Psychedelics: My Problem Discourse


Psychedelics: the discourse of the unmentionable by the disreputable about the unspeakable.1

Legitimizing the discourse becomes a cottage industry: placing the black sheep within a disciplinary fold: medical, psychotherapeutic, bio-chemical, spiritual, anthropological, ethnobotanical, neuroscientific, consciousness studies, and even as a kind of sub-sub rosa, hush hush literary genre. (How much sci fi can be read psychedelically?) The terms themselves: hallucinogens; psychedelics; entheogens; psychotropic, psychoactive, psychotomimetic “substances” or (wince) “drugs” as in “war on”; allies; plant teachers; … always dancing around the terms with apologetics, neologisms, euphemisms, or coded messages and private language on the public fora.

I’m sticking with “psychedelics.” Mind-manifesting seems the most accurate, and the least limiting of the terms, despite the 60’s hippie baggage (1 steamer trunk, a battered, sticker-covered set of Samsonite luggage held together with bungie cords, and a couple hatboxes). Psychotomimetic has the baggage of the whole mental health institutional history. Having worked as a student intern art therapist at Fairfield State Hospital during those same 60’s, and later as a ward aide in the children’s ward at Chicago State Hospital, I can attest to the medieval quality of the psychiatric baggage.

If I try to divinize all psychedelic experience (the entheogenic description), then am I restricted in my descriptions of the stops on the reality train to religious or theological classifications of agonies and ecstasies—the stations of the cross or the stations of accelerated bliss? Granted, religion’s models and vocabularies, the images, metaphors, and archetypes, are rich and plunderable.

At certain tunings of the mind, all texts are sacred.

If I am trying to demonize the experience, there are likewise plenty of demons and hell realms to back me up. But now—must I assume this heaven and hell dichotomy to be useful?

Or the psychotherapeutic dichotomy, healer or dealer: is this realm the cause or cure of psychosis and addiction? Or is this margin that I claim is defined by psychedelics a margin in any normal sense? Is it an edge one crosses (gee Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore) or runs along, as Terence McKenna suggests. Is that defining edge akin to the evolving fractal boundary of the Mandelbrot set, an edge of infinite length and depth and detail, the multi-scalar shoreline of the body-mind-soul set in high relief? It seems there’s so much terminological throat-clearing necessary to even start to talk about this topic in “polite” (read academic) circles.

Unmentionability is heard in many quarters; unspeakability shouts from multiple masks. What’s a good term for a general purpose noetic technology? You could call a computer exactly that, especially as they have been, if not fathered or mothered by psychedelics, certainly midwifed, per John Markoff’s account in What The Dormouse Said. The toy for general purpose cognitive enhancement made by the cognitively enhanced. Of course, that influence has spread. If one could only survey Silicon Valley, Route 128, and other digital deeps for the psychedelic influences.. .How many programmers does it take to design a mutant vehicle for the playa?

  1. Here’s what was going down around The Jane Russell movie: “And that is the outfit she would wear throughout the movie. It was constantly falling down and barely containing her cleavage. Ms Russell was indeed a knockout. The censors felt the movie showed too much and refused to allow Hughes to release it. Hughes played this to the public and the outcry allowed Hughes to release it for a short time in 1943. It was quickly banned, then released again in 1946, was banned again, then released several more times into the 1950s. While it wasn’t a box office smash, it cemented Russell’s status as a sex symbol and movie icon.” []

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