Good Trips, Bad Trips - the Use and Abuse of Drugs

  Good Trips, Bad Trips - the Use and Abuse of Drugs

Posted by FoM on December 03, 2000 at 07:41:44 PT
Reviewed by Mark Luce 
Source: San Francisco Chronicle  

As the war on drugs continues to be waged bass-ackwards, along comes Sadie Plant's riveting "Writing on Drugs" and Charles Hayes' "Tripping: An Anthology of True-Life Psychedelic Adventures." Both traverse the lines between reality and expanded consciousness, detailing how psychotropics affect the creative process and their underlying chemical and physiological effects. But "Writing on Drugs" stands out as one of the most intriguing and provocative books written about the subject in years. 
Plant, a British academic armed with some heavy but accessible poststructuralist theory, has written a book that will appeal even to those who have no experience with illegal drugs. Though the title suggests that she will take us on a literary trip from the opium munching of Thomas DeQuincey through the ceaseless human laboratory of William S. Burroughs, Plant has far more in mind. Not only does she give us a precise scientific understanding of what drugs do to the body (and what the body does to the drugs), she also presents a chilly analysis of the power dynamics of drugs and the drug trade, employing an excellent reading of the work of Michel Foucault. To top it off, Plant finishes with a scathing treatment of the role of drugs in politics and economics, from the Opium Wars to the United States' continuing attempts to curb what she refers to as the Dragon. The book's loose structure has the fuzzy warmth and subject-jumping spontaneity of a good buzz. Transitions from section to section are nonexistent, with only quotes from various writers breaking up the author's free-flowing narrative. Like her dragon imagery, Plant's narrative seems to chase its own tail: The end of the book is really the beginning, and vice versa. The users in the book are myriad. There's Edgar Allan Poe, inventing the modern detective story while on opium, and Sigmund Freud, transfixed by the joys of cocaine. Beside them are Robert Louis Stevenson, Samuel Coleridge, Charles Baudelaire, Henri Michaux, Aldous Huxley and Burroughs. Plant gives close readings of their texts, creating a "greatest hits" of literary outlaws and their individual tracks to enlightenment, addiction, sorrow, sickness and the never-ending attempt to quash the notion of linear time and space.But it's in the last 60 pages of the book that Plant makes her most powerful, if perhaps not as thoroughly documented, claims about the symbiotic relationships among capitalism, large-scale global economies and the illegal drug trade. "As Jean-Francois Lyotard once remarked, capitalism was 'not constituted by a slow process of birth and growth like a living being, but by intermittent acts of vampirization: it merely seizes hold of what was already there.' Among the first and most lucrative of these new commodities were those that had some psychoactive effect." Plant proceeds to trace the route of tobacco, the opium monopoly of Britain in China, and American involvement in the Golden Triangle drug trade in Southeast Asia and in the South American cocaine trade. She also looks at opponents fighting the benefits of hemp and the "patchwork, short-term, piecemeal measures, private interests, and tactical necessities" employed to fight the so-called scourge of drugs. It all makes for fascinating reading, maybe because Plant never really takes sides. She points out the science behind the dangers and joys of altered consciousness as she packs more information and insight into her pages than can possibly be addressed in a brief review. "Writing on Drugs" will tax the mind, but the rewards are well worth the trip. On the other hand, Hayes' "Tripping" often feels as interminable as a bad trip. Hayes' collection gathers 50 first-person accounts of being under the influence of psychotropics, bookended with a sprawling "cultural history of tripping" and an equally sprawling interview with the now-deceased drug master Terrence McKenna. Though Hayes tries to balance being a dispassionate observer of a cultural phenomenon with being an enthusiastic champion, he leans heavily toward drug use to expand our flat, untapped levels of consciousness. As he breathlessly writes, "According to the best hopes of the new psychedelic vanguard, the expanded intelligent use of these plants and chemicals will usher in a new eon of shamanic vistas and stronger definitions true to primordial forms: a pagan, aboriginal order in which the spirit will reign pre-eminent." The narratives themselves, including those by Beat chronicler Anne Waldman, Ecstasy champion Bruce Eisner and Deadhead author Steve Silberman, are informative, cautionary, hilarious and spooky, and often involve seeing God, whether in the guise of a used-car salesman on television or in a pattern of colorful paisley. The uninitiated may recoil from stories of visions of goat-devils, the moon as an alien flashlight, and nude escapades at Burning Man, but those in on the book's implicit wink will find like-minded stories of drug-induced bliss and abject terror. The problem with "Tripping" is that there are just too many accounts, causing the stories to blur together. A raver's contemporary forays into Ecstasy sound similar to the "Whoops, that was 1,000 mics I just dropped" of a '70s college kid. Hayes would have been better served, and better edited, by shaving his book to 20 accounts -- more than enough to get the picture of the mind on drugs. That said, the book can be intriguing. Some of the descriptions of acid -- "a wheelbarrow to scoop the drifting sands of fleeting mental images" -- and the understandings of self that stem from tripping are believable and occasionally triumphant. Others may cause unwelcome flashbacks. And while a bit long-winded, the interview with McKenna has its moments. While holding court on aliens, four-dimensionality, meme systems and shamans and constructing his own share of overwrought metaphors, McKenna does manage a few insights. "At an enormous historical momentum we're slamming into omniscience. We're reaching deeper levels of understanding space, time, matter, and energy than was ever necessary for the prosecution of simple commerce." In a strange way, both "Writing on Drugs" and "Tripping" evoke the "Hurry Up Please, It's Time" refrain from T.S.Eliot's "The Waste Land Wasteland." Only in this case, it's ""Hurry up please, and pass the tab." Mark Luce is a writer in Lawrence, Kan. WRITING ON DRUGS:By Sadie Plant Farrar, Straus & Giroux; 294 pages; $24.TRIPPING:An Anthology of True-Life Psychedelic Adventures Edited by Charles Hayes, Penguin Compass; 448 pages; $18 paperback Complete Title: Good Trips, Bad Trips - the Use and Abuse of Illegal Drugs Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)Author: Reviewed by Mark LucePublished: Sunday, December 3, 2000 Copyright: 2000 San Francisco ChronicleContact: chronletters Website: Article:Angels We Have Heard While High - CannabisNews Archives 

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Comment #2 posted by FoM on June 19, 2001 at 20:39:43 PT
You're very welcome Charles. I'll bookmark your web site and check it out! Thank You! Peace, FoM!
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Comment #1 posted by Charles Hayes on June 19, 2001 at 20:28:32 PT:
your listing for my book "Tripping"
Thank you for posting this review of "Tripping" from the Chron's review back in December 2000. I just discovered it on your site today 6/19/01. I'm glad this review ran as it gives notice to the obok, but it contains the most mean-spirited crack of all the reviews I've received. There's something off about Luce's approach. Check out thre reader response to his review in the 12/24/00 letters to the book review editor at the Chron, and visit my Website for a more complete picture of the response to the book, which is now in its Fourht Printing.Also, check out my own review of Sadie Plant's review in the July 2001 issue of High Times.Thanks for the exposure. Best regards, Charles Hayes
Website for "Tripping: An Anthology of True-Life Psychedelic Adventures"
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