Photo from the 1978 Nova convention in 1978 in New York City
By Charles Faris, Cosmic Trigger online reading group guest bloggerThis week we are looking at the Forewords by Timothy Leary, Ph.D.
Every time I read the Forewords to Cosmic Trigger I am once again in awe of just how awesome Tim Leary was, as a writer. In just four pages, he expresses so much, so simply, about the essence of what Bob is offering us, that it is very easy to get why Bob held him in such esteem. This is also the piece of writing I wish I could quote, from start to finish, whenever someone wonders why they might read Cosmic Trigger.
Here are just a few of the clues Tim sprinkles into the “set” he offers for How To Read Cosmic Trigger.
Ontology recapitulates phylogeny, i.e. as we develop we repeat the evolution of the species.
This leads to the notion that "the great alchemist, philosophers, mystics, and sages" pre-capitulate, revealing future traits in the evolution of the species.
Lao-tse, Buddha, Gurdjieff, Crowley, all revealed wisdom and consciousness far beyond that of the standard terrestrial hairless ape of their times, as do Cosmic Trigger and its author -- "modern links in this unbroken chain of alchemical philosophers and Intelligent Agents.”
Tim then gets on a riff about Bob's "attempts to correlate inner, subjective vision with the external, objective language of the energy sciences,”and finishes off with the claim that all great writers are "encyclopedic and epic.”
Dante, Boccaccio, Joyce, & Hesse; Gravity's Rainbow, Illuminatus!, Cosmic Trigger, once again Bob gets hauled in to stand with the best of them. Tim goes on to list some of the entries in this encyclopedia: from the Illuminati Conspiracy to the Lee Harvey Oswald conspiracies, from UFOs to the number 23, from Aleister Crowley to William Burroughs.
I love the next line: "In each of these academic references there is an anecdotal flash so that these important names and topics become alive on the page. This is good writing." So true.
His description of the epic aspects of Bob's adventurers also reveals how much the love between Bob and Tim travelled both ways.
My 2 cents
Imagine that you’ve never read Cosmic Trigger, or any other books by Robert Anton Wilson, excepting Illuminatus!, of course. Imagine that it is 1977 and Bob hasn’t written Prometheus Rising, or Quantum Psychology, or even Schrodinger’s Cat! It’s just Cosmic Trigger and Illuminatus!, and you are reading Cosmic Trigger for the first time.
The subtitle of the book is Final Secret of the Illuminati. The first sentence takes us to the “ill-fated day” that Bob first began investigating the Illuminati, and the last sentence announces that he has “learned the final secret of the Illuminati." It’s Illuminati yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and it’s an awesome secret.
There is so much in here of an epic, encyclopedic, and timeless nature that it took Bob 25 years and countless more books to fully “explain” the myriad dusty occult subjects he brings to the surface here. In some ways what we have here is a template for everything else Bob ever did. This book is PACKED! Ten pages a week might seem like too much, especially if you are of the mind to “do the damn exercises,” which I encourage you to try on!
Oh well, how deep we dive down the rabbit hole is, of course, a personal matter. Rest assured you’ve got plenty of seasoned traveling companions.
Next Week—Prologue: Thinking About the Unthinkable, pages 1-14.
Our guest blogger, Charles Faris
I can remember, rather than imagining, reading Cosmic Trigger when it was new.
I hadn't even heard of RAW when I picked this up in a used bookstore in Los Angeles in 2004. I wound up lending it to all my hip friends. I didn't encounter Illuminatus (the three original volumes ) until five or so years later in a bookstore in Oakland. I'd read Korzybski and had closely followed Leary since the mid '60's but Illuminatus was a revelation.
I wonder how relevant people find Bob's later enthusiasm for E-Prime.
Great write up, Charles! I agree that one of the subplots of CT delves into the friendship and mutually reciprocal intelligence sharing and modifying feedback loop that existed between these two great explorers. Tim is there at the beginning of the book and also right at the end when RAW reveals the final secret of the Illuminati.
Considering what Greenfield said in his Leary bio about Tim's strong interest in the anomalies of time makes me wonder if there's a pun on time in the Forewords first sentence.
The axiom, ontology recapitulates phylogeny - suggests the magick axiom, "as above, so below" or "as below, so above," which indicates the correspondence between the microcosm and the macrocosm. This further suggests to me the legend of the Divine King from Frazer's Golden Bough which RAW brings up later in connection with the JFK assassination.
p. xviii - Tim riffs on time again: "The time-lag problem is solved by transtime neurogenetic signalry." In that paragraph he's talking about how Lao-tse codified the I Ching to transmit information over time. This is what Gurdjieff called a legominism, an artifact coded with information to get unlocked at a later date though the I Ching seems clearly more than that. Coded information appears a strong subtext in CT especially when RAW dives into Cabala.
I noticed that Higgs called CT "one of the great books of all time" in the last sentence of his intro and wondered if he was intentionally punning or just using a colloquial expression. "All time" does cover a lot and seems mystically tantalizing.
Not that I think this qabalistic joke will translate over the internet, but I can guess why Tim was so interested in time - because it added an extra "e" (The Star tarot) to his name.
To be continued ... I've run out of time for the moment. :)
Leary succinctly explains the theories that are the foundation of his Exo-psychology, along with giving us a historical perspective on RAW and his work.
I was'nt aware of Illuminatus until I read CT. Imagine discovering RAW now with the internet. There is certainly less mystery involved.
That reminds me that either Leary wanted to or did end his autobiography "Flashbacks" with "It's about time." I don't have a copy to confirm...
Yes, Dustin, that's how he ended it.
I don't think Lao Tzu had much to do with the I Ching.
I had a Chinese friend write "Book of Changes" on my Real Book (a collection of the changes for hundreds of jazz tunes).
The reference to Jim Garrison makes me think of Jimmy Garrison, who played bass with John Coltrane. I love Bobby Campbell's illustration of the Modern Jazz Quartet in honor of Bob Wilson.
I enjoyed Leary's clever writing style; every time I read a small bit of his writing, it reminds me that I need to get around to trying his books.
I loved the bit about the "encylopedic works" produced at the high water mark of every civilization, and I'm sure RAW must have been flattered to see his books compared to Leary's other examples. I also liked the description of Cosmic Trigger in the final paragraphs, particularly the sentences, "Cosmic Trigger sparkles with humor, openness of mind, courage, understanding, tolerance. It is the epic adventure of a many who invites us to grow and change with him." I can't imagine a better description of the book.
I did think Leary was being unfair when he dismissed the Eightfold Path as a "path of domesticated virtue." Only three of the eight deal with ethical conduct, and those three are all good advice about how we should treat each other.
Ah yes, I misread - Leary stated Lao-tse taught the I Ching codes not that he made them.
p. xix - Interesting line for a qabalist who took a lot of drugs: "... decipher the genetic Rosetta Stone and get direct experiential knowledge of the evolutionary process."
p. xxi - The paragraph that starts: " Wilson realizes..." the whole thing could just as easily refer to himself (Leary) as it does to RAW. They seem like brothers or twins in that regard - the self-employed intellectuals of consciousness expansion. He states another basic occult formula: solve et coagula - a main theme and practice in the brain-change aspects of CT.
Leary ends the Forewords alliteratively riffing on time.
There's no evidence at all that Laozi even existed.
The standard Chinese story of the Yi's origins does not mention him.
R. A. W.
I read my first R. A. W. book, The Illuminatus Trilogy, this year. This is the first time I've read Cosmic Trigger.
I'm coming at Cosmic Trigger with a fairly strong background in classic literature, a 2-year exploration of magick, and several "coincidences" that have led me to Wilson – and this reading group.
With my lit background, Wilson's connection to James Joyce is interesting. I've never enjoyed reading Joyce. Perhaps this is because I don't have the memory for "Ulysses"; the flow partially depends on the reader being able to flawlessly access a neatly organized lifetime of reading and experience. My memory resembles a muddy sheepdog.
Yet I enjoy reading Wilson. The Illuminatus Trilogy didn't depend on the reader remembering every detail. Rather, every patch of hair in his seeming shaggy dog story was connected to the book's main ideas. A different sort of didacticism.
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