Ishtar Rising

Why the Goddess Went to Hell and 
What to Expect Now That She’s Returning

From the Introduction to the 1989 Edition

Cary Grant was once told, “Every time I see you on the screen, I think, ‘I wish I was Cary Grant.'” He replied, “That’s just what I think!”

I’ve been repeating that story ever since I first heard it, and it never fails to amuse audiences, all of whom seem to understand it immediately. Everybody groks that Archie Leach, the poor boy from Liverpool who became “Cary Grant” never fully believed in “Cary Grant,” since Cary was, after all, his own invention. On the other hand, here’s a similar story, which I also like to tell, that produces very mixed reactions, with some people laughing and others looking puzzled or slightly offended.

An art dealer once went to Pablo Picasso and said, “I have a bunch of ‘Picasso’ canvasses that I was thinking of buying. Would you look them over and tell me which are real and which are forgeries?” Picasso obligingly began sorting the paintings into two piles. Then, as the Great Man added one particular picture to the fake pile, the dealer cried, “Wait a minute, Pablo. That’s no forgery. I was visiting you the weekend you painted it.” Picasso replied imperturbably, “No matter. I can fake a Picasso as well as any thief in Europe.”

Personally, I find this story not only amusing but profoundly disturbing. It has caused me to think, every time I finish a piece of writing, “Is this a real Robert Anton Wilson, or did I just fake a Robert Anton Wilson?” Sometimes, especially with a long novel, I find it impossible to convince myself that I know the answer. After all, as Nietzsche said, “there are no facts, only interpretations”……

This book, frankly, got written originally because an editor at Playboy Press asked me if I could write a whole book on the female breast. “Sure,” I said at once. I would have said the same if he had asked me if I could write a book on the bull-elephant’s toenails. I was broke that month and would have tried to write anything, if somebody would pay me for it. When I got the contract and the first half of the advance money, I sat down and asked myself what the hell I would put in the damned book. I decided to write a treatise on the relationship of the breast to the rise and fall of Goddess religions, and — to keep myself amused, and thereby speed the writing so I could get the second half of the advance quickly — combine this with a basic introduction to Taoist philosophy….

This book contains some churlish grumbling against the Women’s Liberation movement as it was in 1972 (when the book was being written.) I have revised some passages a bit, but allowed others to remain as historical curiosities. The early 70s were the days when all the survivors of the Sixties went a bit nuts, and the Women Lib nuttiness, in retrospect, was no weirder than the other screwball ideas of the time….The charm of this book would be spoiled, I think, if I updated it too much, so I have retained much of my snide humor about the sexism of the alleged anti-sexists.

The first time I saw a nipple in an American movie, I was jarred. It was as if I had acquired a part-time schizophrenia which only went into operation on entering a movie theater. Women, of course, had nipples in real life, in Playboy, in European movies, in pornography, in the National Geographic; but in Hollywood, I had been trained to half-believe, they had all been born with a piece of fabric that could never be removed, not even by the greatest surgeon in the cosmos. And yet here they were on the screen; it was Hawaii, and the bare bosoms were well-justified — oh, very carefully justified — by historical accuracy, and yet I remembered when Cardinal Richelieu had mysteriously changed to Prime Minister Richelieu (in the Gene Kelly version of The Three Musketeers ) to avoid offending papist pride, just as history changed in 1984 to save the party’s credibility. (And how many times had we seen actors who were notorious rakes and actresses who were renowned for randiness playing Roman or Greek pagans or even pirates yet still compelled to speak dialogue that had been tailored to sound as if they had been raised in Catholic convents, as if — and this was the great unspoken myth in all American movies until the mid-1960’s — everybody everywhere had been raised in convents, and nobody had ever doubted the peculiar sexual notions of the Council of Cardinals?) And yet there were nipples, real live nipples on the screen, and I knew that an era had ended. It was like Roosevelt’s death when I was 13; until then, I had half-believed that there would never be another President. Until those nipples appeared in Hawaii, I thought I would never see an American movie that wasn’t implicitly a Roman Catholic movie.

Of course, the Catholic Hierarchy had been intelligent (and by their own lights, right) all along: Repression is never a static process, but must always be dynamic, either moving forward toward total control or retreating backward as the floodgates open to that force which French intellectuals quite correctly capitalize: Desire. Shakespeare asked how Beauty could survive, being no stronger than a flower, and Tennessee Williams answered (in Camino Real) that the flowers in the mountains always break through the rocks. The cry of “Flower Power” in the 1960’s might as well have been Nipple Power. Once those gentle buds had crashed through the rocks of repression, Desire was free and the walls of the cities began to shake. Real language began to be heard on the screens of movie houses; other parts of the body, one by one, crept out of the darkness of shame and concealment; topless clubs appeared with bottomless clubs soon after; Blacks rebelled against poverty, students against monotony, even straight citizens raised their voices against a war that made no sense (but when had straight citizens ever objected to a war on those grounds before?); the Indians emerged from the depression that had crushed them since their last defeat at Wounded Knee and began to agitate again; eventually there were mutinies in prisons, in armies, on ships, even among Air Force officers. In Frederick Perl’s terminology, people had stopped harboring their resentments and began to make demands — and a large number of them were proclaiming, in loud voices, that they would use any means necessary to get what they wanted. By the end of the decade, the Jesus Freaks, the women’s liberationists and the silent majority were all in a panic, trying desperately to rebuild at least some of the walls of repression which traditionally have kept civilized humanity from attempting to immanentize the eschaton. This phrase is from conservative historian Kurt Vogelin and refers, in technical theological language, to the heresy of the Gnostics, who wished to produce heaven on this earth instead of postponing it until after death. Vogelin says this heresy underlies all forms of radicalism and rebellion, and he is probably right. Modern history is a war between Authority and Desire, and if Authority must demand submission, Desire will settle for nothing less than the attainment of its gratification.

In contrast to our deliberately optimistic sketch of the future, the latest Supreme Court rulings on “obscenity” are a backward swing of the pendulum, just as cynics have long been predicting. Once again we are told that parts of our bodies must remain dirty little secrets and that the state will use its powers of coercion to enforce this code upon us. To a rationalist, it is as if the highest court had ruled that we must all believe, or pretend to believe, in the doctrine of the Trinity. Some people can believe in a three-in-one divinity, and some can believe that the human body is foul; others can no more believe these propositions than they can accept the tenets of the snake-handling cult in Georgia which we mentioned earlier.

It doesn’t matter what rationalists believe; they must not get caught exercising their disbelief. 

The only consolation is that things would be even more absurd if it were the snake handlers and not the sexophobes who were in power in Washington. There is, in fact, no reason why the notions of the snake handlers could not be enforced on the rest of us if they did get their crowd into high office, for as Mr. Justice Burger said in a recent decision (Paris Adult Theatre):

But it is argued there is no scientific data which conclusively demonstrates that exposure to obscene materials adversely effects men and women or their society. It is urged on behalf of the petitioners that, absent such a demonstration, any kind of state regulation is “impermissible.” It is not for us to resolve empirical uncertainties underlying state legislation save in the exceptional case where that legislation plainly impinges upon rights protected in the Constitution itself… although there is no conclusive proof of a connection between anti-social behavior and obscene materials, the legislature of Georgia could quite reasonably determine that such a connection does or might exist. In deciding Roth, this Court implicitly accepted that a legislature could legitimately act on such a conclusion to protect “the social interest in order and morality”…. From the beginning of civilized societies, legislatures and judges have acted on various unproven assumptions.

In short, there is no need to prove that an act is harmful to prohibit it. If the legislators choose to prohibit it, the citizenry must acquiesce — or go to jail.

As Wayland Young had pointed out:

But it is difficult or even impossible to argue that the accepted limits of obscenity should themselves be redrawn without actually infringing them in the process, and having to defend one’s argument against a charge of obscenity. In this case, one would have to prove affirmatively that a discussion of the public interest was in the public interest, which is a startling thing to have to prove in a democracy. The effect is naturally that the present conception of the public interest becomes sacrosanct. If I merely say, speaking generally, “We call too many things obscene, we are too restrictive in our definitions,” nobody will pay any attention, and our conception of the public good will remain unchanged. If, on the other hand, I give examples, saying: “Consider these,” and give my reasons for thinking they ought not to be held obscene, my book may be suppressed for obscenity before anybody has had time to consider it, and our conception of the public good will still remain unchanged. Our society has painted itself into a corner… the law of obscenity has the indirect effect of perpetuating itself. You cannot argue with it without breaking it. [Italics in original.]

This is all very absurd, because within the criteria used in modern science and modern semantics the concept of “obscenity” must be regarded as a delusion. That is, it is a nonoperational concept, one which cannot be utilized in making measurements of the physical world — there is no “obscenometer” which point at a book or painting or a song or a film and take a reading showing how many ergs or ounces of “obscenity” it has in it. There is no “obscenity” in any of these things, in fact; the “obscenity” is in the mind of the person passing judgements. It is, in Freudian terms, a projection, in which the mind imagines that its own contents are outside itself in the external universe; or, in semantic terms, a “confusion of the levels of abstraction,” in which the mind’s own machinery is identified with the non-mental things it is attempting to understand.

The man or woman who believes there is something called “obscenity” out there in the external world is thus in precisely the same state of delusion as those who imagine that gods or demons or strange voices out there are communicating with them. 

As psychologist Theodore Schroeder insisted, the belief in external “obscenity” is the modern form of the witchcraft delusion.

Ishtar Rising

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