Friday, February 14, 2014

Psychedelia: Quite A Trip!

Patrick Lundborg's massive tome Psychedelia – An Ancient Culture, A Modern Way Of Life has been out for a while now, and has received much praise and acclaim internationally. Totally in order. It's a well researched and well written book about a subject you could potentially approach from many different angles. Lundborg has chosen a scholarly and informative one and has also done the subject a great favor by looking at the big picture – chronologically as well as in terms of impact. Not an easy task.

Being the author of The Acid Archives, chronicling and cataloging psychedelic music from many decades, Lundborg is a world renowned expert in his field. To take the step into a much wider cultural-anthropological-chemical study of the same cataclysmic catalyst is brave. Very brave. Psychedelia is such an intelligent tour de force that any doubters can go sober up now. This book is perhaps the book to read if you want an initiated and coherent introduction to what it's all really about.

Not only do we get a journey through history and its many occurrences of psychedelic quantum leaps (and some mishaps too). There is of course also a heavy focus on Albert Hofmann's "problem child" itself: LSD. From initial clinical studies and experiments, over Tim Leary et al's anarchic-messianic exploits, to post-Learyean instigators, chemists, artists etc.

Opening a book with chapter titles like "The Philosophy of Hallucinations", "15.000 Years of Getting High", "Electric Tibet", "Head Shrinkers and Mind Expansion" and "The Future Is Psychedelic", to mention but a few, is like being drawn into a colorful vortex of human experimentation, audacity and optimism. And of course it is just that. Lundborg's project more than anything shows how deeply integrated the psychedelic experience has been (and still is) in the development of human culture.

The comparison with Eastern religions is not new by now, but here becomes contextualized in a broader sense than, for instance, was the case with Allan Watts and the general 1960s attitude. In sections like "Modernism and Mysticism", "Jessie Weston, Eleusis & Ezra Pound" and "Yeats, Theosophy & Peyote" (again, to mention but a few sections), Lundborg elegantly ties together many strains and attitudes that have helped form not only ancient history or 20th century modernism, but in equal part still vibrates before the presently budding future.

In this overview function we find the book's greatest merit (and it is very great indeed): to not only see chronological traces and patterns of (literally) mystical and consensus-erratic behavior, but also to put them in a wider context of necessary development.

In all, this is not just a good book among others. It feels very much like a definite and invaluable piece of work that will help future psychonauts as well as scholars to grasp a phenomenon/experience that is, paradoxically, almost intangible yet crucially essential to the health and wellbeing of mankind.

Patrick Lundborg: Psychedelia – An Ancient Culture, A Modern Way Of Life (Lysergia, Stockholm, Lhasa, Mojave, 2012)

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