Robert Anton Wilson interview April 1992
Ken Thomas: You are listening to “Off the Beaten Path”, 30 minutes of flashbacks and fallout from the Beat Generation. My name is Ken Thomas, and I’m here with Phil Gunis and tonight, our guest is Robert Anton Wilson, author of theIlluminatus! trilogy, editor/publisher of Trajectories newsletter, whose list of credentials goes down my arm and are much longer than I can name. Thank you for being on the program tonight, Bob.
Robert Anton Wilson: Oh, it’s very nice to be with you.
KT: So, the purpose here is to talk about you new book. Is it going to be published by New Falcon?
RAW: No, the new book is published by Dell Books, who’ve handled most of my fiction for the last ten years or so.
KT: So this new work is fiction.
KT: And it’s called?
RAW: Reality is What You Can Get Away With.
KT: Is this the latest volume in the current Historical Illuminatus series?
RAW: No, this is outside that series. The Historical Illuminatus series is being published by Penguin Books.
KT: I see.
RAW: I’ve got four publishers. It’s complicated, but that’s the way it works out sometimes.
Phil Gunis: So it is a new work – a novel that we can expect plots, sublots, and so forth with?
RAW: Well, it’s a novel in the form of a screenplay which has got as much structure as a Monty Python routine, at least.
KT: I’m always taken aback at how prolific you are. I think I just recieved a copy of Cosmic Trigger II, and for some reason I always think of you in terms of Thomas Pynchon, who writes kind of similar things, but he does one every twenty years, and doesn’t talk to anybody.
RAW: Yeah, somehow he makes a living from it. I don’t know how. I’ve got to keep writing as fast as I can, or I’ll go broke.
KT: Are you still on the lecture circuit?
RAW: Yes, very much so.
PG: And what are your audiences like these days? Are you getting any kind of feedback Post-Reagan that you weren’t getting, say, in the late Seventies?
RAW: I still get largely young audiences. Well, there’s always a scattering of people of all ages, right up to my own age, which is sixty. But still, I attract mostly people around twenty, some under twenty.
KT: That’s interesting. The world has really changed so much since I started reading your books in, I guess, the mid- to late seventies. How do you see your early work, in terms of your present-day environment? Has a lot of what you predicted come true? Do you expect the same kind of things in the future?
RAW: Well, the major thing I predicted was that there wouldn’t be a nuclear war, and that humanity would survive. I feel very – I feel vindicated by recent events on that issue, anyway. I write non-fiction, as well as fiction, and it’s curious that in my fiction, some of the weird things in my fiction have turned out to be true, and I wasn’t even trying to be a prophet. In Schrondinger’s Cat, a science fiction trilogy I did in 1979, I have America being overrun by armies of homeless people, and that was supposed to be crazy satire of the worst that could happen. And now it’s really happened. Sometimes I feel a little bit guilty, like I caused it.
PG: Is that creating reality, or is that some unconscious, indirect channeling or something of something coming through there?
RAW: I don’t like to think I created that reality, maybe I have some gift for free cognition, maybe it’s just a coincidence. I’m sure the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal would know it’s a coincidence. I don’t have that kind of intuitive certainty, so I sometimes wonder if it might be precognition.
KT: So if we were to look for some kind of futuristic vision of the world here that’s going to be accurate, then we want to read your new novel moreso than Cosmic Trigger II, is that what you’re telling us?
RAW: Yes, Reality Is What You Can Get Away With, a new book from Dell, is in the form of a screenplay, which has a sequence of dreams and supernatural events in which the television seems to come alive and take over the house, and it comes from the same level of the unconscious as my other novels, so it probably has just as much insanity and just as much prophecy as my other novels.
PG: Have you ever had any of your other works made into films?
RAW: No, that’s one of the major disappointments of my life – a dozen times I’ve had books optioned, but none of them ever went all the way through to production and release – yet. But, on the other hand, instead of mourning over that, I prefer to contemplate the fact that all my books are still in print – that’s a remarkable record for a writer.
KT: I’ve always thought that a lot of them would be very difficult to make into a movie – at least I did think that until I saw The Naked Lunch. Did you see that film?
RAW: Yes, I liked it a lot. Well, what astounded me was that Kent Campbell in England managed to turn Illuminatus! into a stage play. It ran twelve hours – there were mystery plays of the middle ages that ran that long. He really did it, he turned it into a play, and it was done at the Science Ficiton Theatre in Liverpool, the National Theatre of Great Britain, Cambridge University, and on the Continent in Amsterdam, and Frankfurt.
KT: And you like the way it turned out?
RAW: Oh, yes, I liked it very much. I didn’t think it was possible – I don’t see how you could make that into a movie, but you could make it into a TV miniseries.
KT: A miniseries – that’s what I was thinking…
RAW: If there are any producers listening, I hope their ears perk up at that.
KT: I think it’d make a perfect miniseries, actually. You don’t have any fears that if a TV producer ever tried to do one of your works, that they would turn it into something like The Naked Lunch, which really wasn’t The Naked Lunch, as much as it was biographocal material of Burrough’s and Exterminator, and a few other books.
RAW: Well, I’m not afraid. I know what happens when you get involved with mass media. It would be a fight, but it would be fun, too.
PG: So does the new work in any way parallel Videodrome, to talk about another Cronenberg film – talking about the influence of the TV, and so forth?
RAW: I don’t think it has much in common with Videodrome. It has more in common with the Monty Python gang taking over Cosmos one night. Not Cosmos, Nova, I mean. Nova is the continuing science series, Cosmos was the short one with Carl Sagan.
KT: Nova was the one that did the thing on the Magic Bullet theory, with all the computer graphics that proved that the Magic Bullet therory could work, right?
RAW: Did they?
KT: Yeah, Walter Kronkite…
RAW: That must have been while I was living in Ireland. I lived in Ireland for about six years in the 1980s.
PG: I think that took place on the 25th anniversary, there were some specials, and Nova ran one with Kronkite.
RAW: Did they actually show the bullet turning around eight times in midair. Must have been wonderful! Well, that’s Wilson’s Law of the superiority of politics to science, which holds that if A equals B, and B equals C, then A equals C, except where forbidden by law.
KT: I want to get back to your experiences in Ireland, and why you left, but as long as we’ve gone near the Kennedy assasination, we’ve talked to a number of people recently, like Mark Wayne and Dick Gregory about JFK’s assasination, and Ram Das and I’d like to – first off, I’d like to know if you’ve seen the JFK, Oliver Stone movie, and get your response to that, and also I’d just like to pluck your brain specifically about where you were on November 22?
RAW: Well, I not only saw JFK, I saw the first show on the first day it opened here where I live, in Santa Cruz. I was very curious, I couldn’t wait, and I had to get out and see it right away, before I could read any reviews, so I could make sure I was making up my own mind. And I think it’s the greatest movie since Citizen Kane, fifty years ago. It’s innovative in its film techniques like Citizen Kane, and politically it’s hot as burning coals, just like Citizen Kane, and I liked it a great deal.
PG: Had you read any of the pre-publicity things in Esquire magazine?
RAW: Well, somewhere I picked up that Garrison was the hero, which I felt was kind of goofy, but I can see, dramatically, why Stone picked Garrison. The more responsible conspiracy researchers don’t make interesting stories, they sit and do research, and write books – that’s not cinematic. Garrison took a man into court and had a trial – that is cinematic. So naturally, Garrison was the cinematic hero.
KT: So,you don’t have a very high regard for Garrison’s research?
RAW: No, not at all.
PG: And why, specifically, was that? He wasn’t even near where he should have been with the evidence, or the way that he pursued it? Is that your feeling?
RAW: My feeling was that a lot of his evidence was very slapdash, and he didn’t impress me very much. His evidence didn’t impress me.
KT: Still, what do you think about Stone’s basic premise – that JFK was killed because he was going to get us out of Vietnam?
RAW: Well, it’s possible, but I don’t believe it.
PG: Why do you think it did happen, then?
RAW: There are a dozen alternative theories that are just as plausible. I think the Mafia had a lot of reasons for wanting to get rid of Kennedy, especially their concept of honor. He took a lot of help from them to win Illinois, and then he double-crossed them and started throwing them in jail. That’s the kind of thing they regard as dishonorable and worthy of punishment. And there’s a lot of evidence pointing in that general direction, of the Mafia, but then again there’s evidence pointing in the direction of the CIA, but I’m not at all sure you can distinguish the Mafia and the CIA any more. The two are so intertwined that it’s like one entity rather than two.
PG: Well, that’s exactly what Phil Abage has said, so they’re on the same wavelength, then. Yeah, but the CIA would have been the one organization that could have perpetuated a coverup for twenty-eight years. The Mafia could not have done that, do you think?
RAW: Yes, the Mafia couldn’t have made the alterations in the body between the Parkwin Hospital and the Vetsa Hospital – that had to have come from within the government.
KT: So you buy David Lipton’s theories?
RAW: Yes, yes.
KT: Hmmm. One of our guests was Kerry Thornley, who is a friend of yours. Remember Kerry?
RAW: Oh, how could I forget him? At one point he was convinced that I was his CIA babysitter.
KT: Oh, really, he was?
RAW: He suspected all of his friends at one point or another.
KT: Well, you know that is interesting – this whole charge of you being connected to the CIA, and Tim Leary being connected to the CIA. It comes up time and again. What do you think causes that?
PG: Just random paranoia?
RAW: Well, there are some people on the left who have no concept of what evidence is, or what proof is, very little sense of intellectual honesty, and if they don’t like you, they just call you a CIA agent. In Nazi Germany, they would have called you a Jew.
PG: How did you meet Kerry Thornley, and what exactly was your relationship with him in the last few years? I found him a fascinating person when we talked to him for our interview.
RAW: I met Kerry though a magazine we both wrote for, called The Libertarian Connection, back in the Sixties.
PG: And at that time, did he feel that he was a part of a Nazi breeding experiment?
RAW: Oh, no. That all happened after Garrison accused him of perjury. And then Kerry started trying to figure out what had really happened, and then he decided he had been brainwashed by Naval Intelligence while he was in the Marines, and then, retroactively he worked it backwards to the womb, and he’ll eventually find causes going back to the Garden of Eden, I’m sure.
PG: How did you relate to the different revelations when Kerry would tell you about these things?
RAW: I did not hide my skepticism sufficiently, so he decided that I was one of the conspirators. That’s the trouble dealing with people who are in that mental state. If you don’t believe everything they say, then they immediately promote you to a starring role in the Conspiracy against them.
KT: Yeah, I noticed that this is something that’s happened between the two successors to Mae Brussels.
RAW: Oh yeah, each of them is accusing the other of being a government agent. This happens all the time. The best portrait of it is in The Life of Brian, the Monty Python movie, with all the Palistine Liberation Organizations more engaged in fighting each other than they are in trying to drive out the Romans.
KT: Well yeah, that’s what happens. We interviewed Mark Lane, and Lane was involving E. Howard Hunt and Frank Sturgess in the Kennedy assassination. He actually went through a trial that kept Hunt from being able to sue for libel if you say in print that he was one of the people involved in the assassination. And it seemed pretty straightforward – Mark Lane kind of exposing the CIA. It wasn’t until after we had aired those programs that we had discovered that in fact people had suspicions about Lane being in the CIA, and we were being used by the CIA to put forth his disinformation story.
RAW: Well, this goes back to the Sixties. In the Sixties I was very involved in the peace movement, and more and more people in the peace movement started telling me and telling one another that we were infiltrated by government agents. And after a while, I decided it was true, and we just had to learn to live with it. There wasn’t much we could do about it. No sense in getting hysterical about it. But it turned out that we were – that was the “call and tell” program. Then when the war ended, I got involved in the Timothy Leary defense fund, which was raising money to fight Leary’s case and get him out of prison. Everybody in the Leary defense fund eventually suspected everybody else of working for the Drug Enforcement Administration, and we were all suspected of being government agents, we all suspected one another. People would come around and tell me, “John is a government agent,” and the next day John would come around and tell me Jim was a government agent. I’ve been living in that kind of environment since the late sixties. I just got used to it.
KT: Bob, let me generalize this question about the CIA again. I don’t want to harp on it, but it seems to me that a lot of people are saying that the philosophy that you’ve written on and about, and the philosophy that Tim Leary espouses is all part of a directed campaign to depoliticize youth culture in America.
PG: Was that part of the plan, when LSD was introduced into the culture, do you think, Bob?
RAW: Well, I’m very politically involved, so I don’t see how that can depoliticize anybody else.
PG: I think what Ken may be making reference to is the idea, at least back in the sixties and early seventies, of the image of the “hippy-dippy” stoned-out people just laying out in the grass as opposed to the image of someone who’s as militant as the Black Panthers or the Weathermen, and the difference that psychedelics played with those two groups.
RAW: Well, we survived, and they didn’t. I’m not going to deny being a CIA agent. Hell, the more you deny it, the more people think that there must be some truth in it, like the story about LBJ spreading the rumor that, when he was running for congress, that his opponent was a swinophiliac. You see, you can say it on radio if you say it in Latin. That’s somebody who has an inordinate sexual attraction to pigs, hogs, and other distinguished varieties of swine. And we asked LBJ, “What do you expect to accomplish by all this?” And LBJ says, “At least I’ll make him deny it!” I’m not going to deny every idiot charge that’s laid against me, because that makes it sound like they were taken seriously, and there might be some truth in them.
KT: Okay, good point. We’ll just leave that topic, then, and talk a little bit about the old motto that we ascribe to you – Space Migration, Life Extension, and the Intensification of Intelligence. Are these still three things that concern you, and how do you feel they’ve been developing?
RAW: Well, yeah, I ‘m still very interested in all three of them, and I’m glad more and more people have spent more and more time in space colonies, and more and more people are drinking smart drinks than booze, and that life extension research is moving along very rapidly. I think a lot of other things have to happen first before we’re ready for space migration. I’m more interested in Bucky Fuller’s plan to integrate all of the electrical grids in the world into one grid, which will make electricity cheaper for everybody, and show the governments and corporations of the world that they’ve got more to gain by cooperating than they have by conspiring against one another.
PG: How do you turn that consciousness around, as far as corporate America goes, do you think?
RAW: Well, I agree with Fuller – when you show them something that works, and they see how they can make a profit out of it, you turn them around.
KT: Do you have any interest in the Biosphere project?
RAW: Yeah, I’m very interested in that. I’m interested in the sense that I’d like to know more about it, rather than in investing in it.
KT: Well, we weren’t trying to solicit for it. You don’t think then, that it’s what a lot of people have said – that it’s just a dead end?
RAW: No, we’re going to learn a lot from that experiment, I’m sure. We’ll learn even more when we build a complete ecosphere in outer space, but meanwhile, it’s a very good idea to build one on the Earth.
KT: Well, let’s talk a little bit about what’s going on in space. Are you disappointed, say, in the breakup of the Soviet Union, and of the consequence that it had on their space program, and out own program sort of limping along the way it does?
RAW: No, I think the breakup of the Soviet Union was absolutely wonderful. It put the CIA and that whole segment of our government in a hell of a jam. How can you have an arms race when you’re only racing against yourself? They’ve got to find some substitute for the arms race now and they’re desperately looking for something that won’t involve improving the living conditions of most of us, because if we are allowed to develop the way technology could allow us to develop, then we’d all be billionaires, and they wouldn’t feel superior to us anymore. It’s the sentient primate drive to get higher on the tree than anybody else that governs all ruling classes. I also think the Soviet change began in 1989, with the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and it’s just when Bucky Fuller predicted it would happen in his book Critical Path, published in 1981.
KT: Really? He predicted it to the year?
RAW: Ah, he didn’t say that the Berlin Wall would come down, he said that by 1989, the world would either begin breaking apart and coming together in a new system, or we’d have a nuclear war, one or the other. We did not have a nuclear war – the world started breaking apart and forming into a new system. And Fuller hit it right on the head. He picked the year exactly.
KT: So, you don’t feel then that the space programs of the world are stunted, or not what they should be?
RAW: No, once the dunderheads in Washington begin to realize that there is no more Cold War, once they really understand it fully, I think that if we keep the economy going, they’ll have to invest in space, which is the place where you can get the biggest return on new investment now, and there’s more out there than there is on the surface of the planet, because there’s more out there!
KT: Have you heard anyting about this photograph from the Soviet Mars probe to the Martian moon of Phobos?
KT: This is something that Don Ecker has been publishing in the latest issue of UFO magazine. Apparently, before they lost contact with the probe that they sent to Mars, it took a photograph of a fifteen and a half mile long UFO, and Ecker has published this last photograph from the probe. This is supposedly a topic of conversation between Bush and Gorbachev during their last summit, and supposedly one of the reasons behind SDI research and the whole urge to do a joint Soviet-US Mars mission. That’s not a conspiracy you’re privy to, I take it?
RAW: No, this is the first I’ve heard about it, but it’s fascinating. Fifteen and a half miles long?
KT: Yeah, sure, I’ll send you a copy of the photo.
RAW: I’d love to see it.
KT: Do you keep up with conspiracies? I mean, you’re famous for being a writer of a novel of the greatest conspiracy of history out there. Are you privy to the details of Danny Cassilaro or Robert Maxwell, or any of that?
RAW: I don’t recognize either of those names. I just finished reading Jonathan Manken’s Conspiracies, Coverups, and Crimes, and I’m just starting one called The Illuminati, by Larry Verkit, which is a christian fundamentalist version of … are you there?
RAW: My phone just tilted.
KT: Somebody beeped the word “christian”. 🙂 So you’ve read Manken’s book. What did you think of that?
RAW: I liked it. I thought it did a very good job of covering a lot of different theories rather impartially.
PG: Do you think he dealt pretty fairly with Kerry Thornley, and represented him the way he should have been represented?
RAW: Yes, I think so. He could have made Thornley sound like a raving nut, and he didn’t.
PG: We did an interview with Manken. I found his book to be fascinating also. What was your take, for instance, on his mention of Mark Lane as popping up in suspicious places, and surviving Jonestown, when a few others didn’t. Did you raise an eyebrow at that?
RAW: Well, I had thought of that myself, but I don’t believe it. It’s just a thought that’s crossed my mind. You can think of certain things, and then you realize that you can’t prove them or disprove them, and you just leave them in the “I don’t know” file.
KT: Yeah, we’ve got a pretty thick “I don’t know” file. Let me get back to your stay in Ireland, and your recent return to California. It all came to mind again for me, recently, when Ireland went through this whole thing recently about the girl and the abortion, that they weren’t going to allow her to leave the country to have an abortion. Can I get your impressions of Ireland, and what kind of a culture does that to little girls?
RAW: Well, in the first place, that was obviously a put-up job. I don’t deny that the girl was pregnant, but women leave Ireland every day, and have abortions in England. It’s a well known fact. Every side in the abortion debate in Ireland admits it. The estimates of how many go to England every year vary from three thousand to six thousand. Four thousand seems to be the most popular figure. Nobody knows. There’s no way they can control it. Ireland may be Catholic, but it’s got a lot of common sense, and it’s not totalitarian. So the idea of giving women pregnancy tests before they get on a ferry to Liverpool just won’t float. So nobody knows how many women going to England are pregnant when they leave and not pregnant when they get back. And somebody for some reason decided that this girl should become a test case, and announced that was why they were going to England, so the government tried to stop it, and the Supreme Court realized that it would make everyone look totally idiotic to the rest of Europe. There’s also the economic factor there. If the case goes to the European Supreme Court, Ireland has to obey, or drop out of the EEC. And if they drop out of the EEC, that will cost them millions of dollars every year. So they’d rather not go to the European Supreme Court.
KT: Why did you leave Ireland?
RAW: Well, chiefly, my wife and I missed our children and our friends back here, and the climate. As much as I may like Ireland, the climate gets you down after a while if you’re used to California weather.
PG: Is the spirit of James Joyce still evident over there? Were you aware of that?
RAW: Yes, Ireland is the most literary country in the world. You’ll find fewer Irish scientists than any other nation, but you’ll find more great Irish writers than any other nation. The Irish have the largest vocabulary of any group in the English-speaking world. It’s always been an oral culture. Not in the Linda Lovelace sense, but in the sense of being in love with speech.
PG: Is Van Morrison a popular musician there, in his own land? Are you familiar with his work?
RAW: Yeah, yeah, he’s popular, and U2 was very popular in the neighborhood where I lived before the rest of the world discovered them. They were very popular in Host(?), which is where I lived, which is on a little known hill north of Dublin.
KT: So you were there for six years?
RAW: Yeah, I decided when Ronald Reagan was elected, that I was getting the hell out of this country. But after a while, like I said, you start missing your family and friends, and even with Ronald Reagan here, you’ll come home.
KT: Was California a lot different when you returned?
RAW: No, it was pretty much the same. Fewer cigarette smokers.
PG: Were you living in California when Reagan was governor?
PG: Was that post-Playboy days, or were you not connected with Playboy magazine then, when Reagan was in the governor’s mansion?
RAW: Come to think of it, I wasn’t living here when he was governor. Jerry Brown was in by the time I got here.
KT: You were living in Chicago then? Could you talk a little bit about what your association with the Playboy empire was like, and the general politics? It’s kind of a fascinating publishing empire, isn’t it?
RAW: Well, it’s not that different from any other. I worked for twenty years approximately for various magazines, and Playboy is not that different from any other magazine job. You come in to the office, you work at your – in those days, we used typewriters – we didn’t have computers yet. The glamor is all in the magazine, it’s not in the work being done in the office.
PG: But they were showcasing writers like James Baldwin and Norman Mailer, and even Kerouac at the time?
RAW: Yeah, they printed every major writer. One critic said that they printed the second-rate work of every major writer. There’s a sudden silence. Somebody ask something.
KT: A pregnant pause.
PG: We could talk about the number twenty-three…
KT: This is going to be one of those, “we’re not really on the air right now”, so we’re going to have a little break here. Yeah, this is going to be aired on April 23rd.
RAW: When did we go off the air?
KT: Just now…
KT: Bob, do you remember your time in St. Louis from a few years back?
RAW: Yeah, I was living in Ireland, and I was on a lecture tour in the States, and I went through about twenty cities in about twenty days, and it was all very much like an acid trip. All I remember is that giant McDonald’s arch as I went into the city. I never understood why they put that there – was that where McDonald’s was founded, or what?
KT: It was actually used as a giant tuning fork in a Captain Marvel comic book one time.
RAW: Is that was it was for?
KT: Well, I remember I was escorting you around when you came through St. Louis, and you were talking about the old twenty-three synchronicity. And I said something about the numerological significance of the radio station we were going to, which was in something called the Sevens Building, and you pointed across the street at a skyscraper and on top was a huge twenty-three – it’s street address was twenty-three.
RAW: Yeah, somebody took me out for a pizza after my lecture, and be got number twenty-three. He asked me, “my God, how do you do it?”
PG: Yeah, Ken really introduced me to that concept. What’s happening with that twenty-three? Is that necessarily a benevolent number, or a malevolent number, or just a significant number?
RAW: Well, you have your choice. You can decide for yourself. I haven’t figured it out yet. Most of the time I’m quite convinced that it’s just a neurological set. You start looking for twenty-threes, and you just notice them more than any other number. And then it pops up in such weird contexts that I’m not at all sure that’s the explanation. I like it. I like data that I can’t explain because it keeps me thinking. If I could explain everything, I’d stop thinking. And then I’d either end up in the Vatican or in the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal.
PG: So you keep a big “I don’t know” file as Ken and I also do?
RAW: Oh yes, I have one of the most enormous “I don’t know” files in the Western world. Hey, how’s that for bragging? Mine is bigger than yours!
KT: Let’s take out our “I don’t know” files and weigh them, then we’ll see who’s a real man. Do you have a new volume of the Historical Illuminatus trilogy coming out? I know there’s a fourth one planned.
RAW: Yeah, the fourth one is called The World Turned Upside Down, and when that’ll come out I’m not exactly sure. The next one coming out is the one from Dell, Reality is What You Can Get Away With, which is due out at the end of April. By the way, you mentioned my newsletter, Trajectories? If anybody’s interested in that, it can be ordered from P.O. Box 700305, San Jose, 95170, California.
KT: And this is the Permanent Press, right?
RAW: That’s right, Permanent Press – P.O. Box 700305, San Jose, 95170.
KT: And that is the adress of Robert Anton Wilson’s newsletter, Trajectories. How often does that come out, Bob?
RAW: As often as we can manage it. It’s supposed to come out four times a year. But it doesn’t matter – if you subscribe, you’ll get four issues, whether it takes us a year, or a year and a half – you’ll still get your four issues.
KT: How do you know when it’s time to go to press?
RAW: Whenever I can fit it into my otherwise busy schedule.
KT: I guess the intent of that question was, you’re sort of like a sensor out there – a finger on the pulse of everything that people that are interested in your writing want to read about. So how do you know when you’ve got enough, or how do you know you’re reporting the right stuff, or what?
RAW: Oh, I never know. If you try to make sure you’re right, you’ll never put anything on paper. Somebody asked T.S. Elliot about who was the most important poet in the twentieth century, you or Pound or Yeats, and Elliot said, “it doesn’t profit to think about such questions.” And it absolutely doesn’t. I mean, trying to decide whether your work is good enough to publish, well, that’s up to the publishers to decide. If you believe the good things that people say about you, you become a megalomaniac. If you believe the bad things they say, you become a depressive and stop writing. So you’ve got to ignore all of it – the praise and the denunciation – and just do the work.
PG: I think that Henry Miller knew a couple of characters like that in Paris, didn’t he, Bob? Boris, who was always going to write a novel, but never did? Do you remember that character?
RAW: Oh, he’s in Tropic of Capricorn. That’s funny you should mention Henry Miller. I just drove by the Henry Miller Memorial library a couple of days ago.
PG: Tell us about that…
RAW: There’s nothing to tell. I just drove by it – it was on my way to Epsiland(?).
KT: Were there people sitting around remembering Henry Miller?
PG: Did you go into the library? What did they have in there?
RAW: No, I was just on my way to E..(?), I just drove by. There was a lot of trees – I couldn’t even see the library. In that part of California the trees are so thick, you don’t know what’s behind them. I often suspect characters out of places like Lovecrafts Dunwich and Innsmouth are hidden behind those trees.
KT: While we’re on the topic of historical figures, let’s talk about Wilhelm Reich a bit. I know you wrote a play, Reich in Hell, and I know he’s had an influence on you, or at least he’s somebody who’s ideas you haven’t too fearful – like the rest of the writers of the twentieth century – to talk about. How did you get introduced to Reich’s work?
RAW: When they burned his books.
KT: Really, right when it was happening?
RAW: Yeah, I was quite young then, and I’d never heard his name, until it was in the newspapers that they were burning his books. That got me kind of irritable. I don’t approve of burning books. I was quite shocked that it was happening, and that all the liberals in New York were just ignoring it, who said, “he’s a nut, so it doesn’t matter.” I thought the purpose of the First Amendment was to protect the nuts. Besides, who knows who’s a nut? It takes a hundred years to decide sometimes. So I didn’t approve at all what happened to Reich, and I started making inquiries, and I got to read three or four of his books while they were all still banned. People wouldn’t let me borrow them – I had to sit in their apartments and read the books. I felt like I was living in the days of the Inquisition.
KT: Because it was underground stuff, really.
RAW: Well, there were these books, and people would let you look at them in their house, but they wouldn’t let you take them out of their house. In the Sixties, I was working for Playboy, and I was interviewing all sorts or psychiatrists, psychologists, sexologists, behavioral scientists, and a hell of a lot of them would say, “I agree with Tim Leary,” and then the government threw Tim Leary in jail, and then everybody shut up and nobody agreed with him any more. And I got the feeling, hey, the Inquisition never did end, did it? I finally wrote a book called The New Inquisition, in which I expressed my suspicions on that point.
KT: So you kind of got into Leary the same way you got into Reich, you heard about his incarceration, or no?
RAW: No, I got interested in Leary before he was incarcerated.
KT: So you’re not only interested in the criminal element?
RAW: Oh, no…the thing about Leary being a CIA agent…
KT: Well, that would make him a policeman.
RAW: …the last time we got together, no, not the last time, but a recent time, at NYU there was a group of anonymous and therefore courageous left-wingers handing out a leaflet saying that Leary and I were both CIA agents, and Leary didn’t get a copy of it, so I showed him one, and Leary said, “Jeez, I wish I could find a way to make those bastards pay me all the back pay they owe me!” I feel the same way every time I’m accused of being a CIA agent.
PG: Did you get aquainted with Tim Leary pre-Millbrook days, or post-Millbrook days?
RAW: Well, I read Interpersonal Diagnosis of Personality pre-Millbrook, and I met Leary at Millbrook.
PG: And what are some of your memories of that whole scene at Millbrook at that time?
RAW: Well, I’m sorry to sound like an advocate, but my impression was that Leary was one of the most brilliant people that I’ve ever met. Very much like my impression when I first met Buckminster Fuller, and William Burroughs. The three people who gave me the sensation that I am in the presence of higher intelligence.
PG: And would you elaborate a little bit on why you put William Burroughs in that company? What do you see in Burrough’s writing, or his particular brand of intelligence that you put him in that company?
RAW: Well, it’s the choice of words. I first read Seventeen Episodes From Naked Lunch in a magazine called Big Table, and I felt no writer since James Joyce was able to put words together so efficiently and effectively to create the exact images and emotional overtones that he wanted. And I began to notice that not only was he a great prose poet, but he had a lot of interesting ideas, too.
KT: Have you also had some familiarity with Alfred Korzybski at that point?
RAW: Yes. That’s one thing that Burroughs, Leary, Bucky Fuller and I all have in common – we all have familiarity with Alfred Korzybski and General Semantics.
KT: Could you give us a couple sentences that explain Korzybski for our listeners?
RAW: Oh, that’s a hard one.
KT: I know. And then the history of the world after that, in ten minutes.
RAW: Korzybski was an engineer and mathematician who, in World War I was so horrified with what the human race was doing to itself – he didn’t even have to wait for WWII, he saw it in WWI – he decided to apply scientific method to understanding human behavior, and tried to develop a system which would teach people to be less in insane. This system he called Human Engineering, and then he discovered someone else was using that word, so he changed the name a couple of times, and he finally ended up calling it General Semantics. Semantics because it deals with evaluations, and General because it’s not just limited to the study of words, it deals with how words affect the nervous system. He coined the word “neurolinguistics”, which is very popular nowadays. His main emphasis was on how words hypnotise us, and how we can learn to wake from the hypnosis that’s created by words. Well, that’s it – that theme in Burroughs, “rub out the word”, “the word is virus”, all that comes from Korzybski.
PG: And you don’t think in any way that perhaps Burroughs has centered more on the aspects of control with language rather than liberation?
RAW: Oh, yes, Burroughs has stressed the dangers of language, even more than Korzybski and he hasn’t said as much as Korzybski did on how we can use language to liberate ourselves from the control of language. There is a difference there, definitely.
KT: Do you maintain contacts with men like Burroughs and Leary – well, I know you talk to Leary all the time, it seems like – but what about Burroughs and Ginsberg and those kind of writers?
RAW: I’ve met Burroughs a few times. I wish I had met him more often.
KT: I’d like to get back to your relationship with Tim Leary. You actually got into pre-LSD Leary. It sounds like you read the Interpersonal Diagnosis of Personality, which is all of his scientific work, trying to understand personality, and got off on that.
RAW: Yes, well I thought that was the first really mathematical and visualizable, topological map of how people relate to each other that really did have the precision of science, and really could be used to make predictions.
KT: And when did you first meet Leary, himself?
RAW: In, 1964, in Millbrook.
PG: Keeping in mind this scientific approach to analyzing or predicting human behavior, and again to tie in here with what went on in Millbrook and your experiences there, do you think Richard Albert, Baba Ram Dass, has totally missed the boat, or do you think that some of what he does and says makes sense as far as personal application to modern life?
RAW: Well, that’s like, “the armadillo missed the boat, should we all be elephants?” Really, Ram Dass is the on the right trip for Ram Dass. If you ever investigate how much charitable work he’s doing to help people who are suffering, it’s absolutely staggering. How can anybody say that’s the wrong thing to do? It’s the right thing for him. I think that anybody who goes through the psychedelic or yogic experience comes out different, and evolution always produces differences – the spotted owl, and the goose, and the mosquito, and the shark, and the Congress of the United States, and some of them I find ugly, and some of them I find attractive, but they’re all part of the evolutionary process. I wish that there were less of them that looked like the Congress, and that more of them had the beauty of sharks or hummingbirds.
KT: As long as we’re on the topic of Congress, or we’ve moved there, can I get your impressions on the current presidential race?
RAW: Well, you know there’s selective nouns for birds – there’s a parliament of owls, and a exultation of hawks. The word for turkeys is a congress of turkeys, and that’s exactly what we’ve got in Washington.
KT: How true, how true.
RAW: There’s one character down there – I was listening to a talk show on the radio yesterday – who wrote over $400,000 worth of bad checks in his Congressional career. They not only can’t balance the national budget, they can’t balance their own budget. The amazing thing is, these people were ordinary human beings, just like you and me before they went into politics, and moved to whatever planet it is that they live on now. Which has no contact at all with reality or financial responsibility, obviously.
KT: Do you favor any particular candidate in this race this year?
RAW: Wile E. Coyote.
KT: Wile E. Coyote! Beep-beep! Listen, we’re going to have to wind this up – I think we’ve taken an hour of your time. I think we’ll have plenty to be able to put otgether a program on. Um, are there any last thoughts? Anything you want to communicate to our listeners?
RAW: Yeah, a phrase from William Butler Yeats, a great Irish poet. “A statesman is an easy man, he tells his lies by rote. A journalist invents his lies, and rams them down your throat. So stay at home and drink your beer and let the neighbors vote.
KT: (laughs) Thank you. This has been “Off the Beaten Path”, and you’ve been listening to Robert Anton Wilson, author of Reality is What You Can Get Away With, and publisher of Trajectories newsletter and the author of the famousIlluminatus! trilogy. And with that, we’re going to power down…