Monday 24 October 2011

Am I a Theorist or a Seeker?

Like you, I'm a selfish person. Every so often, though, I am bewildered by my own uncharacteristic generosity.

About ten years ago, I managed to assemble a set of Neil Oram's novelizations of The Warp, in three volumes: 1. The Storms' Howling through Tiflis, 2. Lemmings on the Edge and 3. The Balustrade Paradox. (Ken himself appears at the end of volume 3, in the guise of a distinctly malevolent gnome.) The books were much harder to get hold of then than they are now, and I had to follow numerous and lengthy false trails and disappointments. However, once I eventually had all three books clutched in my hot little hands, I barely skimmed through them before handing them over in a carrier bag as a gift to my friend Baz. I still don't know why I did that, but presumably it felt like the right thing to do at the time. I'm seeing him in a couple of weeks' time, in Dorset, so I'll take the opportunity to ask him if he ever read them. I have recently replaced the copies, and am waiting for an appropriate time in my life to tackle them. My feeling is that, since I went through the 1998 Warp at The Albany with Oliver Senton, the books, though obligatory, are not top-priority.

In the meantime, I've been feeling quite Campbellish since the Jeff Merrifield book Seeker!, so it's time to begin filling in another long-overdue gap. (I am a strict completist, which means I am reluctant to start reading a book by any particular author unless I reckon I have a decent chance of finishing everything ever written by them or about them.) This comes in the form of the Illuminatus! audiobook, again in three volumes: 1. The Eye in the Pyramid, 2. The Golden Apple and 3. Leviathan. The entire thing ('unabridged') is available performed by Ken himself and the astonishing Chris Fairbank, and the recording clocks in at over 32 hours. I'm listening to it in half-hour bursts on my way to and from work. My walk to work actually takes 45 minutes, but after 30 of this stuff, my mind is full to bursting and can't digest any more.

I'm simultaneously intrigued and repulsed by conspiracy theorists. But I believe that what Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson are celebrating in these books is not the smug certainty that conspiracy theorists indulge in, but rather the free-wheeling open-ended journey of the conspiracy seeker. Theorists have an answer to everything. There is no piece of new evidence that cannot be plastered or squelched into the existing thesis, no matter how potty. Errant data is spirited away so that theorists can proclaim themselves the guardians of secret knowledge. Seekers, however, delight in the uncertainty of the errant data, for it means that whatever gluey theory had allowed itself to coalesce through lazy thinking, now has to be reappraised. They seek a world that regains its childlike sense of wonder on a regular basis. The discovery that your world-view is entirely unsupported – bare instants after you thought you'd glimpsed what was really going on, who held the cards and pulled the strings, or managed to get a toehold on the bigger picture –  is certainly liberating. The feeling is akin to the moment of weightlessness at the apex of a roller-coaster, when your sense of what is up and what is down vanishes. In that instant, your identity vanishes with it, and you are free.

Does that explain why, at the crucial moment I had The Warp books in my grasp, I let them go? Does the selflessness that comes at the split-second of zero-gravity uncertainty allow feats of uncharacteristic generosity? Or, was I frightened of what I would find if I gave the books too much attention, or of literally losing myself in their contents? And is my hardline completism a subconscious effort to account for, and weed out, what appears to be errant data? In other words: deep down, do I consider certainty or uncertainty my greater enemy?