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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.)" 


Rarebit Fiend said...

Jeez, I need to proofread. I should have said "the double-cross," "state violence," and it's sung not sang. I hate that I'm a teacher and write like this.

Eric Wagner said...

The discussion of the Latin word cohere on pg. 221 reminds me of Wilson's reference in Schroedinger's Cat to Stephen Dedalus's references to Aquinas's definition of beauty in Portrait of the Artist. Aquinas defines the qualities of beauty as radiance, coherence and beauty.

Alias Bogus said...

I feel fascinated to know what Weishaupt whispered to Cagliostro, so secret that even the omniscient narrator cannot hear it…

I confess I do not understand all the references, but I suspect Bob intended that, in generating an atmosphere of mystery.
“He is the one, when the stars are right” – again we hear that Sigismundo has some destiny laid out for him, of which he seems mostly unaware. “He is naïve, but that is part of the prophecy…” Here we have Siggy cast as Parsifal – the pure fool, the innocent. We see a mention of “the code in the Parcifal legend”, but I don’t feel sure what that implies…
Does this relate to the child “born to be king”? I found another etymology for Parsifal, which translates as “pierce the veil” (of illusion).

I like the AW smile “like moonlight on a tombstone”, which comes shortly after “Et In Arcadia Ego” and evokes the shepherds of Poussin.

Whatever got whispered, I still can’t guess, but King Solomon at high twelve (noon) asked why Hiram Abiff had not posted his plans for the day. And at low twelve (midnight), searchers found his body buried, I believe… All very murky, mysterious, as intended.

Going back a chapter, I found references to the Whiteboys’ meaning for “the widow’s son”, and the King of the World. Again, I find it difficult to tease out the meanings. The Whiteboys certainly seemed like a secret society, bound by serious oaths, etc – and as they functioned as “Levellers”, against mostly Protestant landlords, and the enclosure of The Commons, and tithes, we might assume they formed part of the Catholic tradition, but that doesn’t feel obvious, it seems mostly the very poor. Yet, I doubt they actually belonged to any Masonic sub-culture, in spite of digging symbolic graves, to emphasise the seriousness of the oaths taken.

I found it intriguing that one of their self-descriptions, as “sons of Sive” (Sadhbh) alludes to one of the wives of Finn Mac Cool (Fionn mac Cumhaill) – so their version of “the widow’s sons” seems to relate to the image of Ireland as a woman (sometimes virgin/mother/hag) and we find that trope/meme in Finnegans Wake.

Finn found Sadhbh when she had been turned into a deer. Odd that the Levellers seemed to knock down walls of “deer parks”. f you want to spin out, you can go to Norman Mailer’s “The Deer Park” which alluded to where the Buddha taught. And so, metaphorically, on and on into the maze.

Oz Fritz said...

Like Sigismundo earlier in the Historical Illuminatus series, Seamus directly confronts death. He is on the gallows about to get hanged before getting a reprieve. Seamus again confronts death in Chapter 10, this time from the other side when about to inflict it on Babcock. Coincidence Control saves them both that time when a rider arrives to announce that Maria is about to give birth. This moment also becomes a rebirth for Seamus, his life goes on to take a drastically different course than if he had offed Babcock.

de Selby confronts death near the end of Chapter 10 with the belief that his beloved Sophie Deneuve has passed.

The opening paragraphs of Chapter 9 demonstrates RAW's literary chiaroscuro technique to great effect when you consider the multiple Tiphareth correspondences amongst the horror of the scene.

The all caps phrase "Empire On Which The Sun Never Sets" appearing in the second paragraph of Chapter 9 = 260 when adding the capital initials. 260 = a number of Mercury. This gives us the Sun/Mercury combination often represented by the number 68 and a very important discovery in Crowley's "Paris Working." Also note the word ON in the phrase, a magick formula very much related.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

The point that RAW makes in chapter 10 -- that a split second decision can have huge consequences, and we very well might not understand why we made that decision -- is the point of an interesting novel, "Come With Me," by Helen Schulman.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

"We might even write certain books which, while pretending to warn against us, are secretly working to recruit those of proper mentality, those who can read between the lines." A reference to Illuminatus! ?

Oz Fritz said...

Reading commentaries on Gravity's Rainbow, I learned that most Pynchon characters in it could be called preterites, a word new to me. It means: the underprivileged, the underclass, not the chosen ones, those who get passed over, etc. I subsequently observed that RAW also writes frequently of this lower class. The Widow's Son begins with a small group of preterites planning an assassination.

The Middle Pillar on the Tree of Life consists of the sephira Kether 1, Tiphareth 6, Yesod 9, and Malkuth 10. In The Tower, part 2 of The Widows Son, RAW writes about preterites in chapters 1, 6, and 9 - Seamus and his world. In chapter 10 (Malkuth = the material world, our normal consensual reality), RAW has preterites interacting with the privileged class. First, Cagliostro - who arose from a preterite family and background - dialogues with Weishaupt who came from the upper class. Then we get Seamus, now Simon Moon, working for Babcock. The two interact and also mentally consider one another. This blending of preterite and privileged appears another example of what I call RAW's chiaroscuro literary effect. Sigismundo himself has that blend - a preterite father, yet raised in the aristocratic class.

Oz Fritz said...

To follow up on my last comment - the sephira on the Middle Pillar indicates, among other things, where progressive transformation occurs and crystallizes. My interpretation of why RAW connects preterites with the Middle Pillar - he suggests that one can transform out of the underclass and become something more. Cagliostro, though from a preterite background, now appears on equal footing with Weishaupt. Seamus/James (I mistakenly conflated his name with his future relative Simon) seems to be at the beginning stage of a process of transformation.

Alias Bogus said...

@Oz I confess I had never heard the word “preterite” as a noun. To me, it had always simply described the grammatical “simple past tense”.
I had to go check out the Oxford English Dictionary. And, Lo! An obscure word, indeed.
Theology. A person not elected to salvation by God

OED offered two examples of its use:

1864 Fraser's Mag. May 533/2 The reprobates who are damned because they were always meant to be damned, and the preterites who are damned because they were never meant to be saved.

2006 5 Dec. (O.E.D. Archive) Weren't the Elect who interbred with Preterites committing bestiality? Are they not therefore condemned to Hell?

And then I noticed, with surprise, that in an earlier section, defining “preterite” as an adjective “Occurring or existing previously; past, bygone, former. Now archaic.” one of the examples came from Pynchon!

1973 T. Pynchon Gravity's Rainbow i. 166
"A thousand different molecules waited in the preterite dung."

Rarebit Fiend said...

Thank you all for the excellent commentary! I hope to read more of Alias and Oz's discussion.

Alias Bogus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alias Bogus said...

I really don’t do Christian theology, in particular, Puritanism/Calvinism, but found it interesting that as well as the Elect (the chosen ones) and the reprobates (doomed and damned to Hell) they have a third category – the Preterite.
[Louis Mackey draws on a useful metaphor to distinguish these three groups (elect, reprobate, preterite) clearly: “All men are drowning. A few of them God mercifully plucks out of the water and revives. Some are pushed down and held under. The rest are allowed to sink on their own.” Note the irony: through God’s abandonment, the preterites are the only people given the gift of freedom. Ignored and overlooked, they are allowed to sink or swim.]

So, both Elect and Damned suffer from pre-destination, but the Preterite appear free to respond unpredictably, to take advantage of random events, and they do not have some inevitable future.

Very interesting, both for Gravity's Rainbow, and in the context of RAW’s work.

PS: @Oz I love the chiaroscuro trope...

Rarebit Fiend said...

@Alias- Calvinism works in the abstract sense for me. For example, predetermination somewhat corroborates with the eternalist model of spacetime. (I also cast off most of the primitive notions of hell and damnation. No amount of sophistry can convince me that eternal punishment isn't anything aside from a short-sighted primate nightmare vision.) If we accept the idea that the Creator is omnipotent and/or omniscient something like predetermination/fate would have to exist (our fate is still reserved from us, perhaps only existing in the mind of the Creator). But it does seem to me that free will is an illusion if you accept a Creator or the fourth dimensional models of the universe (which I do not claim to fully understand). (Alan Moore makes the compelling argument that free will has only been kept alive by Christian theologians to justify the notion of sin.)

When we try to apply the cosmology to something like morality it becomes all sorts of mucked up. Scottish Presbyterianism is hilariously deconstructed in James Hoggs' "Confessions of a Justified Sinner" which is probably one of my favorite works of Calvinist "theology." Anyways, people who approach religion from a moralist standpoint are naive and suspect in my mind. We don't need no stinking thunder god to be decent human beings.