Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea. Blog, Internet resources, online reading groups, articles and interviews, Illuminatus! info.

Monday, September 30, 2019

John Sinclair news

Announcement from Steve Pratt on Twitter: "John Sinclair's 78th Birthday Party at
PJ's Lounge #DETROIT October 2nd $15 admission."

Announcement from the venue (listed as "PJ's Lager House" on the web):

"Detroit poet, broadcaster and marijuana legalization pioneer John Sinclair will celebrate his 78th birthday on Wednesday, October 2 at PJ’s Lager House!

Sinclair will be joined and supported in performance by an all-star band of Blues Scholars led by Jeff “Baby” Grand on guitar and including Harmonica Shah (harp), Phil Hale (keys), Chris Rumel (bass) and Tino Gross (drums) plus special guest musicians drawn from the countless number of Sinclair’s band members since the formation of the Blues Scholars in December 1982.

The festivities start at 7:00 pm and last until the party is over. Admission is $15 with all net proceeds going to the John Sinclair Foundation, located at 2930 E. Jefferson, Detroit MI 48207.

Sinclair will be performing poems from his elongated blues work in verse, Fattening Frogs Fir Snakes, which will be issued next April as a deluxe boxed set of vinyl records by Jett Plastic Recordings. Additionally, Volumes 3 (Don’t Start Me To Talking) and 4 (Natural From Our Hearts) will be issued as a double CD next year by Funky D Records/Studios.

WED OCT 2 | 7pm doors | $15 at door"

Follow the John Sinclair Foundation on Instagram. 

Christian Greer, who updates the Instagram account, reprinted John Sinclair's "Marijuana Revolution" pamphlet (pictured.) For copies of the reprint, please contact Christian via the Instagram account.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Two good reads: Daisy's pilgrimage and Oz on Pynchon

Jonathan Harris (photo by Jonathan Greet). 

A couple of good pieces I want to point you to:

"Barefoot in Bollingen and Dreaming" by Jonathan Harris (e.g., the "money burning guy") is a personal account of the pilgrimage Daisy Campbell led to Switzerland during Easter Week 2019. I've seen cryptic Tweets on this, but Jonathan's account gives an actual idea of what went on.

This bit explains a mysterious picture of Daisy and company I ran recently (second photo):

On Good Friday, from all around the United Kingdom, the Pilgrims piled into seventeen different vehicles to convene on a campsite near the Cerne Abbas Giant. Then early morning on Easter Saturday we gathered below the Giant’s giant testicles. After sermons, song and ritual, and with each of us dressed as an individual sperm, an ejaculation was enacted.

I liked the discussion of ritual as a way of intensely experiencing the present (as opposed to causing something to happen, if only in someone's  mind.)

It's a long account but worth reading.

Oz Fritz weighs in with "Gravity's Rainbow, Timothy Leary and the Occult Part 6," focusing on Pynchon's use of humor. Excerpt:

It seems no coincidence that the most highly intelligent individuals of modern times appear wickedly funny.  Aleister Crowley and one of his most distinguished magickal heirs, Robert Anton Wilson, became masters of the put on.  When I saw Timothy Leary speak at a South Street Pier nightclub in the early '80s, he billed himself as a stand-up philosopher.  Robert Anton Wilson plied the same trade at his speaking engagements.  Humor becomes a major part and parcel of the conspiracy of Intelligence.  At its best, it acts as a carrier wave for the transmission of esoteric data.  One only need watch Marx Brothers films with a receptive mind for conclusive evidence of this.

Friday, September 27, 2019

The Widow's Son reading group, Week Six

The eight towers of the Bastille.

Week 6 (pg. 71-79 Hilaritas Press edition, Chapters 11&12 all editions)

By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger

On pg 71 we are treated to two paragraphs of extremely sharp writing from RAW that manages to be atmospheric writing “[p]recisely at midnight, Captain Loup-Garou summoned his trolls,” which hits on three or four horror themes in a sparse sentence, to the humorous amount of detail we can glean about the concierge and her character from a paragraph and a sentence. “The only way to terminate her monologue without the using a rifle-butt was to salute and leave.”

Loup-Garou and Lt. Lenoir and the reader get to savor the bizarre circumstances that have led to Sigismundo’s presence in the office of the lieutenant criminal before the arrest. Sigismundo seems to have an interesting effect on both men with Lenoir recounting the failed assassination “dreamily” and Loup-Garou thinking his eyes are “like some Christs in old paintings.” During the arrest we are treated to another glimpse at Sigismundo’s skills as Lenoir realizes that he couldn’t account for Celine’s movements from desk to window and concludes “[m]aybe I should get a Neapolitan fencing teacher.” Incidentally, I couldn’t find much significance in the name “Lenoir” the closest being that it is occasionally used to refer to a dark, swarthy man. Considering how Loup-Garou and Lenoir observe his physical traits as a dark Southerner or Neapolitan this is somewhat interesting.

I imagine most of the men reading this felt a reflexive twinge simply reading about the method by which Sigismundo is first quieted.

The Bastille, with its eight gaunt towers, is an appropriately frightening vision, especially considering this is happening in the dead of night. That RAW describes what is happening as Sigismundo being in the process of becoming a non-person adds to the horror of the moment. We are given two probable reactions from Loup-Garou, one pious, one an invocation of ever present merde.

Chapter 12 is a beautiful, cryptic chapter where we once again find ourselves considering the stone that the builders rejected, that is worshipped by all and reviled by almost all. The fate of those who speak of the stone in the arch, as described in this missile, is similar to that of Aleister Crowley, William Blake, Ida Craddock and others who spoke during their lifetime about the supernal. The association of the aspirant with the “refiner’s fire” is a reference to Malachi in the Old Testament and also used during the confrontation between Sir John Babcock and Aleister Crowley in Masks of the Illuminati. “Only the fool takes our past lightly…” The tarot reference isn’t lost on most of the audience, I imagine.

In the footnote RAW quotes the alchemical writings of Thomas Vaughan, brother of Metaphysical poet Henry Vaughan, who was himself an influence on Philip K. Dick. Vaughan was a well-known alchemist whose writings are regarded as especially poetic and sophisticated, as opposed to simply being confusing. RAW, in Sex, Drugs, and Magick uses the same passage from The Collected Works to illustrate his theory that much of the pre-Modern alchemical scripts were coded instructions for tantric sex.

De Selby’s ten witnesses to his alchemical transformation, noted by Hanfkopf to have been “blind drunk and notorious liars,” are reminiscent of the Eight Witnesses whose pledge to the veracity of the existence of golden plates and seeing stones are emended to every copy of The Book of Mormon. And once more Hafkopf seemingly puts a rival scholar of de Selby in relatively grave danger by placing 150 kg (330 lbs!!) of pure heroin in his hotel room during a conference. The menace of the figure is either heightened or given a lilt of humor when the phone call again described the frame up being orchestrated by a Germanic villain, reminiscent of Caligari, Mabuse, or someone with the voice of Conrad Veidt in Casablanca.

For those of us who are inclined to such a past time, I’d like to suggest taking a couple or more moments to meditate on the allegory given in Chapter 12 “until he [sic] understands the extent of lunacy of this species and why only the bravest may be entrusted with guardianship of the Grail.”

Another excellent selection from Eric Wagner:

“I’ve selected Mozart’s first piano concerto this week. I tend to prefer Mozart’s mature work, but Greta Thunberg has reminded me of how much young people have to offer.”

Thursday, September 26, 2019

On vacation

I am on vacation this week at Sandbridge Beach, Virginia, near Virginia Beach, not far from the battle of Yorktown mentioned in Nature's God. In one of those synchronicities that science fiction fans sometimes run into, we are staying on condo no. 334 (which is also the name of a Thomas M. Disch novel). When I met my wife, she told me she got her undergraduate degree at Clarion University, and I puzzled her by exclaiming, "Oh, Clarion is famous!"

On our way, we stopped to visit the Flight 93 memorial. The biographies of the passengers and crew are almost a miniature novel.

Speaking of being a science fiction fan, getting caught up on my reading is always a part of going on vacation for me, and I've been reading Jo Walton's history of the Hugo Award. It's not a perfect book, but it's a lot of fun for people who have read lots of science fiction. Arthur Hlavaty's numerous nominations for Best Fan Writer are mentioned, and Walton writes, "People could still nominate Arthur Hlavaty now. He's still a terrific fan writer. He has a wonderful way of putting things."

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Wednesday links

Horror writer Matt Cardin, a RAW fan, on the intersection between horror and religion.

"My book defending free speech has been banned." 

A contrarian piece on "cancel culture." "Social media activism and commentary occasionally tips into overzealotry. But stray instances of identity political criticisms going overboard are not evidence that the culture as a whole has or that those who dissent from progressive consensus will soon find themselves sent to the gulag. By any reasonable standard, this is the greatest period for free expression in the history of mankind." Via Supergee. 

RAW on civil liberties, via Charles Faris. 

Charles on The New Inquisition.

Tyler Cowen on Harvard's admissions practices.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Eric Wagner's soundtrack

Eric Wagner (Facebook photo). 

If you missed it, Eric Wagner has been creating at Gregory Arnott's request a soundtrack for the reading group for The Widow's Son. I am putting up a link in the reading group links, top right of this page, for Eric's picks so far. Aside from serving as a soundtrack, these are good selections generally for getting to know classical music. This post will be updated. I've put up links to Hoopla, but you can search YouTube, Spotify, etc.

Week Three: Haydn’s String Quartet Op. 20 #4 from 1772. Eric: ""For this week (chapters 5 & 6), I have selected Haydn’s String Quartet Op. 20 #4 from 1772. Joseph Kerman frequently refers to the fugal finales from the Op. 20 quartets as Haydn demonstrating he had mastered Baroque counterpoint."

Week Four: Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Eric: “For this week I’ve chosen Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor with Friday the 13th in mind. As a kid I loved this piece. It made me think of Captain Nemo and the Phantom of the Opera.” 

Week Five: "Autumn" from Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons." Eric: "Monday marks the start of fall. Vivaldi’s Autumn from the Four Seasons provides our soundtrack this week."

Week Six: Mozart's first piano concerto. Eric: "“I’ve selected Mozart’s first piano concerto this week. I tend to prefer Mozart’s mature work, but Greta Thunberg has reminded me of how much young people have to offer.” YouTube link.  [If you use the first link, to Hoopla, the First is tracks 1-3.]

Week Seven: Eric: "“Since Sigismundo contemplates his life in Napoli in this week’s reading, I thought something by his childhood hero Domenico Scarlatti might work, Sonata L23 (of course). (Also on Hoopla, Kk380)

Week Eight: Mozart, Great Mass in C Minor. Eric: “This week’s prison setting made me think of the film A Man Escaped which uses the Mozart C Minor Mass to great effect. The prison drama The Shawshank Redemption also uses Mozart effectively, with words by Beaumarchais, by the way. Beaumarchais features in this week’s reading.”

Week Nine: The Skye Boat Song. Eric: "“I thought this week we would use the song Seamus thinks about on page 120.”

Week Ten: “Reading about sexism in Maria ’s world, I thought something by Francesca LeBrun might work this week.”

Week Eleven. Eric: " A bit of “The Magic Flute” seems in order this week.

(Contrast Papageno and Papagena’s trilling, matched dialogue with the conversation Seamus has with the fairies/himself as he experiences the bucket.)

Week Twelve. Eric: “In honor of Maria’s healing hands, I have chosen Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” for this week. I remember Rick Wakeman quoting this in the movie Yessongs. I play his version on piano in class when demonstrating plagal cadences.”

Gregory adds: "Personally, this is my favorite use of the Chorus":

Monday, September 23, 2019

More John Higgs news

John Higgs' caption: "Many thanks to Richard Norris for the above photo, in which our gathering is blessed by a very Blakean thread of golden light."

John Higgs has released another email newsletter, with information about the big new William Blake exhibition at the Tate in London, and also about his new book on Blake, William Blake Now. (The exhibition will be there until Feb. 2 and the Tate says, "With over 300 original works, including his watercolours, paintings and prints, this is the largest show of Blake’s work for almost 20 years.")

John writes, "The Tate exhibition is an overwhelming experience which I urge you all to catch if geography allows. Keep an eye out for William Blake Now in the Tate gift shop - or indeed pick up the paperback, ebook or audiobook version online, if that pleases."

The book also is listed on the U.S. Amazon.   John's new book on the future also is listed.  In those two cases, Amazon is serving as a gateway for "Book Depository U.S." No Kindle versions in the states, apparently.

You can also read John's entire newsletter, which includes a discussion about British Exceptionalism, which unfortunately resembles American Exceptionalism.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

British Discordian photos

A couple of photos that recently caught my eye on Twitter:

Caption from Ben Graham: "Just another Friday night at Castle Perilous. photo by Kieron Handley via Marc Rason." Source.

As I understand it, these folks are in a genuine medieval castle, and they seem to be sitting around a round table, although I'm not sure how a guy playing an accordion fits into the picture.

This is from Daisy Eris Campbell on Twitter: "Last day of being 40. What a year..."

I asked what was happening in the photo and Daisy replied, "The opening ritual of the #Cerne2CERN pilgrimage, with us all in ceremonial false teeth and sperm hats, obvs!"

Saturday, September 21, 2019

'Lenin was a mushroom'

Looks like Discordianism may have been bigger in Russia than we thought.

In Reason magazine, Jesse Walker writes about a TV program broadcast in Russia that offered to "shed new light" on the October revolution. It explained that Lenin was a psychedelic mushroom and a radio wave.

"Needless to say, the show was a joke. But it was not identified as a joke, and Soviet TV shows were not known for joking about Lenin," Walker writes.

Friday, September 20, 2019

The Widow's Son reading group, Week Five

William Hogarth’s “The Gate of Calais” (1748) shows a healthy slab of English beef being transported past the emaciated French and admired by a fat French friar (representing paparist debauchery and hypocrisy in Catholic France). (He was arrested while making the sketches for this piece as an English spy.) 

Week Five (Hilaritas Press edition pg. 63-70, all editions Chapters 9&10) 

By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger

Chapter 9 begins with the same patter between Armand, Lucien, and Georges as in the first chapter: Lucien is condescending, full of himself, and doesn’t want to be told he talks too much, Armand is squeamish but thinks all ‘diegos’ are just opera singers, Georges is wishing Pierre would arrive. When the fourth stooge is added to the routine he’s still complaining about dogshit on his nice shoes. I read this as an element of slapstick in a very dark part of the book and also a portrait of ignorance: RAW makes it clear that these aren’t ruffians-by-choice in many ways but desperate people deprived of education, nourishment, or a desirable position in society. They are hopeless and, in the truest sense, wretched. You can almost smell them wafting off the pages. I’d say Pierre receives the least amount of sympathy from our narrator- despite the capitalistic leanings of libertarianism I’d say RAW shows a decided amount of contempt for those with privilege- especially those who flaunt it. Armand, on the other hand, is given time for his final, flailing moments of consciousness to flicker out his mouth as he bleeds to death: even Sigismundo begins to feel sorry for the pathetic person babbling about cattle, tits, and Papa’s tears. Unlike the more utilitarian Georges, the shifty Lucien, or the signifying Pierre, it’s abundantly clear to the reader that this was never Armand’s preferred line of work.

Lucien brings up some of the more interesting ideas in the group, despite the fact his smirking satisfaction with having the information making it less palatable to Armand, Georges, and the reader. Looking into the French Spartacus as RAW refers to the mysterious author in an earlier footnote I couldn't find any pamphlets. After some more time I couldn’t find much information about who might have been the French “Spartacus” writing before the revolution but I did find a book online from 1944 by Marxist historian Francis Ambrose Ridley: Spartacus: A Study in Revolution. 

The most substantial information was herein:

“The revival of classical studies in the early centuries of the modern era again drew attention to the exploits of the Thracian gladiator, the formidable leader of the disinherited in ancient times. In particular, the forerunners of the French Revolution, those intrepid rebels against the dead hand of feudalism, and themselves steeped in classical traditions, rescued the name of the servile leader from the mists of the past.” (Ridley 1944)

Aside from the otherwise undetailed coterie of French revolutionaries who “rescued the name” Ridley mentions Voltaire and the playwright Bernard-Joseph Saurin. Voltaire once observed that, in his opinion, the only just war in history had been the slave revolt begun by Spartacus. Concerning Saurin’s Spartacus, Ridley and the other sources my lazy ass was able to find, is a tragedy in subject and substance.

Interestingly, in 1791, around the time the Revolution was in full swing in Paris there would arise another Spartacus in the French colony of Saint-Domingue on the island of Hispanola, known as the Black Spartacus: François-Dominique Toussaint L'Ouverture. L’Ouverture’s military acumen would lead the former slaves to victory over the French, Spanish, and Germans before the end of the Haitian Revolution in 1804. L’Ouverture’s role in the Revolution, as well as that of his decidedly-more-brutal successor Dessalines, is naturally praised and reviled depending on whom one is speaking to. I wonder what Voltaire would have felt. (The Haitian Revolution is a really fascinating part of history both for the triumph of the slaves over their oppressors and the role that Vodou played in the revolutionaries activities.)

While hungry men wait on him, Sigismundo dines. He begins making his way home under the gibbous moon in Chapter 10. As the four try to pull off their assassination it proves Sigismundo’s reflexive state of sword fighting has been drilled into him by his instructors- an education in fencing seems to be the last thing any of the ruffians could have imagined. The way that Sigismundo doesn’t think but simply does and his lamentations as the unconscious control leaves him reminded me of one of my favorite poems from Crowley’s Book of Lies, “The Mountaineer” (Chapter 32):

  Consciousness is a symptom of disease.
    All that moves well moves without will.
    All skillfulness, all strain, all intention is contrary to
    Practice a thousand times, and it becomes difficult;
      a thousand thousand, and it becomes easy; a
      thousand thousand times a thousand thousand,
      and it is no longer Thou that doeth it, but It that
      doeth itself through thee.  Not until then is that
      which is done well done.
    Thus spoke FRATER PERDURABO as he leapt
      from rock to rock of the moraine without ever
      casting his eyes upon the ground.

I am willing to put money I have read this poem quoted or at least mentioned in RAW’s material but a brief search has turned up nothing. (I checked his introductions in my Crowley volumes and Crowley-adjacent books on hand.) 

While discussing the formidable Genevieve and her breasts in the last footnote of Chapter 10 RAW mentions the “Song of Solomon” and its mammary focus. This is explored in Wilson’s Ishtar Rising, previously The Playboy Book of Breast. (Due for a new printing from Hilaritas Press soon!)

For our week’s de Selby, the philosopher takes a whack at human conflict:

“De Selby (Golden Hours, p. 93, et seq.) has put forward an interesting theory on names. Going back to primitive times, he regards the earliest names as crude onomatopoeic associations with the appearance of the person or object named-thus harsh or rough manifestations being represented by far from pleasant gutturalities and vice versa. This idea he pursued to rather fanciful lengths, drawing up elaborate paradigms of vowels and consonants purporting to correspond to certain indices of human race, colour and temperament and claiming ultimately to be in a position to state the physiological ‘group’ of any person merely from a brief study of letters of his name after the word had been ‘rationalized’ to allow for variations of language. Certain ‘groups’ he showed to be universally ‘repugnant’ to other ‘groups.’ An unhappy commentary on the theory was furnished by the activities of his own nephew, whether through ignorance or contempt for the humanistic researches of his uncle. The nephew set about a Swedish servant, from whom he was completely excluded by the paradigms, in the pantry of a Portsmouth hotel to such purpose that de Selby had to open his purse to the tune of five or six hundred pounds to avert an unsavoury law case.” (O’Brien, The Third Policeman, p.40) 

Thursday, September 19, 2019

The war on vaping

Photo by Itay Kabalo on Unsplash

Vaping seems to be one of those issues in which Democrats and Republicans are equally bad and libertarians are a lonely voice speaking out against the latest version of the "war on some drugs."

"In an article published last month in Expert Review of Respiratory Medicine, a team of Italian, Canadian, and American scientists surveyed the clinical research into e-cigarettes and reported that 'no studies reported serious adverse events' or 'significant changes in pulmonary functions.”

"Their findings jibed with the conclusions by British medical authorities that nicotine itself is no more harmful than caffeine, and that e-cigarettes are at least 95 percent safer than tobacco cigarettes. While the U.S. public-health establishment has been misleading the public—so that a majority of Americans now mistakenly believe that e-cigarettes are as harmful or even more harmful than cigarettes—the Royal Society for Public Health has been urging smokers to switch to vaping, and British hospitals have been promoting e-cigarettes by allowing vape shops to operate on their premises." Source

And here is Jacob Sullum making similar points.

If you want to keep up with this issue, you could do worse than to follow Sullum on Twitter and Jeffrey A. Singer from the Cato Institute.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Orson Welles, talk show host

From Jesse Walker: "Today I learned that Orson Welles recorded an unaired pilot for a TV talk show. He takes audience questions with Burt Reynolds, interviews the Muppets, does a Russian Roulette routine with Angie Dickinson. It's weird & uneven & I wish there was more."

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Empire Day in San Francisco

The Emperor

Today,  you can celebrate Empire Day in San Francisco.

The Emperor's Bridge Campaign explains:

On 17 September 2015, The Emperor's Bridge Campaign launched a new holiday to celebrate the anniversary of this occasion.

We gathered on Clay Street, in the shadow of the Transamerica Pyramid — and across from the former site of the Bulletin, where Joshua Norton hand-delivered his original Proclamation.

Then, we walked over to the nearby Comstock Saloon to raise a glass to Emperor Norton in the shadow of the sculpture of the Emperor that presides over the main bar.

We called it Empire Day.

There's a full schedule of events. 

Monday, September 16, 2019

The rock stars are going away

Illuminatus! was written when rock music was a dominant form of art. I never saw much evidence that Robert Anton Wilson was particularly interested in pop music, but the novel often references rock, and the concluding section takes place at a rock music festival.

Rock stars from the golden age of rock aren't getting any younger, and we are losing many of them. The latest is Ric Ocasek, found dead in New York over the weekend. Ocasek, and his band The Cars, were particular favorites of mine, and I hunted down his solo albums. (I've posted one of my favorite solo album songs, above.)

Tom Petty, George Harrison, Prince, Eddie Money ... look for lots of bad news the next few years.

Here is the New York Times appreciation for Ocasek. 

Interview in the New York Times.

You might be missing out. Have you been on a water slide?

I’ve never been on a water slide in my life.

They’re fun.

I guess they could be fun, and I guess skydiving could be fun, too. But I would never do it. It would be more fun to sit in a room with William Burroughs and listen to him grumble.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

A request from Rasa

The above was posted on Facebook by Rasa, who also writes (excerpts):

"Removing illegal downloads is an ongoing effort and a time-consuming task that just eats into our small income. As an example, we recently we found Scott Beard offering to give away our books illegally. He has not responded to our request to desist. [Beard now says he has removed it -- The Management.] The RAW Trust, Hilaritas Press and the RAW Trust Advisors have spent countless hours working on keeping RAW's books in print. If they are continually stolen like this, we cannot afford to continue.

"If there are any lawyers willing to help pro bono with our efforts at stopping this kind of theft, please contact us. We are reluctant to take from our tiny profits any funds to fight this kind of illegal activity, but we are forced to do so, or Hilaritas Press will no longer be able to exist. It's a Catch-22: we don't make enough in publishing profits to keep up with people stealing our product.

"We are really sorry to have to make this announcement. Some of you know me personally, and you know that I am working more than full time on RAW projects, and the meager profits we make from book sales provides a poverty level income. I am not rich, and so every time I see someone offering a bootlegged RAW title, I know that someone just made my life much more difficult. RAW's daughter, sharing the responsibilities of running the RAW Trust and Hilaritas Press, is in a similar situation. Most of the hours we spend on RAW work is a labor of love because we cannot afford to pay ourselves a normal salary. We are, however, trying to stay afloat. Please help us out!"

More here.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

A Beatlish tribute to Jack Parsons

I don't follow pop music very closely these days, and I've never paid much attention to Beatle progeny, either. But the new album by the Claypool Lennon Delirium, South of Reality, seems quite good. It's a collaboration of Sean Ono Lennon and Les Claypool (from Primus). It sounds like the Beatles and it's fun to listen to. It reminds me a bit of one of the better Paul McCartney albums, Electric Arguments. For many of you who have a library card, you can listen on  Hoopla. 

But an additional point that my interest some of you reading this blog: There's a song called "Block and Rockets" that's about Jack Parsons that also apparently references Aleister Crowley.

Friday, September 13, 2019

The Widow's Son online reading group, Week Four

Duc d’Orleans sans pox scars.

This week:Hilaritas Press edition pg. 51-62, Chapters 7&8 all editions)

By Gregory Arnott
special guest blogger

This week we are introduced to the enigmatic Duc d’Orleans, still the duc de Chartres at this point in history, Louis Phillipe -- twenty years from this point he’ll rename himself Philippe Égalité during the height of the Revolution. This is a more intimate portrait of the man as we see him privately dining, digesting, and casually abusing his power. (Also it is worth pointing out that at this point Fatima, Sigismundo’s favorite prostitute from Algiers, and three joints of beef have been described as formidable.) We’ll get to know more about d’Orleans and his role in Sigismundo’s fate soonish, most of this is in relation to the Duc’s role in the Grand Orient Lodge of Masonry- after the evens of the novel his son went to Austria leading to his father’s  murder during the Reign of Terror. Although d’Orleans would never sit the French throne the son who caused his untimely demise would. Discussing Proofs of a Conspiracy de Selby makes a Johnsonian kick at Robison.

In Chapter 7 the theme of “merde” still runs strong form Chartres “inexorable chemistry,” to the stinking streets of Paris, to the “tough shit for him” reaction the commissaire has to authoring Sigismundo’s warrant. Born and bred betwixt piss and shit. Jeder, the messenger, hails from Rennes-le-Chateau, epicenter of all this Merovingian/Priory of Sion business.

The chapter also contains some more intimate portraits of three other characters- Louis XV and Sartines through the lens of the narrator and the Chevalier d’Eon through the befuddled mind of Sartines. Louis XV continues to remind me of current people in positions of power and seems like a very stable genius. Sartines begins to resemble one of Wilson’s “bad” cop characters; like Otto Waterhouse his role as enforcer is implied to be born of misplaced resentment. Though I would say that Sartines is a more interesting character than Waterhouse’s caricature.

“Everybody thinks somebody else is to blame for all of life’s little problems.”- RAW (pg. 56 Hilaritas edition) “Some people claim that there's a woman to blame/Now I think, hell it could be my fault.”-Jimmy Buffett

I first read about the Chevalier d’Eon in a rather lurid chapbook about the Hellfire Club by a guy named Daniel Mannix. Regrettably my copy is somewhere in my parents’ house so I can’t delve into what I remember to be some great descriptions. d’Eon has proven to be a more popular figure in recent years because anime, I guess?...and because of their appeal to the transgender community. Since I don’t have my sensationalist history on hand, here is a good article about the Chevalier from Atlas Obscura that is worth reading.

An excerpt that gives some context to Sartine’s frustration with Louis’ approach to spycraft and d’Eon’s role:

“This traditional role, however, was just a cover: D’Eon was also tapped for another royal service—le Secret du Roi, or “King’s Secret”. The Secret was a network of spies and diplomatic agents established by Louis XV in the 1740s with the aim of putting his cousin, the Prince de Conti, on the Polish throne and turning the country into a French satellite. The Secret was so secret, it was hidden from and sometimes acted against the official French foreign ministry. D’Eon was charged with fostering good relations with the Russian court of the Empress Elizabeth and getting her behind installing Conti in Poland, as well as promoting France’s interests generally. Though d’Eon was competent, by all accounts hardworking, charming, and clever, the geopolitical reality was grim: That same year, France had entered what would become the Seven Years War with Britain.” (Linda Rodriguez McRobbie)

In Chapter 8 Captain Loup-Garou’s name is of course the French term for “werewolf,” his name and the language describing his six “ogres” make for a nice Gothic flavor. (I might be reaching but is there any chance his middle name “Teppis” is a reference to Vlad Tepes?) Perhaps the true horror of the first scene is Loup-Garou’s blase attitude towards following orders.

While we’re on the subject of Gothic horror I wanted to note last week that Maria thinks about her dark fantasies as something “from a gothic novel by Walpole.” Horace Walpole actually only wrote one Gothic novel, although it was the first, The Castle of Otranto. The novel is a medieval romance that establishes the incestuous themes as well as the sensationalized portrait of Catholicism/Southern Europe that would be found in much of the genre’s later works. Otranto is actually itself in Southern Italy, though on the opposite coast of Napoli. While the novel is turgid at times it is worth checking out. I tried teaching it to my sophomore’s last year at the beginning of our Gothic fiction unit and made a handout of excerpts. I’ve provided a link in case any one wants to dip their toes in.

The sinister Professor Hanfkopt makes another appearance in the footnote on pg. 60-61 having most likely framed a rival professor for terrorist activities in Ireland (no small joke in the 1980s) but the pothead’s English “almost sounded like the Katzenjammer Kids.” I believe his study of de Selby roughly translates as “De Selby’s Stupidity.”

Gabriel Honore de Mirabeau was a real person and as far as I could tell everything Wilson writes about here is historically accurate. I did read in one article that the first lettre de cachet written by Mirabeau’s father might have been to protect him from his debts but the Wikipedia article also linked to multiple sources that indicated the bitter relationship between Mirabeau and his father existing before this incident. Mirabeau would actually die before the tide could turn against him in the aftermath of the Revolution- the wiki article also has a picture of a memorial plate made for Mirabeau. Along with the pendants discussed in Chapter 3, the ones made from fragments of the Bastille, it seems entrepreneurship was alive and well in post-Revolutionary Paris: “Life is hard, but it is harder if you have too many scruples.”

“Let us weep for the loss of Mirebeau.” 

Remembering my World History seminars the lettres de cachet are pointed to as one of the most egregious institutions of the French Royalty that precipitated revolution. A lettre de cachet also plays a large part in Dickens’ Zanoni-inspired A Tale of Two Cities.

I was able to find two books I believe might be Wilson’s The Taking of the Bastille, the first is a historical novel by Alexander Dumas and the second is a history written in 1970 by Jacques Godechot. Which one it is depends on if Wilson was being a smartass or actually had been reading this book at closing time and forgot the author. I couldn’t imagine him truly forgetting Dumas’ name but having read neither book I don’t know which one (perhaps) contains the scene of Chartres tossing coins.

Do be careful today everyone, THEY say that Friday the 13th is bad luck.

From Eric Wagner: “For this week I’ve chosen Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor with Friday the 13th in mind. As a kid I loved this piece. It made me think of Captain Nemo and the Phantom of the Opera.” 

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Latest books read

A few reading notes on books I finished recently:

High Weirdness: Drugs, Esoterica, and Visionary Experiences in the Seventies, Erik Davis. Really good book, see my review. 

Exit Strategy, Martha Wells. Fourth in the "Murderbot" series. Very good series of short science fiction novels -- everyone I know who has read them like them -- but start with the first in the series, All Systems Red. 

The New Right: A Journey to the Fringe of American Politics, Michael Malice. A rather flawed book, but also very interesting and worth reading. I know now more about the "new right" than before, but the book also is about the progressive left, which Malice also criticizes. Many apropos observations, but in the end Malice makes the right wingers sound better and smarter than they actually are. (Are they really all polite and erudite?) Vox Day in particular comes off better than he deserves.

I read this after reading Tyler Cowen's review. 

Grant, Ron Chernow. Very interesting, and I learned a lot about American history and even Ohio history in the course of learning about Grant. A bit wordy, but you'll find out why Grant's reputation is growing, and why Robert E. Lee's has been falling.

Fall, or Dodge in Hell, Neal Stephenson. This book is a sequel of sorts to Reamde, but it is a very different book, a more difficult read than most Stephenson books, a philosophical book more akin to Anathem than Reamde. Maybe Stephenson's most ambitious book. Rewarding, with an ending more satisfying than some Stephenson books.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Eric chooses a soundtrack for us

Gregory Arnott has asked Eric Wagner (author of An Insider's Guide to Robert Anton Wilson, new edition out soon, more about that coming up) to suggest pieces to serve as a soundtrack for our ongoing The Widow's Son discussion group, and Eric has agreed to rise to the challenge.

"For this week (chapters 5 & 6), I have selected Haydn’s String Quartet Op. 20 #4 from 1772. Joseph Kerman frequently refers to the fugal finales from the Op. 20 quartets as Haydn demonstrating he had mastered Baroque counterpoint," Eric says.

Many of you with a library card should also be able to borrow from Hoopla, as I have just done.

Monday, September 9, 2019

How the Prometheus Award began

Michael Grossberg in the early 1980s, when he was founding the Libertarian Futurist Society. Photo courtesy Mr. Grossberg. 

The Prometheus Award is the annual award given by the Libertarian Futurist Society for works of science fiction that are of interest to libertarian science fiction fans. The first award was given out in 1979 as a one-off; it was then institutionalized with the founding of the LFS, and it's been given every year since 1982. It's the only literary award given to Robert Shea and to Robert Anton Wilson, at least that I know of; they got a Prometheus Hall of Fame Award in 1986 for Illuminatus! (in a tie with Cyril Kornbluth's The Syndic. (You can read Shea's acceptance speech and Wilson's thank you letter.)

I have recently completed two long interviews for the Libertarian Futurist Society blog on the two founders of the awards: science fiction writer L. Neil Smith, who gave out the first award in 1979, and writer, critic and  journalist Michael Grossberg, who founded the Libertarian Futurist Society and has been active ever since in keeping the award going. The Smith interview posted June 22; the interview with Grossberg went up Friday. Together, I think the interviews provide a pretty good oral history of how the award began.

I'm active in the Libertarian Futurist Society and serve on the organization's board.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Our new reading group has a logo!

Not too late to join our new reading group for The Widow's Son, and the comments in Week Three are starting to heat up.  And Rasa has  now done a meme for  us! Thanks Rasa! (It seems to me that one of the advantages of RAW fandom is that he inspires some quite good artists, e.g. Bobby Campbell, Rasa, amoeba, all of those folks who do Adam Gorightly's Eris of the Month, etc. etc.)

Saturday, September 7, 2019

RAW reviews 'Junky'

Another interesting find from Martin Wagner: A review by Robert Anton Wilson of William Burroughs' Junky.  Opening sentences: "In 1957, looking at 100 pages of an unpublished book by William S. Burroughs called Naked Lunch, I said, 'This man is the greatest prose stylist since James Joyce.' I believe that my opinions on every other subject in the galaxy have changed in the two decades since I made that judgement, but my opinion of Bill Burroughs hasn’t changed. This man is still the greatest prose stylist since James Joyce.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Widow's Son reading group, Week Three

Antoine de Sartine ("Sardines") Chief of Police

By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger

Week Three: (Hilaritas Press edition pg. 35-50, Chapters 5&6 all editions)

Taking in the book at a slower pace it is easier to savor the overt presence of death and birth in nearly every paragraph in The Widow’s Son.

In Chapter 5 we begin with the very pregnant Maria Maldonado troubled over Merovingian nightmares and the distressing misnomer of “morning sickness.” I think her anxiety over what exact time of day she is sick is a good example of the annoying and persistent traps we fall into because of words and labels.  Having never been pregnant, nor ever having to entertain the notion that I might one day become pregnant, I don’t know how much leeway I have to judge this scene; but I would say it is an empathetic portrait of the character and true to my own experiences with physical/spiritual anxiety. (It’s worth noting that our Tom Jackson has always pointed out that Maria is, in his opinion, RAW’s most complete female character.)

I haven’t read Holy Blood, Holy Grail and I think that’s one big blind spot for someone trying to lead this group. (I did read The Da Vinci Code when I was fourteen if that counts, haha.) So if any of you have read the book please fill us in on pertinent information, unscrupulously sourced or not, from the book to the Merovingians in The Widow’s Son. With that said, from the context I could pick up about the scene it probably had more to do with Lovecraft than Baigent, Lincoln, and Leigh. The Merovingians, while perhaps more aesthetically pleasing, are reminiscent of Lovecraft’s daemonic Deep Ones which manage to be alluring in spite of their grotesque and otherworldly appearance. (If you haven’t read “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” why not?)

Maria’s thoughts also give insights into what I’m beginning to think are two of the most interesting themes of the novel so far: the idea that people usually believe themselves to live in an “enlightened” and advanced time without understanding how primitive their society is and the divide between Catholicism and Protestantism. In light of the first theme in Chapter 5 we have Maria trying to banish her bad dream by thinking “It was 1771 and intelligent people did not believe in old legends like that anymore” and her blind grasps at what might affect her sullen husband. In Chapter 6 we have the facts of Parisian living, a metropolitan lifestyle if there was one according to the standards of the day, soberly related with an emphasis on the pervasive smell of shit hanging everywhere. “The philosophes tell each other how enlightened the world is becoming.” Perhaps we don’t munch on loaves of bread with fecal matter in them everyday but I have a feeling most of us eat more shit than we realize.

The difference between the Catholic mode of reality and the Protestant mode of reality, or at least the eighteenth century thinking person’s remix, is something that is necessarily pervasive throughout this novel. Somehow, like many outdated debates, this seems to be becoming a more relevant issue than it was when I first read this novel. I hope to develop my thoughts on this as we go along.

In Chapter 6 we spend the briefest amount of time with Sigismundo and the rest of the chapter with the characters of Paris and Lieutenant Sartines. While an administrator and chief of police, both secret and exoteric, might not seem like Wilson’s kind of guy I think he expresses a certain amount of respect for Antoine in this chapter, at least implicitly. Having just finished the RAW portion of Erik Davis’ High Weirdness, I was reminded of a small point where Davis points out that RAW occasionally shows sympathy with law-and-order policeman types such as Saul Goodman and Barney Muldoon in Illuminatus!.

Since we do not have a de Selby quote in this week’s reading, here is a selection from The Third Policeman: “in the Layman’s Atlas...he inveighs savagely against ‘the insanitary conditions prevailing everywhere after six o’clock’ and makes the famous gaffe that death is merely ‘the collapse of the heart from the strain of a lifetime of fits and fainting.’” We won’t be truly civilized until we do something about all this goddamned noxious black air.  

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

John Higgs breaking news roundup!

John Higgs goes on the Ezra Klein Show for an hour and a half, and the result is one of the better podcasts you will hear this year. It opens with a sound clip of John talking about reality tunnels, and that sets the tone for a meaty podcast -- John talks about Timothy Leary, Robert Anton Wilson, the cast for pragmatic optimism and other topics. Toward the end, when John is asked to recommend three books, one of them is Cosmic Trigger I. Available here and on the usual podcasting apps. Nice to hear RAW discussed outside of the usual places.

Fun fact: Ezra Klein is a prominent American political journalist (co-founder of Vox etc.) but he also is married to writer Annie Lowrey, who has been mentioned on this blog because last year she published a well-received book on the case for the UBI, Give People Money.

Higgs get hitched. Not to be outdone by Ezra Klein, John decided to get married, too, jumping hastily into matrimony on impulse after being together with Joanne for 26 years and spawning children. A photo of the occasion is reproduced above. Congratulations to one of my favorite British writers.

More Higgs news here, including the book tour to promote the new book about William Blake.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Erik Davis' podcasts

Erik Davis

Can't get enough Erik Davis after reading his excellent new book, High Weirdness?

I would suggest listening to his "Expanding Mind" podcasts, which explore some of the same territory as his books. The podcast is on summer hiatus right now, but there are  dozens of episodes to explore. I listened to the Silicon Valley Fever episode as I drove to work this morning

Monday, September 2, 2019

Tune in to Radio 23

Didn't make it to Castle Perilous 23?  An online radio station with programs recorded from it is being set up at Radio 23. The website says,

"Radio23 is a new online station, following on from Pilgrim Radio, which was part of the CERN pilgrimage in April 2019.

"Due to lack of wifi we may not be able to broadcast from Castle Perilous, but will do our best. A full programme of radio shows will be made available from early September 2019."

"There will also be a permanent, ongoing broadcast of discordian content after the festival," James Burt tells me on Twitter.

Possibly related bonus bit: Mr. Burt has started an online forum to discuss The Invisibles, everyone is welcome.

Sunday, September 1, 2019