Later, while combing through correspondence between Robert Anton Wilson and Greg Hill from the period, I soon discovered that they actually collaborated on the piece. This would explain the Mordecai moniker in the byline, as Mordecai — it just so happens — was the first name of RAW’s Discordian persona, Mordecai Malignatus aka Mordecai the Foul.
In retrospect, “Anarcho-Surrealism” seems a prime example of Discordian Culture Jamming, in the sense that RAW was writing his own clandestine review of Illuminatus! with the covert aid of Discordian Society co-founder Greg Hill, aka Malaclypse the Younger, Omnibenevolent Polyfather of Virginity in Gold (K.S.C.).
Get yourself Discordian Culture Jammed:
55 East Houston Street
New York, NY 10012
by Mordecai Zwack
Illuminatus I: The Eye in the Pyramid, by Robert J. Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, Dell Books, New York, 1975, 304 pp., $1.50
Illuminatus II: The Golden Apple, by Robert J. Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, Dell Books, New York, 1975, 272 pp., $1.50
Illuminatus III: Leviathan, by Robert J. Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, Dell Books, New York, due November.
When a book comes with a recommendation from the egregious Dr. Timothy Leary, hailing it “more important than Ulysses or Finnegans Wake”, one is prepared for quite anything.
Illuminatus, the object of Leary’s enthusiasm, is no major threat to Joyce’s deserved pre-eminence; but this work certainly deserves better treatment than being passed off by Dell as ordinary “science fiction”. Though flawed by superficial borrowing from Dadaism, William S. Burroughs and Joyce himself, this extraordinary political satire is staggering in its original surrealistic effect. Furthermore, in terms of content, merely pondering the implications of its main theme, conspiracy, can lead one as close to the edge of insanity as one might with to go (if you reach the point of terror, tell yourself the acid-head’s mantra: reality has not changed, only appearances change). The reader feels as though he were inserted into a time fractured stage set of a Marx Brothers version of Warhol’s Frankenstein moved into Nixon’s White House. After which one is left seriously wondering if terminal Nixonismum is not an aberration of political life but instead is the norm.
Lurking beneath the broad slapstick farce there is a solid anarchist statement. That George Washington is one principal villain is no mere joke, this is an anti-State political analysis and the authors’ objective can be no less than total subversion.
The plot (as far as one can disentangle it from the flashbacks, flashforwards, digressions and drastic changes of focus which occur as narrators come and go) seems to revolve around the (shudder) BAVARIAN ILLUMINATI, that pet bogie of paranoids both extreme right and extreme left. According to the theory proposed by Illuminatus, Washington, Jefferson and other Illuminati agents actually created a dictatorship in the United States, and Illuminati over the generations (such as Dutch Schultz, the 30s mobster) amuse themselves by making it appear to be a democracy. However, they have always deliberately left obscure clues scattered everywhere, from their pyramid symbol on the back of the dollar bill to coded references in Moby Dick, Ulysses and Bugs Bunny cartoons. It is suggested that the conspiracy was intended to be eventually discovered and is actually part of a vast experiment to prove precisely how gullible the average person really is.
But if this conspiracy is a joke-within-a-joke, so is the Illuminatus trilogy itself—for all of its palpable absurdity and its obvious put-ons, the conspiracy theory presented is very carefully tied to documented facts and real events (recent and past), so that the reader’s laugh is eventually choked in his throat by the gruesome realization that this insane yarn is a plausible as any other conspiracy theory and perhaps more plausible than conventional explanations of recent history. This is the authors’ evident point: if malign forces had deliberately plotted to create a nightmare world of spies-spying-on-spies-spying-on-other-spies, they could not have done much worse than current reality.
It is the authors’ thesis that a schizophrenic relationship is built into any authoritarian, or centralized, system. According to this version of anarchistic social-cybernetics, the more inequality there is in a system (corporation, family or government), then the more miscommunication, making inevitable a “progressive disorientation”. In the words of one of the novel’s heroes: “Communication is only possible between equals.” Thus, government is an instrument, not of law and order, but of law and disorder. The only alternative offered is a kind of “free market anarchism” (so named by the novel’s hero, a professional smuggler and outlaw).
If this sounds like a marijuana induced version of Ayn Rand’s rightist stringencies, nothing could be more mistaken (about Rand, I mean). Indeed, Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is parodied mercilessly in Volume II. Though the authors sometimes might sound like unreconstructed Taft isolationists, at other times they sound more like Tolstoyan or Gandhian utopians. The following defines best, perhaps (in a novel like this one is not quite sure of anything), the essential viewpoint. Drake is a banker, seemingly modeled on the worst legends of Joe Kennedy, and the Grand Master is surely a caricature of J. Edgar Hoover:
“After Germany, Russia?” Drake asked.
“Very good. you are indeed farseeing,” the Grand Master replied…. “The war will probably end in ’44 or ’45. We will have Russian built up as the next threat within two years. Read this carefully.”
Drake read what was to become the National Security Act of 1947. “This abolishes the Constitution!” he said.
“Quite. And believe me, Mr. Drake, by ’46 or ’47 we will have Congress and the public ready to accept it. The American Empire is closer than you imagine.”
“But the isolationists and pacifists–Senator Taft and that crows…?”
“They will wither away. When communism replaces fascism s the number one enemy, your small town conservative will be ready for gloabl adventures on a scale that would make the heads of poor Mr. Roosevelt’s liberals spin….”
One would dearly love to hear William F. Buckley’s comment on this passage, and dozens like it.
While it is at it, the book also satirizes every variety of pulp adventure, especially detective and science fiction genres, any and all conspiracy theories (including the one it claims to propose), occultism and religion (with an absurd diety: Eris, Goddess of Confusion), and philosophy in general. But politics is the prime target, and one of the repeated delights awaiting the reader is the authors’ astonishing capacity to take John Birch Society theories one or several steps further, producing results that are simultaneously hilarious and though provoking.
There is somewhat a recrudescence of the naivete of the early 60s, and indeed the book is full of nostalgic references to SDS, the fun and games at the Democratic Convention of 1968, and the civil rights movement. But less naive is the celebration of such nearly forgotten individualist-radicals as Joe Hill, the abolitionist-anarchist Lysander Spooner, and Patrick Henry (who allegedly said of the Constitution, “I smell a rat. It squints toward monarchy.”) Also celebrated is Emperor Norton, a 19th Century San Francisco character who claimed to be Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico and who was loved by many San Franciscans; and, too, draft-resisters, tax-refusers, Antonin Artaud and other pioneer surrealists, John Dillinger (one of the book’s heroes and still alive of course) and (why not?) Tim Leary.
One fears that this nihilistic and mischievous novel may hit a popular responsive chord and develop into some sort of cult movement. If you begin seeing graffiti like “Don’t let THEM immanentize the eschaton!”, “Hail Eris!” or “What is John Guilt?”, then you know that it has started and, like the cliff hanger that ends Volume II, here we stand appalled: