Book Review: August 1992
Reality is What You Can Get Away With (A Screenplay)
by Robert Anton Wilson
For those unfamiliar with Robert Anton Wilson, the manis probably the most impressive and influential wielder of the literary mindfuck. Luckily, those of us who view Wilson as a guru (albeit one full of a lot of bullshit) can be placated by his latest work, Reality is What You Can Get Away With (A Screenplay).
Reality features a plot within a plot. Using his usual ingenuity, Wilson would have us believe that Reality was a screenplay for a movie filmed in 1990s America and later discovered by future archaeologists. Seems these enlightened descendents of the human race recognize our age for just what it is: an age of bullshit artists.
The introduction (by one Professor Padraic Hakim Hasagawa) is a hilarious but scathing look at just how ridiculous many of the notions we as humans cling to so tightly truly are. One particularly effective passage states: “a special group of people, engaged chiefly in shooting, bombing, burning, and otherwise destroying other people, did not call themselves the Department of Murder or even the Department of War. These terms made no sense in Bullshit. Those engaged in that bloody profession called themselves the Department of Defense. Again, the function lies in concealing, not revealing, the facts.” Similarly, religion and government are taken to task by the scathing Hasagawa.
But the screenplay itself is just a mind-wrenching trip into what makes our reality tick. The tale features a couple, lgnatz Ratsiwatski and Betty Boop, watching T.V., only to have pirate broadcasts, aimed at expanding human consciousness, override the signals, much to Ignatz’s dismay. Or is that really what’s going on? As usual, Wilson plays tricks with perception and belief to bring his point across. In this work, there are realities within realities, so the act of trying to figure out just what is occurring becomes an ultimately futile exercise. Life, Wilson would have us believe, is ludicrous and being made worse by the consummate “bullshit artists” who basically run the shop.
In addition, Wilson manages to throw in some heavy mediation on a subject which has evidently become a favorite topic for him recently; the so-called “reality tunnels” we each engage in. It is here, ultimately, that Wilson does most of his damage.
These theoretical “reality tunnels” are the constructs our minds use to filter through all of the input we receive from our bodies. But these constructs are, in themselves, flawed in two serious ways. The first is in our imperfect bodies themselves and their faulty perceptions. But the second flaw is even worse in that it involves our minds. Wilson and others posit that from birth, our environment and influences cause our minds to construct “reality tunnels” to judge, measure, weigh, etc. the input we receive. Rather than being truly open to what we experience, we filter it through our minds and get inaccurate data. Herein lies the root case of our differences of opinion, strife, pain infliction, etc. Wilson suggests abandoning this way of thinking and learning to use our brains “for fun and profit.”
But things aren’t all heavy in Reality As stated before, Wilson himself is (as he would gleefully admit) a “bullshit artist,” and while there is a lot of useful food for thought to be found, there is also a lot of devious abstraction thrown in. All that will probably distract a lot of readers, especially those who follow Wilson’s ILLUMINATUS! material with too much seriousness and devotion.
Indeed, the author includes many of his favorite subjects in Reality including the ELF (Erisian Liberation Front), the Illuminati, the “Schrodinger’s Cat” dilemma and (most importantly) J. R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius.
This reviewer could probably go blathering on all day about the merits of this book. It is amusing, enlightening and anything but dull. An added bonus is the accompanying artwork, cropped from stills of old Hollywood movies and other media, which have been altered to illustrate the screenplay. These photos serve to delineate Wilson’s point of just how ludicrous our concrete notions of reality are, and this is the point of the book. It’s not enough just to think for one’s self but to learn to think for one’s self.
Throw all this together with numerous great bumper sticker quotes and you have a book that is an experience. You owe it to yourself to find a copy and read it, or give it to someone who needs a dose of “unreality.” Let there be slack.
Check out more from SLUG Archives:
Book Review: April 1992
Book Review: March 1992
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