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Thursday, July 20, 2023

Prop Anon's dedication to his RAW biography

Prop Anon has had to spend less time and energy on his music career so that he could work on the RAW bio. (Photo from

On Twitter, @RAWSemantics poses a question: "Just dawned on me that @PropAnon's forthcoming book will be first ever #RobertAntonWilson biography published. How did it take so long (historically, I mean)? In any case, an auspicious event."

Robert Anton Wilson died in 2007, more than 16 years ago, as Prop (e.g. Gabriel Kennedy, the byline under which the upcoming biography will be published in February 2024) noted in his reply. (Of course, Eric Wagner wrote An Insider's Guide to Robert Anton Wilson, which I purchased in two formats and carry around on my phone for ready access, but it's not a biography per se, more like a very well-informed reader's guide for people who want to know more about RAW's ideas. Note that if you buy Eric's book, you will want to buy the 2020 revised edition.)

Here are  some  suggested answers to the question Brian raises:

1. Doing a serious biography of someone is no easy task; it takes a lot of work if someone is going to step up to the plate. Prop has put about seven years of work into this book, largely putting aside other ventures important to him, such as his music career. He really deserves a lot of credit. 

2. As much as we love him, RAW is not an author who sells a huge number of books. So it's not like publishers were beating the bushes for a biography.

3. While RAW is a cult author with a dedicated following, he's not somebody who commands a large following in academia. There's little incentive for an academic press to  seek a book about him, or for a college professor to burnish his resume by writing such a book. 

4. While many authors with a reasonable sense of self worth are careful to make sure their literary papers are preserved in a university library, Wilson (and Robert Shea) did a remarkably poor job of preserving their literary papers (manuscripts, correspondence with other authors and publishers and editors, etc.). Prop's job would have been a lot easier if he could have gone through a big collection of RAW papers at a university library.

When publication of the book comes closer, I plan to ask Prop about his research for the book.

I wish I  had a book cover for the upcoming bio I could  post, but it hasn't been released yet. Of course, you will see it here when it becomes available. 

Addendum: When I raised point #4 on Twitter, Prop wrote, "And Tom, you are correct tho. Chasing down RAW archives from many different Special Collections Libraries took a lotta time.

"But also taking lots of Time was me Surviving while being without an apartment for 3 years and counting.

"I may have finished quicker if I had an apartment."

This seems to underscore my point that Prop deserves credit for not giving up until the task was completed. I ran across an interview with Peter Gabriel some time ago in which the singer said that an important part of success is persistence. And in fact RAW makes much the same point in Cosmic Trigger 2, one of my favorites of his books. 

Update: My original headline for this post asked why the RAW biography took so long. I was referring to Brian's question, but Prop feels this is kind of a backhanded compliment.  (I was trying to praise Prop's work ethic, not question it!) As I don't want to be misunderstood, I have changed my  headline. 


Brian Dean said...

On point 4, RAW wrote that Timothy Leary "kept complete archives because he always considered himself a major historical figure", and next to that, RAW contrasts his own personality: "I have a lot of problems with compliments, with praise", and "I don't want to turn into a megalomaniac". (RAW's Trajectories piece #16/17, 'Lighting Out for the Territory').

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

@Brian, it's interesting that you mention Leary. There have been several biographies written about him, but he was a household name, and RAW was not.

Wilson wrote in Cosmic Trigger 3 that he hoped to have his correspondence with Robert Shea published as a book. But he didn't preserve the correspondence, so that's not possible, at least until the correspondence is published.

michael said...

Brian Dean brings up a good point with RAW talking about avoiding megalomania, but I suspect there's also the constant moving he did - changing residences - that it got to be a pain to transport all his stuff.

One of many things I'm looking forward to from Prop Anon's book is the tracing of residences over the years. I can piece together most of it, but a lot I'm unsure of.

RAW and I were talking about having books and there was one room in his condo in Capitola that was nothing but books, from floor to ceiling (gawd, I wish I'd thought to take some pics of that!). RAW said he had to get rid of very many books over the years because of the pain of transporting them when he moved. He said there would be books all over the place, including, IIRC in the microwave oven. He may have been exaggerating, but I got the point. Also, in that last residence of his in Capitola there were all kinds of gifts fans had sent him piled up on a coffee table, and a lot of them were books.

This problem of the itinerant writer not keeping archives due to the constant uncertainty of money and rent?: underrated.

So, the avoidance of appearing megalomaniacal feels legit, but the very real problem of transporting stuff does, too. And we have all lost out because of it. I often wonder what happened to his dream journal and/or his writing on magickal operations.

Brian Dean said...

@Michael - yes, another of the kind of problem that could be solved by throwing enough money at it. To quote RAW: "Of all the right-wing clichés, the one that annoys me most is that you can't solve problems by throwing money at them... One of my problems is to keep a roof over my head. I do that by throwing money at the landlord... They won't settle for goodwill, or philosophical observations, or right-wing clichés. They want coin of the realm." (RAW, Trajectories #13, 1994)