s a joke disguised as a religion. We [Robert Shea, his coauthor] felt the Society needed some opposition, because the whole idea of it is based on conflict and dialectics. So, we created an opposition within the Discordian Society, which we called the Bavarian Illuminati. We got the idea from the John Birch Society and various other right-wing groups who believe that the Illuminati really run the world. There were several Discordian newsletters written in the 1960s, and several Discordian members wrote for the underground press in various parts of the country. So, we built up this myth about the warfare between the Discordian Society and the Illuminati for quite a while, until one day Bob Shea said to me, “You know, we could write a novel about this!” The rest is history.

Illuminatus! was written from 1969-1971 and published in 1975, so it took awhile to get into print. It was written at about the same time as two somewhat similar books, Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed and Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon.  The latter two have entered the modern literary canon, but Illuminatus! has not. Sombunall of us have a chip on our shoulders about that. I certainly do.

(Jesse Walker in Reason: "In 1973 Thomas Pynchon published an enormous experimental novel called Gravity's Rainbow. In 1975 Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson published an enormous experimental trilogy called Illuminatus! Both were written at about the same time, and both offered panoramic perspectives on history, liberty, and paranoia.

"Gravity's Rainbow won the National Book Award. Illuminatus! won no awards, save a science fiction prize issued a decade later.")

Sombunall, by the way, is a Robert Anton Wilson coinage that means "some, but not all." The philosophical point is that while for some ears/nervous systems, the statement, say, that  "David Bowie is a great musical artist" may be true,"for others, it may not be true. It recognizes that people are individuals.

I have been re-reading James Joyce's Ulysses, and I noticed this time that Joyce starts out with relatively easy to understand prose and then gets into some very difficult passages. Perhaps as a nod to Ulysses, perhaps not, Illuminatus! starts out with opening sentences that may seem a bit opaque but then gets into an easy-to-follow police procedure, perhaps to reassure readers that they will not be left at sea, after all. The first few pages also show the mix of "literary" and "popular fiction" influences (less usual in the 1970s than now), with passages that sound like Joyce mixing with passages that sound a bit like Raymond Chandler or other mystery writers.  (Actually, when I re-read the first paragraph of the work I was struck by how good it was. I plan to read it aloud to my local book discussion group.)

The cover of my 1977 original paperback edition (second printing) says "Dell SF." The fact that The Eye in the Pyramid was published as a science fiction paperback original (like many of Philip K. Dick's novels) probably explains by itself why it generally wasn't reviewed by literary magazines, book review sections, etc.

The cover art for the three original paperbacks was by an artist named Carlos Victor Ochagavia. To give credit, the identification was made by this guy,  I think his name is Lex Berman,  in this blog post.  More about Ochagavia here.  (He was born in Spain but lived in Argentina from the age of two, except when he studied in New York.)

A few annotations:

(Dedication) "To Gregory Hill and Kerry Thornley." The two founders of Discordianism. Kerry is also Lord Omar Ravenhurst, or Lord Omar.  Adam Gorightly's biography of Thornley, The Prankster and the Conspiracy,  remains in print. Hill is also Malaclypse the Younger.  For more on Discordianism and its founders, see Gorightly's Historia Discordia website. which has been publishing much of Greg Hill's archives. The Church of the Subgenius is sometimes considered a spinoff of Discordianism.

Ishmael Reed quote from Mumbo Jumbo: Reed is a well-known American writer and Mumbo Jumbo, his best-known work, was written at about the same time as Illuminatus! and has a plotline about a battle between secret societies. As I note here, the quotation from Mumbo Jumbo used in Illuminatus! is not word for word but is a paraphrase.

Page 7, "The first trip, or Kether." From the Kabbalah. For more on the Kabbalah and Illuminatus! see Eric Wagner's An Insider's Guide to Robert Anton Wilson, specifically the chapter "Appendix Samekh."

Quotation at the beginning of Page 7: As mentioned, Lord Omar is Kerry Thornley.

Page 7, "Fernando Poo," a real island. 

Page 8, "Nkrumah Fubar," first use in the book of a suggestive name. "Fubar," acronym for "fucked up beyond all recognition." Compare with "snafu," as in the Snafu Principle.  For more on Wilson's use of names, see page 43, Cosmic Trigger, Vol. 3: "Then we went to Westminster Abbey and I paid homage to Ben Johnson, the man who inspired some of my own flights of nomenclature by giving his characters names like Face, Waspe, Epicure Mammon, Fastidious Brisk and (the first parody of an anti-smoking fanatic) Zeal of the Land Busy ... "

Page 9, "Hagbard Celine." First mention of perhaps the main protagonist, other than Simon Moon. Note that Hagbard CelinE's name has HCE, initials of the Finnegans Wake protagonist.

Page 10, "Numbly, dumbly, mopingly, gropingly out of the dark," Joycean language, similar to the love of words and sound in Ulysses.

Page 13, this sentence always jumps out at me: "You see a thousand faces like his on the street every day and never guess how well they are carrying their tragedies." The heroic quality of everyday life is a major theme of Ulysses.

Next week: Pages 13, from "we're closer to the pet shop here" to  page 23 "rather close to the Weatherman faction."

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Gawker's Nick Denton

When I noticed (via Re/code, the new technology site launched by Walt Mossberg, formerly of the Wall Street Journal) that a Playboy magazine "Candid Conversation" interview was available with Gawker's Nick Denton, I resisted at first, then decided to read it. I am glad I did -- it was interesting throughout. A couple of surprises: Denton's technological optimism about the Internet remind me of some of Robert Anton Wilson's remarks, and I also noticed that he shared RAW's opinion that technological advances are more likely to improve life for everyone than the political system is. I am not sure I am persuaded by all of his comments about privacy and gossip, but as you might expect, they are interesting.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Illuminatus online reading group art!

So, I'm checking the ol' email account late last night, one more time before going to bed, and I get an email from Bobby Campbell. He writes, "Enclosed please find some artwork in support of the Illuminatus! reading group."

I'm pretty much at a loss for words. Isn't it cool?

Yup, it's the same Bobby Campbell who has done so many book covers for books by RAW and Robert Shea. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Illuminatus! group read starts Monday

The online group read of Illuminatus! starts Monday. Rather than create what would soon be a huge number of links on the right side of this page, I've created a new page and linked to it at top right. That's where I will be posting links to the weekly updates.

I plan to go at about 10 pages a go; we'll begin with the book up to the top of page 14. I'll list the page numbers for the next section when I do a posting.

I welcome guest postings by anyone for bits of the book that have a special interest for any particular RAW reader; please just contact me a little in advance.

The link to the news release is here, in case anyone wants to share it.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Adam Gorightly remembers the Cosmic Meme-Orial

I meant to post about something else today, but Adam Gorightly keeps posting great stuff on his Historia Discordia website. Don't miss his heartfelt and charming article about attending the Robert Anton Wilson Cosmic Meme-Orial, held Feb. 18, 2007 in Santa Cruz. Nice photographs with the article, too.

I just finished Michael Azerrad's Nirvana book, so I could not help contrasting the difference between Kurt Cobain, sourly leaving the world early as a dis to the fans and taking his gifts with him, with the death of Robert Anton Wilson, who left us reluctantly but did his best to comfort his fans.

Here is a sentence in Gorightly's piece, about Greg Bishop, that caught my attention: "Greg recalled how his life was literally saved when—during a period of deep depression—he fortunately discovered RAW’s writings about the loser and winner scripts, and immediately took them to head and heart, turning his world around."

Compare with this piece by meditation teacher and writer Caroline Contillo on how reading Quantum Psychology helped cure her depression.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Discordianism and the EFF

Historia Discordia has a guest post by Brenton Clutterbuck, "Chasing Eris: The Case of Steve Jackson Games, or how Discordianism helped the U.S. Secret Service inspire the birth of the Electronic Frontier Foundation."

Steve Jackson Games, based in Austin, Texas, had an interesting game, "Illuminati." Science fiction writer Bruce Sterling explains, "'Illuminati' got its name from a card-game that Steve Jackson himself, the company's founder and sole owner, had invented. This multi-player card-game was one of Mr Jackson's best-known, most successful, most technically innovative products. 'Illuminati' was a game of paranoiac conspiracy in which various antisocial cults warred covertly to dominate the world. 'Illuminati' was hilarious, and great fun to play, involving flying saucers, the CIA, the KGB, the phone companies, the Ku Klux Klan, the South American Nazis, the cocaine cartels, the Boy Scouts, and dozens of other splinter groups from the twisted depths of Mr. Jackson's professionally fervid imagination. For the uninitiated, any public discussion of the 'Illuminati' card-game sounded, by turns, utterly menacing or completely insane."

Oddly enough, Sterling doesn't mention the apparent inspiration for the game. His book is available free on the Internet. For that matter, Clutterbuck doesn't mention Sterling's well-known book.

When Lewis Shiner interviewed Robert Anton Wilson in Austin, Shiner brought up the game:

Do you know about Steve Jackson's Illuminati game?

RAW: Everybody I meet thinks it's based on my Illuminatus! novels and I'm getting royalties on it. He claim it's not based on the novels, so I'm not getting royalties on it. Different lawyers give me different opinions. Decide for yourself.

In Clutterbuck's account, Steve Jackson at first considered adapting Illuminatus! " Instead of taking on the book, due to the complexity and payment for creative rights, his company, Steve Jackson Games, began to make a game built instead on the concept of the Illuminati generally, throwing in a couple of explicit Discordian references. To play with their interest in conspiracies and Discordianism, Steve Jackson Games had on their BBS the tongue-in-cheek announcement:

Greetings, Mortal! You have entered the secret computer system of the Illuminati, the on-line home of the world’s oldest and largest secret conspiracy. 5124474449300/1200/2400BAUD fronted by Steve Jackson Games, Incorporated. Fnord."

So I guess that settles it. Steve Jackson decided to go in a completely different direction!

My own opinion, while expressing no opinion on the legal issues, is that there would have been no "Illuminati" game without the Illuminatus! trilogy, and that Wilson and Shea indirectly deserve credit for a series of events that created the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the leading civil liberties group for the Internet.

Monday, February 17, 2014

RAW art

Artwork to promote Cosmic Trigger play from Pope Polly. 

I don't have a location for this photo. Via @RAWilson23 on Twitter, e.g. Bobby Campbell.

Drawing by @midnight138 on Twitter.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Is classical music 'dead'?

I believe in Bach, the creator of heaven and earth, and in Mozart, his only begotten son, and in Beethoven the mediator and comforter; and inasmuch as their gods have manifested also in Vivaldi and Ravel and Stravinsky and many another, I believe in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of error and Mind everlasting.

"Credo," Robert Anton Wilson, Right Where You Are Sitting Now 

One of the reasons I got interested in writing about Robert Anton Wilson was that he was interested in many of the same things I am, among them classical music. I've been spending part of the weekend listening to the Pacifica Quartet's recordings of Shostakovich's string quartets.

There's been a debate over the last few years over what's going to happen to classical music in this country, and it flared up again recently. Salon Magazine ran the latest "it's dead" article, by somebody named Mark Vanhoenacker. Music writer William Robin wrote a reply, "The Fat Lady Is Still Singing," for the New Yorker.

I think Robin mostly gets the best of it -- people have been writing about the "death" of classical music for a long time -- and it's easy to find ways to criticize Vanhoenacker. For example, the Salon piece points out the undeniable fact that classical music is getting harder to find on the radio these days, without mentioning that most people have access to Internet radio everywhere via smartphones and almost everyone has a computer. I've discovered I can listen to Q2, the modern classical music station, by plugging my phone into my car's stereo.

As the Salon piece points out, older people form the bulk of the audience at classical music concerts. Robins gets off a good line about that: "contempt toward the elderly is a common theme in death-of-classical-music articles." But will orchestras be able to find listeners to fill those seats when the current audience ages out?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Bridge 'renamed' for Emperor Norton

The western span of the Bay Bridge in San Francisco officially is named for Willie Brown Jr., a former San Francisco mayor and speaker of the California House.

But a group of artists have put up a sign naming the bridge after the Emperor Norton, the San Francisco eccentric who proclaimed himself Emperor of the United States. The Emperor Norton is mentioned in the Illuminatus! trilogy and also elsewhere in RAW's writings.

Hat tip: John Merritt.

Friday, February 14, 2014

'Day We Fought Back' by the numbers

On Tuesday, this website ran a banner to promote "The Day We Fought Back," an online protest by a civil liberties coalition against NSA mass surveillance. Other sites in the "RAW tribe" also took part; Only Maybe also joined in, Supergee posted a notice, Steve Pratt promoted it on Twitter. Michael Johnson wrote a well-researched blog post. I'm sure I've missed lots of people.

The numbers are in on the online version of the protest (rallies also were held in some cities). 37 million people saw the banner displayed on sites such as this one, 555,000 emails were sent, 89,000 phone calls were completed, 301,000 people signed a petition, there were 420,000 shares on Facebook, more than 84,000 Tweets were sent and more than a million folks visited the home page.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Exclusive John Higgs update!

I had never heard of British author John Higgs until about a couple of years ago, but he has quickly become one of my favorite writers. Author of the excellent KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money, which all Robert Anton Wilson fans will want to read,  a Timothy Leary biography and two fine works of fiction featuring the mysterious reoccurring character Orlando Monk, The Brandy of the Damned and First Church on the Moon,  John came to the attention of many RAW fans in the U.S. with his witty Illuminatus! vs. Atlas Shrugged blog posting, although back in 2009 he had placed a piece on RAW in the Guardian.  And as you can see from the excellent Bobby Campbell poster for this month's Liverpool event, he's worked hard to help Daisy Eris Campbell stage Cosmic Trigger. 

Unfortunately, I've run out of John Higgs books to read, so I got in touch with Mr. Higgs to verify that he's hard at work repairing that lack. I'm a little nervous about the "exclusive" part in the headline, as John is actually very nice and talks to lots of people. Perhaps in the interest of accuracy, the headline should say, "Exclusive: The only place you'll see John Higgs asked if he vacations on a Welsh island because he's a Druid." Or if I needed a zippier headline, I could write, "John Higgs: No, I'm not calling my book 'Headfuck Century' after all." -- The Mgt. 

Is the Liverpool event going to be taped and shown on the Internet for the benefit of folks who couldn't be there, as the Horse Hospital event was?

Higgs: I hope so - if it is filmed (which is all Daisy's department) I imagine she would put it online once the indiegogo campaign starts (on April 23rd). Certainly the footage of Alan Moore talking RAW, which I'll be showing some of in Liverpool, will appear about then.

When do we get to meet up with Orlando Monk again?

Higgs: You never can tell with Orlando Monk, that's what I'm finding out. The next story about him - Phwoar and Peace - is written. Well, I say it's written, it's more accurate to say that it's memorised. Phwaor and Peace is the title I've given to the missing notebook pages mentioned in Brandy of the Damned and First Church on the Moon, which tell the story of why Orlando Monk was created and what he exists to do - for he has a very definite purpose, even if it is one that he seems very keen to avoid. 

Phwoar and Peace hasn't been written down for two reasons. First, doing talks has got me interested in the old skill of oral storytelling. I will tell that story one day, but the Orlando Monk saga is something of a long game and that won't be for a while. Secondly, if I was to type the story and perform my usual backup, we now know that that story would be scanned by GCHQ or the NSA as a matter of course. It pleases me to think that nobody knows what he is avoiding doing, not even corporate or government software bots. That will make it much more impressive if he ever pulls off whatever it is that he is currently failing to pull off.

In terms of when he'll appear in one of my published works next, that will be in a novel called Take Off Your Skin And Dance Around In Your Bones, but that's probably about 18 months away. Although other people seem to be starting using him for various things, which they are of course more than welcome to do as he has put himself in the public domain.

How is that alternative history of the 20th century coming along?

Higgs: It is sitting next to me on my desk as I write. Its currently at second draft stage, and being read by a few alpha-readers who can be relied on to give me honest and interesting perspectives (Alan Moore being one of them, as was Steve Moore who I managed to meet by the old trusted method of naming a fictional moonbase after him, then sitting back and waiting). The working title is The Overview Effect: What We Discovered In The Twentieth Century. (I have finally conceded that it's previous working title, Headfuck Century, was a little unwise). I am very proud of it, I have to say, it feels like a real achievement. Certainly anyone who enjoyed The KLF book should get a real buzz from it. 

It'll be a while before its out, and then it will be a hardback first - such are the ways of traditional publishing. It'll be worth the wait though.

Before then there will be a short, cheap ebook I'm doing for Random House in Canada about the subject of monarchy, in which I offer up a new perspective on monarchy which will get me beaten up by both republicans and monarchists alike. So well worth doing. That will be out late June, I think.

Does your family and Daisy's family vacation on Anglesey because it was a big center for druids? Or is is just a nice island? 

Higgs: Actually I haven't been on Anglesey for over twenty years, but I do go to Snowdonia which is on the Welsh mainland and overlooks the island of Anglesey. Daisy goes there as she has family links that go back many generations, I love that part of the world, it is beyond epic and the fact that Anglesey (or Ynys Mon, to give it its old name, the mother of Wales) was the Druid heartland and their last stand against the aneristic Roman army makes total sense when you visit. What's not to love about an island that includes a place called Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch? The book I intend to write next (before the next Orlando Monk novel) will end up there, so I should be visiting it soon.

I didn't even know you were Welsh until recently. I'm so jealous.

Higgs: I was actually born in Rugby in England but moved to Wales when I was three - so I'm an Englishman who thinks like a Welshman. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Fighting back against the NSA

Today is the day in which this website, among many others, joins the effort by a coalition of civil liberties groups to try to rein in the NSA's spying and abuses. The idea is that if you join the effort, you are supposed to display a banner at your site. Clicking on the banner makes it easy for an American to send an email and make a phone call to his/her local lawmakers in Washington, D.C. I'm not quite sure what you get if you're out of the U.S. I was pleasantly surprised when I went to my site this morning to do this blog post and discovered that I had succeeded in getting the banner posted. I'm not exactly a software whiz.

I had tried to avoid being too "political" on this site -- I want everyone to feel welcome -- but I hope that no one expects a website devoted to Robert Anton Wilson (and Robert Shea)  to be neutral on whether civil liberties are a good idea or not. More information on the campaign here.  To keep up with these issues, keep an eye on Boing Boing  and follow Julian Sanchez on Twitter.

Monday, February 10, 2014

New Glenn Greenwald site launches

Glenn Greenwald, who has done so much to reveal the abuses of the NSA, has launched a new website that will focus on further NSA revelations and then expand to cover other issues. It should be a useful site for people interested in civil liberties issues. Check it out here. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Press release on Illuminatus! group read

(Thought I'd try to get the word out. As John Higgs has remarked sentimentally, you never forget your first press release. Now I have to write the press release I promised Steve Pratt for his new album. -- The Mgt.)

Website to sponsor online group reading of 1970s cult literary work “Illuminatus!” starting on Feb. 24.

An online reading group plans to spend more than a year doing a page-by-page analysis of an unusual 1970s cult novel that has never gone out of print.

Illuminatus! by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, originally published as a series of three science fiction paperback originals, was  influenced by writers as diverse as James Joyce, William Burroughs and H.P. Lovecraft. The book reads at first like a thriller about a vast conspiracy, albeit one that uses an obscure theological term, “immanentize the Eschaton,” in the first sentence. But it also has elements of fantasy and the occult and spends many pages discussing political theory.

The ostensible subject of the book is the Illuminati, an alleged secret society that seeks to control the world and is still the subject of many conspiracy theories. Many of the book’s protagonists are either battling the Illuminati or struggling to figure out what is really going on.

The work makes liberal use of Discordianism, a tongue-in-cheek religion devoted to worship of the Greek goddess Eris, who was blamed for starting the Trojan War, and of the Kabbalah, an esoteric mystical system that began as part of Judaism. The text also reflects the authors’ strong interesting anarchism and libertarianism.

Readers of the website will participate in an online discussion of the book beginning on Feb. 24. The discussion will proceed at a pace of 10 pages a week, to give readers time to untangle many of the esoteric references and meanings in the text. The slow pace also will allow time for readers who missed the initial announcement to get caught up and participate. The standard paperback edition has 805 pages, so the discussion is expected to take well over a year.

Each week, an entry on a 10-page section of the book will be posted on the website’s blog, and readers will be invited to weigh in using the comments.

The book began as a joke in a Chicago bar. The two authors, Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea, were editors at Playboy magazine in 1960s, responsible for the Playboy Forum, a section of letters from readers. Many of the letters dealt with speculation on who had killed the Kennedys and other conspiracy theories.
The two editors, who were friends, had a habit of going to a bar every payday. One day, Shea jokingly suggested that the two collaborate on a novel that would take seriously every crazy conspiracy theory that had been sent in by a reader. The idea caught the pair’s imagination, and they began work on the book that became Iluminatus!

Issued beginning in late 1975 as three mass market paperbacks, The Eye in the Pyramid, The Golden Apple, and Leviathan, Illuminatus!  was reissued beginning in 1984 as a one-volume trade paperback and has remained in print ever since. It also is available as an ebook and an audiobook.

Illuminatus! received good reviews from publications such as the Village Voice but was generally ignored by major literary magazines, newspapers and book reviewers. It won only one literary award, the relatively obscure Prometheus Hall of Fame Award, in 1986. It has received less attention from major literary critics than two broadly similar works written at about the same time, Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon and Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed. It has nonetheless enjoyed a strong cult following from its initial publication and there are many websites on the Internet devoted to it or to one of its two authors.

The two authors never collaborated on another book, although they remained close friends, but Illuminatus! helped them launch their literary careers. Wilson quit his job at Playboy and became a freelance writer. He eventually published more than 30 books, including novels and essay collections. He died in 2007. Shea continued to work for Playboy, but after he lost his job at the magazine, he began sending out proposals for novels and began a successful second career as a historical novelist. He died in 1994.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The golden apple, in "Ulysses"

I've been re-reading Ulysses by James Joyce, as I've previously mentioned. I have yet to get to the halfway point. It's not a fast read, and I'm determined to have some idea of what's going on this time, so I'm trying to read it carefully.

But when I read ahead a little bit, by looking at a passage analyzed in my college English lit textbook, I discovered something that surprised me, in the sense that I would have thought a RAW fan would have mentioned to me before: The golden apple of discord of the goddess Eris is mentioned in passing. It's in the "Nausicaa" episode, the one that features Leopold Bloom ogling Gerty MacDowell:

But just then there was a slight altercation between Master Tommy and Master Jacky. Boys will be boys and our two twins were no exception to this golden rule. The apple of discord was a certain castle of sand which Master Jacky had built and Master Tommy would have it right go wrong that it was to be architecturally improved by a frontdoor like the Martello tower had. But if Master Tommy was headstrong Master Jacky was selfwilled too and, true to the maxim that every little Irishman's house is his castle, he fell upon his hated rival and to such purpose that the wouldbe assailant came to grief and (alas to relate!) the coveted castle too. Needless to say the cries of discomfited Master Tommy drew the attention of the girl friends.

Of course the "apple of discord" refers to the apple Eris, e.g. Discordia,  wielded to set off a series of events that led up to the Trojan War. Odysseus (e.g. Ulysses) brought the war to an end with his wooden horse scheme for getting inside the city.

When I searched for "apple" in an online version of Ulysses, I got 24 hits — the "apple of discord" and 23 others. Make of that what you will.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Portland, Maine, the land of 1,000 fnords

From Portland, Maine, comes the story of Mr. Eric White, 22, who launched an effort that has resulted in about 1,000 instances of the word "fnord" being written on various surfaces in Portland.

Mr. White's efforts have been taken up by others, according to this story: "There’s a bunch of people that do it. There has been a bunch of people, but it’s down to about five different people actively writing it now. There’s people in Bangor doing it. It’s in Canada, it’s in Mexico, it’s from California to Maine. Every stop on the Greyhound from California to Maine has it."

Mr. White says he tries to concentrate on putting the word on government property, unless he happens to be particularly drunk (not an uncommon state, the article hints). He reveals that he took up his cause as an alternative to going to Boston, a plan he hatched because "there was nothing to watch on TV."  Kind of makes you feel proud of Discordianism, huh?

Mr. White apparently has time to pursue his hobby:

Have you been working here in town?
I’m on disability right now, for lack of a want to work.

So what’s your disability?
Ergo phobia, fear of work. A bunch of mental stuff, basically. 

Thanks to John Thomas for calling the article to my attention.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Markoff Chaney's war against the tape measure

It may exist only in our minds, but as we go through life, we each hold a "tape measure" in our mind, wondering if we "measure up" in our looks, in our performance at work, in the quality of our blogs, in the number of people who follow us on Twitter, and on and on and on. It's a constant fear and sense of competition that Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson tapped into when they created the character of Markoff Chaney in Illuminatus!

Michael Johnson (who cites an interview that the Chaney character, who also appears in Schroedinger's Cat, was a 99 percent RAW creation) has a very good blog post up discussing Chaney and putting him in the context of other works of literature. I would add the protagonist in    " 'Repent Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman," in which a character named Everett C. Marm rebels against a severely regulated society and commits acts of sabotage such as releasing thousands of jellybeans. The story was written by Harlan Ellison, who famously is not particularly tall.

During the 1970s, a science fiction club I belonged to at the University of Oklahoma obtained some funding from student government to bring several writers to campus. One of them was Ellison, and at a "meet the author" party a libertarian friend of mine, Steve Browne, asked Ellison what he thought of Illuminatus! Ellison replied that he liked it and thought it was funny.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

New William Burroughs biography

Barry Miles, the prolific biographer, has come out with a new biography of author William Burroughs. 

That would be of interest to sombunall RAW fans, as Robert Anton Wilson admired Burroughs' prose and adapted his techniques to RAW's own fiction. (Brion Gysin invented the "cut-up" technique of rearranging prose, which Burroughs popularized and which RAW took up in Illuminatus! and other works.)

The Wall Street Journal's review is here. A review in the Boston Globe is more sympathetic to Burroughs. Reviewer Matthew Gilbert concludes, "Reading about Burroughs in this amount of depth is an odd experience; I felt simultaneously turned off and fascinated — what many feel while reading his fiction. He was unerringly selfish and careless, and yet he lived a unique, uncompromising life that led to a body of unique, uncompromising work. With the help of Miles’ extensive research, he makes for a captivating antihero."

I haven't read a great deal of Barry Miles, but I did read his Frank Zappa biography a few years ago and thought it was fair-minded, entertaining and well done.

Monday, February 3, 2014


I just finished re-reading the Robert Fitzgerald translation of The Odyssey and this weekend I began reading James Joyce's Ulysses and started Ulysses by Hugh Kenner and Ulysses and Us by Declan Kiberd.

I read The Odyssey again because I wanted to have it fresh in my mind before reading Ulysses. When I read it this time, I was struck by how it could be read as a tribute to barbecue. Over and over again, the action stops while everyone gorges on meat from a freshly-slaughtered animal. Usually the epic specifies that bread is served on the side, just as in a Southern barbecue joint. I subscribe to the email list for the Bryn Mawr Classical Review,  which just ran a review of a book called The Meaning of Meat and the Structure of the Odyssey by Egbert J. Bakker (only $90 from Oxford University Press). The reviewer, Jeremy McInerney, mentions a suggestion by one scholar, Andrew Dalby, "that the emphasis on heroic meat-eating is an instance of wish-fulfillment aimed at an audience of subsistence farmers."

I also was struck by how the description of the behavior of Ulysses and his crew (and by extension, Greeks on ships in general) reminded me of the Vikings. The Odyssey describes how Ulysses and his force, early in their attempt to return to Ithaca, attack and sack a city of the Cicones, apparently because they could. Greeks aboard ships, as colonizers, founded cities all over the Mediterranean and environs, including in Italy, Sicily, southern France and the Black Sea. This would seem to be the biggest explosion of ship-borne peoples until the time of the Vikings, who ranged from North America to deep inside Russia. Dublin, very early in its history, was a Viking settlement.

When I was in high school, I read Dubliners. I started Ulysses the summer after I graduated from high school but was unable to finish it. I finally read Ulysses a few years ago and finished it, but had the feeling that I wasn't really understanding much of it.

My original plan was to re-read Ulysses and, at the same time, read the Kenner and Kiberd books. I've gotten interested in Ulysses, however, and I think I will finish it before I resume the two books of criticism. I'd like to think I can read it as I read any other novel, and get something out of it.

Speaking of James Joyce, PQ published a lovely birthday tribute to Joyce Sunday.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

John Higgs and Daisy Campbell chat RAW with Alan Moore

John Higgs reports that Daisy Campbell and himself visited Alan Moore and interviewed him about Robert Anton Wilson. (If you arrived late, Moore is the famed comic book writer known for Watchmen, V for Vendetta, etc. Higgs of course wrote the Timothy Leary biography I Have America Surrounded, The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band who Burned A Million Pounds, The Brandy of the Damned, etc. Daisy is busy bringing Cosmic Trigger to the stage, as you've likely noticed from my recent blog posts).

"We filmed the interview and we'll show it in Liverpool on Feb 23rd. If you can't make that, then Daisy will also use the footage as part the indiegogo campaign to crowdfund the Cosmic Trigger play, which kicks off on April 23rd," Higgs writes.

"There was a lot of press recently about Alan's decision to withdraw from interviews and public appearances, so the fact that he was good enough to do this for us yesterday is an indication of how important RAW is to him. Alan has only rarely been asked about Wilson in interviews, and what he has to say is well worth hearing."

Moore also agreed to be the voice of FUCKUP (the big computer in Illuminatus!) for the staging of Cosmic Trigger, so his voice was recorded saying the requisite lines.

More news at Higgs' post.