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

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Books read, 2014

Every year I do a listing of the books I read in the past year. Here is this year's list. I haven't bothered to distinguish between books I actually read, and books that I listened to as audiobooks (I have a long commute to work.) In some cases, I was actually re-reading a book. I've linked to blog posts and interviews I did with the authors.

1. Why American History Is Not What They Say, Jeff Riggenbach.
2. The Aviators, Winston Groom.
3. Pepper Pike, Les Roberts.
4. One Summer, America 1927, Bill Bryson.
5. The Odyssey, Homer, Fitzgerald translation.
6. Our Band Could Be Your Life, Michael Azerrad.
7. Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana, Michael Azerrad.
8. Ulysses, James Joyce.
9. Ulysses, Hugh Kenner.
10. Forgotten Sacrifice: Arctic Convoys of World War II, Michael Walling.
11. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn.
12. Ulysses and Us, Declan Kibert.
13. The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams, Lawrence Block.
14. Heads in Beds, Jacob Tomsky.
15. Orfeo, Richard Powers.
16. The Raphael Affair, Iain Pears.
17. A Few Good Men, Sarah Hoyt.
18. Liberty Defined, 50 Essential Issues That Affect Our Freedom, Ron Paul.
19. The Prankster and the Conspiracy, Adam Gorightly.
20. Brilliance, Marcus Sakey.
21. Taken At the Flood: The Roman Conquest of Greece, Robin Waterfield.
22. Justinian's Flea, William Rosen.
23. Nexus, Ramez Naam.
24. Outside In, Doug Cooper.
25. Cruz, Ramez Naam.
26. Top Secret America, Dana Priest and William Arkin.
27. The Break, Sean Gabb.
28. Dragnet Nation, Julia Angwin.
29. Archeology, Anthropology and Interstellar Communication, edited by Douglas A. Vakoch.
30. The Monk, M.G. Lewis.
31. Sons of Wichita, Daniel Schulman.
32. No Place to Hide, Glenn Greenwald.
33. Nothing to Envy, Barbara Demick.
34. Man on the Run, Tom Doyle.
35. Science Fiction: An Oral History, D. Scott Apel.
36. Historia Discordia, Adam Gorightly.
37. The Blood of Alexandria, Richard Blake.
38. Full Cleveland, Les Roberts.
39. The Crossing Places, Elly Griffiths.
40. Strange Wine, Harlan Ellison.
41. The Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan.
42. The Eye in the Pyramid, Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson.
43. Rome's Gothic Wars, Michael Kulikowski.
44. Our Pet Queen, John Higgs.
45. Strange Attractor, Jake Shannon.
46. Today We Choose Faces, Roger Zelazny.
47. The Shadow Factory, James Bamford.
48. The River of No Return, Bee Ridgway.
49. Influx, Daniel Suarez.
50. The Innovators, Walter Isaacson.
51. Zero to One, Peter Thiel.
52. The Cthulhu Mythos Megapack.
53. The War to End All Wars, Russell Freedman.
54. National Security and Double Government, Michael J. Glennon.
55. Caught in the Crossfire, Adam Gorightly.
56. The Shadow of the Torturer, Gene Wolfe.
57. 2000 TC: Standing on the Verge of Getting It On, John Higgs.
58. Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future, edited by Ed Finn and Kathryn Cramer.
59. Mozart in the Jungle, Blair Tindall.
60. Dear Committee Members, Julie Schumacher.
61. The Three-Body Problem, Liu Cixin.
62. The Husband's Secret, Liane Moriarty.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Vote for your favorite censorious asshat!

Actually, the best thing about Popehat's "Censorious Asshat" competition is that it convinced me the First Amendment is still alive in this country, even if he found delicious examples of censorship (or attempted censorship).

Anyway, I've voted, and you have until 5 a.m. Pacific time Jan. 2. My "favorite," Bergen Community College, seems to be losing, but it wouldn't be the first time I've lost an election.

Via Arthur Hlavaty, who links to a lot of interesting stuff.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Week 45, Illuminatus online reading group

Motorcycle infantry of the 3rd SS Panzer Division on their way to Leningrad. 

(This week: "Lights flashed on suddenly," page 462, to page 473, "For the human race, on the other hand, that will be extinction. The end.")

In this section, the Illuminati plot to massacre the crowd at a rock music festival is revealed. And although the plot of the novel obviously is fantastic, it echoes real events in World War II.

While Lake Totenkopf apparently is fictional, there really were fanatical SS divisions in World War that were part of the German war machine — and one of them, the 3rd SS Panzer Division was named the Totenkopf.  ("Totenkopf" means "death's head.") The Wikipedia article describes the Nazi fanatics who made up the division and the war crimes they committed. They surrendered to American soldiers at war's end, but the Americans handed them over to the Russians, and many of the survivors died in Russian concentration camps. (Wikipedia explains helpfully that the panzer division, the apparent model for the "entire SS division" on page 472 of Illuminatus!, should not be confused with a separate SS organization which ran the Nazi death camps.) 

And here is a British newspaper article about the remains of many people being found at the bottom of a Swiss lake.

There are other grim echoes of real life in Illuminatus! Page 473 refers to the "old fear" of the Russians that "Germany will once again, with the help of the capitalist powers, rise up and attack Russia and slaughter Russians for the third time this century ... " The first time, of course, was World War I, and the defeat was so bad it resulted in the overthrow of the Czar and the eventual capture of power by Lenin, who appears as an unnamed character in Masks of the Illuminati.  And the second, as you know, was World War II, when the Russians suffered unimaginable slaughter. (Last summer was the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of France by the western allies. An important event, to be sure, and I interviewed a war veteran, as did many journalists. But it was really the Russians who did the main job of defeating the Nazis, although I'd guess that only a minority of folks outside of Russia realize that.) During the days of the Cold War, one of the main armies of NATO was a big West German army assembled through conscription. 

A couple of other notes:

"to get stoned and watch late movies on television," page 463. Watching late movies on American TV gave Joe Malik a built-in mash up, with lots of commercials, a replication of the cut-up technique invented by Brion Gysin and popularized by William Burroughs and used in Illuminatus! The early Surrealists in France used to run in and out of movie theaters to obtain a similar effect, and the late Beatle John Lennon enjoyed switching from channel to channel as he watched TV.

"Otto Waterhouse must kill a white man." page 467. The assassination is ordered by Hagbard Celine, who thus winds up replicating the actions of his enemies (as Chas pointed out last time, in the comments.) Whether conscious or not, this is another echo of "the good war" — the Germans bombed cities but saw German cities largely destroyed in a more ruthless and deadly fashion, including Hamburg and  Dresden in World War II.  (No doubt many of you have read Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, which includes the Dresden massacre.) The Japanese committed atrocities, particularly in China; many Japanese cities were pretty much destroyed in firebomb raids, not to mention Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Of course, it's also appropriate that Flanagan dies as a result of his own assassination raid.

"It was the service entrance," page 467. The Black Mass that takes place previously in the work was in an apartment on the 17th floor of 2323 Lake Shore Drive.

(Next week: Page 475, beginning of Book Four, Beamtenherrschaft, to page 489, "back to the world of maya!")

Sunday, December 28, 2014

New graphic novel biography of Aleister Crowley

A new graphic novel, Aleister Crowley Wandering the Waste, by Martin Hayes and R.H. Stewart, tells the life story of occultist Aleister Crowley. has a review by Hannah Means Shannon. Excerpt: " It was most definitely a challenge to create such a graphic novel, but the challenge was part of the appeal, and they had the kind support and enthusiasm of Richard Kaczynski, the author of the massive and authoritative biography of Crowley, Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley. He wrote the foreword to the graphic novel and says the creators did a 'masterful job' of using source material like photos from Crowley’s life that survive.

Via Bogus Magus at Only Maybe.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

A bit of John Higgs: Alan Moore on art and magic

Glastonbury Tor, aka "The Isle of Avalon," mentioned briefly by John Higgs in his new book. 

Author John Higgs recently released a new book 2000 TC: Standing on the Verge of Getting It On as a private edition of 111 copies. It is a biography of the obscure British rock band T.C. Lethbridge, and an album the band recorded 20 years ago and has now finally released. (You can check out the band's music by following the link to John's blog post.)

Explaining the book, John writes, "The voice on the track Bou Saada is that of Brian Barritt. He makes an appearance in the book Cosmic Trigger, when Timothy Leary tells Robert Anton Wilson that he needs to talk to Brian if they are to both understand Aleister Crowley.

"Spending a few months writing a biography of a band who have yet to show their faces in public was not the most career-minded way to spend my time, but it had to be done. This is a story about people who've had some form of visionary or incomprehensible experience, and about how they can only move on and process what happened to them through a creative act. It is about the impact an uncompleted artistic project can have on a life. It also functions as a jigsaw piece, connecting the story in my Timothy Leary book to the one I tell in The KLF.

"So, yeah, it had to be written.

"No doubt it will be made more widely available at some point, in some format, in some way, should the band keep gigging and putting themselves about."

Note that the new book is "about" TC Lethbridge is the same sense that the KLF book is "about" the KLF, i.e. there's lots of other stuff, too.

I have permission from John to quote a little bit of the book, so here's a bit on page 21. The "Flint" in the passage is Flinton Chalk, a member of the band who has had an explicable encounter with a large rock not far the Glastonbury Tor, where Higgs and others scattered a portion of Timothy Leary's ashes. (If you follow the link, you'll see that the Glastonbury Tor is a hill in southern England with old ruins on it; it is a place associated with King Arthur, Celtic myth, the Holy Grail, etc. etc. I hope people in England appreciate the fact that they get to live their lives in the middle of a J.R.R. Tolkien novel.)

What was I saying before I was dragged away by living-near-Glastonbury-Tor envy? Oh yeah, the passage on pages 21-22,  where John discusses his interview with Alan Moore:

I was discussing Flint's story with the writer and magician Alan Moore and he made a couple of particularly insightful points. His first was that the use of the creative arts to process visionary or incomprehensible experience is, in his opinion, the very reason why art began in the first place. From this perspective, Flint was not trying to subvert the making of music into some form of personal therapy. He was using music for his original purpose.

Alan's second point is based on his insight that art and magic are functionally identical. The two words should be viewed as interchangeable, because they both describe the practice of producing intentional changes in the consciousness of others. For Alan magic, like art, occurs in the mind — even if the interplay between the mental and physical worlds can prove to be messier and more confusing that we might like.

Alan's point was that, in magic, a great deal of emphasis is based on bringing the working to a close, be that through a banishing spell or a closing ritual. This is considered important because the psychological energies raised during the work can be dangerous if they are not shut down and placed back in their box. If art and magic are synonymous, therefore, then an unfinished creative project can be as psychologically damaging as an unfinished magical ritual. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

A Chinese science fiction novel

Here is a paragraph from a science fiction novel I've been reading, The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, ably translated from the Chinese by Ken Liu:

An hour later, Wang arrived at the new planetarium and got out of the car. The bright lights of the city penetrated the translucent walls of the immense glass building and dimly revealed its internal structure. Wang thought that if the architect had intended to express the feeling about the universe, the design was a success: The more transparent something was, the more mysterious it seemed. The universe itself was transparent; as long as you were sufficiently sharp-eyed, you could see as far as you liked. But the farther you looked, the more mysterious it became.

The Three-Body Problem is one of the first science fiction novels translated from Chinese into English, if not the first. Cixin Liu is a bestselling writer in China. His novel, an unusual first contact story, reminds me of Arthur C. Clarke (an influence the author acknowledges) but is more political; the abuses of the Cultural Revolution are vividly depicted. I'm most of the way through the book and I really like it. (Arthur C. Clarke probably was my favorite science fiction writer when I was a teen.)

Stanislaw Lem was famous for years in Europe before his books began appearing in English, and the early translations were often poor; the Strugatsky brothers (a favorite of mine, unlike Lem) were important Russian science fiction writers long before their books started coming out in English. How many other good writers do Americans not know about, because we are separated by the barrier of language?

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas links

Robert Anton Wilson on the pagan origins of Christmas. 

Jesse Walker on "Puritans, pagans and Christmas." 

Merry Christmas from Eris, via Adam Gorightly.

Libertarians discuss Scrooge. 

Nativity scene above by DUCCIO di Buoninsegna(b. ca. 1255, Siena, d. 1319, Siena). From the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. "Although remaining faithful to Byzantine iconography, the Nativity scene pays greater attention to space, which is well distributed and amplified by the measured rhythm of the gestures. The narrative is enriched with descriptive details, combining facts drawn from Luke and from the apocryphal gospels, such as the two midwives bathing the Child (probably Salome and Zelomi) and the ox and the ass, while Joseph is portrayed in his usual thoughtful attitude, sitting outside the grotto."

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Robert Anton Wilson Christmas card

Merry Christmas and happy winter solstice to everyone who takes time to read this blog.

Adam Gorightly has just published Robert Anton Wilson's 1975 Christmas card.  As Adam remarks, it reflects RAW's strong interest at the time in space migration and life extension.

RAW's card is a bit short of images, so I've posted, above, the image in the Christmas greeting from the Libertarian Alliance. Byzantine, perhaps?

Also, Ayn Rand on Christmas. No really, not bad; check it out.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Adam Gorighty's links, and mine

Adam Gorightly, who lives in the Holy Land for Discordianism, California, at the Find the Others Festival in Liverpool last month. (Photo: this person, e.g. Adam Clark). 

Adam Gorightly has put up an Partners in Kaos section at Historia Discordia, with suggested links for folks who want to explore other Discordian sites. Thanks for the link and the kind words, Adam!

I have my own suggestions under "Sangha" and "Resources" at the right side of this page. One of my favorites, Groupname for Grapejuice, has a fine recent post on Hermetic Anarchism.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Week 44, Illuminatus online reading group

Thomas Cole's painting on the fall of Rome, an example of the cycle of conquest described at the bottom of page 461.

(This week: "WHEN ATLANTIS RULED THE EARTH," page 446, to "THE END," page 462.)

Here we get a long passage written (or mostly written by Robert Shea); as I wrote in a previous entry, Wilson stated in an interview that Robert Shea wrote the Atlantis portions of Illuminatus!

The allegorical story of Atlantis and its fall, brought about by power-wielding barbarians, provides antecedents to the statists who are the Illuminatus! bad guys, doctrinaire libertarians and Discordians, the three groups represented by Gruad, Ingel Rild and Lilith Velkor. (Many of the names are suggestive or anagrams; Gruad can be changed to "guard," "Lilith" is suggestive of Eris.)

All three groups have legitimate points to make; what makes Gruad's group so terrible is the use and abuse of power: "The Party of Science demands that Atlantis publish the natural laws Gruad has discovered and make them binding on all with systems of reward and punishment to enforce them," page 449. On page 452, Gruad creates soldiers. "They will have no hesitation about destroying men and will act only on Gruad's command." Gruad loves walls and the fortifications that are the symbol and expression of the type of top-down civilization he believes in: "I love any kind of all. Anything that separates. Walls protect good people. Walls lock away the evil. There must always be walls and the love of walls ..." page 459. Only a wealthy, powerful state can build such walls. Hence the Great Wall of China built to keep barbarians out, the walls around Rome and Constantinople that slowed the "fall of the Roman Empire" from invading barbarians, etc. Rome relied on its armies for centuries and did not have walls until the Emperor Aurelian built them, prompted by German invasions of Italy.

(Next week: "Lights flashed on suddenly," page 462, to page 473, "For the human race, on the other hand, that will be extinction. The end."

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Rudy Rucker, hanging out with RAW and Terence McKenna

Rudy Rucker, who went to Portugal in 1994 to make a movie called "The Manual of Evasion" that co-starred Robert Anton Wilson and Terence McKenna, has just posted a 30-minute homemade documentary about the experience. Having sat down to watch it, I can report that apparently all women in Portugal are beautiful, or at least all women involved in making weirdo movies. There's even a bit of music -- Rucker singing "Duke of Earl." Rucker and McKenna seem to be having a good time, although RAW seems a bit more conflicted, matching an account Rucker wrote which described RAW as being rather grumpy during the filming. If you don't know him, Rucker is really good writer who has an excellent story in the new Hieroglyph science fiction anthology.

Friday, December 19, 2014

New book by the Ultraculture guy

Jason Louv

Jason Louv, founder and head honcho of Ultraculture,  has a new book out, Hyperworlds, Underworlds, a collection of his "futurist, outsider journalism."

If you've checked out Mr. Louv's website, or some of his work, you'll notice pretty quickly that Robert Anton Wilson is a big influence on his work. The table of contents lists a piece I previously wrote about. His political stuff has a strong left perspective. If you take advantage of Amazon's invitation to read the preface and check out the table of contents, you probably conclude, as I did, that you'll need to get around to reading this book.

R.U. Sirius wrote the preface. Sirius says it's "really excellent."

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Chelsea Manning birthday message from "occult charlatan" Alan Moore

Alan Moore, referred to by John Higgs and others as the "greatest living Englishman"

The Guardian on Tuesday ran birthday wishes to whistleblower Chelsea Manning from a variety of artists, intellectuals and activists, including Edward Snowden, Michael Stipe, Molly Crabapple, Terry Gilliam and others. But I'm guessing that many of your who bother to read this blog will be particularly interested in Alan Moore's contribution, which you should go read.

"My name’s Alan Moore and I’m an occult charlatan and writer living in Northampton, England’s furthest inland point," Moore explains.  

A bit further along, Mr. Moore writes, "You are, reluctantly I’m sure, a heroine to millions and, it can be safely said, to further millions yet unborn. I’m also relatively certain that there are those moments when that knowledge offers only the most threadbare wrap of consolation and I wish, along I’m sure with many of your other correspondents, that I could provide something more tangible. Alas, in a communication such as this it’s only words and ideas that can be relied upon to not set off the X-ray scanners. Fortunately, occult charlatans are as a group more comfortable with the intangible, so if it’s not presumptuous may I at least offer you this, the idea of a cake that has the idea of a file concealed within it: human beings can never experience reality directly, but instead only experience their own perceptions of reality in the vibrations of their tympana, in signals from their nerve ends and in the photon bombardment of their retinas. To any individual, the outer universe – from its most minute quanta to its furthest, oldest galaxies – is a phenomenon occurring only in their mind. This is not solipsism, but simply a recognition that each man and woman is positioned at the centre of a cosmos that is theirs alone, with the individual as its pivot and its governing intelligence. Our inner world is, in this sense, the only world that we can ever know or live in, but our inner world is endless and immeasurable, and is also the mysterious fountain from which most of the apparent outer world around us has emerged. The territory inside is the most potent and astounding human territory of all, and is accessible by anyone, regardless of their tangible, material circumstances. As the great American philosopher and entertainer Robert Anton Wilson once had his fictional character John Dillinger remark: 'The only way to escape from a locked cell is to walk out through the wall, into the fire.' You have proven in so many ways already that the fire inside you is a powerful one, and I’m convinced it will sustain you."

Hat tip, John Higgs.

Incidentally, Higgs' book on the KLF, ""la banda que quemó un millón de libras," is becoming available in Spanish.

CAOS Y MAGIA: la banda que quemó un millón de libras from Gramaciones Grabofonicas on Vimeo.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Happy Beethoven celebration

One of the reasons I am interested in Robert Anton Wilson is because he was interested in many of the same things that I am. One of those interests is classical music.

I'm going to write about Beethoven today (and a little bit about Bach and Mozart), so you can skip this post if you don't like classical music. Before you go out the door, though, you may be interested in this video of a cough drop commercial that featured music by Frank Zappa:

A little of info about the commercial is here.

Anyway, Dec. 16 is Ludwig van Beethoven's presumed birthday because he was baptized on Dec. 17, and Eric Wagner sent out a "Happy Beethovenmas" message to me and a few others. RAW wrote a lot about Beethoven, as Eric has documented, and see also here and here, and search "Beethoven" on this blog if you want more.

Amazon has some extremely cheap Beethoven compilations; there are also cheap Mozart and Bach sets (as many of you know, Mozart appears as a character in the "Historical Illuminatus!" novels). And for what it's worth, Spotify is offering three months of premium service for 99 cents. Free Bach albums are available here and here.  See also the links at my favorite classical music blog. Whatever you think about the digital music revolution, it's made life easier for classical music fans who don't have much money.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Bavarian Illuminati letterhead and movie list

Kate Winslet. Quintessential manic pixie girl? 

Adam Gorightly has a post on a new OM letter, which is particularly worth linking to for the news that Adam provides a free Bavarian Illuminati letterhead (in the form of a PDF -- I'll have to figure out if I can insert it into a computer document.)

Jesse Walker, meanwhile, has a post on the best movies of 2004 (Mr. Walker likes to have a chance to mull whether his favorites have withstood the test of time.) He lists "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," a movie I've always wanted to see, as "the best of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl movies," a genre I am unfamiliar with.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Week 43, Illuminatus! online reading group

(This week: "It's time for you to see the fnords," he replied, page 437, to page 446, "Suddenly Joe was looking at a brightly-lit computer screen.")

Here we come to the episode in which Joseph Malik sees the fnords.

"Fnord" is a word that has acquired more than one meaning; Wikipedia says it "s a word used in newsgroup and hacker culture to indicate that someone is being ironic, humorous or surreal. Often placed at the end of a statement in brackets (fnord) to make the ironic purpose clear, it is a label that may be applied to any random or surreal sentence, coercive subtext, or anything jarringly out of context (intentionally or not)." In many instances, I see it used as a signal that someone is familiar with Discordianism or Illuminatus!

But in the passage we're talking about this week, it seems to have a specific meaning. It's the messages in the media designed to feed the power of the government by creating fear, usually of "them." Crime is out of control, so it's regrettably necessary for police to shoot unarmed people dead. The Muslim terrorists are out to get us, so the government has to spy on everyone in order to protect us. 

Or as the book says, (page 439), "Of course, the essence of control is fear. The fnords produced a whole population walking around in chronic low-grade emergency, tormented by ulcers, dizzy spells, nightmares, heart palpitations and all the other symptoms of too much adrenalin ... No wonder the poor bastards believe anything they're told .... "

"If I pointed out a fnord to anybody who hadn't been deconditioned, as Hagbard deconditioned me, what would he or she say?" (page 439.) In America, it seems as if only a minority of "deconditioned" people question whether it really makes sense to fight endless wars halfway around the world.

A couple of notes: 

"I turned the radio to WBAI and caught some good Vivaldi," page 438. WBAI, a public radio station, has gone mostly news talk like every other public station in the U.S. Obviously, the top down "impose culture on people" model for classical music hasn't worked, but I hate the fact that classical music is seen as boring and irrelevant. Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" is a particularly popular work. Schroedinger's Cat also has references to Vivaldi. [Update: While I accurately describe a general trend, I'm wrong about WBAI in particular; see Jesse Walker in the comments.]

"It's time you took those pictures of the Rolling Stones off your wall," page 440. One of Timothy Leary's favorite bands.

"We don't expect C.L. Sulzberger to grasp the importance of Fernando Poo ... " page 445. Foreign affairs writer for the New York Times.

(Next week: "WHEN ATLANTIS RULED THE EARTH," page 446, to "THE END," page 462. On to Atlantis!)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

RAW 360 relaunches

Steve Pratt

Steve "Fly Agaric" Pratt has revamped and relaunched his remarkable Robert Anton Wilson tribute site, RAW360, which uses both sound and vision in interesting ways. Check it out if you haven't visited it lately. You can roam in all directions, entering the Chapel or the Kitchen, listening to music, checking out an Alan Moore video, etc.

Steve recently served as music director for Daisy Eris Campbell's production of the Cosmic Trigger play. He reports that footage was shot of the last performance in London, although there's no news yet about availability.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The best books of 2014

Author Tom Perrotta (Credit: Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 3.0)

Every year I do a "best books" column for my paper, polling writers and readers. I usually have at least one name readers of this blog will recognize, and this year it's John Higgs. I also got contributions from some other folks whose names you might know, including U.S. author Tom Perrotta, long one of my favorite writers.

The best books of 2014, Sandusky Register.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Actor Nick Offerman a RAW fan

Nick Offerman

Thanks to my ignorance of pop culture, I'm afraid I didn't know who Nick Offerman is until Thursday; he's a successful American actor with a long list of credits and is best known for his role on Parks and Recreation, a popular (and well reviewed) American situation comedy starring Amy Poehler. And he also writes and has about 648,000 followers on Twitter, about 647,500 more than I do. 

Oh, and one other bit of trivia. Last year, he listed his 12 favorite books for Barnes and Noble, and guess who pops up in the list?

4) The Historical Illuminatus Chronicles, by Robert Anton Wilson
A favorite free-minded genius, Wilson’s works are wickedly inventive and ribald. Plus therein lies an ass-load of conspiracy theory and secret society social secrets.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Thursday links

Mostly politics this time, sorry ....

Arthur Hlavaty on the torture report. "Reminds me of how Nixon lost the presidency because his gang treated the Democratic Party like a Black group or a peace group."

John Higgs on "peak shit" in British politics. If it's true that the leader of the Labour Party "stopped Cameron and Obama starting a war against Syria in which they intended to ally themselves with ISIS" (as I of course assume it is, as John says so), then I would like feel obligated to vote Labour, if I lived in Great Britain, much as I used to vote for my local left Congressman, Dennis Kucinich, because of his record on peace and civil liberties. (The political establishment finally got rid of him using redistricting.)

Was the Discordian Society a CIA front? Excerpt from Adam Gorightly's new book.

James Cauty has a website.

Everybody loses in the UVA rape story. 

Lena Dunham under fire for making stuff up.  In the long run, I would think the revived interest in facts will benefit feminism. And I think campus rape is a big problem; all complaints should be investigated, even ones about your most important football player.

Shoot an unarmed black person, text your union rep. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My interview with Richard Powers

Some of Richard Powers' novels. (Sandusky Register photo by Luke Wark, used by permission.)

My new books blog at my day job at an Ohio newspaper has my new interview with one of my favorite writers, Richard Powers, author of The Gold Bug Variations, the Echo Makers (which won the National Book Award), Orfeo, etc. Excerpt:

Sandusky Register: Do you listen to music when  you write, or do you prefer to work under silence?

Richard Powers: Several of my eleven published novels have featured music of one kind or another in a starring role.  One of the reasons I have come back to that subject again and again is that it gives me the chance to steep myself in listening, during the years that it takes to write a book.  I can't write at the same moment that good music is playing; the sounds are too interesting to concentrate on anything else!  What I do is alternate, all day long: an hour or two of writing, then half an hour to an hour of intense listening, for refreshment and inspiration.  It's a great, two-stroke engine.  When I wrote The Gold Bug Variations, I must have listened to one or another of Bach’s gems thousands of times.

Richard Powers on music, Twitter and his novels.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Did RAW lose two unpublished novels?

Bobby Campbell's cover for The Widow's Son

I've been wondering for awhile why Robert Anton Wilson didn't finish his "Historical Illuminatus" series. Three came out. I thought The Earth Will Shake and The Widow's Son were excellent. Nature's God has many fine moments, but seemed to me to have a bit of an unfinished feel.

In any event, as this Wikipedia entry relates, there were supposed to be five books in all, and the name of the fourth had been released — The World Turned Upside Down. 

So what happened? The Wikpedia entry gives the accepted answer: Wilson never got around to writing them.

But Philip Brett, a member of the Robert Anton Wilson Fans Facebook group and a California resident, has come forward with another version of the story. According to Mr. Brett, Wilson completed the books, but lost the manuscripts.

I wrote Brett asking for more information after I saw a brief posting on Facebook, and he wrote back:

"I first asked him at a book signing for Everything Is Under Control. I was the last person on line. He politely blew me off. I knew someone who was roommates with Rosemary, Timothy Leary's widow, so I met and talked to him at a memorial party. I wound up being part of a group that would watch movies and read his books. I think it was a little while before I asked him. I'll say it was 1999. The third volume had an excerpt of the fourth which never came out. He explained to me  the publisher went out of business. He got another but the book didn't sell well since he was a cult author and most people who were interested bought them the first time around. The publisher didn't want to continue. He had finished the fourth and the fifth needed some editing. They existed on a computer  as manuscripts. He said all of it had been lost in moving around and by mistakes. I had the impression he wasn't blaming anyone else. He said it was the biggest heartache of his professional career. He was sad telling me this. I felt bad. He talked about bad editors and having trouble getting royalties from some publishers after that. That's about all I remember but I would try to answer any questions you might have."

As a follow up, I wrote back to Mr. Brett: "I'm confused about how the books could have been lost if they were on a computer. Was the computer itself lost? Because if he had a hard drive crash, it's possible that there could have been some way to recover it.

"It's sad if important work was lost. I've noticed that he didn't make any provision, either, for the preservation of his literary papers."

Mr. Brett wrote back:

"I am speculating that they may have been deleted by mistake; he was not the most computer literate person in the world, or it may have been damaged. I also think it may have been one of his kids but he left that out when describing it to me. The fact remains that they are lost. As for his papers I think that anything that he had done that he wanted to be released went into Email to the Universe."

He suggested a couple of other people I could write to for more information. I'll see what I can find out, but does anyone reading this have any information?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Week 42, Illuminatus! online reading group

 Emperor Norton

 (This week: "But two days earlier, as the Leif Ericsson left the Atlantic .... " page 427, to page 437, "But why did you bring me up here?")

Here we get the 'abdication' of Hagbard Celine.

It takes place at the weekly "Love Feast Game" of the Discordians, which features paintings of "Discordian saints" (page 427) including

Emperor Norton I

Sigismundo Malatesta

Guillaume of Aquitaine

Chuang Chou

and Judge Roy Bean

"Miss Portanari now succeeds me as head of the Leif Ericcson cabal," page 430, Hagbard's abdication.  The appendix on Page 768 explains, "Readers who do not understand the scene in which Hagbard abdicates in favor of Miss Portanari should take heart. Once they do understand it, they will understand most of the mysteries of all schools of mysticism." This is good news; like George Dorn, I am still struggling to figure out what happened. I am asking for help again.

"seeing that nut Celine actually talk to gorillas," page 436. The speaker is Joseph Malik; see pages 319-320.

"The state is based on threat," Stella said simply (page 437). The current threat is "terrorism."

(Next week: "It's time for you to see the fnords," he replied, page 437, to page 446, "Suddenly Joe was looking at a brightly-lit computer screen.")

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Korzybski's influence on science fiction — and RAW

Alfred Korzybski

It's not a new article, but it was new to me: "The Eccentric Polish Count Who Influenced Classic SF's Greatest Writers" by Lee Konstatinou, an American writer and academic. Here are the first few sentences:

L. Ron Hubbard once supposedly bet Robert A. Heinlein that he could make more money by founding a religion than Heinlein could by writing a work of science fiction. Heinlein responded by writing his classic novel Stranger in a Strange Land (1961). Hubbard, meanwhile, created Dianetics and Scientology.

Though the story is probably false, Hubbard's religious doctrines do bear a remarkable resemblance to aspects of Heinlein's novel. Both Hubbard and Heinlein were fixated on the divergent relationship between words and things. Both assumed that language could, on the one hand, tyrannize us and, on the other, become the means of acquiring tremendous individual power.

This intellectual confluence was no coincidence. Both Golden Age science fiction writers derived some of their most strongly held views from the same source: the polymath Polish "Count," Alfred Korzybski.

Today, Korzybski is either forgotten or regarded as a crank, but at midcentury he was famous. Korzybski inspired a legion of students, and the meta-science of "General Semantics" that he created affected disciplines as diverse as literary criticism, philosophy, linguistics, psychology, and cybernetics.

This is a fine article, one that every RAW fan should read. Konstatinou never mentions Robert Anton Wilson (who is really beyond the scope of the article, which is about Golden Age SF writers such as Heinlein, Hubbard and A.E. Van Vogt), but commenters bring Wilson up. When you read the article, you'll see that Konstatinou explains many concepts familiar to RAW readers, such as, "The map is not the territory."

Lee Konstatinou

I didn't know who Professor Konstatinou was until I began reading Hieroglyph, a big new anthology of science fiction stories inspired by Neal Stephenson; he has a pretty good story in the book. Konstatinou is on Twitter.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Using a Higgs lens to read Illuminatus!

Author John Higgs

In his blog post about the Cosmic Trigger weekend, John Higgs writes about two different ways to tell a story — (1) the hero's journey, focusing on one protagonist's point of view, and (2) the intersection of many different stories, or "reality tunnels."

John offers these two means of storytelling as a contrast to each other. But I want to argue, here, that both methods can be seen in two seminal works of 20th century literature — James Joyce's Ulysses and Wilson and Shea's Illuminatus!

First, a bit more detail about the two fiction methods.

About the hero plot Higgs explains, "I’ve written a book about the 20th Century which will be out next year and which I’ll bang on endlessly about soon. But one thing I realised writing that book that the predominant story form of the 20th Century, especially in cinema, is what Joseph Campbell called the Hero’s Journey. A young man (and it's almost always a man) of lowly means receives a call to adventure, meets a patriarchal mentor, faces many challenges, defeats the personification of evil and returns home with treasure. You’re probably sick to death of that story, it’s been used in everything from Errol Flynn movies to Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter. It’s the story of a single reality tunnel – it’s the tale of how the hero views the world." It seems to me the story of Frodo in The Lord of the Rings also would be an example of what John is talking about.

He then adds, "But there’s been a huge shift in our culture. Look at the big hits that we get now. You have TV series like Game of Thrones, where the complicated interplay between dozens of competing reality tunnels proves to be a far more interesting, rewarding and illuminating piece of television than the story of one single reality tunnel. You get things like the Marvel cinematic universe, where all these separate individual superhero films join up into something larger, because Marvel understands that the sum is larger than the parts. In the Eighties the fact that Doctor Who had decades of backstory was a reason not to watch it: now people love it when they pick up on a Jon Pertwee reference from the 1970s. A simple children’s Hero Journey story such as The Hobbit becomes an epic 9-hour trilogy for today’s audience. Alan Moore understood all this decades ago, when he first began connecting up the entire world of fiction in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen."

John then applies it to the past "Cosmic Trigger" weekend. "All the stories, all your individual stories about what brought you here to this building on this day, they all connect up and form one larger story that is greater than the sum of its parts. And none of us can see that story, but we can sense it. We know deep down that this is exactly where we are meant to be, and that being here is important and will resonate with us for perhaps the rest of our lives. This weekend is about something other than one person’s reality tunnel. And yes, it is frustrating that none of us can see this larger story, but you know it’s there, just out of the corner of your eyes, because you keep getting flashes of it."

Isn't a mesh of different stories a pretty good description of what James Joyce's Ulysses is about? The different plotlines weave and intersect, but you get a sense that there are many different stories going on in Dublin, and that the reader is only getting a few of them, focusing in on the details of the characters to show that there is a much richer, larger whole. Certainly Illuminatus!, published in the 1970s, would seem to be an early example of the  "shift in the culture" that John perceives, with its multiple reality tunnels weaving in and out.

But it also strikes me that the "hero's journey" model can be applied in both of these books. If Stephen Dedalus is the Frodo/Luke Skywalker character who "faces many challenges,"  Leopold Bloom would seem to be the patriarchal mentor who gets Dedalus out of trouble after an encounter with a British soldier and then takes care of the  younger man.

Perhaps the model is more clear in Illuminatus!, where the "hero's journey" takes place at least three times. On one track, George Dorn is the "young man," and his "patriarchal mentor" is Hagbard Celine. Joseph Malik is the other "young man" (perhaps not chronologically) and his "patriarchal mentor" is the (probably younger) Simon Moon, who lectures Malik relentlessly and takes him on the Discordian path.

And in a sense, Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson function as "patriarchal mentors" for the readers. There's even a series of tutoring sessions in the back, in the form of an Appendix, where the authors take the time to further lecture the reader and provide pointers for further research.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Michael Glennon on who actually runs national security policy

Michael J. Glennon

I've started a books blog in my day job, and I've been doing interviews with authors as one of the recurring items on it. (I recently did an Adam Gorightly interview.)

This week I published an interview with Michael J. Glennon, author of my favorite nonfiction book of 2014: National Security and Double Government.  The book raises a point that's been made by Robert Anton Wilson and others: The National Security Act of 1947 set events in motion which shifted much of the power for making national security policy away from elected officials to unelected national security officials.

An excerpt from my interview:

Sandusky Register: Your book suggests that elections in the U.S. have little effect on national security policy — most of the decisions are made by a network of several hundred national security bureaucrats, regardless of who occupies the Oval Office or the seats in Congress. Do politicians in Washington privately admit that this is true?

Glennon: I’ve spoken with many members of what I call the “Trumanite network” who do acknowledge that reality — it’s hard to deny, really, though few will say so publicly — but members of Congress and federal judges have too much at stake to pull back the curtains. As I describe in the book, public deference depends upon the illusion that the public institutions of our government are actually in charge, and their legitimacy would suffer if they were brutally honest about how much power they have transferred to the Trumanites.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Brian Aldiss on 'Illuminatus!' and Ken Campbell

British science fiction writer Brian Aldiss. I loved The Book of Brian Aldiss and The Malacia Tapestry. 

"Far be it from me to describe what Illuminatus! is all about," British science fiction great Brian Aldiss wrote back in 1976. "That would be like trying to write the history of the world on the back of a postage stamp. What can be revealed is that Illuminatus! is a gigantic new novel written by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, just published in three volumes. It may become a cult book big enough to make Tolkien look like a manual on garden gnomes or Dune like a kid's sandcastle."

The rest of the article pivots to a review of "mad genius" Ken Campbell's adaptation.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Week 41, Illuminatus online reading group


A photograph from Lehman Caves in Great Basin National Park, eastern Nevada. 

This week: "And then it was just like a light bulb in my head," page 416 to page 427, ""Heate die Welt," all repeated, "Morgens das Sonnensystem.")

And so Carmel saves he world, by going off to find a hole to hide in — Lehman Cave. In this universe, it's actually more than one cave, Lehman Caves, and it's part of a national park.

"he ... fondly believed he was exploiting their folly when he told them that a vast Illuminati conspiracy controlled the money supply and interest rates," page 420. RAW wrote a lot about an economic system which enriches many who do nothing but collect interests and rents. Speaking of exploiting people by manipulating interest rates .... 

"That about summed it up: the laws were not necessarily fascist Gestapo racist pigs (words largely unknown in Texas), but they were people who would find it a relief if bothersome and rebellious individualist disappeared, however bloody the disappearance might be," page 420. By coincidence, Arthur Hlavaty has just done a blog post on the divide between police critics from the left who want to talk about racism, and police critics from libertarianism who want to focus on individual rights; apparently only weirdoes think that both groups have a point.

"no governing body can ever obtain an accurate account of reality from those over whom in holds power," pages 423-424, and sentences immediately following; a restatement of the SNAFU principle and how it affects government.

"Democracy, in short, must cease until the emergency is ended," page 425. Of course, the current emergency is "terrorism."

(Next week: But two days earlier, as the Leif Ericsson left the Atlantic .... " page 427, to page 437, "But why did you bring me up here?")