I wrote this little essay in response to someone online asking about Robert Anton Wilson, “Did he even have any ideas of his own?”
RAW was a very cool and friendly brilliant guy, but he didn’t want to be a guru. That’s all the more reason, ironically, why people revere the guy. Aside from his fiction, which you either like or not depending on your own subjective preferences, most people think he was a rather gifted wordsmith. What he did with the words, I suspect, is the reason for the interest in his writings, as much if not more than the poetry of his writing. Yes, he was encyclopedic in his explorations of subjects, and he was humble enough (and helpful enough) to pretty much always show where ideas originated. Did he come up with original concepts himself? Some clever wordplay led to iconic characters, memorable scenes and lasting memes. I think a major part of what people love about the guy, are those lasting memes. That’s not a small thing, largely, I suspect, because he brought together all of these bizarre and astounding subjects and ideas with a framework of idealistic progressive liberal thought. Think of him as a kar-mechanic. He took all of these cool parts and put them together to give us a vehicle that we can drive around in. It’s a very cool vehicle. We have to make adjustments to it over time, but RAW advised us to do just that.
There was a reason George Carlin said, “I have learned more from Robert Anton Wilson than I have from any other source.” He was talking about the way RAW introduced him to a set of ideas. No minor achievement.
Honestly, people who love his writings love his writings because they offer so many great insights – often practical ones that we can use in daily life. I once asked RAW what kind of philosopher he thought he was. He said, “I’m not a philosopher, I’m more of a speculator. I make speculations about reality.” He wanted to downplay his role, out of humility I suspect, but he wanted to be taken seriously as well as critically. He says again and again in his books that you should absorb what he writes but you should think for yourself, and make your own decisions about “what it all means.”
We are, I suspect, as interested in the guy for models and discoveries he may have championed, as for the structure he gave to those models and discoveries. How to think about those models, as he elucidates in his many books, was his great gift. We refer to his writings as an acknowledgement of the wonderful usefulness of his work. Ironically, shedding light onto knowledge is the actual definition of a guru.
– Rasa, June 23, 2021
[The above was originally posted under "News" at the Hilaritas Press website.]
As I see it, the question, "did he even have any ideas of his own?" appears based on a fallacious assumption that we exist solely as isolated, separate, self-contained egos.
"And through all his books, Bob did more to raise awareness of magick as a form of brain-change than anyone since Aleister Crowley himself." - Phil Farber in his preface for Sex Drugs & Magick called The Groundwork for a Renaissance.
Both Crowley and Wilson give highly original, modern presentations based on ancient ideas. The seems but one example.
RAW was certainly good at synthesizing various ideas, providing us with new outlooks on the world.
He was the first to contrast the four Life Positions of Transactional Analysis with the four moods of Timothy Leary’s Interpersonal Diagnosis of Personality. I think Thomas Harris likely ripped off Leary, but whether he did or not, RAW certainly drew attention to the remarkable similarities.
He was the first to apply mythology and symbolism to Leary’s IDP. Leary only got as far as the four classical humours: Space or time didn’t allow for further exploration of ‘Level Five’ of IDP back in the Fifties.
He was the first to apply IDP to the social symbolism of pop cultural trends, just briefly in 1983.
I’m out of my depth with this one, but I think he was the first, along with Robert Shea, to celebrate the absurdity of conspiracy theory when not tempered with humour and a multi-model agnostic view of the world.
He was almost the first to suggest an imminent polarity (or polar complement) to psychedelic culture in 1975 (again, along with Robert Shea). Marie-Louise von Franz beat them to it, two years before, with her Jungian interpretation of the same topic, but she quickly became entangled with mundane, unrelated symbolism.
Ideas of his own? I think Oz sums it up neatly with his comment above.
Post a Comment