So now then, after the last post became a general hurrah for Robert Anton Wilson (no bad thing necessarily) I’ve finally got round to writing about his links with comic books. Only that hasn’t been as simple as it seemed either. Fortunately it seems to have resulted in an interesting little bit of cultural archaeology.
Some context: I’ve written briefly about Wilson and his cohorts as ‘scientist-shamans’ and how that ties into a vision of the posthuman I call the Cosmic Body, and how we can also discern the Cosmic Body in superhero comics. One of the questions I was asked when I delivered my paper on this (available here) was how much the depictions of cosmic superheroes like Dr Strange and Adam Warlock in early seventies Marvel comics constituted a way of ‘piggy-backing’ on the subversive cachet of the comix underground, which of course prided itself on its open depictions of drug use, sex and violence in a way that the Comics Code would never allow for superhero comics.
Underground comix are not my specialty by any means. Other than the usual suspects like Crumb and Spiegelman and British variants like Viz, and a broad-strokes idea of the movement and its relationship with mainstream comics, its not a history that I’m wholly familiar with.
What does this have to do with Wilson? In thinking and reading and googling this post I was surprised to find very little interest in RAW”s work and comics. Moore and Morrison have certainly both name-dropped him (and Moore delivered a poetic eulogy for him at an event in 2007-video included at the end of this post), but I couldn’t turn up anything specific in terms of direct referencing. (For instance, I wonder if Alan Moore enjoyed the idea that ‘V’ was also the Roman numeral for 5, a number to which a great deal of significance is attached in RAW’s work and Discordianism, of which RAW was a pope of course.
Lest we forget the importance of the Law of Fives, a verse from the Principia Discordia:
The Law of Fives is one of the oldest Erisian Mysterees. It was first revealed to Good Lord Omar and is one of the great contributions to come from The Hidden Temple of The Happy Jesus.
POEE subscribes to the Law of Fives of Omar’s sect. And POEE also recognizes the holy 23 (2+3=5) that is incorporated by Episkopos Dr. Mordecai Malignatus, KNS, into his Discordian sect, The Ancient Illuminated Seers of Bavaria.
The Law of Fives states simply that: ALL THINGS HAPPEN IN FIVES, OR ARE DIVISIBLE BY OR ARE MULTIPLES OF FIVE, OR ARE SOMEHOW DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY APPROPRIATE TO 5.
The Law of Fives is never wrong.
In the Erisian Archives is an old memo from Omar to Mal-2: “I find the Law of Fives to be more and more manifest the harder I look.”
Please do not use this document as toilet tissue
But back to comic books. Fnord.
RAW’s influence on Moore and Morrison appears to be taken for granted. The Dinsiformation guide to The Invisibles Anarchy for the Masses lists a handful of direct and indirect references, from the frequent appearances by numbers 23 and 5 and a model of identity, the self as Memeplex that draws on RAW’s Quantum Psychology (click title for excerpts). Morrison is also on record as having been inspired by RAW’s work in his magical practices (which are inter-changable with his work, especially in the case of The Invisibles hyper-sigil). At the Disinfo Con in 2000 (Transcript here or video here) Morrison began is talk by stating that
I tell you when I was a kid I read Robert Anton Wilson and all this shit and here we are, we’re standing here, talking about this shit and it’s real! OK, I’m pissed…The deal is this: I’ve been writing this comic for the last six years and the weird thing is, like you, like everyone here, we’re trying to figure, what’s going on? Why do we feel different? Why don’t we fit into this world? Why do we think they’re not telling us the truth? So, I went out and I read Robert Anton Wilson’s books when I was 20 years old, which is 20 years ago now, and I figure, is this guy bullshitting me? He says we can talk to aliens, we can talk to people from Sirius, is he talking crap? He saidAleister Crowley’s got methods for contacting alien intelligences and for changing the world, is he talking crap? So I did it and, no, he’s not talking crap!
Right, and we can all do it! And this is, urr, by way of trying to demolish the counter-culture and replace it with something useful. We’re just gonna start here and see where we get to.
Actually, he didn’t quite start like that. e starts with a big loud scream. But that’s by the by. I’m also sure I read or saw an interview were Morrison said something along the line of the Invisibles being his attempt to create an Illuminatus! style ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ anarchic, psychedelic, occult conspiracy, comedy-sci-fi-horror-thriller. If anyone knows the quote I’m talking about it then get in touch with a link! And similarly if anyone has any info on Moore and RAW (aside from the video below) then I would love to hear it.
At any rate, there clearly seems to be a genealogical link between RAW and the two Mister ‘M’s. (M and M?) Aside from the shared interest in magic and quantum physics the three authors also share a pronounced and explicit sympathy towards Anarchism. As Nick James points out in his excellent essay “Opting for Ontological Terrorism: Freedom and Control in Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles“, popular fiction, “…almost invariably portrays the corrupt legal official as an aberration; the individual official is evil but the notion of government is itself unchallenged”. Anarchist fiction, by contrast, “seeks to subvert and undermine our assumption of government’s necessity”. James points out that Anarchist notions can be found in literary works ranging from Thoreau and Henry Miller through writers like Iain M Banks, Ursula K Le Guin, Michael Moorcock and, of course, Robert Anton Wilson.
But what the tree authors also share is a focus on what James calls ‘ontological terrorism’. Unlike traditional, or a more simply political anarchism, ontological anarchism would involve not attempting to abolish or overthrow authority through direct confrontation
but rather to awaken oneself and others to the realization that we use language itself as well as our own thoughts, beliefs and assumptions to create the illusory dualisms which become the source of all control and restriction. ‘Ontology’ is the study of being; ‘ontological terrorism’ is therefore an attack upon assumptions about the nature of being.
James goes on to write that:
This ontological terrorism is similar to contemporary anarchist Hakim Bey’s ‘ontological anarchism’. According to Bey, ontological anarchism is the practice of resistance against everything which and everyone who proclaims ‘the nature of things is such-and-such.’ Bey argues that since nothing can be stated with any real certainty as to the true nature of things, all claims to truth are in fact attempts to exercise authority and control. He also claims that although reality cannot be defined, one can best understand it metaphorically as ‘chaos’. In other words, the world is already in a state of anarchy and it is a delusion to think otherwise.
According to Bey’s ontological anarchism, reality is already fundamentally and unavoidably chaotic, all ontological claims are spurious except the claim of chaos, and governance of any sort is already and always impossible.
RAW meanwhile frequesntly referred to himself as being engaged in a form of ‘geurrilla ontology’, defined by Wilson as, “The basic technique of all my books. Ontology is the study of being; the guerrilla 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 a 1980 High Times interview with Micheal Hollingshead, (The ‘man who turned on the world‘ and a pretty interesting character in his own right), RAW elaborates on the idea in a manner which ought to be familiar to anyone who knows Moore and Morrison’s work:
High Times: The book that followed, Cosmic Trigger, was that also in the psychedelic mode?
Wilson: Well, I regard it more as “guerrilla ontology.” The reader is challenged to decide what’s real and what’s fantasy. My books are the literary equivalent of magical initiation. That’s the sort of thing you face when you get involved in consciousness games.
High Times: In other words, your books are intended to turn readers on?
Wilson: Yes. They’re intended to provide the literary equivalent of LSD or of magical initiation. I want the reader to ask the hardest question in philosophy: What’s real? Most people think they know what’s real, but they don’t at all.
High Times: Really?
Wilson: People just know what they were conditioned to think of as real.
As I’ve written about elsewhere (like here!) Moore and Morrison appear to be actively engaged in a blurring of the distinction between the ‘reality’ of the reader and the ‘fictional reality’ of the comic book page.
These are early thoughts of course. That was about as far as I got for now in terms of linking Wilson and comic books. He’s there for sure, but typically, not in any way that can be pinned down. Any further references and ideas would be more than welcome. However, as I said at the beginning of this post, in researching the topic it occured that perhaps RAW’s work would be more at home in the underground comix scene. Part 3 explores this area further. This post, however, ends with Alan Moore’s poetic tribute from the RAW Memorial Night from March 2007:
See you in part 3!