We begin the discussion of Email to the Universe by Robert Anton Wilson with the "Introduction" by R. Michael Johnson, a new item exclusive to the just issued Hilartas Press edition of the book. Please chime in with comments to this post. Greg Arnott takes over in our next episode; for next week, please read pages 1-37 in the Hilaritas Press edition, which in the ebook takes you up to location 782, the "Thoughts to Ponder" from Dennis Kucinich, my former Congressman.
If you aren't familiar with him, Michael Johnson is a musician (plays guitar), music teacher, writer, blogger and RAW scholar who lives in northern California. He comments on this blog as "Michael," and writes at the Overweening Generalist blog.
Richard Rasa, who is directing the Hilaritas Press reprint series, says that Michael's piece provides the book with the introduction that Rasa believes the book has always needed. And indeed, Michael's introduction serves a dual purpose: It gives the reader the inside scoop, largely unknown even to many RAW fans, of how the anthology of previously-uncollected pieces spanning 45 years came to be assembled, and it also provides an overview to the book. (The book does have quite a bit of material written especially for it, including the valuable "Note" at the beginning which we'll cover next week.)
Michael Johnson with a California writer, in the writer's apartment
Michael created the alt.fan.wilson Usenet group, which was an early place for RAW fans to hang out online. Michael explains, " I’d been online for a few months and discovered Usenet. After a few days I wondered if there was a Wilson group. There wasn’t, but there was an option to start one, and it was apparently so easy to do that even I was able to do it. I posted to myself, feeling a tad absurd, but then someone showed up - I forget who - and wrote, “I can’t believe there’s a newsgroup for RAW, this is cool! I just kept posting little things - miniblogs? - and eventually there was a small but ardent community."
The Usenet group later morphed into the thriving Robert Anton Wilson Fans group on Facebook. created by Dan Clore at the suggestion of Brian Shields.
In his intro, Michael explains that Mike Gathers discovered that he could find "lost" articles by RAW by searching on eBay. The two Michaels began spending quite a bit of money, and time, acquiring old men's magazines, old occult publications and other periodicals. They were joined in the hunt by Eric Wagner, Dan Clore, Marc Lutter, Ted Hand and Jesse Walker. Eventually, at Gathers' suggestion, the pieces were digitized and posted at rawilsonfans.com. The site is now rawilsonfans.org, and Gathers is the current site host.
Although Michael doesn't make a point of noting this, Robert Anton Wilson did a pretty bad job of keeping track of keeping track of his past publications, correspondence and other papers. And so, when RAW put together Email to the Universe, he drew on the hard work of the two Michaels and the other people I have just mentioned, using many of the best pieces that had been tracked down and posted to the website.
Since that time, other work has come to light and been posted at rawilsonfans.org, including pieces that I or some of my correspondents have found.
I recently posted photos of some of the folks mentioned above, and I should tell you a bit more about them if their names are unfamiliar to you.
I've introduced Michael Johnson to you, and I've tried to make it clear what a vital role Mike Gathers played in the "secret history" of Email to the Universe that Michael outlines. Eric Wagner is the author of An Insider's Guide to Robert Anton Wilson. Dan Clore runs Robert Anton Wilson Fans on Facebook. Ted Hand lives in the San Francisco area and regularly interacts with RAW fans via his Twitter. Jesse Walker is an author and an editor at Reason magazine. I can't tell you much about Marc Lutter and have never corresponded with him. Lutter is German and was formerly in touch with Michael.
You can learn a lot about "RAW fandom" by checking out Robert Anton Wilson Fans on Facebook, see also RAWnet at Hilaritas Press or read some of the posts in this blog; there is no one place that can capture the phenomena.
The back story of Email to the Universe isn't Michael Johnson's only topic. Michael also shows off his unsurpassed understanding of RAW's ideas and recurrent themes. For the most part, I don't want to recapitulate that here; read the piece and post your comments.
But I did want to draw attention to one sentence I highlighted in my Kindle copy of the book, where Michael writes, "Earlier in his career Wilson wrote about longevity and human immortality; in this work, he writes about death."
This is a good observation, and it connects to what Oz Fritz has pointed out, that Wilson made no attempt to cryonically preserve his brain, as he did with his daughter Luna's (as described in Cosmic Trigger), but instead more or less accepted his death. See this final post on his blog, shortly before his death, where he wrote:
Please pardon my levity, I don't see how to take death seriously. It seems absurd.
Art for Michael's blog created by Bobby Campbell.