Jamais Vu Views

It’s finally out in both paperback and KindleJamais Vu Views, the companion to our underground classic The Jamais Vu Papers.


Some of you have been waiting for this book for two decades or more.

Others of you have no idea what we’re talking about.

So let’s go back to Los Angeles in 1987, for the birth of a crypto-legend …

The two us lived in a little house at the base of Mount Washington; at the top was perched the Self-Realization Fellowship. Its gardens are lovely, tranquil, and open to all. We loved to walk up there to retreat from that intense city, rest, and meditate. One afternoon, we were walking down Mount Washington after some especially stimulating meditation. As we headed home, ideas started flowing, and we talked and talked and talked. And so we started our own newsletter—the jamais vu papers, a monthly publication with a fictional storyline that included far-flung, far-fetched, and far-sighted ideas. (BTW, we got married the month the first issue appeared.)

Publishing a newsletter wasn’t easy back in those days. Does anyone remember waxers and paste-ups? We put the pages together in our little house and took them to a copy shop for printing. We sent free copies to as many people as we could get addresses for. We started asking other people to participate.

Real-life thinkers eagerly pitched into our fictional world, changing the story itself as it galloped waywardly forward, sideways, upward, downward, across parallel realities, and every which way. We interviewed Tom Robbins (our first-ever subscriber), and also María De Céspedes, Fred Chappell, Daniel C. Dennett, Jamake Highwater, Paul Krassner, Timothy Leary, and Fred Alan Wolf. Because these interviews took place in a peculiar no man’s land somewhere between fiction and reality, they became known as jamais inter-vus.

When the New York superagent John Brockman got wind of what we were up to, he signed us up with Harmony Books to rework our material into a novel—and he took part in a jamais inter-vu as well. The novel came out in 1991. Even after it went out of print, copies kept circulating until The Jamais Vu Papers became a bona fide underground classic. As copies grew scarce and zanily expensive, we published a new edition in 2010.

But alas, the novel could not contain nearly everything we’d put in the newsletter. A lot of great material had to be left behind, including jamais inter-vus with Stewart Brand, Jean Houston, Russell Jacoby, Charles Johnston, Russell Targ, and Robert Theobald.

Now, at long last, we’ve compiled Jamais Vu Views, which includes all of the original interviews—those that appeared in the book, and those that haven’t been seen since our newsletter was discontinued in 1991. If you are already a fan of The Jamais Vu Papers, you’ll be delighted by what you have jamais (never) seen before. And if you have jamais (never) experienced the reality-bending phenomenon known as The Jamais Vu Papers, this new collection is a great place to start.

Check it out at Amazon.com—in paperback or Kindle.

Concerning Bones and Thrones and Parking Lot Stones

640px-King_Richard_IIIIt’s a story perfectly suited for a blog entitled “Story.”

I mean the recent unearthing of the bones of King Richard III under a parking lot in Leicester—a discovery so fresh that the bones are still cold, so to speak. The find has me thinking about another king, a currently reigning queen, and the power of Story to shape their lives and ours.

Not surprisingly, the find has rekindled that hoary debate about the character of the Plantagenet monarch, who reigned between 1461 and 1483. His popular image comes from Shakespeare’s tragedy Richard III, in which he is portrayed as murderous and conniving, both physically and morally deformed. The real Richard, who reigned from 1483 until his death in 1485, seems to have been a well-meaning reformer whose good works were thwarted by the brevity of his reign.

All that’s unfair, of course. But I can’t help fretting about a monarch even more unjustly reviled than Richard III, and that’s King Macbeth of Scotland. Once again, the Bard is the chief culprit in his defamation.

As Garry Wills shows in his book Witches and Jesuits, Shakespeare’s Macbeth is as much a propaganda piece as it is a literary masterpiece. Written in the wake of the notorious, failed “Gunpowder Plot” of 1605 to blow up the British Parliament, the play is filled to the brim with scarcely veiled flattery to the reigning King James I, who claimed descent from the play’s King Duncan and quasi-mythical Banquo. If Shakespeare’s earlier Richard III was a paean to Tudor rule under Elizabeth, Macbeth was a paean to the ascendency of the Stuarts under James.

Shakespeare’s story has precious little to do with facts. King Duncan, whom Shakespeare portrays as blameless, kindly, and fatally naïve, was actually a cruel, aggressive, war-mongering, and rather incompetent tyrant whose six-year reign was bloody and oppressive. Macbeth had good reason to get rid of him, and he did so in open combat, not while he lay asleep as a guest in his castle.

As for Macbeth himself, Scotland greeted him as a welcome change and prospered under his reign of nearly two decades. He ended long wars, generously supported monasteries, preserved the Celtic language and traditions, and made a holy pilgrimage to Rome. Macbeth’s defeat by Malcolm in 1057 with English aid was nothing for the Scots to cheer about.

As Marc Antony said of the title character in Julius Caesar,

The evil that men do lives after them:
The good is oft interred with their bones.
So let it be with Caesar.

And so let it be with both Richard III and Macbeth. But let’s pause to consider the power of Story to transform a person’s life. Is the Richard III whose bones lay under that parking lot fundamentally more real than Shakespeare’s “subtle, false, and treacherous” Machiavellian fiend? And is the historically benign Macbeth more real than Shakespeare’s murderous necromancer?

The cognitive philosopher Daniel C. Dennett once chatted with the fictional Hector Glasco about the supremacy of public image over private reality:

I remember some years ago seeing on the BBC in England a series of interviews with young schoolchildren … about Queen Elizabeth II. And they were asked, “Well, what does she do? Tell us about her day.” And it was fascinating. These children were very sure they knew exactly what the queen did. For instance, she vacuumed Buckingham Palace while wearing her crown. And she sat on her throne while she watched television, things like that. It was wonderful. And it struck me then that [the children’s beliefs about] Elizabeth II … had a much more important role to play in British social history than the actual living woman … and also had a certain power over her.jvpold-new

So let it be with Queen Elizabeth II.

And as for the rest of us …
… how much are we shaped by stories told by others?