Monday, July 6, 2020

Nature's God reading group, Chapter Nine, Part Two

Week Nine and a Half: Chapter Nine “Cherry Valley” Part II pg. 169-184 Hilaritas edition

By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger 

I would say with some confidence that I have never read any description of the psychedelic state as enjoyable and heady as Wilson’s crescendos of psyche and soul. They’re a pleasure to read- like being inside a game show booth grabbing at references to Joyce, music, magic, and ribaldry instead of dollar bills. This pleasurable quality does not extend itself to writing as the tempest of erudition leaves far too many footnotes to fill in...too many references that need to be explored. (I am completely lost on the identity of Dr. Cyprus and would love for someone else to clear that up for me.) So, I beg your forgiveness if I am not necessarily thorough.

As Colonel Muadhen experiences PTSD in an army hospital and continues to see the Creation of a Jealous and Vengeful God his consciousness guides the reader into Sigismundo’s flailing attempts to keep reality together. The four guardians have become Diversion, Perversion, Subversion, Diversion. Sigismundo’s consciousness, seemingly led into some fashion of self-referencing bear trap by Miskasquamish, is transported from their encampment in the sweltering, sulphurous brook to the frigid floor of an English forest where Maria Babcock is possessed by Lady Greensleeves.

The dual setting of this iteration of Chapel Perilous is interesting: two men in some sort of magical contest and twelve women passively watch the thirteenth suffer from a deluge of magical energy. The men struggle in an alchemical crucible, the yellow-sulphur imagery is a little strong, while the women are gathered in the cold forest in the dark of night. There is balance between the visionary experiences, however unpleasant it may be. The four guardians tumble throughout both visions, their morphing and unpleasant guises echoing the tumbling down of the world around Sigismundo and Maria Babcock.

Of course, the emphasis on the sulphurous brook near Sigismundo’s dwelling is made explicit when he “hallucinates” into the future and sees the road marker reading DAYTON 20 MILES. Sigismundo has been living in the spot of the future Yellow Springs, where Wilson would later live with his family and experience peyote. (He would also be arrested in a sit-in for desegregation.)

Miskasquamish’s magic strongly resembles that of Don Juan’s when Sigismundo pants that he cannot walk to the brooke, Miskasquamish simply comments “Then you will crawl.” There’s the flavor of Castaneda’s irascible man of power...much like Don Juan, we find out that Miskasquamish is not what he seems. In another manner the transformation of the bear-people into magicians of all ages and nations resembles the accounts of magicians throughout time during the apogee of psychedelic or ritual operations. There is a presence of many minds.

Sigismundo’s trip is more traumatic than those he has experienced earlier in the series and stronger than Sir Babcock the Younger’s spiked-champagne evening chronicles in Part 5 of Masks of the Illuminati. Miskasquamish eventually leaves as the bear-people transfigure themselves into magi to be replaced by old Abraham Orfali.

Maria is Crossing the Abyss, an undertaking not to be taken lightly, without immediate preparation. But, like the Knowledge and Conversation of the Guardian Angel, the process will occur if the aspirant remains on the path of magic, and if well-guided and sincere, the magician will have been prepared. After all, pure folly is the key to initiation. Maria’s blindside-Samadhi is linked to Sigismundo's own abysmal experience. Traditionally, at least in the sense that Crowley’s writings track as “traditional,” the Crossing of the Abyss is very similar to Wilson’s description of Chapel Perilous in Cosmic Trigger: the aspirant will either give up their ego, every last shred of their paltry conception of “myself” and attain another state of being, or they will fail in that endeavor and go mad. (RAW is a bit gentler saying you’ll either come out completely agnostic or raving paranoid.) Orfali, the Initiator, provides Sigismundo with the necessary tool to complete his Crossing.

Our Author is still kind to his creation; Sigismundo is no longer running from anything and has transcended...something.

Before Miskasquamish and Sigismundo “enter eternity,” Sigismundo realises that “the whole of nature was identified as a mongoose.” I believe this is a reference to a joke that is said to contain the whole secret of magic. While the original is found in Crowley’s Magick In Theory and Practice, I first read it in Alan Moore’s Promethea #12 “The Magic Theatre.” I’ll relate it as I have told it on evenings similar to those experienced herein by Balsamo and Maldonado:

There are two men inhabiting the same railroad carriage, sitting directly across from one another. One of the men has a box with a perforated lid sitting on his lap. His fellow passenger’s curiosity is piqued and after some time he inquires what the other man has in the box. 

“Well,” said the other man with a smile of indulgence. “It is a mongoose.” The passenger nods and sits for a moment before asking again: 

“I’m sorry to press, but a mongoose is an awfully exotic creature around these parts- why are you transporting a mongoose? Is it your pet?” 

The other man smiles again and magnanimously says, “My dear fellow, trusting in your discretion, I shall let you know that my brother has a terrible drinking problem. Furthermore whenever he drinks he sees snakes all over. I am bringing him this mongoose to chase away the cobras, as it were.” 

The passenger is surprised at the other man’s sincerity and accepts the matter as it is before remarking: “But, and I’m sorry to press, aren’t those snakes imaginary?” 

The other man smiles again, “Yes,” he gestures at the box, “but this is an imaginary mongoose.” 

There you go, the ultimate secret to magic. I expect payment.

Sigismundo decides to set aside his wilderness onanism and sets out beyond his clearing. There he finds out that Miskasquamish, like Don Juan, Aiwass, Jesus Christ, The Ascended Masters, Cthulhu, the Necronomicon, Hogwarts, Max Headroom, Australia and my parents’ acceptance wasn’t....fucking...real. Okay, at least he existed at one time if one counts being a ghost in a fictional novel any sort of existence.

From Eric: “A musical preview of George Washington knock-knock-knocking next week.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Roddy Doyle, 'By the Book'

Roddy Doyle in 2006 (public domain photo)

As Robert Anton Wilson was interested in Irish literature, I like to think he would have enjoyed the recent  amusing and interesting"By the Book" interview with the Irish writer Roddy Doyle, published in the New York Times. (Doyle is the author of a number of funny and humane books set in Ireland, among them The Commitments, made into a movie you have have seen. He won the Booker Prize for Paddy Clarke, Ha Ha Ha. )  In the course of the interview, Doyle brags that he took a quiz about his work run by an Irish newspaper and got eight out of ten answers right.) Excerpt from the interview:

What books would you recommend to somebody who wants to learn more about Irish literature?

Read Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” then read “This Hostel Life,” by Melatu Uche Okorie. You’ve just read two fine examples of Irish literature. Stoker was a Dubliner; he grew up a 10-minute walk from where I live. Okorie’s stories capture the language and lives of asylum seekers who live a half-hour drive from Stoker’s house. Ireland is a small island but there’s more than one way to tell an Irish story.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Eric's new 'Insider's Guide' released

The new edition of Eric Wagner's An Insider's Guide to Robert Anton Wilson has been released in paperback and is now available at Amazon. A Kindle of the revised edition is not yet available.

This is an edition that is considerably updated and revised with new material from the original edition. I'll be able to compare the new edition with the older one when I get my hands on the new version (which should be soon.)

Important note: If you plan to purchase the book, note there is a danger a search on Amazon may turn up the old edition. Be sure you get the new one; you can click on this link for it. 

Second important note: As I note above, a Kindle of the new edition isn't out yet. I'll note its availability when everyone can get it.

An Insider's Guide to Robert Anton Wilson is invaluable for all hardcore RAW fans; I have read and re-read it and referred to it over and over again. I am confident the new one will be even better.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Review: The New Inquisition

I recently finished the Hilaritas Press edition of The New Inquisition: Irrational Rationalism and the Citadel of Science by Robert Anton Wilson -- the first time I had read the book -- and I gave it four stars on Goodreads. (Three and a half stars would be a little closer to my opinion, but Goodreads doesn’t permit that much nuance.)

That’s not quite the five stars I would give to many books by Wilson, but it’s still a pretty good rating.. It’s not a perfect book. I have some criticisms I will get to. But the good portions are very good.

I was worried about reading the book and had actually avoided reading it. I feared I wouldn’t like it at all. Supergee’s comments capture what I was worried about when he writes, “To me this is RAW’s worst book: hectoring, clanking with pig irony, unselective in its examples, giving aid & comfort to those who say that when Dr. Fauci discusses viruses, that’s just his eddication talking.”  (Arthur does conclude, “But it finishes with a marvelous discussion of how we perceive.”) So I figured I may as well wait for the Hilaritas edition.

So I did, and I bought it when it came out, and I enjoyed it. New Inquisition is filled with many insightful comments. As many commenters on this blog have mentioned, the first chapter and last chapter are very good.

The book is full of fine passages such as this one:

If we recognize some validity in these observations and try to “wake” ourselves from the hypnotic trance of modeltheism -- if we try to recall, moment by moment, in an ordinary day that The “Real” Universe is only a model we have created and that existential living cannot be compressed into any model -- we enter a new kind of consciousness. What Blake called “Single Vision” begins to expand into multiple vision -- into conscious bet-making. The person then “sees abysses everywhere,” in Nietzche’s deliberately startling metaphor. (Blake says it more soothingly when he speaks of perceiving “infinity in a grain of sand.”) (From Chapter 8).

Here’s another startling passage, a prescient description of today’s media landscape, written long before it took shape. In a section where Wilson describes how people would rather reinforce their own reality tunnels rather than listen to competing ideas, he writes,

“ … most of us are annoyed frequently by the daily newspaper. ‘News’ or alleged news that we don’t want to read gets printed; heathenish or heretical opinions appear on the letters pace, and sometimes in the columnists; politicians (of the opposite camp, of course) tell the most outrageous lies, which also get printed. With modern computer technology, all of this can soon be avoided. Just fill out a simple questionnaire and mail it in. The computer will print a slightly different version of that day’s paper for each reader, and your Personalized copy will come to you in the morning containing absolutely nothing but what you want to know … “ (From Chapter 7)

This passage, which could have been written no later than 1986, when the book was first published, is a good description of where we live now in 2020. With politics replacing religion as people’s main reality tunnel, the country is largely divided between people who worship what they are told by Fox News and Rush, or people who drink from the fountain of MSNBC and CNN. It’s also easy to use  social networks to reinforce what you already believe. Wilson could not foresee the exact technology, but he knew how most people would react to a plethora of information.

So what’s not to like?

Well, I could have done without the pages and pages of Fortean phenomena, rains of frogs and that sort of thing. Other than the fact that it goes on so long that it feels like padding, I worried about the sourcing. One item quotes, without apparent irony, the Weekly World News.

Another passage highlights an account, allegedly from the Dec. 8, 1931 New York Times, about a deckhand on the steamship Brechsee who suddenly had a four-inch-long bloody gash on his forehead. Wilson brags it came from the “usually scrupulous New York Times,” which seems fair, particularly in comparison to the Weekly World News.

But I happen to have a digital subscription to the Times, which is searchable. And a search for “Brechsee” turns up only one story, dating to 1941, which mentions it being sunk by a mine in World War II. Using the search terms “gash” and “deckhand” for that specific date didn’t work, either.

Maybe the search function at the Times’ website doesn’t always  work well. But I wonder how many of the other citations I could trust.

I also couldn’t get behind attacking the main target of Wilson’s book, CSICOP. I was never convinced that CSICOP or the people associated with it, such as Carl Sagan, were worth all of Wilson’s angst. I remained convinced that your average DEA agent was much worse than any of the people Wilson was picking on. (CSICOP stands for “Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal.” The group is now known as “The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.”)

The old Inquisition resulted in very serious consequences, such as executions (including burning at the stake) and confiscations of property. The investigations often included the use of torture.

So, what does the “new” inquisition do? Well, apparently they write mean book reviews and critical articles, and they complain in public about “pseudoscience.” That’s about it. It doesn’t really sound like much in comparison to Twitter mobs, much less the Inquisition of old Europe.

Wilson does give examples in his book of genuine repression. But all of his examples involve government repression.

For example, Wilson discusses the burning of Wilhelm Reich’s books, but admits it was carried out by “the scientists and bureaucrats working for the U.S. government.” He even admits that Martin Gardner “expresses repugnance at the burning of Reich’s works.”

Similarly, Wilson brings up Timothy Leary getting 37  years of imprisonment for one marijuana cigarette. Of course, that’s totally appalling, but Leary wasn’t convicted and imprisoned by Martin Gardner and Carl Sagan. (Sagan, the supposed Grand Inquisitor, was in fact a big marijuana fan and wrote that "The illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.")

Sagan’s reply to The New Inquisition (quoted on Wikipedia) is worth reprinting: “"Wilson... describes skeptics as a 'new inquisition.' But to my knowledge no skeptic compels belief. Indeed, on most TV documentaries and talk shows, skeptics get short shrift and almost no air time. All that's happening is that some doctrines and methods are being criticized-at the worst, ridiculed-in magazines like The Skeptical Inquirer with circulations of a few tens of thousands. New Agers are not much, as in earlier times, being called up before criminal tribunals, nor whipped for having visions, and they are certainly not being burned at the stake. Why fear a little criticism? Aren't they interested to see how their beliefs hold up against the best counterarguments skeptics can muster?"

See also this review, which spotted numerous mistakes, such as misspellings of names quietly corrected in the Hilaritas Press edition. It is written by Jim Lippard, who actually is interested in Discordianism and also is a RAW fan. (He wrote once he  “greatly enjoyed” Robert Anton Wilson’s work and owns most of it.)  But criticized Wilson’s scholarship in The New Inquisition and found plenty of problems when he checked out the sources for some of the Fortean incidents Wilson cites.

So, three and a half stars. But the good parts of the book are really good and it’s a book I can recommend every Wilson fan should purchase and read.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020


CDC illustration of COVID-19 virus

I'm very busy at work this week, so for today's post, let me note that COVID-19 has not gone away and I have continued to update these links. You can use them when you want to check the situation where you happen to live.

The COVID-19 Tracking Project.

New York Times COVID-19 coverage. The New York Times has removed the paywall for its COVID-19 coverage.

CDC on proper handwashing (important, see for example this MIT study).

Wearing a mask also is a good idea. 

Johns Hopkins tracking site. COVID-19 tracker, very well done.

R0 number tracker, by state (a key metric of how your state is doing.)

Opportunity Insights COVID-19 death rate tracker. (Click "Explore the Data")

Erie County Health Department (lots of additional resources.)

Current national U.S. forecast from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.  Somewhat more optimistic forecast than some projections, from a well-respected organization. You can get the forecast for your state with one click.

Scott Gottlieb on Twitter (good way to get the latest trends from a relatively nonpolitical source.)

A little levity from Scott Adams, to cheer you up!

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Nature's God, Chapter Nine, Part One

Week Nine: Chapter Nine “Cherry Valley” (Part 1) pg. 159-169 Hilaritas edition

By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger

This chapter sees the climax of Sigismundo’s character arc in Nature’s God but before we get to that we’ve got to wade through the gore and confusion that was Cherry Valley.

Cherry Valley should stand, not as a memorial to patriotism, but rather as a reminder of mankind’s inhumanity towards man. Because this chapter deals so much with Miskasquamish, RAW’s main American Indian character, it is worth noting that historians are conflicted on how much the loyalists had to do with the civilian massacre at Cherry Valley on November 11, 1778.

The troop that attacked Cherry Valley consisted of loyalists, British soldiers, members of the Seneca, and Mohawk tribes of the Iroquois Nation under the command of loyalist Walter Butler. According to Butler he had little to no control over the indigenous people who were with his group. Historians seem to agree that it was the Seneca members of the raiding party who turned on the civilians. The Seneca’s anger was caused by the destruction and burning of their settlements by American eye for an eye. Butler’s command was undermined by conflicts with Joseph Brant, leader of the Mohawk tribesmen. The division between these two leaders allowed for the massacre of 30 civilians, along with 14 soldiers, and Colonel Alden, the American commander of Cherry Valley. Curiously, one survivor of Cherry Valley, a Lieutenant Colonel Stacy says that he was about to be killed but appealed to Brant, indicating that he was a freemason, and Brant had his life spared. Brant would also capture 70 people from the survivors of the initial attack.

The Colonial forces had been warned up to three days before the raid by Oneida allies; however, the commanding officer Colonel Ichabod Alden didn’t take the reports seriously, keeping his command outside of the central fort. That is probably why his name is on the list of casualties of the initial raid. Indeed, the British and Indigenous forces didn’t have the firepower to breach the fort but swept around it, attacking the nearby settlements.

Cherry Valley did more than drive Colonel Muadhen, who thought he’d seen it all, into Bible-babbling catatonia. The colonists were horrified at the massacre and General Washington commissioned the Sullivan Expedition that spent the next year trying to drive the Iroquois completely out of New York. Eighty villages were attacked and razed over the next year by Colonial forces as a part of the Frontier War that raged along the Revolution. An eye for an eye. Funny how we’re not even good, as a species really, at proportionate response and some still believe in that dreadful equation.

Sigismundo, a colonist of the Northwest Territory, is having his own conflict with a native resident. Miskasquamish has pushed Sigismundo towards something of a breaking point; it is appropriate that during their tense conversations they sit by sulphurous water. Alchemically, sulphur represents the “heating” of the work...the rising action. Sulphur is also used in Afro-American Hoodoo to cross, jinx, or banish enemies and obstacles. “I hope you know...this means war.”

Their conversation also seems to play with European/Indigenous relations as well. Sigismundo tells Miskasquamish the story of Christ without identifying him and in the terms of Miskasquamish’s cosmology. Contrast this to the historical missionary efforts to forcefully convert the American Indians and erase their cultural understanding of the universe. Sigismundo also insists that he has the right to live in Ohio because he took the time to build his house there and hasn’t acted aggressively to his new neighbors. Right now, there is a small movement to rename the capital Columbus to something more suitable, like Flavortown. Many Ohioans and the folks in the peanut gallery are upset by this “erasure of history.” I wonder how many of them know where place names like Chillicothe, Cuyahoga, or Ohio came from and what they mean. We are left with the question, to whom does the land belong?

If we consider Wilson’s The Trick Top Hat, which to me seems to be a pretty earnest depiction of his version of a utopian United States, Miskasquamish is probably going to be disappointed in his property dispute. Neighborhoods in The Trick Top Hat are regulated thusly: if a neighbor annoys you by living eccentrically, loudly, outside the Homeowners Associations rules, etc. you may lodge a complaint. Government officials will try to talk with the neighbor, see if they can find them a more appropriate neighborhood- usually to one of the LaGrange floating cities where eccentrics are flocking during the novel. However, if the neighbor chooses to remain and they’re not directly affecting the rest of the neighborhood, there’s fuck all anyone can do about it. So, while Miskasquamish is worried about the moral depreciation of his neighborhood with a Reverser present, well...let’s just say “there goes the neighborhood.”

Miskasquamish’s confusion upon seeing the gun makes sense only at the end of this chapter. His naivety is almost offensive during the sequence as surely a man who had travelled so far during the pre-Revolutionary period and Revolution would have encountered firearms. Sigismundo’s display of the weapon also parallels the ultimate outcome of many colonial-native relationships and the Cherry Valley massacre. Sigismundo’s display of superior technology is troublesome to this reader and reflects the history of the Americas all too well. That said, RAW gives Sigismundo a moral “out” by having Miskasquamish note he never directly threatened his body with the gun...if that is much of an out. Miskasquamish takes this away from Sigismundo’s stories about the Builders and his interactions with the Neapolitan; all the Europeans are mad. Considering history, I’m not sure is Miskasquamish is truly “paranoid.”

Parallel to Seamus’ sickness as witnessing the maraschino-hued carnage of Cherry Valley runs the miraculous recovery of Paddy the Dog back on the Babcock Estates. Considering how Seamus saw himself through the eyes of the English, it is darkly appropriate that there is now a character dubbed “Paddy the Dog” trotting around his old stomping groups. Little Ursula has inherited her mother’s gift and while we see no evidence in the first part of the chapter, her nigh-resurrection of Paddy, who might also be a reference to Joyce’s departed Paddy Dignam, might have a sympathetic effect on Muadhen across the pond.

Miskasquamish returns to Sigismundo dressed as a woman; a reference to some native Tribe’s gender nonconformity and reminiscent of the gender swapping tradition found in shamanic traditions such as the Nat Pwe of Thailand. After appearing to Sigismundo, who asks no questions, they proceed to smoke and travel to strange new worlds.

From Eric: “Some witch music for this chapter.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Monday links

Not a good guy, believe it or not. 

The Nature's God reading group will return soon. 

The Myth of the Kindly General Lee. An Adam Serwer article from 2017, but more relevant than ever.

When I was a young education reporter in Lawton, Oklahoma, I once did a short piece about a contest by students at Robert E. Lee Elementary to write essays on what they admired most about Lee. (Lawton is a military town, so it did make sense to name schools after generals -- my son wen to Eisenhower High, and there is also a MacArthur High.) Most of the kids who won were Black, so we ran a photo of a bunch of Black kids holding up the little Rebel flags they had won. The school closed years ago. 

Much of the "violence" at protests comes from police. There's a lot of this on Twitter.  

Sunday, June 28, 2020

This year's 'Best Novel' Hugo ballot has really good finalists

I'm "attending" this year's all-online World Science Fiction Convention in New Zealand and for the first time in many years I have read all of the novels on the Hugo ballot (I'll vote in as many categories as I can become well informed -- the deadline is July 15.)

The Best Novel finalists -- six novels, all by women -- is a very strong collection of titles. I'd be happy to see an award go to any of my top four; I am particularly hoping the Hugo goes to one of my top two. Here are my rankings:

1. Middlegame, Seanan McGuire.

An utterly absorbing fantasy novel about artificially created twins, a young man very good with words and a young woman good at math and chess. Unusual and complex but very well put together.

2. A Memory Called Empire, Arkady Martine.

Galactic empires are not a new subject, but this novel, by a historian of Byzantium, focuses not on the military but on the cultural hold an empire such as the Roman Empire has on is neighbors. I liked this novel so much I gave myself a name according to its naming system: Eight Apricot.

3. The Ten Thousand Doors of January, Alix Harrow.

Like the McGuire, this has a book within a book, and in fact it's an extended metaphor on the idea of books as gateways into other worlds. A fresh and vivid first novel.

4. Gideon the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir.

Muir is from New Zealand, but this nomination does not seem like home cooking; it's an original and vivid book that earns its nomination. It revives the sword and sorcery genre, although the elements of horror are so vivid you might not notice at first. The ending seemed a bit force and unsatisfying to me.

5. The City in the Middle of the Night, Charlie Jane Anders.

A vivid depiction of an unusual world with excellent aliens. I did not think the narration worked particularly well as a story, and for me it didn't so much end as peter out once a book length had been reached. This just won the Locus Award, however, so many readers disagree.

6. The Light Brigade, Kameron Hurley.

This title, kind of a mash up of The Forever War and Slaughterhouse Five, did not work particularly well for me.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Lester Grinspoon has died

Dr. Lester Grinspoon, the Harvard psychiatrist who did so much to advance rational discussion of marijuana in the U.S., has died at 92. (If you are new to this blog, I am talking about freedom and rational public policy, not "everybody must get stoned.")

Here is a tribute by the excellent Jacob Sullum. You can also read the tribute by Keith Stroup at NORML. 

Friday, June 26, 2020

Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons'

A Creative Commons recording of The Four Seasons by the Wichita State University Chamber Players. 

Gregory Arnott's excellent Nature's God blog post Monday discusses the history of magick, something I know nothing about, and inspired some great comments. I thought for today's post, I would say something about Antonio Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, mentioned in the chapter Gregory covers. (I had a tough work week, working seven days in a row. On the seventh day, yesterday, I finally read the chapter and then listened to a Trevor Pinnock recording of The Four Seasons.)

As Maria falls asleep, she thinks of the "thirteen Weeks in each of the four Seasons, Vivaldi's Four Seasons music running through her head, and the thirteen at the Last Supper, and the sun, which is One, moving in eternal circle through the 12 Houses, one plus 12 being thirteen..."

I would point out that the structure of Vivaldi's work also fits the "one plus 12 being thirteen" that Maria thinks about. It's a work about the cycle of one year, but it consists of 12 movements, three for each season. (Three movements are the normal structure for a concerto, and The Four Seasons is a collection of four violin concertos.)

The Four Seasons itself has an amazing history. Vivaldi, who died in 1741, was pretty much forgotten for more than 150 years (it's not really likely Maria would have known his music) but eventually The Four Seasons underwent an amazing revival. Wikipedia cites the numbers: "The World's Encyclopedia of Recorded Music in 1952 cites only two recordings of The Four Seasons – by Molinari and Kaufman. By 2011, approximately 1,000 different recorded versions have been made since Campoli's in 1939."

If you have a library card, you can likely to listen to dozens of recordings on the Freegal or Hoopla Digital streaming music services. Or you can listen to the recording by John Harrison and the Wichita State University Chamber Players, released to everyone under a Creative Commons license.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Thursday links

Antislavery activist Hans Christian Heg, who died in battle fighting the Confederacy.

PQ on "Reading the News Inside Finnegans Wake" 

Scott Armstrong deletes his blog, Slate Star Codex.  I like the New York Times -- I'm a paid subscriber, an effective form of fandom when newspapers need money -- but I hope the relevant editors and reporters change their minds about this. Here is Reason's coverage. Here is Scott Greenfield's take.  There's also an online petition.  (I signed.)

Protesters destroy statue of anti-slavery activist. Not an isolated incident, I see a lot of this stuff on Twitter.

Jim O'Shaughnessy (the RAW fan on Wall Street) makes a donation.

Reasons to cheer up. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Maybe Day Is Coming!

July 23rd 2020

Possibly! Potentially! Probably!

By Bobby Campbell
Special guest blogger

Actually, most definitely, but in keeping with the spirit of the day perhaps there should remain an air of mystery.

I'm happy to say that the virtual organization of a collaborative digital RAW event is coming together quite nicely.

On July 23'rd we're on schedule to release:


A digital zine powered by the negative entropy of Maybe Logic.
Featuring art & philosophizing by a cavalcade of RAW exegetes.
Very much a throwback to the old Maybe Quarterly days.
(Also, there's still time to submit, hit me up,

Mike Gathers, of, is prepping a microbook on the 8 circuit model.
I just got my first look at it today and it is substantial!


A series of neuro-electrifying video presentations.
I'll be releasing a talk called "LIVING IN A RAW WORLD"
We've got PQ discussing Finnegans Wake and the I-Ching,
Brenton Clutterbuck on Chasing Eris, and I believe we'll also be hearing from Steve Fly, Prop Anon, and maybe more!

Also! Just moments ago I recruited Tom Jackson to moderate a zoom panel conversation with as many of our co-conspirators as possible.

And finally, we've got a mini Maybe Logic Academy reunion already starting to gather over at the Only Maybe Arts Lab:

Which will also be the main social venue for the event. A place to cuss and discuss the possibilities of what may or may not be :)))

Monday, June 22, 2020

Try the new audiobook

Want to try the new Cosmic Trigger 2 audiobook before you buy it?

Click the above video from Hilaritas Press to hear Chapter One, narrated by Oliver Senton.

Chapter 8, Nature's God reading group

Week Eight: Chapter Eight “My Lady Greensleeves” pg. 139-147 Hilaritas Press edition

By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger

After asking Oz for confirmation, I am confident in saying that the structure of this chapter is taken from Crowley’s Liber Aleph. This is ironic for a chapter dealing explicitly with Maria’s initiation into a Wiccan coven as Oz pointed out that Liber Aleph was written as a series of letters from father to son. (Specifically from Crowley to Charles Stansfeld Jones, better known as Frater Achad, his “magical son.”) The intermittent Latin titles are used throughout Liber Aleph and Robert Anton Wilson uses the same device in Masks of the Illuminati. The biblical phrase for He is like a refiner’s fire also appears prominently in the earlier novel. The tone of this chapter, specifically the ecclesiastic sounding “yea, the…” repetition, is also taken from Crowley’s Holy Texts.

Here is my Google-assisted hack-job translation of the titles, considering the action that happens following each title I believe my unwieldy versions make some sense:

The Hardening of Man
On the Danger of Alternative Love
On the Four Equal Virtues
The Female Formula
The Crazy Love
The Great Works of the Microcosmic Star of Which there is Four
The Secret Horror
The Delicate Powers of Art and Love
Hold, Illegitimate Vigor

The coven that Maria is initiated into is more-or-less an anachronism with the language taken from post-Gardnerian Wicca. Bear with me and for any neo-pagans who might be reading, I’m not trying to be offensive.

The fact that the language is so strongly influenced by Crowley’s writings is appropriate. As Kenneth Grant and other writers have related, during the Twilight of the Magicians, the lingering years of the two great English occultists of the 20th century, namely Aleister Crowley and Austin Osman Spare, an eccentric customs-officer named Gerald Gardner was lurking around in their company.

Gardner, who follows in the grand tradition of magic by being a goddamn liar, claimed that his Wiccan practices were derived from a coven that had kept pre-Christian religion alive. He had mostly made up his practices from stitching together elements of the, now discredited, anthropological studies of Margaret Murray about a supposed witch-cult, Freemasonry, and ceremonial magic. In fact, the three degree ceremonies presented by Gardner for the purpose of Wicca were penned by, wait for it....Aleister Crowley.

Curiously, RAW’s use of terms such as “women’s mysteries” and the “burning times” doesn’t appear to be ironic. I believe this is curious when we consider how much hostility towards some late-twentieth century academic models of femininity RAW displayed in his writings, especially since both of those terms are complete, artless bullshit. The concept of “women’s mysteries” bastardized the study of pre-modern religion and tried to replace the complex mythological development of goddesses such as Demeter, Sekmet, Selene, and Isis into a group of gentle Montessori teachers whose feminist, pre-agricultural utopia was ruined by the arrival of phallic gods. Given that there is nary a drop of historical evidence for these gentle matriarchal societies and that the historical record of how these goddesses were apprised and worshipped is much more ambiguous didn’t stop the believers from trying to rewrite history. (Though Crowley doesn’t spend the time moralizing like later witches, it is worth noting that according to his structure of history the first Aeon was matriarchal and was subsumed by the agricultural-phallic second Aeon. We are now in the third Aeon where the focus is on the development of the complete person, the child, and individual sexual dimorphism seems to be the rule of the day.) Perhaps even more annoying is the use of the idea of “the burning times” which, forgive me, is such a stupid fucking concept my ears bleed anytime I hear someone utter it.

There was no “burning time” that modern covens suffered through and survived underground as they watched legions of innocent believers of the “old religion” burn at the stake. Historical evidence, known as far back as the turn of the twentieth, indicates that pretty much every witch hunt was either a power-play by ruling/ecclesiastic authorities or the result of hysteria. The excellent Swedish film Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages presents a compelling and intelligent examination of these phenomena- even better, watch the version with William S. Burroughs narrating.

In conclusion, this chapter is made up, not that big of a revelation in a novel, almost whole cloth from twentieth century notions that couldn’t have existed because ceremonial magic hadn’t come along to create them yet. The notion of the four elements was around at the time but the codification of what those elements mean “spiritually” wasn’t wholly accomplished until a bunch of old Rosicrucians got together to combine the works of Paracelsus, Agrippa, the Qabalah, and Tarot into one system of magic. A study of the Tarot will reveal how many of our romantic notions (for example, that the modern playing deck is derived from the cards smuggled from ancient Egypt) are entirely erroneous. Indeed, before Moina and MacGregor Mathers codified the Qabalah to to the Tarot, building on the work of Eliphas Levi, any use of it for divination or meditation would have been no more sophisticated than basic cartomancy. Even the pentagram, today used as a symbol of neo-paganism, wasn’t imbued with its microcosmic significance until the Golden Dawn came along to create the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram and their study materials.

Yes, there are examples of the four elements, the four apostles, the four faces of Ezekiel’s angels throughout history, but to say that there was a working system of knowledge, linked with similarly initiated members throughout history is as romantic and ahistorical a notion as the existence of Sigismundo Celine, Old Kyte, and Maria Babcock. And blimey, I haven’t talked about anything that actually happens in the chapter -- I guess that’s a sign that it’s time for me to get to bed before I become any crankier and end up with a crudely fashioned crystal tipped wand through my throat or a mail order athame through the heart.

The stuff about the I Ching is mostly accurate in that Leibniz was obsessed with the similarities between the Hexagrams and his notions of binomial numbers and Calculus, however it would still be almost a century before writers began to connect the I Ching to Western Mysticism. The pioneer of this connection? You guessed it, Aleister Crowley.

From Eric: A soundtrack for our “Study-Group or Coven or whatever this was called” (Nature’s God, pg. 142). 

My own musical offering:

Sunday, June 21, 2020

The 'lost' forward to the new 'lost' RAW book

Adam Gorightly

Discordian historian Adam Gorightly, who deserves a lot of credit for making the impending publication of the new Robert Anton Wilson book, The Starseed Signals: Link Between Worlds possible, has posted a new article shedding more light on the book.

Adam had originally intended to publish the 1970s RAW manuscript at RVP Press.

"However, at some point in this cosmic caper, RVP had a falling out with the RAW Trust, and the book deal fell through — as book deals sometimes do — in the wacky world of publishing," Adam explains.

The bulk of Adam's new post is the original foreword he wrote for that abortive effort, and it sheds a lot of light on the background for the upcoming book:

Starseed Signals was dashed off over a two-week period in early 1975, a burst of energy supplied by the sudden turmoil and controversy surrounding his friendship and collaborations with the infamous Dr. Timothy Leary, who RAW perceived as one of the most brilliant, yet misunderstood minds of not only his generation, but of any.

During this period—as Leary sat caged in prison on trumped up drug charges—he and RAW conceptualized a book project entitled A Periodic Table of Energy, a scientific system of neuro-psychology based on eight evolutionary circuits, or steps, through which humanity progresses, with the latter circuit propelling WoMan to the stars, the ultimate evolution, our union with the infinite and quest for immortality.

Read the whole thing. 

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Listen to Irish radio's 'Ulysses' adaption

I recently learned it is possible to obtain a podcast of Ireland's public broadcasting system radio adaptation of James Joyce's Ulysses.

"The definitive adaptation of the novel is widely considered to be RTÉ's full dramatised production – originally broadcast in 1982 to celebrate the centenary of Joyce's birth, and totaling 29 hours and 45 minutes in duration," says the website for RTÉ.

According to Tom Lennon on Twitter, this is a Ulysses broadcast Robert Anton Wilson "recorded to videotape and revisited often."

Available here and also on many podcasting apps.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Protests, fnords, etc.

By DeviantArt user thsgys via  @Jimthediamond

Above is a photo posted on Twitter by Pipzi Williams (@lordfanny1723) with her haiku:

in the gap between 
the words 'riot' and 'police'
i saw the fnords

You can also read a related essay at the Zen Pagan by Tom Swiss,  which explains fnords and Discordianism and says, "Am I saying that a joke religion is the best way to understand these times? Yes. Yes I am."

Thursday, June 18, 2020

The 'lost' RAW book will be out soon

The view from Rasa's window as he toils on The Starseed Signals. That's Mount Shasta. 

[When I spotted the news about the planned publication of The Starseed Signals: Link Between Worlds, l naturally wanted to know a lot more, so I contacted Rasa and he immediately agreed to take a few questions. While some details about the book apparently won't be revealed until it comes out, i.e. the identity of the writer who agreed to write an introduction, this may answer sombunall of what Robert Anton Wilson fans want to know. For example, it's clear Hilaritas Press is trying to get it out soon, maybe even the next few weeks.

There has been some discussion about the overlap between Cosmic Trigger and The Starseed Signals. On Twitter, Charles Faris, one of the very few people who has read Starseed, wrote, "Happy to say that I’ve read it and it’s freaking awesome. I am beyond excited that it’s going to be published. He goes through the same territory from a completely different perspective. It’s great."

Richard Rasa,  usually known only as Rasa, is listed at Linked In as "metaprogramming director at the Robert Anton Wilson Trust." While Wilson's daughter Christina Pearson is the trustee of the trust, Rasa handles much of the day to day work and serves as the editor at Hilaritas Press, the publishing imprint of the trust. For more on Rasa, see my 2016 interview . He is an artist and graphic designer, is a former rock musician, and currently leads the band Starseed.

Rasa lives in Weed, California, near the Oregon border. (The town is named after its founder, Abner Weed.) -- The Management.]

What can you tell me about "The Starseed Signals: Link Between Worlds"? Does it read like a completed, full-length book? 

Rasa: The Starseed Signals: Link Between Worlds is a full completed book, about 360 pages. There are two interviews we hope to add to the end of the book, which will bring the page count to about 400 total. It is a completely finished work, and reads in RAW’s typical style. We think it was written in the latter half of 1974. I loved reading it, fully appreciating that this was a finished RAW title that few had read, and delighted to realize that it did not disappoint. I wondered about your next question, did RAW have a reason to not publish it, or did he just not find a publisher for it, and it fell by the wayside? That’s a mystery. 

Is it known why the book was never published?

Rasa: Adam Gorightly surmises that RAW intended the book to be an aid in the defense of Timothy Leary, who at the time of the writing was in prison, a victim of persecution by the Nixon administration and the politics of the day. When Leary was released from prison, that need subsided. Readers of Cosmic Trigger know that Bob and Tim were onto similar Sirius investigations simultaneously, as described in Cosmic Trigger: Final Secret of the Illuminati. The Starseed Signals goes deeper into that topic, but also touches on a wide range of subjects that interested both Bob and Tim. It also contains RAW’s reporting on what was actually happening to Timothy Leary and his friends around the time of his incarceration. People curious about the controversies surrounding those days will be eager to read this take from RAW. 

The book was given to an agent to try to sell to a publisher in 1975, but that never materialized. I suspect that RAW decided to rethink the whole project, maybe to take the focus off of the trials of Timothy Leary and present what was going on at that time more from his own personal perspective – and then that idea materialized in Cosmic Trigger. Just a guess. There is a little bit in The Starseed Signals that was edited and then made its way into Cosmic Trigger, but The Starseed Signals is an entirely different book.

How did it come to the attention of Hilaritas?

Rasa: Discordian Historian Adam Gorightly has previously described how he acquired the manuscript. Friend of Discordian founders Kerry Thornley and Greg Hill, Dr. Bob Newport rescued Hill’s archives from “death-by-dumpster,” as Adam poetically describes it, and some years later, Dr. Bob passed the archive onto Adam. Adam approached a publisher about the book, and the publisher contacted RAW’s daughter, Christina, Trustee of the RAW Trust, who agreed to work with that publisher. That was in 2010, and I suspect Eris had a hand in the publisher essentially dropping the ball for the next six years or so. In 2016, after the creation of Hilaritas Press, Christina finally got her first look at this unpublished RAW title. After taking a good look at what the publisher had created, and in comparing it to RAW’s original typewritten manuscript, we decided that Hilaritas Press could do a much better job at preparing the book for publication. It then took some years, and a fair amount of money paid to lawyers, for the RAW Trust to get out of that original contract with the publisher. Hilaritas Press reconstructed the book from RAW’s original typewritten manuscript, and actually uncovered some segments that the first publisher had simply left out, presumably because they were too hard to decipher. 

The first page of The Starseed Signals, with quotations from John Stuart Mill, George Washington and Friedrich Nietzsche. (Adam Gorightly Facebook post.)

Will the publication resemble the recent reprints by Hilaritas, e.g. cover by Amoeba, extra material contributed by other writers? 

Rasa: Yes, the cover is being designed now by Scott McPherson’s amoeba company. We sent Scott a copy of the book to read before he started his design work. That makes Scott only one in about half a dozen people who have ever read this book. There will be an introduction added to the book (being written now, in fact) – that writer to be announced. There will also be an editor’s note about the publication that will probably contain some of the paragraphs I’m writing for you here, along with more details.

What is the current publication schedule?

Rasa: I’m always hesitant to give dates because there are always last minute issues that can delay us for weeks at a time, but the best guess at the moment would be the beginning of July, maybe a month from now. I’m usually overly optimistic, but that doesn’t seem too wild a guess. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Happy Bloomsday

Actor Barry McGovern Reading from Ulysses on top of James Joyce Tower and Museum, June 16, 2009.

Happy Bloomsday to everyone.

Here is a Guardian article on how it is "Zoomday" this year. And here is a piece in the Los Angeles Times.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Nature's God reading group, Chapter 7

Sigismundo in the wilderness. (Image by Bobby Campbell. Used by permission, more information about Bobby's work here.) 

Week Seven: Chapter Seven “The Wilderness Diary of Sigismundo Celine” pg. 113-138 Hilaritas Press edition

By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger

I’m not up to doing a blow by blow commentary on this chapter, the prospect is too daunting. As Bobby Campbell said when we began the reading group “a shocking amount of the most virulent RAW quotes come from Sigismundo's wilderness journal.” There’s a lot herein and much of it is best contemplated upon- preferably, in some sort of silence.

My favorite excerpt is one of the more famous ones: “You are precisely as big as what you love and precisely as big as what you allow to annoy you.” As someone who allows themselves to get annoyed way too often, I can testify that this is true, or seems to be to me.

Re: fleas

“I found that my long abstinence from magical practices had injured my powers. I resumed elementary drill and soon got back to my old form. For one thing, my protection against mosquitoes had worn off. I spent a night motionless, offering my body to them and concentrating on the thought that they were equally divine with myself. I forced myself to love them, so that in union with them the apparent differences between us might vanish in   ecstasy. I compelled my body to accept, to welcome and even to long for their bites, as being acts of love whereby I nourished their lives. In the morning, though badly bitten all over, there was no inflammation whatever; and from that time on they never bit me at all.

I soon recovered the powers of Pratyahara and Dharana. My mind became still; the impact of impressions ceased to obsess me, I became free of the illusion of the reality of material things. All events became equally indifferent, exquisite phrases in an eternal symphony. (Imagine listening to Beethoven with the prepossession that C is a good note and F a bad one; yet this is exactly the stand point from which all uninitiates contemplate the universe. Obviously, they miss the music.)”

The Confessions of Aleister Crowley

From Eric Wagner: "This seems good for the solstice."

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Hilaritas to publish 'Starseed Signals'

Image from a short Timothy Leary work, Starseed: Transmissions from Folsom Prison.  

Hilaritas Press will publish Starseed Signals: Link Between Worlds, a never-published Robert Anton Wilson book written in 1974 apparently exploring the ideas of Timothy Leary. The "lost" book has been known about for years thanks largely to Discordian scholar and author Adam Gorightly  and there was a previous attempt to publish it that was never completed.

The announcement came as part of a discussion on Twitter and the dialogue is worth reproducing. (Prop Anon is a New York City writer, musician and activist wrapping up a biography of Robert Anton Wilson. Hilaritas Press is the publishing imprint of the Robert Anton Wilson Trust. I don't know Neurophere but there's a website.)

PROP ANON @PropAnon Jun 10

Robert Anton Wilson made the case for Abolishing Prisons in his unpublished book STARSEED SIGNALS
RAW hung out w Black Panthers & got the idea from them
Shout Out to Adam Gorightly for locating the book
Maybe one day it will be published

Neurosphere @neurolobster Jun 10

wait what? Unpublished RAW???

PROP ANON @PropAnon Jun 11
Wilson wrote a book called "Starseed Signals"
in 1974. It focused on the work of Timothy Leary. In it RAW advocated the immediate release of his buddy
Much of the work was recycled into later writings like Cosmic Trigger when the book wasn't published
But there's stuff in there

The Robert Anton Wilson Trust @TheRAWTrust June 13

The RAW Trust's Hilaritas Press will be publishing "The Starseed Signals: Link Between Worlds." We don't know the exact date, but it's coming up fairly soon!

It turns out that only a little in The Starseed Signals made it into Cosmic Trigger, so a lot of "new" RAW to read!!

PROP ANON @PropAnon June 13

Replying to

That's great news

That's about all I know at this point. I've never seen the manuscript. More in my earlier blog postings about the "lost" book, here and here.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Seanan McGuire's 'Middlegame'

I have been reading the novels on the Hugo Awards final ballot, and I very much enjoyed Seanan McGuire's Middlegame (I was unfamiliar with her work before). It's a long fantasy novel with a complex structure. Many of the sections are out of order chronologically (it starts with a scene that finishes toward the end of the book) and there are excerpts from a fictional children's book that seems at first to have little to do with the main narrative. It all comes together wonderfully and in fact it's a gripping read -- it was a compulsive reading experience. Along with a couple of other nominees, it would be a fine winner.

But I also mention the book because there are details at the end that are either a nice, subtle shout out to Robert Anton Wilson fans or just meaningless coincidences. The climactic scene takes place on June 23. (All of the scenes are carefully dated.) It takes place on a farm in rural Ohio (RAW once lived on a farm in Ohio, as Christina describes in in the just-issued Hilaritas edition of The New Inquisition.) One of the main characters is Erin -- one letter removed from "Eris" obviously -- who is blonde and beautiful, as Eris is usually depicted by modern artists. Erin is the embodiment of order but her ability to resolve a key crisis depends upon the fact that she can recognize chaos, because once she was paired with it.

By another synchronicity I just finished reading a chapter in a book about coincidences. Scott Adams' book Loserthink: How Untrained Brains Are Ruining America is a self-help book purporting to show how dumb ways of thinking hold people back. I'm enjoying the book. Chapter 8 has a section on most coincidences are meaningless and you shouldn't put any stock in them most of the time:

Coincidences happen all the time. But we humans are wired to put meaning on coincidences, and when we do we are often engages in loserthink.

To be fair, sometimes coincidences do mean something. If the police are investigating a domestic murder, and the surviving spouse booked a flight out of the country right before it happened, that might not be a coincidence at all. But the far more typical situation is when we think a coincidence means something and it doesn't. We are surrounded by coincidences. Most mean nothing at all. 

Chapter 8 in Adams' book is called "Thinking Like a Scientist." Although it probably means nothing at all, I am also reading The New Inquisition by Robert Anton Wilson. It's all about how sombunall scientists engage in a kind of "loserthink" and cites the existence of synchronicities as an example of some scientists excluding evidence outside of their reality tunnels.

Friday, June 12, 2020

An online reading group for 'Under the Volcano'

Eric Wagner and Gregory Arnott have formed a reading group on Facebook to read Malcolm Lowry's classic novel, Under the Volcano.

Everyone is invited to join the new Facebook group for the reading group and participate.

Modern Library's list of "100 Best Novels" places Under the Volcano at No. 11, and it's amusing to take a moment to glance through the list; Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov, a book I really like and which was the subject of a reading group on this blog, comes in at #53. On the Road by Jack Kerouac, a book I dislike, is No. 55. One of my favorite writers, Sinclair Lewis, comes in at No. 68 with Main Street.

The Kindle version of Lowry's book is only $1.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Ten years of 'The Oz Mix'

Oz Fritz in the studio with the band Achilles Wheel 

By Eric Wagner
Special guest blogger

On June 11, 2010, the blog The Oz Mix manifested from the mind of Oz Fritz. I find the fact that this long running blog started the day after RAWIllumination an interesting synchronicity. I had known Oz from his participation at the Maybe Logic Academy. Oz works as a music producer and engineer, and he had a lot of interesting comments at MLA drawn from his experiences in music as well as in conscious brain change. We had a read through of Rafi Zabor’s The Bear Comes Home, and Oz had wonderful, rich comments about that novel.

 In his blog he has reflected on his many interests, from Pynchon to Kabbalah to Deleuze. I remember one interesting piece on Led Zeppelin. While reading it my mind wandered in the Tolkienian space of Zeppelin lyrics, and when my mind returned to the article, I thought it a blog by Michael Johnson. I became confused as I read on and realized my mistake. Or perhaps Oz sent me to a universe next door.

 I always find Oz’s writing interesting, and I appreciate his insights. Thank you, Oz. (Pay no attention the to magus behind the curtain.)

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Ten years of RAWIllumination

Writing on my Chromebook as Neko, my Siamese, keeps me company. 

[I had not even noticed that today marks the 10-year anniversary of, my blog devoted to Robert Anton Wilson and also Robert Shea. Eric Wagner, evidently more observant than I am, noticed the anniversary and wrote the following piece. (That very first posting from me on June 10, 2010, has a comment Eric posted.) Thank you, Eric, and thank you everyone who has befriended me or posted a comment or participated in some fashion. -- The Management.]

By Eric Wagner
Special guest blogger

On June 10, 2010, the blog manifested from the mind of Tom Jackson. New posts have appeared almost every day for the last decade. He has done original research, interviewing Robert Anton Wilson’s editors and many other people. Tom writes very well, and he has brought his journalistic professionalism to a field which all to often features ego, sloppy writing, and contentiousness.

That lack of contentiousness seems a key feature of this indispensable blog. Most fan spaces fall victim to factionalism and name calling. RAWIllumination has practically none of this.

Tom has provided a space for reading groups of Bob’s books as well as related texts like Nabokov’s Pale Fire and Kerman’s The Beethoven Quartets. The rich discussions in these groups have enriched my life, as have all the other, widely varied, posts and comments at RAWIllumination.

Tom has built a community with frequent comments by some very interesting people. I have checked out the blog almost every day since it began. I think I missed a few due to family hospitalizations, but checking back in always brought me comfort and relief.

I have felt a void in my life since Bob’s passing in 2007. This blog and this community have helped to fill that void. Thank you, Tom.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Nature's God, Chapter Six (Part Two)

Memorial for Chevalier de la Barre

By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger

As the historical personalities are introduced throughout the chapter RAW often lists their birthdate and contemporary positions in society. (John Hancock’s is incomplete- aside from being a smuggler he was also a famous lush before signing the Declaration of Independence.) To your humble guide (b. 1990, sun in Gemini, moon is Aries, Capricorn rising), this somewhat reductionary approach serves a purpose as we watch their actions and their opposite and opposing actions throughout the chapter.

Through Seamus’ speeches to his men we see how Thomas Jefferson (33 year old planter, attorney, architect) and Thomas Paine (39 year old teacher, sailor, customs agent) became the Great Architects of the American Experiment. Colonel Muadhen’s Irish flavoring speaks to how we all have our own ideas of how America was shaped, usually in favor of our ancestors. Muadhen’s experiences also ground the romanticism of the Revolution and the high ideals of the Founders in the lived experience of the men who somehow won the war. I recently read a Bertolt Brecht poem that asked variations of the question “Did Caesar conquer Gaul alone?” These “great men” direct the course of history, which as Muadhen’s “Sinister Italian” noted, is not usually very merciful to those who make it. This point is hammered home in Muadhen’s final scene where he tries to rouse his men after victory at Monmouth- despite the patriotic fervor and winning the day, his speech is drowned out by the screams of wounded and dying soldiers.

Across the Atlantic we observe John Adams crusading around the Continent to secure funds for the Colonist’s cause and Benjamin Franklin having a grand time in Gay Paris. Adams seems to be a model of Wilson’s “right man” who is able to bend the world to his will by sheer virtue of believing that his model of the world is the only legitimate model. It seems like a missed opportunity, especially considering the highlights of the mutual career of the Batty Babcocks, that Wilson didn’t include any of Adams’ correspondence with his wife Abigail- a woman who wielded a great amount of influence for her time. Franklin meanwhile entertains many different ladies while waiting for King Louis XVI’s decision. During his time in Paris he is brought face to face with the most famous heretic of the age.

Voltaire, as Wilson notes, was nowhere near as controversial when he returned from his Swiss exile. Rather than imagining that this change is because of acceptance of his ideas, the reader should be aware that this is because most people didn’t particularly care about his ideas anymore. Once the most potent thinker in the world, Voltaire would be cast aside as a curiosity by most of the world. Regrettably, most of the world would also abandon Voltaire to textbooks and literature surveys and, as noted in the beginning of the chapter, most of the Enlightenment ideals that influenced America did not come from the French philosophes but rather the milquetoast philosophy of John Locke. If the United States had been more influenced by Voltaire, Diderot, and Rousseau I believe our country would look a lot better right now. But we didn’t and to our disadvantage most of what the world took from the Enlightenment was a sense of being better off than we were without the rigorous skepticism and humanism that grounded the philosophy of the time.

As Voltaire makes his way into Paris we are reminded of the case of Chevalier Francois-Jean de la Barre, whose execution was observed by Sigismundo, his father, and Herr Zoessor in The Earth Will Shake. Because his writings were used as evidence of La Barre’s atheism (he was accused of desecrating a cross) Voltaire did take a great interest in the case and did as much as he could to fan outrage over the incident. This account points out that Voltaire’s letters on the subject of La Barre are not great historical documents as they were written as polemics. Today the date of La Barre’s execution, July 1st, is celebrated in France as “Chevalier La Barre Day,” a holiday for those who oppose religious tyranny. In light of Reichsfuhrer Barr’s insidious integralism I think we’ll be celebrating this year. Honestly, I just can’t believe we’re still dealing with the Roman shtik in 2020.

But Voltaire’s dinner conversation after his initiation as an Entered Apprentice would indicate that I shouldn’t be in disbelief. It is fascinating to read Franklin, Voltaire, and Condorcet’s speculative conversation and predictions in light of the past 250 years of history; one of my favorite parts of The Historical Illuminatus Chronicles is how RAW delivers this type of historical voyeurism throughout the three books. Voltaire, despite the pageantry of being initiated as an Entered Apprentice, is still on his way out the door and doesn’t appreciate what he sees in the room, Franklin has an insouciant but generally hopeful attitude, while it is left for the Marquis de Condorcet to rhapsodize about the world of tomorrow.

Condorcet was as optimistic, good, and talented as Wilson portrays him; he was beloved of the French people and considered an embodiment of the Enlightenment. He wrote an early treatise against slavery and was later an early member of the Revolutionary movement which he hoped would lead to a rational society. Like many other philosophes he was gravely disappointed in the results and later had a warrant issued for his arrest by one of the shifting governing councils. The sentiments and ideas that Condorcet relates in this chapter are taken from his work Sketch for the Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Spirit which was published posthumously. Condorcet truly believed that scientific progress would lead to equality, liberty, and fraternity; what makes this vision of Utopia especially poignant is that he wrote it while in hiding from the authorities. He was captured and jailed- two days later he was found dead in his cell. He either committed suicide with smuggled poison or was murdered extrajudicially as the people would not have stood for him to have been executed.

His proposed future was drastically altered by a force he might have been unaware of but Wilson makes sure to note: Adam Smith’s problem child capitalism shows up to make sure progress will follow wealth instead of knowledge. Weishaupt's machinations could be seen as a furthering of concentration of power muddled in conspiracy and guesswork. There are always snakes in the garden. For invisible hands and heads these forces leave magnificently obvious signs of their sweeping scythes and strangling. As MacGregor’s simp Brodie-Innes said, “it doesn’t matter if the Secret Chiefs exist, merely that the world operates as if they do.” Too bad the Secret Chiefs ended up emulating Dennis Hooper’s Frank Booth instead of Trismegistus.

One gardener who goes through extraordinarily elaborate pains to prove the existence of the snakes is another Marquis, this one Divine and imprisoned. As I have noted before, de Sade is often still misunderstood as a madman, devil, or pervert, while he may have been all of these he was also privy to a sanity that would break most people entirely. De Sade’s screed against the Powers That Be is just as relevant and damning today as it was when he was stuffing the manuscript in a crack in the Bastille’s wall. Paolini’s excellent Salo is a prime example of the material’s ability to shock and condemn- unsurprisingly, de Sade’s life isn’t going to get any easier and his masterpiece won’t be published until after his death.

And we have one more snake in the guise of Dr. Fritz Cyprus who proposes that the Dark Ages were just lovely and that the Church really should be in charge of society. (Cyprus, a malignant German, might be an ancestor of Professor Hanfkopf from The Widow’s Son.) Wilson points out the dark side of Romanticism, to elaborate; while the works of the pre-Raphaelite artists were astounding they did introduce a strain of Catholicism and regressivism into English Decadence that would lead to it being quite a bit more fatal than the French version. The connection between antirationalism and fascism is incredibly relevant to today as we watch a large part of the country cheer a wanna-be dictator on to further insanity. The chapter closes with another antirational figure who just thirty years ago, despite lacking a penis, did all she could to set back progress and equity.

Away from all of this a Neapolitan musician is sitting under a tree meditating in Ohio. We’ll sample the fruits of making one’s mind into a mirror next week as we begin Book Two of Nature’s God with “The Wilderness Diary of Sigismundo Celine.”

From Eric: “ I thought this would make a nice soundtrack for this chapter.

My own musical offering this week, for Lady Maria Babcock/Sarah Beckersniff, the world would have been better would you have lived, dove sta memoria:

Monday, June 8, 2020

Nature's God, Chapter 6 (Part One)

From Fanny Hill; or, The Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (illustrated by Franz von Bayros)

Nature’s God Week Six: Marquis de Sade and Other Libertines (pg. 71-108 Hilaritas edition)

By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger

Like the end of the separate Parts of The Earth Will Shake and The Widow’s Son, Book One of Nature’s God closes with a panorama of the historical events that surround our four protagonists. This gives the book an epic scope and allows RAW to make his riff/commentary on history and progress. I doubt that I need to point this out to any of us but this chapter is of course written somewhat in the style of “The Wandering Rocks” from Joyce’s Ulysses. (I say somewhat as, despite the headlines, Wilson doesn’t really ape newspaper writing and instead writes in his regular, suggestive style.)

Chapter 6 covers five major story lines, in my opinion (or I’m going to make an arbitrary division because it would be incredibly difficult to write about all this otherwise): the publication of A Moistness in the Wind, the efforts of the men we now call the Founding Fathers to further the American Revolution- especially the pugnaciously honest and self-assured John Adams, Colonel Muadhen’s direct experience of military service and lionizing mortals, the return of Voltaire to Paris which is juxtaposed with the imprisonment of de Sade, and Sigismundo in Ohio meditating and experiencing all phenomena as real in some sense, unreal in some sense, meaningless in some sense, real and meaningless in some sense, unreal and meaningless in some sense, and real and unreal and meaningless in some sense. And this paragraph is made of two sentences.

Maria’s rather innocuous letter to London Gazette and the actions of Weskit Fitzloosely, while fictional, reflects the complicated history of the press in England. It was often the actions of drunks and pornographers that pushed the borders of decency and championed true freedom of the press. For example; The Yellow Book was the most popular periodical in 1890s London, it published the artwork of Aubrey Beardsley and John Singer Sargent, contributors included Ernest Dowson, W.B. Yeats, Max Beerbohm, and Baron Corvo. Yet, when Oscar Wilde was brought to trial he carried a yellow bound book with him- most likely a copy of Huysmans or Pierre Louys, and although Wilde had never contributed to The Yellow Book, because Beardsley’s (who detested and even feared Wilde personally) sumptuous illustrations had graced both Wilde’s Salome and The Yellow Book the periodical was inextricably linked to deviance, buggery, and indecency. A valuable publication was snuffed out. Luckily Arthur Symons is in the corner, rubbing the shoulders of his prize-fighting pornographer Leornard Smithers who fearlessly puts out The Savoy. Smither’s provides work to the members of the Decadence Movement when other publishers fear Victorian prudishness and public opinion and The Savoy remains to this day a jewel case of gemlike parts of English prose and art. A more contemporaneous example, in relation to Maria’s publication, would be the downright humorous publication of John Cleland’s Fanny Hill; or, The Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. Cleland wrote his pornographic masterpiece while in debtors prison and promptly found himself back before a judge after the initial publication of his manuscript. There Cleland whittled and wailed his way out of a conviction and according to one biographer was rewarded a pension by the court to prevent further writing. Meanwhile, Fanny Hill went merrily along being published by the pirate press by the boatload- no one really knew what to do about it.

Maria, under her borrowed-from-Jonathan-Swift nom de plume of Beckersniff, ironically asks if anyone more civilized than “the Methodists, the Howlers, and the Ranters” believe in God as a physical being versus a spiritual concept. I say ironic since it was the Protestant dissenters who really began the underground printing tradition in England. Going back to Tyndale’s Bible in the early sixteenth century and continuing to John Bunyan’s writings (written while imprisoned for his preaching more often than not) in the late seventeenth century and beyond to Blake in the eighteenth, Protestant religious nutters have had a lot to do with freedom of the press. This is something I’m sure most of today’s fundamentalists would regret if any of them were literate or capable of having even the most rudimentary grasp of history/reality. Oh well- ignorance and dragging the world back to the Dark Ages are bliss, as they say.

We are told that, like Fanny Hill, Maria’s “little volume” proliferated in pirate editions and that seven copies remain in libraries around the world today. Two of the libraries are interesting: one is the collection of Gershon Legman. Legman was a folklorist who specialized in erotica and wrote The Rationale of the Dirty Joke, a book the author of Playboy’s Book of Forbidden Words would surely have appreciated. The second library is of course Miskatonic University. The subject matter of A Moistness in the Wind, as I mentioned before, harkens back to Wilson’s first published essay in Krassner’s The Realist. The material in the excerpts seems to be an anachronistic rewrite of the original essay with some of Hargrave Jennings material thrown in for extra flavor. (In the spirit of Wilkes I will relate that my wife pointed out a few evenings ago that there seems to be no purer happiness than that of a man who is having his penis touched. I couldn’t argue in most circumstances, but she’s never had to endure that supremely awkward part of a physical.)