May 31, 2014 § Leave a comment
A cover of a song from my old band I did one day.
May 29, 2014 § Leave a comment
TPE opens with an emphasis on set and setting. Basing its model on The Tibetan Book of the Dead (TTBD), it stresses guidance of both the text and a guide.
If the manual is read several times before a session is attempted, and if a trusted person is there to remind and refresh the memory of the voyager during the experience, the consciousness will be freed from the games which comprise “personality” and from positive-negative hallucinations which often accompany states of expanded awareness. (3)
The authors make it clear that the intention of the manual is to disseminate esoteric knowledge from TTBD, making the information available to those who have not undergone consciousness expanding experiences. The Bardos, or ‘levels of experiences,’ are metaphors for the ego death experience. The Bardos move from the most liberated phases of ego loss into re-entry of the self. It is important to remember that The psychedelic experience is about re-entry. If you truly achieved enlightenment, you would not be here anymore. It follows that working with “game realities” becomes therapeutically useful.
I should note that by the end of the 1960s, the structure of these sessions became less and less emphasized, even by Leary himself, as well as his initial followers like Art Kleps. The goal to liberate the public, to democratize mystical experience became politicized as a way to tactically oppose existing governing structures and redefine citizenship. In this way, the psychedelic experience sought to restructure inherited notions of subjectivity. Even in TPE, however, we can see this critique at work.
You must be ready to accept the possibility that there is a limitless range of awareness for which we now have no words; that awareness can expand beyond range of your ego, your self, your familiar identity, beyond everything you have learned, beyond your notions of space and time, beyond the differences which usually separate people from each other and from the world around them. (5)
The writers also tend to emphasize human history in terms of evolution. This is not present in TTBD. It is important to remember that the writers of TPE are translating for a western audience and that they themselves are westerners. They do not escape their own cultural context. Notice the rhetoric of the following passage:
Liberation is the nervous system devoid of mental-conceptual activity. [Realization of the Voidness, the Unbecome, the Unborn, the Unmade, the Unformed, implies Buddhahood, Perfect Enlightenment – the state of the divine mind of the Buddha. It may be helpful to remember that this ancient doctrine is not in conflict with modern physics. The theoretical physicist and cosmologist, George Gamow, presented in 1950 a viewpoint which is close to the phenomenological experience described by the Tibetan lamas.
If we imagine history running back in time, we inevitably come to the epoch of the “big squeeze” with all the galaxies, stars, atoms and atomic nuclei squeezed, so to speak, to a pulp. During that early stage of evolution, matter must have been dissociated into its elementary components. . . . We call this primordial mixture ylem. (24)
The authors appeal to modern physics and scientific knowledge in general. We see this kind of affective move over and over when people talk about psychedelics – a tendency to universalize. On the surface, there is nothing wrong with this, but in the context of history, culture and what Michel Foucault calls “knowledge-power,” we quickly become aware of the fact that power, like the psychedelic experience, is dynamic, not static, and re-inscribing knowledge always already positions power relationships. Even the Dalai Lama has asserted how difficult it is to transcend culture and that we are better off seeking liberation from within the contexts that we were born into. What has become so problematic about the psychedelic experience’s tendency to universalize is the ways, upon re-entry, it manifests cultural desires to dominate others. This is one of the reasons why TTBD was originally buried and kept as esoteric knowledge: liberation is itself a privilege, and the liberal impulse to democratize experience tends to all-to-often come from inherited notions of freedom in the western sense of both positive and negative freedoms and rights. While laudable as an idea, integrating human rights into western legal systems constantly faces the problem of oppression that comes with the need to order human societies. In terms of karma, John Locke’s idea of tabula rasa or “blank slate” can only refer to the affordances given to one incarnation among many; in other words, it relates to the potential within one human lifetime, not the more reductive version that we are all “born equal.” When one moralizes such an idea to adhere to “pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps,” building on Benjamin Franklin’s biography, a different conservational force is at work.
Here we see the inherently political theological nature of the experience. Laws ought to enable liberation, but if liberation is treated as something wholly “other,” as transcendent in the ways that the Judeo-Christian God disappears from the world and we await some second coming of a king to an absent throne, then a kind of asceticism that is alienated from Nature occurs, much like the idea of “calling” that grounds Max Weber’s analysis in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. That is, a calling that is itself alienated from nature by modernity and thus wholly out of line with the Buddhist principles in TTBD and which exacerbates the tendency to think that psychedelic experiences are about some sort of drug-induced escapism. We must qualify what we mean by “transcendence” when we think about psychedelic experiences.
I think that one of the most underemphasized aspects of TPE is just how difficult the Clear Light of the first Bardo is, just how fleeting it is. Anyone who has taken LSD or psilocybin mushrooms can tell you that the onset is anything but immediate. It is certainly a quick rise up to the peak experience and then a slowly descending compression of instances of “cosmic temporality” alternating with “earthly” temporality. So, it can be misleading to read:
A ball set bouncing reaches its greatest height at the first bounce; the second bounce is lower, and each succeeding bounce is still lower until the ball comes to rest. The consciousness at the loss of the ego is similar to this. Its first spiritual bound, directly upon leaving the body-ego, is the highest; the next is lower. Then the force of karma, (i.e., past game-playing), takes over and different forms of external reality are experienced. Finally, the force of karma having spent itself, consciousness returns to “normal.” Routines are taken up again and thus rebirth occurs. (29)
The fact is, if you are experiencing that “highest bounce,” you already missed the Clear Light. We are here (unless we are truly bodhisattvas) because we keep missing the embrace of the Clear Light. Posturing about enlightenment from a drug experience is just that: posturing, and beware of those who do such posturing, because they are playing a certain game. This includes me now. The authors qualify this well at the end of this section:
While on this secondary level, an interesting dialogue occurs between pure transcendence and the awareness that this ecstatic vision is happening to oneself. The first radiance knows no self, no concepts. The secondary experience involves a certain state of conceptual lucidity. The knowing self hovers within that transcendent terrain from which it is usually barred. If the instructions are remembered, external reality will not intrude. But the flashing in and out between pure ego-less unity, and lucid, non-game selfhood, produces an intellectual ecstasy and understanding that defies description. Previous philosophic reading will suddenly take on living meaning.
Thus in this secondary stage of the First Bardo, there is possible both the mystic non-self and the mystic self experience.
After you have experienced these two states, you may wish to pursue this distinction intellectually. (32)
We are now doing just that, pursuing the states intellectually, engaging with the uses of mysticism.
The text moves on to the Second Bardo and hallucinations. Notice again how the authors appeal to the biology of the brain in conjuction with a Vedantic metaphysics.
The underlying solution – repeated again and again – is to recognize that your brain is producing the visions. They do not exist. Nothing exists except as your consciousness gives it life. (34)
There is, of course, no way of classifying the infinite permutations and combinations of visionary elements. The cortex contains file-cards for billions of images from the history of the person, of the race, and of living forms. Any of these, at the rate of a hundred million per second (according to neuro-physiologists), can flood into awareness. Bobbing around in this brilliant, symphonic sea of imagery is the remnant of the conceptual mind. On the endless watery turbulence of the Pacific Ocean bobs a tiny open mouth shouting (between saline mouthfuls), “Order! System! Explain all this!” (35)
Notice also the appeal to experience and expertise: “The unprepared person will be confused or, worse, panicky: the intellectual struggle to control the ocean.”
The authors are themselves aware, to a certain extent, of their own historical and geographical context. In a passage that could have been lifted directly from Aldous Huxley, they write:
Persons from a Judaeo-Christian background conceive of an enormous gulf between divinity (which is “up there”) and the self (“down here”). Christian mystics’ claims to unity with divine radiance has always posed problems for theologians who are committed to the cosmological subject-object distinction. Most Westerners, therefore, find it difficult to attain unity with the source-light. (38)
Over and over there is an appeal to evolution and human history:
The minds sweeps in and out of this evolutionary stream, creating cosmological revelations. Dozens of mythical and Darwinian insights flash into awareness. The person is allowed to glance back down the flow of time and to perceive how the life energy continually manifests itself in forms, transient, alwasy changing, reforming. Microscopic forms merge with primal creative myths. The mirror of consciousness is held up to the life stream.
As long as the person floats with the current, he is exposed to a billion-year lesson in cosmology. But the drag of the mind is always present. The tendency to impose arbitrary, isolating order on the organic process. (40)
Notice the European Imaginary and the quality of alienation here:
One is joyfully aware of the two-billion-year-old electric sexual dance; one is at last divested of robot clothes and limbs and undulates in the endless chain of living forms. (43)
While you are floating down the evolutionary river, there comes a sense of limitless self-less power. The delight of flowing cosmic belongingness.
It comes about this way. The subject’s awareness is suddenly invaded by an outside stimulus. His attention is captured, but his old conceptual mind is not functioning. But other sensitivities are engaged. He experiences direct sensation. The raw “is-ness.” He sees, not objects, but patterns of light waves. He hears, not “music” or “meaningful” sound, but acoustic waves. He is struck with the sudden revelation that all sensation and perception are based on wave vibrations. That the world around him which heretofore had an illusory solidity, is nothing more than a play of physical waves. That he is involved in a cosmic television show which has no more substantiality than the images on his TV picture tube. (45)
Following these passages are all sorts of appeals to unity and oneness, to universalness, but notice the ways the authors collapse cultures:
Heroes, heroines, celestial warriors, male and female demi-gods, angels, fairies – the exact form of these figures will depend on the person’s background and tradition. Archetypal figures in the forms of characters from Greek, Egyptian, Nordic, Celtic, Aztec, Persian, Indian, Chinese mythology. The shapes differ, the source is the same: they are the concrete embodiments of aspects of the person’s own psyche. Archetypal forces below verbal awareness and expressible only in symbolic form. The figures are often extremely colorful and accompanied by a variety of awe-inspiring sounds. If the voyager is prepared and in a relaxed, detached frame of mind, he is exposed to a fascinating and dazzling display of dramatic creativity. The Cosmic Theatre. The Divine Comedy. (53)
The previous passage is in the section, Vision 7, “The Magic Theater.” It is important the way the writers here and elsewhere allude to western literature, in this case Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf. We also read many references to sound and music in here, from Beethoven tonoise music. With the conclusion of the chapter on the Second Bardo, we see the impulse toward evangelism in TPE.
Meditation on the various positive and negative archetypal forms is very important for Second Bardo phases. Therefore, read this manual, keep it, remember it, bear it in mind, read it regularly; let the words and meanings be very clear; they should not be forgotten, even under extreme duress. It is called “The Great Liberation by Hearing” because even those with selfish deeds on their conscience can be liberated if they hear it. If heard only once, it can be efficacious because even though not understood, it will be remembered during the psychedelic state, since the mind is more lucid then. It should be proclaimed to all living persons; it should be read over the pillows of ill persons; it should be read to dying persons; it should be broadcast. (56)
As the writers turn to the Third Bardo, they re-emphasize how far way from the Clear Light most of us are.
Although no definite time estimates can be given, the Tibetans estimate that about 50% of the entire psychedelic experience is spent in the Third Bardo by most normal people. At times, as indicated in the Introduction, someone may move straight to the re-entry period if he is unprepared for or frightened by the ego-loss experiences of the first two Bardos. (59)
An interesting passage occurs relating to time and the paranormal here that we rarely hear about when people discuss psychedelic experiences; that is, there is a reference to the divinatory potential of the experience.
the voyager may also feel that he possesses supernormal powers of perception and movement, that he can perform miracles, extraordinary feats of bodily control etc. The Tibetan book definitely attributes paranormal faculties to the consciousness of the Bardo voyager and explains it as due to the fact that the Bardo-consciousness encompasses future elements as well as past. Hence clairvoyance, telepathy, ESP, etc. are said to be possible. Objective evidence does not indicate whether this sense of increased perceptiveness is real or illusory. We therefore leave this as an open question, to be decided by empirical evidence. (60)
Along with the paranormal we get a discussion of “pretas” or unhappy spirits. Many of us will recognize the idea of a haunted house or collection of ghostly energies concentrated in one place called a “preta loca.” This is important for considering reincarnation research and birthmarks as discussed in more recent work of Ian Stevenson and James Tucker at the University of Virginia.
The translation part of the text ends by stressing the particular nature of one’s experience once reentry has concluded.
The limited foreknowledge available to the voyager should be used to make a wise choice. In the Tibetan tradition each of the levels of game-existence is associated with a particular color and also certain geographical symbols. These may be different for twentieth-century Westerners. Each person has to learn to decode his own internal road map. The Tibetan indicators may be used as a starting point. The purpose is clear: one should follow the signs of the three higher types and shun those of the three lower. One should follow light and pleasant visions and shun dark and dreary ones. (72)
Use your foresight to choose a good post-session robot. Do not be attracted to your old ego. Whether you choose to pursue power, or status, or wisdom, or learning, or servitude, or whatever, choose impartially, without being attracted or repelled. Enter into game existence with good grace, voluntarily and freely. Visualize it as a celestial mansion, i.e., as an opportunity to exercise game-ecstasy.
So, here we are in game existence. What do we do with this information collectively, not just individually?
Theorizing the Psychedelic Experience (Chapter 4 of Beware of Mad John: Psychedelic Aesthetics, Political Theology, and Literature)
May 29, 2014 § Leave a comment
R. A. Durr’s Poetic Vision and the Psychedelic Experience (1970) is a model text for the period with respect to theorizing psychedelic aesthetics. Durr uses a perennial approach to literary criticism, focusing on the interrelatedness of all poetic experience from Plotinus to Eckhart to Blake to Wordsworth to Traherne to Yeats and Huxley…the list is expansive and exhaustingly inexhaustible. Durr’s focus on poetry allows him to discuss his subject matter over time, and it allows him to make claims about mysticism and writing. There certainly are features of poetics that cannot simply be situated in a period study. More importantly, Durr’s book offers a glimpse at an earnest acceptance of the value of psychedelic experience. He is not writing from a “Woodstock-became- Altamont” or post Charles Manson perspective. In addition, the sense of failure that psychedelic aesthetics inherit from the European avant-garde is not apparent in his entirely optimistic criticism. Durr’s book, therefore, works better as an historical artifact than a detailed literary-aesthetic study. The book presents a native disposition from the late 1960s with all its seeming naïvete.
Durr arranges the book beginning with a description of the imagination; then he moves onto ego-loss, cosmology and the usefulness of “play.” His basic structure begins by making observations about the psychedelic experience, usually citing contemporary psychological studies, and then delving into broad citations in no particular historical or geographical order. What is assumed is a kind of “Great Books” mentality where Human culture, established by tradition, automatically takes on sacred spiritual qualities. Durr is fairly ecumenical and he enchants the secular. The poets he cites have as much spiritual authority as any religious figure – Walt Whitman appears alongside gospels and The Upanishads. It is all one: perennial.
A similar approach to literature appears as a bibliographic appendix to Ram Dass’s classic Remember Be Here Now (1971), which is an extensive “further reading list.” Like Abbie Hoffman’s attempt to spread the gospel of good music along his journey inWoodstock Nation, Ram Dass also spreads the gospel of good literature. There is even a kind of hierarchy implied by various section titles: “Books to Hang Out With,” “Books to Visit Now and Then,” and “Books It’s Useful to Have Met” (126). The first section is largely filled with books from the world’s major religions accompanied by Theosophical literature and, of course, Aldous Huxley’s Perennial Philosophy. The second section contains mystical poetry, a few novels by Hermann Hesse, Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood as well as numerous books from the American New Thought tradition. The final section is more of the same, but more western philosophers are included and more literature – Isaac Asimov, Jorge Borges, John Fowles, Henry Miller, Ken Kesey and J. D. Salinger among them. Although Ram Dass and R. A. Durr both refer to authors ancient and modern from all over the world, they maintain a level of optimism with roots in American New Thought movement, an attention to self-help through thinking positively and caring for the spirit and soul. There is less overt social critique than in the sociological and activist literature and poetry. In both Durr and Ram Dass, the perennial works to transcend both time and national territory. The space of the perennial is where one accomplishes spiritual “progress.” The critical move expands globally.
It also accounts for the newly emergent. In High Priest, Timothy Leary is perfectly comfortable interweaving Genesis and the I-Ching with The Magus by John Fowles, published in 1967 and R. G. Wasson’s writings on hallucinogenic mushrooms. Always the trickster, Leary is to a certain extent being intentionally “sacrilegious.” But his use of paratext or marginalia literally frames his personal narrative with perennial accounts of culture. One of the more charming aspects of psychedelic critical literature, however, remains the complete openness to accepting emergent aesthetic work as part of the discussion, yet even this is historically loaded. Many of the writers Ram Dass suggests, for example, spent time with Vedic philosophy. Philip Goldberg, in American Veda, discusses some of these writers’ relationships to Vedanta, which arrived in the United States in 1893 with Swami Vivekananda – a student of Sri Ramakrishna – at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago (Goldberg 67). With regard to any theory of the psychedelic experience, perennialism must be understood within the contexts of Vedanta and New Thought.
According to the Vedanta Society of California, where Aldous Huxley, Gerald Heard and Christopher Isherwood studied with Swami Prabhavananda and Isherwood edited the collection Vedanta for the Western World,
the word “Vedanta” is revealing: “Vedanta” is a combination of two words: “Veda” which means “knowledge” and “anta” which means “the end of” or “the goal of.” In this context the goal of knowledge isn’t intellectual—the limited knowledge we acquire by reading books. “Knowledge” here means the knowledge of God as well as the knowledge of our own divine nature. Vedanta, then, is the search for Self-knowledge as well as the search for God. (“A Brief Overview”)
Psychedelic aesthetics inherit this approach to knowledge, which then affords a perennial approach. Vedanta also generally refers to the study of the Upanishads as closing commentary on the knowledge of the Vedas. Accompanying the knowledge itself is really a kind of disposition or attitude, easily written off as naïve andoverly general, especially when the attitude is applied, as in Durr’s case, to literary study. Psychedelic aesthetics are Vedantic in the sense of using knowledge toward its end, and such knowledge is not determined necessarily by period or culture. This can easily be confused with an overly humanistic epistemology. This disposition, present in Durr, Leary and Ram Dass, gives many psychedelic works a “how to” quality, as well as particularly notable degree of earnestness. It is perhaps easier to accept when a book like Ram Dass’s advertises itself as a self-help manual and more difficult to accept in Durr’s book, which advertises itself as an academic survey.
Durr’s book is certainly not the only one of its kind; in fact, structurally it owes much to Aldous Huxley’s prototypical Perennial Philosophy (1944)– another broad collection of citations from various sacred sources around the world, accompanied by brief commentaries by the author. Huxley wrote it in the context of the Second World War and it builds upon his defense of pacifism in Eyeless in Gaza, Ends and Means, An Encyclopedia of Pacifism,and The Grey Eminence as well as his self-help book The Art of Seeing. The difference between Huxley and the others is that Huxley is all too aware of the problem of superficiality. He writes in his introduction to the Perennial Philosophy:
Unfortunately, familiarity with traditionally hallowed writings tends to breed, not indeed contempt, but something which, for practical purposes, is almost as bad – namely a kind of reverential insensibility, a stupor of the spirit, an inner deafness to the meaning of sacred words. (vii)
Huxley is warning of the dangers of perennialism, and he intentionally tries to sidestep such insensibility by categorizing his examples according to a critical distinction used by the 9th century Indian philosopher, Shankara. He distinguishes between Shruti and Smriti texts. Shruti “depends upon direct perception [while Smriti] plays a part analogous to induction, since, like induction, it derives its authority from an authority other than itself” (Shankara in Huxley vi). This seems similar to common distinctions between primary and secondary sources in literary study. As above, Ram Dass’s book presents itself as a primary text insofar as it is a “how to” guide, but R. A. Durr’s survey loses some of its authority by being primarily a secondary source, passing as merely inspired commentary. What lies behind Durr’s book more than Ram Dass’s, however, is the perennial Vedanta model more articulately expressed in Huxley:
Philosophia Perennis—the phrase was coined by Leibniz; but the thing—the metaphysicthat recognizes a divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds; the psychologythat finds in the soul something similar to, or even identical with, divine Reality; the ethicthat places man’s final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent. Ground of all being—the thing is immemorial and universal. Rudiments of the Perennial Philosophy may be found among the traditional lore of primitive peoples in every region of the world, and in its fully developed forms it has a place in every one of the higher religions.
If we read Durr and Ram Dass with this attitude in mind, we begin to see how the move toward perennialism distorts linear, historical time intentionally and makes the author a kind of guide to the divine, a vertical move. In psychedelic aesthetics, the speaker occupies the space of a guide. This secularization of the priestly role certainly has precedent in liberal mystical religion, most notably Quakerism, where every member has the authority to speak.
But the “guiding” author is also personalized in a particular way in psychedelic works. Durr, citing Alan Watts’ Joyous Cosmology (1962) and Malden Grange Bishop’s The Discovery of Love (1963), writes:
most of the personal accounts of the psychedelic experience relate in various ways this sense of joyousness or happiness, the certitude that life is at its heart purposeless play, ‘joy for the sake of joy,’ however many and apparently disparate – or desperate – the games of human composition. (195)
A kind of eudaimonia is at work here. In his introduction to Malden Grange Bishop’s book, Dr. Humphry Osmond comments on the necessity for psychedelic therapy to include personal history: “The background here is the whole of the author’s life and unless we know what manner of man he is, we cannot hope to follow, let alone understand, his account of the mind manifesting experience” (Bishop 8). So, just as with Masters and Houston argue in Psychedelic Art, the personal “experience” of the initiated author is necessary. This is indeed the liberal “personalism” Farrell discusses in The Spirit of the Sixties. The evangelical impulse of psychedelic aesthetics is present here as a defense of liberalism.
The tradition of Enlightenment “experience” formulated in a liberal subject who can account for his or her actions also remains essential. The experience itself conditions the subject, which is why the psychedelic experience must include a return from an expanded ego. During the merged, perennial part of the experience, however, subject-object distinction breaks down. The evangelical aspects of psychedelic aesthetics merge the audience with the work or the artist as “guide” for that work, as in the earlier example of Leary’s listing description erasing first-person and avoiding “to be” verbs. The English language’s heavy reliance on subject-verb-object syntax lends itself to easy poetic clichés here, but it also matched Leary’s emerging concepts of collaborative experiences between patient and therapist in the late 1950s. The personal aspects here point to medicinal conceptions of the psychedelic experience. In theorizing psychedelic aesthetics, one cannot forget that the entire concept of the psychedelic experience arises as therapy – whether in Artaud, Eliade, Huxley or Leary – and early models are usually in one way or another entrenched in psychoanalytic theories. Eliade’s narrative of the double “fall,” first as a fall away from the state of nature and then as a repressed desire for return is useful here as a reminder that early psychedelic theory is steeped in critiques of the European imaginary.
In psychoanalytic theories of the European tradition there is almost always a locating and recovering of self from past trauma. The frame implies a fallen condition, and certainly there is an overlap with the avant-garde aesthetic impulse toward failure here. The value implied by early psychoanalytic models is a stable individual, a person who is “normed” to some sort of social system in tension with the trauma that necessarily warps life; that is, the “normal” has necessarily and successfully overcome some sort of initial trauma, implying that trauma of some sort is fundamental not just to the person psychologically injured but to any normal person. Artaud’s antipathy for Lacan in the late 1930s rejected all of this, even though Lacan does not present nearly as “normed” a paradigm as Freud. For Freud, the steps toward well-adjustment appear as “stages,” which even he admitted to C. G. Jung were more stably structured and argued for the sake of founding the discipline rather than as a presentation of truly fixed stages. In other words, one cannot simply write-off the discipline as being overly “rationalistic” – though one is tempted to when Freud, in Civilization and its Discontents implies that the “oceanic,” sublime feeling of religion is for those who, unlike him, are rationally weak – but the very idea of the unconscious, founded in an aesthetics of the sublime, assumes that we gain something through the analytic process. Structural and post-structural accounts, across disciplines, merely perform a dialectical pattern collapsing subjectivity and objectivity, form and content, analyzer and analysand, ethnographer and people – State and citizen. Both Freud and Jung transfer care for the individual into care for the State.
For Jung, what is gained through psychoanalysis is a particular kind of care for the liberal individual. In a passage from a late essay (1957), Jung’s remarks seem prescient for the coming 1960s:
Happiness and contentment, equability of mind and meaningfulness of life – these can be experienced only by the individual and not by a State, which, on the one hand is nothing but a convention agreed to by independent individuals and, on the other, continually threatens to suppress the individual. (60)
Following this passage, Jung suggests that the role of the psychologist is to enable the individual to be free from “illusions,” a guide of sorts. For him, these illusions are the fantasy structures of European society itself, which traditionally attempted to present a fully realized rational person. In this sense, Jung might agree with Antonin Artaud, whose avant-garde aesthetics rail against psychology: “Psychology, which works relentlessly to reduce the unknown to the known, to the quotidian and the ordinary, is the cause of the theater’s abasement and its fearful loss of energy, which seems to have reached its lowest point” (The Theater 77). Normed culture anaesthetizes art, in other words, and according to Artaud makes way for the necessity of a theater of cruelty.
One cannot downplay the importance that psychology as a discipline had to pervasively critique the idea of a homogenized culture in the 1950s. Perhaps the most widely known articulation of such a critique appeared in David Riesman’s The Lonely Crowd, which characterized two fundamental human revolutions: the first taking place with the advent of European markets in the Early modern era and the second being a “shift from an age of production to an age of consumption” (6). Riesman was by no means a lone voice, but when coupled with Jung’s take on the psychologist’s role as being to help the individual rather than society or the State, we can begin to see the climate in which the theorists of the psychedelic experience were working and from which they built their critiques of subjectivity. This was indeed serious academic study for the period. The discipline of psychology was a fertile ground for theories of the psychedelic experience, but there were literary and philosophical counterparts as well.
It was in a letter in 1957 to Aldous Huxley that the term “psychedelic” was first coined by Humphry Osmond. Following Huxley’s own positive experiences with the Vedantic society and his personal experimentation with drugs, first with mescaline and later with LSD 25, which provided the grounds for The Doors of Perception (1954) and Heaven and Hell (1956), Huxley came to see the potential social benefits of drug-use for intentionally expanding consciousness. In their correspondence, Huxley and Osmond tried to find a less pejorative name than the term “psychotomimetic” for the drugs, implying an artificial production of a state of psychosis. This term largely derived from the development of psychoactive drug research into finding a “truth serum” to use on enemy soldiers during World War II in concert with the Office of Strategic Services, which after the war became the CIA. The central theory of psychotomimetic drugs was established in a paper by Dr. Paul Hoch, which “reported that the symptoms produced by LSD, mescaline and related drugs were similar to those of schizophrenia: intensity of color perception, hallucinations, depersonalization, intense anxiety, paranoia, and in some cases catatonic manifestations” (Lee and Shlain 20). Just a year before The Doors of Perception was published, “Allen Dulles, director of CIA, lectured at Princeton that the Soviets had started a ‘sinister’ battle for “men’s minds.” To deal with the problem in the emerging Cold War, Dulles authorized MK-ULTRA, (although it was Richard Helms’s idea) (27). MK-ULTRA became the umbrella project that provided funding for widespread behavioral modification research, often involving unwitting subjects (and sometimes unwitting researchers), surreptitiously tested on all demographics of United States citizens. One cannot explore the psychedelic without excursions into State bio-politics, both at the philosophical and material-historical level.
The term “psychotomimetic” aligns with the research development goals for the State. The CIA was so paranoid about the Soviets developing mind-control techniques before the United States that it “authorized the purchase of 10 kilos of LSD in 1953 for $240,000 from Sandoz Laboratories because ‘a CIA contact in Switzerland mistook a kilogram for a milligram’” (24). Despite the hilarious mistake which probably had a significant role in production and distribution of LSD 25, this reveals CIA’s interest in keeping the drug in their control, which of course did not work. Huxley and Osmond had different research goals.
Although Huxley’s Brave New World had presented a dark view of a drug-induced society in the early 1930s, a view that seems to be explored implicitly by MK-ULTRA, Huxley had changed his mind about the drugs’ potential for social liberation by the early 1950s. Even so, Huxley’s characteristically sardonic take on consumerism remained intact throughout both periods. For example, employing his propaganda slogans made famous in Brave New World in the 1930s, Huxley suggested to Osmond the verb ‘phaneroein’ “to make the visible manifest” compounded with “thymos” for soul as a replacement for psychotomimetic (Moksha 107). Huxley ends his letter: “Phanerothyme – substantive. Phanerothymic – adjective. To make this trivial world sublime, take half a gramme of phanerothyme.” Eventually, Huxley and Osmond settled on “psychedelic,” literally mind-manifesting, as a replacement. And while psychedelic was a less pejorative term, Huxley’s rhetorical agenda was also based on his aesthetic sensibilities.
Huxley saw his role as a “literary man” (he had wanted to become a doctor but his problems with his eyesight prevented it) as being able to keep scientific specialists aware of the ethical concerns surrounding their work. While the bioethical concerns are clear in Brave New World, he also lectured heavily at conferences on psychology and parapsychology, as well as at the Vedanta Center. Ultimately, Huxley believed that giving public access to psychedelics with entheogenic properties could help bring in a new stage of human civilization by giving people the opportunity control their own minds. In this, Huxley is the premiere theorist of psychedelic experience and its political-theological ramifications.
Huxley built his agenda out of scientific, philosophical and psychological thought current at the time. In 1953, trying to obtain the mescaline with which he planned to experiment on himself, Huxley wrote to Osmond:
It looks as though the most satisfactory working hypothesis about the human mind must follow, to some extent, the Bergsonian model, in which the brain with its associated normal self, acts as a utilitarian device for limiting, and making selections from, the enormous possible world of consciousness, and for canalizing experience into biologically profitable channels. Disease, mescaline, emotional shock, aesthetic experience and mystical enlightenment have the power, each in its different way to varying degrees, to inhibit the functions of the normal self and its ordinary brain activity, thus permitting the “other world” to rise to consciousness. The basic problem of education is, How to make the best of both worlds – the world of biological utility and common sense, and the world of unlimited experience underlying. I suspect that the complete solution to the problem can only come to those who have learned to establish themselves in the third and ultimate world of ‘the spirit’, the world which subtends and interpenetrates both of the other worlds. (Moksha 29-30)
Huxley presents a good glimpse at his metaphysics here. Humans, by the nature of their limited consciousness, have limited access to reality. Through a myriad of ways, both good and bad, the limits can be expanded, at least temporarily. However, what is “outside” the limit is not necessarily “more real” than the inside. The “other world” in this passage seems to account for both the physical world and the unconscious. The “ultimate world of ‘the spirit’ fuses both. Optimistically, humans can learn “to establish themselves” in this world. This, it seems, would require a certain degree of self-control, however. One must consider this view of spirit in tandem with the cosmology presented in The Perennial Philosophy.
Huxley’s letter goes on to lament the poor state of learning in the world and especially the United States, where Huxley believes education destroys “openness to inspiration” outside of the Sears-Roebuck catalogue “which constitutes the conventionally ‘real’ world” (Moksha 30). In order for human society to progress in such a state, Huxley believes that people’s minds must be opened, even if by artificial means. Although it was a decade before Herbert Marcuse would publish One Dimensional Man, Huxley, one might say that Huxley thought of drugs as a potential way out of one-dimensional society. He goes on:
In such a system of education it may be that mescaline or some other chemical substance may play a part by making it possible for young people to ‘taste and see’ what they have learned about at second hand, or directly at a lower level of intensity, in the writings of the religious, or the works of poets, painters, or musicians. (Moksha 30)
Young people, students, are particularly situated to benefit from drug use here, but they benefit from aesthetic enhancement that helps them better understand art. For Huxley, consciousness may be expanded both intentionally and unintentionally, internally through self-reflection and externally through drugs, but not to infinity and not for long periods of time. Consciousness is a non-static form, but it is still a form, and the process of limiting it is necessary to survival. Embodiment is necessity because form coincides with the ability to perceive form. A theory of psychedelic experience begins to take shape proceeding from the notion that consciousness is dynamic and expandable, but at the same time a limiting shape of consciousness heuristically establishes itself. It is not necessarily through the willed-act of the individual that consciousness takes shape – that seems to be a ‘natural’ ordering property of the brain – but the will can have an affect on the size and shape of consciousness.
Although Huxley seems optimistic about the will and self-determination in relation to consciousness, he is simultaneously deeply critical of subjectivity. One of the benefits of drugs is the ability to transcend selfish solipsism. In Huxley’s 1958 essay, “Drugs that Shape Men’s Minds,” an article commissioned by The Saturday Evening Post (Horowitz 146), he claims that human society is moving closer to the one he described in Brave New World,faster than he ever could have imagined. Like many other thinkers at the time, Huxley begins by lamenting the trap of modern subjectivity, going on to say,
Correlated with this distaste for the idolatrously worshipped self, there is in all of us a desire, sometimes latent, sometimes conscious and passionately expressed, to escape from the prison of our individuality, an urge to self-transcendence. It is to this urge that we owe mystical theology, spiritual exercises, and yoga – to this, too, that we owe alcoholism and drug addiction. (9)
Huxley is echoing William James’s Varieties of Religious Experience here, in which James argues that
the sway of alcohol over mankind is unquestionably due to its power to stimulate the mystical faculties of human nature, usually crushed to earth by the cold facts and dry criticisms of the sober hour. Sobriety diminishes, discriminates, and says no; drunkenness expands, unites, and says yes. (387)
Later in the article, Huxley takes his discussion to the level of the State, particularly addressing Cold War issues and Russia. He predicts the availability of drugs to help men find happiness and the complex relationship between drugs and personal liberty. He says, “it may soon be for us to do something better in the way of chemical self-transcendence than what we have been doing so ineptly for the last seventy or eighty centuries” (10). As his burgeoning theory suggests, Huxley’s concerns rest on an evolutionary anthropology in which humans move toward “spirit” as the realm into which an individual may situate him or herself to find a balance between subjectivity and objectivity, where objectivity includes both the physical world and the latent unconscious. This accounts for Huxley’s interest both in physical science and the paranormal, and he was not alone in this interest.
Although more sinister in both agenda and execution of their agenda, CIA was also experimenting across the board during the 1950s, and it was keeping tabs on Huxley too. Admiral Stansfield Turner’s (then Director of CIA) testimony before the Senate Subcommittees on Intelligence, Health, and Scientific Research of the Committee on Human Resources explaining project MK-ULTRA, Turner mentions research on hypnosis, as well as
aspects of magicians’ art useful in covert operations . . . developing, testing, and maintaining biological agents for use against humans as well as against animals and crops . . . electro-shock, harassment techniques for offensive use, analysis of extrasensory perception, and four subprojects involving crop and material sabatoge. (Project MKULTRA 11-12).
CIA was interested in enchantment at all levels. The paranoia was so great that the American government was willing to transplant and hire many Nazi scientists to break the Nuremberg Treaty it helped set up that prohibited testing on human subjects without consent.
The surreptitious testing by CIA had a direct impact on the dissemination of psychedelic drugs in the three largest artistic centers in the United States during the 1950s: New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Lee and Schlain note
George Hunter White “rented an apartment in New York’s Greenwich Village, and, with funds supplied by the CIA he transformed it into a safehouse complete with two-way mirrors, surveillance equipment and the like. Posing as an artist and a seaman, White lured people back to his pad and slipped them drugs.” Transferred to San Francisco in 1955, White opened two more safehouses and initiated project Midnight Climax, where drug-addicted prostitutes were given $100 a night to bring johns back, have sex with them and drug them while CIA agents secretly observed. (32-33)
There is simply no way to extract the cultural aesthetic developing out of the use of psychedelics from the CIA’s involvement in disseminating and testing the drugs. Science, the paranormal and magician’s art were all areas of exploring enchantment. Further, one cannot extract these scientific and aesthetic studies from Huxley’s inherently political-theological critique of the State from his interest in Vedanta.
In CIA research, agents were at times dosed with drugs so that they could be aware of the effects if captured by an enemy. In addition to testing the effects of drugs on people without their knowing, it was a practice among CIA agents in competing projects within the agency – all of which ultimately came to fall under the MK-ULTRA umbrella – to surreptitiously drug each other. Agents were expected to develop knowledge of the symptoms of having been drugged so they could recognize the symptoms early on and hopefully avoid giving over information in interrogation.
Not all agents, however, saw drugs as being merely “psychotomimetic,” and such experiences created converts to the therapeutic use of LSD within the CIA. In fact, Captain Al Hubbard, a former OSS officer known as “the Johnny Appleseed of LSD,” was responsible for both distributing LSD across the US and Canada as well as helping to develop therapeutic uses for LSD. Hubbard had a mystical experience on his first trip, leading him to be an outspoken proponent of its use. Hubbard worked with Dr. Humphry Osmond in Canada developing psychedelic therapy; “using religious symbols to trigger psychic responses, he attempted to assist the patient in forming a new and healthier frame of reference that would carry over after the drug wore off” (Lee and Shlain 49). These sessions were “geared toward achieving a mystical or conversion experience. The procedure involved high dosages of LSD, precluding any possibility that the patient’s ego defenses could withstand psychic dissolution” (56). Hubbard was responsible for turning Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, on to LSD. Wilson believed in the drug’s religious potential as well as in its treatment potential for alcoholics. Hubbard was also responsible for acting as guide for Aldous Huxley’s first LSD trip in 1955. Huxley had already written The Doors of Perception based on his first mescaline experience in 1953. Like many universities and researchers in the 1950s, unwittingly, both Huxley and Humphry Osmond were surrounded by CIA agents overlooking their work.
At the same time, Huxley’s status as a public intellectual was allowing his writing to set the tensions for the entire debate surrounding the term “psychedelic” that was to develop in the 1960s. In the process, Huxley’s theory of experience and his metaphysical notions are carried over during a period that demanded behavior adjustment regarding citizenship. This adjustment depended on a revaluing of the individual’s relationship to the State. Both Aldous Huxley and the agents of the MK-ULTRA project explored to what extent an individual’s conscious use of drugs might influence and redraw notions of citizenship. It is in this respect, and no mere conspiracy theory, that much of the psychedelic movement was a planned social experiment – not just in behavior modification, but also in citizenship modification, and the best way to analyze this is in the aesthetic artifacts produced at the time.
After coining the word “psychedelic,” Osmond used it in a research paper entitled, “A Review of the Clinical Effects of Psychotomimetic Agents” (“Psychedelic”). It came into wide use within a decade of its introduction to the language. While it was originally both a substantive and an adjective given to name and describe certain pharmaceuticals – almost always with relation to LSD 25 – it later became a term for the experiences of a drug-induced state, and finally a catch-all term for a cultural style. By 1967, the Oxford English Dictionary reports the introduction of “psychedelia” to the language. A synthetic drug thus became metonymic for cultural products and attitudes by offering some degree of controlling ego-expansion and retraction, of controlling experience itself. Even an overdose in this respect is an attempt at controlling one’s liberal subjectivity. The entire debate around the illegalization of psychedelics centers on the question of citizenship in a liberal nation-state, on subjectivity itself.
Because of Huxley’s public intellectual status, his influence spread far and wide. Huxley’s 1954 Doors of Perception profoundly impacted new age gurus like Alan Watts, as well as Harvard psychologists Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, and Ralph Metzner, who would build off Huxley in their reworking of Evans-Wentz’s translation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead,which they titled The Psychedelic Experience (Lopez). This book tapped into a cultural longing that Huxley had already identified. Religious scholars such as Huston Smith and Mircea Eliade too were also influenced by Huxley, and of course also popular bands like The Doors in the mid 1960s.
But it was the Harvard psychologists: Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert and Ralph Metzner who employed Huxley’s ideas most deliberately in early psilocybin tests and later research in the sixties. Increasingly indiscriminate use of test subjects and political enemies within the institution, combined with controversy over how scientific their methods were, forced the removal of Leary and his cohorts from the university. In Leary and company’s view of the psychedelic experience, the therapist and the patient tripped together. The question became, how could the therapist maintain a scientifically “objective” stance to conduct research? Going solo, first to Mexico and then, with the financial help of Billy Hitchcock, to the Millbrook estate in New York, Leary founded the International Foundation for Internal Freedom (IFIF). Along with Alpert and Metzner, Leary produced The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead (1964). The book is a “how to” manual for achieving a psychedelic experience, thus performing a step towards Huxley’s vision of democratizing mystical experience. For Leary, building on Huxley, “a psychedelic experience is a journey to new realms of consciousness,” and although drugs are not necessary for such an experience LSD, psilocybin and mescaline have the democratic importance of “making such an experience available to anyone” (11). The therapist-patient model reveals the influence of psychoanalysis in its descriptions of a guru, or guide, through the experience, but also the monks’ role in the death experience as described in The Tibetan Book of the Dead. The monk is to guide the dead person to enlightenment, but Leary, et al., emphasize the coupling of this with therapeutic methods used by psychologists in the late 1950s, methods that combined administering LSD with many hours of psychoanalysis before the acid trip. This is no small amount of screening. Such experimentation was not only in practice at Harvard. Interest was wide all over the psychological community.
In his 1958 article, “Psychotomimetic Drugs,” Henry K. Beecher uses the term “psychedelic” in a list of a “new class” of drugs used to treat – incredible as it may sound now – schizophrenia (254). He particularly associates “psychedelic” with LSD, asserting that LSD has had “more profound changes in the results of Rorschach testing than any other drug studied in this laboratory,” and it was more useful treating alcoholism than schizophrenia (280). If the literal definition of psychedelic means to manifest the psyche, the early usage of the term may seem accurate on the surface, but it is philosophically convoluted in its assumptions about what the psyche is – assumptions rooted in European conceptions of subjectivity and selfhood, in the European imaginary.
As LSD was used in psychoanalysis with the Rorschach test, the “latent” psyche made “manifest” reveals a Freudian influence. It is only one step away to say psychedelic drugs make the unconscious manifest. Huxley’s theory had the effect of reconciling the scientific and religious or occult aspects of the psyche by combining Freudian and Jungian conceptions with the Evans-Wendtz translation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, which, as Donald Lopez has shown in Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West, was inspired by the theological-political agenda of Theosophists like Helena Blavatsky, Henry Steel Olcott, and Annie Besant. Jung, of course, also wrote an introduction to the Evans-Wendtz translation, and so the tensions of politics and of a conception of self that is not merely contained within one individual’s unconscious but rather in a collective sense of unconscious come to be in concert with Theosophy’s global and ecumenical spiritual and political concerns. All of this is to say, the neologism “psychedelic” is itself a cultural product with metaphysical assumptions inherent in it, every bit as much as psychotomimetic, and perhaps even more so, as it comes to symbolize a re-incarnated liberal citizenship. In order to parse this out more clearly, it is important to see how psychologists built upon Huxley’s theories.
In Tripping: An Anthology of True-Life Psychedelic Adventures, Charles Hayes reports, “by 1965 there were more than two thousand scientific papers describing the treatment of up to forty thousand patients with psychedelic drugs. Success was commonplace” (9). Looking at psychotherapy and psychology journals in the late 1950s and 1960s, it becomes clear that the “psychedelic” experience refers to only one part of a larger process, or “trip.” In “Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD 25) and Behaviour Therapy,” C. G. Costello uses “psychedelic” in reference to only later stages of an LSD experience. He says, “the psychedelic experience [occurs when] the experience is stabilized and the patient establishes ‘order and organization to the unhabitual perceptions’” (119). In this theory, the experience is one of recovery, not of having one’s mind blown. We can read into the term “psychedelic” a cultural tendency to intentionally produce consciousness expansion, but also the inherent return from a perennial state of nature or ecstatic experience.
During the administered LSD trips, suggestions and affective music were also used during controlled sessions. Costello’s studies document the use of “soothing music” in LSD sessions. Offenbach and Mahalia Jackson apparently qualified as suitable music early on – although in one case the patient was “agitated” by Jackson’s music, and the therapist “suggested” the psychedelic stage to her saying, “to face whatever ideas, thoughts or pictures were presenting themselves to her” (119). The article reports: “she was told that life was a beautiful though sometimes awesome pattern which we spoiled by turning away from it.” The use of suggestion, itself arising from mesmerism and trance therapies in the nineteenth century, along with its use in American New Thought, has not been emphasized enough in popular conceptions of the psychedelic experience. When accompanied with the “guide,” taken from the role monks traditionally played in the Bardo Thotol, Costello’s work reads like a direct application of Leary, Alpert, and Metzner’s Psychedelic Experience. Yet he is also critical of using LSD in certain environments: “The effects have apparently been harmful when LSD has been administered in a party atmosphere embellished with beatnik and occultist jargon” (128). Unfortunately, he offers no citation for such circumstances, but his attitude illustrates an attempt at controlling the superficial through scientific expertise, something that is recurring in the literature and historical documentation of the field, especially with regard to Timothy Leary. For many later psychiatric and psychological professionals, Leary’s outlandishness single-handedly has had the effect of stalling almost all “respectable” scientific research on psychedelics between the late 1960s and the 1990s. During the 1960s, Costello and others were quite optimistic about LSD’s therapeutic uses, a sentiment generally echoed in much of the professional psychological journals in the 1960s, even when professionals show antagonistic attitudes toward Leary and his crew.
In “The LSD Controversy” (1964), Jerome Levine and Arnold Ludwig emphasize benefits of LSD in therapy for alcoholics addressing the LSD controversy by noting journalists’ interest in Leary and the Harvard school. The authors are quite critical though, claiming that Leary and his cohorts helped create “an aura of sensationalism”: “neither critical scientists nor laymen could see very much therapeutic or scientific value in the ‘educational’ hallucinatory flights or voyages taken by the mental astronauts of IFIF” (316). Remaining positive about the therapeutic value of LSD, Levine and Ludwig provide a more balanced approach while relying, perhaps naively, on the power of scientific method to sort out the controversy.
By 1966, perhaps through the public attention gained by Leary, the meaning of “psychedelic” clearly broadens in professional journals. In “Some Psychological Aspects of Privacy,” Sidney M. Jourard, writing in the journal, Law and Its Contemporary Problems,uses both Freudian language and the all-pervasive language of David Riesman’s The Lonely Crowd (inner and outer-directed personalities) to describe the social dangers of pressures to conform. Jourard argues that repressed desires help maintain the individual in society, but he attaches “psychedelic” to transformative experiences and healing:
Each time a man reveals himself to another, a secret society springs into being. If the healer sees himself in the role of teacher or guru rather than as a further agent of socialization, he will aim at helping the sufferer gain a perspective on the social determiners in his existence and how he might transcend them. Just as drugs, like lysergic acid and marijuana, have a kind of releasing effect upon the consciousness of the user, so teachers and gurus have a “psychedelic” (mind-manifesting) effect upon those who consult with them. True consciousness-expansion (education) yields a transcultural perspective from which to view one’s usual roles and the society within which one enacts them. (313)
Jourard’s take on the psychedelic evidences a kind of liberal logic: psychedelic drugs are like teachers; they help people distinguish their roles in society by liberating them from the repressive social structures blocking their potential. The psychedelic experience, for him, not only releases one from the shackles of social conformity, it potentially increases liberal innovation by reforming subjectivity. To take part in the psychedelic experience is to be active in the sense of social activism during the early sixties, to make oneself accountable through a civic gesture, to become a politically responsible citizen.
No matter how superficial the drug scene may have become by the end of the decade, the underlying intellectualism in the action of participating coded a civic stance. At the same time Jourard’s statements are a reminder that the psychedelic experience through drug use is merely one of many methods to attain a sublime and spiritual experience. This is of course a sense of the spiritual as integrating subjectivity and objectivity, which as Huxley describes, owes its lineage to enchantment and mystical experience. The drugs merely democratize access to the experience. Jourard also echoes the sentiments that Ken Kesey expressed in the post-trip return with regard to “graduating” from acid tests. The psychedelic experience carries with it political concerns relating to education, citizenship and personal liberty in tension with governmental control; it is a means toward a political end.
The articles here exhibit the tension in the public air at the time. With them, one may speculate that, with the illegalization of LSD in 1966, illicitly taking psychedelic drugs became seen as an assertion of self against governmental control, and that such an assertion was coupled with an intention to seek out a mystical experience. This was a civic gesture, and state control over drug-use establishes enmity between self-determination as an act of social progress and “institutional” authority. The state here becomes the enemy of the liberal agenda by imposing an authority that appeared to limit access to even something as undetermined as “happiness,” but more accurately here as a revised version of subjectivity itself. State authority was something to be transgressed, and that transgression was a civic act. Psychedelic aesthetics perform this transgression.
Works of art displaying psychedelic aesthetics ideologically express the notion that seeking an “inner experience” promotes both individual freedom as well as social action. One need not take drugs to achieve it, but to do drugs so was to make public one’s transgression. In post 1960s decades, this transgression became ritualized (and trivialized) in the United States. But in its early ideology, the psychedelic created a “better” citizen than the “conformist.” Overcoming of mere subjective interiority through a psychedelic return to the perennial also out-moralizes the State. Beyond the state, in the European imaginary, the psychedelic experience produces a communion with the divine lost in the modern era. This is a return to enchanted space of the pre-political begging the following questions: When we consider the deep critique of modern subjectivity in the psychedelic experience, are the affective responses of the individuals who intentionally seek mystical and psychedelic experiences more civically useful than the Enlightenment rationality that founds the modern state? Moreover, in the civic transcendence of the State, does the psychedelic experience end with a revised subjectivity that is akin to globalized cosmopolitanism? American civic foundations certainly occurred in a literal state of nature, giving American politics a long history of enchantment.
The theory of the psychedelic experience applied to aesthetic works, and we can now begin noting some ideological and ethical characteristics present in psychedelic aesthetics. The term “psychedelic” applied to aesthetics signifies a collection of tendencies among artistic works which each exhibit an attempt to represent either something metaphysical in a unique form, or to represent an expansion in consciousness – in other words, artistic attempts to represent the outside, exterior, and the infinite in necessarily finite circumstances. The psychedelic, in this sense, relates to a cultural condition where consciousness, which has been rapidly expanded and destabilized, begins to re-orient itself in light of what it has seen. There is a therapeutic quality in the aesthetics, a recovery attempt from both individual and cultural trauma. In this recovery attempt there is inherent critique of the past coupled with an attempt to distance the past or even transcend it. Insofar as there is an overlap with avant-garde aesthetics, like those present in Artaud’s “theater of cruelty,” which he presents as anodyne for the state of emergency brought on by the “plague” affecting European culture in the late 1930s, psychedelic aesthetics in the United States generally express a more optimistic view, but there is more to the picture.
Aesthetically, the inherent violence of avant-gardism remains the “Hell” of the psychedelic experience – a hell that saturates the work of avant-gardists like William Burroughs’ seedy and junky global consumerism, the films of Kenneth Anger with his nods to Aleister Crowley, and articulated in the depense of Hunter S. Thompson’s work as “fear and loathing.” The flipside to such hell is the “soma state” or “moksha” experience of re-attunement and return to enchanted consciousness. Articulations of soma and moksha are where psychedelic aesthetics and political theology meet beyond crass representations of a globalized free-for-all. I will return to such issues in a later chapter.
The well-worn “Heaven and Hell” and the less known Soma state / globalization binaries are discursively helpful and aesthetically identifiable at times, but they are both at work in the same experience. Psychedelic aesthetics, as Huxley would suggest, include both of Blake’s “Heaven and Hell.” In terms of ego-death and return to a revised notion of liberal subjectivity, I have chosen to characterize the entire experience along the theme of metempsychosis or reincarnation as a way to broaden the aesthetic cosmology. There are violent and starry-eyed representations in psychedelic aesthetics. I make no allegiance to either. What is more important is that in the process of these aesthetics, a kind of sacred violence is imposed on the State. Such violence accompanies the fantasy return to the “state of nature” attained through dissimulation of the ego during the psychedelic experience, and this is what accounts for much of the use of sacrifice, religious and mystical symbols in psychedelic works. It also accounts for the evangelical nature of psychedelic aesthetics and the aestheticized figure of the exploding citizen or “terrorist” in the post-psychedelic era. It is at this point that the psychedelic experience aestheticized produces political deliberation and where psychedelic aesthetics and political theological meet. The eruption of the perennial operates through deterritorialization of both subject and State in order to produce a primordial space for rebirth and poetic making.
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Key Philosophical Concepts and Quotations for “Psychedelic Aesthetics, Literature, and Liberal Crises” – Week One
May 28, 2014 § Leave a comment
When you learn to survive in a hostile environment, be it in the tear gas parks of Chicago or the mud slopes of WOODSTOCK NATION, you learn a little more of the universal puzzle, you learn a little more about yourself, and you learn about the absurdity of any analysis at all. It’s only when you get to the End of Reason can you begin to enter WOODSTOCK NATION. It’s only when you cease to have any motives at all can you comprehend the magnitude of the event . . . nobody knew where the fuck anything was, not even WOODSTOCK NATION. Like Pete Seeger said, “If you were gonna join it, you had to join it by yourself.” Figuring out how to get in and out of the whole thing was a problem as old as Western Civilization and as modern as traffic jam scenes in Jean-Luc Godard’s “Weekend.” You entered the End of Reason to be sure. (Abbie Hoffman, Woodstock Nation, 133)
Crisis / State of Emergency / State of Exception / Disaster:
An important theoretical concept regarding a breakdown of legal apparatuses and the necessity for decision that either have no precedent or exceed existing conceptions. In legal theorist Carl Schmitt’s Political Theology (1922), he says the exception defines the norm and:
All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized religious concepts not only because of their historical development – in which they were transferred from theology to the theory of the state, whereby, for example, the omnipotent God became the omnipotent lawgiver – but also because of their systematic structure, the recognition of which is necessary for a sociological consideration of these concepts. The exception in jurisprudence is analogous to the miracle in theology. Only by being aware of this analogy can we appreciate the manner in which the philosophical ideas of the state developed in the last centuries. (36)
The state of exception can also be conceived as similar to martial law. The discourse of uses this term. While “Political Theology” has different and more specific variants as a term within Christian discourse, the rise of interest in Political Theology among scholars since the late 1980s has also accompanied questions concerning the nature of religious discourse in the public sphere, particularly in the post 9/11 era. The Italian philosopher of aesthetics, Giorgio Agamben, for example, builds on Carl Schmitt’s Political Theology, calling the post 9/11 era an extended state of exception. Accompanying this is the disappearance of a certain European notion of transcendence in favor of more immanent views, especially in relation to bulky legal apparatuses that cannot function in states of exception. These “leaderless” states imply an “absent throne” (or perhaps a puppet-throne) and a return to nature, the pre-political, or the perennial. Agamben names this, building from Schmitt, explicitly in the book State of Exception:
The immediately biopolitical significance of the state of exception as the original structure in which law encompasses living beings by means of its own suspension emerges clearly in the “military order” issued by the president of the United States on November 13, 2001, which authorized the “indefinite detention” and trial “by means of military commissions” (not to be confused with military tribunals provided for by the law of war) of non-citizens suspected of involvement in terrorist activities. (3)
Essentially, Agamben argues (in 2005) that since 9/11 the United States has been in a state of exception where legal apparatuses are constantly suspended because the deliberative process is too slow to react to states of emergency.
A state of constancy, including recurring or cyclic, something that transcends the developmental / progressive temporality of modernity.
A social construct arising from material and social conditions in Europe from the late Renaissance into the present. This includes a shift toward emphasis on individuals or “subjects” / citizens. A shift toward philosophical skepticism (Descartes’ cogito – “I think; therefore, I am.” A shift toward modern scientific method which establishes reality (scientia = knowledge) based on verifiable procedures.
Roger Green’s term for collected attitudes about the importance of individuality, giving rise to the political “sacredness” of human rights and incorporating an historical narrative that sees ‘modern man’ as separated or alienated from a “state of nature.”
An important characteristic of modernity developed especially by Friedrich Hegel and his student, Karl Marx. According to Marx, modern people are alienated from nature because they have moved from an economy of agriculture, where labor materially produces the necessities of living, to abstract labor, quantified by clock time and pay-rates that accompanied industrialization. In The Coming Insurrection, The Invisible Committee writes:
Two centuries of capitalism and market nihilism have brought us to the most extreme alienations – from our selves, from others, from worlds. The fiction of the individual has decomposed at the same speed that it was becoming real. Children of the metropolis, we offer this wager: that it’s in the most profound deprivation of existence, perpetually stifled, perpetually conjured away, that the possibility of communism resides. (16)
Key Quotations and Definitions from the Introduction to The Coming Insurrection
“It goes without saying that the attachment of the French to the state – the guarantor of universal values, the last rampart against the disaster – is a pathology that is difficult to undo. It’s above all a fiction that no longer knows how to carry on. Our governors themselves increasingly consider it as a useless encumbrance because they, at least, take the conflict for what it is – militarily.” (12)
Resonances (see Deleuze)
“Revolutionary movements do not spread by contamination but by resonance. Something that is constituted here resonates with the shock wave emitted by something constituted over there. A body that resonates does so according to its own mode. An insurrection is not like a plague or a forest fire – a linear process which spreads from place to place after an initial spark. It rather takes the shape of a music, whose focal points, though dispersed in time and space, succeed in imposing the rhythm of their own vibrations, always taking on more density. To the point that any return to normal is no longer desirable or even imaginable.” (12)
When we speak of Empire we name the mechanisms of power that preventively and surgically stifle any revolutionary becoming in a situation. In this sense, Empire is not an enemy that confronts us head-on. It is a rhythm that imposes itself, a way of dispensing and dispersing reality. Less an order of the world than its sad, heavy and militaristic liquidation.” (13)
“What we mean by the party of insurgents is the sketching out of a completely other composition, an other side of reality, which from Greece to the French banlieues2 is seeking its consistency.” (13)
There remains scarcely any doubt that youth will be the first to savagely confront power. These last few years, from the riots of Spring 2001 in Algeria to those of December 2008 in Greece, are nothing but a series of warning signs in this regard. Those who 30 or 40 years ago revolted against their parents will not hesitate to reduce this to a conflict between generations, if not to a predictable symptom of adolescence. (18)
What remains to be created, to be tended as one tends a fire, is a certain outlook, a certain tactical fever, which once it has emerged, even now, reveals itself as determinant – and a constant source of determination. Already certain questions have been revived that only yesterday may have seemed grotesque or outmoded; they need to be seized upon, not in order to respond to them definitively, but to make them live. (19)
Key Quotations from The Coming Insurrection Text
In reference to riots of 2005:
This whole series of nocturnal vandalisms and anonymous attacks, this wordless destruction, has widened the breach between politics and the political. No one can honestly deny the obvious: this was an assault that made no demands, a threat without a message, and it had nothing to do with “politics.” One would have to be oblivious to the autonomous youth movements of the last 30 years not to see the purely political character of this resolute negation of politics. Like lost children we trashed the prized trinkets of a society that deserves no more respect than the monuments of Paris at the end of the Bloody Week5— and knows it. (25)
Critique of Subjectivity
“WHAT AM I,” then? Since childhood, I’ve passed through a flow of milk, smells, stories, sounds, emotions, nursery rhymes, substances, gestures, ideas, impressions, gazes, songs, and foods. What am I? Tied in every way to places, sufferings, ancestors, friends, loves, events, languages, memories, to all kinds of things that obviously are not me. Everything that attaches me to the world, all the links that constitute me, all the forces that compose me don’t form an identity, a thing displayable on cue, but a singular, shared, living existence, from which emerges – at certain times and places – that being which says “I.” Our feeling of inconsistency is simply the consequence of this foolish belief in the permanence of the self and of the little care we give to what makes us what we are. (32)
“The self is not some thing within us that is in a state of crisis; it is the form they mean to stamp upon us. They want to make our self something sharply defined, separate, assessable in terms of qualities, controllable, when in fact we are creatures among creatures, singularities among similars, living flesh weaving the flesh of the world.”(33)
“Because everywhere the hypothesis of the self is beginning to crack.”(34)
Critique of Love
Everyone can testify to the rations of sadness condensed from year to year in family gatherings, the forced smiles, the awkwardness of seeing everyone pretending in vain, the feeling that a corpse is lying there on the table, and everyone acting as though it were nothing. From flirtation to divorce, from cohabitation to stepfamilies, everyone feels the inanity of the sad family nucleus, but most seem to believe that it would be sadder still to renounce it. The family is no longer so much the suffocation of maternal control or the patriarchy of beatings as it is this infantile abandon to a fuzzy dependency, where everything is familiar, this carefree moment in the face of a world that nobody can deny is breaking down, a world where “becoming self-sufficient” is a euphemism for “having found a boss.” They want to use the “familiarity” of the biological family as an excuse to eat away at anything that burns passionately within us and, under the pretext that they raised us, make us renounce the possibility of growing up, as well as everything that is serious in childhood. It is necessary to preserve oneself from such corrosion. (40)
In the death of the couple, we see the birth of troubling forms of collective affectivity, now that sex is all used up and masculinity and femininity parade around in such moth-eaten clothes, now that three decades of non-stop pornographic innovation have exhausted all the allure of transgression and liberation. (42)
Critique of Labor
Excuse us if we don’t give a fuck.
We belong to a generation that lives very well in this fiction. That has never counted on either a pension or the right to work, let alone rights at work. That isn’t even “precarious,” as the most advanced factions of the militant left like to theorize, because to be precarious is still to define oneself in relation to the sphere of work, that is, to its decomposition. We accept the necessity of finding money, by whatever means, because it is currently impossible to do without it, but we reject the necessity of working. Besides, we don’t work anymore: we do our time. Business is not a place where we exist, it’s a place we pass through. We aren’t cynical, we are just unwilling to be deceived” (44)
May 13, 2014 § Leave a comment
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed
The wingèd seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the spring shall blow
Her clarion o’er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odors plain and hill:
Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and preserver; hear, oh, hear!
May 12, 2014 § Leave a comment
Psychedelic Aesthetics, Literature, and the Crisis in Liberalism: A Public Service Course
Sundays June 8-July 20, 4:00pm-6:00pm, at Deer Pile (above City O’ City) summer 2014 with Dr. Roger K. Green
FREE / $10 suggested donation appreciated per class but certainly not necessary.
This course is designed to communicate theoretical discourse that often seems esoteric to a serious-minded adult audience. There are no prerequisites, no exams, and no grades. You do not need a degree of any kind. You may attend as many sessions as you want. While the classes will build off of one another, each one will be a separate lecture presentation with separate readings, so you can miss a class if necessary. After each class, lectures will be posted at www.thoughtsandmusic.wordpress.com for those interested in reviewing or catching up.
Since the end of the Cold War, and especially since the 9/11 attacks, scholars and theorists have increasingly attempted to make sense of increasing crises in liberal democratic societies – from human rights issues related to citizenship to war, economic, technological, and legal crises. Didn’t liberalism win? WTF?
The scholarship informing this course involves multiple critiques of “narratives of secularization” that have played a deep role in the foundations of liberalism and nation state projects leading up to the European Enlightenment. Briefly, by “narrative of secularization” I mean a common and broad view of western history that sees the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century as inspiring an increasing turn toward individualism, citizenship, or modern subjectivity. By ‘modern’ then, I am not referring to the latest iPhone update but rather a cultural moment in the west where the perspective of “I” becomes essential to the involvement in maintaining civic life. Accompanying this shift toward the ‘I’ is also the restructuring of authority away from the Early Modern Roman Catholic Church and toward more “secular” Nation States, eventually leading to ideas about separations between theological and governmental authority. Often accompanying this is a notion of a progressive increase in rational, scientific thought. This notion of progress, not entirely out of line with Judeo-Christian worldviews and temporalities, takes on a moral character where more is better and history itself is pushing toward a fulfillment of human potential.
To be sure, especially since the end of the Second World War and the development of nuclear weapons that allow humans the potential to destroy the entire world, there have been plenty of critiques of scientific rationality or “Instrumental Reason.” There are often appeals to post-Newtonian physics that give lie to unexamined adherence to an “objective world,” but even those are radicalized appeals for more subjectivity and individuality. In this relativized world, the very concept of history becomes ever more fragmented while at the same time being diluted because it matters less. History becomes merely another fiction we tell ourselves in a world where “Reality TV” is the most unreal or surreal thing. We praise and blame technology. We feel optimistic about TED Talks and the latest discoveries in physics channeled through shared Facebook posts. We lament humanitarian horrors around the world and use guilt to fuel an economy of lifestyle that is sustainable amid the perpetual desire for more that drives our longing for the right kind of infinite to situate ourselves against – for infinite justice, for enduring freedom. We lament the emptiness of crass consumerism while clinging to notions of human rights and civil liberties. Questions of order, behavior modification, and discipline permeate our lives in sometimes abstract and sometimes very real ways.
Central to the discussions of emergent liberal crises, especially since 9/11, has been the role of religion in public spheres. Under a typical narrative of secularization, radical fundamentalists are unreasonable and irrational to the point that the only way to deal with them is special operations forces and contradictions in the civil liberties traditionally held by to be of intrinsic value. They are seen, whether Christian or Muslim or any other religion, as somehow cognitively deficient. Insofar as extremism accompanies crises in liberal democracies, scholars like myself have been looking to the foundations of liberal society to try to gain what sociologist and philosopher, Jurgen Habermas, terms “an awareness of what is missing.”
Religion, as we all know, is a difficult subject that many simply choose not to deal with, often as an appeal to a rational, secular social ideal. There is an especially large gap in the wider public understanding of why this is a discussion going on among scholars in universities increasingly geared toward more practical and measurable knowledge. As universities continue to adapt to the ever-quickening pace of the globalized world, necessary discussions about policies and procedure overshadow these questions. Students coming into classes often have kneejerk reactions to the question of religiosity and public spheres. To understand the problem at all requires more historical knowledge than they often have coming in. They are easily offended and at once easily offend others once they reveal their thoughts. It is a discussion that while remaining timely and important for broader society (not just graduate students) yet it is difficult to find the venues and spaces for such discussions.
As an effort to bridge divides and to give historical context to these issues, this interdisciplinary course will look at the aesthetic issues surrounding subjectivity as it emerged in what I call the ‘European social imaginary’ and how the use of narcotics, eventually called psychedelics, came to thematize liberal crises in the mid twentieth century and set the stage for states of emergency and exception in the early twenty-first century. Use of psychedelics or “entheogens” (god-infused substances) have ancient origins among human civilization as it negotiates the balance between the divine, religion, and politics. In more recent history, the psychedelic movement foregrounded these issues in ways that directly inform current liberal-democratic crises. Psychedelic aesthetics can offer a topic that can operate as an intersection to talk about these issues.
We will begin by looking at Political Theology and The Coming Insurrection, a manifesto written in 2007 and associated with French intellectuals of the Tarnac Nine, arrested on charges of “criminal association for the purposes of terrorist activity.” We will then move to political foundations of liberalism narratives of secularization, with particular focus on Romantic aesthetics in the poetry of Blake, Wordsworth, Baudelaire, & co. We will cross the Atlantic Ocean and look at theosophy, spiritualism and enchantment in the United States and how that comes to interact with the European imaginary in surrealism, Antonin Artaud and Martin Heidegger. We will look at how English and European Continental Philosophy came to shape the psychedelic explosions of the 1950s and 1960s in the work of Aldous Huxley, William Burroughs, Hannah Arendt and Herbert Marcuse. We will look at the CIA’s help in creating the psychedelic movement and create a commercial spread of liberalism through rock and roll, psychedelic music and avant-garde jazz. We will see how American scholars have used psychedelic research to advance both the good and bad aspects of liberalism, how American aesthetics code a theology of what Simon Critchley calls a “faith of the faithless.”
The goal of this course is to create a venue for people from the Denver community to explore a timely issue in a rigorous way, informed by a scholarly perspective to help frame and situate intellectually potent discussion. We use texts to ground our discussions, offering us content to mediate the overflowing thoughts we may have about these issues. It is a public effort to offer our community a way to cheaply and easily have an informed discussion. While I will indeed lecture to frame discussion, my role will be more of a facilitator than an “expert.” The experience I bring is as a reader and translator of academic knowledge and interpretive methods. In a sense, I am also attempting to defend what academics like myself potentially do for a wider public to understand why bulky institutions and historical knowledge remains relevant even if it is often seen as overly esoteric. I hope to give my audience a way to feel the ways historical forces shape our worlds through literature and the arts and to provide a theoretical point of departure for their own continuing education and discussion. I hope to create a venue for intellectual discussion amid often anti-intellectual surroundings. All the while we shall participate in our own fellowship of artificial paradises offered by wine and drink to induce lively conversations.
About the Course
Class will meet on Sundays from 4:00pm until 6:00pm (or until discssion ends) at Deer Pile, the community space above the restaurant, City O’ City at 13th and Sherman in Denver. The entrance is on Sherman street near the back of the building.
Individual courses are Free (or a $10 suggested donation to the professor to help toward his student loan payment — larger donations as well). Deer Pile may also offer drinks for purchase depending on enrollment. Potluck food and drink is welcome, but we may also retire to City O’ City for further fellowshipping.
Classes will generally be one 40-60 minute talk by the professor followed by one hour of group discussion on the reading for the week. Lectures will not always directly address the reading for the day so much as they will provide more historical material and references to other sources. Audience members are encouraged to write down questions during the lecture and to email them to me if we don’t get to them in question and answer time or larger discussion.
There will be limited assigned readings (about a novel or two a week) and loads of suggested readings per week. The suggested readings will likely grow throughout the course, so look for updates on my blog: www.thoughtsandmusic.wordpress.com.
You may certainly still attend if they did not get the reading for the week done, and you can attend any or every class in the sequence.
Please give conversational space in discussion to those who were able to read for the week.
Please keep comments pointed to the text and specific conversation at hand. Many people have plenty of personal experiences and feelings about drugs and religion. Keep personal anecdotes to a minimum.
This is an academically informed course, not a book club. What I mean by this is it is not the place for consumer criticism about whether or not you liked the book or what that authors should have done differently to suit your taste. It is not a space to reflect heavily on your experiences reading the book so much as it is to discuss the ideas and content in the reading with others.
Don’t play the “have you read?” game in larger discussion. Rather than asking others, “Have you read…?” give a brief summary of your reference and move on with conversation.
Please commit to being present and minimizing disruptions during class. Texting is fine, recording devices are also fine, but please keep cell phones on silent so others can hear and continue larger discussion.
While I will direct conversation, I am not in charge of telling other people what to do. We as a group need to work to prevent know-it-alls who monopolize conversationand to encourage focused discourse. An hour goes by fast.
At times I may use “foul” language for rhetorical effect in my lectures. Expect to hear about activist groups called “The New York Motherfuckers.” This is not meant to be offensive and will not be directed at individuals in the room. While there is no age requirement for the course, please be advised that the content can get gritty if you bring kids, etc.
Since there is no age requirement, and it is a community space, please do not attempt to drink or use pot if you are under age. Remember that we are in a public setting.
I try to be transparent with my methods of enquiry. Please feel free to ask me about them. There are lots of different ways to study aesthetics, literature and history. Two methods I often use are etymology (word history) and genealogy (conceptual lineages). When I use Greek or Latin word histories, it is to highlight conceptual and intellectual history. They are for rhetorical and heuristic purposes, not to “sound smart” or appeal to elite educations. For those interested, some of my presentations will use poststructural methods. For a brief overview, see Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-structuralism
Many entry level literature courses deal with what is called the “Intentional Fallacy” or the “Author Fallacy,” which has to do with separating the idea of the author or authorship from the text at hand. Basically, we rarely have access to what authors intended in their work, so we don’t always want to treat the writer as aligned with characters and narrators in their books, for more on this see the Wikipedia article on “Authorial Intent”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intentional_fallacy
Course Schedule and Assigned Texts
Students must get their own copy or download a free one from the links below. Readings should be completed before class so we may disuss them on the day listed.
June 8: Postsecularism, Political Theology, and Enchantment
Readings for Discussion: The Coming Insurrection by The Invisible Committee (semiotext(e), 2008).
*NOTE THE PAGE NUMBERS AT THE BOTTOM. YOU NEED TO READ DIAGONALLY, BUT HEY, IT’S FREE.
Leary, Timothy et al. The Psychedelic Experience. http://www.holybooks.com/wp-content/uploads/Timothy-Leary-The-Psychedelic-Experience-The-Tibetan-Book-Of-The-Dead.pdf
Suggested Readings and Video Lectures:
Huxley, Aldous. The Doors of Perception.
Huxley, Aldous. Heaven and Hell.
Critchley, Simon. “The Faith of the Faithless.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8X9ruueLJqg
Agamben, Giorgio. State of Exception.
Schmitt, Carl. Political Theology.
O’Hara, Frank. “Meditations in a State of Emergency.” http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/15741
June 15: Liberalism, Subjectivity, and Romanticism
Texts for discussion:
Baudelaire, Charles. Artificial Paradises. http://staff.oswego.org/ephaneuf/web/beat%20miscellany/Baudelaire,%20Charles%20-%20The%20Poem%20of%20Hashish.pdf
Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Birth of Tragedy and the Spirit of Music.
Blake, William. “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.”
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Nature.”
Baudelaire, Charles. “The Painting of Everyday Life.”
DeQuincey, Thomas. Confessions of an English Opium Eater.
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. “Kubla Kahn.”
Kant, Immanuel. Selections from Critique of Judgment:
First Book. Analytic of the Beautiful (sections 1-20).
Second Book. Analytic of The Sublime (sections 23-28 & section 49)
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “The Poet”
“Opium and the Victorian Imagination.” Sisters of the Extreme: Women Writing on the Drug Experience. Ed. Cynthia Palmer and Michael Horowitz. Rochester: Park Street P, 2000.
Wilde, Oscar. “The Rise of Historical Criticism.”
Greaney, Patrick. Untimely Beggar: Poverty and Power from Baudelaire to Benjamin
Kandinsky, Wassily. “On the Spiritual in Art.”
Benjamin, Walter. Selections from On Hashish.
Washington, Peter. Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon.
June 22: Primitivism, Utopianism and Perennialism: Aldous Huxley and the Questions of Modernity
Texts for discussion:
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited
Hesse, Hermann. The Glass Bead Game, or Magister Ludi (Try to have read the Introduciton chapter and the first couple of chapters for this week. We will be dealing with this text the following week as well, but it is long and so we’re breaking it up).
June 29: Gaming, Future’s Pasts, and Childhood’s End
Texts for discussion:
Hesse, Hermann. The Glass Bead Game
Clarke, Arthur C. Childhood’s End
Wolfe, Tom. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Tests
Hesse, Hermann. Journey to the East and Steppenwolf
July 6: Junk, Soma, and States of Exception
Texts for discussion:
Burroughs, William. Naked Lunch
Allen Ginsberg’s Howl
Burroughs, William. The Yage Letters.
July 13: Herbert Marcuse, Hannah Arendt, and Antonin Artaud: European Influences
Texts for discussion:
Marcuse, Herbert. One-Dimensional Man.
Arendt, Hannah. “The Crisis in Culture” and “On Authority.”
Artaud, Antonin. The Peyote Dance and The Theater and Its Double
Hoffman, Abbie. Woodstock Nation.
Hoffman, Abbie. Revolution for the Hell of It!
July 20: Joyous Cosmologies and the Invention of Psychedelia: From Soma to Moksha
Texts for discussion:
Huxley, Aldous. Island.
Watts, Alan. The Joyous Cosmology.
July 27: Fast Speaking Women: Maria Sabina and Anne Waldman
Texts for discussion:
Sabina, Maria: Selections edited by Jerome Rothenberg
Waldman, Anne. Fast Speaking Woman
May 8, 2014 § Leave a comment
This is a song called “I Will Be Free” by the great composer, trumpeter, can cornetist, Ron Miles. I wrote lyrics to his beautiful melody and chords.