One of the great and enduring enigmas of this “cryptic and ambiguous book,” to myself at least, goes by the name of Brian Barritt. Timothy Leary seems to place great importance upon his time with Brian, and insists that Bob begin corresponding with him “at once,” since Brian and Bob were both exploring that old elephant Aleister Crowley from two different sides. Upon first reading this section 37 years ago I took this insistence as being obliquely directed at me, and my inability to find much of anything regarding Mr. B frustrated me for years and years. In those pre-internet days what could be done when searching out an obscure English poet who seemingly never bothered to publish. Even as www began to unfold BB remained an enigma, a creature of the weird seemingly, until this year when I discovered that Mr. John Higgs was a personal friend of Mr. Barritt and had posted a bit about him a few years back.
And so with great joy and appreciation I present to you A visit to CMF according to John Higgs (including a special exclusive video clip of this same section from the 2014 Cosmic Trigger play). Take it away John!
-- Charles Faris
COSMIC TRIGGER READING GROUP – A VISIT TO CMF
By John Higgs
This chapter covers a lot of ground. Bob Wilson visits Timothy Leary in prison, and listens attentively while Tim holds forth on Aleister Crowley, the eight circuit theory of consciousness, Black Panther politics, immortality and Tim’s early thoughts on mankind’s intergalactic future. Some of this is complex stuff, not least the eight circuit theory, which is never an easy thing to explain to the uninitiated.
So – how would you have gone about adapting all that for the stage, as Daisy Campbell did for her Cosmic Trigger play? It’s a dense meander through Leary’s preoccupations with no obvious narrative drive. Personally I would have been tempted to cut the lot. That’s not Daisy’s style though. This is how she tackled this scene (thanks to her and Nick Alderton for the clip) – here’s Oliver Senton as Robert Anton Wilson and Andrew MacBean as Tim Leary:
Cosmic Trigger - 8 Circuit Number - London Evening Perf from C S on Vimeo.
Yeah, that’s right, she turned it into a song and dance number with the personal dramas of other prisoners utilised to illustrate eight circuit theory, and she threw in a Beastie Boys reference to keep it light. She basically had a creative problem that was extremely difficult, and she solved it by making her task much harder. This is similar to the approach Alan Moore took with the chapters in the last third of his epic novel Jerusalem, where he designed every chapter to be essentially impossible to write in order to keep things interesting, for himself as much as for his readers. Sometimes wild ambition is the only sensible approach.
We’ll return to that thought in a moment.
But back to this chapter. I wanted to write about A Visit to CMF because it contains a mention of a friend of mine, the late British Beat writer Brian Barritt. It was many nights at Brian’s talking to him about his time on the run in Algiers in Switzerland with Tim Leary that led to me writing a Leary biography, which in turn led to me meeting Bob Wilson in December 2004. Much of my life now, in fact, can be traced back to the influence of Brian. Like Bob and Tim, to know him was to be changed by him.
I think at their core, Brian Barritt and Robert Anton Wilson were very similar, at least in terms of their values, insights and humour. The difference was that Bob drew the short straw in terms of health, while Brian was vivacious and indestructible — as Leary says of Brian in Confessions of a Hope Fiend, "he will not die; they will have to kill him." I suspect this may be why Bob was drawn more to Buddhism, with its deeper understanding of suffering and compassion, while Brian was more of a Pan-like lusty goatboy. Bob radiated kindness while Brian radiated trouble.
Brian’s perspective was not that of an academic or an intellectual. He was an artist. The reason why he and Tim got on so well when they met in Algiers was because they were both talking about the same things, but from different perspectives and with different terminology. What Tim called the neurosomatic level, for example, Brian called The Land of Incredible Goodies. When Tim talked of the neuroelectric and neurogenetic levels, Brian called those the Land of the Giant Suns and the Lunetime. What Tim would call his reality tunnel, Brian would call his bubble. They had differing perspectives on the same internal territory. They gave each other a rush of fresh insights.
This is the reason why, in the A Visit to CMF chapter, Leary insists that Wilson needs to talk to Barritt if either of them are to fully understand the "elephant" that is Crowley. The metaphor here is from the Indian story of the blind men and the elephant, in which a number of blind men feel different parts of the same elephant – its tusks, trunk, legs, body, or tail – and disagree with each other about what this elephant-thing really is.
Brian and Bob did meet, I believe, when they both visited Tim as he was dying. But it was only a brief meeting, and the elephant of Crowley was not discussed. Bob’s understanding of Crowley was to a large extent experiential, based as it was on performing his exercises and observing the changes that occurred in his own consciousness, so I’m not convinced he needed Brian’s help as desperately as Tim suggests here. If anything, I wonder if Leary thought that Bob needed Brian’s help not to grasp Crowley, but to grasp the significance of Leary identifying so strongly with Crowley?
When he recounts this meeting in this chapter of Cosmic Trigger, Bob focuses on how Tim doesn’t literally believe in reincarnation. Which is fair enough, but it is burying the lede — the headline is surely Tim continuing Crowley’s "Great Work," that of bringing about an evolution in human consciousness? That could sound delusional and egotistical were it not the case that this is exactly what Tim Leary did, or so it appears to me. Bob Wilson understood this intellectually, of course, but perhaps Tim wanted him to see it from the perspective of a Crowleyesque English radical shitkicker, in order to fully blast home the Holy Fuck significance?
Brian was good at that.
You’d have liked him.
Tim and Bob’s talk continues through all sorts of interesting byways, but the one I want to discuss is where Tim talks about “the proper use of the new energies.”.“The pot-head who sits around blissed-out hasn’t found out yet what pot is for,” he says, and the blissed-out acid head is doing nothing more than “transcendental masturbation.” Here we find an important principle for Leary, that of purpose.
This was the reason for Tim and Brian’s falling out during the 80s. To Tim’s annoyance and frustration, Brian retreated into heroin and failed to produce the books and paintings that he should have done. Brian’s excuse was that heroin was the only logical response to the 80s, and that he was “just waiting for a less shit time to come around.”This is all well and good, and I doubt there are many who can entirely dismiss empty bliss as an option. But I know that Brian had some extraordinary works within him, that he never manifested.
I talked earlier about Bob and Brian both being people who changed those who knew them: you have to take my word for it about Brian, but read some of Bob’s 35 books and get a sense of his impact. I often think about the books that Brian Barritt didn’t write, now that he is no longer with us. If nothing else, the thought of those books helps keep me productive.
The significance of purpose to Leary is apparent again at the end of the chapter. Bob wrote that “Tim folded his hands in prayer and looked upward with exaggerated worship. ‘Intelligence’, he said, naming his God.” I think there are many, especially in the psychedelic generation, who would equate the idea of God with awareness – not so much the patriarchal, judgemental idea of God that monotheists have, but more a sense of the universe being alive, and knowing, and loving. Tim goes further here, I think, if we accept Bob’s words at face value. Valuing intelligence over awareness suggests purpose, because intelligence has no value unless it is utilised.
Brian Barrett and Timothy Leary
The cosmos, as Tim saw it, was up to something, and we were its agents. This belief was the driving force behind his S.M.I2.L.E. philosophies, and the techno-utopian dreams that Cosmic Trigger is full of.
But at some point in the 1980s we gave up on the future. Optimistic visions of days to come vanished entirely from our mainstream culture, and were replaced with zombies, wastelands and environmental apocalypses. This is deeply worrying, because to build a future we must first dream it.
Do we lack the intelligence to imagine a future worth building? Here I think Daisy Campbell’s staging of this chapter, and Alan Moore’s approach to writing, can help us. When you have a difficult path ahead, intelligence alone isn’t enough. You need ambition too. Leary knew that, when he took the baton from Crowley.
When you look over Bob’s work, it is striking that no book he wrote was easy – both in terms of explaining what it is about, as well as the challenge of actually writing it. There was a level of ambition to his books, which raised them above the general tone of the 70s counterculture and which is why we are still talking about them today. You can see why Tim Leary like Bob Wilson so much.
Okay—that’s it for this week—enjoy the words, the video, and the increasing movement toward direct alignment with Sol and Sirius! Next week—The prospects of immortality and Stopping the biological clock, page 121 Hilaritas, 120 And/or. And as always—comment frequently—your thoughts and processes make the whole experience RICH-er.
-- Charles Faris