Overweening Generalist

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Robert Anton Wilson's Tale of the Tribe: Scrying For Shards

Prof. Eric Wagner has recently made a proposal to one of his circles of Weird Pals (Full Disclosure: the OG is one of 'em) to experiment with astral travel to see what might be learned by looking around Dealey Plaza on 22 Nov, 1963...and then on "back" to the Library of Alexandria. I say "back" in quotes because, presumably, when going discarnate and traveling in one's astral body, time makes even less sense than it does to those of us reading the latest from certain neuroscientists and physicists.

I don't know how serious Wagner is, but I have a strong hunch he's at minimum jocoserious, a Joyce portmanteau meaning, roughly "joking-serious."

Hey, if I'm scryin' I'm dyin'. And I've spent a few hours surfing the Net and whatever books are in the house on the subject of traveling trans-ordinary-space-time. It's amazing how many books are in the local libraries on this. And I stumbled onto hierogamy, DMT, and Stanislav Grof's holotropic breathwork techniques...which leads me further afield. Which was what I wanted, turns out.

(Wow: you Terence McKenna fans: have you read David Luke's paper "Psychoactive Substances and Paranormal Phenomena: A Comprehensive Review"? I thought Terence's cosmic "machine elves from hyperspace" was just his experience, but it turns out to be quite common...and preceded Terence's first experiments. When I say my foray-researches into astral travels took me far afield, Luke's paper really sent me, ye gawds!)

One very good thing about astral travel I've found so far: no TSA. And as far as I can tell, I can keep my seatback and tray table up for as long as I want and indeed: may not even be aware they're there.

                             I love this collage, assembled by RAWphiles: artists? 

Tale of the Tribe
As most of you Wilsoniacs know, RAW left us tantalized with a book unfinished. At the end of TSOG: The Thing That Ate The Constitution, he gave us a preview of his upcoming book, a bit of a precis. See pp.203-213 of TSOG. The preliminary subtitle seemed to be "Alphabet/Ideogram/Joyce/Pound/Shannon/McLuhan/TV/Internet." It was claimed by someone that RAW's actual final book, Email To The Universe, fulfilled that contractual obligation, and it may have in some sense, but the Wilsoniacs know there wasn't nearly enough about alphabet/ideogram, etc in his final book (largely - roughly half - cobbled from old "lost" RAW pieces - really good ones, too - that Mike Gathers and a few others had sleuthed and put up on the Net for other Wilsoniacs. RAW's publisher asked Gathers kindly to take a few down and Gathers inferred those articles were going into the new RAW book; Gathers said okay, Email came out, Gathers received a free copy and he was right: there they were...).

But we really wonder what RAW had to say about The Tale of the Tribe. Lofty sounding, innit? If he hadn't been so dogged by post-polio sequelae I feel oddly certain the book would've been yet another masterpiece, maybe his best of all his non-fictions. But we're left to guess. RAW had taught a course on "The Tale of the Tribe" in an online Maybe Logic Academy (officially: a course taking off from Ezra Pound's "ideogrammic method"), and angels forwarded me the notes. Very rich stuff, but paradoxically, when I study the notes - including RAW's voluminous commentaries - the absence of the book seems all that much more tantalizing.

We are left to make educated surmises, it seems. It's been suggested by more than one of us that it's up to each of us to write our own version of The Tale, based on our own studies of RAW, Marshall McLuhan, James Joyce, Claude Shannon, Ezra Pound...and the others he names in that precis, that maddening and unmaterialized Coming Attraction: Timothy Leary, Ernest Fenollosa, Alfred Korzybski, Buckminster Fuller, Nietzsche, Vico...and the first named chronologically: Giordano Bruno. For RAW: they all influenced his work, but more intriguingly, they "all have something in common."

McLuhan scholar Paul Levinson said Bruno's model of a de-centered universe was a model of cyberspace. And the Church burned Bruno on February 17, 1600.

A taste? RAW, in discussing Bruno, puts in bold print:

Bruno's universe, infinite in both space and time, has no "real" or absolute center, since wherever you cut a slice out of infinity, infinity remains. Thus every place an observer stands becomes a relative center for that observer. -p.205, TSOG

You're at the center, right where you are sitting now.

I've spent many hours meditating on this idea, in sympathetic or empathetic harmony with what I perceive to be RAW's personal philosophies. Then I extend this to my own views, heavily influenced by Wilson. I wonder how this decentered realization related to embodiment - his own body, one that aggrieved him perhaps much more than the present Reader's body has them, and certainly more than my own body has aggrieved me. I do think this was part of it, but only a small part, as RAW knew how to get out of his own body. I think he was an Adept.

I've also spent very many hours "traveling" and trying to meld Bruno's and RAW's decentered "reality" with Joyce's "nightmare of history," the bloodbath of the 20th century, the immemorial injustices brought by Kings and Popes and landlords and bankers and other robotic hive mentality alpha apes...and our own egos and the whips and scorns of time.

O! To get...out of Time! (gnostic? aye!) And Einstein showed Time and Space were two sides of a coin. A decentered universe implies a liberty and personalized sense of Time. Freedom from death of some sort? Freedom from a ravenous State? We all know RAW wanted to live on and on and on, despite the failing muscles and meanness of politics and money-worries.

Was The Tale to be RAW's own TOE (Theory Of Everything)? Somehow I doubt it; he, like Blake and Joyce, seemed to think the poetic faculty a saving feature of our nervous systems. Science - and RAW loved science - would bolster sounder visions. In this he was - as I read him - much like Kenneth Burke, who RAW admired, but who seems curiously missing from RAW's books. Burke thought that science was the dominant mode of metaphorical understanding in the world in his own lifetime, but that it would be succeeded by "secular piety," a sort of "poetic humanism" more nuanced than the old Humanism: pluralistic, subjective, and spiritual. I think RAW was with Burke there, but also, for RAW: the end of money capital as it now works; RAW, from his teenaged years saw all that as a disaster. And he was right.

As a 21 year old, James Joyce reviewed a new book on Giordano Bruno by J. Lewis McIntyre, saying at the outset it's about time! - a book on Bruno. And we need more in English. Joyce points out - as does RAW in the tantalizer - that Bruno foresees Spinoza, but the young Joyce writes of Bruno's variety of philosophical mysticism that "It is not Spinoza, it is Bruno, that is the god-intoxicated man." Joyce was not all that interested, at 21, in Bruno's memory-system, his elaborations on Raymond Llull, or "excursions into that treacherous region" of morality. Joyce is interested in Bruno as an independent thinker, and places him above Bacon and Descartes in "modern philosophy" because of his theism coupled with pantheism, his rationalism coupled with his mysticism.

Here we see what may seem at first glance an eccentric caste of mind: putting (the still relatively unsung) Bruno above Bacon and Descartes. But RAW was very much with Joyce here: the insistence on personal negotiations between the poetic faculties (pantheism and mysticism) with what is usually taken as the "real" modern faculties: rationalism and theology. For Giordano Bruno, James Joyce, and Robert Anton Wilson: all of them. They like them all. They are all good. Especially when you have combined them all, negotiated them all, in your own unique nervous system...which can transpersonally tap into the Infinite.

In a lecture titled Knowledge and Understanding Aldous Huxley writes, "The Muses, in Greek mythology, were the daughters of Memory, and every writer is embarked, like Marcel Proust, on a hopeless search for time lost. But a good writer is one who knows how 'to give the purer meaning to the words of the tribe'...Time lost can never be regained; but in his search for it he may reveal to his readers glimpses of time-less reality."

Other Sources
"The Bruno Philosophy," in Occasional, Critical, and Political Writings by James Joyce
A wonderful site by RAW students about his "Tale of the Tribe" ideas


Steve Fly said...

This author has also mused on the "in common' part of the puzzle, but agree that the subjective journey into TTOTT, like any true initiation...never ends. However, like your informative sentences, we can condense and present "slices" of it. Or produce a cyclical feedback loop like Finnegans Wake, or a new hyper-rich poetic style (Pound's cantos) or a new form of cinematic seeing (Orson Welles)

I think that one attribute all the characters of the tribe have in common is a hermetic undercurrent, which may also be associated with a general holographic principle?

Thanks for the Burke/Wilson comparative insights, Brilliant and mind ploughing goodness.

--Steve Fly Agaric

Eric Wagner said...

Terrific piece, and thanks for the shout out.

A while ago I decided to try a new model of the Tail of the Tribe: I decided to see the fragment at the end of TSOG as a complete work, a fragment like the Romantic fragments Charles Rosen loved to write about, like "Kubra Khan." It serves as a spur to you and I and Steve Fly and many others.

About 23 years ago I joked with a friend I had accumulated enough astral projection frequent flyer miles to go to Neptune. Ever since then Neptune has had a special place in my heart.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

"Tale of the Tribe" obviously takes its place among other declared Robert Anton Wilson book projects that were never completed. Among them: the Illuminatus! sequel, "Bride of Illuminatus!," and the completion of the Historical Illuminatus series.

But my pet peeve remains the Shea-Wilson correspondence. In "Cosmic Trigger 3", Wilson writes about his voluminous correspondence with Robert Shea and expresses the hope that it will be published someday. I've tried to figure out what happened to that correspondence. I've had lucid communications from the folks in the Shea camp, who say that they don't have surviving correspondence. I have not succeeded in getting a response to my inquiries from the Wilson estate.

Eric Wagner said...

"The Tale of the Tribe" remains special to me. I see it as Bob attempting to explain the world in which I live. I've tried to grok the book he might have written. I told him in 2000 I thought rereading William Carlos Williams' Patterson might help him write it. He agreed. I reread it recently. I would love to talk with him about it. I read ten or so of Frances Yates' books trying to understand Bruno and his world. I would love to talk with Bob about that as well. I think Mike has delved very deeply into Vico, the next step on the ladder. I appreciate how Steve Fly dove into this material. I still haven't read Claude Shannon.

Psuke said...

Fascinating post. I am sorry to this day that I did not get to take his "Tale of the Tribe" on Maybe Logic when RAW was teaching it.

michael said...

Steve Fly Agaric Pratt-

Hermetic undercurrents in common: aye, I agree, and there's another puzzle-to-be-worked-on-never-"solved": how do we extensionalize, say, Bruno's quote obvious varieties of hermetic thought with Claude Shannon's? Or McLuhan's? (There were a bunch of other influences named in that short bit on TTOTT at the end of TSOG...like Orson Welles. Welles and hermeticism?)

As I say, I think this is correct, and opens up a large space for forward-days of thinking for us.

Shannon and mathematical information theory: arranging signs/ideas/clusters in such a way that the artist can push the Receiver's nervous system to the edge of Chaos/noise-in-the-system but not quite over the edge? This can be fleshed out into magickal workings, seems to me.

And on and on...Thanks for weighing in!

michael said...


I've considered the Tail there - last 10 pages of TSOG - as a complete work, or something like the fragments of Sappho: that and some course notes is what we're gonna get. And it's a LOT...and wildly suggestive for living thinkers.

I can't help but think of a few of RAW's contemporaries who were very much interested in alphabets and ideograms and perceptions, hermeticism, history, transpersonal consciousness. Fellow polymath Leonard Shlain was admired by RAW and if we look at the body of Shlain's work we can easily see RAW reading it, being excited by his ideas, but wanting to give his own, more hermetic slant to that.

Those 10 pages seem to connect with lines from RAW's thinking going back to at least 1975, certain pieces...anyone of us can collate what they perceive along these lines and come up with a Tale/Tail based on extant texts.

The real Work, it seems to me, is in looking at the metaphors of decentralization and extrapolating 1.) from RAW's own thought; 2.) from the thought of his influences; 3.) from the interpretations and free-form creative extensions of the new writer/artist upon both 1 and 2; and 4.) finding a way to virally get this stuff into as many minds as possible: RAW was no digger ant intellectual: he was of that class that wanted to change the world, and he was explicit about that. Why should we settle for anything less ourselves?

michael said...


This is a maddening conundrum. Two approaches to Christina via email didn't answer my Qs, but said "stay in touch."

I get the feeling no one on that side is up to it. I hope I'm proven wrong.

Re: the RAW/Shea Letters: what I fear is that they were not kept because of my conversation with RAW about his book collection. When I visited him there was an entire bedroom taken up with nothing but bookshelves, floor to ceiling (practically), crammed with books. And when I asked him about his own books he touched on The Classic Lament of itinerant writers/book lovers everywhere: moving them is a colossal pain in the ass. I know, believe me. And he animatedly told me how many books he had to get rid of because he had moved so many times, and...things must go, they can't be carried. And in moving, stuff gets lost.

And then there's the make-up of Email to the Universe: if RAW had had those pieces I think he would've used them earlier. I asked him about his own archives and he seemed evasive. I don't know if that's because of what happened to Leary's archives or that RAW felt remorse he didn't take the time to save and file everything. I still hold out hope the Shea and other correspondence will show up, but I think RAW was more about looking forward to his next projects. There's that line in...I think it was the interview in Contemporary Authors, where he notes he's had over 2000 articles in print, but most of it: he'd rather be "rhino-gored" than to see most of it resurface. This implies he didn't want to have anything to do with articles he sold "strictly from hunger." But as Gathers and Wagner and Tom Buckner and Dan Clore and I found: there was/is quite a lot of really terrific stuff floating out there in now-defunct magazines.

I like to think RAW saw what had been assembled at RAWilsonfans.com and said, "This piece isn't half-bad! I'd forgotten I'd written that. Maybe I can get this into a book to fulfill my contractual obligation to New Falcon...?"

michael said...


This makes me want to read Paterson again.

Agreed on Steve Fly's Tribe work: he's opened up a few entry ways for us.

Pound's collaborator TS Eliot: "Our concern was speech, and speech impelled us/To purify the dialect of the tribe." ("Little Gidding")

I've found pregnant passages into ways to think about the Tribe-Tale in McLoon. For those with time, initiative and copious 3rd circ drugs: just pick up Essential McLuhan and read pp.72-75; 312-313; and 221.

Laws of Media seems possibly palimpsestic enough to furnish as model for a Wilson-based Tale.

WCW's school-days chum Mad Ol' Ez gives the poet of imperialism, Kipling, credit for the term, as you know, being a reader of Guide to Kulchur (1937):

"There is no mystery about the Cantos, they are the tale of the tribe - give Rudyard credit for his use of the phrase. No one has claimed that the Malatesta cantos are obscure. They are openly volitionist, establishing, I think clearly, the effect of the factive personality, Sigismundo, an entire man. The founding of the Monte dei Paschi as the second episode has its importance. There we find the discovery, or at any rate the establishment, of the true bases of credit, to wit the abundance of nature and the responsibility of the whole people. As history becomes better understood I think this emphasis will become steadily more intelligible to the general reader." - Pound, Guide To Kulchur, p.194

"As history becomes better understood..." - I think I need a drink. Or to go take a walk outside.

Eric Wagner said...

I enjoyed Bob's "Tale of the Tribe" course at MLA. Some students complained he focused too much on Joyce and Pound.

Re Welles and hermeticism. I enjoyed Orson's performance as Cagliostro in the film "Black Magic." I gave Bob my VHS of that.

I've only read the Alphabet vs the Goddess by Shlain. I enjoyed it, although I dislike what I saw as his anti-Confucius attitude. (As I recall - I read it more than ten years ago.)

Did Bruno influence Vico? I wish Yates had written about Vico. I don't how one connects Bruno with Vico. Of course, I've never finished one of Bruno's books.

I just gave away boxes and boxes of books.

Eric Wagner said...

Thinking of the discussion of Joyce's books and the Law of Fives in Illuminatus!, I asked Bob whether the five fold structure of Portrait of the Artist influenced the five fold structure of Masks of the Illuminati. He said no, the Law of Fives inspired the structure of Masks. This led me to structure Strait Outta Dublin in five sections. I've reread various books with five fold structures in writing it: Patterson, Stranger in a Strange Land, Laws of Media, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Vico's New Science, email to the universe, and Quantum Psychology. I still need to reread the fifth sections of Illuminatus!, Masks of the Illuminati, and David Hayman's Ulysses: The Mechanics of Meaning. The last one introduced the world to the concept of the Arranger in Ulysses. I've tended to imagine the Arranger as looking like Dizzy Gillespie in a beret, playing tricks on the reader.

I remember your encouraging me to reread one letter in The Essential McLuhan, and I agree it really seemed parallel to Bob's notions of the Tail of the Tribe.

S.W. Thompson said...

Hi Dr. Johnson! Long time reader, first time commenting, as they say...

You sign off on the Huxley quote, and I couldn't help but scour the interwebs until I recalled this little jewel.

Huxley on Joyce

"In spite of its very numerous qualities--it is, among other things, a kind of technical handbook, in which the young novelist can study all the possible and many of the quite impossible ways of telling a story--'Ulysses' is one of the dullest books ever written, and one of the least significant. This is due to the total absence from the book of any sort of conflict."

Oh, Aldous. Anyway... Over at McLuhan on Maui, there's an essay titled LITERARY/AESTHETIC CLICHÉ-PROBES IN THE AMERICAN CLASSROOM-WITHOUT-WALLS, written by one 'Bob Dobbs.' It seems to grope towards the idea of TTOTT via a retrospective approach to Vico:

"The *new* SCIENZA NUOVA of Comprehensive Understanding retrieves the Yin/Yang complementarity of ancient Chinese sages and Greek Heraclitus, with *human maturity* that savours the paradoxes of life itself, like Shakespeare at the dawn of Gutenberg. It seeks to achieve a new unity of thought and feeling, like Joyce as 'Finn, again' with 'the keys to. Given!', by using all human wits and senses with their technological extensions *comprehensively*.As James Joyce put it in his multi-sensuous Finneganese, an 'artificial' natural language, that only an Irishman could have invented: 'Toborrow and toburrow and tobarrow! That's our crass, hairy and ever-grim life, till one final howdiedow Bouncer Naster raps on the bell with a bone and his stinkers tank behind him with the sceptre and the hourglass. We may come, touch and go, from atoms and ifs but we're presurely destined to be odd's without ends.' - FINNEGANS WAKE, p.455 (A parody on what Shakespeare's Macbeth thought of life in his day upon hearing of his wife's death. Act 5, Scene 5). (full text @ http://www.mcluhanonmaui.com/p/publications.html)

Wonder what form 'Bob' took on when he wrote that juggernaut?

Lest I ramble on too long, these course notes of which you spoke... Might they find their way into the viral world at large sometime soon? Those of us who weren't around in 2004 would prove eternally grateful.

It's always a pleasure to read your work/spews/rants/gems.

michael said...


Lots of liberal learned folks I talk to seem to have consigned Master Kung fu-Tze to Authoritarian Cult Leader.

RAW knew Joyce and Pound were becoming evermore "difficult" as the electronic re-tribalization went on; he stuck guns. He was bound to get push-back from pushing those two Too-Hard Moderns.

I caught that film with Orson as Cagliostro on Turner a few yrs ago and recall loving it: the film stock, the lighting of that period, etc.

re: Bruno's influence on Vico: aside from Vico knowing what The Church had done to Bruno, the Q is difficult to answer. I'm working on it. Lemme say this: Vico could NOT have come out and mentioned Bruno by name, or he'd blow cover, unless it was to parrot the Church line.

michael said...

S.W. Thompson-

Thanks for chiming in with the Dobbs quotes and the kind woids.

The class notes really ought to be scanned and put up at RAWilsonfans.com

Lots of people didn't "get" Ulysses, or Joyce, much less FW. Carl Jung was awed by it, but found reading it not pleasant. Aldous and Gore Vidal are two writers I've read for a long time and enjoyed a lot, and they don't like Ulysses. Now: Aldous and Gore were, to me, tremendous ESSAY writers who seemed to see the novel as properly carrying on in the way that George Meredith and Thomas Love Peacock used the novel: The Novel of Ideas. Which is cool: the essay writer getting his ideas across in a narrative.

Joyce is a completely different cat, and seemed to me to have a profoundly eccentric and individualist-heroic artist's sense of what WRITING should be.

Joyce and Aldous commiserated over their eye troubles in Paris, 1929-30 or so. There's an anecdote in which Joyce and Paul Morand presided over a PEN dinner in Paris in honor of FMFord and Aldous, and Joyce was in a bad mood, saying he didn't like flowers, sort of pouting because the wine was red and he only liked white...When Nino Frank - commonly understood as coining term "film noir" asked Joyce to recommend writers for a new lit mag, Paris, 1929, Joyce suggested Lord Dunsany, some Afrikaners and Aussies, and Scot Hamish Miles, but no English writers. When DH Lawrence was suggested, Joyce replied in French, translated: "That man really writes very badly. You might ask instead for something from his friend Aldous Huxley, who at least dresses decently."

Aldous was fascinated by Joyce's questionable etymologies, and there's an interesting discussion of "Odysseus" in Ellmann's bio. In Sybille Bedford's bio of Aldous, there's a transcript from a 1961 interview with John Chandos. Here's Aldous:

"Well, Ulysses is obviously a very extraordinary book. [Now that Aldous had done psychedelics? - OG] I don't know exactly why he wrote it. Because a great deal of Ulysses seems to me to be taken up with showing a large number of methods in which novels _cannot_ be written. I suppose it's a great book - to me it remains a little bit too static. the character of Bloom - But I think there are splendid passages. I don't think it's a success as a whole. He was a _very_ strange man. I used to see him sometimes in Paris. His - what one might call - magic view of words - I shall never forget sitting next to him once at dinner and mentioning to him, which I thought would give him pleasure - and it _did_ - that I'd just been re-reading the Odyssey. And his immediate response was - he said to me, 'Now do you realize what the derivation of Odysseus, the name Odysseus is?' I said [sotto voce] 'No I don't.' And he said, 'Well it really comes from the words Udyce, meaning nobody, and Zeus, meaning God, the Odysseus is really a symbol of creation of God out of nothing.' Well, I mean this is exactly the sort of etymology which would have made by Albertus Magnus in the 13th century - with no relation of course to anything we would regard as realistic. But this completely _satisfied_ Joyce's mind.
Chandos: But he was enormously a man of words.
Aldous: Absolutely a man of words.
Chandos: This was the lovable thing about him - I love words in my own way ...
Aldous: [with much determination]: yes, but I mean, surely one has to realize the limitations of words. Joyce - seemed to think that words were omnipotent. They are _not_ omnipotent."
-pp-218-219, Aldous Huxley: A Biography, Bedford.

quackenbush said...

Hi All.
I struggled mightily with the MLA TotT curriculum that Wilson laid out. Joyce and Pound escape my grasp. I am more able to wrap my ahead around the TotT preview at the end of TSOG. Pity that this seemingly opus-like ambition never manifested as Wilson intended.

I shall take a look at my class notes and consider throwing them up on the web. I've resisted, in part because the MLA created a self-study course based on the Ideogrammic Method (an early MLA offering) and the TotT course material. That offering seems no longer...

Perhaps it's time to unleash all my MLA class notes into the wilds...

Eric Wagner said...

Mike J. - great passage about Joyce and Huxley. Joyce remains a stranger to me in many ways. I feel like I know Ezra as a person much better, although he remains a mystery in many ways as well.

Gary Snyder wrote a poem where he said something like, "Confucius, get off my back."

I think Bob got some push back in the Tail of the Tribe course because many of students wanted more about the people Bob mentioned at the end of TSOG - Bruno, Vico, etc.

Steve Fly said...

HI, today i revisited the intersection point, roughly 100 years ago when the Fenollosa manuscripts fell into the head and hands of Ez. Hope this musing contributes something here, for me it started popping when i thought of RAW saying the words "being and nonbeing" in the movie maybe logic. Enjoy, happy new year.


michael said...

Steve- I just now got to your dense essay on Fenollosa and how underrated he is. Thanks for linking it here! Perfect!

The most salient point as I currently see it is what you write about how Pound creatively misconceived of how chinese worked, but the necessity to break down the subject-predicate structure of messages seems like a huge deal to me, even to this day.

Indeed: how many people seem to have never heard of Fenollosa and look at how influential he was, via Pound!

There are a bunch of books that address East Coast wealthy Americans into kulchur and how fascinated they were with The Far East, 1880s-1910 or so.

Sorry I took so long to get back to you.