Book review: United We Fnord

One of the aims of our Mycelium Parish News was to cover discordian events in the UK. I wondered what other groups were about, and re-read Brenton Clutterbuck’s United We Fnord to learn more. This book is subtitled ‘more discordian tales from the UK’ and arose from Clutterbuck’s longer Chasing Eris project, which published in 2018. United We Fnord was inspired from a Chasing Eris review by Cat Vincent. While positive about the book, Cat points out that there was more scope for discussing some of the details.

I found the two chapters on the British scene were notably lacking in the kind of in-depth description of the people and scenes that are the lifeblood of other chapters: other than his presence at the Horse Hospital fundraiser for Cosmic Trigger, Clutterbuck didn’t seem to have spent as much time simply hanging out with the people, and so the two chapters on the UK scene focus more on the history

I guess Clutterbuck didn’t want the UK section overwhelming the book, and this additional book features several people who were cut from Chasing Eris. It’s an interesting glimpse into the Discordian scene at the time of Clutterbuck’s visit – or, I think visits, given some of the timings of some of the interviews. He was in the country for the Horse Hospital event, ‘The Late, Great Robert Anton Wilson’ on 23rd October 2013 – but one interview with Ben Graham took place after Festival 23 in July 2016.

The ‘Late Great Robert Anton Wilson’ event is now almost ten years ago. That gathering at the Horse Hospital was described by Clutterbuck as “a fun but unassuming night that never seemed to warn that it would explode outwards with so much power – books, plays, magazines, conferestivals and more can trace their roots back to this event”.

Being at this event introduced Clutterbuck to Jon Harris, the Money-Burning Guy. The interview with Jon shows him early in his explorations of money burning. The book also notes that Jon Harris’s first burn was on 23rd October 2007, six years to the day before the horse hospital event.

One of the most interesting discussions was with Dr Syn, who ran the Syntacalypse Generator press. There are a dizzying number of publications listed, some featuring compilations of online epherma (a ‘web scrounge’), others serious attempts to construct a new Discordian scripture. There’s a part of me that wants a clear bibliography for Discordianism, but the maybe these authorships and publishing histories should be chaotic. The Black Iron Prison book is referred to in several interviews. A Discordian bibliography is listed on wikipedia and on a Discordian fandom wiki. There is a separate list elsewhere of Syntacalypse Generator Press publications.

Clutterbuck found some of his interviewees through the principiadiscordia.com forum, and there are discussions of opaque forum drama, and we see how that relates to the real world. There is also an interview with psychogeographer Morag Rose (albeit with only a brief reference to Discordianism). I also enjoyed reading about Hagbard, who got into discordianism via the ddate utility that was bundled into linux, which generated the Discordian date and led him towards the Principia Discordia.

I signed up for the principiadiscordia.com forum, but things seem quiet and I am not sure if they are taking new members. There may be other Discordian groups on Facebook, but I’ve not been a member there for years. I assume that there are others out there, doing the Discordian thing of ‘sticking apart’.

(The book is currently available only on Clutterbuck’s patreon, which probably limits the opportunity to access it – although I’m not sure if you can get if by signing up for a single month)

The Mycelium Parish Magazine

The Mycelium Parish News is a zine about what happened in a particular corner of UK counter-culture during 2022. It was produced by Dan Sumption and me over the past 3-4 months, and was released just in time for Christmas. It’s 44 pages, but is just light enough that it qualifies as a letter, meaning you can order this for £2.30 including post and packing from my etsy store.

I’m really pleased with this. It includes roundups of events, podcasts, videos, books and more over the last year. There are also a couple of longer updates from Commoner’s Choir and the Church of Burn. We’ve also set up a URL-shortener to save having to type in long links for the online resources.

I had originally suggested to Dan that we work towards doing something like this for 2023, and Dan insisted we get something together for this year. I wasn’t sure but decided to give it a try. I’m glad we did – it’s exciting to see all the things our tribe has done over the year. Dan has also managed to give it a wonderful and peculiar look.

With a project like this, there will always be things that are missed out. Dan texted me this week to tell me about a massive omission. I would also have liked on particular to have much more about the Post Apocalypse School of Teeside. But that’s OK – I’ve already started collecting things to include in the 2023 edition.

I’m basically the world’s worst Discordian – I’ve already started work on the next parish magazine, due to be published in a year’s time. I think that Eris likes having some organised Discordians about to help make the others look more chaotic.

Book Review: Cosmic Trigger 3 by Robert Anton Wilson

Robert Anton Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger tells the story of his experiments with reality. It’s a classic, filled with mad, beautiful ideas, and was adapted for the stage by Daisy Campbell, helping to accelerate the UK Discordian revival.

Wilson subsequently expanded Cosmic Trigger into a trilogy. Volume 2 is an unconventional autobiography, exploring the influences that made Wilson who he was. Volume 3 contains some personal passages – notably one where Wilson responds to an inaccurate announcement of his death, as well as a moving chapter on the death of his collaborator, Bob Shea. But most of the book is taken up with shorter, less personal articles on things that interested Wilson in the mid-90s.

There are two different approaches taken by Wilson fans. There are the Discordians, who enjoy the crazed speculation and philosophy. And then there are the libertarians, who respond to the politics.

Traces of the visionary Wilson remain in Cosmic Trigger 3, but there are also some unpleasant passages where Wilson attacks feminism and political correctness. He comes across as a regular gammon, even saying at one point, that he feels “tempted to start a Straight Pride movement”, or talking about how feminism oppresses men.

One of Wilson’s great ideas was that of reality tunnels – how we need to be aware of how our views are constrained. He urged his readers to experiment with taking on new ways of viewing the world, eradicating any pull toward dogmatism. Wilson finds himself trapped in a reality tunnel, where he sees another group (in his case, feminists) as dogmatic, and therefore himself becomes dogmatic in response to them.

At one point Wilson says, “I cannot imagine a first-rate artist or scientist who could possibly qualify as Politically Correct, since P.C., like all dogma, creates an information-impoverished environment and art and science always seek information enrichment.

This lack of imagination feels like a failure in Wilson. I’d argue that the struggle towards diversity over the quarter-century since Cosmic Trigger 3 was published has produced a richer information environment, with many different views entering the mainstream. I’d like to think that Wilson would have loved exogenders and trans-pride, that he would have been thrilled by the increased visibility of translated science fiction. Cosmic Trigger 3 shows Wilson trapped in his own politics, and the weirdness suffers for that.