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Sunday, May 31, 2020

RAW 'worst' book? Fans weigh in!

[My initial posting on the new release of The New Inquisition prompted an unusual discussion of what Robert Anton Wilson's worst book is. I'll repost Supergee's comment that began the discussion, post excerpts of other comments and then weigh in myself -- the Management.]

Supergee: 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. But it finishes with a marvelous discussion of how we perceive.

Eric Wagner: I love this book. Bob loved science, but he wanted to apply the scientific method to science itself.

Iain Spence: Once again Hilaritas Press have managed to collapse the price of an old RAW title down to 12 pounds. Some people were coughing up 30+ quid for old dog eared copies of these in the UK. Thank you once again to the dedicated team.
I think Mr Wilson had a bee in his bonnet about the worst excesses of scientific materialism rather than science itself. So it seems like he gets a bit carried away in this volume? I'm intrigued by the comments here...and I'm looking forward to reading it.

Inigo Montoya: I don't think it is his worst book. Among the nonfiction, both Coincidance and Email to the Universe are worse, a mishmash of b-grade and c-grade stuff. (And Moore's intro to the former is dreadful in my view -- and it is clear he never read Korzybski, or if he did, he didn't understand what he was reading. That's the only way I can explain the line "Count Alfred Korzybski’s work implies that almost all human experience is linguistic in its nature..." Whaa? Anyway...)

Among his nonfiction, the Cosmic Trigger books, Prometheus Rising and Quantum Psychology are his best, I'd say. I would rank this book after those, but above the Coincidance and Email... I think the first chapter is terrific -- it's RAW in all his agnostic glory. The book gets tedious though as it goes on... and RAW piles up example after example (often not persuasive) a la some kind of modern Charles Fort... but I find I skim over those and still find little RAW gems throughout... The tone it's also a bit shrill for him, which may contribute to the negative vibe around the book.

I think the book ends well, the chapter Creative Agnosticism is strong.

I have the New Falcon edition... and I have just bought the Hilaritas edition. I will reread it and see if I think differently on a second reading.

Rarebit Fiend: @Inigo- I love Coincidance- The Finnegans Wake material is worth the entire book. I do agree that "email to the universe" is a bit of a patch up job and would have rather RAW have completed "Tale of the Tribe."

I am incredibly prejudiced to favor Alan Moore and enjoyed the introduction. However Moore definitely has his own intellectual biases and agendas- however RAW's interpretations of information could be heavily influenced by his own expectations. For all our agnosticism we all still have definite biases.

My comments: 

1. It seems to me that in any discussion of Robert Anton Wilson's "worst book," the obvious front runner would be The Sex Magicians, which was published as a pornographic book. I have never seen it listed anywhere in Wilson's own official list of his works, and Hilaritas Press has not announced plans to republish it, so it seems to me it's never been considered part of the canon, even though it was published under Wilson's name.

2. I'm still reading The New Inquisition, but I thought the first chapter of the book was indeed very good, as Inigo Montoya says. It's as good as any nonfiction RAW ever wrote. I did not like one sentence referencing Carl Sagan and there seems to be a consensus portions of the book may be a bit weaker.

But I have to respectfully beg to differ with Inigo on Coincidance and Email to the Universe, which I thought were both very strong collections (and Hilaritas has beefed up the latter by adding a long interview with RAW, otherwise unavailable.)  Both of these books have some of my favorite RAW essays and the overall quality to me seemed strong.  It is true they don't really have a unified theme, although there is a lot of unified Joyce material in Coincidance. 

The only RAW book which has disappointed me so far is TSOG: The Thing That Ate the Constitution. Certainly entertaining and worth a read, but not really as strong as any other book I've read so far. I'm pretty sure Eric disagrees with me on this, but I would have expected RAW writing about the war on drugs to write a better book.

3. Iain Spence raises another point, and it's something Hilaritas Press deserves a lot of credit for, so I want to amplify it. Robert Anton Wilson fans in Great Britain have found it's very difficult and expensive to obtain many titles in Robert Anton Wilson's back catalog. Hilaritas of course is publishing definitive editions for everyone, but they are also making it possible for our British friends, who have done so much to keep Wilson's legacy alive,  to obtain these titles easily and at a reasonable price, and to aid Wilson's family, to boot.


Eric Wagner said...

Yeah, I love TSOG, especially the ending. I think in The New Inquisition one can see the influence of Swift.

Rarebit Fiend said...

The Sex Magicians is amazing and I will fight you over this Tom. I have read the PDF that's floating around a few times and it never ceases to delight. A silly, pornographic, well-informed occult thriller is right up my alley though.

Mark Brow. said...

Coincidence is one of my favorites, but almost every topic is fear to my heart.

Inigo Montoya said...

Tom, certainly agree with your #1 for "worst." And second being grateful for Hilaritas Press. It is very nice to have a matching affordable set of RAW's books with great covers, etc... Also, we are all fans of RAW here, so "worst" is relative. By the way, I tend to put the fiction and nonfiction in different buckets, and think differently about them. Maybe that's helpful or maybe it's an meaningless division on my part. (I prefer the nonfiction -- but I have a feeling I am in the minority there -- and find myself going back to his nonfiction every now and then and rereading.)

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

@Rarebit Fiend, Well, I have not actually read "The Sex Magicians" yet, so I will have to get to it! I just assumed it was significant that RAW didn't list it.

@Inigo, I do tend to put the fiction and nonfiction in separate categories, too. I think I lean a bit more toward the fiction, but I love it all. I'm probably going to re-read "Masks of the Illuminati" later this year.

Eric Wagner said...

I enjoyed The Sex Magicians, and I feel very grateful to Mike Gathers for posting it on his webpage. I had searched for it for 23 years.

Eric Wagner said...

I just came across this comment from Michael Johnson on August 7, 2010:
‘OTOH, RAW thought he was at his best in non-fic when he was not just doing expository prose: he told Kurt Smith in a letter that he's at his best in The New Inquisition and Natural Law, where he takes on particular people and their ideas, and creates "dialectical sparks."’

Lvx15 said...

Least favorIte RAW book... I’m gonna say Email and TSOG are tied for the honor. I have fond memories of reading New Inquisition... I dropped out of college for awhile and worked at a new age bookstore In Memphis. I read it in my car when I was on break. The heat in the car melted the glue holding the spine together and half way thru each page came out as I turned it. It was over 30 years ago. I never reread it, but the concept of ‘po’ stuck with me. (if I’m not misremembering it)

supergee said...

I’m with Rarebit Fiend. The Sex Magicians is fun. A lot of it was cannibalized for Schrodinger’s Cat, which may be why Wilson didn’t consider it a separate book.

kevin said...

I liked the New Inquisition when I first read it, then didn't like it, re-read it and liked it again. I don't think its his best work, but it does warrant re-reading. As for his best, I am always surprised that the Schrodinger's cat trilogy doesn't get more mention. I especially like that for 2 of the books there are actually different copies with different content (mainly the sex references in early editions but not the later ones) floating around.

As a final note on books. It may just be my visual sense but I think the new covers and layouts actually enhance the reading experience.

supergee said...

My understanding is that after the three-volume Schrodinger’s Cat had been out for a while, Dell bought the rights and asked Wilson to cut it so it could be published as a single trade paperback. He cut out the schmutz from The Sex Magicians but also some good stuff like the chameleon on the mirror, so I still consider the three volumes the real deal.

Rasa said...

I think I'll pass on "worst or best." I have favorites, but I haven't read a RAW title that I didn't like. What I liked about both Coincidance and Email to the Universe was that RAW had chosen a series of essays that he thought worked well together, even if seemingly unrelated. With Email, he consciously choose a list of his favorite essays that spanned his lifetime. I thought that was cool to experience. Email also has what I think of as his best writing on his personal political philosophy, "Left And Right: A Non-Euclidean Perspective." Another delicious chapter in Email, a bit of fiction: "The Horror On Howth Hill."

As for Sex Magicians, I started reading it, but got just far enough that I thought, "we should republish this," and so I decided to put off reading the whole thing until we get finished with the 19 books on our current list to republish. I'm excited that we've done 12 of the 19. Maybe I'll change my mind after finishing Sex Magicians, but I'd love to hear anyone's thoughts on it.

Here's our list: <a href="“>Hilaritas Press Books</a>

Anonymous said...

From Iain Spence:
Some days back Eric Wagner asked here on RAWIllumination if I was, Iain Sinclair. I’d been rather lazy and I’d only signed myself as ‘Iain S’ to a previous comment. The day after I read his comment I received a parcel in the post; my first copy of TSOG.
So I sat down in the porch in the late afternoon to read it in the sunshine. On page 24 Robert tells of how he once mistook a famous John Sinclair for another obscure John Sinclair whilst in Amsterdam. Of course I was reminded of Mr Wagner’s comment on the identity of ‘Iain S’, and I had to chuckle. Iain is (as I’m sure you’ll know) the Gaelic for John, or if you prefer, John is the English for Iain.
But then things turned even more strange...Before standing up to leave the porch I quickly leafed through TSOG looking at the illustrations. Then I did a double take, for there on page 117 is a quote from one, Eric Wagner. Of course by this point I said ‘huh?’ and looked about me in surprise. Is this damned book alive, I thought…
I won’t add anything else here on the nature of coincidence as I might ramble on a bit. But I always come back to my favourite guide to the topic which is PK Dick’s idea of Zebra having a quirky, pleasant nature. I think he once said that Zebra is smiling. (Of course he could be rather paranoid as well, but that's another story...)
PS – Oh, by the way, I liked TSOG. RAW is not exactly firing on all cylinders here but I don’t think he’s bitter either, perhaps more like resigned and weary, whilst also having some fun surfing the web. I'm now intrigued by the advert for Tales of the Tribe which I've never looked into.
My regards to Eric Wagner, who I’m guessing is the same author of The Insider’s Guide...


PQ said...

Nice to see this in a new edition, it's one of the few RAW nonfiction books I haven't read. But was always intrigued by it because of RAW's lectures on this same topic.

Looking forward to reading it.

Of all the RAW books I've read, probably my least favorite is Email to the Universe just because it's inherently disappointing knowing it could have been Tale of a Tribe instead. It feels incomplete and lacking in the richness of his other nonfiction works.

Eric Wagner said...

Interesting synchromesh, Iain. The world has become a little phildickian in 2020.

Unknown said...

I love New Inquisition. I think it was the fourth RAW book I read and immediately became my favorite. It remained my favorite after reading all of the rest. I've read several RAW titles twice, but not New Inquisition. I'm about to re-read it and wonder if it will still maintain the top spot.

For me, it was a really nice complement to Quantum Psychology. Both books broke down my dogmatism, certainty, and general dislike of others who didn't see the world the same as me. I think New Inquisition went even further than QP, though, by showing that even rational, scientific thought (which I held on a pedestal) deserves a "maybe" label most of the time. That idea was rocked my world.