Reviewing Erik Davis’ Excessive Weirdness: Medicine, Esoterica, and Visionary Expertise within the Seventies in his inaugural Blanks and Postage column, Jesse Jarnow hailed the guide as a “digital guidelines of bizarre characters, drug cults, outré philosophers, comix artists, b-movies, spiritual practitioners, psych-rock acts, and maybe lots of of other freak flags, sewn together by Davis’s sympathetic and curious strategy to the esoteric.”
Davis knows the world he writes of in and out. He’s long coated the counterculture, exploring in own books, like 1998’s TechGnosis: Fantasy, Magic, and Mysticism within the Age of Info, in publications like Arthur, Rolling Stone, and Wired, and on his long operating (presently on hiatus) podcast Increasing Thoughts, a staple pay attention of those craving the far out, however who additionally need a aspect dishes of humor, good natured skepticism, and empathy with their psychedelic feasts.
Excessive Weirdness is his most heroic effort yet: a more than 400-page immersion (with one other hundred or so dedicated to sources and notes) into the lives of Terence McKenna, Philip Okay. Dick, and Robert Anton Wilson, figureheads of American weirdness. With these three serving as a psychic trinity to orbit, Davis is free to deal with the shifts in consciousness that occurred on the American West Coast within the 1970s. Although the guide is scholarly in nature, Davis nonetheless brings his signature sense of play and marvel to the table—his enthusiasm permeates each page. Like his subjects, he’s all in favour of information as a type of adventure, its paths leading inward and outward.
Davis just lately joined AD to discuss the guide, riffing on its artistic strategy, the concept of assemblage and the position popular culture plays in it, and the implications his ideas maintain for our own conspiracy-soaked, completely unusual second in history. The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity. Paperback and e-book editions of Excessive Weirdness are available this month by way of MIT Press.
Aquarium Drunkard: Many years are robust issues to categorise. The “tradition” of a decade doesn’t all the time immediately correspond with its dates on the calendar. You’re writing concerning the “visionary ’70s” in your guide. Where does that decade start and finish so far as this writing is worried?
Erik Davis: The best way I think about the early ’70s is that it’s a liminal interval inside a liminal decade, a decade we don’t know what to do with. Individuals typically speak about many years being not quite in connection with the zero to the zero. The ’60s so to speak started in ’64, perhaps ’63—undoubtedly by ’64—and then what that factor is goes until, let’s say, ’75. I buy that. There’s one thing coherent about that natural sort of period. I’m working on the second half of that. I’m fascinated about what happens to the counterculture after all of the flashy stuff is over. After 1970, after Kent state, after Charles Manson, throughout Watergate, as fears about environmental toxicity and air pollution rise, as individuals began to worry terrorism and surveillance, experiencing the bummer lots of people felt, partially financial in nature, partially because they have been confused. I’m in the drift of the counterculture.
AD: Your three fundamental subjects in this guide, Terence McKenna, Philip Okay. Dick, and Robert Anton Wilson, all bear main mystical experiences, virtually like their own superhero origin tales. Did you bear something comparable that solidified your understanding of how these three disparate individuals have been linked?
Erik Davis: I feel to truthfully reply your question I’ve to speak about something I’ve solely talked about this a few times. One time in all probability 1982, one thing occurred once I was in all probability a bit stoned, meditating in front of what I referred to as my altar in my room. It in all probability wasn’t really meditation; it was extra like going into some sort of hypnotic trance that was juicy and yummy. Meditation and trance are doing a tango that most people don’t need to really acknowledge, but that’s another matter.
I used to be on this altered state and all of the sudden I heard a voice in my head and I knew, in the best way that you already know issues regardless that you don’t have any proof, that I used to be tuning right into a sign that was associated with some type of satellite tv for pc, some type of non-human know-how, that was out in area that I used to be tuning into with my mind. It was broadcasting. It wasn’t talking like a person. It was like a broadcast machine, like a robot, and it was broadcasting this message. I don’t keep in mind the exact phrases, nevertheless it was like “God is love. God is all over the place in the universe. The universe is love. We’re right here. We know. We’re remembering.” Some type of beacon was feeding this info, and I was like “What the fuck is occurring?” It was very clear. It was a very specific sign. Then, it stopped very abruptly and it was clear that it was gone.
I haven’t had lots of experiences like that. I’ve had weird experiences. Most on medicine—which you’ll be able to sort of write off because there are medicine or psychedelics concerned, so whatever. However that one was a full-blown bizarre experience. Obviously, it affected me, however I didn’t actually make the connection. It wasn’t like I remembered this occasion and then identified with it and was like, “Oh my god, what was that? I have to seek out out the answer! Now I’m gonna research UFOS and mystical contact,” or anything like that. It wasn’t so linear. I didn’t really think about it very much, but I do consider that once I encountered all three of these guys, at totally different factors in my life, there was a sense of, “Whoa, that’s sort of acquainted! There’s something there!”
Something enabled me to see some continuity between them and other individuals as properly, shared elements connecting the paranormal, psychedelic, UFO, druggie under-culture, mystical, and new age scenes—that entire world. If there was one thing that knowledgeable my understanding of an expertise that connects them, it was in all probability that.
Meditation and trance are doing a tango that most people don’t need to actually acknowledge, however that’s one other matter.
AD: Early in the ebook you confer with “a wierd loop of cultural play,” by which issues begin to feed into other issues, informing and shaping them. As you talk about P.Okay.D., McKenna, and R.A.W., you’re folding in pop culture—science fiction, medicine, Mad Magazine, H.P. Lovecraft. Might you tell me somewhat bit extra concerning the constructive purpose of the guide, and how these other parts aren’t aspect notes as a lot as integral elements of the complete story?
Erik Davis: Of all my books, this is the one most targeted on this idea of assemblage. By means of your ideas, references, allusions, and symbols, belongings you grab from other techniques, via your personal obsessions, your personal psychology, you construct these contraptions. They could be books, they could be theories, they may be life, they may be new character avatars or no matter, but they do something. They take on a life of their own.
That’s one of many motifs within the guide. You construct one thing; you assemble something; you assemble one thing, and then at a certain point in the suitable state of affairs, it begins to move and clank. It perhaps even begins supplying you with messages or begins talking. It takes on a lifetime of its own. It’s like how a poem released from the poet goes into the world. It speaks to individuals, and it’d even converse to the poet in a means that the poet by no means expected. I’m actually interested, notably, in the heterogeneous high quality of these assemblages, which means they’re made up of numerous totally different sorts of things, and that’s very representative of the era. You might have this type of collage or junk aesthetic, the place you set bits of this along with bits of that, constructing something out of random references, items from totally different spiritual traditions, from psychology, drug lore, and various media. There’s a lot stuff to construct out of and that’s what these guys are doing.
AD: McKenna comes first. How did he go about that strategy of assemblage?
Erik Davis: Whatever you need to say that Terence McKenna skilled, one of many things that’s occurring is he’s building a framework of which means, a framework of understanding, a framework of experience, out of the bits and pieces of his life and time. In a approach, it’s not that radical of a claim however I feel there’s one thing more magical in that course of than a lot of people. The standard historian would say, “Properly to know Terence McKenna it’s a must to put him in historical context. It was a time of this. It was a time of that.” No, no, no. It’s totally different than that. I’m saying that they’re truly constructing something. Whenever you take a look at what Terence and Dennis McKenna are doing with the experiment at La Chorrera, they’re not identical to, “Hey, let’s take a bunch of medicine and see what’s occurring!”
They’re arising with these crazy concepts, this type of pseudo-science, visionary science, various science, wild science, that has chunks of actual science in it combined with ritual, H.P. Lovecraft, the absence produced by the current demise of their mom. All of this stuff get actually assembled like a Rube Goldberg machine or a circuit board. They get plugged collectively, after which they begin to like transfer round and resonate and then zammo! Something occurs, they usually have this extraordinary experience.
AD: Dick worked primarily in fiction, so he was already constructing worlds, however he experienced a equally evocative sort of conversion too.
Erik Davis: The humorous thing concerning the Exegesis, this million word, personal, metaphysical diary Dick wrote after his mystical expertise, this messy text by which he’s always arising with new cosmologies, new prospects, paranoid conspiracies, crazy, and depressive freakouts, is that the majority of his concepts—spiritual, cosmological, and mystical—are very much concerned with transcendence. They’re very much involved with the opposite world, not the damaged world we’re stuck in, but the world of God, or the world of the platonic types, a world of valor, fact, the soul, or whatever. Very a lot driven in a means that’s true of a number of religions, the place it’s about this different world that’s outdoors of our world. Within the guide I cite writer James Burton, who says that despite the fact that the content material of a number of it is extremely transcendental, the type of it, what he’s truly doing, is extraordinarily immanent, which means it’s very a lot about this world and about assemblage.
It’s like he’s taking these concepts. He’s sticking them together. He’s seeing what happens when he sticks them into this circuit, after which he breaks them apart once more, and he places them into another association. He’s grabbing chunks from the encyclopedia, he’s grabbing from these kind of metaphysical methods. Are there two issues? Are there three things? Is there a line between them? Do they invert? It’s virtually like a kind of doodley diagram of all these metaphysical rules and he simply retains doing it time and again and over. In a method, he’s in a workshop constructing, developing, assemblaging, collaging, juxtaposing, working the material action of putting things together and seeing what happens if you achieve this. A number of what interested me is the strain between these two. Despite the fact that I’m fascinated by faith, spiritual experiences, concepts of the gods, concepts of different realms, ideas of nirvana, in a method I’m more thinking about what we are actually doing here on this world with all the fragments and the inspirations and the chunks of stuff and the symbol techniques and the soggy paperbacks, previous comic books, and the bizarre alerts we’re getting from our phones. I’m very much in this world and desirous about how that strategy can kind of give us one other angle on that transcendental quest.
AD: In 2019, it typically seems like consensus reality is in a state of disrepair. As you have been placing this ebook together, have been you struck by the belief that individuals are present process this kind of radical assemblage daily, typically with out even realizing it?
Erik Davis: Very a lot so. And extra in order I wrote, particularly once I wrote about Robert Anton Wilson speaking about actuality tunnels. He’s really making an attempt to imagine what does it mean to think about the world via a number of lenses, to be actually radically pluralist. One of many issues I’m making an attempt to do is understand how that works. While I don’t spend too much time wanting actually immediately on the implications that this has for immediately, it undoubtedly haunts the e-book, particularly at the end. I’m very pluralistic and what meaning is that I’m not likely positive if it makes any sense to argue about whether or not, at the finish of the day, there’s actually just one world. We wake up on the planet once we’re youngsters and there are various things happening, the tooth fairy or no matter, after which someplace along the best way we’re at college and we discover ways to philosophically assume and be essential and start to concentrate on how language relates to reality. Someplace alongside the best way you go, “Whoa, this is loopy, the state of affairs we’re in because what it appears like is that there are these multiple methods of setting up reality.”
It’s not that there are a number of views on reality. In that view, there’s one world, after which everyone’s acquired their very own perspective. But what if it’s weirder than that? What if it’s the case that our views, and notably when those views are wedded to actions, truly produce totally different, let’s name them dimensions of the actual? That it’s not simply that we’ve totally different views, but we’re truly type of building, developing, totally different kinds of worlds. Now, are they finally part of one world? Yeah, however not in a easy means. I don’t consider that once you say, “I do know the actual world that they’re all a part of as a result of it’s science,” or, “It’s physics,” or, “It’s economic structure,” or, “It’s human evolutionary psychology.” Everyone has their pet frame. What does it imply to try to navigate the world once you acknowledge the facility and validity of many various views and attempt to keep open and awake as you move by way of this type of chaos?
Robert Anton Wilson
That very a lot comes from my approach of taking Robert Anton Wilson and going forward and learning the sociology of data, anthropology, and the historical past of science, and all these things that I’ve been into. I don’t assume you’ll be able to cease with Wilson; I feel he’s really just an initiator into actually fascinated with radical pluralism. William James can also be really necessary right here. He talks concerning the pluralistic universe and talks concerning the risk that there actually isn’t, no less than conceptually, any type of universe we will really get our palms on. Okay, so now you fast forward and we’re in our state of affairs now where this fact or this attitude, let’s say, it’s like the cat’s out of the bag. Everyone is aware of that now, or they at the least know that they will fuck with it and weaponize it and use it to undermine civil society, to undermine the types of consensus it’s worthwhile to operate, notably in a pluralistic society like the USA—we’ve needed to build very gingerly over what are really a number of variations.
Now it’s like all the language of consensus, of the oneness of issues, even of empathy, is very suspect because everyone is discovering, “Wow! I can insist alone actuality tunnel and fuck all those different guys!” Now what’s totally different is that most people which are doing that haven’t relativized their very own actuality tunnel. They assume they’re in—if not the true one—then the one they need, or the one which they know serves their interest, and fuck everyone else.
AD: That’s the best way we see “purple pilling” typically understanding on-line: “I’m awake to the actual actuality and everyone else is incorrect.”
Erik Davis: Yeah, it’s true. What we’re seeing is sort of like a spiritual event. I’m not saying it’s a spiritual occasion, however it jogs my memory of a facet of faith: if you first get it, you’re typically extraordinarily naïve and really militant. Your first psychedelic experience, you’re like, “Oh my god the aliens are real” or no matter it’s. It’s so intense. Afterward, you understand wow issues didn’t really fairly work out the best way I assumed they might, that it’s unclear truly. There’s a variety of ambiguity, a whole lot of noise on the sign. There’s numerous ambivalence in the best way that issues present up, nevertheless it takes a while to get there. That takes maturity; some individuals never get there.
It’s just like the difference between crazy born-again Christians and mature Christians. I really like talking to hardcore Christians who’ve some type of humor or wit around the entire recreation. They need to speak to you despite the fact that you’re coming from this totally different perspective. I’ve had those conversations, and I actually take pleasure in them, but a lot of people, they’re really into the militancy. They’re really into the intransigence. They’re really into the best way that it clarifies “Us versus Them.”
I feel like that’s type of occurring with political realities now, or views on science, and the question of where does information come from. How do we all know? Why can we consider NASA? Let’s use our personal eyes and go on the market and take a look at the horizon and, “Wow, perhaps the Earth is flat.” We have now to know that that too is a development. I’m not speaking about social development—that’s the one factor essential to clarify about this idea about development that I used to be saying before. The line that “Oh, it’s a development” is now very banal. “Oh, that’s just a social development.” Like race. “Race is just a social development.” Gender. “Gender is only a social development.” “It’s only a story. It’s only a fantasy that will get propagated.”
That’s not what I imply by development. That’s one of the necessary issues concerning the ebook, the place I’m really making an attempt to make a distinction. I imply you’re truly building something. Then once you construct that thing, it’s a part of actuality—the best way that cash is a part of reality. Cash is a fucking fiction. It’s a poem, nevertheless it’s extraordinarily real. That’s what I imply once I say a development.
Flat Earth’s an amazing instance. It’s not that science is true and these individuals are loopy, batshit, whatever. It’s that they’ve discovered which you could construct barely coherent, not so coherent, however coherent enough let’s say, ways of putting together certain details, sure perceptions, sure criticisms, and a sure sort of even a sociology of data. You possibly can construct this framework inside the notion that the world is flat. It’s probably the most logical end result. It’s in a method worse than, “Oh there’s simply a whole lot of bullshit and faux information and lies which are getting amplified and poisoning individuals’s heads.” That’s dangerous sufficient, however in a means, it’s somewhat worse; the instruments to construct realities, to construct perceptions, to construct types of authority, types of information, that toolset is now democratized and we’re simply gonna see more of it.
AD: You close the e-book with a notice about local weather change. As our planet undergoes this large shift, do you are feeling like this exploration of how we assemble the lenses we see the world by way of might help us comprehend the enormity of our actuality? Not simply when it comes to recognizing the issue—but in addition when it comes to what could be required to take action about it?
Erik Davis: Yeah, I imply that’s such an enormous question. Do these guys really assist? I don’t know. They’re all type of crazy in a approach. I might by no means make that bigger declare as a result of I can solely come from my own zone, but I might say that something that can provide help to experience the rug being pulled out from underneath you as a chance for journey, humor, and perception is an effective factor at this level in the recreation. Anything that pulls towards your tendency to carry onto any specific concept or id or fixation is an effective thing. Now these guys all held onto their own forms of id and fixation as properly. It’s very troublesome to be really free in that sense. That they had their own schticks. That they had their very own careers.
But if it works on you—in case you feel that sense of destabilization, this type of simultaneous sense of risk and menace, of dread and delight—then I feel that’s a helpful sensibility to develop. Until you simply need to turn into utterly, grimly real looking, and perhaps now’s the time to be completely sober about issues. However it feels to me extra that we’re still a part of this loopy civilizational experiment and all of the bills are coming due. There’s this surreality to the state of affairs that we’d as nicely take pleasure in.
I’ve a really totally different view of psychedelics than loads of the hypesters at the moment. My view has all the time been a reasonably combined bag when it comes to the fun and even helpfulness of the things, but I feel that these guys and psychedelics to a point just help us enjoy the bizarre. It’s simply gonna get weirder, and it’s not that nice. You may feel nostalgic for an easier world. There’s a type of sense of oh my god, that’s like science fiction in my face! Can we put it back please? No, we’re not going back. We are going via, and we may be taking place as we go through. It’d grow to be very disastrous. All of us have these threats in our imaginations. However before we get there, or as we get there, or whatever, there’s nonetheless a world to be fascinated with, to rejoice, and to explore. I feel that that entire invocation of the bizarre is one among my makes an attempt to keep enchantment alive without pretending that it’s a rosy new age future. words/j woodbury
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