Robert Anton Wilson
It is with the greatest sadness that I say that Robert Anton Wilson has died. For those of you who don’t know him, a short bio is below with a death notice from his family below that. For me personally, he was the person most responsible for forming what I believe today. He will be greatly missed.
[b]Robert Anton Wilson or RAW[/b] (January 18, 1932 – January 11, 2007) was an American novelist, essayist, philosopher, psychologist, futurologist, anarchist, and conspiracy theory researcher.
Robert Anton Wilson arrived on this planet on January 18, 1932 – the 28th birthday of fellow acid head Archie Leach – in Methodist Hospital, downtown Brooklyn, New York, to John Joseph (a longshoreman) and Elizabeth (Milli) Wilson. He traces one branch of his family tree back to a Danish pirate named Olav the Black, who seized control of the Isle of Man in the 7th century. He spent his first years in Flatbush, moving with his family to Gerritsen Beach around the age of 4 or 5, where they stayed until he turned 13.
His was one of many “Shanty Irish” families occupying the rolling dunes of the Garrison Beach environs of Long Island, and he recalls the Deep Depression years before World War II as an age in which many middle-aged women had goiter, it was thought that wearing galoshes in the coal-heated house caused deafness, that Roosevelt was a Wicked Jew itching to get the US into another war in order to become even richer, that if you drank milk right after eating pickles you’d die, and that masturbation caused blindness. In this barbaric age people regularly died of tuberculosis, and children contracted dozens of diseases that have since been practically abolished. Wilson himself had measles, German measles, mumps, flu, rheumatic fever, whooping cough, diphtheria, and in 1934 he was diagnosed with polio, which was later cured by the Sister Kenny Method of manipulation. (For RAW this was the first of many incidences in which he obtained results from methods deemed by Authority to be “worthless”, “dangerous”, “unscientific”, “metaphysical claptrap”, “witchcraft”, etc.) By the time Wilson was four it was noted he was a great talker, and one neighbor told his parents they should send him to law school, because he could “‘talk any judge off the bench’, an Irish metaphor I do not quite understand.” (CT2, pg.44) He seems to have had the typical Catholic grade school education: emotional and physical terrorization by sadistic nuns, rote memorization of “facts”, and indoctrination into the Mysteries of the Trinity.
[b]Some Selected Highlights in RAW’s Life, 1932-1950:[/b]
1936: In his backyard saw a Giant Spider the size of an Australian Shepherd dog.
1940: Began a stupendous lifelong reading career with Believe It or Not by Ripley and Amazing Stories.
1946: Became an atheist, largely due to raging hormones, and convinced his parents to let him go to Brooklyn Polytechnic High School, where he might study engineering. His real goal was to get away from the Catholic Reality Tunnel.
1946-1950: At Brooklyn Poly studied mathematics, learned about virtual reality from films and read James T. Farrell, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Sinclair Lewis, and Steinbeck; read Orson Welles’s column in the New York Post and saw his stage production of Around the World in 80 Days; read all of Shakespeare and forbidden “revisionist” historians like Charles Beard, James J. Martin, and Harry Elmer Barnes; found Philip Wylie’s _An Essay on Morals_, which turned him on to Jung; read Keats, Shelley, Blake, Whitman, Yeats, Eliot, and Pound; stumbled onto Heinlein, Sturgeon, and Stapeldon; read “many who now seem totally ‘unimportant’”; discovered Picasso; read Spinoza, Hume, Marx, Veblen, Henry George, Sir James Frazer, H.L. Mencken, and “all sorts of folks like that”. (CT2,pp.107-112) He dates his discovery of James Joyce at around 1947 (age 15). He has been reading Joyce’s works ever since.
In 1949 he was browsing Brooklyn Tech’s library and happened upon Alfred Korzybski’s Science and Sanity. He checked the book out and read it all in one weekend, the first time. Then he returned it to the library and went out and bought a copy, “Because I knew I would have to re-read it several times before I could hope to understand it fully.” (CT2, pg.151) RAW says this massive amount of reading and studying exposed him to folks who had “reality-tunnels very different from Irish Catholicism…I had moved in Virtual Space from the one square mile of Gerrison Beach and its Irish Catholic grid to several square miles of Brooklyn/Manhattan and the world of modern thought and modern art generally.” (CT2, pg.111)
1950-1962: Brief Glimpses:
1950: Experienced a “hallucination” in which he felt like he “became unstuck in time.”
c.1950 – next few years: Graduated from Brooklyn Poly, got a job with an engineering firm specializing in the problem of underground corrosion of pipes. Enrolled at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, majoring in Electrical Engineering. Worked 8 hour days with math-heavy night school for 2 hours four days a week, all the while finding time to imitate Ezra Pound miserably and write stories in the mold of H.P. Lovecraft, none of which were ever published.
He changed his major to Mathematics, mostly because he loved pure math and because he realized his basic temperament was analytical, not practical. Spent time as young white hipster intellectual, listened to be-bop greats in NY nightclubs. Had an affair with a black woman, which taught him about racism in a more-than-intellectual way.
Started smoking pot.
1956: Another “hallucination”, felt a “spontaneous satori of immanent divinity of all things.”
The 50s: After a brief fling as a Trotskyite (he quit because he liked the “wrong” artists and Jung), RAW became interested in Ayn Rand’s philosophy. “Like most Randroids, I went around for a few years mindlessly parroting all the Rand dogma and imagining I was an ‘individualist’.” Many years later RAW met Rand. When he confessed to her his doubts about certain Rand dogmas he was “Cast Out Into the Realm of Darkness forever to wail and gnash my teeth in the Realm of Thud.” Rand made the Trotskyites and Catholic Priests he’d known “look like models of tolerance in comparison.” (CT2, pp.119-120)
After his Randroid days he adopted the philosophies of Bertrand Russell, Mencken, and Nietzsche while imagining himself a “freethinker.” He went from agnostic to dogmatic atheist to Buddhist; from Buddhism he migrated to existentialism, then New Left activism, followed by New Age mysticism. (By 1970 he’d done enough acid to remain permanently agnostic.)
1956: Read Wm. S. Burroughs’ unpublished m.s. of Naked Lunch, and pronounced “This man is the greatest prose stylist since James Joyce.” (CT1, pg.43)
1950s: Underwent at least three different varieties of psychoanalysis in order to deal with conflicts between his old Catholic indoctrination and his newer atheistic hedonism. He finally went to a Reichian therapist, and was cured of chronic sinus headaches and of the underlying fear of having ground glass dumped into his eyes by Satan, something a well-meaning nun had brainwashed into him way back in the early 40s.
c.mid-50s: Quit his engineering job and became a medical orderly (riding in an ambulance), enrolled as an English Education major at NYU.
1956: Was bowled over by a Buckminster Fuller lecture at a seminar on General Semantics.
1956: Gave his first public lecture, on “science, pseudo-science, and science fiction” at the New York Academy of the Sciences, sponsored by the Society for General Semantics. He auditioned for the talk in front of an audience that included Arlen Riley.
1957: Dated a jewish gal named Bobbie, and he thought things were going great when she dumped him. He got drunk and contemplated suicide by jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge.
1957: Wilhem Reich’s books burned.
1957: Alan Watts turns RAW on to zen.
1958: Married Arlen Riley, a former script writer for Orson Welles’s radio show “The Lives of Harry Lime.” Thornley and Hill invent Discordianism.
[b] Faint Outline of the Weird Years, 1962-1976:[/b]
1962: Began a 14 year experiment in “induced brain-change, which Dr. John Lilly more resoundingly calls ‘metaprogramming the human biocomputer’. In simple Basic English, as a psychologist and novelist I set out to find how much rapid reorganiztion was possible in the brain functioning of one normal domesticated primate of average intelligence – the only one on whom I could ethically perform such research – myself.” (CT1, pg. iv) On December 28th, 1961 he began experimenting with psychedelic drugs (at age 29), first using peyote while living with his family in an old slave cabin in the woods outside Yellow Springs, Ohio. He taken a job as Assistant Sales Manager for the Antioch Bookplate Co. [RAW documented his 14 year experiment in his book Cosmic Trigger, vol 1 (1977 New Falcon Publications).] late 1962.
Had logged at least 40 peyote trips. Had seen Mescalito. Alan Watts and his wife Jano visited the Wilsons at the farm. RAW had introduced Alan to Jano a few years earlier. Jano talked about her idea of The Net: a web of coincidence/synchronicity which connects everything with everything.
1962: Moved to Millbrook, Ohio to become editor of The School of Living’s magazine Balanced Living, of which name he changed to Way Out, and convinced Norman Mailer to write a few poems for the first issue. In the School’s library he read most of the classics of anarchist theory.
1964: Arrested in Yellow Springs, Ohio, for engaging in an illegal sit-in at a segregated barber shop. Eventually he was bailed out by an anonymous benefactor. RAW guesses it was one of the rich Quakers in the area. Later he found out the charges had been dropped. Took a job as Associate Editor with New York magazine Fact. Moved the Wilson clan to Northern New Jersey.
1964: Alan Watts alerted RAW to an interesting Harvard professor named Leary. While under assignment form Paul Krassner’s mag The Realist RAW visited the mansion at Millbrook, NY. He and Leary discussed Game Theory, LSD, psychotherapy, and relativity in psychology. RAW returned home and shortly afterward the Wilson family had their first UFO encounter.
1966: Met in person William S. Burroughs and was startled to find “a rather prosaic, almost academic, quite gentlemanly genius.” (CT1, pg.43) Burroughs told RAW about his bizarre synchronicities with the number 23.
1966-71: RAW became Associate Editor at Playboy in Chicago. His main job was editing the letters to “Playboy Forum” and writing the replies (in italics). He began a correspondence with fellow libertarian pacifist-anarchist Kerry Thornley, writing a few articles for Thornley’s New Libertarian.
1968: Smoking pot regularly. Practicing yoga scientifically, “without piety”. Discovering much about “reality” and the nervous system, conditioning, and re-programming. Made much progress in learning Korzybski’s “consciousness of abstracting.” Got tear-gassed at the Democratic Convention with his friend Robert Shea. In a time-out from the Convention’s insanity he took Burroughs and Ginsberg out to lunch; Ginsberg talked about his sad meeting with Pound. Around this time Shea and Wilson begin cooking up The Illuminatus! Trilogy.
[Note: CT 1/2/3 refers to the volumes of the Cosmic Trigger Trilogy]
On June 22, 2006, Huffington Post blogger Paul Krassner reported that Robert A. Wilson was under hospice care at home with friends and family. On 2 October 2006 Douglas Rushkoff reported that Wilson was in severe financial trouble. Slashdot, Boing Boing, and the Church of the Subgenius also picked up on the story, linking to Rushkoff’s appeal. As his webpage reported on 10 October, these efforts succeeded beyond expectation and raised a sum which would have supported him for at least 6 months.
On the 6th of January, 2007, he wrote on his blog that according to several medical authorities, he was likely to have only between two days and two months left to live. He died five days later, a week before his 75th birthday, at 4:50 AM, on Albert Hofmann’s 101st birthday.
[b] Writings[/b]His best-known work, The Illuminatus! Trilogy (1975), co-authored with Robert Shea and advertised as “a fairy tale for paranoids,” humorously examined American paranoia about conspiracies. Much of the odder material derived from letters sent to Playboy magazine while Shea and Wilson worked as editors of the Playboy Forum. The books mixed true information with imaginative fiction to engage the reader in what Wilson called “Operation Mindfuck”; the trilogy also outlined a set of libertarian and anarchist axioms known as Celine’s Laws, concepts Wilson has revisited several times in other writings. Although Shea and Wilson never partnered on such a scale again, Wilson continued to expand upon the themes of the Illuminatus! books throughout his writing career.
In Cosmic Trigger I: Final Secret of the Illuminati (1977) and other works, he examined Discordianism, Sufism, Futurology, Zen Buddhism, Dennis and Terence McKenna, the occult practices of Aleister Crowley and G.I. Gurdjieff, the Illuminati and Freemasons, Yoga, and other esoteric or counterculture philosophies. He advocated Timothy Leary’s eight circuit model of consciousness and neurosomatic/linguistic engineering, which he also wrote about in Prometheus Rising (1983, revised 1997) and Quantum Psychology (1990), books containing practical techniques for breaking free of one’s “reality tunnels”. With Leary, he helped promote the futurist ideas of space migration, intelligence increase, and life extension (SMI2LE).
Wilson also supported many of the utopian theories of Buckminster Fuller and the Fortean theories of Charles Fort (he was a friend of Loren Coleman), as well as those of media theorist Marshall McLuhan and Neuro Linguistic Programming co-founder Richard Bandler, with whom he had taught workshops. He also admired James Joyce, and had written commentary on Finnegans Wake and Ulysses.
Ironically, considering Wilson has long lampooned and criticized new age beliefs, his books can often be found in bookstores specializing in new age material. He has claimed to have perceived encounters with magical “entities,” and when asked whether these entities were “real,” he answered they were “real enough,” although “not as real as the IRS” since they were “easier to get rid of.” He warned against beginners using occult practice, since to rush into such practices and the resulting “energies” they unleash can lead people to go “quite nuts.” Instead, he recommends beginners start with NLP, Zen Buddhism, basic meditation, etc., before progressing to more potentially disturbing activities.
Wilson had a long-standing relationship with the Association for Consciousness Exploration, beginning in 1982. He was the keynote speaker for their center’s open house in 1984, and appeared at many Starwood Festivals. Both Illuminatus! co-author Robert Shea and Wilson’s wife Arlen Riley Wilson have appeared with him at the WinterStar Symposium. They served as his American lecture agency while he lived in Ireland, and hosted his first on-stage dialog with his life-long friend Timothy Leary in 1989 in Cleveland, OH, entitled The Inner Frontier.
In a 2003 interview with High Times magazine, RAW described himself as a “Model Agnostic” which he says “consists of never regarding any model or map of the universe with total 100% belief or total 100% denial. Following Korzybski, I put things in probabilities, not absolutes… My only originality lies in applying this zetetic attitude outside the hardest of the hard sciences, physics, to softer sciences and then to non-sciences like politics, ideology, jury verdicts and, of course, conspiracy theory.” More simply, he claims “not to believe anything,” since “belief is the death of thought.” He has described his approach as “Maybe Logic.” Wilson wrote articles for seminal cyberpunk magazine Mondo 2000.
While he had primarily published material under the name Robert Anton Wilson, he had also used the pen names Mordecai Malignatus, Mordecai the Foul, Reverend Loveshade , and other names associated with the Bavarian Illuminati, which he allegedly revived in the 1960s.
As a member of the Board of Advisors of the Fully Informed Jury Association, he worked to inform the public about jury nullification, the right of jurors to nullify a law they deem unjust.
RAW held the post of American director of the Committee for Surrealist Investigation of Claims of the Normal (CSICON) and had appeared at Disinformation events. He summed up his attitude towards life as one of optimism, cheerfulness, love, and good humor.
Maybe Logic: The Lives and Loves of Robert Anton Wilson, a documentary featuring selections from over twenty-five years of Wilson footage, was released on DVD in North America on May 30, 2006.
Wilson’s writings connect to the madcap satirical fiction of Flann O’Brien in a several ways, including his free use of O’Brien’s character De Selby. The views of De Selby, a would-be obscure intellectual, are the subject of long pseudo-scholarly footnotes in Wilson’s novels as well as O’Brien’s. This is entirely fitting, because O’Brien himself made free use of characters invented by other writers, allegedly because there are already too many fictional characters as is. O’Brien was also known for pulling the reader’s leg by concocting elaborate conspiracy theories, and for publishing under several pen names.
[b] Works by Robert Anton Wilson[/b]
Playboy’s Book of Forbidden Words (1972)
Sex and Drugs: A Journey Beyond Limits (1973)
The Sex Magicians (1973)
The Book of the Breast (1974)
The Illuminatus! Trilogy (1975) (with Robert Shea)
The Eye in the Pyramid
The Golden Apple
Cosmic Trigger I: Final Secret of the Illuminati (1977)
Neuropolitics (1978) (with Timothy Leary and George Koopman)
The Game of Life (1979) (with Timothy Leary)
The Illuminati Papers (1980)
Schrödinger’s Cat trilogy (1980-1981)
The Universe Next Door
The Trick Top Hat
The Homing Pigeon
Masks of the Illuminati (1981)
The Historical Illuminatus Chronicles
The Earth Will Shake (1982)
The Widow’s Son (1985)
Nature’s God (1991)
Right Where You Are Sitting Now (1983)
Prometheus Rising (1983)
The New Inquisition (1986)
Wilhelm Reich in Hell (1987)
Natural Law, or Don’t Put a Rubber on Your Willy (1987)
Neuropolitique (1988) (with Leary & Koopman) [revision of Neuropolitics]
Ishtar Rising (1989) [revision of The Book of the Breast]
Semiotext(e) SF (1989) (editor, with Rudy Rucker and Peter Lamborn Wilson)
Quantum Psychology (1990)
Cosmic Trigger II: Down to Earth (1991)
Reality Is What You Can Get Away With: An Illustrated Screenplay (1992)
Chaos and Beyond (1994) (editor and primary author)
Cosmic Trigger III: My Life After Death (1995)
The Walls Came Tumbling Down (1997)
Everything Is Under Control (1998)
TSOG: The Thing That Ate the Constitution (2002)
Email to the Universe (2005)
Robert Anton Wilson Defies Medical Experts and leaves his body @4:50 AM on binary date 01/11.
All Hail Eris!
On behalf of his children and those who cared for him, deepest love and gratitude for the tremendous support and lovingness bestowed upon us.
(that’s it from Bob’s bedside at his fnord by the sea)
RAW Memorial February 2007
date to be announced