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A young Steve Buscemi in ‘Borders,’ 1989 TV doc about the philosophy of Robert Anton Wilson
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Robert Anton Wilson
Steve Buscemi
A young Steve Buscemi in ‘Borders,’ 1989 TV doc about the philosophy of Robert Anton Wilson

In 1989 an hour-long movie called Borders about Robert Anton Wilson, author of The Illumnatus! Trilogy and the Cosmic Trigger series, was produced for public TV (WGBH Boston was one of the production companies behind it). The movie, directed by Merrill Aldighieri and Joe Tripician, is a blend of dramatic and documentary elements that also occasionally includes charmingly rudimentary computer graphics.

The first few minutes of Borders is an extended scene involving Ted, who is possibly a scientist named Ted who is doing something to subvert the company he works for—something like that. Whatever it is, his lack of integrity is enough for his girlfriend to leave the weekend house he has lined up for them. Unfortunately, we never find out what Ted’s situation was all about, because we’re never shown a second sequence to flesh out the promising start.

At first blush, the title Borders seems inapt for a documentary about a figure whose intellectual reach is as impressive as Wilson’s, but in short order its true significance becomes clear. As Wilson says, in his life he has passed through many conceptual borders—leaving the Catholic Church for Trotskyism, only to abandon that for agnosticism—and integral to his thinking is the project of detecting, decoding, and resisting the various “borders” that mankind erects for itself to keep up separated.

Early in the program Wilson expands on this idea:

Borders are a basic mammalian territorial imperative. All mammals want a territory, and they claim it by making excretions that make a topological outline, that’s the territory they claim. That’s why your dog pees on every tree when you take him for a walk. That’s the way the dog is marking his territory. Chimpanzees mark their territories with excretions too. The difference between human beings (or domesticated primates) and the other mammals is we mark our territories with ink excretions on paper—land titles, peace treaties, and so on. Every national border in the world marks a place where two gangs of domesticated primates fought until they were exhausted, and then made a territorial mark. That’s how national borders are created. We don’t throw excretions at each other like the chimpanzees, we throw chemicals and bombs and so on, but it’s basically the same mammalian process. The only intelligent way to discuss politics is on all fours.

Borders also includes spy novelist Brian Freemantle and theoretical physicist Michio Kaku as well as ample discussion and footage about the drug war (esp. border control from Mexico) and a topic that has since cooled quite a bit: SDI, also known as Reagan’s “Star Wars” missile defense program.

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Robert Anton Wilson’s ‘punk’ album: ‘YOU’VE NOTHING TO LOSE BUT YOUR MINDS!!’
Chicks with Steve Buscemi eyes

Posted by Martin Schneider
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