As you might know, Robert Anton Wilson (1932 – 2007) is one of Boing Boing's patron saints. Raw's humor, skepticism, optimism, and ability to reveal the deep weirdness underlying almost everything were deeply influential to Carla and me when we launched bOING bOING as a zine in 1987. In fact, we kind of started the zine as an excuse to interview RAW at his house in Santa Monica that year. I'm very grateful I was able to get to know RAW, and honored that he wrote a regular column for bOING bOING. I'm also grateful to have become a friend of Bob's daughter, Christina, a delightful person who is active in keeping her father's books in print. Here's an essay Christina wrote about a new edition of Ishtar Rising, a book originally published by Playboy Press called The Book of the Breast. — Mark
A while back, we knew that Hilaritas Press would soon be working on releasing a new edition of Robert Anton Wilson's Ishtar Rising, prepping it for publication by removing tons of typos (thanks to Gregory Arnott, Chas Faris, Rasa, and a few select others), and inserting a timely new foreword by Grant Morrison. We were excited to be manifesting what we had intended; to publish and make available as many of RAW's books as we could. I had originally read the book in its The Book of the Breast form in my early twenties, having just returned from India (yep, went to gain enlightenment, but instead gained disillusionment — which has served me well!) with a goal of starting a small business that would enable me to be financially and emotionally independent. What did I think of it then? Bleh. Not much, I was simply too undeveloped.
What I learned in India was this; after running away from a 10-day vipaśyanā training (because I was sure an inner darkness would eat me up) I ran into a young beggar woman, of India's lowest caste, the Dalit. She stood there begging, with a toddler at her feet and a new baby in her arms. I suddenly had a moment of clarity into how truly different our reality tunnels were; she had no options, and I had many. She was resigned to her position in life, I was not. As a woman, and as an American, I had opportunities that girls my own age around the world had absolutely no concept of, or access to. I suddenly understood that I had the truly amazing GRACE of CHOICE. I stood up, aware that many had died to give me the freedoms I had; and yes, maybe these freedoms were curtailed and stunted by the idiocy of gender discrimination, the power of the "wealthy over poor," and countless belief systems that were like juggernauts of insanity ruling from unconscious thrones; but freedoms I had, and I was profoundly grateful. I could decide to change my life, so I did.
Looking back, I admit I read The Book of the Breast at that time without much contemplation on what it was saying. However, in re-reading it last year, I really enjoyed a peek into Bob's head during the time when I myself was beginning to experience puberty, and as I am now 63 with a lot more life experience under my belt, the book has touched me in a very profound way.
While the The Book of the Breast was being written, we lived in Chicago, on Paulina Street, where we had just moved to. I was in 5th-6th grade, and 3-4 boys had discovered the great joy of pestering me (we all became great friends over the next couple years). They would ride on their bikes to my house, throw pebbles at the window, and then we would exchange tons of adolescent banter. Bob and Arlen shrugged it off good naturedly. I think they were just glad I was home! One day one of the boys, Alan, needed to come in to the house to use our bathroom, and unbeknownst to me, had peeked into Bob and Arlen's bedroom. Where, GASP, he saw the huge collage of women's breasts made with magazine photos Bob had meticulously cut out and adorned one wall with. (He WAS writing The Book of the Breast, at the time you know…) Their bedroom was a large room, today we would probably call it a master bedroom although it did not have a bathroom of its own. My parents slept on a bare mattress on the floor at one end of the room, with one dresser, a couple of bookcases, a card table with Bob's typewriter on it, and a folding chair for him to sit on. The collage was the only thing decorating the whole wall. As far as young Alan was concerned, it was a MIRACLE!
Oh My God…. Alan raced out of the house, beet-faced and squealing "Breasts! There's pictures of breasts!" of course the guys (aged 11-13) all went semi-hysterical, asking me a kajillion questions "I can't believe your dad works for Playboy!" "Why does your dad have breasts on the wall?" "Does your mother mind?" "Can you get us magazines?" … The last question was asked by just about every boy in my classes for the following two years, until I graduated eighth grade. I never did get them magazines, but they sure tried!
So there's my personal early memory attached to The Book of the Breast. Bob wrote it pretty quickly, and the breast collage morphed into other artwork going up. I do remember when I had asked him about it, "Why do you have that up?" he mused and said something along the lines of "to remind me of the marvelous differences of every breast…" I was like "Uh, okay." Seemed kind of useless to me. But what did I know? I was 11-12 years old!
Some 40 years later, rereading the book, not only did I realize I had childishly dismissed its cultural value, I also began to experience a deep desire to present the manuscript as Bob had intended originally; with as many of the original photographs as possible that he had chosen, and with their captions, as it really helps to flesh out the concepts in the book. This became somewhat of a passion/obsession of mine, and I would often get stuck for hours in the process of researching internet images over the past half year! Poor Rasa [owner of Hilaritas Press], who was excited to get the project completed, would regularly say, "How are the pictures coming along?" Did I tell him finding one image the night before had led me to spend hours researching archeological findings from early Mesopotamia? Or that looking for photos of Clara Bow had led me to investigate deeply into the American silent film era, and the transition to sound? No way! But I did learn a lot about photography, and the logistics required to reprint images legally. I, of course, had rather naively thought that because the images were in the original book, of course we could print them! Nope! Each and every one needed to be researched to determine the current ownership status, and then I needed to seek permission to use the images again in the reprint. For a few images, the process took months. Others were done in minutes. Overall, it cost several thousand dollars to have the rights to reintegrate most of the original pictures as best we could, while also adding a few new images when necessary.
I wanted to put almost every photo I found in the book, and was only stopped by the cost of printing in color. Of course some of the images are in black and white, as that's how they were taken. But I must say I am delighted to be presenting a book with vivid, lovely, and sometimes thought provoking images, in color, and I have a hunch RAW would be delighted.
I can assure you that as a living breathing female of our half-baked species, I have much to say on the weird imbalance of our gender crisis. For me, this imbalance lies at the root of most of the destructive forces of our world. There is no balance; we live in a sort of culture model that I see as based on "vertical thinking" (tends to be more masculine-oriented) as opposed to "lateral thinking (tends to be more feminine-oriented) Vertical access is great, but where does it stop? Growth is everything!!! (think Amazon, Google, etc.) – Grow, Grow, get rich, get powerful! POWER! If you have it you are to be RESPECTED! But what good is power when the ecosystem collapses and you cannot breathe the air? What good are your riches if you live in a gated gilded castle but cannot dare to leave because your fortress is surrounded by despairing, angry masses that have grown to despise you, hate you, and blame you for the source of their woes? Does this give you freedom? Not really, at least not the sort I crave. I see our species in general as ignorantly pursuing an unsustainable and ultimately deadly form of materialism that puts all life – in fact, all that is sacred – at risk. Perhaps it is a form of spiritual cancer; I have been told cancer is the result of cellular mutations that cause UNRELENTING cell growth to occur, which either kills the host, or the host needs to kill it, often at great personal expense. Cancer teaches us that unrelenting growth is not progress, it is a death sentence, and to live, one must shift direction.
Lateral thinking is more like "hmmm, let's see, what ARE the long-range consequences of this decision, and will it impact my children, grandchildren, my neighbors, the life on planet earth negatively or positively?" It is thinking that spreads outward, more engaged in the network of it than the "one-pointed goal" like "we gotta get to the Moon first, because then we win!" And what did we win? Not really much of anything from my perspective; yes, some medical breakthroughs, and engineering breakthroughs, but did we attain the illusory goal of POWER? Not from my perspective!
Let us become stronger by acknowledging both masculine and feminine are not truly balanced without fully engaging the other; it is both the vertical spires and the lateral trusses that give a building strength; the interweaving, as it were, to strengthen the whole. So. We have choice, my friends. Shall we deny the truth of what is being messaged all around us, and be blown away? Or shall we learn to flex with wonder and gratitude, weaving our very beings with the elemental powers gifted to us by our Elemental Parents, dual complementary Aspects of the One, enabling us to thrive?
I will finish with these words that come from the introduction RAW wrote in 1973 to The Book of the Breast;
Most men, after all, are on their best behavior when under the spell of that double catenary curve; they stare or feed or caress and are as cozy as puppies — one cannot imagine them a threat to the earth, the animals or other men. But once they leave this central sacrament of existence and begin thinking about how the universe (or other people) might be improved, they are apt to go a bit wild and start brandishing clubs or cannons or hydrogen bombs. Nobody knows why the rest of us put them in government mansions instead of mental hospitals when they get stirred up that way, but they would certainly be better off contemplating Helen's breasts (or Sophia's or Marge's or Jayne's or Molly's). Earth would not resemble hell quite so much if men attended to such earthly matters more and were not up in the air over ideologies.
So read on, my friends; enjoy and share!
Much love, Christina
A Note From Hilaritas Press:
Decisions about how to put together the new Hilaritas Press edition of Ishtar Rising presented us with an array of issues that arise from the book's historical iterations. The 1974 Playboy Press edition, The Book of the Breast, a commissioned work from the magazine, had photographs interspersed throughout the text with captions written by Bob that followed the written narrative.
When Bob regained the rights to the book from Playboy Press in the mid 1980s, he decided to republish it with the text largely as originally written, but with a new title and a new foreword. This new edition was published through a small publishing house, New Falcon Publications. The book that emerged in 1989 (sadly filled with typos), was quite different from the original. The New Falcon edition had inserted new photos and only SOME of the original photos, and all the photographs were clumped together in the center of the book, with no photo captions. We can only surmise that the effort of obtaining legal rights to all of the original photographs was deemed either too expensive or too daunting, as the New Falcon photo choices were quite different from the original. We also are guessing that if you couldn't get all the original photos, then entering Bob's original photo captions on just some of the images probably did not make sense.
In the new Hilaritas Press edition of Ishtar Rising, we have attempted to honor Bob's original guidelines, and recreate the Playboy layout as much as possible. We took the time, effort and considerable expense of tracking down and gaining rights to as many of the original photos as possible. For those photos for which we could not locate permissions, we found suitable substitutions that worked with Bob's photo captions. In many cases, when finding images that Playboy used, we were able to obtain the same image but at a much higher quality. Because of improvements in digital processing and printing, we can not only offer superior graphics, but also an Ishtar Rising in full color.