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Thursday, December 31, 2020

Five best books of 2020

These are actually not all books published in 2020 -- I have chosen to include some books I read on the Hugo ballot that were published in 2019. But still, there are all pretty new books, and older books I really liked read in the past year are included in the "I also liked" paragraph. 

Piranesi, Susanna Clarke. I was really starting to wonder when we were going to get another novel from the author of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Piranesi is very strange, very vivid, rather like a waking dream, about a man who lives in a gigantic, flooded palace, so big it is a world to itself. 

Middlegame, Seanan McGuire. As I wrote earlier this year, the Hugo ballot for best novel was quite good this year, but this riveting fantasy novel, by an author I had never encountered before, was my favorite. 

A Memory Called Empire, Arkady Martine. This is the novel that won the Hugo Award, and it was another one on the ballot I particularly loved. It's a space opera, but a very literary one, and it shows how an empire can "rule" through culture, rather than just power. 

Network Effect, Martha Wells. The first full length novel (the previous ones were novellas). Any science fiction fans who doesn't read these books is making a mistake. They can also be read as future thrillers. 

Death Sweat of the Cluster, Znore. Still finishing this, but the essays I've read so far are remarkable. I'd like to see Znore get more attention for his discussion of RAW and conspiracy theories, what to make of Ezra Pound as we go into the new century, etc. 

Other books I really liked: Watership Down, Richard Adams; Plowing the Dark, Richard Powers; The Ten Thousand Doors of January, Alix Harrow, and Moon Rising, Ian McDonald.  

There were three editions of RAW published this year, The Starseed Signals. Ishtar Rising and The New Inquisition. I bought and read all of them and look forward to getting Sex, Drugs and Magick: A Journey Beyond Limits soon from Hilaritas Press. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

New Facebook group for studying the Eight Circuit Model

Mike Gathers has created a new Facebook group, Forum for Intelligence Increase, devoted to discussing the Eight Circuit Model of consciousness developed by Timothy Leary and explained (and further developed by Robert Anton Wilson). 

Although it is a new group, it has already attracted a number of people who have written books on the model, including Douglas Wingate, Antero Alli and James Heffernan, and there are also many names you will recognize among RAW fandom. Wingate has posted a PDF of his book, Circuits and Shen: Models of the Evolution of Consciousness and Chinese Medicine. 

If you missed it, here is Mike's own publication. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Many of you would enjoy Znore''s book


While 2020 has been a bad year in many ways, at least we got something to read. Hilaritas Press issued definitive new editions of Ishtar Rising and The New Inquisition and put out a totally new title, The Starseed Signals. 

We also got Death Sweat of the Cluster:Selected Essays from Groupname for Grapejuice, a collection of 27 literary essays by Znore, taken from Znore's Groupname for Grapejuice blog. I had my wife give me a copy of the book for Christmas and also bought a copy to give to a friend. 

Groupname for Grapejuice has a particular focus on James Joyce, but Znore's work discusses Robert Anton Wilson, Philip K. Dick, Ezra Pound and William Blake, among many others. The first essay begins with Znore walking into a used bookstore in 2008 and finding a copy of Cosmic Trigger on the shelf. I'm about 70 pages into the book so far and I've come across many references to RAW.  And the series of essays in the book about Dick's final novels should not be missed by Dick fans

One reason to buy the book as opposed to simply reading the blog (aside from the logical organization Znore gives to his collection) is the introduction, which amounts to a defense of taking literature seriously and also provides a map for what Znore is trying to do. (In a personal literary synchronicity for me, he writes that "in the widest and roughest of terms, the tradition could be called 'Platonic'." Before starting Znore's book, I just finished Richard Powers' Plowing the Dark, which explicitly references Plato's allegory of the cave. Powers' book also is all about the power of literature.)

Death Sweat of the Cluster also is a very good-looking book, with cover and interior art by Kaylee Pickinpaugh. It is only issued in paper; there doesn't seem to be an ebook edition, at least for now. 

My 2017 interview with Znore, which I enjoyed re-reading, offers some background on the book. 

Death Sweat of the Cluster is published by Sync Book Press, the publisher's website is worth a look. 

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Prometheus Rising exercise and discussion group, Week Twelve


By Eric Wagner
Special guest blogger

I have found it sobering to examine my own Thinker and Prover. Despite decades of work on the exercises in Prometheus Rising and in using E-Prime, I still have a lot of negative self-talk. My Thinker tells me negative things about myself, often using the verb “to be,” and my Prover methodically sets about proving them. Hopefully I can alleviate this situation over the next 21 months by doing the exercises in Prometheus Rising.

I notice that stress makes the situation worse. My physical health seems OK, but I allowed myself to get behind in my grading while I felt under the weather. It has proved a challenge to get all my grading done over the past two weeks. Plus, the holidays provide some stress as well. At least my Thinking thinks so, and my Prover complies, perceiving stress and castigating me for getting behind.

My Thinker also thinks Prometheus Rising has a lot to offer, especially if one does the exercises. My Thinker has pointed out my ongoing struggles with self-fulfilling prophecies. At times in the past I have had a Kinbote-like zeal for proselytizing for Dr. Wilson’s ideas and especially for the value of doing the exercises in Prometheus Rising. My Thinker wants these exercises to prove beneficial for me and anyone else who does them, but my Thinker also has lingering doubts about their efficacy. We will see how my Thinker and Prover respond to the experiences of the next 21 months. 

Look what's on the cover


Cover of the first edition

Charles Faris, catching up on his reading just like me, sends me a photo of the book he has checked out of the library. It's a first edition of Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man by Marshall McLuhan, also pictured above.

Charles remarks, " I just borrowed from library to see if I could understand understanding media now that I’m an old fuck and who knew there’s an old school computer print 23 on the cover?

"I’m also noticing how much 8circ is influenced by McLluhan. In some ways it could be helpful to think of 8circ as a media theory especially in terms of media as extension. Of course this begs the question 'extending what?' "

McLuhan also figures in the book I've begun, Death Sweat of the Cluster by Znore. 

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Current reading [Updated]


Tired of "homework" reading such as reading nominees for the Prometheus Award and reading locally written books for my newspaper, I decided to give myself permission to read something I really wanted to read. I'm a big fan of Richard Powers, so I read Plowing the Dark, one of his I had never gotten around to. It's a good novel; I think there's only a couple of his left I haven't gotten to yet.

I mention this because I guess I'm curious about other people's reading habits; one of my tendencies is that when I find an author I really like, I try to read as many books by him or her as I can. Robert Anton Wilson would be an obvious example; for the few I still haven't read, I'm waiting for the definitive Hilaritas Press edition. I've also read everything by Jane Austen I can find, and all of Tom Perotta's books and all of Jack Vance's science fiction titles. I only have 1-2 Iain Banks Culture novels left. Every few years I do another Vladimir Nabokov novel. And so on. 

Plowing the Dark is largely about tech geeks in Seattle working on a virtual reality project; the book makes the argument for the novel as a art form, and as a form of virtual reality, as Powers remarks in this interview: 

At the end it's as if a digital Byzantium has somehow crossed over into the real world.

That is my metaphor for reading; that's what reading does. In the end, the book becomes an apology for the virtuality of fiction, fiction not as a replacement for the real world, but as a hybrid place where the real world is suspended and reconstituted into something more survivable.

Addendum: I forgot to mention that the title Plowing the Dark apparently takes it title from a poem by William Blake. It's believed to be a reference to "Or the plowman in darkness plow?" line 20 of "Earth's Answer."

John Higgs says, "There's a fair amount of plowing in Blake - hence you find Blake-titled novels like Drive You Plow Over The Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, who won the Nobel Prize a couple of years ago. Plowing in Blake is often a metaphor for revolution, in the French and American sense - the old order needs to be overturned in order that new life can grow - so he talks a lot about the plow passing over nations."

Thursday, December 24, 2020

New book by Rosemary Leary out soon


Ready for another book about Timothy Leary and his milieu? Psychedelic Refugee, by Rosemary Woodruff Leary and edited by David F. Phillips, will be released on Feb. 9, 2021.

Rosemary Woodruff Leary, Leary's ex-wife, died in 2002, age 66.  So the book actually was assembled by David F. Phillips, who died on March 26, 2020. So this is doubly a posthumous book.

In this intimate memoir, Rosemary describes her LSD experiences and insights, her decades as a fugitive hiding both abroad and underground in America, and her encounters with many leaders of the cultural and psychedelic milieu of the 1960s. Compiled from Rosemary’s own letters and autobiographical writings archived among her papers at the New York Public Library, the memoir details Rosemary’s imprisonment for contempt of court, the Millbrook raid by G. Gordon Liddy, the tours with Timothy before his own arrest and imprisonment, and their time in exile following his sensational escape from a California prison. She describes their surreal and frightening captivity by the Black Panther Party in Algeria and their experiences as fugitives in Switzerland. She recounts her adventures and fears as a fugitive on five continents after her separation from Timothy in 1971.

Would "her papers" in fact be part of the Timothy Leary archive at the New York Public Library? I guess we'll find out soon. The New York Times obituary referenced above says she "lived in hiding for 23 years" after separating from Leary, so the post-Leary chronicle should be interesting, too. She later became friends with Leary again; see the obit for details.

Merry Christmas/Happy winter solstice, and links

 Giotto: Angels at the Nativity, circa 1300

How Claude Shannon invented the future. RAW was a big fan of Shannon. 

I tried to do all happy links. Have a good holiday, everyone!

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

John Higgs (and William Blake) news


In his latest email newsletter, John Higgs reports that VALA, the new journal of the Blake Society, is available to be downloaded free.  I have downloaded my copy and read John's piece, "Blake Under Lockdown."

Much other news in the latest issue. Read it, and if  you haven't already, sign up to get future copies by email. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Brenton Clutterbuck guest post: Discordianism and Deleuze


Kerry Thornley

Gilles Deleuze

Stuck in the Middle with ‘Luze

By Brenton Clutterbuck
Special guest blogger

What is religion? And what is philosophy? We can try to answer these questions in a range of ways. Sometimes we try to map our own intuition onto these questions – we know what religion, and philosophy are deep down, which is to say, we know it when we see it, and we can try to offer explanations that satisfy these intuitions. This is the path of the patient teacher, the methodical map-maker, the precise graphic artist. This approach seeks an exacting certainty, observing the way in which things manifest themselves in our world and detailing them, tracing the lines and curves of their boundaries, tendencies and technicalities. It is definitive, singular, perfected.

Then, there’s the other way to approach things. We leave our tools behind, our rulers and tape measures and sketch-pad and pencils. We dismiss the concrete reality of what we see before us, the absolute certainty of our existing assumptions. Instead, we interpret the question as a challenge? What is religion? What could religion be? What could we do with it? What could it look like? How could it play a role in our lives? This is the world of the maniac teacher, the psychedelically enhanced map-maker, the giddy and gibbering graphic designer who uses a paintbrush in place of a fine-point pen.

Discordianism is a religion born from the creative act of dismissing existing assumptions about religion. It is everything we have been raised to think religion is not. If religion is traditionally solemn, Discordianism introduces playfulness. If religion traditionally promises order, Discordianism offers a holy disorder. When religion is traditionally sacred, Discordia offers profanity. Where religion traditionally requests subservience to a higher power, Discordianism elevates the practitioner to the very authority that religion compels us to serve. At every juncture, Discordianism attempts to reconstruct our very concept of what religion is and can be – it is an anomalous presentation of the very idea of religion, one that disrupts and challenges our existing maps of the world.

Perhaps this is why I felt so excited upon discovering the work of French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Like Discordianism, the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari is a radical project that seeks nothing less than the absolute reworking of our existing sense of what philosophy is and could be. Philosophy is not, and should not be limited to an expansion of our logical understanding of the world, and our relation to it – rather the philosopher is the creator of concepts, generating new possibilities of thought that allow us to enter into new ways of being.

It is inevitable that there should be some comparison between the two schools of thought – both emerged in a similar period, where the idea of chaos was beginning to take hold, certainties were being eroded, and things long taken for granted had begun to deteriorate. Social upheaval and political instability were leading to all manner of rethinking the world. Disorder worshipping Discordians and post-structuralist philosophers were perhaps two articulations of an inevitable jumbling of social sensibilities.

And yet, I cannot help but feel that the quantum interconnectedness of these two entities is more than the reflection of a similar birthplace. They seem to be two strangers, exploring their own esoteric paths on opposite sides of the world. They stumble sometimes on the same influences - Wilhelm Reich, James Joyce, William S. Burroughs. I imagine that if Burroughs had been inspired to perform his famous ‘cut-up’ technique on Deleuze and Discordianism, he’d have found two entities strangely in sync with each other’s disordered explorations.

For example, chapter 10 of D+G’s A Thousand Plateaus is told through a range of voices including a moviegoer, a theologian, a Spinozist, a sorcerer, and even esoterically from the perspective of a secret and a molecule. Similarly, Robert Anton Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger divides the author into various selves – The Sceptic, the Satirist, the Shaman, the Materialist. Like Wilson, D+G consist of a whole community in only a few bodies; Since each of us was several, there was already quite a crowd, they say in the introduction to ATP. They have used their given names in writing this book, but their intention is ‘to reach, not the point where one no longer says I, but the point where it is no longer of any importance whether one says I. We are no longer ourselves. We have been aided, inspired, multiplied.’ On the Discordian side, Robert Anton Wilson became convinced of the ego as an ‘inconvenient fiction’ after following the advice of Uncle Al and biting his thumb every time he uttered the word ‘I’.

At times, the relationship between Discordia and D+G seems to be as above, one of similarly navigated space. At other times, they seem like complementary technologies. D+G’s conception of the rhizome has already proved enticing to Discordian thought, making its way into the work Art of Memetics, a book that has influenced and taken influence from Discordianism. The rhizome proposes an understanding of an organism as all middle – no beginning or ending. In contrast, the ‘arboristic’ model centralises one particular feature (the great trunk), and draws our conception back to a central point (following each leaf to each branch, each branch to the trunk). To speak arboristically of Discordianism we would elevate one feature – perhaps the Principia Discordia, perhaps the ‘big three’ figures of Kerry Thornley, Greg Hill and Robert Anton Wilson, or the historical emergence of Discordianism in the late 50s, from which it unfolded through time and space. But Discordianism has no leaders – or rather it does, in the shape of every man, woman and child [1], who are all Popes of Discordia. Discordianism functions in practice in fully decentralised form. No key figure, no text, no guiding principle can satisfactorily stand as the trunk from which all Discordian thought emerges. For more than a handful of Discordians, Kerry, Bob and Greg are old news, the Principia is hippie shit, Eris herself is irrelevant. And should we embarrass ourselves by running into the room, our pants around our ankles, screaming, “Stop! Stop! You’re doing it wrong!”? Of course we should not – there is no wrong. There is no point to which everything must connect, only the massive network through which connections emerge.

Ahh. I could go on, but I already feel the mania seizing me, as the rhizome of Disco-Deluezianism travels from one node to another, in a rapid process of free-floating association that D+G might describe as schizophrenic. What else could we say? That the Body Without Organs can correspond to the model of the creative/destructive and order/disorder, or that D+G’s assemblages give us a language to explore the conscious reorganisation of our perception into ordered and disordered arrangements, themselves grouped into reality tunnels which can also splinter and shatter through a self onto which reality is passively synthesised… but… but…

But hold on, let’s draw breath. This is all terribly strange and wonderful, invigorating in its potentialities, thrilling in its uncertainties, forgiving in its strange plasticity. We are in the middle of this process of discovery and intersection – indeed we will always be in the middle.

Shall we say one more thing? D+G tell us that a book is not a container, rather it is connected, engaged, attached to the outside. The creation of a book is in the between-space of itself and all that it meets, and all that rises to meet it. Shall we say the same too of Social Media spaces, of human assemblages? I am in the deep midst of exploring such a space, and I’d love you to join me on this journey, where we can ourselves meet in the middle to be inspired, aided and multiplied.

The Disorganised Body of Eris is a Discord Channel Dedicated to the Intersection of Deleuze and Discordianism. It can be found HERE

[1] I am certain, had Discordia been born a little later, the Pope Card would not have failed to mention the Non-Binary Popes, who are of course equally holy.

Brenton Clutterbuck is a writer and teacher,  the author of Chasing Eris and Si Nos Organzamos. You can follow him on Twitter and find out more here. 

Monday, December 21, 2020

Prometheus Rising exercise and discussion group, Week 11


Well, I am still looking for my second quarter.

The book of course did not anticipate the pandemic, and finding the second quarter has been difficult. Some commenters have pointed out that cashless transactions are more common now than when the book was published, and of course that is true. But there are other reasons I am having trouble. The COVID-19 pandemic is out of control in Ohio, and the governor has responded by suggesting that everyone stop going out as much as possible. This seems like good advice, and going to the store these days is limited to brief stops to pick up something that was ordered in advance. So there is not much for lingering outside the store, looking for coins. I actually do a lot of walking, up to three miles a day if the weather is decent and time permits, and it is my main form of (physical) exercise. 

So, what to do about the exercises? We aren't scheduled to get to Chapter 2 until April, so there is still time. Four of the 11 exercises are tied to the damn quarters, so I will keep trying to find the second quarter through the rest of December. After that, I will consider advancing through the other exercises, particularly as RAW allows us, in exercise No. 5,  to come up with "similar experiments" on our own.

How are you doing on your exercises, and do you think I am giving enough time to finding my two quarters? I did find a first one, and I will give it the college try for another couple of weeks to find the second one. 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

New novel from Steve Pratt

Steve Fly has announced he is releasing a new novel, Deep Scratch. On Twitter, he writes, "Coming this Monday. #DeepScratch - The Novel.

"To receive a digital copy, please support me for the price of a coffee over at Patreon, I’d prefer 3 Euro but 1 is cool, plus you unlock sixty plus unique posts, a bargain bonanza."

More information at Patreon. 

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Music notes

As we have been talking about Paul McCartney lately, I thought I'd note that the new album, McCartney III, has been released. I listened to it Friday on Hoopla, using my best pair of headphones. Seems solid throughout, although no one song really jumped out at me on first listening, the way that "Maybe I'm Amazed" does on the first McCartney album.

Paul McCartney is 78. I am glad he has been able to stay in good health and remain productive; I have been thinking lately about another great musician who was not so lucky. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was 35 when he died on Dec. 5, 1791. 

35! Imagine how much more music he would have written if he had lived as long as two other genius composers who died relatively young: Beethoven, who was 56, and Prokofiev, who was 61. 

Or at least imagine what Mozart would have done with just a few more years. 

Here are some of the works he completed in 1791, his last year, and he didn't have a full year: Piano Concerto No. 27, String Quintet No. 6, The Magic Flute, The Clemency of Titus (in other words, he completed two operas), Clarinet Concerto in A, the Requiem in D Minor. This list omits many shorter or less famous pieces.

After I wrote the above paragraph, I wondered what Mozart completed in his last full year. So here is a partial list for 1790: Cosi fan tutte, String Quartet No. 22, String Quartet No. 23,  String Quintet No. 5. In 1788, Mozart completed the famous last three symphonies, 39, 40 and 41, and 1788 also included Piano Sonata Number 15, Piano Concerto No. 26, Piano Trio No. 4, Piano Sonata No. 16, Violin Sonata No. 36, Piano Trio No. 5, Divertimento in E-flat and Piano Trio No. 6. My favorite piano concerto, No. 21, was written in 1985, and without belaboring the point, he didn't exactly take the rest of the year off. 

Mozart was one of Robert Anton Wilson's favorite composers; in Right Where You Are Sitting Now, RAW writes "I believe in Bach, the creator of heaven and earth, and in Mozart, his only begotten son, and in Beethoven, the mediator and comforter;" (in "Credo;" he also mentions Vivaldi, Ravel, Stravinsky and "many another.") 

I have just discovered there is a major new Mozart biography out, Mozart: The Reign of Love by Jan Swafford. Tyler Cowen's review.  Eric Wagner and I both read Swafford's Beethoven biography, and the book highlighted the connection between Beethoven and the Illuminati, please see my review. 

My Russian Futurism music blog recently launched; at some point, I'll do a post at this blog explaining my rationale for it. 

Friday, December 18, 2020

Work of art you might like


This is a piece of art that was circulated on Twitter recently, so I hope it is also OK to share it with you here. It is from the 23rd journal of Psychedelic Press and the artist is Pete Loveday. "The quarterly Psychedelic Press journal features articles on the history, literature and culture of #psychedelic substances. A yearly subscription saves you over 30%, and helps support this independent, community publication. Details here.

See also the November Eris of the Month. 

Thursday, December 17, 2020

New official Robert Anton Wilson site relaunches


The official Robert Anton Wilson website -- a direct descendant of the site RAW published when he was alive -- has been relaunched. It was shut down for awhile so that it could be revamped. It's back up with lots of improvements made by Rasa; if you don't get the email newsletter from the Robert Anton Wilson Trust, you can still read all about it.  (The newsletter has images of what the site has looked like over the years; I particularly liked seeing it as it looked in 1997, when it began, hence my illustration.) 

But in a sense, writing about the website "buries the lede," as journalists such as myself say. A highlight of the bulletins from the RAW Trust, at least for me, are the messages they contain from RAW's daughter, Christina Pearson. The piece from her seems especially good to me this time. It's about the huge role Rasa has played in preserving RAW's literary legacy and making is work available to the public.  The recognition for Rasa is well deserved. I knew some of this but not all of it; please read the essay. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Happy Beethoven's birthday!

Today is (probably) the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth. (He was baptized Dec.17 and the usual assumption is he was born the day before.) Here is coverage from the New York Times. 

I probably will find time to listen to Beethoven today and I suspect Eric Wagner and perhaps other RAW fans will, too. I have still not made up my mind who is my favorite conductor for recordings of the symphonies, but I like George Szell. For the piano sonatas I like a variety of pianists, including Sviatoslav Richter and Alfred Brendel; lately, I have been listening to Ikuyo Nakamichi, who has recorded all 32 of them. I really like most of her interpretations, and she's good with Mozart, too. She likes to post photos of her performances on her Twitter account and Japan apparently has some really beautiful concert venues. The caption for the above photo, posted Oct. 30, says, "Yatsugatake Kogen Concert Hall. A special impression surrounded by autumn nature. Beautiful time to enjoy the sound."

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Please practice good intertemporal substitution

Photo by LOGAN WEAVER on Unsplash

Via my day job as a newspaper reporter,  I learned recently about a term used by economists, “intertemporal substitution.” 

It’s a term that relates to staying safe and not getting COVID-19 just before a vaccine becomes available. So I’m going to try to explain what it means. 

Intertemporal substitution means “the decision to forego current consumption in order to consume in the future,” according to the EconModel website. “The most common example is saving for retirement.”

Economists on the internet have been applying the term to explain why people should be particularly careful now to avoid getting COVID-19, as a few more weeks of caution means you can get a shot and actually avoid getting the disease.

For example, noted economist Tyler Cowen wrote about the term in a recent blog post, “Intertemporal substitution remains underrated (COVID in Scotland).” 

After pointing to a news report from Scotland that people are taking more risks because they think vaccines will end the pandemic soon, Cowen wrote, “Of course economics suggests the exact opposite course of action, namely that when a good vaccine is coming you should play it safer in the meantime.  Beware!”

I would prefer that all of my friends from this blog stay safe until they can obtain one of the new vaccines. So please take care for the next few months.

I still periodically update my collection of COVID-19 links and refer to it often when writing my newspaper stories; in case anyone else finds it useful, here is the latest version. 

Monday, December 14, 2020

Prometheus Rising exercise and discussion group, Week Ten

William James with his brother, the novelist Henry James 

By Apuleius Charlton
Special guest blogger 

Funnily enough, the lecture that Wilson refers to at the beginning of the chapter almost certainly never occurred. Philosophers had been telling the story of the belief in infinite turtles since John Locke and it is highly unlikely that James ever encountered a sincere believer in the idea. In fact, James recorded  no such encounter and used a slightly different version of infinite regress in his essay “Rationality, Activity and Faith.” In James’ essay, the old woman believes that there are rocks upon rocks which, perhaps because of all those pesky geology lessons in grade school, makes her seem more reasonable than the fictitious old lady at the beginning of “The Thinker and The Prover.” 

In his famous lecture, “The Will to Believe,” James defends the proposition of faith against what he viewed as rampant agnosticism. Therein James argues that presupposing evidence to form a belief can possibly cut mankind off from further revelations. How does the chemist come up with a hypothesis, James asks, if they must rely on evidence before confirming a belief? James attempts a wily argument that for the chemist to take the time to test their hypothesis, they have already conformed to the belief that something will take place during the experiments. James paints the agnostics of his day as almost pathologically afraid of “being duped” and therefore cut off from any experience outside of those of mundane quality that can be empirically experienced. 

I have simplified the argument as I best remember it -- perhaps I am doing an insufficient job of presenting James’ ideas. That said, his lecture has attracted criticism from many thinkers, scientists, and philosophers since its publication. It doesn’t appear James was able to convince many of those in the opposite camp of his argument. James’ essay always struck me as an expansion of Pascal’s Wager, and considering that I find that old chestnut sensible long after its dark, mathematical creator passed into history, it isn’t surprising that I find myself agreeing with James, at least at certain points. 

While the agnostics of James’ day were in the mode of Thomas Henry Huxley and in many cases seemed to stray much closer to atheism than agnosticism, that breed has mostly died out. Today it seems those who do not have the will to believe, or rather have a willingness to disbelieve, just skip agnosticism and go straight to the non-existent horse’s mouth of atheism. Atheism, of course, is simply another form of belief that seems to pain the followers of that particular faith as much as the followers of faiths that presuppose the existence of god. In short, I find that the agnosticism that James argued against was little more than logical positivism and I believe that he would appreciate that attitude and experimentation espoused in Prometheus Rising

Unsurprisingly, I would suggest that model agnosticism transcends the petty boundaries of any other belief system which in turn makes me a dogmatist for the lack of dogma. I would also suggest that Wilson’s model agnosticism was heavily influenced by Aleister Crowley’s scientific illuminism which applied the scientific method to non-empirical states of consciousness and experiences. This is heresy, of course, because science demands more than subjective experience; no matter how many individuals claim similar results there is no worth to their experiences without solid evidence. This seems to me to be a limiting belief on the part of science. While it is certainly true that I would prefer any medicine that I take or food that I eat be developed and screened according to the methods of empirical science, the wider phenomena of existence seem to easily outmaneuver the approved scientific method. 

Consider The Amazing Randi’s “One Million Dollar Challenge” that he used to taunt skeptics of his atheistic beliefs; the contest is automatically unfair as it presupposes that the types of experiences he sought to undermine can be reproduced under his particular criteria. Randi’s debunking of hucksters and money-grubbing frauds was admirable, but his philosophy was vile. The atheist is perhaps the most ridiculous human, especially the atheist who conforms to the modern atheism espoused by Randi, Dennett, and Dawkins; these are truly the atheists who believe they have it all figured out. Certainly, they may mumble something about the continuing mystery of existence but the bulk of their work and actions scream “We Know! We have unlocked the key to our genesis and know for certain where the end is for all life! We have split the atom, tamed the earth, and explained consciousness. This is the end of knowledge and it's just those religious nuts, those paranormal dupes, those sheep who hold us back!” A basic understanding of human nature and the progress of science easily discounts any such ridiculous idea that we have arrived at a point where science has proven everything that is true and disproven all that is false. In a hundred years, in a decade, what will we have discovered that scuttles our limited knowledge? 

It is obvious to me, having read and reread this book over the years, that it is true: what the thinker thinks, the prover will prove. Perhaps I am spoiling the book, but Wilson is going to try to get your thinker to think as a model agnostic. Someone who can combine James’ Will to Believe with hearty skepticism of every experience, even those that are filtered through our five senses. While I’ve never succeeded at the tenth exercise, I do believe that the eleventh is incredibly important -- one of the great magical secrets. Fake it until you make it -- and if you can fake it, you’ll be surprised about what may be. 


Sunday, December 13, 2020

RAW's recommended books, any advice?

Robert Anton Wilson did a 20-book recommended books listed, posted on his official website.  RAW wrote, ""Not the 'best' or even my favorites, exactly: Just the bare minimum of what everybody needs to chew and digest before they can converse intelligently about the 21st Century." That website is down for a little while for renovations,  but I have a blog post from 2010 that lists the 20 books. 

Chad Nelson writes, "Going to grab a few of the books on this list for Xmas. I don't think I'm ready for Joyce or Pound...the abstruseness of their writing is a hurdle I can't get over. 

"Any strong recommendations? Right now, the two that seem most interesting to me are Reich and Demeo. Would love to hear other RAWIllumination readers thoughts if you're looking for a post!"

I told Chad that I've been able to read Ulysses a couple of times and plan to read it again. Does anyone else want to weigh in? 

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Things that made Mark happy and made me happy

Alexander Mosolov 

This has largely been a year of loss and things we could not do; my wife and I did not take a big vacation trip this year, for example.

Accentuating the positive, the writer, artist, Boing Boing founder and RAW fan Mark Frauenfelder has published a list of things that made him happy during the year. 

All of us have a duty to try to stay safe and stay happy while we wait for our turn at getting the vaccine and resuming a more-or-less normal life.

Here is my list of things that made me happy this year; feel free to post your list in the comments:

1. Unexpected new books from writers I like, including Piranesi from Susanna Clarke and The Starseed Signals by Robert Anton Wilson.  

2. Launching my new music blog, Russian Futurism. A rough go at first, but I'm finally starting to get a few readers. 

3. Related to #2, I am interested in Russian avant-garde classical music of the 1920s era, and one of the composers I like, Alexander Mosolov, is undergoing a surprising revival; a new album of some of his "lost" music has been issued and there is even a movie about him in the works, see my music blog.

4. I discovered I could could cook more Szechuan recipes at home, making up for not being able to go to my favorite restaurant.

5. I finally watched the third season of Twin Peaks that originally aired on Showtime in 2017 and was relieved to discover it was really good. My binge watching also included rewatching the first two seasons of the show and the movie, Fire Walk With Me. 

6. I learned the local library would let me use the Naxos Music Library, so I signed up. I now use three different library streaming music services, which gives me so much music I don't even need a paid service such as Spotify. 

7. My friendships, including ones made through this blog, helped sustain me during the isolation of the pandemic. 

8. I got to talk to some interesting people in my day job as a newspaper reporter, including Chris Frantz of Talking Heads (he published a memoir). I was nervous about interviewing him, but he was quite nice. (You never know if celebrities are going to be the way you picture them.)

Mark BTW also joined the Substack movement and is publishing a newsletter, The Magnet. I have a paid subscription, but many free issues can be sampled if you want to decide whether to sign up. 

Friday, December 11, 2020

New Scott Apel book


I missed this title from longtime Robert Anton Wilson collaborator D. Scott Apel when it came out earlier this year so I'll mention it now: He has a Silicon Valley memoir called NO PLAN B: The Adventures of a Carbon Unit in Silicon Valley, or How I Made a Million Dollars in Hi-Tech Startups Basically by Just Showing Up (Don’t Try This at Home). It's $14.99 in paperback and just 99 cents for Kindle and offers a look at the area where RAW lived for many years. 

Scott has a number of other books, including movie reviews and fiction. The RAW fan on your gift list would likely enjoy Beyond Chaos and Beyond: The Best of Trajectories, Vol. II, a large assemblage of uncollected Robert Anton Wilson writings plus Scott's candid, long biographical essay about RAW,  “BOB AND ME: A Record of a 30 Year Friendship.” $19.95 paper, $4.99 Kindle. Here is my review and the feedback from other RAW fans has been good. 

Science Fiction: An Oral History is 99 cents  for Kindle and has very good interviews with RAW,  C.L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Theodore Sturgeon, Philip K. Dick, Fritz Leiber, Roger Zelazny and Norman Spinrad, but please note the particularly good RAW interview also is reprinted in Beyond Chaos and Beyond.  The latest edition of the book has a bonus Gene Roddenberry interview. 

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Why you should love Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney in 2003, playing the same guitar he used for recording "Yesterday." Photo by Chris Floyd, used by permission. 

Robert Anton Wilson was not much of a Beatles fan (or even a pop music fan), but Robert Shea certainly was.  And certainly there are RAW fans who are huge Beatles fans, such as John Higgs and myself. (Here is John's Paul McCartney playlist, and mine.)

While we wait for the new McCartney III album to come out in a few days, I thought I would direct your attention to Ian Leslie's piece, "64 Reasons To Celebrate Paul McCartney." I think it may be the best piece of music criticism I've ever read; I hope Ian Leslie, whom I never heard of until yesterday, turns it into a book. Even the links in the article are good, such as Leslie's "deep cuts" playlist on Spotify. 

Here is my reaction to couple of Leslie's statements:

I’ve always wondered what I would say if I saw him in the street around there. [Leslie's a Brit, so he gets to walk by MPL Communications every so often, and brag about it a little -- Tom]. I think about which obscure song or album I would pick to tell him was my favourite, just so he knew I wasn’t some casual fan. 

I have a recurring fantasy that I somehow find myself in an elevator with McCartney, and I start softly singing "Did We Meet Somewhere Before?," a McCartney tune that as I far as I know has still not officially released. 

McCartney’s reputation has never fully recovered from the shredding it took when The Beatles broke up. He is still compared unfavourably to his most important creative partner. Lennon is soulful, deep, and radical; McCartney is shallow, trivial and bourgeois. That dualism, which took hold in 1970 and was reinforced by Lennon’s horribly premature death, still holds sway. Probably if you asked most people who know a little about The Beatles to say who they found most interesting, John would be the most common answer. If you surveyed Beatles nerds I suspect they would be more likely to say Paul, since the more you learn about the band you more stunned you are by what he brought to it.

[This is not a "reaction," as I wrote it in April as a letter of comment to William Breiding's fanzine, "Portable Storage,"  but notice that as a "Beatles nerd," I am thinking along the same lines, just as Leslie suggested. This is in response to a discussion in William's zine about favorite Beatles:]

But I wonder how many people are like me. I have not a fixed favorite Beatle all of my life; my choice has changed over the years. As a teen, my favorite was George. He seemed to be kind of an underdog, only allowed a couple of songs per album, and "All Things Must Pass" was the first really good solo album. Then, too, the organized the charity concert for Bangla Desh, which coaxed a great live performance out of Bob Dylan.

Then John Lennon was a favorite for awhile -- he seemed like the intellectual of the bunch, the one who seemed the most interesting, and the one whose songwriting seemed to hold up the best after the Beatles broke up.

But as I aged, I decided Paul was my favorite. In many ways, he seems the most adult of the Beatles, the one who valued children and treated them well, the one who was loyal to women and seemed to treat them well, too, and the one who always seemed to be working hard at his art. He has been the one who has regularly toured, allowing fans to see him, and who has worked all the time on new recording projects, and gone out of his way to challenge himself with different approaches -- he even made electronic music albums that no one  noticed for a long time. I finally got to see him live in Cleveland a couple of years ago. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

New meme, and some news


New Starseed meme from Rasa. 

Also, if you read the comments on the posting a couple of days ago about Fact, note that Quackenbush has been adding RAW pieces from Fact to the "Essays" section of 

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

I've been listening to Zelenka

The Zelenka: Trio Sonatas Nos. 1-6 on the ECM record label, considered "essential" by the Zelanka fanatics at the Discover Zelenka website. More than 150 CDs have been recorded of Zelenka's music. 

Well-known composers such as J.S. Bach, Handel and Vivaldi were not the only good composers of the Baroque period. As I blogged earlier, Robert Anton Wilson in some of his works sought to call attention to Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745), a Czech composer. Much of his vocal and instrumental music survives, and much of it has been recorded in recent years as part of a Zelenka revival.

I recently ran across the Discover Zelenka fan site, which is particularly useful for the "Must Hear Works" and "Recommended CDs" sections. Much of this is available on the various streaming service and YouTube, and I have used the recommendations to bookmark recordings at public library streaming music sites such as Hoopla Digital and Freegal. As there is no confirmed portrait of Zelenka avaialable, I've illustrated this blog posted with a well-reviewed recording of Dismas' trio sonatas, a 2-CD set from ECM that I've been listening to this week on Hoopla. 

Monday, December 7, 2020

Prometheus Rising exercise and discussion group, Week Nine


By Eric Wagner
Special guest blogger

On Monday, November 23, 2020, birthday of both Harpo Marx and Boris Karloff, I went to the emergency room. I had had sharp pains in my lower left signs two days before and again that morning. I suspected I that had had an attack of diverticulitis. I had one once before over ten years ago. (Bobby Campbell told me at the time that Bucky Fuller also suffered from diverticulitis.) On my way to the hospital listening to Elliott Carter (my favorite music for the chaos of 2020), it struck me that this might prove a good chance to try an exercise from Prometheus Rising. I would view this visit to the ER as a party, and I would imagine myself as handsome, irresistible, and witty. I figured this would at least get some endorphins flowing to help with my healing. I did in fact talk with more people in person that day than I had since the pandemic shut-down started in March. 

I had on a t-shirt with a bunch of DC characters on it. While in the waiting room the security guard commented on my cool t-shirt. I mentioned that my wife had gotten it for me at Target and that it came from a 1980’s TV show. An older couple came over to take a look at the t-shirt (maintaining social distance, of course). They also liked the shirt. The man, leaning over his walker, said, “Yup, that’s from the 80’s. I’m an expert on cartoons from the 50’s and 60’s.” I had only ever gotten one comment on the shirt before (from a security guard at Walmart – I haven’t talked with many people this year). I don’t know if this interest in the shirt came from my metaprogramming exercise, but I’ve never talked so much with strangers at the emergency room (and I have spent a lot of time in ER’s with my family).

Update as of December 5, 2020: yes, I had diverticulitis, and all goes well.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

RAW in FACT Magazine

Robert Anton Wilson biographer Prop Anon points out an avenue of research on Twitter.

Prop writes, "Robert Anton Wilson wrote for FACT magazine in the early 1960s, long before Illuminatus! This website has ALL the issues of Fact up and its free to peruse."

The magazine was edited and published by Ralph Ginsburg; the first issue at the website has a piece about the drug experiences of "advertising man" Ronald Weston, a pen name that RAW used. 

The magazine lasted for three years, 1964 to 1967; Wikipedia has a short article. 

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Another cool @amoebadesign video, and there's music


@amoebadesign on Twitter (i.e. Scott McPherson, the guy who does all of the wonderful covers for the Hilaritas Press editions of RAW's books) just put up another Illuminatus! inspired video on Twitter.  Be sure to watch it. 

He's set up a small record label  where "there's two Illuminatus themed albums and two dubby deep ambient mumbly ones." He explains, "The non Illuminatus electronic albums are soundtracks to live my live AV performances i do, so they are mellow, dubby, ambidubstrial drify things with field recordings from Russia with soft kicks and hats etc, techno to drift away to ;)"

See this video, too. 

Friday, December 4, 2020

New John Higgs book on Blake out soon

John Higgs has revealed the cover for his Blake book and announced a publication date (for the United Kingdom.)

Above is the cover for John Blake vs. the World. John says, 

"I won't lie - as a book it's quite something. It is less a biography or a critique - although it has those elements - and more an attempt to grasp what Blake was trying to tell us. If your reality tunnel has taken a battering these past few years, you'll find this to be good medicine.

"I like that the cover is a return to the pink and yellow of the KLF book. More importantly, it's pink with yellow circles - if you're going to dive into Blake, it's important to do so in the style of Mr Blobby.

"It's out on 27 May 2021, and to pre-order it is an act of unspeakable kindness that would earn my eternal gratitude. You can do so from all the usual suspects like Amazon  and Waterstones  (Hive and Bookshop UK are yet to list pre-orders, sadly, but your local independent bookshop can take care of you).

"More on this to come, of course!"

No word yet on U.S. publication, according to John, although of course American readers can buy it anyway online. 

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Feeling anxious?


Yes, we are living in the age of COVID-19, but the 1990s had some anxious moments, too. At RAW Semantics, Brian Dean writes about his old zine, Anxiety Culture, and the letter and audio commentary he got from Robert Anton Wilson when he sent RAW a copy of the zine. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

New Italian edition of 'Sex, Drugs & Magick' published


Rasa at the RAW Trust reports that the Hilaritas Press edition of Sex, Drugs & Magick: A Journey Beyond Limits is "nearly ready to be released."

And that's not Rasa's only news. RAW fans who can read Italian may read the new Italian language edition of the book, put out by the Italian publisher Spazio Interiore.

"John Higgs has worked with Stefano Bollani, who wrote the preface for this new Italian edition. John says he’s quite a good guy and a huge RAW fan," Rasa reports. (Mr. Bollani is an Italian musician and composer who has done pop music, jazz, classical music and soundtracks and worked with a very long list of musicians in different genres; he has also published several books, has a cartoon character based upon him and is an "Honorary member of the Italian Institute of 'Pataphysics." He also has written and hosted radio and TV shows and performed in theater.  And 43 solo music albums so far. )

"Giovanni Picozza, at Spazio Interiore, said the book's subtitle, 'A Journey Beyond Limits' didn't really work if translated literally. They are using 'I sentieri proibiti della trascendenza' that in English would be something like: 'The forbidden paths of transcendence'." 

More here.  

The translator is Elisa Manisco. Elisa Manisco (if it's the same person) is an Italian journalist and the author of the book PJ Harvey La sirena del Rock

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Update on planned 'Illuminatus!' TV show

Prop Anon interviews Brian Taylor, showrunner for the planned 'Illuminatus!' TV series.  The interview is posted on the Mondo2000 website. 

Some of the news: "We are still in a stage where we’re looking for a partner. We need a network. We need somebody who is willing to take a chance on this thing." And plans also call for bringing the show into the present, rather than leaving it back in the original 1970s setting. Taylor says encouraging things about capturing the complicated tone and texture of the original. 

Taylor also vows that if he gets to make it, the show will not water down the original material. "It’s better not to make it at all than to make the compromised version with no teeth. If we’re going to make it, it would have to be something that would make Robert proud. It has to be something that strives to have that type of impact and embraces the spirit of the material. If it can’t be that then I really believe it’s not worth the time to do it. Let the book stand. The book is always going to be great."