The Walls Came Tumbling Down – Un Film de Robert Anton Wilson (Powell’s Books – new or secondhand)
From the writer probably most infamous for his penning of <!––>The Illuminatus<!––>! (trilogy co-written with Robert Shea) and the <!––>Schrödinger’s Cat Trilogy<!––> , comes a screenplay that he would dearly love to film. For those of you unfamiliar with the work of RAW (called ‘the world’s greatest writer-philosopher’ by the Irish Times) — which includes psychology, surrealist fiction and downright fortean material — I’m not sure that I will convince you to read him, as the *The Walls Came Tumbling Down* is perhaps not the best of his books to start with, and so I’m going to talk more about the cautionary nature of the screenplay, rather than the screenplay itself.
Wilson’s social commentaries, psychological essays and personal anecdotes seem to employ a tactic rarely encountered elsewhere. Where most writers are merely content to tell their tale, RAW employs Zen warfare to lead his readers up the creek of expectation, followed by a swift *wake-up* blow of the paddle to get his point across. It works. RAW forces the reader to stare their own preconceptions in the eye while delivering a knee to the groin of dogma.
In *The Walls Came Tumbling Down*, a hardboiled, hardnosed, set-in-his-ways skeptical scientist, instead of relaxing into tweedy middle age, is instead shocked into ‘another world’ by the collapse of his beliefs and social environment.
However, RAW doesn’t sling the uninitiated reader in at the deep end of the jacuzzi. The introduction sets the scene, opening with a long footnote comparing the Irish philosophy of weather with the Los Angeles cultural and meteorological smog.
‘As intelligent readers will quickly realize, this script deals with the scary things that happen to those who stumble into this borderless or other-worldly consciousness without any intent to go there and without any preparation or Operating Manual to tell them how to navigate when the walls tumble, the doors of perception fly open and the bottom falls out of their mental filing cabinet, leaving the brain suddenly free of the limits of “mind”.’
RAW compares *conscious* efforts to break down the ‘conditioned/imprinted “maps” in our brains’ — i.e. magick and mysticism, to the more *accidental* — such as UFO and other paranormal experiences which represent ‘Berlin Walls vanishing suddenly for people who have not in anyway sought such mind-bending events, which always feel, to some extent, like walking from one room to another in your own house and finding yourself in the middle of St. John’s Apocalypse — with the Marx Brothers as the Four Horsemen’.
He expands on such experiences, and hits the nail on the damned proverbial head; ‘If really convinced that their experience did occur in consensus reality, these people will want to know what other kind of reality they wandered into, and lacking rational models for this sort of human experience, they will perforce seize on some fashionable but irrational model.’
From there, RAW opens a small section called *Thanks for the Memories*, which discusses selective memories, self-censorship and infophobia. For those that have read ‘Life, The Universe and Everything’, part of the 5 (or is it 6?) part trilogy by Douglas Adams, will be familiar with Adam’s theory of SEP: Someone Else’s Problem, i.e., when something utterly bizarre happens – for instance the Apocalyptic Marxmen mentioned above, the brain says ‘Nooooo-way!’, and refuses to deal with it. Didn’t happen.
In a different example RAW mentions a UFO experience which he had *with* his parents in Brooklyn, during the late 1940s. He was thrilled and wanted to tell the police, the papers, and anyone who’d listen — his parents refused to allow this, as they didn’t want to be laughed at (here he quotes an Irish/fortean proverb ‘”If you see a two-headed pig, keep your mouth shut”‘). Such repression festers in the mind, and when things come to a head, the walls come tumbling down.
For some time now, a major target of RAW’s has been CSICOP – the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. This mixed bunch of skeptics includes ufology’s favourite arch-skeptic, Philip Klass and the late Carl Sagan. They don’t appear to do too much investigation, instead they seem to spend more time bemoaning the popularity of the X-Files. He accuses them of infophobia — an obsessional conservatism. RAW has hilariously posits a hypothetical antithesis to CSICOP, in the shape of the infophiliac CSICON — The Committee for Surrealist Investigation of Claims of the Normal. Somewhere, (I think) in one of his other books (The New Inquisition perhaps?, RAW challenges CSICOP to present him with a perfectly normal person. No news on whether or not they complied,or even replied.
It pays to remember that while RAW is dealing with serious matters, he’s also out to make you laugh, especially at yourself.
The introduction — yes, long, *isn’t* it? — is rounded off with *Trial By Fury*, an attack on the ‘trial by media’ methodology, which, in the USA at least, seems to have done away with the archaic ‘trial by jury’ system, especially for the likes of OJ Simpson. Media verdicts now seem to overshadow, or even swamp, the decisions of a jury. Innocent one may be proven, but not in the eyes of the national press. On his website, RAW compares US justice to Irish justice. This essay is followed by *Interesting Times*, which makes a point of just how crazy the world has gotten — despite the conservatism of CSICOP. . .
Here RAW states an important maxim – one which I’m sure I’ll be quoting constantly;
‘*What we perceive depends on what we believe possible*’
There’s an elegant Zen-like quality to this. On one hand, if we only perceive what we want to believe, we’ve gone and built rose-tinted walls, cornered by ivory towers. This would be infophobia, and by extension, dogmatism.
On the other hand, if we tend to religiously believe in what we perceive, we may end up believe any old shit. If we believe in ghosts, aliens or lake monsters, it may cause us to interpret a shocking, but relatively mundane experience as one of these.
There’s a saying – ‘Between two stools, you’re bound to fall’. I always found that a smidgen too empirical. I think it’s a question of balance.
At last — the screenplay. RAW is one the few who can ‘convincingly convey the *flow* of the hallucinogenic experience’. In fact, his fiction tends to flow in such a manner. *The Walls Came Tumbling Down* is no exception. In the living room of the Ellis household, Michael, his wife Cathy, their psychologist friend Simon, and Tree, a voluptuous new-agey student, are watching various UFO contactees and Geller style acts on TV. The script strobes between the chatter of the TV set and the self-amusing comment of Dr. Ellis, who is revelling in his ‘scientific’ criticism of the proceedings, much to the irritation of his companions. His wife catches him looking at Tree’s legs.
Cut to an hallucinatory bit, with various conversations rampaging through Michael’s mind, visions of his role in the crucifixion of Christ whose side he pierced. Nightmarish tabloid headlines assail him, driving him potty.
Before we know it, he’s having an affair with Tree, 30 years his junior. . . after sex she talks about her beliefs — he’s caught between tenderness and skepticism, and offers half-hearted sympathy to her tales of escaping death by using the Tarot. . .
TREE: Well, are you going to tell me it was a coincidence?
MICHAEL: Not now. Not while you’re reliving the grief
Cut to a diner, where Michael and Simon argue over a study done by the latter, which found that some astrological predictions are accurate, with random Americans.
SIMON: When somebody says statistical results are unreasonable that means that his prejudices are offended. Period.
The discussion ends with Michael suddenly developing an atrocious toothache, being dosed on codeine and sodium penthanol, sending him on an apparently hallucinatory magical mystery tour his his mind. . .
MICHAEL: (voice over, elated yet agitated)
See myself as as others see me. . . This, gentlemen, is called an out-of-body experience. Just an hallucination, of course. We are trained scientists here and will not be deluded by a drug reaction. Right? Right! Absolutely. (Pause) I hope.
From here we are pitched through a maze of flashback sequences – various points of Michael’s life – weird phonecalls from angelic mystery advisers as a child, surreal versions of his sex life with Cathy, the death of their son in Vietnam.
After he ‘comes back’, he tells Simon
MICHAEL : It wasn’t just that I had two sets of memories…Somehow, it was worse than that. . . I knew, in some way that this was only the beginning, on the first crack in the fabric. . .
Simon tries to explain what’s happening:
SIMON: It’s [i.e. a reframing experience] what happens when the brain gives up one version of reality and starts to build a new model. Any shock or confusion can trigger it. Especially drugs.
More flashback scenes take us through Michael and Cathy’s college life, his brief mushroom experiences, the development of his dismissive irony, and the hardening of his beliefs and passions following the death of their son. A dream sequence, where Michael is abducted by surrealist alien dwarfs and operated on. Thirty year old conversations on quantum physics and parallel worlds:
MICHAEL: Well, anyway, as I was saying, I don’t believe this parallel universe dogma, even if the whole scientific community is behind it. One universe is enough for me.
Within pages, he wakes up sobbing
CATHY: What is it honey? A bad dream?
MICHAEL: There are no words to tell you what I’m thinking and feeling. Did we win the (Hysterical) American Revolution, or are we still British?
Without transcribing the *entire* screenplay, I won’t delve further into it, but I hope I’ve given some sort of illustration of what’s going on it. Alternatively, as RAW says elsewhere
‘If you think you know what’s going on, then you’re probably full of shit’
I’ll conclude with the conclusion (always a good item with which to conclude), that my depiction RAW’s work may come across as needlessly heavy and *deep*, his writings are actually hilariously funny. I hadn’t read anything of his in quite a while, and *The Walls Came Tumbling Down* served to spring clean my brain, whilst I worried the neighbours with my back garden giggles.
Review by daev
The Walls Came Tumbling Down – Un Film de Robert Anton Wilson (Powell’s Books – new or secondhand)
Robert Anton Wilson – Paradigm Shift Interview by Philip H. Farber
Robert Anton Wilson at Disinformation
Black-Ops– Miriam Joan Hill and Robert Anton Wilson’s Encyclopedia of Conspiracies