Ewige Blumenkraft


It’s that occult symbol again…

And it was suddenly all weird and super-freaky, like Godard shooting a Kafka scene: two dead Russians debating with each other, long after they were dead and buried, out of the mouths of a pair of Chicago Irish radicals. The young frontal-lobe-type anarchists in the city were in their first surrealist revival just then and I had been reading some of their stuff and it clicked.

“You’re both wrong,” I said. “Freedom won’t come through Love, and it won’t come through Force. It will come through the Imagination.” I put in all the capital letters and I was so stoned that they got contact-high and heard them, too. Their mouths dropped open and I felt like William Blake telling Tom Paine where it was really at. A Knight of Magic waving my wand and dispersing the shadows of Maya.

Adding to my suspicion that my footsteps are being dogged just now by the Chicago Surrealist Group, that there is a quote from the second chapter of Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus! trilogy. The passage occurs in a lengthy reminiscence by hippy-anarchist Simon Moon in which he remembers the continual arguments of his Chicago-anarchist parents. Having mentioned Illuminatus! in a couple of recent posts I decided to read it again, in part to see what might be thrown up by the very long hiatus since my last encounter. I read the novel rather obsessively from the age of 15 to 17—three times in all, I think—then set it aside while I followed Robert Anton Wilson into his other novels and non-fiction books. Simon Moon doesn’t mention the Chicago group by name—and the Rosemonts and their friends were more Marxists than anarchists—but, ya know… RAW enjoyed his coincidences (or synchronicities, or whatever) so I’ll take this as acausally significant. Will there be more? It’s a big novel so I don’t doubt it.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Eco calls on Cthulhu
Going beyond the zero
23 Skidoo

9 thoughts on “Ewige Blumenkraft”

  1. According to Gabriel Kennedy: “Arlen was part of the Chicago Woman Liberation Union (CWLU). Bob was exploring a Surrealist angle of Anarchism, through his associations with Franklin Rosemont and the Chicago Surrealist Group.” I recall Kennedy saying elsewhere that a character in Illuminatus! is supposedly a hybrid of Rosemont with someone else. I think both Bob and Arlen had an association with the surrealist-linked Solidarity bookshop in Chicago.
    Kennedy’s biography of Wilson – Chapel Perilous – is out in June…

  2. Do let us know how your return visit to “Illuminatus!” goes. I think the only RAW book I’ve read was “Cosmic Trigger”, many (many) years ago; I remember being so intrigued I stayed up late into the night finishing it.

    I must admit that I have a fear of re-reading old favorite books in the event that they prove less magical the second time through. Same with favorite movies, but more so just the ones I first saw as a child or teenager. It’s hard to recapture that fresh, impressionable mindset of youth. I hope your mature re-read proves to be a good experience.

  3. I’ve been angling over the past few months to listen to the audiobook version that came out a few years back. You might have pushed me just enough to do it!
    Incidentally, a friend of mine worked on the comic book adaptation (either late 80s or early 90s-I can’t recall). I think they only got enough money to do two issues (maybe 3?). It’s surprisingly good if you can find it!

  4. Firstly, thanks for the recent ‘Phosphor’ post….it resulted in a short flurry of interest, shifted a few copies, sent Kenneth to the post office a few days in a row and cleared a bit of space in his basement.

    I can’t remember the exact quote, but RAW is perhaps reflecting Breton’s, “The imaginary is that which has a tendency to become real”… or as Blake put it, “What was once imagined is now proven”

    From the ‘inside’ I guess Surrealism and Anarchism go back a long way…I would say via Benjamin Peret, a staunch and more or less life long anarchist.

    After the ‘flirtation’ with the Communist Party, and Breton’s expulsion in 1933, he was later to write, in 1952, ” “It was in the black mirror of anarchism that surrealism first recognised itself.”

    This is a handy overview, albeit flawed and largely ignoring surrealism outside of the Paris group…

    Being currently, NFA, all my own ‘library’ is in a lock-up somewhere between Mytholmroyd and Sowerby Bridge, so I’m unable to just walk over to a book case and check, but ‘The Raven’ Anarchist Quarterly published several issues with a lot of surrealist content and involvement, but here is a glimpse of George Melly, replying/responding to Rosemont’s earlier comments about British Surrealism, in Vol 1 Number 3, November, 1987:
    “Much as it grieves me to agree with Franklin Rosemont (his book on Breton was a hideous piece of hagiography), I must admit there is a great deal of truth in what he says about British Surrealism.”
    (Blog post, with no apparent ‘proof-reading’)

    My own awareness of this came via the late Anthony Earnshaw, a close friend of Melly’s. I suppose, another of the ‘spats’ that surrealists are prone to.

    I last saw Melly at a retrospective of Tony’s work at the Dean Clough in Halifax, resplendent in eye-patch and purple tracksuit. I recall that, Tony, a self described ‘Armchair Anarchist’ was always a little concerned that Franklin was in danger of ossifying surrealism into an ideology. But since, to me, this is ‘oral history’, things become jumbled and hazy as time intervenes.

    My quote from Melly was intentional, since while I acknowledge that any attempt to ‘de-canonise’ Breton would now be as useful and useless as flogging a dead horse, I see the same process of ‘hagiography’ at work in relation to Franklin, particular in the USA and amongst ‘surrealist fandom’ and sections of Academia, and a tendency I’ve always been extremely wary of.

    Penelope Rosemont is still alive, well, active and, like many of us ‘old people’ a frequent flyer on Facebook, so I am sure she will recall any contact with RAW if she is asked.

    Finally, you’ve jogged my own memory of reading the RAW ‘trilogy’ and ‘Cosmic Tigger, and their importance in my own ‘mental morphology’, so I’m keen to dig them out and revisit, once I’ve got them out of a storage container and set up the new permanent address…I pick up the keys next week, so I’ll be offline for a while, but all the best for now, and I look forward to catching up once my mojo and modem are working properly again.

    All the best for now.

  5. Paul: Thanks once again! Good to have my suspicions confirmed although I would have been surprised if this wasn’t the case since it would have been an odd thing for Shea & Wilson to mention.

    Jim: I’m sure I’ll have more to say. I think I’ve always found films to be more disappointing than books when revisited after many years, although these tend to be few. Illuminatus! probably seems dated now to many readers since its concerns are so much tied to America in the late 60s/early 70s but it does take in a huge range of other stuff while smuggling a lot of serious ideas in its brew of sex, drugs, conspiracies, etc. Some things didn’t make much sense during the previous reads, like the James Joyce references (it being a few years before I got round to Joyce myself), and all the satire at Ayn Rand’s expense. I had no idea who Ayn Rand was when I was 15 aside from a mention of her name inside a Rush album. As for Cosmic Trigger, that’s one I re-read several times as well. I’ve not looked at it for years but I suspect it will seem more outmoded today than the novel; the Robert Temple Sirius stuff was debunked by anthropologists years ago, and the McKennas’ theory about the year 2012 (which I first saw referred to in Wilson’s book) is now in the past.

    Greg: I don’t think I ever saw the comic book. The novel would be a tough one to adapt even apart from the page-count since the text is quite playful in places. The same goes for an audio version, I wonder how they’d manage with some of the jumps in the narrative. There’s also a moment that I vaguely recall where two apparently random sentences get repeated for no explicable reason. RAW was an obsessive Joycean. I’ve always wondered how the hell Ken Campbell managed to turn the novel into a play. I met Campbell in a bookshop in the 1990s; we chatted for a bit about Flicker by Theodore Roszak (another novel about a global conspiracy) but I didn’t mention Illuminatus!, to my lasting regret.

    Bill: I’m pleased to hear that I prompted some interest in Phosphor. I think Warren Ellis (writer, not musician) may have helped as well, he has a lot of readers and he reblogged a link to my post.

    From my own point of view, I’ve always thought anarchism was an ideal match for Surrealism, far more so than Marxism which has nothing to say about the world of dreams or childhood or the occult or any number of other things that aren’t concerned with economics or “the workers”. My youthful reading of Wilson’s books made me suspicious of ideologies whatever package they arrive in. That Melly piece is a great read! Always had a lot of time for George Melly, I love that Arena film he made about Surrealism, I watched it again just recently.

  6. Re: Ken Campbell. I met the great Bruce Lacey at his final exhibition (Camden Arts Centre in 2012) and it appeared that he believed, with some chagrin, that Campbell has pinched the “Science Fiction Theatre” idea from him. In any case, Ken delivers a 90 minute monologue about his staging of Illuminatus! here… https://kencampbell.urbandrum.co.uk/2019/02/16/hail-eris/

  7. I remember reading that in his younger days, RAW was a devout advocate of Rand (that is, until he spent some time on the edges of her circle and experienced her first hand). He said that part of the trilogy’s purpose was to deprogramme the ‘Randroids’, as he called them although quite how or why he imagined that they’d read it in the first place is anyone’s guess. I’ve read “Illuminatus!” a couple of times and enjoyed them but I’ve yet to return to the follow-up “Schrödinger’s Cat” trilogy, which I remember enjoying the first time round if not quite as much. I’m also a fan of “Flicker” and gather that it’s been a pet project of Darren Aronofsky for some time.

  8. Yeah, I doubt that many serious Objectivists would have got through the first few chapters. There’s always been a fringe of SF readers who go for Rand and the like–John W. Campbell and AE Van Vogt were early promoters of Dianetics–but readers of hard SF prefer their fiction to be textually simple and filled with invented technology.

    I read the Schrödinger’s Cat trilogy as well but don’t remember much about it apart from Simon Moon turning up again, and there being a lot of stuff about quantum physics. Oh, and the rock festival from Illuminatus! being reworked only with punk bands instead of 70s rock groups.

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