Robert Anton Wilson, 1932–2007


There are few people who really change your life but Robert Anton Wilson—who died earlier today—certainly changed mine. Wilson’s Illuminatus! trilogy (written with Robert Shea) was my cult book when I was at school in the 1970s, a rambling, science fiction-inflected conspiracy thriller that opened the doors in my teenaged brain to (among other things) psychedelic drugs, HP Lovecraft, James Joyce, William Burroughs and Aleister Crowley as well as being a crash-course in enlightened anarchism. I’ve had people criticise the books to me since for their ransacking of popular culture but this was partly the point, they were collage works, and they worked as a perfect introduction for a young audience to worlds outside the usual circumscribed genres.

The philosophical side of Wilson’s work was probably the most important at the time (and remains so now), his “transcendental agnosticism” made me start to question the adults around me who were trying to force my life to go in a direction I wasn’t interested in at all. I’m sure I would have resisted that kind of pressure anyway but the value of RAW’s writings in Illuminatus! and the later Cosmic Trigger came with being given an intelligent rationale for those decisions; I couldn’t necessarily articulate why I was “throwing my life away” by wanting to drop out of the whole education system but Wilson’s work had convinced me it was the right thing to do. I still mark the true beginning of my life as May 1979, the month I left school for good.

He wouldn’t want us to be maudlin, I’m sure. It’s typical for a writer who spent so much of his life writing about drugs and coincidences that he managed to die on Albert Hofmann’s birthday. So I’ll just say thank you Robert, for changing my life. And Hail Eris!

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Absolute Elsewhere

6 thoughts on “Robert Anton Wilson, 1932–2007”

  1. Yes, I read the Schrödinger books as well, very funny and clever throughout. Always appreciated him making Simon Moon from Illuminatus! gay in one of the alternate universes.

    The covers I like best are probably the original Illuminatus! UK pb covers for purely nostalgic reasons. Oddly enough they have the same lettering and borders as the US ones but different pictures in each which creates a curious dissonance when looking at them.

    There’s a nice page about Ken Campbell’s epic Illuminatus! play here:

    First time I’ve seen pictures from it. David Rappaport (later in Time Bandits) played Markoff Cheney; I wish I could have seen it.

  2. RAW blew a lot of young minds, planting memes that will continue to fructify for decades. Seemed ECCO worked overtime for his passing, from the recent discovery of Eris, to Hoffman’s birthday. RIPRAW

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