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“[it’s] like having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon, wrapped ’round a large gold brick.”
Douglas Adams on …?
A SLICE OF LEMON?! Why not apple. A large gold brick? Why not a large golden… apple. OK, I admit it, he was apparently talking about the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster. But he could have as easily been talking about (can you hear the drums?)
Hell yeah. That’s right. The Illuminatus! trilogy. This book is totally crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy in so many ways and on so many levels (and probably even more than that, actually). It contains a shamelessly huge number of references to art/history/whatnot, and the funniest uses of self-reference I’ve ever encountered. It holds a very special place in my library, and also it’s a lot of fun, that’s why I chose it as the first (and hopefully not last) book to be discussed in my blog.
This book is an easy read: right from its first line, “It was the year when they finally immanentized the Eschaton.”, it will push you forward (and maybe pull you back when you finish it? Another inside joke from Math55…) through its dynamic plot, and you’ll be flying over the words, the sometimes absurdly long and complex sentences, the sudden shifts in time and place (and mindset), the infinite loads of irony, the puns, the Goddess(es), the talking porpoises, the playful mood, the underwater… whatever, laughing all the way. And – yay! It’s another sunny and exciting day of your life. You look up at the clear blue sky (no matter if it is clear and blue), infinitely more curious and infinitely more confused than you were when you started reading it. And that is always good. ‘What the hell was that?’, you might be asking yourself. What is left is this subtle feeling of a joke, resting somewhere under the worries of your mind – a small joke? a huge joke? maybe the world is a joke? maybe it was on you? – and it makes you smile mysteriously at everything and everyone you see that day. It makes you feel – or, more accurately, makes you remember that you are – liberated. And indeed, having your brains smashed out by a slice of the Apple of Discord never felt so good.
“Is”, “is.” “is” — the idiocy of the word haunts me. If it were abolished, human thought might begin to make sense. I don’t know what anything “is”; I only know how it seems to me at this moment”
― Robert Anton Wilson
This book is a hard read: you won’t know where you ARE, who the fnord characters ARE, whether what the two paranoid authors ARE scribbling about IS happening for real or not (whatever that means), what exactly IS happening, and all this IS making you mad, IS this some kind of crazy joke, why AM I even reading this?! Why all the weird conspiracy crap?! And fnord what IS the whole point of the story?!! It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. I shouldn’t have bought fnord that! I’d better leave it back on the shelf…
“The problem with quotes on the Internet is that you can’t always be sure of their authenticity.”
And as coincidence is a major theme of ‘Illuminatus!’, there was a curious coincidence involved in me ordering the book. I had known about it for several years, however I had some money to spend on books, so I ordered this together with one other book that had caught my eye more recenly: Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. That’s a weird combination, I thought. Several months later, I found this about ‘Illuminatus!’:
here, and this about ‘Gödel, Escher, Bach‘:
This book reads like an intellectual Grand Tour of hacker preoccupations. Music, mathematical logic, programming, speculations on the nature of intelligence, biology, and Zen are woven into a brilliant tapestry themed on the concept of encoded self-reference. The perfect left-brain companion to “Illuminatus”.
Dr John Lilly refers to “the crew that never rests” as Cosmic Coincidence Control Center and warns that they pay special attention to those who pay attention to them.
About possible criticism: Yes, I’m aware of all the conspiracy theories mentioned (and developed) in ‘Illuminatus!’ and the ‘Cosmic Trigger’ series. To put it firmly: I don’t care if any of them are true or not. When I read a book, I just read a book and that’s it. I agree that in some parts of ‘Cosmic Trigger’, Wilson might appear a little assertive of such stuff, and I always hate it when someone’s like, ‘OK, see? That’s how it is, that’s the conspiracy, they’re not giving you the truth – but I am!’, but his overall approach is agnostic in nature. And in ‘Illuminatus!’ I didn’t feel any signs of someone being assertive about anything. As I said, it left me even more confused and curious. So if you fell that the book is bad because it’s trying to convince you in some weird New World Order thing, the problem might actually be in your television set.
As to the point of the book (I’ve been successfully procrastinating bringing this scary word up), as far as there is one, well, I can’t tell you what it is. It’s simply because I don’t know. I haven’t seen it. I wasn’t able (for good or for bad) to just finish the last page and say, “Hey, I finally see what all this was about. So cool.” And as author Robert A. Wilson used to read Joyce’s Ulysses each year and find something new in it, I might do the same with ‘Illuminatus!’ (and maybe blog about it? haha!). So, nice job, Mr. Wilson! You should be glad, wherever you are. However, what I feel the point is, right now in this day and in this state of mind, recollecting about the experience I had while reading it a year or so ago, can be roughly summarized as:
Exploring and venting about quantitative issues
Adventures of a would-be do-gooder.
Mathematics related discussions
Updates on my research and expository papers, discussion of open problems, and other maths-related topics. By Terence Tao
Most of the blog moved to blog.krastanov.org