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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

RAW's radical approach to reading his fiction

Today I  will reveal to you my favorite sentences in the Schroedinger's Cat trilogy.

I have  the original mass market paperbacks, and in the front there is a sort of brief preface which says in part (this is from the third volume, The Homing Pigeons):

"The three volumes of the Schroedinger's Cat series can be read in any order desired.

"That is, this volume can be read before or after the volumes called The Universe Next Door and The Trick Top Hat or between them. 

These volumes may also be read before or after the three volumes of the Illuminatus! trilogy and before or after Masks of the Illuminati."

There are other interesting sentences that follow, but I want to focus on those three sentences for a moment.

Like many of RAW's works, the SC novels (now available as a shortened one volume work -- I don't even know if my favorite sentences survive in this edition, which has cuts) was published as works of science fiction.

Trilogies are a big tradition in science fiction and fantasy. Examples that come to mind include Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy, Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and N.K. Jemisin's more recent Broken Earth trilogy. I'm pretty sure none of the those authors ever suggested reading the books out of order.

There is a narrative bit in the three SC novels which make it clear they seem to be written to be read in the "correct" order, although I don't want to mention it, lest it be a spoiler. If you've read the books you know what I mean.

On the other hand, the books also can be read as variations on alternate universes. They do  not seem to read as chronologically linear works that all take place in the same universe, as the other trilogies I mention seem to be.

RAW is inviting the reader to do his/her/their own "cutups," approaching his fiction from different angles.

Illuminatus! is a work I read over and over again. Maybe next time I should start, perhaps, with The Golden Apple? And should we, as readers, try to think of an interesting way to read all of RAW's fiction out of order, either just the titles he mentions or also including the Historical Illuminatus! books? Or an useful sequence to read them in order, or as a mix of the two approaches? 

I guess it's a synchronicity, but as I was working on this blog post, I saw a Tweet by Joseph Matheny, quoting Jean-Luc Godard: "A story should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order." 


Eric Wagner said...

I would sometimes flip a coin repeatedly when thinking of rereading the SC trilogy.

Question 1: Heads I start with volume 1 or 2, tails I start with volume 3 or don't read it now.

Question 2: Based on the answer to question 1 - heads, I read volume 1 or 3, tails I read volume 2 or don't read it now.

chad said...

This is a great post, Tom. Thanks. I like that preface a lot too.

One of my favorite sentences isn't a part of the preface, but it's part of a short section right at the beginning of Universe Next Door that could easily have been a preface itself, since he's writing about himself and the book's publication history in the third person. I'm sure some of it is BS, but it's hard to tell!

That section is called "ALTERNATIVE TEXTS" and the whole thing is freaky.

The sentence I like most in it is: "Some have even proposed that Schrodinger's Cat is actually a manual of shamanism in the form of a novel, but that opinion is almost certainly, exaggerated."

I feel like it is a sort of manual of shamanism. I keep a copy by the can and just open to random pages, and it almost always puts me in a weird state of mind.

Has a reading group on SC ever been done here?

Jesse said...

See also: the "Table of Instructions" at the beginning of Cortázar's Hopscotch:

"In its own way, this book consists of many books, but two books above all. The first can be read in a normal fashion and it ends with Chapter 56, at the close of which there are three garish little stars which stand for the words The End. Consequently, the reader may ignore what follows with a clean conscience. The second should be read by beginning with Chapter 73 and then following the sequence indicated at the end of each chapter. In case of confusion or forgetfulness, one need only consult the following list..."

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

@Jesse: I love that, but do you actually recommend the book itself?

Jesse said...

It has been waiting its turn on my shelf for more than two decades now. Someday I will read past the table of instructions.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

@Chad, I guess we haven't done a reading group. Feels like an oversight. One of the best things about the excellent NATURAL LAW anthology was "I Opening,' the SC "outtake."

Anonymous said...

2 of the original paperbacks have some references to sex magic that don't appear in later editions. I like the fact that different variations of the same books exist - given the titles. Trick top hat being my favourite

Van Scott said...

Hopscotch was also the first book that popped into my mind. It’s been close to 50 years since I’ve read it, but I loved it at the time and yes I would recommend it. A kinder, gentler introduction to Cortazar is his book of short stories, Blow Up and other Stories. The title story was the basis for Antonioni’s movie of the same name.

I’d be interested in knowing if Oz is familiar with Cortazar. Reading Hopscotch’s first 56 chapters is no different than reading any other novel, but it seems to me that when you go through it a second time, following the markers at the end of the chapters, that it takes on a deeper, rhizomatic structure. I’m not very familiar with Deleuze, but it seems to me that it might be of interest to someone who is.