Masks of the Illuminati

I’m still working on some new reviews, so I thought I’d start another series of Raw Feeds.

I’m going a long way back on this one — to 1987, and the very first book I decided, mostly as a memory refresher, to write up notes on.

For some reason, Robert Anton Wilson came to mind as needing a series.

I read his Illuminatus Trilogy, co-authored with Robert Shea, but made no notes on it.

Wilson was an interesting figure and acclaimed in various circles including the Boomer counterculture, libertarians, science fiction, occult circles, and gaming since the Illuminatus Trilogy inspired Steve Jackson Games Illuminati game. His wiki page seems accurate given what I’ve read of him.

Wilson, a bit like a modern Charles Fort, preached a sort of “agnosticism about everything”.

Raw Feed (1987): Masks of the Illuminati, Robert Anton Wilson, 1981.masks-of-the-illuminati

Once again Wilson shows amazing erudition of occult/philosophical/conspiratorial/religious quantum matters. As he said, he structured this book like a detective novel.  I’m not sure I liked the final hallucinatory, Joyce-style ending, but it provided final (though there is really no such thing as finality given the philosophy of the book) illumination for Einstein, Joyce and their work. The comparison of Joyce’s writing, relativity theory, and occult systems was interesting.

The book’s main characters are Albert Einstein, James Joyce, and Allister Crowley.

I liked Crowley though I wondered, especially given Crowley’s deceptions in the plot, how much of the biographical detail was real. [I’ve heard from a student of Crowley and various occult and religious systems that Wilson’s depiction of Crowley is probably the most accurate of any novelist.] Crowley here is a villain/trickster rather than hero/adept/trickster.

Wilson delves into the allegories of procreation and sex (union, born again, etc) found in many religions. Wilson even managed to illuminate the Cabbala and Gnosticism.

Wilson is interesting because of his knowledge. His wit, very funny at times, leads him to make jokes and bald lies obvious (at least to a Lovecraft fan) to the reader.

There is a vague relation, via the character of Hogbard Celine, to the Illuminatus Trilogy, but is more in the way of in-joke than real connection. There are also many interesting side trips into literature and folklore.

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

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