The Robert Anton Wilson series continues.
Raw Feed (1992): The Widow’s Son: Volume 2 of the Historical Illuminatus Chronicles, Robert Anton Wilson, 1985.
As I recall, when this series (at least the first two books) was published by Bluejay books, it was put out one book right after another. I wonder if this second book was written right after The Earth Will Shake but later revised to include all the footnoted references to books from 1983 and 1984 involving, amongst other things, violent Italian Freemasons and Vatican banking scandals. These facts are the best part of the book, particularly the fictitious philosopher and Wilson alter ego de Selby. De Selby, that strange philosopher of plenumary time (the belief that every nanosecond is the result of all the other nanoseconds before and after — obvious influenced by Wilson study of the implications of Bell’s Theorem in quantum mechanics), constantly bothered by mysterious rappings as he tries to build a time machine (De Selby seems to appear to Sigismundo Celine when he’s imprisoned in the Bastille), an unrequited lover of a lesbian, and a purveyor of strange whimsical statements like all reported sensations (be they ghosts, UFOS, whatever) are real (“patapsychology” that argues that perceptions show reality — objects do really shrink at a distance for instance), that all aesthetic statements (however contradictory) are true descriptors of the speaker’s neurological system, and that King Kong, the Holy Ghost, and photons are all real because the human mind has encountered and endured them — the rest of reality is created by gossip.
De Selby is attacked by critics (one who maintains he is a composite character created by Schrodinger, Einstein, and Groucho Marx amongst others). One critic may even be de Selby under a pen name. And there is the mysterious Dr. Hankopf (with ties to the Knights of Malta and CIA) who, out of Heidelberg, conducts murders and slurs against De Selby and his supporters and, just before his death, seems to have uncovered an even vaster conspiracy. Wilson does a delightful job playing with your mind.
The novel is also full of occult conspiracy lore. The widow’s son (part of Freemason lore and initiation — “Will no one help the poor widow’s son?”) may be Christ (who, following the lead of Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln, we learn did not die on the cross and went to France with his wife where he sired the line of Merovingian kings), Parcifal, or Hiram of the Bible. The legend that the Merovingian kings were half-fish from the sea (explained as occult symbolism for the descending from Christ — the fish in Greek). The mysterious Templar excavations of the Temple of Jerusalem and their struggle with the Kings of Malta who set up their destruction. (And the interesting sidebar that Bill Casey, member of the Order of the Knights of Malta, was a double agent in a Vatican-CIA conspiracy.) The origin of the Rosicrucian saying of the rose blooming only on the cross (it’s a metaphor for sexual imagery — sex gets a lot of attention here as a gateway to higher states of consciousness). The Jesuit part in Freemasonry.
There’s a lot of interesting historical stuff too: that Paris was incredibly filthy, that the Bastille was actually a pretty good prison by the standards of the day, French secret police for the Bourbons, the abominable state of English-Irish relations. The plot itself is more dramatization of philosophy — ontological and political. Lots of references to Hume. The characters of Edmund Burke and Voltaire (seen off stage) provide political commentary as does stonecutter Luigi Duccio who delves into the idea of impersonal historical forces driving history — not great men though he is a friend to Robespierre and tells us little of his younger days. Sir Babcok’s experiences as a bisexual and expounder of meteorites as real (Wilson uses this well-known fact to show science can be blind to very real phenomena — science as dogma) and Celine’s brush with the Dominicans and Seamus Moon’s interrogation by British troops thematically show Wilson’s contentions that all authoritarian defenders of the status quo — political, religious, moral, scientific — use the same techniques of repression just as mystical and religious groups use similar paths to invoke altered mental states of illumination. Cagliostro — Celine’s half brother — is engaged in provoking revolution throughout Europe for undisclosed reasons. Frankenstein tires to recruit Celine into a conspiracy to bring a world government of benevolent Masons. It was kind of disappointing to see the book sink, in the end, to pure relativism — man as the source of all values and aesthetic judgements (the latter may be true but it’s probably hardwired into our biology to seek for answers outside ourselves), repression and laws producing sin. Celine seems to, as our enlightened hero, decide Aleister Crowley’s “Do what thou wilt” is truth. I hope it’s only a stage to a different, more fulfilling philosophical truth that will come out of the concluding segments of the series.
Still, you don’t read Wilson for moral insights but to be mentally and morally challenged, to have Wilson screw up your mind’s notions of reality, to think, and, of course, have incredible amounts of conspiratorial/occult lore dumped on you.