Last summer I read Is Your Child on Drugs?, and as I delve further into my counterculture library I finally decided to read LSD: The Consciousness-Expanding Drug from 1964. This paperback edition came out in June of 1966. Like the above title I acquired this book as a rejected library donation. Its spine was bright red and showed LSD alone in yellow block capitals (no subtitle) so it definitely caught your eye as you perused my bookshelves. Books, however, are meant to be read and not to serve as literary wallpaper, so the weeding and decluttering job I embarked upon nearly two years ago continued when I decided to read this book and then part with it.
Fifteen essays were devoted to the title subject where less than half of them were what I’d call exciting reading. Most were clinical and psychiatric studies and were often repetitive and clouded in psychobabble. The text was not for a casual reader. Sadly, Timothy Leary, the godfather of LSD, did not impress me with his introduction or even his own chapter, entitled “How to Change Behavior”. I wonder how many people gave up on reading the rest of the book as they plodded through the introduction alone. The most insightful statement Leary made was:
“Let it be said directly that unless you have had a psychedelic experience, great portions of this book will be beyond your present mental categories. If you plan to impose your own rational structure on this book, you will end up with, and within, the limits of your own categories. And that will be everyone’s loss.”
One theme throughout the essays was the conflict between lucid scientific observer and hallucinated scientific observer as made below by two different chapter contributors:
“The question of who are ‘qualified researchers’ has become increasingly controversial, and charges have been leveled at Leary and [Richard] Alpert that their own use of the drugs has destroyed their objectivity as scientists. Dr. David C. McClelland, chairman of the Center for Research in Personality and the man who brought Leary and Alpert to Harvard, has said that the more they took the drug ‘the less they were interested in science.'”
“There has also been concern over the possibility that investigators who have embarked on serious scientific work in this area may have been subject to the deleterious and seductive effects of these agents.”
I do admit that the more essays I read, the more I regarded the book as an excuse for the intelligentsia to drop acid and join the fun. Yet that impression goes counter to my overall opinion that this was a boring read, and unlikely to entice professors, researchers, psychiatrists or psychologists to experience the liberating effects of LSD ostensibly in order to broaden their academic horizons. And indeed, my observation was eventually reflected within the text:
“A hallucinogen party will not, by definition, look like a scene from La Dolce Vita but may, to an unhallucinated observer, bear more resemblance to an especially slow-moving Beckett play.”
I had few laugh-out-loud moments yet the passage below, cloaked in the camouflage of warfare, certainly elicited a chuckle at the end:
“Of course the products of the chemical revolution might be used for fiendish as well as divine purposes–already the powers of the hallucinogens are being investigated for their potential as a weapon of war. The Army Chemical Corps has studied LSD along with other drugs that upset the normal functioning of the brain and they are therefore put in the military category of ‘incapacitating drugs.’ It has been reported that a pound of LSD dropped into a city’s water supply could produce a psychosis of the population that would last long enough for enemy troops to take over–though there might be bizarre and unforeseen problems involved in the invasion of a city of schizophrenics.”
William S. Burroughs contributed a chapter entitled “Points of Distinction Between Sedative and Consciousness-Expanding Drugs” which, unlike his fiction, provided the easiest read among them. I can only suppose that he wrote this chapter while not under the influence of anything. He enlightened me on the composition of his most famous novel:
“It is unfortunate that marihuana, which is certainly the safest of the hallucinogen drugs, should be subject to the heaviest legal sanctions. Unquestionably this drug is very useful to the artist, activating trains of association that would otherwise be inaccessible, and I owe many of the scenes in Naked Lunch directly to the use of cannabis.”
For thirty years LSD served as curious book wallpaper that invited double takes of visitors yet now that I have read it I have no desire to keep it and will likely leave it in one of those mini-libraries that dot Toronto lawns. Maybe I will give someone else a chance to turn on, tune in, and drop out.