This book contains a handful of colorful outpourings on themes of suicide; death; revolt; drugs and sexuality; freedom; Artaud; Camus; Biichner.
McClure’s writing is effusive; opinionated; shimmering; singing with happy affirmation:
“A new era is at hand and it must be joyfully struggled for in full awareness and enjoyment of life. The change is not only inside of myself. In all men there is a new consciousness. A new combat for freedom and happiness and pleasure is beginning everywhere.”
His brief statement on Suicide and Death is one of the best discussions of this subject since Hermann Hesse’s Treatise on the Steppenwolf. The essay on Revolt traces patterns in animals and men: The revolt of the body, of physiological process against the domination of the head, the learned structures that are useful for survival but constrict and cause pain and separation.
Two of the pieces in the volume are about drugs. One, The Mushroom, is an account of a session with psilocybin.
"People are the main thing with the mushroom... The strangest, most grotesque, and most glorious people on earth are selected and paraded in front of you. It’s one of the most elevated comic dramas ever seen. All is both comic funny and 'comedy’ in the sense that Dante wrote The Divine Comedy. You laugh and weep staring at the faces and bodies and weird costumes and godliness and beastliness of mankind."
Ecstatic insights into the concrete physical manifestations of psychic moments and impulses abound.
"All humanity passed us by covered with sores and bandages, and tee shirts, and furs, and psychoses, and raptures not one of them looked like anything I had ever seen. Every shadow or detail of face, emotion, highlight of lip or hair, or swarthy arm-hair stood out in unique radiance."The account ends with a poem in Beast Language.
The Drug Notes are much better. Peyote, Heroin, Cocaine. Each one a masterful experiential vignette. Interior landscapes are drawn with loving precision. Three extracts from Peyote may serve as examples:
"And to see colors leap into ten trillion unexpected glows and fires and radiance to see the sharp edges of definition upon all material things, and all things radiating chill or warm light is to know that you've lived denying and dimly sensing reality through a haze. All things beam inner light and color like a pearl or shell. All men are strange beast- animals with their mysterious histories upon their faces and they stare outward from the walls of their skin their hair is fur secretly far beneath all they are animals and know it...The descriptions of heroin and cocaine experiences are strikingly different. Physical sensations dominate the awareness. Not like the cosmic play with reality-levels of the peyote experiences. With heroin, for example:
"For some in the high there is a glimpse of a final strangeness and alienation a complete true sane madness. It is a glimpse seen by many men many times. Physicians who believe mental illness is a disease and not a struggle of the soul and spirit in threat of dissolving are wrong. A man who has seen complete cold fiery-colored emptiness with all of the flashes of lights and radiance and solids in its splendor of shallow chill hollowness carries the sight forever. He cherishes what he can create beyond the emptiness, and he puts what he can into that emptiness to warm it. Finally, perhaps, a deep enough measure of wisdom may come over him so he can love what was always there before his discovery. Perhaps then he may love the things that preceded in existence the new works of his hand and brain."
"There is religiousness. No other word names the height of human feeling that includes the personal and quiet active ecstasy of being a cohesive and singular being within all. There is no barrier between you and what you sense. There is no thought of a spoon. It exists in its most primeval, barest and most vibrant spirit state. It is there to be used, seen, touched or not. There are no inversions of desires but only the immediate: thirst and hunger and their satisfactions. Water in the mouth is an Ocean moving in the cave of the Universe. We live in a void and we carry the void with us it is an emptiness that we fill with the traces of our gestures. We warm it and enlarge it or it darkens and closes upon us!"
"There is no combat with circumstances or events, no boredom or intensity. Sitting on a bed or a trip are the same. There is quiescence even while moving; there is an inviolable stillness of person. You are a warm living stone. In a fast open car you are a herculean vegetable — the wind on your face is a pleasant hand. You half-nod at the passing of scenery. Eating and drinking are the same but without interest. You feel yourself exist in a place or activity but without feeling of responsibility. There is nothing to drag you. You have occurred."Comparable phenomenological descriptions of different states of consciousness are hard to find. The Drug Notes are valuable miniatures by a gifted word-painter.
"A new kind of self takes over there is not so much I. I is an interference with near-passivity. This is a full large life there is not much criticism, anything fills it. Rugs are as interesting as a street. Whatever is spoken is as meaningful as any other speech.
Cocaine is an ace of sunlight that can be snuffed through the nostrils into the brain. For days it lightens the black interiors of the body and lends an ivory cast of sleekness and luminosity to the senses.
City Lights Journal is a new literary annual containing poems, essays, stories by Williams, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Burroughs, McClure, and an extract from Henri Michaux's Conaissance par les Gouffres, one of two books on mescaline by the French writer who occupies somewhat the same position that Aldous Huxley occupies in English-speaking countries. Michaux's other book, Miserable Miracle, has just been published by City Lights, (priced $1.95). The City Lights Journal provides probably the best cross-section of the products of the whole Beat-Movement.
The subtitle of this book is ""First-person accounts of addicts, writers, scientists and others.” There are about 40 accounts of individuals who have used, been addicted to, or have experimented with a number of mind-altering drugs including hashish, heroin, bhang, opium, mescaline, peyote, psilocybin, LSD, mushrooms, marijuana, and morphine. A very readable volume with much diverse material including accounts by Aldous Huxley, Billie Holiday, Cocteau, Havelock Ellis, Allen Ginsberg, De Quincey, Aleister Crowley, William Burroughs.
The above list is by no means exhaustive but is representative of the major books and monographs on psychopharmacology and related topics to date. (Books specifically on narcotics have not been included, nor have books on pharmacology in general.) All these are concerned with mind-changing drugs (tranquilizers, stimulants and psychedelics mainly), and indicate the enormous amount of medical and scientific discussion that has taken place concerning these substances.
All except the last two are conference proceedings and transcripts of symposia. No attempt will be made here to review them extensively. It will suffice to indicate roughly the content of the volumes and to point out papers of special interest to readers of The Psychedelic Review. Several of the older volumes are of course out of date in terms of the experimental data included.
The volume edited by Cholden is partly outdated but is valuable for its concise, non-technical presentation of the major facts and problems. The Josiah Macy, Jr., Foundation sponsored in 1959 a now famous conference on the use of LSD in psychotherapy. This volume, edited by one of its participants, Harold Abramson, is the transcript of this conference. Five papers and panel discussions are presented covering a range of related topics including psychoanalytic psychotherapy with LSD, the nature of psychological responses to LSD, psychotherapy by symbolic presentation, the study of communication processes under LSD, and a clinical case history. This volume is an important contribution to this area, presenting on both anecdotal and empirical levels the evidence for treatment success within traditionally oriented psychotherapy. Of greater interest are the described attempts to develop new forms of therapy based on the archetypal and symbolic aspects of the LSD experience.
The volumes edited by Bradley, et al., Rothlin, and Garattini and Ghetti are international conference proceedings of a highly technical and specialized nature. The second neuropsychopharmacology volume, for example, has symposia and papers on the following five topics: the problem of antagonists to psychotropic drugs, the effects of psychotropic drugs on conditioned responses in mals and man, the influence of specific and non-specific factors on the clinical effects of psychotropic drugs, measurement of changes in human behavior under the effects of psychotropic drugs, and the biochemical mechanisms related to the site of action of psychotropic drugs.
The Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences have published two volumes in this area. The first, edited by Kety, contains the classic paper by Humphry Osmond, A Review of the Clinical Effects of Psychotomimetic Agents, as well as reviews of the literature up to 1956 and several reports of original experiments. Eleven out of the thirty-three papers are devoted to serotonin and its possible role in the nervous system. The second volume, edited by Siva Sankar, has three sections:
The Sarwer-Foner volume represents a number of research topics including:
The volume on Hallucinations contains 26 papers on hallucinations induced by drugs (3), sensory deprivation (2), sleep deprivation (2), hypnosis (1), occurring spontaneously in psychosis (4), and on general topics (hallucinations in children, neurophysiology of hallucinations, phenom enology of hallucinations, social aspects, phantom sensations, body image boundaries, psychophysics and reality, etc.). This volume is especially interesting in its clear recognition of the essential similarity between the states of consciousness induced or produced by many different means or conditions.
The fourth volume of the International Review of Neurobiology contains two papers of outstanding interest. One, by L. G. Abood and J. H. Biel on “Anticholinergic Psychotomimetic Agents,” is the first exhaustive review of the chemistry and pharmacology of this new series of extremely potent consciousness-altering drugs (Ditran and related compounds).
The other is a review by A. Hoffer of The Effect of Adrenochrome and Adrenolutin on the Behavior of Animals and the Psychology of Man. The theory, first proposed by Hoffer and Osmond, that adrenochrome and adrenolutin are psychotomimetic has been controversial. It is now generally accepted that they produce changes in animals, and less widely accepted that changes in the perception, thinking and feeling of humans also occur. Hoffer concludes from his review of the work that “the kind of visual hallucinations seen with mescaline, LSD, psilocybine, and other substances is not produced.” It is still an open question whether adrenochrome or some other active epinephrine derivative occurs in the human organism.
The volume edited by Rinkel contains some papers on the role of personality variables and experimenter attitudes in drug-response; and an excellent review (by H. E. Himwich) of the correlation between abnormal psychic states and fluctuations in levels of brain chemicals.
Abraham Wikler’s monograph, although it does not include the most recent work, is still by far the most subtle and methodologically sophisticated book in this area. With 270 pages of very concise, closely-reasoned and lucid exposition and almost 900 references, Wikler describes and discusses all of the major mind-altering drugs. The first section reviews the uses to which the drugs have been put: the production of coma (insulin, CO2, barbiturates); “psychoexploration” (CO., barbiturates, ether, methamphetamine, LSD), tranquilization (chlorpromazine, reserpine, azacyclonol, meprobamate); arousal and elevation of mood (amphetamines, pipradrol); diagnosis (barbiturates, epinephrine and methacholine) ; production of “model” psychoses (LSD, mescaline).
Then come three sections on theories and mechanisms of drug action at the biochemical, physiological and psychological levels, in which each of these drugs is discussed separately. Wikler’s philosophy of science is operational, and he is at all times explicit and insistent about the separation of observations and inferences. Although difficult to read, this book is most highly recommended for anyone seriously interested in the scientific explanation of the effects of mind-changing drugs.
Woolley’s book is a statement of the theory which he was one of the first to propose — that defects in the metabolism of serotonin are the cause of schizophrenia. The "psychotomimetic" action of LSD and its antagonism to serotonin are crucial links in the argument. Much experimental evidence is presented and other biochemically-produced abnormal psychic states are also discussed. The book is well-written and invaluable for anyone interested in this highly controversial and constantly expanding field.
This article originally appeared in Psychedelic Review, Issue Number 2, 1963. It was lovingly transcribed by volunteers at The Castalia Foundation in Florida, USA.