I checked over at the blog this morning, as I've habitually been doing for the past month--only to be shocked/unshocked (as someone posted in the comments I found there) that one of my few remaining heroes on the planet, Robert Anton Wilson, had departed this life yesterday, January 11th (Gregorian). Synchronicitous as he was, he departed on the same day that Dr. Albert Hoffman, discoverer and synthesizer of LSD, turned 101. Wilson had been in hospice care since last summer, due to the worsening of his post-polio condition that had afflicted him for a large part of his life. I, like a lot of other Wilson-heads who visited his blog, suspected that the end may be near--but we willed the good Dr. Wilson to stay just a little while longer so he could post more of his thoughts. He did do just a couple for us and then left gracefully.
Almost all of my teachers, gurus and heroes are now gone: Leary, Hicks, Lennon, Harrison, Barrett, McKenna and to a lesser extent, Hunter S. Thompson and Ken Kesey. All gone. Sure, Dr. Christopher S. Hyatt is still on the planet..and George Carlin and Brian Eno and Robert Fripp as well--and I still respect and like those guys. Wilson was, to me anyway, a cut above a lot of 'em. His cutting humour was always used in a gentle way--rather than just as a tool to belittle--even when used against C.S.I.C.O.P. (his "nemesis") and fundie religious types. He also made such topics as quantum mechanics and other mathematics-based theories readable, at least to someone like myself who never really "got" maths. In fact, he made them seem downright interesting and made me want to read more about them. Still haven't got round to that yet, but I intend to. He introduced me to Zen parables, Aleister Crowley (my brother got into Crowley before I was into Wilson, but I wasn't intersted then) and other magick, the Sirius mystery, the Illuminati and other conspiracy theories, futurism and immortality strategies, "maybe logic", E-prime and many many more things that would take a whole post to list. Suffice to say, the man blew my mind wide open.
My association with the good Dr. Wilson started in summer 1994 (I can't remember if it was the 'dog days'*). I was friends with a girl who worked in a used book shop in Manchester, Conn. I would go and visit her and hang out at the shop for a few hours, on my days off from the dreaded retail gig I had back then. The guy who owned the shop seemed mellow enough and he was generally out doing whatever he did while out, but she did caution me that while he was in the shop, it wouldn't be cool if I hung around chatting, even if the place was nearly empty. One day while I was there, he walked in--so I quickly made a bee-line to the sci-fi/fantasy section and began to scan the spines to pass the time until he left again. After checking out a few titles, I found a book whose front cover looked like this:
As a self-styled psychedelic maven, I was immediately intrigued by the artwork. I noticed the book was "Part 2" and wondered how many installments the series had. I searched the shelves near where I had found that one and came up with Parts 1 & 3, both with the same trippy graphics, though with different pictures. I thought about only buying the first installment and then, if I liked it enough, going back for the others. They weren't expensive, though, and I figured I could sell them as a set if I didn't like them. I'm really really glad I took the lot--of course, it took me some time to get into it. If you've never read the Illuminatus! trilogy, it's a bit of a whirlwind of plot strands and a large cast of characters. Oh yeah, the 'omniscient narrator' changes..a lot...sometimes almost in mid-sentence or paragraph. Wilson and Robert Shea, Wilson's creative collaborator at the time and friend since their late 60s days as editors of the Playboy Forum, wanted to take the post-modern novel into the quantum age (though perhaps James Joyce got there first with Finnegans Wake). The shifts in narration represent the viewpoints of the different characters in their scenes..it takes a bit of adjustment--but once you're there--you definitely enjoy the ride. Their other objective was to blur fantasy and 'reality' so much that after a while, the two 'halves' become meaningless. They parodied all of the common conspiracy theories of both right and left wing thinking..and oh yeah, there's plenty of sex, drugs and rock and roll, too.
I had to read it at least two times to even grasp a part of what was going on, never mind all of the clues and jokes and mystic secrets being shared by these two psychedelic jesters. I've since read it another couple of times..and even after reading most of R.A.W.'s other work, I've yet to get down to the real depths of the trilogy. It blew open my head even more than my few acid trips had. A mind-bender of a book..or books, that is..or seems to be.. I was never the same, and thank Eris for that!!
I started trying to find more Wilson tomes, and found Cosmic Trigger - Volume I and one volume of the Historical Illuminauts Chronicles--called The Widow's Son (sadly, I found out that the other two were out-of-print at the time). Another search came up with the Schrodinger's Cat trilogy and Masks Of The Illuminati. I devoured them all--except for "The Widow's Son", which I held off on, hoping for reprints of the other two. On a trip to Madison, Wisconsin in June 1997, I found The New Inquisition**, Historical Illuminatus Chronicles--Vol. 1: The Earth Will Shake and Cosmic Trigger - Vol.2. I found 'em at Avol's, a hip local used bookshop and I was elated to add them to my collection. Prometheus Rising and Right Where You Are Sitting Now were procured a little while later, as they were reprinted by New Falcon Publications by then. In 1998, Everything Is Under Control was published and I immediately bought it. At the time, I also found a couple of books by a Bob Frissell, called Something In This Book Is True and Nothing In This Book Is True, But That's Exactly How Things Are. I thought by the titles that there would be some Wilsonian mind-boggles contained in them--but while some of the material was interesting, they didn't have the same insightful, funny tone to them as ol' Uncle Bob's stuff does. It shows you how tough it seems to be to get that balance correct and R.A.W. nailed it every time.
It took some time for R.A.W.'s concepts to penetrate my dogmas and learned behaviours..and they're still filtering in. He helped me wake up from my 'Roman Catholic coma', as I like to call my religious training. I had questioned my family's Republican, conservative slant before I read R.A.W.'s stuff, but his writing gave me courage to really strike out on my own and not be cowed by peer pressure to conform. I probably won't ever grasp all of his ideas--even after finishing all of the exercises in Prometheus Rising and Quantum Psychology. I've started the ones in "Prometheus..", but I'm only up to Chapter 3--you do have to work at these things to find out what is going on. One thing the good Doctor insisted on with his brain-change regimen is you have to actually do the work to get the results. Reading about it just isn't good enough.
Time passed...I changed apartments, jobs & work-mates, even sets of friends...and finally nations. In 2001 (Gregorian), I entered my own version of 'Chapel Perilous' for a short time. Ironically I had started reading 'Finnegans Wake' at that moment. I came out on the other side, with the help of R.A.W. and Terence McKenna's words--and I came out of it more agnostic than ever. It's happened two other times since and once again--I've come out of it agnostic as I possibly could be. As I've said, he didn't just turn me on to the "Wake"--he got me interested in classical music more than anyone. I started listening to Beethoven, Bach and Mozart with a much more open mind than I had previously. I really enjoy Beethoven's 9th Symphony now--just through the power of Wilson's words--and of course, Ludwig van's even more powerful music.
In 2002, the Holy Grail of Wilson material arrived in the form of the Maybe Logic: The Lives And Ideas Of Robert Anton Wilson DVD. It contains 30 years of interviews (short segments, of course--otherwise it would have been a 10-disc set), footage from his stand-up comedy shows/lectures and 'talking head' segments with Douglas Rushkoff, Tom Robbins and Paul Krassner, among others. The version I have contains a bonus disc which has R.A.W. explaining Leary's 8-circuit model corresponding to days of the week and a 1978 cable-access program in which he discusses symbiology in episodes of The Prisoner. There's lots of other stuff, too--but I'll let you check it out, if you decide to get it. The 'icing on the cake', as it were, is a "TSAR" card, included in the DVD case, instructing the bearer to "like what you like, enjoy what you enjoy and don't take crap from anyone". Words to live by, kids. T.S.O.G. - The Thing That Ate The Constitution, railing against George W. Idiot's takeover of the government, overbearing political correctness, X-tian fundies and his worsening illness, was released shortly after.
In the meantime, R.A.W.'s post-polio condition was getting worse with every year. I was hoping he had at least another ten years to live. The "Historical Illuminatus Chronicles" were finally re-published in 2003, so I was able to score the final 'chapter', Nature's God. He had an official website set up, with random thoughts, jokes and poetry--which I visited often. There was a teaser chapter at the end of "T.S.O.G.", about his upcoming project, Tale Of The Tribe, which was expected to be published in 2005. I was pscyhed for it--but the release deadline came and went and the book never appeared. I figured he was editing and revamping it, but instead a book called E-Mail To The Universe was published. It was a collection of essays spanning Wilson's entire career--it was also R.A.W.'s final book. Perhaps "Tale Of The Tribe" will see a posthumous release...I certainly hope so. I think it will be a fitting close to his legacy. In 2006, a DVD of his surreal play, Wilhiem Reich In Hell, came out via Deepleaf Productions (they were responsible for the "Maybe Logic" DVD)--based on R.A.W.'s book of the same name, which was first published in 1986. I still don't own it, but I intend to buy it soon. An audiobook of "The Earth Will Shake" was also out toward the end of the year. His blog appeared in December 2006 and I was glad to see him in the blogosphere.
The year wasn't all kind to Wilson, though, as he had a couple of bad falls over the summer and ended up in hospital for a long time. He was released into hospice care in the autumn, but didn't have enough money to cover the medical costs. An internet appeal went out and he was able to make the bills for a little while and it turned out that's all he needed. I should mention the internet death hoax in 1994, when it went around chat rooms that he had passed away. The man himself joked about it in Cosmic Trigger - Vol. 3: My Life After Death (see, it's even in the title). This time, I'm afraid, it doesn't seem to be a hoax. I've seriously learned more from this man than any male member of my family, any member of my family. You can call me a fanboy dork, but I feel like I sorta knew him from his writing and interviews. His writings have affected me more than any other author's and I am sad to see him go. I only hope he is resting in peace and I hope that if there "is" such a thing as an "afterlife"--I get to sit with him amd Leary and McKenna and thank each for all they taught me, but especially Robert Anton Wilson. 23 Skidoo! Fnord! All Hail Eris! All Hail Discordia!
*In-joke for the Wilson-heads. You have to read "Cosmic Trigger" to 'get' it.
**it's a copy signed by Wilson. It says "To Jeff, Live long and prosper. Robert Anton Wilson". I often thought of playing a Discordian joke by showing someone I didn't know the book and saying that I was 'Jeff' and saying that my actual name is a nickname. Never did it, tho.