“The works of Robert Anton Wilson have always been delivered to me as I am sure they have been delivered to others; I have come across them at opportune times, synchronistic moments. In an old bookstore on the top of a box I had gone through only days before, there lay Cosmic Trigger exactly when I needed Cosmic Trigger. And then I was awash in a sea of 23’s culminating in the number ’23’ being spray painted on the highway behind my home. Now as I write this there have been 23’s all over the place for two weeks straight and Ishtar Rising appeared buried deep in the wrong section of that same bookstore. But this is normal, I am sure the same has happened to you.”
– from Zac Odinn’s Robert Anton Wilson – Bearer of Gnosis, Agent of Negentropy in Robert Anton Wilson Remembered
Indeed it has, and in a nice crowning fashion just did. As I was browsing Twitter prior to starting this bit of writing what did I see?
As Zac concisely (synchronistically?) notes in his essay, “the negentropy manifests not as a sea but as islands shattering out of the depths;
burning, smoking islands rising from cold cold seas, brilliant flashes illuminating the dark. These vast energies are required as a concentrated response to widespread entropic decay in order to balance out that decay.” A random post on Twitter becomes a sign of some curious mystery, is it meaningful? There begins the quest…
When I was just starting college I began working at a little CD resale shop called CD Trader in Wheaton, Illinois. It was one of those nondescript music stores; no clever image or stylish motif for anyone working there to feel culturally ennobled by. The owner had saved all of the store’s accessories and display paraphenalia from when he had originally franchised it, just altering the name slightly when the franchise went under and he took the store over himself.
What he lacked in aesthetic sensibilities he more than made up for in his preference in hiring reliable, but completely out of the box, collegiate psychonauts. Less than 6 months after I started, all of the store’s employees had formed an impromptu psychedelic think tank with unlimited access to a constantly flowing stream of music, books, inspiration and the strange atmosphere of the town.
The nondescript facade proved to be a blessing. Wheaton is home to the most conservative Christian demographic in Chicagoland. It is know for having more churches per capita than almost anywhere else in the country.
The Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, with it’s ominous and gaudy holographic crystal crucifixion exhibit, was only a short drive from the store. As Zac points out in his essay, however, “the universe, if it appears to be anything at all, appears to be balanced.” A few blocks away from the Billy Graham Center is the Theosophical Society’s U.S. headquarters and its publishing imprint, Quest Books. Within this strange alembic I discovered the works of Robert Anton Wilson.
Through Wilson’s writing bland suburbia became fluid, an amorphous allegorical cosmic enigma. Familiar childhood inoculations like Looney Tunes became gnostic tools for self discovery, TMC’s regular reruns of The Maltese Falcon seemed like devotional character studies of contemporary mythography and mystery, money became a bad spell, it was possible to declare yourself emperor, questions became as interesting as answers. It started to make sense that the Billy Graham Center and the Theosophical Society would form the prime polarity for the town.
One of my co-workers leased a red Jaguar ( while making $7 an hour… ) and put an American flag on the radio antennae as a disguise, another began taking frequent trips to go night fishing in suburban drainage ponds, I began trying different methods for erasing my emotive identification with cultural artifacts, designing impromptu shrines, and reading St. John of the Cross. On a trash picking run I found a set of minister’s robes in a dumpster. Things got strange.
My memories of Robert Anton Wilson are solely through his works, and the time and place in which I encountered them, but many of the folks who contributed to Robert Anton Wilson Remembered knew the man in person. Zac Odinn, Joseph Matheny, Douglas Rushkoff, Antero Ali and others share their reflections on Wilson’s life and work, and show how his vision aided their own explorations. His effect on the contemporary culture runs deep, and what this anthology shows is that in order to effect culture on that level you have to foster real relationships with the people around you.
I recently talked to someone who remembers being 14 and sending Wilson a letter. What he is most impressed by is simply that Wilson took the time to write a rambling 14 year old fan back. There are many different approaches to negentropy, some less ostentatious than others.
Note: While the ominous and gaudy holographic crystal crucifixion exhibit at the Billy Graham Center is only open during visiting hours, the college also has on campus a life sized anamatronic mastodon replica behind a large plate glass window that can be activated by a button on the outside of the building it’s housed in. The exhibit contains the fossilized remains of a mastodon that was unearthed on the campus grounds. It’s available 24 hours a day (depending on security personnel). Some would say that due to the surrounding demographic profile of the town any visits after hours are most soundly conducted in a red jaguar with an American flag on the antennae as a disguise. In such a situation a set of minister’s robes may also become useful to have on hand.