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 Magick.me.

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?