Robert Anton Wilson

Authored by: Erik Davis

The Occult World

Print publication date:  December  2014
Online publication date:  December  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415695961
eBook ISBN: 9781315745916
Adobe ISBN: 9781317596769

10.4324/9781315745916.ch34

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Abstract

Robert Anton Wilson (1932–2007), born Robert Edward Wilson, was an American novelist, essayist, editor, playwright, and lecturer whose playful and prolific writings helped make him one of the most stimulating and influential popular thinkers in the ‘head’ or ‘freak’ currents of the American counterculture in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Wilson’s large, often digressive novels, including the seminal 1975 Illuminatus! trilogy written with Robert Shea, exploited the lore of conspiracy theories and occult secret societies to explore philosophical, political, and mystical themes with a satiric and willfully ‘pulp’ sensibility influenced by drug culture, American vernacular humor, modernist fiction, and the bawdy slapstick of underground comics. Wilson was also an original thinker whose witty, accessible, and highly discursive nonfiction texts drew from a wide range of discourses, including existentialism, phenomenology, general semantics, occultism, mysticism, sociology, anarchism, and quantum physics, not to mention his own experiments in ‘hedonic engineering.’ Developing an expansive skepticism rooted in the phenomenology of the nervous system, Wilson argued that that ‘the only “realities” (plural) that we actually experience and can talk meaningfully about are perceived realities – realities involving ourselves as editors – and they are all relative to the observer’ (Wilson, 1977: iv). For Wilson, this neurological relativism demanded a ‘guerilla ontology’ that critiqued, rejected, and culture-jammed the ‘reality tunnels’ that dominate modern society and individual behavior. Beyond this critique, Wilson also trumpeted and embraced the creative, hedonistic, and libertarian ‘meta-programming’ possibilities of self-reflexive reality-creation. Though his writings have not received the academic or mainstream recognition they warrant, their infectious ethos strongly influenced a number of cultural discourses that emerged from or passed through the counterculture, including occultism, libertarianism, transhumanism, psychedelia, and ‘New Edge’ cyberculture.

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