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Friday, November 29, 2019

Jazz bleg

I have been listening to quite a bit of jazz lately, and to jazz's cousin, blues. Robert Anton Wilson loved jazz, but the music form doesn't seem to get much attention lately; maybe it's a good idea to toss out a couple of listening suggestions.

RAW's interest in jazz pops up all over the place, as in this 1980 interview, in response to a question about whether "ours is a cultureless society": "I also think jazz has proven to be a singular contribution to the world’s music. I think the Modern Jazz Quartet will some day be looked back at in the same way we look back at Vivaldi."

The album that's usually recommended as a starting place for jazz is Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, and indeed it's one of my favorite jazz albums. The album features an all-star lineup of Davis on trumpet, "Cannonball" Adderley on alto sax, John Coltrane on tenor sax, Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums.

Listening to the album can lead to explorations of some of the featured musicians; it certainly got me interested in Miles Davis, who helped launch several directions in jazz, and Bill Evans, whose playing I particularly liked.  I have many Davis and Evans recordings. Many others become big John Coltrane fans; RAW mentions Coltrane in one of his "Jazz Haiku" in Coincidance.

John Coltrane

In the enormous complexity
of his mind
he seeks the simplicity of a soul 

Many of these guys unfortunately died young; Evans became a drug addict and died at age 51, Coltrane was only 40 when liver cancer killed him, Adderley had a cerebral hemorrhage at age 46. These are are terrible losses, but jazz musicians typically a prolific and all of the artists I mention made many recordings we can still listen to.

Other suggestions for jazz neophytes: The Cannonball Adderley Quartet in San Francisco, Getz/Gilberto and  Weather Report's Heavy Weather album. These are all popular albums.

I happen to particularly like jazz artists Dave Holland (known for Not for Nothin') Karrin Allyson and Ben Allison.  I also listen a lot to Dexter Gordon and Art Pepper. I like Duke Ellington a lot, too.

Eric Wagner is a big jazz fan and perhaps will offer a few listening suggestions in the comments; Eric is particularly an Art Ensemble of Chicago fan and recently wrote to me, "People in Sorrow seems to me the AEC’s masterpiece. I also love Nice Guys, the first of their albums I bought and still a favorite. I also love Ancient to the Future (Dreaming of the Masters, Volume 1) which includes covers of a variety of artists representing what they call “Great Black Music - Ancient to the Future”, including Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix."

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving!

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

I am certainly thankful for the people who read and support this blog. Whether you have come to my attention by befriending me and writing to me and posting comments or you simply lurk and read it, I appreciate all of you.

Today I learned the first words of Thanksgiving were spoken by a Native American who asked, "Anybody got a beer?"

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The People's Pyramid

A fired brick of Mu. 

In another chapter of "What the British Discordians are doing," you can go here to learn about the pyramid that is being built from the cremated remains of dead people. 

"The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu are building a pyramid. The pyramid will be constructed of 34592 bricks. Each brick in the pyramid will contain the cremated remains of a dead person. This process is called MuMufication."


"MuMufication is the act of having a small portion of your cremated cremated remains fired in a Brickof Mu.

"MuMufied is what you will be after the act of MuMufication has been carried out.

"What you get in the here and now is a Brick of Mu and a signed and stamped Certificate of MuMufication.

"What you get after you die is 23 grams of yours cremated remains fired in your Brick of Mu, which will then be laid to rest on The People’s Pyramid come the following Toxteth Day of the Dead on 23rd of November."

I am still not quite getting this, but perhaps we can love the British without feeling fully confident  that we understand them. No doubt they feel the same way sometimes about Americans.

Via Mondo 2000 on Twitter.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Gahan Wilson has died

The great cartoonist Gahan Wilson has died. Here is the New York Times obituary. 

One of Wilson's big markets back in the day was "Playboy" magazine.

On Twitter, @advantardeodus pointed out that "Playboy" editors Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson must have known him.

I'm sure they must have at least known of him, if they didn't know him personally. And although I don't know, I would like to think they were fans.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Widow's Son reading group, Week 14

Nora Barnacle (right) with my daughter’s namesake.

Week Fourteen (pg. 225-234 Hilaritas edition, Chapter Eleven, Part II all editions

By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger

The Prisoner makes his escape. Sigismunundo’s astounding jailbreak was overwhelmingly reminiscent of John Higgs’ description of Dr. Leary’s escape act from San Luis Obispo in the opening chapter of his excellent I Have America Surrounded. Especially the scene of Leary crossing the telephone wire over the fence to freedom on pg. 8-10. Like Sigismundo, Leary has to face a perilous drop (his was only 20 feet but he was fifty and real as opposed to a spry twenty one year old in an, albeit achingly self-aware, adventure novel)  “with nothing but faith and a thin wire between him and the ground below” (Higgs pg. 8). I believe that this is evidence of a feedback loop; did Leary’s account of his stunning escape inspire RAW while writing about Sigismundo’s and was Higgs perhaps inspired by The Widow’s Son when recounting Leary’s escape in his biography? Either way, unlike Leary, Sigismundo has no allies or love waiting for him outside the Bastille. 

(Another connection in those thrilling opening pages would be Higgs’ observations about Leary’s features on pg 10: “But while his face was aristocratic, his mannerisms were restless and American and his eyes and smile had an unmistakably Irish charm. It was this subtle Irish glimmer that overrode the American and classical aspects of his appearance and became the prominent characteristic in the memories of those who knew him. His reckless Irish streak could also be relied on to override the other elements of his personality at pivotal moments of his life.” As Sigismundo heads towards Britain we’ll get to see more of this mix of the Irish and the classical, of aristocracy and recklessness before moving on to the Americas in Nature’s God.) 

Sigismundo’s God or Author is kind to him in this episode as his hand is not reduced to a bloody pulp by ropeburn (a phrasing that made me shudder) from losing his grip on the wall, although at one point he clings on with his “weaker hand”; nor does he have to swim in the moat or scale and descend the second wall. Sigismundo’s belief in the impossible serves him well as he is able to accomplish a feat he considers only possible for an acrobat, and this probably makes his implausible escape successful. 

We are provided with an account of the genesis of de Selby’s romance with Sophie Denevue in “Fuck Off, Buster” and see him shifting his affections from the uninterested-to-the-point-of-feigning-death Denevue to the unknowning Nora Barnacle. Barnacle’s droll attitude towards experimental, high falutin’ writers is transferred from the “real” world (where she wondered why her partner couldn’t just write normal books) to our narrative where she makes the charming understatement that the philosopher, who is trying to “neutralize pleumenary time” and believes he has found an unlikely key to the reoccuring 1132 in the then-unpublished Finnegans Wake, “seems a bit daft.” 

As de Selby anticlimactically collides with Joyce’s personal sphere and Sigismundo finds himself out of the frying pan and into the fire, the reader is left with an image of a rat running across our desperate protagonist’s foot as he tries to focus on a higher self.  Next week we’ll begin Part III- Happy Thanksgiving everyone. 

From Eric Wagner: “I thought Bach’s “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” might work this week. Sigismundo praises this piece in The Earth Will Shake.”

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Top ten SF and fantasy of decade

I'm starting to notice various "ten best of the decade" lists coming out, here is Tyler Cowen's contribution, and here is a compilation of "best of the 2010s" lists. 

For most of these various categories, I don't feel qualified to offer an opinion; I don't keep up with popular music, I don't watch much TV or see many movies.

But I do still read a great deal of fantasy and SF, so here is my list of the top ten SF and fantasy novels of the 2010s:

Surface Detail, Iain M. Banks, 2010.
Somnium, Steve Moore, 2011.
The Yearbook, Carol Masciola. 2015.
Luna: New Moon, Ian McDonald, 2015.
The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin, 2015.
Seveneves, Neal Stephenson, 2015.
Too Like the Lightning, Ada Palmer, 2016.
The Corporation Wars trilogy (first book, 2016) , Ken MacLeod.
Kingdom of the Wicked, Helen Dale, 2017
Gnomon, Nick Harkaway, 2017.

Some honorable mentions:

Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie, 2014.
All Systems Red, Martha Wells, 2017.
Stealing Worlds, Karl Schroeder, 2019.
The Powers of the Earth, Travis Corcoran, 2017.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

New meme from Rasa

As he continues to prepare the next batch of books for Hilaritas Press, Rasa continues to post memes on the Twitter account for the Robert Anton Wilson Trust. Here's the latest.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Wednesday links

1983 Mencken Award winner: “Trade Barriers,” by John Trever (Albuquerque Journal)

The Mencken Awards 1982-1996. Awards that were given to writers and cartoonists for defending individual rights; Michael Grossberg and Jesse Walker both were involved (and put together this website.) See this Twitter thread by Jesse. 

Polyamory blog by SF fan Bernadette Bosky.

"Reflections on My Decision to Change Gender," by the libertarian economist Deidre McCloskey. Very interesting. 

Study: 78 Minutes of Music a Day Improves Mental Health

Why Garry Kasparov skipped the Vatican tour.

Changes in dating.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

New UFO book out soon

Jesse Walker blurbs a new book, Intimate Alien: The Hidden Story of the UFO by David Halperin, out in March: "David Halperin doesn't believe in the literal reality of flying saucers, but he understands that they needn't physically exist to teach us lessons about a culture that sees them. Part folklorist and part psychologist, Halperin reads our UFO mythos like an alienist analyzing an extended collective dream."

Read the John Wisniewski interview with Halperin, which I published in July.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Cool 'Illuminatus!' video


Spotted on Twitter (thanks to Bobby Campbell's essential RAW Twitter account) a cool video based on the underwater scenes in Illuminatus! from amoeba, cover artist for the Hilaritas Press reissues of RAW's books. 

Here is where you can buy two EPs, Hagbards lost uhf broadcasts 1 and 2.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Widow's Son reading group, Week 13

A romanticized depiction of Charles Stuart ("Bonnie Prince Charlie") addressing Scottish soldiers during the '45.

Week Thirteen (pg. 199-224 Hilaritas edition, Chapter 9&10 Part II all editions)

By Gregory Arnott,
Special guest blogger

Arctic Tern chicks take flight on Dalkey Island: Some recent news. It seems that the arctic tern has a longer migration pattern, from Arctic to Antarctic, than any other creature on Earth. Their migratory behavior also guarantees that they see more daylight than any other creature on Earth. It is appropriate for a species identified by de Selby to avoid toxic black air. 

As Seamus marches from the barracks he ruminates on many of RAW’s favorite demons: double-cross, paranoia, violence and madness. 

Interestingly, my light research indicates that “Croppies Lie Down” wasn’t sang until the Irish Rebellion of 1798. In fact, I was unable to find the verse sang in The Widow’s Son anywhere in the original lyrics and at first only excerpted in a book from 2003 by a historian named William Kelleher: The Troubles in Ballybogoin: Memory and Identity in Northern Ireland.  Eventually I found the same verse in some other books- the oldest one being from 1982. Too Long a Sacrifice is a history of the Troubles in Northern Ireland since 1969; the author, Jack Holland, had a Protestant father and Catholic mother and worked as a news reporter. This leads me to believe that the verse must have been added to the original song sometime during the late twentieth century. The last line before the refrain “And soon the bright Orange put down the Green rag” is particularly aggressive and certainly could have been penned amidst the violence and politics. So it seems that neither the song, or especially this verse, dated back to the Battle of the Boyne. Another trick by Mr. Wilson. 

The Rebellion of 1798 was led by Presbyterians and joined by the Catholics which gives credence to the discussion of how the recension of the Declaration of Independence of Conscience by William of Orange really fucked over anyone who wasn’t an Anglican. The “croppies” of the song were so-called because the revolutionaries cut their hair in the French Jacobin style (not to be confused with the Jacobites).

The Declaration of the Independence of Conscience is more widely known as either the Declaration(s) of Indulgence or the Declaration of the Liberty of Conscience. Of course, James II wasn’t exactly being as beneficent as the text reads and was mostly trying to make his own Catholic faith legal. The founder of Pennsylvania and guy from the Oatmeal tube, William Penn, was a supporter of the Declaration and later quit the party when it was rescinded after the Glorious Revolution. (I’m somewhat certain the guy from the Quaker Oatmeal container isn’t actually William Penn but that’s how I’ve always pictured him.) 

The short reign of James II and the Glorious Revolution is one of the most fascinating parts, in my opinion, of British history. Since studying James II and VII in one of my seminars I have always felt like it was a pity Shakespeare wasn’t around afterwards. The whole debacle could have fit in well with his other Histories as it is replete with scheming nobility and bishops, an ambiguous monarch, and the heavy tread of Fate.This would lead to a series of Jacobite Rebellions and the (perhaps undeserved)  martyrdom of James Stuart, Charles Stuart, and the veterans of the uprising of 1689, the Fifteen, and the Forty-Five from whence “The Skye Boat Song” originated. (Here is a good overview of the Rebellion of ‘45 from the Adam Smith Institute. November 8th was the anniversary of Charles Stuart’s initial invasion.) 

I believe the footnote on pg 204-205 (Hilaritas edition) not only serves to further the de Selby conspiracy sub-narrative but to illustrate the ambiguities of any religious authority. Although we see the Catholic Muadhen mutilated and driven to murderous intent by Protestant oppression, we are reminded that the Catholic machinations in Britain, or elsewhere in the world, were hardly benevolent. 

The conversation between Weishaupt and Cagliostro is supposed to by mysterious but the reader of RAW’s other works is easily able to perceive, read between the lines, or at least think that they can easily perceive the undercurrents and connections in their speech. Phrases such as when the stars are right, Et in Arcadia Ego, and the benediction/response of Ewige Blumenkraft (Eternal Flower Power)/Und Ewige Schlangekraft (and Eternal Serpent Power) should be familiar from Illuminatus! and other writings. The term cowans is still used in Masonic lodges and the footnote provided by RAW links this term to others such as “pashu” (“the unwashed herd”), used by initiates of Tantric cults to refer to the unenlightened. 

That Weishaupt was commonly referred to as “a deep one” is an assertion that RAW repeats elsewhere. Aside from the surface meaning it is easy to see this as another of RAW’s devices tying Weishaupt to Lovecraftian nightmares. (See also the “die wascally wabbit” scene from Illuminatus!.) Weishaupt’s “time-vision” is an example of slipping into the Morgensheutegesternwelf or the yesterday-today-tomorrow-world spoken of in Illuminatus!. RAW, with the benefit of a couple centuries and his expertise is able to make a convincing vision of the future of the Illuminati. On page 213, Hilaritas edition, I see that I made a mistake in my editing and should have inserted a break between Weishaupt’s low opinion of the Knights of Malta and Sir John drinking Guiness and talking about Machiavelli. 

Babcock’s somewhat drunken and perhaps indiscreet joke about Machiavelli, tied with his anxious reflections, makes an interesting triple interpretation of Machiavelli’s political tract as both a religious and sexual allegory. We are also treated to some heavy irony that Babcock is exhausted by a “long hard day in Parliament” when we have read about so many characters in powerless, poverty-stricken situations. The irony is compounded when we find out that Seamus Muadhen, now James Moon, is employed as his servant and waiting outside the tavern. The reader understands how priggish Babcock’s well-intentioned thoughts about the “poor lad” and “the boy” whistling incriminating songs really are as he believes himself to know more about James than he possibly could. 

The thunderstone falls from the sky and interrupts Babcock’s thoughts; is this an inscrutable sign of a Machiavellian God or Author? 

The paragraph from pg 219-220 (Hilaritas) where Moon considers that history is made by the rash those with too much “fooken imagination” are left its passive victims is as good of writing as any in RAW’s work. It is reminiscent of another Hamlet-obsessed, young Irishman’s ruminations on the nature of history. 

The long footnote in the chapter discusses de Selby’s concept of plenumary time which sounds very familiar to the quantum interpretations of Heisenberg and the more recent work of Alan and Steve Moore. I cannot do justice to either Moore’s time/space paradigm here and anyone interested should study Alan’s Jerusalem and then study it some more. 

At the end of the chapter Moon’s moral decision is interrupted by the ancestor of George Dorn, who will also wrestle with the ideas of cowardice versus compassion, with the announcement that Maria, Lady Babcock is in labor. Seamus/James is left behind to uninter the thunderstone. Debate on rocks from the sky and new life awaits.

This week’s selection from Eric Wagner: "This week I have chosen Beethoven’s Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph. .

"The narrator of The Widow’s Son calls this piece “as supreme a work of Masonic ideology set to music as Mozart’s Magic Flute” (pg. 210). (The number 210 plays a central role in Crowley’s notions about sex magick - the two become one become nothing.)" 

Saturday, November 16, 2019

A look back at the Prometheus Award winners

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Prometheus Award, Michael Grossberg, the founder of the Libertarian Futurist Society (the group that gives the award) has been doing a series of appreciations of the winners for the Prometheus Awards blog. 

The books he's covered so far are Wheels Within Wheels by F. Paul Wilson; The Probability Broach, L. Neil Smith; Voyage from Yesteryear, James P. Hogan; The Rainbow Cadenza, J. Neil Schulman; The Cybernetic Samurai, Victor Milan; Marooned in Real Time, Vernor Vinge; The Jehovah Contract, Victor Koman, and Moon of Ice, Brad Linaweaver.

Most of these pieces are written by Michael, but there's also a piece by William Stoddard about 1985, when the LFS went with No Award rather than give an award. As Stoddard notes, the  year actually had "some fairly strong choices." I've read one of them, Lee Correy's Manna, and it's not bad.

With 40 years of awards, there's much more to come.

Friday, November 15, 2019

New 'Insider's Guide' out Dec. 11

Eric Wagner

A new third revised edition of Eric Wagner's An Insider's Guide to Robert Anton Wilson will published on Dec. 11.

As I understand it, the second edition did not have changes in the text. The new third revised edition, however, is a substantial revision with many changes and with quite a bit of new material. More about this when we get closer to the publication date.

I have a paperback of the original first edition. I plan to buy a Kindle of the new edition, so that I'll have a searchable text.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

'Journeys to the Edge of Consciousness'

A trailer for a movie that looks interesting. Via Erik Davis, who writes on Twitter. "Journeys to the edge of Consciousness: trailer for a new Aussie semi-animated treatment of the big psychedelic trips of Huxley, Leary, and Watts:  Interesting minimalist animation; includes familiar talking heads."

I can't figure out where to watch it; can anyone help? 

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Wednesday links

Maybe when you buy this you can support  your local  bookstore.

How to pay for an author's books (John Scalzi, via Supergee.) Maybe some of us could order the new Hilaritas Press books via a local bookstore?

Is the equal sign overrated? Via Charles Faris.

How do psychedelic drugs help people? Via Charles, again.

The number of TV shows continues to grow. 

Best of the decade?

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

RAW's romantic Irish nationalism

In many different places, Robert Anton Wilson references the Battle of Clontarf, usually depicted as an important Irish victory over Viking invaders, and that's how RAW always describes it, for example in this bit from The Widow's Son:

This was the symbol of the armies of Brian Kennedy of Borumu, who had driven the Vikings out of Ireland, and it would surely take another man like Brian Boru to drive out the accursed Saxons. Brian had started his war when he was eighteen, one year older than Seamus, in 944, and he had fought for seventy fooken years, not stopping until he was eighty-eight and the last Viking stronghold in Dublin was defeated on April 23, 1014. (From Chapter Six).

I have been recently gotten interested again in learning about the Vikings. I've watched some early episodes of the "Vikings" TV series, I recently listened to an audiobook of Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology and a couple of days ago I finished The Age of the Vikings by Anders Winroth, a well-regarded 2014 history of the Vikings which is scholarly (it was put out by the Princeton University Press) but also intended for the general reader rather then specialists. Anders Winroth is a history professor at Yale and recipient of a MacArthur "genius" grant.

The treatment in The Age of the Vikings of the Battle of Clontarf was not what I expected after seeing numerous references to the battle from RAW.

Winroth writes that that battle is described in a twelfth-century work, Cogadh Gáedhel re Gallaibh "The War of the Irish Against the Foreigners," as a battle against foreign invaders described in one passage with 27 negative adjectives, such as "poisonous," "murderous," "piratical foreigners" "pagan" and so on.

Sitric, the "bad guy" in the story, the leader of the Vikings, was in fact a Christian who went on a pilgrimage to Rome in 1028 and asked the pope for an archbishop's see in Dublin. (Dublin was founded by Vikings).

Winroth writes that Irish fighters made up part of Sitric's army while Brian Boru's army included Vikings and points out that the Norse account of the battle says that Sitric won.

"What is certain is that the Irish were unable to expel Sitric from Dublin until he was finally driven out in 1036, after almost a half century of rule," Winroth writes.

Winroth also says that Sitric's expulsion "does not mark the end of Scandinavian rule over Dublin, which continued (by, among others, his nephew Ivar) until the invasion of Ireland by the Norman rulers of England in the twelfth century." (The Normans were themselves the descendants of Vikings).

Of course, everyone has their historical myths, and there are certainly revisionist accounts of the American Revolution. I am fairly certain, however, that the British actually lost.

Monday, November 11, 2019

RAW's 'America Phantasmagoria'

Another Martin Wagner rediscovery: "America Phantasmagoria," which is by “Kevin O’Flaherty McCool (mosprobably Robert Anton Wilson)" and was published in 1967; it appears to be written in the cut-up style and has an antiwar theme and also features World War II revisionism. Excerpt:

Admiral Mahan “the theorist of naval imperialism” was the first one to turn Roosevelt’s mind toward war with Japan — Mahan’s famous “inevitable chain” of industry / markets / control / naval bases, was impressed on Roosevelt’s mind toward 1914 — Roosevelt saw that control of the Pacific market was indispensible for the survival of finance capitalism, and that Japan was America’s natural antagonist there — LBJ follows today, in his China policy, the basic thinking of Roosevelt’s Japan policy, China having replaced Japan as our antagonist — His policy of seeking war through continuous provocation, forcing the enemy to fire the first shot, is derived from Roosevelt’s brilliant maneuvers leading up to the Pearl Harbor triumph —

For context, see this bit from part two of the Lewis Shiner interview with RAW:

I'd also like to write a book about Pearl Harbor. The revisionist historians have been thoroughly slandered and are mostly out of print. I wouldn't be adding much original; I think everything worth saying has been said by Charles Beard and Harry Elmer Barnes and James J. Martin and a few others. But their books are out of print or hard to find. My book would be just one more effort against what Barnes called "the historical blackout." One more effort to put the facts on record.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

The Widow's Son reading group, Week Twelve

Week Twelve (pg 187-198 Hilaritas edition, Part II, Chapters 7 & 8 all editions) 

By Gregory Arnott, special guest blogger

Maria’s daybook begins with her musing on the climate of England; both weather-wise and political. While statements such as “...there is still a lurking fear that someone might denounce us all to the Inquisition…” and “yet there is nothing savage about these people; they are all so polite and tactful…” might seem to further illustrate the difference between Southern and Northern Europe during the eighteenth century, her perspective and opinions are undermined by what we have witnessed in the previous chapter. Her observation that her husband has kindly not asked her to convert to Protestantism is mocked by the rabidly anti-Catholic policies being carried out partly in his name across the Irish Sea. We can contrast the observation of Maria’s that she couldn’t imagine an Englishman biting his thumbnail at another or stabbing another person in anger with the fact that some of Seamus Muadhen’s fingernails have been pulled out during his interrogation and his torture has been carried out most methodically. Even her bringing up Jonathan Swift’s  “indecent language” is unhappily hilarious compared to what he was he was critiquing; as has been mentioned, he wrote one of the most effective protests against the English occupation of Ireland of his time. (Interestingly a group skeptical of climate change recently tried to use “A Modest Proposal” as the basis of a “clever” protest which instead displayed their complete lack of reading comprehension skills. I guess that type of person probably doesn’t digest straight-forward information very accurately, let alone a parody that has been explained ad nauseum since its publication.) 

John Wilkes was as controversial a figure as Maria’s writings indicate; at first he was liberal who in the current year of the narrative pushed for the right of publishers to reproduce Parliamentary debates for public perusal and later supported the cause of the American colonists. However he made a sharp turn in his later years and began supporting conservative policies before retiring from politics. He was a member of the Monks of St. Francis and was the direct instigator of the prank involving an orangutan and the Earl of Sandwich mentioned in the footnote on pg. 189 (Hilaritas edition). Wilkes, aside from his libertine activities, was also known as a remarkably ugly man which lent himself to caricature and parody. In an exchange with the Earl of Sandwich, the Earl wrote that "Sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox," Wilkes is reported to have replied, "That depends, my lord, on whether I embrace your lordship's principles or your mistress." 

Wilkes “Essay on Woman” was an even bigger scandal than Maria’s private writings indicate and was considered to be the biggest misstep of his career. Here is the text of the poem, which was originally meant to be printed side by side with Pope’s “Essay on Man” for easy comparison. And here is a post on the John Wilkes Club blog that provides context and details about the scandal -- therein they detail more blatant hypocrisy on the part of the Earl of Sandwich who was, in the words of Norm MacDonald, “a real jerk.” Babcock’s observation to his wife that Wilkes is “a saucy rascal but has too much honor to become a true scoundrel” is a repetition of Max Beerbohm’s assessment of the character of Aleister Crowley in Masks of the Illuminati. 

The beginning of Chapter Eight, where Pietro receives a letter from Chartres telling him of Sigismundo’s “death,” gives us a privy perspective of Sigismundo’s attempts to free himself from the Bastille. The hopes that he has pinned on his letter to Chartres denouncing Count Cagliostro are futile and the reader understands by the end of the chapter that Sigismundo’s methodical efforts to hang out the window and slowly weave his rope is his best, and only, avenue of escape at this time. 

On pg. 196-197 (Hilaritas edition) Sigmismundo lists the types of novels to be found in the library of the Bastille. My understanding of the novel as a concept and my knowledge of what novels came out in what year indicate that this list is somewhat anachronistic. Many of the epitomic examples of the six novels would not be published until after 1771. For type One, I’d say that The Count of Monte Cristo would be the most immediate example which wouldn’t be published until 1844. For the second type, the novels of Samual Richardson fit the bill and both Pamela and Clarissa were published thirty years before the narrative so it is plausible translations would have been available. Type Three is obviously the picaresque novel- classic examples such as Grimmelhausen’s Simplicius Simplicissimus had been originally published in the seventeenth century, Voltaire’s parody Candide had been published in 1759, and the novels of Henry Fielding, namely Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones were already published making this the strongest possibility of Sigismundo encountering multiple examples of any type of novel on this list in 1771. (At least in an accurate timeline, but I have never prejudiced RAW his anachronistic elements.) Type Four is obviously modelled on the gothic romances of Anne Radcliffe, yet her oeuvre was not published until the 1790s. Type Five is noted to be based on the novels of Lawrence Sterne, namely Tristram Shandy, but could also describe the French novel Jacques the Fatalist by Diderot which would not be published until the 1790s. Type Six recalls Moby Dick, American naturalism, and some of the short Hemingway-style stories that would not be published until decades, or over a century, after the events of the novel. I’m interested to see what examples the community can think of and look forward to reading them in the comments. 

We end with Sigismundo in a well-deserved slumber and will come back next week for more of the trials and tribulations of Seamus Muadhen as he becomes James Moon, in the service of Sir John Babcock. 

From Eric Wagner: “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 again) Personally, this is my favorite use of the Chorus: 

Saturday, November 9, 2019

RAW on 'The Widow's Son'

While I was researching another blog post that will have to wait a day or two, I looked at part two of Lewis Shiner's interview with Robert Anton Wilson and rediscovered this. It seems relevant to the online reading group for The Widow's Son and to RAW fans interested in Beethoven and Illuminatus!

RAW: My favorite of all my books is The Widow's Son because I think I created uncertainty better there than anywhere else. I don't think there's anybody in the world who can tell how much of that book is real and how much is fiction. Including me. I don't absolutely know how much to trust my sources.

SHINER: --- and how much you made up may have been true.

RAW: I've had that happen, too. In Illuminatus I made Beethoven a member of the Illuminati. That was a parody of the Christian Crusade in Oklahoma — they were claiming the Beatles were Communist agents. I decided to put it back 200 years and make Beethoven an Illuminati agent. And, my God, that was just a joke, but it's true! Beethoven either belonged to the Illuminati or was certainly a fellow traveler. He was very closely associated with them. I had no idea that was true when I wrote it.

It's a very good interview, if you want to start at the beginning and read all of it, here is part one. 

Shiner in the intro: "It was kind of a weird interview. At the time, I felt like Bob was not really listening to me, kind of talking over me and delivering somewhat prefab responses. Yet when I listened back to the tape, it was a really good interview, and he sounded very compassionate and wise.. "

Lewis Shiner is an interesting writer in his own right who deserves more attention.  He was originally associated with the Austin segment of the cyberpunk movement in science fiction, Bruce Sterling and that crowd. Here is a review of his new novel, Outside the Gates of Eden.  I'm guessing the older readers of this blog are more likely to catch the Bob Dylan reference in the title. Shiner won the World Fantasy Award in 1994 for Glimpses, something I should have mentioned when I originally published the interview. There are more good writers and interesting writers out there than the most determined reader can keep up with.

Friday, November 8, 2019

It's not too late to join in!

In  his kind attention to our ongoing The Widow's Son reading group at the Only Maybe blog, Bogus Magus writes, "In the last post I mentioned studying "The Widow's Son" with an online reading group, but did not add a link to it, partly because we have already reached Week 10.  However, the introductory post, and subsequent comments from the group remain a resource for future reference."

At the risk of sounding self serving, may I make the case that there's no time like the present?

The Widow's Son is not a terribly long novel. It's not a short book, but it's no Anna Karenina, either. (When I began reading Anna, my first wife asked, "Has she thrown herself in front of the train yet?")

My Kindle app says that we are currently 35 percent of the way through The Widow's Son.

The New York Times obituary for the late Harold Bloom says, "Professor Bloom called himself 'a monster' of reading; he said he could read, and absorb, a 400-page book in an hour."

I am a mere mortal, not a monster of reading. Yet even though I have a full time job, and usually don't get to sit down and read until fairly late in the evening, I'm pretty sure I can read 35 percent of a normal-sized novel in a week or two.

I doubt I'm exceptional. So if you haven't started The Widow's Son, or if you've gotten a little behind, catch up with us! It's not too late.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Jason Louv and Casey Ray on William Burroughs

The fascinating and repellant figure of writer William S. Burroughs is the subject of a long Ultraculture podcast, "Casey Rae on William S. Burroughs & Storming the Reality Studio," which features host Jason Louv and guest Casey Rae, the author of the book William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock and Roll.  Burroughs of course was a big influence on Robert Anton Wilson.

The long podcast (more than an hour and a half long) explores both the positive and negative sides of Burroughs, the way he inspired many other creative people and the baleful influence he had on the lifestyles of many. As Louv sums up at the end of the podcast, Burroughs is "someone who has been influential for the right reasons and the wrong reasons."

Find out more about Louv's offerings at

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

A RAW interview from 1976

Martin Wagner uncovers another old RAW interview, "SMI²LE: An Interview with Robert Anton Wilson" by Howard Pearlstein. It's an interview focusing on RAW's techno-utopian predictions, which unfortunately haven't come about as closely as Wilson hoped. Sample:

Life is being extended all the time. The general life span has been rising sharply in the last hundred years, but the real breakthroughs will come when we begin to understand something about genetic engineering in a positive way. And if it’s possible, as many think, that the DNA triggers the death process, that the DNA-RNA dialogue contains certain signals which just turn on the program that begins the decline of the body and death by old age, learning how to reverse that would also necessarily lead immediately into learning how to create rejuvenation. It is quite possible that many people reading this will never die. That’s a really mind-blasting thought, but it’s a safe statement. I don’t say it’s going to happen, but it is possible.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Was Philip K. Dick a bad writer?

Philip K. Dick is perhaps one of the best examples of a genre science fiction writer who broke through and won mainstream acceptance. You can get a three volume boxed set of 13 of  his novels from the Library of America.  Stanislaw Lem once wrote an essay asserting that nearly all American SF was crap, with the exception of Dick's work.  And of course Robert Anton Wilson was a big fan, which is one reason I bring up Dick here (see RAW's writings in for example Chaos and Beyond and in Beyond Chaos and Beyond.

Yet I have noticed recently that the received wisdom isn't accepted by everyone.

I recently read Jo Walton's An Informal History of the Hugos. She says this about Dick: "I have read half a dozen assorted Dick novels and hated all of them. I can see that he's a very good writer, but I can't stand the way his mind works."

Tyler Cowen posted a list of his ten favorite science fiction novels last year (in response to a request for me; it's a rather good list). In the notes below the list, he writes, "Philip K. Dick is 'idea rich,' but basically a bad and overrated writer."

Cowen recently interviewed political scientist Henry Farrell, who is a Dick admirer; after some good discussion of Gene Wolfe the interview moves on to Dick. Farrell's remarks are worth quoting:

So the best of his creations, if you want to think of the best as a novel, I think is The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, which is plausibly the only genuinely good novel that he wrote, and also is the only novel that has a sympathetic and interesting female character in it. But it’s not his most important work. I think it’s good at showing that towards the end, he managed to get some kind of a sense of himself from outside and a perspective on his struggles with mental health, which clearly were both a driving creative force for him and a source of much personal agony and destruction.

I think that the works that are most important are Ubik and Martian Time-Slip. Both of these are the quintessential Dick novels about how it is that reality can break up and what it feels like to be in that kind of world.

I've read none of the three books Farrell mentions. I have myself read about half a dozen Dick novels (about as many as Jo Walton, I guess). My favorite by a considerable margin is The Man In the High Castle. I also liked Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  I read Now Wait for Last Year about a couple of years ago and it did little for me. I read The Penultimate Truth and maybe 1-2 others a long time ago. I have Valis sitting on my Kindle and hope to get to it soon. 

Incidentally, Cowen's "Conversations with Tyler" podcast is quite good. 

Monday, November 4, 2019

A Pynchon podcast eyes Iluminatus!

The Pynchon in Public podcast says in a Tweet, "With half the podcast having read it, maybe expect next season to be about V and also probably the Illuminatus! trilogy."

John on Twitter (Twitter handle, @PynchoninPublic) quotes Jesse Walker, "Judging from anecdotal evidence, more people have started Gravity's Rainbow than Illuminatus! But far more people have finished Illuminatus! than Gravity's Rainbow." To which the Pynchon podcast replies, "Probably true. But that was before we did a season in the former. We’re sure we’ve helped tip that particular scale."

The podcast also quotes from Illuminatus! and says, "More from the same book. These guys know their Pynchon...or possibly ARE Pynchon." Trying to be funny, or what?

Hat tip, Mr. Walker.

I'm once again having problems with Blogger, so no illustration today.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Widow's Son reading group, Week Eleven

Week Eleven (pg. 161-185 Hilaritas edition, Chapters 5&6 (Part II) all editions)

By Gregory Arnott, special guest blogger 

Chapter Five and Chapter Six are hinged together by Father Benoit’s ruminations on indelible marks. In the beginning of Chapter Five it seems as if it is a commentary on the extravagant symbolism of Sir John’s initiation before transforming into a darkly perverse prologue of Seamus’ ordeal. After the stomach churning, ear-ringing horrors of Chapter Six, imprisonment in the Bastille seems quaint.

Citizen Benoit, like Signor Duccio, is given a special position in the novel as we know that they survive much of the French Revolution, are clearly skeptical individuals, and both have intimate knowledge of Sigismundo’s plight which is ostensibly the main thrust of The Widow’s Son. So the reader is given multiple reasons to trust their reminiscences in a way that we cannot trust the ongoing narratives. Celine, Babcock (Lord and Lady), and Muadhen are all “trapped” in their personal heaven/hell/purgatory of 1771 along with most of the secondary and tertiary characters. It follows that the excerpts of their memoirs provides a respite from the action of the novel and a clue to what RAW might be trying to impress upon the reader therein.

Benoit discusses the decline of the Church into vain repetitions and the failure of the sacraments as opposed to the rediscovered purgative of the Peripatetic’s catharsis found within the secrets of Freemasonry; the ability to impress upon the soul an indelible mark. This is an interesting way of examining the diminishing power of religion in the Age of Enlightenment. Instead of seeing the Church as overwhelmed by the scientific and humanistic revolutions of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth centuries, Benoit seems to see the institution as rotting on its own (lack of) merits and the spiritual center shifted to another that is no less spiritual, but spiritual in a different manner. The brief discussion of Aristotle’s Poetics brings to mind the historically accepted principle that what sparked the Renaissance, itself a prelude to the Enlightenment, was the rediscovery of the classical authors by secular scholars and members of the Church who were not as cowed by doctrine as the grim monks of the Middle Ages. The mention of the buried dog in the logbook of the New Hope Lodge on pg. 164, its connection with Gurdjieff and the further connection with Sirius/the Silver Star hints at another cause for the massive spiritual/political/cultural shifts of the late second millennium- the advent of the Aeon of Horus.

Genesis 14:18, also inscribed in the logbook of the Viennese lodge, reads “And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God.” This is of great interest as Abram was blessed by Melchizedek and later the Nazarene described himself as “a priest in the order of Melchizedek.” What makes this all the more interesting that in the Hebrew text Melchizedek blesses Abram not in the name of El, but El Elyon which was not the name of the god of the Hebrews but rather that of the preexisting Canaanite father/sky god.

Later Benoit brings up John 3:2 which reads “The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.” I read this as an allusion to the “miraculous” feats of will allowed by the illuminations transferred by Masonry for Sigismundo and Babcock (who will soon face his own trials in this novel) and the shanachie O’Lachlann to Muadhen. His earlier observation that the compositions of Haydn and Mozart defend the tenets of the Craft more ably than his own writing jives with the views of Alan Moore who often points out that Art is the ablest expression of Magic. (For another, slightly different perspective on this interplay please consult the work of Ramsey Dukes in SSTOMBE which he revisited as Lionel Snell in My Years of Magical Thinking on the “four cultures.”)

Mozart’s endorsement of peace of mind over medicine isn’t helped by the fact he died in his mid-thirties.

I agree with Benoit’s assessment of the power in the phrasing of the Lord’s Prayer. I still occasionally say the Lord’s Prayer throughout my days and nights and observe it whenever I perform the Star Ruby/LBRP/Kabbalistic Cross. In Chapter Six we see a visceral portrayal of how well man has done establishing God’s will on Earth.

Not very well.

This scene is all the more horrific as it is clear that scenes similar to this are taking place all over the world and in our own country today. Perhaps the details are changed, the oppressed and their tormentors look a bit different, but even in our vastly improved and enlightened age despotism, fear, and hatred are alive and well and free to do as they like to the powerless.

Coming to a crescendo on pg 179, and drawn out for the next few pages of the chapter, RAW’s talent for conjuring alternative states of mind with his prose is put on full display as we are tugged along into Seamus’ dark transcendence. Babcock’s sweating over Masonic shadowboxing seems pitiable compared to the very real physical harm being done to Muadhen; both initiations are presided over by Englishmen, although Muadhen is “guided” by a traitorous Irishmen, both end in an indelible mark being left upon the soul. It is appropriate that they should meet soon.

During Seamus’ departure of spacetime we hop into both the Schroedinger’s Cat and Illuminatus! trilogies before coming back to bloody 1771. The de Selby footnote is humorous and humorously out of place in the chapter. 

Edmund Burke’s appearance and failure to defend the Irish with the fervor that their cause required at the end of the chapter is all the more poignant when we remember that those who claim political descent from his philosophy are those most often in favor of or willing to turn a blind eye to corruption, despotism, violence, torture, and inhumanity today. God Bless Trump.

Sasanach ithean cac.

From Eric Wagner: 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.)

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Saturday links

Butterfly Language is closed.

Request for RAW fans.

Jesse Walker on the OTHER 1980s Blade Runner movie. It included William Burroughs material. "I can't say it's for all tastes, but you might get some pleasure out of it if you like hallucinatory dystopian visions. Or if you're a Burroughs completist. Or if you're just curious about what Bill Paxton looked like when he was 19 and naked."

October Eris of the Month.

Thanks for the nod, Toby! 

Friday, November 1, 2019

Brain hack updates

The Widow's Son online reading group will resume Sunday.

At the beginning of last month, I described reading a book called Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport and how I responded by deleting the Facebook and Twitter apps from my smartphone and trying to avoid the two social media services as much as possible. I continued to use them in October when I had to for work-related tasks or to obtain specific bits of information I couldn't find elsewhere, but I quit following feeds or doing personal postings.

As a result, when I pulled out my phone and I needed something to read, I switched to my New York Times app (I have a digital subscription, if you watch for sales you can get it pretty cheaply) and to reading Reason's Hit and Run blog, which I have bookmarked on my phone. Generally speaking, I feel better informed doing that than by spending a lot of time on social media. I will resume doing some social media, but I plan to limit my time on it. I won't put the apps back on my phone right away.

Speaking of brain hacks/lifestyle changes, I recently tossed out the idea of doing a Prometheus Rising online reading group.  I wasn't exactly flooded with a huge number of comments, but Chad N. said he wanted to do it, and Eric Wagner wrote, "I would love to participate in a PR group. I would also like to participate in a Nature's God group and finish off the Historical Illuminatus! Trilogy. I feel like PR deserves a 23 month long reading group. Perhaps we could have a set of four or five facilitators who would take turns."

I was thinking along the same lines as Eric; I want to finish off Historical Illuminatus! and I thought it might be a good idea to have more than one presenter. Maybe start on Prometheus next year after we do Nature's God?