By the late ’40s of this memory Century the people I knew best and loved most had already broken thru the crust of old Reasons & were dowsing for some Supreme Reality, “Christmas on Earth” Rimbaud said, “Second Religiousness” according to Spengler’s outline of civilization declining through proliferation of non-human therefore boring technology; Blake had called “O Earth O Earth return!” centuries before, echoing the ancient gnostic prophecy that Whitman spelled out for America specifically demanding that the Steam-engine “be confronted and met by at least an equally subtle and tremendous force-infusion for purposes of spiritualization, for the pure conscience, for genuine aesthetics, and for absolute and primal manliness and womanliness—■” Ezra Pound’s mind jumped to diagnose the dimming of the world’s third Eye: “With Usura the line grows thick.”
One scholar who transmitted Blake’s kabbalah, S. Foster Damon, could remember his sudden vision of tiny flowers carpeting Harvard Yard violet before World War One, an image that lingered over 60 years in mind since his fellow student Virgil Thomson gave him the cactus Peyote to eat. Damon concluded that rare beings like Blake are bom with physiologic gift of such vision, continuous or intermittent. William James, whose pragmatic magic probably called the Peyote God to Harvard in the first place, had included shamanistic chemical visions among the many authentic “Varieties of Religious Experience.” His student Gertrude Stein experimented in alteration of consciousness through mindfulness of language, an extremely effective Yoga since mechanical reproduction of language by XX Century had made language the dominant vehicle of civilized consciousness; her companion Alice B. Toklas contributed a cookbook recipe for Hashish Brownies to enlighten those persons over-talkative in drawing rooms unaware that “the medium is the message.”
This synchronism is exquisite: William S. Burroughs also once of Harvard shared Miss Stein’s mindfulness of the hypnotic drug-like power of language, and collaborated on cut-up rearrangement of stereotyped language forms with friend Brion Gysin, who recounts that he had originally given Miss Toklas the recipe for her famous Brownies. Burroughs among others had begun experiments with drug-shamanism after World War Two—for the author of “Naked Lunch” it was a pragmatic extension of his Cambridge interest in linguistic
Anthropology. That same gnostic impulse broke through to clear consciousness simultaneously in many American cities: Gary Snyder realized the entire universe was “alive” one daybreak 1948 in Portland when a flight of birds rose out of the tree stillness in a gully by the city river, a natural vision—The masters of the Berkeley Renaissance read Gertrude Stein aloud and practiced Poetic kabbalah (charming synchronism that psychologist Timothy Leary met poets Jack Spicer and Robert Duncan in that same 1948 student scene)—Neal Cassady drove Jack Kerouac to Mexico in a prophetic automobile to see the physical body of America, the same Denver Cassady that one decade later drove Ken Kesey’s Kosmos-pattemed schoolbus on a Kafka-circus tour over the roads of the awakening nation—And that wakening began, some say, with the first saxophone cry of the new mode of black music which shook the walls of white city mind when Charles Parker lifted his birdflightnoted horn & announced a new rhythm of thinking, an extended breathing of the body in music and speech, a new consciousness. For as Plato had said, “When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake.”
The new consciousness bom in these States can be traced back through old gnostic texts, visions, artists & shamans; it is the consciousness of our ground nature suppressed & desecrated. It was always the secret tale of the tribe in America, this great scandal of the closing of the doors of perception on Nature’s Naked Human Form Divine. It began with the white murder of Indian inhabitants of the ground, the theft and later usurious exploitation of their land, it continued with an assault on all races and species of Mother Nature herself and concludes today with total disruption of the ecology of the entire planet. No wonder black slaves kept for non-human use into this century in tear-gassed ghettos of megalopolis were the first Aliens to sound the horn of Change, the first Strangers to Call the Great Call through Basilides’ many Heavens. Amazing synchronism again, that Mr. Frank Takes Gun, Native American Church amerindian Peyote Chief, invited the brilliantly talkative silver-haired psychiatrist who directed a Saskatchewan mental hospital in the early ’50s to participate in a Peyote ritual, and that the same Dr. Humphry Osmond having recognized a wonder of consciousness thus experienced passed on the catalyst in Mescaline synthetic form to Aldous Huxley; and that Huxley’s 1954 essay on the chemical opening of the Doors of Perception found its way to the tables of Bickford’s Cafeteria Times Square New York & the couches of Reed College and Berkeley, where artist persons, having heard the Great Call of the Blacks, already initiated themselves en masse to subtle gradations of their own consciousness experienced while puffing on the same Afric hemp smoked by Lester Young, Charles Parker, Thelonious Monk & Dizzy Gillespie.
Dr. Timothy Leary takes up his part of the tale of the tribe in a Mexican hut and brings his discovery to Harvard harmoniously—and there begins the political battle, black and white magic become publicly visible for a generation. Dr. Leary is a hero of American consciousness. He began as a sophisticated academician, he encountered discoveries in his field which con
founded him and his own technology, he pursued his studies where attention commanded, he arrived beyond the boundaries of public knowledge. One might hesitate to say, like Socrates, like Galileo?—poor Dr. Leary, poor Earth! yet here we are in Science Fiction History, in the age of Hydrogen Bomb Apocalypse, the very Kali Yuga wherein man’s stupidity so overwhelms the planet that ecological catastrophe begins to rehearse old tribe-tales of Karmaic retribution, Fire & Flood & Armageddon impending.
It would be natural (in fact deja vu) that the very technology stereotyping our consciousness & desensitizing our perceptions should throw up its own antidote, an antidote synthetic such as LSD synchronous with mythic tribal Soma & Peyote. Given such historic Comedy, who could emerge from Harvard technology but one and only Dr. Leary, a respectable human being, a worldly man faced with the task of a Messiah. Inevitable! Not merely because the whole field of mental psychology as a “science” had arrived at biochemistry anyway. It was inevitable because the whole professional civilized world, like Dr. Leary, was already faced with the Messianic task of accelerated evolution (i.e., psychosocial Revolution) including an alteration of human consciousness leading to the rapid mutation of social & economic forms. This staggering realization, psychedelic, i.e., consciousness expanding & mind-manifesting in itself, without the use of chemical catalysts, is now forced on all of us by images of our own unconscious rising from the streets of Chicago, where city teargas was dumped on Christ’s very Cross in Lincoln Park AD 1968. The drains are backing up in the cities, smog noise and physiologic poison in food turns us to insect acts, overpopulation crazes the planet, our lakes corrupt, old riverways become dank fens, tanks enter Prague and Chicago streets simultaneous, Police State arrives in every major city, starvation wastes African provinces, Chinese genocide in Tibet mirrors American genocide in Vietnam, Alarm! Alarm! howls deep as any Biblic prophecy.
Ourselves caught in the giant machine are conditioned to its terms, only holy vision or technological catastrophe or revolution break “the mind-forg’d manacles.” Given one by-product of the technology that might, as it were by feed-back, correct the berserk machine and liberate the inventor’s mind from captivity by robot hypnosis, Dr. Leary had in LSD an invaluable civilized elixir. For, as Dr. Jiri Roubichek observed early in Prague (“Artificial Psychosis,” 1958), “LSD inhibits conditioned reflexes.” And this single phrase, for rational men, might be the key to the whole gnostic mystery of LSD and Dr. Leary’s role as unique, alas solitary, courageous, humane & frank public Democratic Boddhisatva-teacher of the uses of LSD in America. For he took on himself the noble task of announcing the evidence of his senses despite the scary contumely of fellow academicians, the dispraising timorous irony of scientific “professionals,” the stupidity meanness self-serving cowardice and hollow vanity of bureaucratic personnel from Harvard Yard to Mexico City to Washington, from the ignorant Sheriffs office in Dutchess County NY to the inner greedy Gordon-Liddy-haunted sanctums of the US Treasury Department
in D.C., our whole “establishment” of civilization that defends us from knowledge of our own unconscious by means of policemen’s clubs, and would resist the liberation of our minds and bodies by any brutish means available including teargas, napalm & the Hydrogen Bomb.
Dr. Leary conducted himself fairly & equitably, given the extraordinary nature of his knowledge; it took an innocent courage to explore his own unconditioned consciousness, to take LSD and other chemicals often enough to balance praxis with explanation, and to attempt to wed the enormity of his experience to Reason. An heroic attempt to communicate clearly and openly through civilized technologic media to his fellow citizens, despite centuries of identity brainwash accelerated now to mass neurosis and Cold War Apocalypse Paranoia required of Dr. Leary the proverbial wisdom of serpent & harmlessness of dove. . . .
Dr. Leary was jailed for theory and practice of research on LSD & Cannabis. He took the burden of giving honest public report of LSD & Cannabis in terms more accurate & harmless than the faked science of the Government Party Hacks & therefore his imprisonment was an act of insult to Science, Liberty, Common Sense, Freedom, Academy, Philosophy, Medicine, Psychology as an Art, and Poetry as a tradition of human mind-vision.
(Excerpted from the Preface to Timothy Leary’s Jail Notes, 1968; 1970; revised, 1985.)