Letters from James Keys (G. Spencer Brown)


Tel: 0223 66361/2

From G Spencer-Brown
2 St Peters Street
Castle Hill
Cambridge England

20 September 1976

Walter Barney
copy to Kurt von Meier

Dear Walter:

Thank you for your letter and the enjoyable enclosures. Also best wishes for tomorrow, which will be part of all our yester­days when this reaches you. Maybe we should spend a little time playing blackjack in Las Vegas.

I am sending The Island of Sheep for your critical mass, and also sending separately Stories Children Won't Like which I think you and Kurt will. Should you wish, you may use one of the stories too in your journal. Please respect copyrights. It would be best if I could see proofs before publication, but I realize this  may not be possible, so I trust you to print exactly as is. English spelling may be changed to American where they differ, otherwise what is not allowed is forbidden.

Before enlightenment people deal only in opinions, afterwards there can be only an exchange of gifts, as in heaven. It is im­portant how pretty the ribbons are. You and Kurt are the only members of the team with any clout who have realized this.

I can see no future except among friends, and I will need your help. If we can pool our individually meagre resources of worldly wisdom we might manage a tolerable Kingdom within a state. We would agree the Operators' Covenant, which is to share the Bounty equally among the Prime Discriminants.

I have a salable stock here of about 4,000 books, mostly the rapidly popularizing Directory of Tunes, on which we could realize some $50,000, even at trade prices, provided we have the space to warehouse them temporarily over there.

Since this would not be the primary exercise, but merely one of life-support while we set up a more suitable arrangement agree­able to the three of us and any others with suitable contributions to make who might join us in our venture.

Letter and its suggestions are primarily to confirm my telephone message that I feel the time has now come for me to settle in California which I feel is the only place, now, where my work can be continued. My Robinson Crusoe days are now at an end, and I feel the time has come to become a prime mover in a society, exclusive in respect of its upper echelons, which will draw strength as it draws new members.

With each other we can be flamboyant, like  our correspon­dence, but of course with the rest of the world, we must appear much more sober and subdued, remembering our dangerous and absurd alter egos and opinions of the past, and how long it took each  one of us to attain what little enlightenment, on balance, each one of us now possesses.

If I have learned anything as a publisher, it is that people in general see only what they are told, and that as far as selling illusion is concerned, one simply markets opinions as they are, like logs, making no attempt to change them. How else could one survive as a log merchant?

I am,
My Lords Formal
Your Obedient Servant

Prince of Form

T: 0223 66861/2

G Spencer Brown
St Peters Street
Castle Hill
Cambridge England

21 September 1976

Dear Walter,

Now that you will have received the fables, I would like to develop further what I think at this stage it would be most desirable for me, and then for us, to teach.


The Keys fables will serve as an illustration basis:

1.      The Covenant of Unconsciousness
The covenant of the cradle. Convention that to injure someone is OK if you didn't intend it. General premium on unconsciousness. Why all values must be reversed.

2.      The Myth of Morality
What is 'good', 'bad', 'fight', 'wrong', etc? The language of unrespon­siveness. Moral principles in fact irresponsible. The principle of relevance.

3.      The Formal Path
Laws of conduct in fact inexorable. Discipline of reality. Seeing what may be done. Seeing what can be done. Doing it for the right reasons. Working moral intrusions out of the system.

4.      You have a life to live, you may as well live it
The relevance of death. Indifference to death as a secret of strength. A position of strong neutrality.

5.      Enlightenment (specially invited persons only)
The meaning of enlightenment in civilized terms. Answers to two answerable questions

1. What is it
2. How does it come about

Many guess the answer to 1 before they die. I found I had worked it out and actually stated it in a proposed broadcast talk in 1958. The broadcast was cancelled! But not being able to answer the second question, I didn't really believe it, and forgot about it. Like Parsifal, I had seen the holy grail, but without the consciousness implicit in the answer to 2 failed to recognize it.

6. Enlightenment (continued)
Some have thought the answer to 2 is given in L of F. It is not. All is given here except the key. 'If a distinction could be drawn, then this, inevitably, is how it would appear.' What is missing, of course, is the answer to how, why, etc. (all questions condensed), given nothing as a beginning, a distinction can, let alone inevitably must, take place. The answer to this question, together with the knowledge (given in Laws of Form) of how, if it did, it would inevitably appear, constitutes, in terms of our own educational heritage, complete enlightenment, and leaves us free to enjoy the system as it is without any further philosophical questing.

It came to me here in this room in Cambridge on 7th September 1970, and was so remarkable that I noted the time, 14:23 GMT, and I call it my E-birthday. It is so simple that anyone else who has followed Laws of Form can have it bestowed upon him. So far I have only enlightened one other person, and that was my best friend, and he received the blessing a few days later. It does, unfortunately, render one utterly alone in the presence of the unenlightened, and we feel the time has now come to enlighten more people. At the time of our E, there was a strong prohibition against enlightening others. But by now so many people have guessed the answer to the first question, that there is now no prohibition, in these cases, against answering the second. But if you liked philosophical arguments before, you will lose your taste for them afterwards. Poor Alan Watts! Much too interested in philosophical questions.

Laws of Form is of course the vehicle for enlightenment, for there can be no answer to question 2 without it, although one can still give the key. One does not give the key, however, to someone who has not followed the laws far enough to be sufficiently aware of them, for what use is the ignition key without the vehicle?

Bits of history. I gave up my lecturership at Oxford University on 1st Sep­tember 1958, refusing as I did so a nice professorship offered me at Santa Barbara. It looked an utterly stupid thing to do, everyone said so, and it even seemed a bit odd to me. I went into the wilderness, on the dole, nearly died of starvation, all the usual things. L of F grew slowly out of all this, and amid various difficulties, delays, and refusals by five publishers, was eventually published by Allen and Unwin on 17th April 1969. Naturally I was unenlightened, or I would not have been doing all this. Though I did not know it at the time, I was constructing the vehicle for my own enlightenment, which was to come twelve years and seven days after I gave up my academic life and began search. And all the time

I didn't know what I was looking for, because although I knew the question could be asked (even Wittgenstein asked it), I didn't know it could be answered.

7. Public Manifesto
Where the Buddha taught enlightenment to the few, the public in general, including of course the  Buddhists, could hot believe it (if all are en­lightened, the world disappears) and they said of course he could not have meant what he said. So he had to invent a lot of religious nonsense, the grand eight-fold path, etc., for teaching those (the majority) who were not yet ready for enlightenment. Just as, in therapy, I cannot enlighten my patients, but must tell them what to do in terms of their own unenlightenment.

In the same way, the literature and teaching we, in our proposed manifesto, will put out, although coming from enlightenment and drawing people nearer to it (as prayer is said to draw one nearer to God), will not itself be enlightenment, but will teach a form of concuct based on the form, ie; will be a form of enlightened unenlightenment. Enlightened because based on pure form, without the poisonous accretions that have encrusted themselves to it through history. Unenlightened because the form by itself is the total embodiment of the unenlightened.

8. Private Fraternity
Oh, yes, and we must, now have a class where the enlightened help each other to come to terms with their lives. For enlightenment is not the end, but the beginning, of wisdom. It gives one great strength, for it answers all questions, reads all thoughts (thoughts are unspoken questions), but in terms of the world one is born again a helpless babe, and although one may get support, one cannot get help, from the unenlightened. From what you write to me, you and Kurt may now be ready, should you wish it, for enlightenment. Judging from the conference transcript, nobody else who was at the conference is either E or ready for E. I was nearly fooled by Ram Dass, who made a remark which was so correct that it made me think he might be E, but followed it with another that was so wrong that I guessed he couldn't be. By the way, I didn't always contradict the wrong statements made at the conference.

So, in the end, the enlightened enlightens others because he needs com­panions! There is a certain safety in numbers. And the others will always be ready to embrace enlightenment because, having worked out, or guessed (many women guess it) the answer to 1, they cannot rest content until question 2 has been answered. After that there is no doubt.

So, it seems, we do end up with a Noble Eight-fold Path, after all. Changed a bit since those days, though, ain't it!

Greetings. There must be something about Ezra's birthday that unlocks the gate of what may not have been said before this date.

Post Script

The enlightened misses nothing, but appears, to the unenlightened, utterly stupid, because he can say in their presence only what they are prepared to hear. Since we are talking animals, we cannot go about bottling ourselves up for ever, without great damage. The enlightened fraternity is so we can speak freely to one another, and thus maintain, without strain, as we must, an absolute silence in respect of these matters towards the rest of the world.