January 11, 2007

RIP R.A.W.: Robert Anton Wilson 1932-2007

Hatched by Dafydd

I just got word that Robert Anton Wilson has left his body to head... who knows where? (Maybe like his close friend Timothy Leary, he's merely on the outside looking in.)

This is personally very sad for me. I was always a huge fan; and when I lived in Santa Cruz, I attended three or four of his multi-day workshops on -- well, on the world in the RAW. (I also took a couple of workshops from Timothy Leary, who at the time was very closely involved with Wilson on a number of software projects. I share Leary's birthday.)

Wilson coined the phrase "politically non-Euclidean," which I have used ever since; his politics was an eclectic mix of Left and Right, independent, and Karmic... he inevitably took the most optimistic and exciting way of looking at a problem, no matter what the provenance.

While I was at UC Santa Cruz (1980 to 1985), my friend Ron Record and I formed the Student SMI²LE Society, or S³, which was a student organization organized to promote the Timothy Leary/Robert Anton Wilson program of "Space Migration, Intelligence Increase, and Life Extension" (and, to be bluntly honest, to get school money to throw cocktail parties for authors and others we liked).

As part of that club, we brought Wilson to lecture several times at UCSC (we also brought the Tim Leary/G. Gordon Liddy debate series to campus), and we co-sponsored at least two of Wilson's workshops.

My fine, feathered friend Brad Linaweaver was closer to the man personally, though not as conversant with his fiction and alleged nonfiction... though Brad was personally closer to Bob Shea than Bob Wilson.

I believe both Bobs were associate editors at Playboy -- editors of the letters page, as I recall -- when they got the idea for the Illuminatus! trilogy; all those letters quoted in the beginning of the book about weird happenings are actually real... real in the sense that they were actual letters published in Playboy; not necessarily real in the sense that what they described actually happened. (In fact, I know at least two were written by Wilson and Shea themselves, and probably many more.)

While the Illuminatus! trilogy (the exclamation mark is part of the title, I think) was the best known of Wilson's work, and certainly his best-selling fiction, I thought his Schrödinger's Cat series was more mature and interesting. But to my taste, his literary works hit their zenith in Masks of the Illuminati, a detective novel in which Albert Einstein teams up with James Joyce to solve a bizarre series of crimes.

Wilson also wrote a lot of utterly fascinating and absorbing "nonfiction" (I use qualifiers because I'm still rather skeptical about some of it). His first was a book for Playboy Press, Playboy's Book of Forbidden Words (1972, but I've never even seen a copy of it). His next three were also for Playboy Press: the Sex Magicians (1973, ditto), Sex and Drugs (1973, re-released in 1987), and the Book of the Breast (1974, revised and re-released in 1989 as Ishtar Rising).

But his first post-Illuminatus! nonfiction work was probably his most widely read nonfiction: Cosmic Trigger, now called Cosmic Trigger I (1977). He introduced Leary's 8-circuit map of human consciousness, discussed all the themes that would permeate his later work (space colonization, intelligence increase, life extension, psychedelic drugs, James Joyce, and skepticism raised to such a high peak that he was even skeptical of skepticism itself).

And Wilson also discussed the most horrible thing that ever happened in his life: when his youngest daughter, 15 year old (Patricia) Luna Wilson, was beaten to death in a robbery at the store where she worked. Wilson and his wife Arlen had Luna's brain cryonically preserved. (They have two other children, Graham, and Luna's older sister, Karuna.)

Of his nonfiction, the book I found most fascinating was the New Inquisition, 1986 (probably And/Or Press, but I'm not sure).

Wilson considered himself a Joyce scholar; having never been able to get through either Ulysses or Finnegans Wake myself, I cannot possibly comment. But he also considered himself a great student of physics and mathematics, and there I have to say he really didn't understand all that much about either.

He was a great student of the works of British poet, magician, metaphysician, occultist, loony, and mountain climber Aleister Crowley, and it was through Wilson that I became interested in Crowley myself, reading a dozen or so of his books, plus four biographies of the man. Crowley was once called "the wickedest man in Christendom," and was villified not just while he lived but even decades and decades after his death. I'm grateful to Wilson for giving us a portrait of the man that is simultaneously sympathetic -- and skeptical.

But none of that matters; until the last decade of his life, Wilson was the most optimistic, exuberant, and neophillic person I've ever met, with the except of his mentor, Timothy Leary himself.

He had detereorated markedly the last time I saw him: he was in a wheelchair and looked much older than his 73 years. At one point, he dropped a lit cigarette in his lap and could not even fish it out himself (he had an attendant). Decades of booze and tobacco were probably what did him in.

But he left a wonderful legacy of literary achievement, even if he was never really recognized by the science-fiction community. I'll miss him; but I've been missing him for five or six years now, and at least now he can get on with the next stage of existence, whatever that may be.

It is altogether fitting that Robert Anton Wilson died on the 101st birthday of Albert Hoffmann, the Swiss scientist who invented Lysergic acid diethylamide-25... more commonly known as LSD.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, January 11, 2007, at the time of 7:00 PM

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The following hissed in response by: nk

"I'll miss him; but I've been missing him for five or six years now ..."
I know exactly what you mean.

On a lighter note, I have read Aleister Crowley and taken LSD. I regret doing both but, choosing between the two, the LSD was better.

The above hissed in response by: nk [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 11, 2007 8:16 PM

The following hissed in response by: mw

My feeble contribution to the RAW distortion in the reality field with 23 more "23's" in a tribute here.

The above hissed in response by: mw [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 16, 2007 5:49 PM

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