Saturday, October 07, 2006

Robert Anton Wilson nears the end of his life

Robert Anton Wilson, co-author of the Illuminatus! trilogy (which was the inspiration for my domain name and computer naming scheme on my home network), is now bedridden and under 24-hour care. Some fans on the Internet have helped him raise funds for his continuing care, and you can buy a Robert Anton Wilson T-shirt to help out.

UPDATE (January 11, 2007): Robert Anton Wilson died this morning at 4:50 a.m., PST.

Jesse Walker reports on his final blog post, and Brian Doherty offers some interesting reflections.

Though my only published writing about Robert Anton Wilson was rather critical, I greatly enjoyed and own most of his published work.

UPDATE (January 12, 2007): And there's more from Nick Gillespie here.


Geoff said...

As a fan of Robert Anton Wilson and particularly of The New Inquisition, I greatly enjoyed and appreciated your critical review of this book. I don't have time to look up all the sources he cites, so I'm happy someone has made an effort.

I enjoyed The New Inquisition not for its criticism of CSICOP, but for Wilson's brilliant synthesis of modern insights into epistemology, and his suggestions about how to 'internalize' the lessons of epistemology and apply them to our everyday thinking (a point usually untouched by academic philosophy).

When evaluating a work like The New Inquisition, it is important to keep in mind that Wilson's goal is not to urge the reader to embrace a belief system so much as to use "guerilla ontology" to attack our tendency to cling to belief systems, to engage the reader in what he called "operation mindfuck."

In The Illuminati Papers, Wilson defines guerilla ontology as:

"The basic technique of all my books. Ontology is the study of being; the guerilla approach is to so mix the elements of each book that the reader must decide on each page 'How much of this is real and how much is a put-on?'"

In light of Wilson's own description of his method, it's fair to ask how much of TNI should be dismissed as sloppy scholarship and how much can be accounted for as Wilson intentionally pulling the reader's leg. One of his persistent mottoes was "Think for yourself, schmuck!" and Wilson was keenly aware that anyone who accepts what he says at face value is not thinking for themselves.

Jim Lippard said...


Thanks for the comment.

Something that I found after writing that review was that almost all of the sloppy scholarship I referred to actually came from Charles Fort--Wilson was simply re-reporting items straight out of Fort's books. My guess is that he didn't look them up for himself.

I think Wilson was a big picture thinker who didn't didn't get bogged down in (or take the time to delve into) the details.

Although from his writing I thought Wilson would have an excellent sense of humor and would not take my review personally, when I interacted with him in Saucer Smear he came across to me as very defensive and unable to admit that he might be wrong--which strikes me as completely inconsistent with his published views.

Geoff said...

Jim, thanks for the further info about Wilson getting is misinformation from Fort.

I agree that Wilson was a big-picture thinker, and that's part of his appeal, at least for me.

It's too bad he didn't have more of a sense of humor about your criticisms. He struck me as overly paranoid about organized skepticism (in his vocabulary we might say it activated his emotional-territorial programs) and he may have seen you as a representative of that group. Maybe he was embarrassed because he had been duped by Fort, or maybe he was just having a bad day. It would certainly be nice if we could all be at our best all the time.

Model agnosticism is a great way to look at epistemology, but psychologically speaking, quite difficult to stick to in daily life.