Erik Davis. Creative Commons photo by Michael Rausner.
British writer Alastair Fruish interviews Erik Davis for a Cosmic Trigger podcast which I thought was quite interesting.
Fruish, whom I had not run across before, is apparently an interesting writer in his own right, and Davis of course is a fine podcaster, writer and lecturer.
A few thoughts after listening to the 42-minute podcast, produced by Nic Alderton:
1. Fruish does a good job of posing many of the hard questions. How well does Illuminatus! hold up? Not very, says Davis, who finds it a "tough slog." (For me, it's an essential work of fiction, but I've noticed that opinions vary.) What happened to the hundreds of pages cut out of Illuminatus! ? They're lost, Davis opines. I lean toward the theory that The Illuminati Papers has quite a bit of excised material, possibly rewritten. The title of the book is suggestive, and see the Scott Apel interview. What to think of the eight-circuit model of consciousness? Davis thinks the discussion of the first four circuits holds up best; I agree.
2. Davis' favorite RAW book is Cosmic Trigger, followed by Prometheus Rising. Cosmic Trigger seems to be the favorite of many people. I am surprised more people don't mention RAW's fiction.
3. Davis talks more than once about how much he admires RAW, despite Davis' "quibbles" with RAW. Fruish never follows up, so we don't learn what the quibbles are. Davis' remarks about the last days of RAW and Terence McKenna is one of the best parts of the podcast.
Davis is working on a new book, High Weirdness, which seems sure to be good. A lot of people seem to have enjoyed Fruish's Kiss My ASBO.
Yeah, I'm in the small camp (I assume) of those who like RAW's nonfiction, not so much his fiction. My fav RAW books would be Cosmic Trigger, Prometheus Rising and Quantum Psychology, in no particular order... I am in the rare minority of RAW fans that think his fiction does not hold up well. I think Illuminatus is unreadable, boring and juvenile. Reminds me of Atlas Shrugged.... Anyway, my opinion, which, of course, matters absolutely not at all. Keep the lasagna flying!
I'm not sure how small a camp you are in ... quite a few people seem to prefer the nonfiction. As I wrote in the post, i'm struck by how many people cite "Cosmic Trigger," as opposed to "Illuminatus!", as the key work for them. It might be interesting to attempt some type of survey sometime. I like the first two "Historical Illuminatus" books very much.
The first two "Historical Illuminatus" books are so much stronger than the disappointing "Nature's God."
Obviously I adore both RAW's fiction and nonfiction output. I'd actually argue that "Sex, Drugs, and Magick" and "Ishtar Rising" are his most exciting nonfiction works and that "Masks of the Illuminati" is the best of his fiction. I think that is because it does the best job of truly being a metafictional narrative. I still often think of the portrayals of Einstein, Joyce, and Crowley in that novel as being true to life and I can attest that the progress of a magician follows Sir John's education quite closely.
I can't understand the vitriol against "Illuminatus!" which I regard as a cornucopia of exciting ideas and titillating scenarios. While there are certainly parts that are eye roll inducing or grounded in their times is remains a fresh take on our flawed world and an exciting entry way into alternative thought.
"Masks" is an underrated novel, although if I had to pick one post-Illuminatus! novel, it might be "The Widow's Son."
I also like "Schroedinger's Cat," although this raises the vexing question of the way the three books were truncated into the omnibus. I confess I prefer the original longer version.
Me too! "The Trick Top Hat" is a remarkable book and Cagliostro the Great/Hugh Crane is perhaps the most moving, idealized protagonist that RAW ever created. It also incorporates so much of "The Sex Magicians" which is a personal favorite. (I really like his Playboy period.) I will say that although I read the three separately at first and although most of the Sex Magician material is excised, I found the omnibus edition to be an enjoyable read as well.
It's funny because I would say "The Golden Apple" is the strongest from the original trilogy and I agree "The Widow's Son" is superb and easily the best of the Historical series. I'd take that and a dominoes pizza any day of the week.! I guess Wilson has a strength for second volumes in trilogies. I'll have to reread "Cosmic Trigger II" now.
RAW had a private view about what sort of non-fiction was his best: Natural Law and The New Inquisition, because he really likes the polemic style and "dialectical sparks" that occur when he bangs his own ideas against someone else's, and he thought his expository prose - like Prometheus Rising - amounted to something like "popular science" or "journalism."
He said in a late 1990s talk, when asked what was his favorite fiction he'd written: Widow's Son.
I'm halfway through a very good social epistemology book titled _The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories_, by New Zealand philosopher Matthew R.X. Dentith. In a section on conspiracy novels, Dentith cites Eco's _Foucault's Pendulum_ as perhaps the ideal prototype:
"Probably the best and most erudite piece about conspiracy theories." -p.126, with a footnote, which leads to this (p.179):
"Contenders for the title include Don Delillo's _Libra_, Thomas Pynchon's _Gravity's Rainbow_, and Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's _Illuminatus!_ trilogy. Each of these books, like _Foucault's Pendulum_, plays with the notion of conspiracy theories as fictive and yet believed/believable."
There seems to be some very good thinking about conspiracy theory among Aussies and New Zealanders. In 2006, David Coady edited and contributed to _Conspiracy Theories: The Philosophical Debate_, which includes essays by a lot of down-under thinkers. It was the best philosophy book on CTs I'd read until Dentith's. Most of the contributors are Aussies, and Popper seems a major jumping-off point for them. (In 1937 Popper found his first academic position in New Zealand and wrote _The Open Society and Its Enemies_ there. RAW included that book in one of his syllabi. A critique of "the conspiracy theory of history" arises from this, and predates R. Hofstadter's now-canonical Conspiracy Theory book _The Paranoid Style in American Politics_.)
Just after Jesse Walker's tremendous _The United States of Paranoia_ (a must for anyone interested in the social and historical epistemology of conspiracy thought, even if you're not from Unsitat), a really fantastic little book came out in 2014 on the subject by two academics in Ozland: _Modern Conspiracy: The Importance of Being Paranoid_.
If you read R. Hofstadter and even Popper on CTs and all those "debunker" books (Daniel Pipes, Cass Sustein, Michael Barkun, Arthur Goldwag, and even Mark Fenster - not that all these guys are saying "the same thing"), Fleming and Jane point out that their criticism of conspiracies and conspiracists mirrors those very thinkers! A tiny, dense, witty, very readable book, _Modern Conspiracy_ impressed me, and I wrote both professors a fan letter, and they said they were "suitably chuffed" and wondered if I was an academic. I wrote back no, I'm just some dipshit who loves reading books, and theirs was flying WAY under the radar in the US. If I still blogged, you guys would've heard about it by now, and I've been meaning to point out this book to RAW fans. (They never mention RAW in their book.)
I don't know why you don't still blog, Michael, but everyone else's loss seems to be my gain! I assume you mean the book "Modern Conspiracy: The Importance of Being Paranoid" by Jane and Fleming?
I look forward to the Hilaritas Press edition of "The Widow's Son."
Yes: I should've included Fleming and Jane's subtitle, "The Importance of Being Paranoid" if only because it give a hint of their wit. VERY good meta-meta conspiracy theory book, in the sense that it not only addresses conspiracies, but critics of conspiracy thought.
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