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Monday, September 8, 2014

Week 29, Online Illuminatus Reading Group

Roman statue of the god Pan. One of the Atlantis statues George Dorn delivers inspired later statues of Pan. 

(This week: "There are times when dignity is suicide," page 282, to "that sign is absolutely the whole clue to how the show runs, page 292).

Well, if I'm any judge of literary quality (I'm sure you'll let me know if I'm not), this section shows one of the biggest weaknesses of Illuminatus!, and one of its most important strengths.

When I was a college student in the 1970s in Oklahoma, a not terribly enlightened time or place, a friend of mine in the dorm described his contempt for another student.  Richard complained that the other fellow seemed to regard women as little more than "pussy machines."

Tarantella Serpentine is little more than a pussy machine, but unfortunately this could also be said about most of the other female characters in Illuminatus! — Stella Maris, Mavis, Sherri Brandi. We learn a lot in the course of the work about Hagbard Celine, Simon Moon, George Dorn, Robert Putney Drake. We don't learn a lot about any of the female characters. It would be nice, for example, to know a little more about Mavis. I suspect that if Illuminatus! was offered as a new literary work in 2014, any moderately competent editor would suggest strengthening the female characters.

But then there's the sudden shift from George Dorn to Saul Goodman at the bottom of page 290. This is reminiscent to me of the shifts between characters in Ulysses, in which all of the characters are treated as an important part of Dublin. And it's the beginning of a passage where Mavis pops up, thankfully a section in which Mavis is a woman who is compassionate, not just sexual, and there's a discussion of ego loss that sounds a lot like the Buddhist doctrine of no self (page 291):

"There are two forms of ego loss," Mavis went on, "and the Illuminati are masters of both. One is schizophrenia, the other is illumination. They set you on the first track, and we switched you to the other ... Saul sat upright ... We cut off whole egos, thinking they are not ourselves but separate."

Couldn't this be read as an argument for  reading fiction — "becoming" other people, and becoming more compassionate by learning about the lives of others?

The Buddhist doctrine of no self teaches that there is no immortal soul or essence of a person that persists for eternity. It teaches that "all conditioned things are impermanent." Quoting from my usual guide to Buddhism, What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula, "Buddhism stands unique in the history of human thought in denying the existence of such a soul, self or Atman. According to the teaching of the Buddha, the idea of self is an imaginary, false belief which has no corresponding reality, and it produces harmful thoughts of 'me' and 'mine,' selfish desire, craving, attachment, hatred, ill-will, conceit, pride, egotism, and other defilements, impurities and problems." (From Chapter 6, the Doctrine of No-Soul, Anatta. The chapter also says that "ego" is synonymous with "soul," "self" or "Atman.")

A few notes:

"I'll settle the question with you in hell if I'm wrong," page 282. An important lesson in operational security, as it would appear Maldonado turns out to be right.

"The only solution is a Yin Revolution, dig?" page 284. For more on the Yin revolution, see Adam Gorightly's recent post. 

"The Sicilian heritage goes back goes thousands of years before Rome," page 283. I don't know much about that, but it was certainly an important part of the Greek world, and hence a wellspring of Western culture, with figures such as Archimedes.

  (Next week: The end of The Eye in the Pyramid! Page 292, "RAGS. Hail Ghoulumbia, her monadmen are fled," to page 304, "Every emotion is a motion.) 


Unknown said...

1. We learn about Mary Lou Servix. I still would like more about other female characters.

2. We don't know how Drake's security was compromised. Maybe talking in the bathroom wouldn't have helped.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

Arthur, #2, true, but Maldonado's paranoia would seem to be justified.

Eric Wagner said...

I agree that we learn a lot about Mary Lou in the "No" monologue at the end of the book.

That fact that Jung feels "I've been left out of a lot" reminds me of how Robert Duvall's character feels in the Godfather I & II.

The comments about capital punishment on pg. 291 remind me of Bob's comment about the Clint Eastwood film "True Crime". Bob said he thought the title referred to capital punishment as the "true crime".

fuzzbuddy said...

I think Miss Portinari is a well developed female character. Also there is some back story to how the 3 main women got to first know Hagbard leading up to what happens at the music festival. However mostly like you are all saying it would be great to see more of the main women than just their sex appeal. Was it a sign of the times? The influence of working at Playboy? Was it a deliberate technique to sell more copies? such as is mentioned in the Epicene Wildeblood review of the book and the authors. Was there perhaps more that we haven't read because of the infamous lost pages?

fuzzbuddy said...

Pg. 282 - I get the impression Richard Jung is supposed to be Carl Jung's son. I just find it an odd fit, the way he talks etc.
Pg. 286 - Tarantella Serpentine. Tarantella being a type of folk dance.

Arthur, Tom, and co; when do we hear Maldonado's security has been compromised? I must have missed that bit.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

This link isn't working.

Stephen said...
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