Psychedelic Aesthetics Lecture 2: Liberalism, Subjectivity, and Romanticism

June 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

Up to this point, we have considered the Apollonian and its opposite, the Dionysian, as artistic forces which break forth out of nature itself, without the mediation of the human artist and in which the human artistic drive is for the time being satisfied directly—on the one hand as a world of dream images, whose perfection has no connection with an individual’s high level of intellect or artistic education, on the other hand, as the intoxicating reality, which once again does not respect the individual, but even seeks to abolish the individual and to restore him through a mystic feeling of collective unity. In comparison to these unmediated artistic states of nature, every artist is an “Imitator,” and, in fact, an artist either of Apollonian dream or Dionysian intoxication or, finally, as in Greek tragedy, for example, simultaneously an artist of intoxication and dreams. As the last, it is possible for us to imagine how he sinks down in the Dionysian drunkenness and mystical obliteration of the self, alone and apart from the rapturous throng, and how through the Apollonian effects of dream his own state now reveals itself to him, that is, his unity with the innermost basis of the world, in a metaphorical dream picture.

 –       Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy and the Spirit of Music

In the 21st century, most of us are not so concerned that being more in touch with nature invokes the eve of destruction, but this must be seen as prevailing romantic values that critiqued European modernity and the idea of civilization. Romanticism binds us in ways we are often unaware of, and even Nietzsche in his attempt at self-critique, written 15 years after The Birth of Tragedy realized he was affirming rather than escaping a dialectic of Romanticism.  Freedom in this context becomes not just the negative freedom from oppression but the positive freedom to thrive, and couched within that is the preservation of liberal subjectivity. Freedom itself relies on and affirms some notion of subjectivity. Insofar as Romanticism critiqued earlier forms of subjectivity and citizenship by an intentional return to nature, they established an aesthetic tradition In the great western political thinkers of the 17th and 18th centuries – Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau – humans are born “in a state of nature.” Civilization, especially for Rousseau, corrupts this initially innocent state, and in Emile: Treatise on Education, Rousseau suggests that the best way to raise a child is to allow him or her “to experience,” not just haphazardly but through the tutor’s unseen hand setting up learning situations. In this fantasy structure, women and children are inherently closer to nature, more innocent, and less capable of rational decision-making, while men are more corrupted by the evils of civilization and the manufacturing of morality and justice. Any desire for a man to return to a state of nature is an inherent critique of civilization, to become childish and effeminate.

In the post 1950s era, scientific rationality and expertise came to be scrutinized for its cold, instrumental reason. This, along with media inventions and increasing globalization (though that’s not what it was called at the time) created a venue for the radicalization of already existing critiques of liberalism. It is sometimes difficult to remember that Romanticism informs both 19th century Nationalism as well as Art Pour L’Art, and that 20th century critics like the Marxist critic, Walter Benjamin, associate art for art’s sake with futurism, fascism, and the very “aestheticization of politics.”

My aim today is to highlight the connections between liberalism, romanticism, and what I will be calling “the European Imaginary” as it relates to subjectivity and citizenship because psychedelic aesthetics seek to transcend the moral authority of the nation state by expanding the subject’s ego to a point of indistinction between subjects and objects. Such an experience attempts to effect upon the return of the subject beyond such an expansion a moral authority over the liberal nation state. Psychedelic aesthetics often take citizenship as their subject matter. But in order to understand psychedelic aesthetics, one must first understand the idea of subjectivity as it is derived from the European Imaginary. In this imaginary a subject or citizen becomes both identified as a bearer of “rights” and subjected to the rule of law. While the idea of the subject in the European Imaginary must inevitably include Greece and Rome, whenever we think of these grand terms like “liberalism” and “freedom,” we also need to ask ourselves over and over, “liberated from what?” or “Free from what?” The standard, secularist, narrative would claim a freedom from the imposed moral authority of the medieval Catholic church. But such unexamined secularist narratives have distorted our contemporary notions of these concepts in way that obfuscate a deeper historical understanding.

I have contended in an earlier lecture that one cannot properly understand psychedelic aesthetics or much of what happened in the liberal west during the 1960s without some knowledge of the ways major thinkers in the earlier parts of the twentieth century looked to late Medieval and Early Modern texts in order to make sense of current liberal crises. Many important continental thinkers of the twentieth century such as Sigmund Freud, Martin Heidegger, Walter Benjamin, Hannah Arendt, Carl Schmitt, and less discussed, Aldous Huxley all looked to the early modern foundations of liberalism to make sense of liberal crises in their day. Many of these thinkers and their gifted students came to the United States to teach from the 1930s onward and directly effected the psychedelic movement. The direct effects of such thinkers on the psychedelic movement, I will argue, has to do with the way they imagined history; so when I refer to them historically, it is not always an objective historical narrative I am interested in. This is difficult work because it bridges different period specialties among academics. While well-intentioned, academic specializations can at times have de-historicizing effects when it comes to studying the ways important thinkers read earlier thinkers, and it is partly to help address that gap that fuels my work here. We simply don’t experience aesthetic works according to academic disciplines.

The theme of dehistoricization is also particularly important to the 1960s and today. A former professor of mine, the religious studies theorist Carl Raschke, who is veteran of Berkeley in the late sixties, discusses dehistoricization in popular society in his scathing critique of post 1960s New Age Gnosticism and spirituality, The Interruption of Eternity: Modern Gnosticism and the Origins of the New Religious Consciousness. As Raschke argues,gnosticism, or claims to occult and secret knowledge had for a long time worked well with American liberalism, but what changed in the middle of the twentieth century during the postwar years was a generation that had to “come to terms with apocalyptic monsters” (207). The threat of nuclear annihilation, combined with an already limited sense of history, helped to create the “now generation.” The “spiritual” turn of the Beat Generation, with its fascination with its own formulations of Eastern religion, can often look like merely a hodge-podge of hedonistic impulses directing a eudaimonia of the moment. While Raschke’s book is ultimately a warning against the de-historicizing inherent in Gnosticism, my theory of psychedelic aesthetics attempts to take such critiques into account while also providing a more in-depth tracing of the European thinking about subjectivity itself that led up to the ‘psychedelic movement.’ In order to do this we must look at some of the early political-theological foundations of liberalism as well the aesthetics of the Romantic Movement.


In Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater (1821), the text so applauded by Charles Baudelaire in Les Paradis artificial (Artificial Paradises) and celebrated as the beginning of what some people call “addiction literature,” De Quincey constructs a powerful, mercurial image in his description of the first druggist to sell him opium:


In spite of such indications of humanity, he has ever since existed in my mind as the beatific vision of an immortal druggist, sent down to earth on a special mission to myself. And it confirms me in this way of considering him, that, when I next came to up to London, I sought him near the stately Pantheon, and found him not: and thus to me, who knew not his name (if indeed he had one) he seemed rather to have vanished from Oxford-street than to have removed in bodily fashion. The reader may choose to think of him as, possibly, no more than a sublunary druggist: it may be so: but my faith is better: I believe him to have evanesced, or evaporated. (40)


A curious note follows on the word “evanesced.” De Quincey remarks on it being a phenomenon known in the 17th century apparently associated with how people of royal birth leave this world. In particular, as his editor, Barry Milligan, points out, De Quincey misquotes a line of the poet Thomas Flatman on the death of Charles II of England: “Kings should disdain to die, and only disappear.” De Quincey rephrases, “They should abscond, that is, into the other world.”

The Latin etymology of abscondere – meaning ‘to hide,’ but literally ‘to stow away’ – would not likely have been lost on De Quincey, who was an exceptional language scholar; and there appears to be some liberal play of wit in his revision of Flatman, the royalist who wrote that princes “should be free / From Death’s Unbounded Tyranny, / And when their Godlike Race is run, / And nothing glorious left undone, / Never submit to Fate, but only disappear.” In contrast to evanescing royalty, Flatman wrote of more mundane departure in “The Sad Day”:

But — when his next companions say 

‘How does he do? What hopes?’ — shall turn away, 

Answering only, with a lift-up hand– 

‘Who can his fate withstand?’ 


Then shall a gasp or two do more 

Than e’er my rhetoric could before: 

Persuade the world to trouble me no more!

The contrast makes clear that, for Flatman’s speaker, the indecorous death of kings and princes ought to evanesce as a way of forestalling death and “never submit to fate.” The king is thus to maintain immortal qualities, and perhaps even without successors the people would await him like a sort of Arthurian and Christian parousia or second-coming. This is not only the emerging of Gothic fascination with mortality or remnants of plague aesthetics that gives death its central theme in this literature, for in the 17th century the massive devastation in Europe and England was fabricated by the political-theological work of men. To die was increasingly to die as a subject and a citizen. Flatman’s poetry is thus more than a reflection on mortality; it also works to legitimize the properly unheroic death of the located subject. In contrast to Romantics like De Quincey, Flatman’s is a conservative poetry that knows its place.

The idea of the immortal king in this era is more complicated, however, because it is at once tinged with a peculiarly modern nostalgia or homesickness that desires to maintain a very ancient tradition. Nostalgia, like melancholia, as Robert Hemmings has written, first became a medical condition in the era of colonization, the era scholars call modernity. As Hemmings writes,

The psychological, medical origins of nostalgia can be traced to Johannes Hofer, a young Swiss physician who coined the term in 1688: “Greek in origin . . . nostos, return to the native land, and . . . algos, signifies suffering or grief” (381). Likening his newly minted disease to home-sickness, Hofer observed that young Swiss nationals on foreign soil were particularly susceptible to this disorder of “an afflicted imagination” (381), which could be incapacitating and potentially fatal if untreated. Svetlana Boym adds about this Age of Enlightenment condition that “the nostalgic had an amazing capacity for remembering sensations, tastes, sounds, smells, the minutiae and trivia of the lost paradise that those who remained home never noticed” (4). In his reading of Hofer, Jean Starobinski finds proto-psychoanalytic insights in the constellation of symptoms the seventeenth-century physician identifies: the deprivation of and longing for the tastes and smells of thick milk from an Alpine valley, of the traditional breakfast soups that signified no less than “the loss of childhood, of ‘oral satisfactions,’ of motherly coaxing” (87). At its very roots, nostalgia is linked with the trauma of deprivation and loss. By the late eighteenth century, Starobinski argues, the nostalgic yearns not so poignantly to return to the place of one’s childhood-a treatment favored by Hofer-but to childhood itself (94). In other words, nostalgia is a function of the imagination, steeped in temporal and spatial longing, and the illusive object of that longing is childhood.

While we will return to the subject of childhood and psychedelic aesthetics next week with Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End and Hermann Hesse’s Glass Bead Game, it seems clear that nostalgia takes on a particular pathology during modernity, one different than the older pastoral longing for the simpler lives of shepherds. Modernity itself entails a kind of isolation and displacement, even in famous lines like, “I think; therefore, I am.”

To be nostalgic in modernity is to long for one’s homeland, culture, and one’s sovereign. Typically romantic, De Quincey collapses the distinction between king and druggist or king and subject, which amounts to a kind of radical deposing of royal sovereignty. The resonance of such a Promethean heist is too easily forgotten today, when liberal democracy’s own sovereignty casts a dogmatic slumber over those who look at the world’s crises and naively wonder: “why can’t we all just get along?” As I said last week, the end of the Cold War, which led economist Francis Fukuyama to claim in 1992: “What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” The events post 9/11, not only in the United States but around the world have been a series of liberal crises and sovereignty. As questions of human rights concerns spread with globalization, sovereignty, citizenship and borders become central issues for liberal democracies. This has led scholars like myself to re-examine the roots of liberalism and narratives of secularization. Psychedelic aesthetics are both part of and a critique of that tradition, putting a new spin on the modern pathology of nostalgia. In doing so, they intensify existing critiques of modernity that erupted in the Romantic movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. We must see that the development of modern art and aesthetics in general play out the drama at work in constructing the necessary fictions of subjectivity and sovereignty, especially in appeals to transcendent freedom and enchanted citizenship.

To further clarify this point I am making about the radicalism of Romantic era thinkers, permit me then to read to you one of the most famous and over-taught of Romantic poems to examine some cultural resonance for our course: “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” by John Keats.

Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,

       Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,

Sylvan historian, who canst thus express

       A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:

What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape

       Of deities or mortals, or of both,

               In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?

       What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?

What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?


In this first stanza, the speaker apostrophizes more than the urn itself. Silence and slow time have given rise to the urn’s displacement. The “sylvan” or wooded historian appears to collapse with the figure of the urn with the demi-god Pan. The speaker longs for the untold story of the painted figures on the urn, the impossible story from either the Vale of Tempe, where the Olympic games were first held and laurels bestowed from the temple of Apollo, or from the hills of Arcadia to the south where Pan dwells. Pan pipes a song so seductively sweet that one’s life withers away. In “Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” the middle chapter of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows and inspiration for Pink Floyd’s first album, Ratty begins to hear Pan’s pipes in the distance and says, “for it has roused a longing in me that is pain, and nothing seems worth while but just to hear that sound once more and go on listening to it for ever. No! There it is again!” (122-3). The figure of Pan permeates Psychedelic aesthetics through attention to the forgetfulness of a return to nature and the pre-political.  We also hear this in Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones documenting a Pan festival and goat sacrifice with The Master Musicians of Joujouka and later with Ornette Coleman’s “Moonlight Sunrise” on Dancing in Your Head (1977), a recording during which William Burroughs was present. But back to Keats:

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard

       Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;

Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,

       Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:

Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave

       Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;

               Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,

Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;

       She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,

               For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!


Pan lulls away youth but also immortalizes beauty in a timeless forgetfulness. Indeed, in order to return from Pan’s sweet song and return to life, one must forget the beauty of those unheard melodies because to be absent from such beauty would itself be too much to bear. So when Rat and Mole in Grahame’s book return from seeing the piper, Rat says, “I feel as if I had been through something very exciting and terrible, and it was just over; and yet nothing particular has happened” (129). Romantic aesthetics employ and fetishize modern nostalgic longing.

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed

Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;

And, happy melodist, unwearied,

For ever piping songs for ever new;

More happy love! more happy, happy love!

For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,

For ever panting, and for ever young;

All breathing human passion far above,

That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,

A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.


Who are these coming to the sacrifice?

To what green altar, O mysterious priest,

Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,

And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?

What little town by river or sea shore,

Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,

Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?

And, little town, thy streets for evermore

Will silent be; and not a soul to tell

Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.


O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede

Of marble men and maidens overwrought,

With forest branches and the trodden weed;

Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought

As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!

When old age shall this generation waste,

Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe

Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

As is well known, John Keats writing in 1819 enacts a spatio-temporal longing on an ancient urn while also reflecting on the events leading to coming Greek War of Independence against the “Turks” or Ottoman Empire in 1821. Greek art, philosophy, and poetry is immortal in the eyes of English Romantic poets of the 19th century. The poet, Lord Byron, actually died in Greece in 1824, having gone to fight for the liberating cause. The romantically aestheticized fashion for revolution enacted a spectacular power of modern nostalgia on the ancient world by projecting its own fascination on a terribly poor Greece in order to fight Muslim Turks. One might see the liberal cause here as a kind of secularized crusade or anti-jihad, and it becomes easy to see how Romantic aesthetics play a role in disseminating an enthusiasm for nationalism. But what then happened between the late medieval Crusades and the birth of this so-called secular liberalism, where evanescing kings become phantom druggists? Simply invoking the word “secularization” is not enough.

While struggles for the legitimacy of the sovereign are certainly ancient, during the 16th century they saturate the English literature that has remained so important over the past four to five hundred years. One need only think of Hamlet’s dilemma or Shakespeare’s depiction of the deposing of the king in Richard II:

Throw away respect, / Tradition, form and ceremonious duty, / For you have mistook me all this while. / I live with bread, like you, feel want, / Taste grief, need friends. Subjected thus, / How can you say to me I am king? Act 3:2

The legitimacy of the sovereign takes root in the medieval political theological idea of the King’s Two Bodies, an idea thoroughly described by Ernst Kantorowicz in his 1957 classic of the same title. As Kantorowicz notes, “The deposition scene, though performed scores times after the first [secret] performance in 1595, was not printed, or not allowed to be printed, until after the Death of Queen Elizabeth”(40). Kantorowicz also notes that the night before his failed attempt to seize the throne from Elizabeth he had a special performance of the play put on for his supporters. The play was discussed at the trial and at the execution of Essex, Elizabeth said, “I am Richard II, know ye not that?”(41). This was the extent to which art and politics were entwined during the formation of liberal values and secularization.

Kantorowicz argues the idea of the King’s Two Bodies “provided an important heuristic fiction which served the lawyers at a certain time ‘to harmonize modern with ancient law,’ or to bring in agreement the personal with the more impersonal concepts of government” (5). He later says:

generally speaking, it is of great interest to notice how in sixteenth-century England, by the efforts of the jurists to define effectively and accurately the King’s Two Bodies, all the Christological problems of the early Church concerning the Two Natures once more were actualized and resuscitated in the early absolute monarchy. (17)

One cannot simply write this off with the concept of secularism. Kantorowicz points to a connection to the king’s two bodies in the deposition scene of Richard II and the Catholic legal theorist, Edmund Plowden. Plowden had stated: “Demise is a word, signifying that there is a Separation of the two Bodies; and that the Body politic is conveyed over from the Body natural, now dead or removed from the Dignity royal, to another Body natural” (40).Kantorowicz’s book was written in 1957 in the United States, where he had come fleeing persecution for his Jewishness under the Nazis. Kantorowicz’s own politics early on were, however, very right wing, and these lines analyzing the King’s Two Bodies strangely resonate with the work of German legal theorist and critic of liberalism, Carl Schmitt, whose 1922 book, Political Theology, contains the oft-quoted passage:

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)

Schmitt also claims that the sovereign is defined as being the one who makes a decision in the state of exception. The historical importance of the King’s Two Bodies exists in the concept’s ability to move from a personal to an impersonal form of government. It is itself a legal fiction, and the idea solves the problem of perpetuity of power by invoking the theories of continuity and legitimacy. The idea is that although the king’s natural body dies, his angelic body lives on. The ongoing transcendent body maintains order in the midst of transition to the next physical monarch. Legitimacy refers to the body of laws that maintain their authority throughout the shift to a new physical leader. Kantorowicz importantly reads Shakespeare’s Richard II as a violent separation of the King’s Two Bodies. Like Carl Schmitt’s book, Hamlet or Hecuba, also written in the late 1950s, Kantorowicz’s conservatism is possibly nostalgic for the older monarchic authority. Read allegorically, The King’s Two Bodies either prepares the way for American constitutionalism or, (as David Norbrook argues), it maintains a right-wing stance because it makes it seem like the English Civil War never happened, leaving true sovereign legitimacy in the hands of a religiously infused head of state. At the end of his chapter on Richard II, Kantorowicz quotes a poem attributed to King Charles I of England, who was deposed and beheaded by Protestants in 1649. He did not exactly “evanesce,” yet the lines claim: “With my own power my majesty they wound, / In the King’s name the king himself uncrowned. / So does the dust destroy the diamond” (41).

Let’s parse this out historically before moving back to the romantics. The shift from Elizabeth I to James I at the beginning of the 17th century unites Scotland and England, creating the idea of Great Britain and allowing a Catholic monarch. Then, Charles I, succeeds James in 1625 and is overthrown and decapitated while wearing the crown by Protestants. Charles II restores the monarch after Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans. England is overcome with hedonism after the oppressive religious rule. James II takes over in 1685 but is quickly ousted in 1688 during the Glorious Revolution, partly because of his overly tolerant views on religion. It is during this period that the more famous classic texts on liberalism begin to appear.

I have highlighted the turmoil of English government during the 17th century along religious lines to give the context in which a work like Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan emerges and to show an important connection between art and politics. Religious enthusiasm was the main concern for Hobbes, even in his 1642 work On the Citizen (De Cive, 1642), and in Leviathan (1651), Hobbes gives a secular account of the foundations of government (Books 1 & 2). He turns to the subject of scriptural interpretation in order to prove that the sovereign alone has the authority to interpret scripture (Books 3 & 4). Hobbes makes this move in order to disable prophecy and the tendency to fight for a kingdom of God in the present by displacing such a kingdom as the product of the Second Coming. For Hobbes, humans simply do not have access to a kingdom of God, and so humans must in turn emphasize Art. Because there is no immediate access to God, humans must proceed by way of artifice and making. Nature, then, becomes the state of no authority. It is based on fears and passions. For Hobbes, and in turn many western conceptions of power, government arises as a removal from the state of nature by way of covenant and contract. Constitutions, for example, act as a poetic force, binding people in social contract. Essentially, the citizen cedes his or her right to violence to the authority of the state in exchange for protection. Because, for Hobbes, the state of nature is not man as political animal (as Aristotle proposed), humans cannot have an organic notion of the “body politic”; therefore, they must have a mechanistic approach to it based on senses and perception. This is why the imagination and aesthetics become of such concern for the foundations of liberalism, and when we remove aesthetics from politics, we deprive liberalism of an important feature of its history.

For Hobbes, the imagination is equivalent to decaying sense perception as opposed to the idea of phantasy. In chapter 4 of Leviathan, Hobbes develops the idea of the automaton as the movement and economy of words. Language itself becomes indicative of the mechanistic and constructed structure of citizenship. Words make up the substance of the social contract, giving rise to the leviathan and the structure of legitimacy, as western civilization moves toward a document-centered society of census reports, paper money, identification cards, birth and death certificates, etc. The sovereign, however, according to Hobbes, is not a party to the contract. The sovereign, for him, is created by the covenant, which, in its creation establishes the necessary authority to oversee the contract. The contract creates the excessive meaning that must be controlled by the sovereign. But there is a weird temporality here because it is just that excess which precedes language in the first place. If the imagination is decaying sense perception, it is at a remove from reality itself and subject to flaw.

The train of regulated thoughts is itself of two kinds. In one we imagine an effect and look for the causes or means that would produce it; and this is common to man and beast. It is the kind of thinking I focussed on in the preceding paragraph. The other occurs when we imagine something—anything—and look for all the possible effects that could be produced by it; that is, we imagine what we can do with it when we have it. I have never seen any sign of this except in man; for this kind of curiosity, asking ‘What can I do with it?’, has little grip on a living creature that has no passions except sensual ones such as hunger, thirst, lust, and anger. In sum, the discourse of the mind when it is controlled by some aim or plan is nothing but seeking, or the faculty of invention [here = ‘discovery’], which the Latins called sagacitas and solertia [= ‘keenness of scent’ and ‘skill’ or ‘ingenuity’]. It is a hunting out of the causes of some present or past effect, or of the effects of some present or past cause. Sometimes a man seeks something he has lost; and from the place and time where he missed it his mind runs back, from place to place and time to time, to find where and when he had it; that is to say, to find some definite limited time and place in which to start searching. Again, from there his thoughts run over the same places and times, to find what action or other occasion might have made him lose it. We call this ‘remembrance’ or ‘calling to mind’. The Latins call it reminiscentia, as it were scanning again our former actions. (Leviathan 13)

For Hobbes, this emphasis on the work of invention not only distinguishes the necessity to focus on the artificial elements of governance, it also accomplishes for him a distinction between man and animal, one that leaves the animal in the pre-political state of nature. As this passage moves to the subject of loss and remembrance we can see the coming theme of the western man who is alienated from a state of nature by civilization itself. The lament of the forgetting of the state of nature will serve as a foundational element for Romantic thinkers like Rousseau, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, and De Quincey.

Other thinkers, like Emmanuel Kant, focused on the distinguishing between autonomy as constructed from the faculties of thought and the way it formulates the sense of Beauty, as opposed to the Sublime – the two concepts fundamental to modern aesthetics. What is important here is that autonomy, or “self-law” is developed first according to the notion of political entities, and when we too quickly jump to a concept such as “freedom” we gloss over the contractual nature. As J. B. Schneewind points out, Kant claims that humans self-impose morality, constructing a motive to obey:

Kant speaks of agents who are morally self-governed. He took this term from political thought of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, in which it was used in discussions of the idea of states as self-governing entities. (483)

While Schneewind points out that self-governance conceptually can be traced back as far as St. Paul, he also argues that Kant’s take in applying it to an autonomous subject is entirely new and original for the late 1700s.[1] Schneewind also claims, however, that “conceptions of morality as self-governance . . . often thought to result from a major effort by Enlightenment thinkers to bring about a secularized society” are highly suspect and overly reductive (8). It is this tendency to reduce history to a progress narrative of secularization that I want to emphasize here so that we can overcome it in our discussion of the assigned texts for this course.

So, now let me return now to part of my earlier discussion. Thomas De Quincey’s “misquoting” of Flatman in Confessions of an English Opium Eater is particularly important to psychedelic aesthetics not just because he happens to be writing about drugs but rather that the ethical attitudes that surround the act are simultaneously political and aesthetic. Insofar as De Quincey’s confessions relate his bohemian existence, his reduction to penniless status also returns him to a state of nature. The actions of the opium eater perform the liberal politics and there is no separation from the book of confessions as an aesthetic and political object. The idea that art or aesthetics can be separated from one another is a flawed idea that is itself post-Romantic that would arrive later with the Art for Art’s Sake movement. That a separation between art and politics is so present to us, especially in the United States, obscures both our thinking about art and political history. Without some basic knowledge of this, we might miss the depth of the critiques and defenses that psychedelic aesthetics give to the notion of liberalism.

De Quincey and the English Romantic poets he associated with display what we now call Liberalism; but the term liberalism in the OED first shows up in English usage in 1816, only five years before De Quincey’s Confessions were published. The term “liberalist” first appears in English in 1795. The movement of the term “liberal” from its native Latin into English accompanies the emergence of the politics of Enlightenment Nation states. The concept of “liberal” has a much older history. In ancient political theology, the state is founded on a claim to revelation. For Romans, to take an easy example, the powers that be are ordained by God, establishing the divine right of kings. The king interprets God’s will and by proxy the legitimacy of the state is founded on the sovereign claim to absolute interpretive power over law and scripture. Legal power is established by hermeneutic or interpretive authority. Indeed, during the 16th century there arose discussion about distinctions between the respective roles of the church and civil authorities. This largely arises as a result of finding ways to punish splintering protestant groups. When we gloss over the Reformation by merely mentioning Luther and Calvin, we forget about people like Thomas Erastus, whose name is wrongly associated with Erastianism. Erastus faced excommunication and exhile for his association with more radical reformers and Anabaptists (think Mennonites or Amish). According to Encyclopedia Britannica,

He opposed excommunication as unscriptural, advocating in its stead punishment by civil authorities. The state, he held, had both the right and the duty to punish all offenses, ecclesiastical as well as civil, wherever all the citizens adhered to a single religion. The power of the state in religious matters was thus limited to a specific area. Erastianism acquired its present meaning from Richard Hooker’s defense of secular supremacy in Of the lawes of ecclesiasticall politie (1593–1662) and as a result of debates held during the Westminster Assembly of 1643.

It is a mistake to read “secular supremacy” here as opposed to the church. As Charles Taylor among others have pointed out, the very term “secular” is religious in origin, relating to the temporal duties of humans. At stake in Hooker and the Westminster Assembly was the structure of the recently formed Anglican church and whether it would be, like the Scottish church, Presbyterian, and based on elders, or Episcopalian and therefore containing a bishopric. The Puritans who helped to depose King Charles I and temporarily eliminate the monarchy felt the hierarchical structure of bishops was politically corrupt. Here, like so much political reform, radicalism is infused with enthusiasm – to be literally god-inspired. Such enthusiasm informs and re-emerges in American colonies and the Great Awakenings, making both political life and spiritual life in America more enchanted than England and Europe. Yet distinctly European educations mark the thinkers like Jonathan Edwards. The German term for enthusiast was Schwarmerei, and this concept is the religious root of political radicalism in a liberal context from the 1960s to the “Muslim extremism” of the 21st century.

In England, the classic foundational liberal text is Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan. Following an “Erastian” model, Hobbes, as we have seen, ascribes the right to scriptural authority to the sovereign. This civil theology subordinates the use of theology to politics, to the sovereign as a kind of mortal god. For Hobbes, state formation leads humans out of the “state of nature,” which is for him one of war and conflict. Protection from such a state becomes a service the state offers in exchange for obedience. When we combine Hobbes with his contemporary, John Loke’s notion of tabula rasa or “blank slate,” we open up a new anthropology, and new version of human nature. Rather than being born “in sin,” humans are born innocent but in a state of nature. Civilization then cultivates modern citizenship by disciplining humans away from a natural state toward a more “rational” way of being. This is, of course, where we get a term like the “age of reason.” We associate this blank slate with the arrival of inductive logic and scientific method, but we forget that for thinkers like Sir Francis Bacon, scientific method was essentially a way of reading “the book of nature,” of taking nature itself as a text of scriptural interpretation. This kind of thinking draws on an older, Latin use of the term “liberal” in the sense of bookish learning, but it also blends with the emerging print culture of the Renaissance, a shift toward the externally verifiable. As a method of enquiry, it is this critical move that informs so much of what we now critique as “whiteness” or white male perspective – a hermeneutics of disinterested observation, of separation between subject and object, the idea that if we can just isolate and observe action and record repetitions of it that we can divine the future and build an un-superstitious foundation of positive knowledge. This is the “civilized” person, who for romantic thinkers destroyed “natural man.”

While the narrative of secularization that accompanies this is well known, it glosses over the radical enthusiasm that accompanied it. We can see such enthusiasm in the beginnings of the Romantic movement during the 17th century. On the continent, liberal stirrings had been different. I want to briefly contrast Hobbes here with Benedict Spinoza, who like Erastus faced excommunication, not from Christians but from his own Jewish community.

It is difficult for us to imagine today how extreme such a measure would be for a Jew in Europe at that time. Spinoza presents his view in his Theological-Political Treatise, published in Latin in 1670 and translated into English in 1689, twelve years after his death. Because Spinoza, like Erastus, faced excommunication, he turned his attention toward the authority of state as opposed to the religious community. Spinoza has a vexed relationship with politics and theology, especially as it relates to scriptural interpretation. It is important for him that the state have control over interpretation so that it can help adjudicate with respect to people who were in trouble with their religious communities. This of course brings up the trouble of people using theology for strictly political purposes, so Spinoza’s answer is to claim the superiority of reason over that of revelation. He is esoteric in this regard and he couches his own theological view within this claim that at once seems extremely secular and submissive to authority. Spinoza preserves religion by separating it from philosophy, claiming that the freedom to philosophize has to be separate from religion. This brings up the question of whether or not scriptural interpretation can even employ reason.

Spinoza’s anthropology, or his view of human nature, is also different from Hobbes. He is not as concerned as Hobbes is with the inherent violence of humans in a state of nature; he is more Epicurean in the sense that he believes people are motivated by their passions. Because of this they’re ready to believe anything out of superstition. Religion, for him, arises out of fear because of this, but at the same time he does not believe it has to arise out of this. Religion can also be a force of hope. While he believes that it is human nature to have passions, this does not necessarily mean that passions themselves are evil. While Hobbes wants to give interpretive authority of scripture to the sovereign, Spinoza wants to separate the civic and the religious into different spheres where philosophy has the greater civic presence and religion becomes a private affair altogether.

A dogmatic conception of liberalism largely considers the role of religion and governance to be separated by some combination of what I have here presented as either Hobbesian or Spinozan treatments of religion. Even when people have not read these texts, they make similar arguments. Their texts are foundational for liberalism, and the Romantic thinkers will both critique this in their modern nostalgia and amplify it in an enthusiastic version of nationalism, which Aldous Huxley will later refer to as its own religion. In doing so, Huxley will present psychedelic aesthetics as a critique of European-derived notions of subjectivity. Subjectivity is itself informed by the creation of modern citizenship in relationship to emerging nation states founded on the principles of liberalism. Psychedelic aesthetics are also, however, largely informed by Romanticism – at times they echo and at other times they parody such aesthetics. We would do well to question repeatedly: Do psychedelic aesthetics succeed in breaking free from the Romantic tradition or do they merely extend and radicalize it? As liberals, the Romantic poets were politically radical aesthetes.

Therefore, to the extent that Romantic men immersed themselves in “nature” was both a social critique and an advancement of liberalism. On the one hand, one would experience immersion into the sublime as a way to broaden subjectivity and then conquer it through re-integration. Freedom allows for this growth, so greater freedom is an important value as a motivational force. But what gets convoluted here is the temporality of freedom. Two drastically different temporalities are at work: First, there is the Romantic who, like Keats’s speaker in “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” desires a return to a timeless unification of truth and beauty. One is lulled by the Pan (or by drugs) back into a kind of immortal youthful innocence beyond memory. Second, a linear, ‘modern’ temporality of progress that orients itself toward the end of history arises structured by rationality and epistemologies based on modern scientific methods. Both of these temporalities are theologically informed. It is well known that Christian Protestant narratives of progress worked well with what Max Weber called “the spirit of capitalism.” The theology of Pan is more ancient and has to do with sacrifice, and insofar as the Romantics incorporate it, they critique Judeo-Christian notions of original sin by idealizes childhood as innocence and closer to God. On the other hand, a strange kind of psychology is at work in the desire to merge with effeminate constructions of nature and childhood, a kind of Freudian womb-envy.

This psychology plays out in travel and colonization. One is tempted to “go native.” As colonization began to flourish, and nostalgia along with it, a perceived lack of civilized political structures by European colonists made indigenous people who tended to live in “natural” environments seem to be “primitive people” for Europeans. In the confusing metaphor of the European imaginary, autochthonous “others” were generally seen by Europeans as childish, necessitating the moral responsibility for colonization. The religious traditions of such people had no place for cultural relevance in the European Imaginary, and so you had Catholic priests outlawing psychedelic substances as early as the 1520s.

In the European Imaginary, land, women, children and “primitives” all become commodities in this structure, not just as property but also as a perceived as wards for moral responsibility in a cultured lineage. This is a weird tweaking of an older Roman idea. Take, for example, the desire for the pastoral setting, the country house, which English men of the Enlightenment inherited from their own nostalgia for the Roman Empire, acquired part of its relaxed status from its ability to reconcile control with comfort. Interestingly, as Quentin Skinner has argued in Liberty Before Liberalism, the Roman pastoral balance is disrupted by commercialism and growing liberal markets:

With the extension of the manners of the court to the bourgeoisie in the early eighteenth century, the virtues of the independent gentleman began to look irrelevant and even inimical to a polite and commercial age. The hero of the neo-roman writers came to be viewed not as plain-hearted but as rude and boorish; not as uptight but as obstinate and quarrelsome; not as a man of fortitude but one of mere insensibility. (97)

It is possible to see many literary examples of this figure in the ineffective landlord, Arthur Brooke, from George Eliot’s Middlemarch,or the prodigal son more lovingly portrayed by Mr. Toad in Wind in the Willows.

The “insensibility” that Skinner refers to aligns with the emergence of moral “sensibility” pervasive in the nineteenth century, largely explored in the bulky novels of the period. More recent critics like Michel Foucault and Alasdair MacIntyre have shown the emergence of morality as the product of a dissemination of values in a public and secular sphere. In their view, the rise of moralism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries accompanied liberalism and emergent “secular” nation-states. This “sensibility” was to be accomplished by the individual capable of self-transcendence. In the European imaginary then, the return to nature is often a return to the pre-political. Such desire is figured in twentieth-century states of political exception as a return to enchanted, pre-transcendent theology, as well as “back to nature” social experiments of the 19th and 20th centuries. Deterritorialization and depoliticizatin throughout the twentieth century in particular, however, creates the religious conditions for a return to immanent spirituality – a return to the miraculous.[2] And that is partly why magic, enchantment, and the miraculous remain so present even in our present culture.

In this context, commerce and consumption appear to perform the inherent ability to produce sacrificial rites through the force of the economy. But according to a secularist narrative, this dissemination of traditional religiosity into “secular” morality would logically eradicate the necessity for religion in any institutional sense or religio as binding. The very nature of “freedom” and “liberalism” is to unbind, but the frame in which these terms make sense must simultaneously reinforce something that acts as an oppressive force from which to inscribe subjectivity. Again, freedom from what? Whom? Without that oppressive force, the values, as Herbert Marcuse argued, lose all revolutionary potential. However, if critics of liberalism like Carl Schmitt (and perhaps Ernst Kantorowicz) were right, and at their roots all significant political concepts are really religious, then secularization never really completed itself as a project and a political theological mess is at hand. Something exceeds what modern political governance is capable of signifying.

What frightened Schmitt about twentieth century liberalism was the easy slippage away from political entities that could be defined internationally in terms of friend-enemy distinction into an amorphous and uncontrollable global economy. He was concerned that the absence of a sovereign to make a decision during states of exception or the miraculous would lead toward chaos and the undoing of civilization.

In my final excursion into European history today, I want to focus on an older notion of Liberalism and its entanglement with humanism or human flourishing during the Renaissance because I believe that if we think about freedom not in its negative sense of “freedom from” but in its positive sense of “freedom to,” we can add that element of flourishing that is so complex in the pursuit of happiness.

To be liberal, in Latin is not just to be free, or even to be generous, as the French connotation and Early Modern instances in English attest. Liber in Latin is also a book, and so we might have older, Proto-Indo-European uses of the word that relate to “the people,” after the Roman Empire, to be “liberated” means also to be educated. In the Renaissance, to be educated meant you were trained by a humaniste or Latin teacher. As the rebirth of classical knowledge spread from Italy into northern Europe and England, a kind of historicism accompanied it. Along with this historicism came the necessity to distinguish between Christian and pre-Christian knowledge, but also ancient and modern knowledge. Scholars now refer to the period as “Early Modern” because the individuating and relativizing knowledge of humanistes came to clash with medieval scholastics like Thomas Aquinas. As the all-too-familiar secularization narrative goes, soon after erupted Protestantism, a personal relationship with the Divine informed by emerging modern humanism and individual and civil rights. Governmental authorities “broke” from the Catholic Church, guilds were founded, and eventually the emerges of modern, secular nation-states based on the principles of Enlightenment rationality and secular science. It is really just a slippery slope, then, in this kind of narrative to the rational elimination of religion from modern existence, and as soon as all those irrational religious people get educated by the much more stable, rationally-based public school systems built on the best principles of progress, Bildung, and science, then we can really create the ideal human civilization. The German sociologist Max Weber, author of the enormously influential Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism had a term for this (though not from that book): disenchantment.

What is seductive about this narrative is a lot of it is true, but as many a medievalist will tell you, it is our modern sensibilities that get in the way of what life was like before the European Renaissance. As with a lot of things, history is not so simple, but such social constructions come to frame all sorts of situations in our lives. The brilliant historian and philosopher, Charles Taylor, appropriately reminds us that while constructions are constructed, they do not necessarily come from a clear design or blueprint. I mentioned earlier that psychedelic aesthetics perform what Taylor calls a more porous self!

Liberalism. Freedom from what? Catholicism? Not exactly. For the roots of Liberalism, I want to turn to a more contested character: Machiavelli. He was writing in Italy right around the same time that Martin Luther was penning his 95 theses, and though not officially published until the 1530s, Machiavelli’s The Prince and his history of Rome or Discourses on Livy were circulating. Not all Machiavelli scholars will agree that he is a founder of liberalism, but I am following my own teacher, Victoria Kahn in this respect.

When we think of Machiavelli and the emerging modern world, individualism is more than just a separation from Catholic culture. There are much more ancient forces at work. Particularly, we need to think about the distinctions between the concepts of virtue (virtu in Latin) and Fortune, or the pagan Goddess Fortuna. As is well known, Rome officially accepted Christianity under Constantine, and much work in medieval studies deals with distinguishing older, pagan culture from the Christian culture that was superimposing itself on the older traditions. But in Machiavelli’s Discourses, he travels back to the foundations of Rome in the 8th century BCE and particularly to Numa. Because secularization narratives mask the complex political theology of medieval thought there is often a tendency to heuristically discount the period. In the twentieth century, as liberal crises began to unfold in places like Weimar Germany, we see scholars like the controversial German legal theorist, Carl Schmitt claim, “All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized religious concepts” (36).

During liberal crises, exceptionalism erupts in not just challenges to grand narratives of secularization or modern commitments to rationality, but also in the political-theological concepts still present in law and notions of sovereignty. While archaic on the surface, these are the very concepts at the heart of the psychedelic aesthetics and the psychedelic movement in the 1960s. And, as we shall see in our upcoming readings of Aldous Huxley in particular, it is this larger historical picture of political theology in Europe that frames the discussion of psychedelics in the 1960s. My interest is ultimately to highlight those frames, but this means parsing out some of the workings of early liberalism with Machiavelli.

While we know that Puritan radicals sought to form a “New Jerusalem” in the English colonies that would become the United States, less well known is the Florentine Republic, which ran from 1494-1512, initially with the help of the enthusiastic religious reformer, Girolamo Savonarola. Savonarola prophesized religious awakening and church reform and encouraged the overthrow of the Medici’s in Florence to establish his “New Jerusalem.” After such political intriguing got him in trouble with the Pope for the Florentine Republic’s refusal to align with Rome against the invading French, Savonarola’s claims to divine prophesy became increasingly challenged, ending with his being burnt at the stake in 1498. This prompted Machiavelli to write of Savonarola during his own exile after the fall of the Florentine Republic in 1513, that Savonarola “was ruined with his new order of things immediately the multitude believed in him no longer, and he had no means of keeping steadfast those who believed or of making the unbelievers to believe.”

Machiavelli’s The Prince has had a long history of reception, but the view that he is a proto liberal is uncommon. Mostly he’s seen as a practical thinker of republicanism (Victoria Kahn). Christians in particular picked up on his practical, ends-means rationale for the state. But couched in this practical approach is more ancient religion as well, particularly the distinction between Fortuna and virtu. Briefly, we could parse them out in this way:


Fortuna: Figured as feminine, Contingency, The “swirl” of atoms, Wild, Luck, Fortune, Unexpected, Circumstance, Chance occasions, Chaos.

Virtu: Figured as masculine (vir = man), Potency, Strength, Capability, Practical wisdom, Courage, Adaptability, Talent, Autonomy, Imposing one’s will or form on the matter, Domesticating, Ruthless, Cunning, Virtue

Machiavelli’s unapologetic emphases on practical means often appear vacant of particularly Christian morals, especially to people today, but he is also reaching back to an older, pagan sensibility. In his historical look back to Rome’s foundation in The Discourses there arises a tension with respect to his republicanism and The Prince. How twentieth century thinkers read Machiavelli tell us a lot about liberal crises. (For example, Louis Althusser and Antonio Negri see him as a founder of modern democratic theory.)

We will get to the twentieth century in later classes, but the more pertinent questions for us right now are: What does liberalism want to be free from? And: How do secular narratives gloss over this with modern conceptions of morality and religiosity?

In “Book I” of the Discourses, Machiavelli gives us his view of religion. Religion (religio in Latin, to bind or perhaps to reread) allows occasion to fortune by which the statesman uses his art or techne to maintain justice and social unity over time. This allows for dynasties and legacies. Religion binds and cultivates over time. It also works through terror and fear to stage spectacles and oath-taking. This leads to the tension: Is religion itself a structuring technique to bind society or is it an ideology that itself needs to be demystified? In The Prince, Machiavelli discusses the role of effective truths (verita effetuale) as a kind of material-ideal that establishes not effects but pragmatic works. They need not necessarily be successful; an effective truth can still be admired even when it is not achieved (see Agothocles vs. Borgia in ch. 7; ch. 18 Centaur).

We see with this idea of an “effective truth” the kind of goal setting that becomes typical with the invention of liberalism. It is not only in Machiavelli; we can also importantly see it in Thomas More’s Utopia, literally “no place,” published in 1516. These fictive, fabricated ideas and spaces will become foundational for emerging modernity, and I think it is important to see them as historically relativistic, not just the opening of secular “space” or a disenchanted rational kind of thinking informed by inductive scientific method. Scientific method is itself the art of fabricating a spatialized reality through the use of experimentation with repeated outcomes. As a “new” religion it binds and creates its own dynasties and legacies. But it is important also that this form of liberalism is also hermeneutically based in the “book of Nature,” as can be seen in Sir Francis Bacon’s New Organon, where “man is but the servant and interpreter of nature” (243). The concept in interpretive authority is essential to the emerging liberalism, and interpretive judgment, particularly as it relates to religious texts, remains important for legality and legitimacy. It is here that so much religious iconography and iconoclasm become essential to psychedelic aesthetics.

Psychedelic aesthetics democratize the interpretation of morality in a way that exceeds the res publica, the republic, and the nation-state. They are liberal in the sense that they seek freedom from the binding qualities of such Enlightenment institutions; but that does not mean that psychedelic aesthetics are themselves secular, unless one means secularizing the secular through a more extreme form of liberalism. At once, psychedelic aesthetics may affirm the nationalism inherent in Romantic aesthetics while also espousing a kind of globalized neo-liberalism. Two-party systems with agonistic categories do not work here. The aesthetics focus not so much on the thing made or the person-maker but in a mediation that dislocates or deterritorializes that person and then, importantly reconstitutes him or her with greater moral authority. What occurs in this deterritorialization and then reterritorialization is a kind of mystical and enthusiastic process. This process itself is at the very core of modernity and the foundations of liberalism; it occurs in the fabrication of modern subjectivity. In order to get at this subjectivity, we can focus on the problem of mysticism.

Mysticism itself is a modern phenomenon. All invocations of Eleusinian mysterious, tarocchi decks, masonic and Rosicrucian orders have foundations in the Renaissance nostalgia for the occult. The Rosicrucians, founded by a quasi-historical personages like Christian Rosenkreuz, illustrate an early example of a westerner receiving esoteric knowledge from the east. Occultism and mysticism create counter-narratives to political foundations that intentionally obfuscate meaning, and secret societies build elaborate esoteric systems to preserve identities in lineages well into the twentieth century with Aleister Crowley, who undoubtedly influenced psychedelic aesthetics. Mysticism occurs as a rhetorical mode with which to critique modernity’s emphasis on production by adhering to pseudo-archaic notions of channeling and divination, of an ability to converse in subtle ways with the divine. In a sense it invokes an older office, that of the ancient augur or reader of bird entrails; but like so much of modern occultism, it is not so much an adherence to the ancient traditions as it is an alternate fabrication of modernity itself. The rhetoric of modern mysticism, like romanticism, rests on nostalgia for a lost and ancient past. An inattentive adherence to mysticism potentially confuses the progressive liberalism of freedom with a longing for a conservative “no-place” because it performs its own historicism. This is the root of all “back-to-nature” / “back-to-the-pre-political” rhetoric as a critique of liberalism. What mysticism obfuscates in its gesture toward the ancient is its own clever invention and fabrication, indeed its own modernity. It longs for the seductive idea of the trans-human, and this is why it can connect with the rhetoric of post-humanism and science fiction. To point out such fabrication, however, is not the same as delegitimizing mysticism’s political critique; it is merely to see enchantment – or to be more accurate, re-enchantment – as a device to further a particular kind of subjectivity that is aware of its own porousness. But it is not enough to merely “realize” one’s own inauthenticity, one’s own “construction” – to give up one’s self in its particular iteration of being.

“Enough?!” one might ask. “And how are we to determine just exactly what is ‘enough’?” This delimiting of Self, this concretization of being cannot escape its own history. Hans Joas, in an echo of Carl Schmitt, recently declares that the contemporary notion of Self is merely the secularized notion of the soul. To highlight such processes of secularization is not the same thing as adhering to either secular or non-secular perspectives. Religious studies scholar, Amy Hollywood, has argued that no such thing a s ‘mysticism’ as a substantive entity existed from the 3rd century to the 16th century. Hollywood argues that with the eruption of modernity, what we now think of as mysticism gets called “enthusiasm,” which is to be literally infused with God. She believes that enthusiasm might be a useful category for thinking about secularism / the secular by claiming that enthusiasm was the term debated during the 16th and 17th centuries, as opposed to enchantment or disenchantment. Hollywood argues that the term “mystic” relates to early adjectival uses and that “mystical reading” is an allegorical mode that seeks to recreate the experience of Jesus. She goes on to say the from the 17th century on that the term ‘mysticism’ has a tendency to emphasize transcendence over immanence and ‘inner’ versus ‘outer.’ As a practice, in what people now call mysticism, the notions of habit and spontaneity were not opposed to one another. How are we to conceive of this?

One way, perhaps, is to note the ability that emerging liberal morality tended to “break open” subjectivity. Michel Foucault among others has certainly attested to the emergence of subjectivity and citizenship with modernity as a product of accountability for heresy. There is no way, in his narrative to separate the idea of the author from the idea that to be located as an author also subjected one to the force of law. To put one’s name on something, to provide a “signature” was to also subject one’s self to prosecution, for the material produced to be “liable” or responsible to law. Such subjection of people emerges with the modern notion of citizen subjects. The emergence of the confession as a Christian performance of testifying, as Foucault notes, is but one example of this. So let me end here with De Quincey’s secularized version of a confession, where he collapses kings and druggistwith mythological figures, and let us see just how entrenched in the political and aesthetic fabric of liberalism drugs and expanded consciousness are when they begin to mind manifest western civilization itself. As De Quincey lauds,

Oh, just, subtle, and mighty opium! that to the hearts of poor and rich alike, for the wounds that will never heal, and for “the pangs that tempt the spirit to rebel,” bringest an assuaging balm; eloquent opium! that with thy potent rhetoric stealest away the purposes of wrath; and to the guilty man for one night givest back the hopes of his youth, and hands washed pure from blood; and to the proud man a brief oblivion for wrongs undress’d and insults unavenged; that summonest to the chancery of dreams, for the triumphs of suffering innocence, false witnesses; and confoundest perjury, and dost reverse the sentences of unrighteous judges;— thou buildest upon the bosom of darkness, out of the fantastic imagery of the brain, cities and temples beyond the art of Phidias and Praxiteles—beyond the splendour of Babylon and Hekatompylos, and “from the anarchy of dreaming sleep” callest into sunny light the faces of long-buried beauties and the blessed household countenances cleansed from the “dishonours of the grave.” Thou only givest these gifts to man; and thou hast the keys of Paradise, oh, just, subtle, and mighty opium! (55)


Scholarship, like art, is of the historical moment. When it is potent, it reacts to the same forces that drive art and politics, and distinctions between any of the three categories are often blurry when one examines them closely. I offer this observation not simply to be aphoristic (as if aphorisms were themselves simple) but partly to qualify some of the methods I have employed in this lecture. I at times have perhaps seemed extremely general and at others seem overly specific. I may have jumped around historically, sometimes using genealogies and etymologies in true Nietzschean and poststructural fashion, but also in the ways an LSD trip, Gestalt, or a magic eye picture can simultaneously present perceived images and atomistic nonsense. This is partly a tactical device because we only have so much time, but I also mean it to mirror states of exception and liberal crises we have seen so often in more recent history, what Anthropologist, Michael Wesch has aptly called “context collapse.” Such states are themselves psychedelic insofar as they are mind manifesting and transpersonal, and as my analysis of “Homage to William and Catherine Blake” by The Fugs last week illustrated, psychedelic works channel a variety of temporalities and figures into a ceremonial moment in polysemus ways, oversaturating a moment with various simultaneous associations.

Next week we enter into the more traditionally literary material from the course with Aldous Huixley’s Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited.  Aldous Huxley is the psychedelic theorist par excellence, but often times his readers are unaware of the larger historical forces he is battling in his books.  Our foray into European history early on will serve us well in reading Huxley.


[1] Thus, in Political-Theological discourse there has been a massive return to examinations of St. Paul’s writing.


[2] The work of Hent De Vries on miracles has significance here.


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