1. 1.The Function of Fragmented Narration in the Illuminatus! Trilogy

1.The Function of Fragmented Narration in the Illuminatus! Trilogy

Ian Stuart Garlington 大阪大学(院)


Epistemological crises, rapidly proliferating conspiracy theories, a pandemic of psychedelic drugs, rampant flights to mysticism, various cultural (mis)appropriations of quantum mechanics, the lasting influence of Joyce, Eliot and Pound. This list could very well come from the table of contents of an introduction to postmodern American culture, yet in this case it will serve as an unsatisfactory list of just some of the themes found in the long-ignored elephant in America’s literary living room, Illuminatus! (1975). While working as editors at Playboy magazine in the late sixties Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea wrote Illuminatus! based on a combination of the most spectacular conspiracy theories found in the unpublished submissions to the magazine’s letters column and Wilson’s long correspondence with Kerry Thornley (to whom the book is dedicated)-one of the founders of the joke religion Discordianism and key player in the Garrison investigation of the JFK assassination due to his bizarre string of connections with Lee Harvey Oswald. The plot of the novel loosely centers on the efforts of the Legion of Dynamic Discord in their struggle to prevent the end of the world as the result of an Illuminati plot that began more than thirty thousand years ago in the lost civilization of Atlantis.

In my presentation I will examine how the fragmented writing style and ambiguity in narration become prerequisites for a “sane” approach to discussing conspiracy. Susan Sontag says, “If there is any ‘knowledge’ to be gained through art, it is the experience of the form or style of knowing the subject, rather than a knowledge of the subject itself.” If the subject of Illuminatus! is a plethora of conspiracy theories, the form or style of knowing is one of uncertainty that forces the reader to repeatedly ask questions about who speaks as well as the relationship between these speakers in a universe that appears to melt together through space-time--between death, dreams and hallucinations. Although passages with constantly shifting subjects, narrators and tenses appear consistently throughout the story, they reach a climax in the sections depicting the experience of LSD. Despite the three principles common to both the experience of hallucinogenic drugs and a paranoid belief in conspiracy ([1] a perception that everything happens for a reason, [2] a belief that things are not as they appear, and [3] a sense that everything is connected) I argue that the chaotic and comedic aspects of these passages work to safeguard the reader against a potential for “belief” in any of the competing narratives that define present day reality by providing knowledge of the experience of an entirely agnostic view of reality.