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Friday, July 17, 2015

Arthur D. Hlavaty on Illuminatus!

Arthur D. Hlavaty, right, with Kevin J. Maroney and Bernadette Bosky, who are prominent fans in their own right. 

[Arthur D. Hlavaty has long been a prominent science fiction fan (he has appeared on the Hugo ballot as a finalist for "best fan writer" 12 times) and he also is well known  as a scholar of Robert A. Heinlein (see for example his discussion of two books about Heinlein.)  (Arthur remains active as a fanzine fan (although you can get zines such as "Nice Distinctions" via email now) but he also has adapted to the new era with his popular LiveJournal Supergee blog. He has been married for more than 25 years of Bernadette Bosky and Kevin J. Maroney, and the trio have lived since 1992 in Yonkers, New York. (The three were fan guest of honor at Detcon1, the 2014 NASFiC in Detroit.) Notwithstanding all of that, he has long been prominent in "Robert Anton Wilson fandom;" he founded the Golden APA (see my interview with him about that) and was friends with both RAW and Robert Shea. You can read an archive of some of his writings, and see also his "Nice Distinctions" archive.  He enjoys listening to popular music, so long as it was recorded before 1975 or so. -- The Management.]

I eagerly awaited Illuminatus! I'd been reading The Realist since the early 60s, and RAW fitted in with Paul Krassner, Lenny Bruce, and that lot. (He also resembled A. Nonymous Hack, author of a delightful reminiscence of writing for the tabloids and skin mags.) I sought out his work, even locating The Sex Magicians, and I enjoyed his Playboy Press books, learning from one of them, The Book of the Breast, that he was A. Nonymous Hack, another sign that I had entered into a world where things were not as they seemed. I did not agree with him about everything, but he gave me much that was good to think with.

I'd already had one major mind-expanding reading experience. In 1966 I had read Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land and was reprogrammed in ways that were not apparent for months or even years (and some immediate): Hinduism, polyamory, distrust of church & state, and a number of lesser metaphors, jokes, and learnings. (Witchcraft Is Not Satanism was news in 1966.) I didn't accept it all. I immediately questioned the strong sexual dimorphism, and by early rereadings I was annoyed by the condescension to marijuana and homosexuality. Still it was, and remains, a major part of my mind.

I was ready for another such experience, and I was already a RAW fan. I was primed for a book about sex, drugs, rock & roll, metaphysics, gnosis, liberty, skepticism, conspiracy theories, and wiseass, and the notorious Bavarian Illuminati seemed an excellent vehicle for it. The book had been promised in The Realist, and in September 1975, when I saw a copy at the Science Fiction Shop, I grabbed it, learning that there were to be two more volumes.

I grabbed each as soon as possible. Like life itself it was a ride, with ups and downs. At one point between the second and third volumes, I decided that the conclusion would demonstrate that I was wrong about everything and drank myself insensible. The next morning I decided to persevere, and sure enough, when I read Leviathan on November 1, it did not demonstrate anything of the sort. I loved it, and questioned it, and welcomed it to work on my mind.

I tried the four-gods exercise immediately after reading the last volume, and at least once more, and it did not work for me. Years later RAW would tell me (in Natural Law, or Don’t Put a Rubber on Your Willy) that my feeling that the material world is a simultaneously boring and terrifying place was a statement about me, rather than about it, and I realized he was right. If I had the self-discipline to reprogram myself to feel differently, I might do so, but I lack the self-discipline to achieve that admirable state.

Robert Anson Heinlein and Robert Anton Wilson had a lot in common, so much so that I would fail to notice relevant differences. They had both studied General Semantics, which taught them that natural languages are severely deficient tools for dealing with the material world. Heinlein dreamed of a "Martian" language that would solve the problem, and that was a science-fictional vision that inspired me. Wilson concluded that such a language was impossible, but that was OK with him because he didn't want to pick up the material world from a safe distance. I fear that he was right.

Before I read Illuminatus!, I believed in what Thomas Nagel called the View from Nowhere, the objective view of how the world really is, and even the moral View from Nowhere, where one can see the General Good. Each reading somewhat deprogrammed me from that, and I emerge from this latest reading reminded that, like all of us, I create my own reality (out of materials and with limitations that I did not create and do not control). I will backslide as always, but, as always, I will backslide less each time.

Bobby Campbell's new illustration for Illuminatus! Week!


Eric Wagner said...

Terrific piece. I may teach Starnger in a Strange Land in my science fiction class this year.

fuzzbuddy said...

Nice one Arthur.

Oz Fritz said...

Stranger in a Strange Land had a strong influence on me as well.