Although much of it remains of an order and kind I can’t define, the information I receive while under the influence of psychedelics hints at hidden cognitive capacities. Thought acquires an important ally. Fed with new perception, even if just of the entoptic kind, the brain responds accordingly, adjusting itself through a process of neurogenesis in the hippocampus. One learns, for instance, that psychedelic shaman Terence McKenna studied under Austrian philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend. Is there a “correct” way to generalize? Mind is the only true Subject, emanating upward and outward through the biosphere, inventing new forms for itself. Sidewalk cracks rhyme with frets on the neck of a guitar, in a place where the biosphere exists only as distant memory, herbal remedy, “supplement.” How fares the cause of “epistemological anarchism” in the age of the Anthropocene? How fares the cause of personalism in the age of AI?
After admiring joyous birdsong at sunset, the rumble of a motor heard far in the distance, I turn and face the entrance to a cave. Is it wrong to feel forever dubious of that which remains, that which fails to go away, despite my having lost belief in it? (Wasn’t that Philip K. Dick’s definition of “reality”?) Assuming no reply, I step inside, cave walls alive with claymation lichen. This cave of which I speak is a kind of mirror-world, like the interior of a screen. No matter how carefully I inspect its contents, I always depart it afterwards feeling conceptually and linguistically inept. Dominated by people with backgrounds in STEM and finance. At times, this cave resembles language — the cultural surround. Yet I at all times also feel language’s absence. I lack the words, for instance, to operate consistently within a science fictional universe. Psychedelics free us temporarily from the first of these sensations: the sense of language as a prison house, a confine, an enclosure. (Or not, if we believe Lacan.) But then what? Once out of the linguistic construct, how do we communicate with those still in it? What is the content of this gnosis that we wish to deliver back into language?
The mind, like a hand, clenches and holds. The unconscious remembers everything: lessons in unmastered foreign languages, the self as inner ear. In a religious idiom, one would speak of minds knowing themselves in the Christ narrative, toggling between one and many. Were early descriptions of psychedelic experience overdetermined by encounters with Op Art, the contemporaneity of the two no mere coincidence? The answer lies buried in Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno, a film that sought to depict visual and spatial disorientation using “Op Art”-inspired special effects. Voices and sounds prompt projections, the more abstract, the more manipulated the perception, the better. Lead and descant chase each other’s echoes. Op Art at the very least shared with the psychonaut population an interest in heightened or intensified modes of perception. Sensations of otherworldly motion, vibration, topological warping. Reality displays itself in some new way, allowing apprehension of something beautiful and bewilderingly complex. Magic circles convert the mind’s eye into a portal connecting distinct ontological realms, from which we catch brief impressions — until, like vapors, these realms disperse.
I wish I could pull it all together, assemble the pieces of an intellectual history of the psychedelic revolution. The history I have in mind extends far beyond the figures and materials covered in recent books like Jesse Jarnow’s Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America. Jarnow’s book uses the Dead as its connective thread, whereas I’m more interested in telling the stories of head culture’s organic intellectuals: those “technicians of the sacred” who attempted to interpret and make sense of psychedelic experience. A bee zooms into view — and alone remains, when all is through, the day’s iconic residue. In the meantime, a glimpse of the moon:
Compose mildly, humbly, yells a voice from ahead on the line. We of the chain gang. Every breath a guess, a near fumble. Conversations, dialogues, words assembled from channel-surfing, dial-turning snippets of televisions and talking radios. It’s as if the larynx, a highly sensitive vibrational surface, were suddenly set aquiver, collaboratively operated by self and other, floating among oceans of sound. Songs for breakfast, songs for lunch. Rapid montage sequences flit past. Like horseshoe crabs, we possess receptors useful for sensing changes in moonlight. I imagine a fictional universe, perhaps I’m programmed to do so, I’m not going to delve into agency, will, all that David Copperfield kind of crap. Rice Krispies crackle loudly as the childhood self leans his ear to a bowl of cereal. The inner voice speeds up, acquires greater proficiency. “My environment,” I tell myself, “has been carefully designed to draw me to this state of mind.”
My mood quickens, turns, rushes recklessly toward sublime paranoia as I read a photograph of a concrete poem handwritten by German-born Jewish psychonaut Walter Benjamin. “The little sheep reads,” reads the printed translation below the photograph. “Is the figure a writing-song is it an image. Sleep my little sheep sleep. Write my little sheep write.” After this encounter, I experience rhapsodic visions. The protocol from Benjamin’s mescaline experiment of May 22, 1934 abounds with allegorical riches and utterances of Delphic import. (See also Scott J. Thompson’s translation of Ernst Joël and Fritz Fränkel’s “The Hashish-Rausch: Contributions to an Experimental Psychopathology.”) Heads oscillate continually between waking and dreaming states. The illuminated tip of a Lighted Head Demagnetizer leads me to Osamu Kitajima’s Benzaiten.
Let us concern ourselves again with experiences. Let us relaunch the project Benjamin believed Surrealism had set for itself: “to win the energies of intoxication for revolution.” Voices speak to me. “Go ahead and listen,” warns one. We are sonic beings, transmitting signals into meatspace using navigable databases filled with recorded samples of spoken word. Truth is only possible when silence is broken.
I wonder sometimes about the ongoingness of declared feeling that results from the ritual nature of these trance-scripts. According to Thee Psychick Bible, though, ritual is “the concrete expression of experience…the foundation of awareness.” Ritual is the only way to approach the ideal of a complete and coherent cognitive map of experience. But do we need such a map? For what purpose? I consider abandoning communication altogether after skimming Henry Flynt’s execrable essay “The Psychedelic State.” Are proponents of “Ordinary Language” or “Natural Language” philosophy always as arrogant and as petulant as Flynt? Author, you are no proper author. Time relays itself into an ontological structure shaped like a cantilevered staircase. Weed-huffing is a healthy, low energy way of moving between floors. One is lifted. Consciousness spins itself off into spontaneously assembled wisps of trance-script, a consequence of subject-object entanglement.