Some Great Books are recognized at once with a fusilade of critical huzzahs and gonfolons, like Joyce's ULYSSES. Others appear almost furtively and are only discovered 50 years later, like MOBY DICK or Mendel's great essay on genetics. The PRINCIPIA DISCORDIA entered our space-time continuum almost as unobtrusively as a cat-burglar creeping over a windowsill.
In 1968, virtually nobody had heard of this wonderful book. In 1970, hundreds of people coast to coast were talking about it and asking the identity of the mysterious author, Malaclypse the Younger. Rumors swept across the continent, from New York to Los Angeles, from Seattle to St. Joe. Malaclypse was actually Alan Watts, one heard. No, said another legend -- the PRINCIPIA was actually the work of the Sufi Order. A third, very intriguing myth held that Malaclypse was a pen-name for Richard M. Nixon, who had allegedly composed the PRINCIPIA during a few moments of lucidity. I enjoyed each of these yarns and did my part to help spread them. I was also careful never to contradict the occasional rumors that I had actually written the whole thing myself during an acid trip.
The legendry, the mystery, the cult grew slowly. By the mid-1970's, thousands of people, some as far off as Hong Kong and Australia, were talking about the PRINCIPIA, and since the original was out of print by then, xerox copies were beginning to circulate here and there.
When the ILLUMINATUS trilogy appeared in 1975, my co-author, Bob Shea, and I both received hundreds of letters from people intrigued by the quotes from the PRINCIPIA with which we had decorated the heads of several chapters. Many, who had already heard of the PRINCIPIA or seen copies, asked if Shea and I had written it, or if we had copies available. Others wrote to ask if it were real, or just something we had invented the way H.P. Lovecraft invented the NECRONOMICON. We answered according to our moods, sometimes telling the truth, sometimes spreading the most Godawful lies and myths we could devise fnord.
Why not? We felt that this book was a true Classic (literatus immortalis) and, since the alleged intelligentsia had not yet discovered it, the best way to keep its legend alive was to encourage the mythology and the controversy about it. Increasingly, people wrote to ask me if Timothy Leary had written it, and I almost always told them he had, except on Fridays when I am more whimsical, in which case I told them it had been transmitted by a canine intelligence -- vast, cool, and unsympathic -- from the Dog Star, Sirius.
Now, at last, the truth can be told.
Actually, the PRINCIPIA is the work of a time-travelling anthropologist from the 23rd Century. He is currently passing among us as a computer specialist, bon vivant and philosopher named Gregory Hill. He has also translated several volumes of Etruscan erotic poetry, under another pen-name, and in the 18th Century was the mysterious Man in Black who gave Jefferson the design for the Great Seal of the United States.
I have it on good authority that he is one of the most accomplished time-travelers in the galaxy and has visited Earth many times in the past, using such cover-identities as Zeno of Elias, Emperor Norton, Count Cagliostro, Guilliame of Aquaitaine, etc. Whenever I question him about this, he grows very evasive and attempts to persuade me that he is actually just another 20th Century Earthman and that all my ideas about his extra- terrrestrial and extratemporal origin and delusions. Hah! I am not that easily deceived. After all, a time-travelling anthropologist would say just that, so that he could observe us without his presense causing cultureshock.
I understand that he has consented to write an Afterward to this edition. He'll probably contradict everything I've told you, but don't believe a word he says fnord. He is a master of the deadpan put-on, the plausible satire, the philosophical leg-pull and all the branches of guerilla ontology.
For full benefit to the Head, this book should be read in conjunction with THE ILLUMINOIDS by Neal Wilgus (Sun Press, Albuquerque, NM) and ZEN WITHOUT ZEN MASTERS by Camden Benares (And/Or Press, Berkeley, California). "We are operating on many levels here", as Ken Kesey used to say.
In conclusion, there is no conclusion. Things go on as they always have, getting weirder all the time.
Hail Eris. All hail Discordia. Fnord?
-Robert Anton Wilson,