Tag: biography

Review: An Insider’s Guide to Robert Anton Wilson, by Eric Wagner

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An Insider’s Guide to Robert Anton Wilson, by Eric Wagner
New Falcon Publications, 156184165X, 237 pp. (incl. appendices and bibliography), 2005

One would have thought the only insider to Bob’s head would be Wilson himself, and yet Eric Wanger has corresponded with RAW over the past twenty years, first via snail mail, and later by e-mail. After twenty years of communication he must have some insight into Wilson’s inner workings, and his efforts aren’t half bad from this outsider’s perspective. Wilson must agree, as he’s written a preface, introduction and overture for the book, though while he may have helped with the infomercial, I think it’s mostly Wagner’s work.

The text also includes a list of the books by RAW, including the Maybe Logic DVDs, an interview, and a lexicon explaining the symbolism behind some of Wilson’s material, though curiously there’s no mention of Greg Hill, co-founder of Discordianism. Actually, Wilson’s exact relationship to Discordianism is never discussed in depth, despite it being a major subject and theme (directly and indirectly) in many of his works.

But perhaps the most useful chapter is Appendix Samekh, in which he goes through the Illuminatus! trilogy in its ten parts and describes the many kabbalistic correspondences and obscure references, seemingly resulting in one massive rolling ball of coincidence and magick and the Illuminatus! timeline.

Unfortunately the book is severely repetitive, for example, the critter story told at least twice (not to mention I’d read it before this book), and William Burroughs cut-ups are explained at least three separate times. In fact, one passage is quoted twice in the same essay.

As Wagner points out, reading Wilson leads to other writers, through reference and obvious influence on his works, ‘[his] style derives directly from Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Raymond Chindler, H.L. Menken, William S. Burroughs, Benjamin Tucker, and Elephant Doody Comix, in approximately that order of importance’. In fact, Wilson gave a list of ten recommended books in a 1996 magazine, later with supplements, and Wagner has gone through them, giving commentary on his reading experience.

There are other irrelevant bits that seem thrown in for no apparent reason, such as vacations and family photos from Wager’s trips to Dublin, Amsterdam, Egypt, etc. For example, there’s one photograph of a man standing in front of a dark wall with a sign reading ‘James Joyce Pub’, evidently taken in Zürich, with the caption ‘Great picture of my dad…’ on page 213. Sure it is Eric, I just don’t quite get what it has to do with Robert Anton Wilson.

So is it an insider’s guide? Well, while there are some useful and interesting bits to be found within its pages, for it appears mostly to be a somewhat disjointed account of Wagner’s unique appreciation and admiration of the man, rambling and repetitive as it is.

Review: A Voice in the Forest, by Jimahl Di Fiosa

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A Voice in the Forest: Spirit Conversations with Alex Sanders
Trident Publications, 1999

This is a book which can be, and probably will be, read in one sitting. It is clearly written and not at all difficult to understand. On top of that, it is nicely double spaced throughout, which makes it one of the easiest-on-the-eyes books I have seen in quite a while. It is composed of information which Alex Sanders wanted to share with his Craft children and the other Hidden Children of the Goddess.

It is very difficult for me to be objective about this book. It is about the founder of my particular path, written by an individual who shares that path with me (even though we have never met, to the best of my knowledge, except on the Internet). I must say that, honestly, it rings true for me.

There will be many who will doubt what Jimahl has written (I know I did when I first heard about it privately). On one level, this could be material which is easily created in the mind of a writer. And for those who have no experience of the individual known as Alex Sanders, there can be no sense of rightness. I remember the controversy when it first came out.

I had the pleasure of corresponding with Alex at the very beginning of my Craft life. I never had the pleasure of sitting down with him. Nevertheless, the messages channeled through Jimahl and his coven-mates remind me very much of the tone and style of the Alex I remember from my correspondence.

I emailed Jimahl just before I started the main text of this book to relate one small thing which convinces me of the validity of his communication. Many years ago (in the early 1970s) I received a pack of photocopied lecture notes from Alex to aid me in my studies. These notes were later edited to become The Alex Sanders Lectures. The thrill that went through me, and which sent a chill down my spine, as I started to read this book matched the thrill I had when I began reading those notes. It is not a feeling that I have had often in my life.

There is only one problem with this book; and that could be a major stumbling block for some. The original publisher is no longer in business (although Jimahl is attempting to arrange another edition). So I would strongly recommend that you order your copy from Azure Green, one of the largest and best suppliers around.

Ayn Rand: A Brief Biography

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Ayn Rand was born on February 2, 1905, in the city of Saint Petersburg, Russia and died on March 6, 1983, in New York, USA. “Ayn Rand” was not her birth name; her birth name was Alice Rosenbaum. She adopted the name “Ayn” from a Finish writer and “Rand” shortly after arriving in America from her Remington-Rand typewriter. Rand decided to become an author at the age of nine and “everything [she had] done” was directed towards that goal. Rand attended college in Europe, where she took history as her major subject and philosophy as her “special interest.” The first she took “in order to have a factual knowledge of men’s past, for [her] future writing” and the second “in order to achieve an objective definition of [her] values”.

Though born in Russia and educated in Europe Rand considered herself an American “by choice and conviction” and came to America in 1926 based on her moral premises; believing it to be “the only country where one could be fully free to write.” She came alone and found the transition difficult at first, having to take odd jobs to earn a living until she could make a financial success with her writing. She achieved this with the publication of her second novel The Fountainhead in 1943 which brought her international fame and even more so with the publication of Atlas Shrugged in 1957. With this, her “position in history”, both as a novelist and as a philosopher, was established.

Rand met Frank (Charles Francis) O’Conner on a movie set in Hollywood shortly after her move to America. At the time she was interested in writing screen-plays for silent films. He was eight years her senior, born September 22, 1897, in Lorain, Ohio. He was “drawn to motion pictures ever since the first two-reelers came to Lorain”. They were married in 1929 and remained so until his death fifty years later. Rand saw O’Conner as the physical ideal for a man and portrayed this in all her novels. He was not, however, her intellectual ideal, Rand sought this elsewhere.

Their marriage was not faithful in the traditional sense, however, as she and Nathaniel Branden (who was also married at the time) engaged in an intimate and romantic affair, which Branden insists Rand initiated and wished to maintain. Both were intent on preserving their current marriages and both Rand’s husband, O’Conner and Branden’s wife, Barbara Branden were fully aware of the relationship and professed to agree with the conditions they presented. Rand and Branden (who was her intellectual ideal and was asked to inherit her property and become her “intellectual heir”) were in love, but all held that it was best if they kept this secret from their group of friends (“The Collective”) and associates. Rand dedicated Atlas Shrugged, her most influential novel to him declaring that he was her legal and “intellectual heir” and “proclaimed him to be an ideal exponent of her philosophy”. Eventually, however, Branden lost interest in Rand romantically, though he remained “obsessed” with her intellectually, and sought to break off the relationship. Knowing how this would affect Rand, he wrote her a letter describing why it was “rational” that they terminate their relationship of several years. The letter was not well received.

Rand went to Barbara Branden for support; raving about the letter and altogether not accepting what was happening, condemning Branden at every turn. (The Brandens had split up months before, though were still on amicable terms. Barbara knew of the letter and had proof read it for Branden, though she professed to Rand that she was not aware of it.) Rand sought to destroy him professionally, though could not logically do so without making their affair publicly known (which she was not willing to do), but nonetheless sought to destroy him as well as she could. In the 1968 May issue of The Objectivist Newsletter Rand wrote an article titled “To Whom It May Concern” which was six pages long. The following is an excerpt:

This is to inform my readers and all those interested in Objectivism that Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden are no longer associated with this magazine, with me or with my philosophy.

I have permanently broken all personal, professional and business association with them, and have withdrawn from them the permission to use my name in connection with their commercial, professional, intellectual or other activities.

I hereby withdraw my endorsement of them and of their future works and activities. I repudiate both of them, totally and permanently, as spokesman for or of Objectivism..

Rand later declared Leonard Peikoff as her legal and “intellectual heir” and to this date he remains the representative of her Objectivism and of her works and owns their copyrights. (ibid, 364.))

Works Cited:

  • “Ayn Rand – About Her Life.” The Ayn Rand Institute. 1999. http://www.aynrand.com/aynrand. (4 October 2000).
  • Branden, Barbra and Nathaniel. “In Answer to Rand: Preface.” Nathenial Branden. http://www.nathanielbranden.net/ayn/ayn05.shtml. (10 October 2000).
  • Branden, Nathaniel. My Years with Ayn Rand. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1999.
  • Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged. New York: Signet, 1957.
  • Rand, Ayn. The Fountainhead. New York: Signet, 1952.

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