The author of The Acid (Vision, London 2009) uses the pen name Sam, but is probably better known to most readers of this blog as Chris Gray. For me, and probably for many of you, The Acid reads like a continuation of where Chris left off in the essays he contributed to his English language Situationist anthology Leaving The 20th Century (1974). There he wrote: “What needs understanding is the state of paralysis everyone is in. Certainly all conditioning comes from society but it is anchored in the body and mind of each individual, and this is where it must be dissolved. Ultimately the problem is an emotional, not an intellectual one. All the analyses of reification in the world won’t cause a neurosis to budge an inch…”
In The Acid, Chris says of the counterculture: “Looking back on that time, what seems so incomprehensible is that we never took LSD more seriously. How was it we failed to grasp its importance? For the concept of de-conditioning was at the heart of the New Left of the time. If any single feature set 60s and 70s radicalism apart from previous insurrectionary politics, it was insistence that individual subjectivity had to be transformed. The political was the personal. Politics were psychopolitics. Our own hearts and minds were precisely where the old order was ingrained – and if we couldn’t change ourselves, then what hope was there we could ever change the world?”
Many of those around Gray, including my mother Julia Callan-Thompson, took acid far more seriously than he did – but this was precisely because in the 1960s they were heads (whose attempts at personal transformation were doomed to failure because there was no accompanying social revolution) and he was a radical.
The Acid begins with a lucid overview of psychedelic literature and an account of Gray’s previous experiences with mind expanding substances. Chris also provides a potted autobiography, so that his readers can understand the material that comes up in the trips he describes. These vary from being joyous to total bummers. He was tripping every two to three weeks for three years as a self-prescribed acid therapy; an attempt to break down personal blockages. He tried different approaches to tripping: initially putting on a blindfold and listening to music in his flat, before moving on to outdoor excursions on Hampstead Heath. These accounts are very informative about ways of understanding and structuring trips, and will provide most readers with new approaches to the subject.
The back cover of the The Acid stresses that the breakthrough insight from these sessions is that the visions are serial. Drawing heavily on Stanislav Grof”s Realms of the Human Unconscious, Chris underlines the need to work through bad trips in order to transform oneself and achieve a sense of wholeness. The thrust of this argument I can run with, although I’m not sympathetic to all the psychoanalytic and religious elements drawn into the narrative. This is partly a generational difference, with the materials Gray used to structure his understanding of his ‘inner experiences’ very much mirroring those adopted by my mother and many of her friends in the 60s and 70s (that said, the psychedelic hermeticism my mother was involved in with Terry Taylor was quite different – and as far as I can tell, superior – to such deployments of Hinduism).
My view is that the varieties of Hinduism drawn upon by both my mother and Chris, and much of their ‘turned on’ generation, are too hierarchical to enable us to rediscover the forms of consciousness that characterised primitive communist societies. By way of contrast, shamanism (particularly in its voodoo and candomblé manifestations) does provide us with pathways to disalienation. LSD is, of course, a fantastic tool for inducing shamanistic experiences.
Mirroring Gray’s activities with King Mob in the 1960s, he draws on Keats and the English romantics as sources for understanding his experiences, whereas when it comes to LSD I would opt more for figures such as William Hope Hodgson (and others whose books currently exist outside the literary canon). This is not a matter of huge importance, and obviously reflects personal tastes and reading experiences. I went through Keats as a teenager and concluded I disliked his poetry.
The Acid is an engaging and thought provoking book, and while it is one man’s trip, it is also intended as a map that will assist any interested party in their own exploration of ‘inner space’. The text works on many levels, most obviously as a piece of writing that is a joy to read. If you have any interest in acid at all, then get your hands on this book!
But let’s give more or less the last word to Chris. He writes the following about his attendance at a San Francisco psychedelic conference in the early part of this millennium: “A well established, even well-heeled, cult I had been expecting; but not one thriving like this. The hall was so packed you could barely move. Of all the revolutionary groups of my youth – the Hippies, the New Left, the students, the blacks, the feminists – it was, however improbably, the druggies and the druggies alone who had made it through in one piece. And not just survived, but boomed.”
Well, throw in some voodoo or candomblé and I think we have a revolutionary situation!
This book has been republished by Park Street Press as The Acid Diaries by Christopher Gray and is currently fairly easy to obtain. (Note added 15 December 2010).
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!