As every New Yorker and London Review of Books subscriber knows, one begins by being utterly impressed by the sheer stuff that these mags offer, and one ends up like an inhabitant of Vicksburg in 1863, besieged and bewildered as the issues just keep zooming in: there’s another Paul Anderson 14 pager on Nehru! There’s the issue on the Olympics! There’s the short story by Michaelchabonzadiesmithalicemunroe!
Which is how the magazines have piled up in the office, and how I lag behind, reading them. Last night, I finally made my way through the issue in which Oliver Sacks recounts, with an astonishing lack of apology, his drug experiences from the sixties. I especially like his description of getting the DTs from overdoing the chloral, and – after the initial shock of going home on a bus filled with insect-headed humanoids – resolving to experience the whole thing, rather than checking into a hospital. That’s the spirit! I remember once telling someone that I feared that if I took acid, I get flashbacks, and this person looked astonished: those are freebies, he explained.
It was nice that Sacks was resolutely not hiding those years from the kids. And I like it, too, that he connects being high on an overdose of amphetamines with his first real breakthrough in undertanding how he could write himself. So much for the moralistic idea that drugs and ‘real’ creativity are in two separate corners, and only an amateur would confuse them. Sacks has discovered a nineteenth century book by a man named Liveing on the Megrim, or Migraine:
“As the intensity of the amphetamine took hold of me, stimulating my emotions and imagination, Liveing’s book seemed to increase in intensity and depth and beauty. I wanted nothing but to enter Liveing’s mind and imbibe the atmosphere of the time in which he worked. IN a sort of catatonic concentration so intense that in ten hours I scarcely moved a muscle or wet my lips, I read steadily through the five hundred pages of Megrim. As I did so, it seemed to me almost as if I were becoming Liveing himself, actually seeing the patients he described.”
That’s the Jekyll and Hyde prose I want my drug experiences to be fogged in!
Sacks, of course, is far from alone. In the 80s, when I had a few less intense drug experiences under my belt (mad coincidences via mushroom, and the unforgettable time I was surrounded by Valkyrie who were bare from the waist up, save for the Viking helmets, via the tab in New Orleans), I sometimes pondered the changes that must be wrought in the mass consciousness of America by the fact that literally tens of millions had taken some kind of mind altering drug. Surely there was a hallucinatory underground that would, by subliminal means, lead us through the doors of perception into the promised land.
Alas, Huxley was wrong – you can easily kick down the doors of perception on Saturday and remain the tv-drowned beancounter the rest of the weak. The bean counter who has tripped does not tread more lightly in the world, aware that the fabric of reality is a bit fragile, a bit of a con job, a few filaments thrown over the gaping void – no, he’ll still cling to his day job and his day job mindset, he’ll still swallow every biz inspirational platitude you shoot his way. The mystic/populist mix is a big bust, hosted by one of Blake’s turncoat devils.