Robert Anton Wilson on the 23 engima

Fortean Times has republished a 1977 article by bOING bOING patron saint and contributor Robert Anton Wilson about the magickal, mystical number 23. Wilson, who died earlier this year, was fascinated with the number 23 and real or imagined synchronicities related to the digits. It was William S. Burroughs who turned Wilson on to the 23 engima that he went on to explore in both his fiction and non-fiction writings. From the Fortean Times article which appeared, of course, in the 23rd issue of the magazine:

 Articles 221 23-Raw

I first heard of the 23 enigma from William S Burroughs, author of Naked Lunch, Nova Express, etc. According to Burroughs, he had known a certain Captain Clark, around 1960 in Tangier, who once bragged that he had been sailing 23 years without an accident. That very day, Clark's ship had an accident that killed him and everybody else aboard. Furthermore, while Burroughs was thinking about this crude example of the irony of the gods that evening, a bulletin on the radio announced the crash of an airliner in Florida, USA. The pilot was another captain Clark and the flight was Flight 23.

Burroughs began collecting odd 23s after this gruesome synchronicity, and after 1965 I also began collecting them…

In conception, Mom and Dad each contribute 23 chromosomes to the fÅ"tus. DNA, the carrier of the genetic information, has bonding irregularities every 23rd Angstrom. Aleister Crowley, in his Cabalistic Dictionary, defines 23 as the number of "life" or "a thread", hauntingly suggestive of the DNA life-script. On the other hand, 23 has many links with termination: in telegraphers' code, 23 means "bust" or "break the line", and Hexagram 23 in I Ching means "breaking apart". Sidney Carton is the 23rd man guillotined in the old stage productions of A Tale of Two Cities. (A few lexicographers believe this is the origin of the mysterious slang expression "23 Skiddoo!".)

Some people are clusters of bloody synchronicities in 23. Burroughs discovered that the bootlegger "Dutch Schultz" (real name: Arthur Flegenheimer) had Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll assassinated on 23rd Street in New York when Coll was 23 years old. Schultz himself was assassinated on 23 October. Looking further into the Dutch Schultz case, I found that Charlie Workman, the man convicted of shooting Schultz, served 23 years of a life sentence and was then paroled.


Previously on BB:
• Robert Anton Wilson (RIP) Link
• Robert Anton Wilson university Link
• Link to many more BB posts about RAW Link
• Link to many BB posts about William S. Burroughs Link