Robert Anton Wilson was stricken by polio as a youngster. As he reached an older age he began to exhibit signs of Post-Polio Syndrome, a deteriorating disorder of the nervous system which occurs in many polio survivors. This progressed through it's many debilitating and painful stages until his death on January 11, 2007. The following excerpt is RAW's recounting of his reacion to the premature obituary for him printed in 1994.
Cosmic Trigger: Volume 3: My Life After Death
I GOT RUN OVER ON THE INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY
In Which the Author Learns of His Own Death
and We Begin to Look Behind the
Masks of Art and Magick
This is not a normal world.
"Maybe" is a thin reed to hang your whole life on, but it's all we've got.
-- Hannah and Her Sisters
According to reliable sources, I died on February 22, 1994 -- George Washington's birthday. I felt nothing special or shocking at the time, and believed that I still sat at my word processor working on a novel called Bride of Illuminatus. At lunch-time, however, when I checked my voice mail, I found that Tim Leary and a dozen other friends had already called to ask to speak to me, or -- if they still believed in Reliable Sources -- to offer support and condolences to my grieving family. I quickly gathered that news of my tragic end had appeared on Internet, one of the most popular computer networks, in the form of an obituary from the Los Angeles Times:
"Noted science-fiction author Robert Anton Wilson was found dead in his home yesterday, apparently the victim of a heart attack. Mr. Wilson, 63, was discovered by his wife, Arlen.
"Mr Wilson was the author of numerous books....He was noted for his libertarian viewpoints, love of technology and off the wall humor. Mr Wilson is survived by his wife and two children."
This L.A. Times obit originally got on the net via somebody in Cambridge, Mass. I thought immediately of the pranksters at M.I.T. -- the Gremlins of Cyberspace, as somebody called them.
I admired the artistic verisimilitude of the Gremlin who forged that obit. He mis-identified my ouvre. (Only 6 of my 28 books could possibly get classified as science-fiction, and perhaps 3 more as science-faction.) He also, more clumsily, stated my age wrong by one year and the number of my surviving children wrong by one child. Little touches of incompetence and ignorance like that helped create the impression of a real, honest-to-Jesus L.A. Times article -- just as creaking chairs, background coughs, overlapping dialogue, scrupulously "bad" sound quality etc. make the bogus newsreels in Orson Welles's two greatest movies, Citizen Kane and F For Fake, seem "just like the real thing."
The forged L.A. Times obituary may not rank with Welles's most monumental hoaxes -- e.g. his prematurely Deconstructionist "war of the worlds" radio show, where bland music and increasingly ominous newsbreaks thoroughly confused a mass audience about the borderline between "art" and "reality." But the Times forgery, if not of Wellesian heft, certainly contained a Wellesian blend of art and magic: in retrospect, it even reminds me, a little, of the 1923 Surrealist art show, in which the audience first encountered a taxi-cab in the garden -- a cab which had rain falling inside but not outside -- and then confronted a sign telling them gnomically:
DADA IS NOT DEAD
WATCH YOUR OVERCOAT
I always think that double dip of guerilla ontology (by Dali and Breton, respectively) carried the baffled audience beyond surrealism into post-modernism, i.e. Total Agnosticism and/or terminal bewilderment. Certainly, art and life, and art and magick, have never gotten clearly disentangled again to the satisfaction of all observers. In this struggle to knock down the Iron Curtain between creativity and "reality," I tend to see the Wellesian men-from-Mars hoax as the second major step after surrealism and, ahem, I sometimes immodestly consider my own works a third step.
But the Gremlin who killed me on February 22 carried the "transformation of mind and all that resembles it" (Breton) one quantum jump further than I ever had. He caused real grief and shock, if not Wellesian mass panic.
One friend told me that the first bulletin he saw, on Compuserve, just quoted the alleged LA obit and then added, "This is as bad as learning that Zappa died. I think I'm going to meditate a bit, in his memory."
Another networker, female, keyboarded in a whole chapter of Ecclesiastes in my memory -- "For everything there is a season, a time for every matter under the sun: a time to be born, a time to die" etc. -- and then added "Now get out there and PARTY LIKE HE'D WANT YOU TO!"
One bulletin from "The House of Apostles of Eris, San Francisco" said that "attempts to contact Robert Anton Wilson have been unsuccessful" -- hmmm? -- but nevertheless reassured all that "RAW is alive and busy with religious works." I think the author of that bulletin intended to sound unconvincing, especially to the initiates of my Classic Novels (Erisian "religious works" consist of mind-fucks or "shocks " in the strict Masonic sense). He or she certainly cast contagious suspicion on the other denials being posted on the nets by various friends who had managed to contact me. Certainly, the conspiracy buffs who have followed my career ever since Iluminatus will not believe a report that includes the suspicious admission that nobody could find me .... Many contributions to the alive-or-dead controversy seemed unsure whether I had died (or hadn't died) in Los Angeles or San Francisco. The funniest one of all claimed I survived, but in Howth (County Dublin, Ireland) -- where I lived during most of the 1980s:
"Contacted at his home in Howth Castle, Wilson said 'The reports of my death have been slightly exaggerated. I can still totter about a bit and even crack a weak joke occasionally.'"
To which some wit, recognizing the Joycean jest, replied: "Shouldn't that be Howth Castle and Environs?"
The Howth legend continued to circulate from one net to another, and soon included the news that I had taken over management of the Committee for Surrealist Investigation of Claims of the Normal (CSICON) after the death of its founder, Prof. Timothy F.X. Finnegan, of Trinity College, Dublin, and that CSICON still offers $100,000 to any "normalist" who can produce "a perfectly normal person, place or thing -- or even an ordinary sunset. Or an average day."
Of course, Finnegan and CSICON exist in some sense, like Howth Castle, as readers of my works know by now -- not quite in the sense in which the Statue of Liberty exists, but not entirely in the metaphoric sense in which the National Debt and the Holy Trinity "exist" either. But the result of all this was beginning to make me wonder if I only exist in some semiotic or metaphoric sense myself, sort of like an elderly male Madonna. I mean, like, man, do I exist the way the Howth Castle in Dublin exists, or the way the Howth Castle and Environs in Finnegans Wake exists?
I remembered a Spiritualist treatise I had once read. (I skim all sorts of weird literature, which keeps me from believing totally any of the stuff we get told as Official Truth by the major media). This ghostly tome claimed that we poor spectres often do not know we've died until some medium "contacts" us and explains why people have started treating us so rudely lately -- e.g., why even our wives and children ignore us outright unless we knock over the lamps or rap in code on the tables.
I had also read Jonathan Swift's hilarious "pamphlet war" with the astrologer Partridge about whether Partridge had or had not died on the day predicted by a rival astrologer, Isaac Bickerstaff. ("Bickerstaff" sounds a lot like Swift himself, operating behind a Mask as usual, just as Lemuel Gulliver, the scientific world traveler, also sounded curiously like Swift; we shall learn much about Reality and Masks in this enquiry.) Although Partridge insisted vehemently on his continued vitality, Swift's argument, a model of Celtic subtlety, held that just because a man claims he hasn't died and may even believe it himself, this does not logically require us to credit his unsupported testimony. This left poor Partridge floundering -- (never argue with a Dublin intellectual) -- and now I felt myself floundering a bit also.
Obviously, my testimony on the matter would not convince Swift, when he decided to play the Scientific Skeptic, and I wondered if it would convince CSICOP --the group opposing CSICON.
CSICOP (Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal) believes that the "normal" actually exists somewhere, and not just in some Platonic spook world. They claim it exists everywhere, and that nothing else at all exists anywhere. (If you see any of the 10100 not-normal things in this world, they will claim you had a hallucination.)
As a famous bard wrote:
He thought he saw a banker's clerk descending from a bus
He looked again and saw it was a hippopotamus
I remembered a Phil Dick novel, Ubik, about a bunch of dead people who don't know they have died and think the universe has slowly started turning into shit. If that happened to me, I would not and could not know about it -- by definition.
Thoughts like that can really unsettle your mental architecture, especially if you wasted a lot of your life on epistemological philosophy, and on cannabis extracts. I, alas, have indulged both those vices on many occasions, and I fear that I have become a horrible example of Aggravated Existentialism. Worse yet: I have also heard Albert Rosenfeld, a distinguished M.D., lecturing on "clinical death," say, "We have come a long way from the day when Marshall Dillon lifts the sheet and says, 'He's dead, all right.' Now it takes a committee to decide." But these ontological doubts got pushed aside when the C.I.A. entered the Trip, playing the Wrathful Demons of this bardo. Somebody (signing her/him/itself as "Anon.") logged the following into several computer bulletin boards:
"THE C.I.A. KILLED ROBERT ANTON WILSON...
"Wilson did not die of natural causes. He was assassinated. Earlier on that day, Wilson was injected with a time-delay poison based on shellfish toxin, by agents of the CIA's special SUPER SECRET BLACK OPERATIONS SQUAD, using a special microscopic needle made of a plastic which dissolves in the body without a trace. Wilson's body had immediately been taken and cremated and the usual step of an autopsy had been bypassed, BY ORDERS FROM ABOVE.
"It is clear why the power$ that be wanted Wilson dead. Wilson was a dangerous element; the government can only govern if the majority does not question the system (whoever currently "rules" does not matter.) The troublesome minority can be dealt with discreetly, by means of EXECUTIVE ACTION (assassination), which is what happened with Wilson....
"Earlier the same agencies (CIA, NRO, DEA and CFR/TLC/Bilderberger BOLSHEVIK SHADOW GOVERNMENT) had LSD advocate Timothy Leary neutralized with a neurotoxin which DESTROYS THE MIND and ARTIFICIALLY INDUCES A STATE SIMILAR TO SENILITY...
"Dissemenation of this information is encouraged. MAKE 30 COPIES."
Cute as a shit-house rat, I thought, when I read this. Now, whenever Tim tells people I haven't died, that will furnish further evidence of his "senility." Of course, I also enjoyed the idea that somebody, somewhere, might consider me important enough to terrorize the C.I.A. and call out their SUPER SECRET BLACK OPERATIONS SQUAD to terminate me. Since CLASSIFIED represents the rating directly below SECRET in government security manuals, I wondered how the CLASSIFIED BLACK OPERATIONS SQUAD spends its time -- giving housemaid's knee or genital warts to editorial cartoonists? Others grew more eldritch:
"Maybe the government has installed a VIRTUAL RAW in his place to allay people's fears. Oh, sure, he can respond all he wants, but I know it's not the real RAW."
But my favorite contribution of the Wilson Mythos was logged by somebody using the moniker, The Green One:
"There is no toxin. There is no needle. You have not heard of a toxin. You have not heard of a needle. They were not tools of the conspiracy. There is no conspiracy. The toxin and the needle, which do not exist, played no part in the conspiracy, which does not exist. Fnord. Repeat after me. There is no toxin..."
What can I add to that bit of guerilla ontology, except to say "Fnord indeed?"