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a man slumped on his desk, from 'The Sleep of Reason Produces



another fine mess

So, Robert Anton Wilson died again. I snuck, I hope, an obituary masquerading as a tech column into this week’s Irish Times, documenting RAW’s influence (and, collaterally, drug culture) on tech culture. It should be out on Friday. Jesse Walker did a far broader and finer job on RAW in Reason. His excellent anecdote about Illuminatus!’s banned status in Soviet Leipzig reminds me of a story that typifies the chaos Wilson injected into my own life.

At university, we had one of Britain’s copyright libraries, which meant in theory that they had claim to one copy of every book and periodical published in the United Kingdom. I blew a lot of time trying to probe the library with requests to see what obscure volumes I could pull out from the stacks. One day, I looked up Sex and Drugs by Robert Anton Wilson.

I went up to the nice librarian with my chit to call up the book. She looked at the slip I’d written out, and took me to one side. “You’ve called up one of our restricted set,” she said. “You’ll need your tutor’s permission to read that, and only in a special room we set aside for that purpose.” I said it didn’t matter, and left the desk.

I looked at the piece of paper I’d given her. The shelf mark that I’d scribbled down from the catalogue began with the greek letter ϕ (Phi) and a series of numerals.

The library had recently installed an electronic catalogue, accessible from terminals in the library. I walked over, called up the shelfmark search, and typed “Phi”. There, listed and catalogued, were all the Damned Things anyone might want you not to know about, carefully gathered and presented.

The trick still works, although you have to use the telnet interface to the Bodleian’s OLIS system, and dig down to the extended search screen. I see that the damned now includes books by Norman Lindsay, Elton John, Madonna, the Consumer Association’s 1963 Which? review of contraceptives, Aleister Crowley, Monty Python, Fiesta’s Reader’s Wives special, W.H. Auden’s The Platonic Blow, Razzle, Davey “Wavey” Winder, Henry Miller, Wilhelm Reich, William Burroughs, Sacher-Masoch and Charles Platt.

I find it reassuring that I’ve met four of Oxford’s banned authors since I left. When I met Robert Anton Wilson, I asked him if Father Christmas existed. He told me and I’ll keep that secret until I join him in the grave. See you after the circus, RAW.

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petit disclaimer:
My employer has enough opinions of its own, without having to have mine too.