‘All we see are the thingified images in our heads; we don’t know what’s out there.’ – RAW, letter; June 1987
I’ve been meaning to write this brief post since I came across a letter from RAW to someone named Kurt Smith (courtesy of rawilsonfans.org, via @mgathers23 – see note below*). I tweeted about it last year.
It’s dated 3 June 1987, and contains a mix of typefaces which look like they’re printed on an old (dot-matrix?) printer. I’ll refer to it as RAW’s “Dynamite Dave’s” letter, because of its letterhead. The scan isn’t very OCR-able – I’ve tried. But it contains some wonderfully lucid passages that clarify parts of Bob’s whole approach and philosophy in a way that I haven’t seen elsewhere – so I’ve typed a few passages out for use here (and to make them copy ‘n’ pasteable):
‘I find polemic one of the most exhilarating ways to communicate my “vision” or my lunacy or whatever it is. Banging my ideas against somebody else’s ideas seems to me to produce lovely dialectical sparks. Straight exposition, as in Prometheus, seems to me to merely produce popular science or journalism. Dialectical conflict seems to raise me or excite me to the level of real philosophy.’– RAW, Dynamite Dave’s letter, 1987
There are also some striking and highly quotable bits on “Platonic/Aristotelian systems” (amongst other things). But I’ll leave those until my next posts (RAW’s anti-metaphysical takes on Plato & Aristotle), which I’m less than half-way through.
“things may not exist at all” – RAW, letter (Dynamite Dave’s)
Meanwhile, here’s the passage on solipsism – the main reason for this post (I would have included it in my earlier posts on solipsism, but they were written before I saw the Dynamite Dave’s letter):
‘I am amused more than aghast that you confuse my position with solipsism. Shea has confused it with solipsism for 15 years or more and we argue about that regularly. Einstein confused this position with solipsism, also, and his 30-year debate with Bohr was based on the notion that Copenhagenism is solipsism. Other physicists still accuse Wheeler of solipsism. It seems rather hard to convey that transactionalism is not the solipsist pole of the Aristotelian-solipsist either/or but is a third alternative. I have tried to explain this dozens of ways in all my books, and the fact that some people still don’t get it just shows (I think) the extent to which the Aristotelian dualism still controls Western thought. Einstein didn’t understand this position even after 30 years of debating it with Bohr.’– RAW, Dynamite Dave’s letter, 1987
* Mike adds that “Kurt Smith was a coworker of Wilson’s from the Playboy days. They kept in touch via letters through the 80s. He has a shoebox full of letters from those days”.
(Note: I corrected a few minor, obvious typos from the letter, rather than adding “[sic]” after them: “exhilerating” from the first quote, and “Cophenhagenism” from the second).
One of the versions of Prometheus Rising is dedicated to Kurt Smith.
The shoebox full of RAW’s letters to Smith is now in very good hands. Meaning: there’s a decent chance RAWphiles will get to some or all of them at some point. I’ve read them all and they reveal a lot. Almost all of the letters are from the period when RAW lived in Ireland.
RAW’s “new metaphysics” (as he called it in CTIII) still seems woefully non-understood, even by his most fervent fans.
Or so it seems to me.
Thanks for that info, Michael. Really glad that those letters could see the light of day. Given that the above letter was apparently written partly in reply to Kurt’s expressed dislike of RAW’s ‘Natural Law’, I had wondered if it would turn up (perhaps in an appendix) in the forthcoming Hilaritas edition of Natural Law. But at that point I didn’t realise there was a shoebox full of such letters (which seems like a mouth-watering prospect to me!).
LikeLiked by 1 person
Incidentally, I couldn’t remember a direct reference by RAW to his “new metaphysics” as such – I guess you mean the following (CT3’s last para, apart from epilogue). Unless it’s an addition to a later edition (I don’t have the Hilaritas one):
‘If we try to write about this post-liberation experience, we perforce produce metaphysics. This can take the form of the incomprehensible and mind-boggling brands of philosophy normally called “metaphysics” or some new form, breaking the rules of ordinary literature, to jar “the” reader, or I should say a few readers, into the new perspective we wish to share. Joyce’s prose, Yeats’ poetry, the paradoxes of Charles Fort, the “occult” jokebooks of Crowley, all represent such grotesque masks, created to free us from believing in the more deceptive social masks. Like metaphysics, they mean more (and other) than they say, and never mean anything literally. As Wilde said, “The reality of metaphysics is the reality of masks.”‘
LikeLiked by 1 person
Yea, but I think RAW’s metaphysics resides more in scattered riffs on perception, language, neurobiology, phenomenological sociology, and physics.
I always found it interesting that Shea thought RAW a solipsist.
“It’s a miracle we can understand each other at all” – I’m paraphrasing from something he wrote, somewhere, from memory. Clearly, there’s what the academics call “intersubjectivity” in his metaphysics of perception.
I think this blog is wonderful, btw. You’re one of the best readers of RAW I know of, Mr. Dean.
Ah, thank you! I’ve been going with the “anti-metaphysical” label to describe RAW’s takes on some of these issues – partly because he has described himself as having an “anti-metaphysical bias”, and often he just starkly dismisses common metaphysical perspectives as medieval. Also, he seems to have some approaches in common with a bunch of philosophers labeled as “anti-metaphysical” by some academic philosophy texts (like not buying into “medieval” folk theories of essences etc). But I like the idea of a “new metaphysics” based on those newer fields you mention.
I’m a long-time fan of the Overweening Generalist blog, and often revisit it. I find that many of the topics, themes and people you wrote about have a way of resurfacing when I consider various RAW related matters for this blog. For example, I’m still working on the wonderful Richard Rorty’s books – I recall he was someone you wrote about wrt RAW, way back!
I agree that RAW was anti-metaphysics, and so I want to say I think his “New Metaphysics” was something Ironic…to link back to Rorty, in a way.
(Re: Rorty: I read some articles about him in the late 1980s/early 90s and thought, “My gawd: there actually might be an academic philosopher, still living, who I might want to read! Then I read _Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature_ and realized he was being lionized – rightly so – for this. But RAW was basically writing along the same lines, since 1959. I really liked your “declasse” article on RAW, btw.)
On another level, because he had formed his ideas about perception and social reality since at least the time he happened upon Korzybski in the Brooklyn Library, I think he found he wasn’t being understood, even though he reiterated his ideas about perception and “reality” many, many times, both in his books, in various “little mags” and, as we see in the Smith letter, in letters to friends. This may be another reason he used the term “metaphysics.” If it seems like metaphysics to others…
His ideas about perception seem to me to be all based in science, along with his readings in cultural anthropology (probably the unaccented area of his reading?) and phenomenological sociology, like Garfinkel, E.Goffman, P. Berger and Luckmann.
Word Press has me nailed as the OG, which I didn’t even notice until I pressed “post comment.”
If you like that blog, you’re one of, gosh, maybe up to eight or nine people who did.
LikeLiked by 1 person