Tag Archives: psychology

Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, and the CIA

31 Jul

leary

 

It’s widely acknowledged that the Beat Generation writers experimented with drugs, which influenced both the content and style of their writing. I’ve written before about how Allen Ginsberg’s drug use shaped his writing when he had a vision while reading William Blake, forever guiding his poetry.

But dear old Allen Ginsberg was also leery of America’s hand in the drug trade.

Let me backtrack a moment. In 1960 Allen Ginsberg became friends with Timothy Leary. Timothy Leary was an American psychologist born on October 22, 1920, in Springfield, Massachusetts—meaning he’d been born near Herbert Huncke, Jack Kerouac, and John Clellon Holmes a little after Huncke was born and a little before Kerouac and Holmes were born. At Harvard University—which William S. Burroughs also attended—Leary conducted experiments involving psychedelic drugs for the Harvard Psilocybin Project.

The friendship between Ginsberg and Leary led to the psychedelic revolution, with Leary popularizing the phrase:

“Turn on, tune in, drop out”

Timothy Leary invoked Socrates when he said:

“Question authority”

The irony of this, though, is that Leary didn’t drop out or subvert authority. Much like the way the CIA funded abstract expressionism, Leary was doing research at an ever-prestigious Ivy League college which consisted of experimenting on prisoners (see the Concord Prison Experiment). This isn’t all that different than in the 1950s when the CIA launched Project MKULTRA, which administered LSD to unwitting participants as a means toward experimenting with mind control. In fact, prior to meeting Leary, in 1959 Ginsberg participated in experimental studies of LSD at Stanford University, which it turned out were administered by psychologists working for the CIA to develop mind-control drugs. Leary also began experimenting on writers.

Peter Conners’ book White Hand Society: The Psychedelic Partnership of Timothy Leary & Allen Ginsberg, published by City Lights in 2010, alleges that Leary used Ginsberg to further publicize his studies. Here’s the marketing copy for the book from City Lights:

In 1960 Timothy Leary was not yet famous — or infamous — and Allen Ginsberg was both. Leary, eager to expand his experiments at the Harvard Psilocybin Project to include accomplished artists and writers, knew that Ginsberg held the key to bohemia’s elite. Ginsberg, fresh from his first experience with hallucinogenic mushrooms in Mexico, was eager to promote the spiritual possibilities of psychedelic use. Thus, “America’s most conspicuous beatnik” was recruited as Ambassador of Psilocybin under the auspices of an Ivy League professor, and together they launched the psychedelic revolution and turned on the hippie generation.

White Hand Society weaves a fascinating and entertaining tale of the life, times and friendship of these two larger-than-life figures and the incredible impact their relationship had on America. Peter Conners has gathered hundreds of pages of letters, documents, studies, FBI files, and other primary resources that shed new light on their relationship, and a veritable who’s who of artists and cultural figures appear along the way, including Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Thelonious Monk, Willem de Kooning, and Barney Rosset. The story of the “psychedelic partnership” of two of the most famous, charismatic and controversial members of America’s counterculture brings together a multitude of major figures from politics, the arts, and the intersection of intellectual life and outlaw culture in a way that sheds new light on the dawn of the 1960s.

Years later, 1967 to be exact, this conversation between Leary and Ginsberg took place about “dropping out”:

Ginsberg: For instance, you haven’t dropped out, Tim. You dropped out of your job as a psychology teacher in Harvard. Now, what you’ve dropped into is, one: a highly complicated series of arrangements for lecturing and for putting on the festival…

Leary: Well, I’m dropped out of that.

Ginsberg: But you’re not dropped out of the very highly complicated legal constitutional appeal, which you feel a sentimental regard for, as I do. You haven’t dropped out of being the financial provider for Milbrook, and you haven’t dropped out of planning and conducting community organization and participating in it. And that community organization is related to the national community, too. Either through the Supreme Court, or through the very existence of the dollar that is exchanged for you to pay your lawyers, or to take money to pay your lawyers in the theatre. So you can’t drop out, like DROP OUT, ’cause you haven’t.

The year after that, Ginsberg penned an article called “Remarks on Leary’s Politics of Ecstasy” for The Village Voice, in which he suggested the American government was trying to silence Leary:

Timothy Leary quit public life to write a book in Mexico some years ago, but he was searched by Agents of Government as he went to cross borders, arrested for possession of some herb, and thus forced to interrupt his writing, return to public action, and defend his person from attack by the State. So he traveled to academies and lectured to the young, & thus he paid large legal fees required by the State & thus maintained an Ashram of fellow seekers well known in Millbrook. Agents of Government raided and repeated abused the utopia, whereupon Dr. Leary was obliged to be Dr. Leary and lecture more to raise money for his family of imprisoned friends. Agents of Government concluded this phase of prosecution with a piece of Socratic irony so blatantly echoing an old Greek injustice that the vulgar rhetoric of a Tyrannous State would need only be quoted to be recognized, were it not for the fact that these States are by now so plagued with Tyrannously inspired chaos and public communication so flooded with images of State Atrocity from the alleys of Saigon to the parks of Chicago that official public conscience here now, as memorably in Russia and Germany, is shocked, dumbed & amnesiac.

Ginsberg grew to become leery of the government’s hand in drugs. Researching, Ginsberg became convinced that the CIA was involved in drug trafficking. Ginsberg’s poem “CIA Dope Calypso” uses the following refrain:

Supported by the CIA

Wikipedia gives a quick summary of Ginsberg’s conspiracy theory that the CIA profited off of drugs:

Through his own drug use, and the drug use of his friends and associates, Ginsberg became more and more preoccupied with the American government’s relationship to drug use within and outside the nation. He worked closely with Alfred W. McCoy who was writing The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia which tracked the history of the American government’s involvement in illegal opium dealing around the world. This would affirm Ginsberg’s suspicions that the government and the CIA were involved in drug trafficking. In addition to working with McCoy, Ginsberg personally confronted Richard Helms, the director of the CIA in the 1970s, but he was simply brushed off as being “full of beans”. Allen wrote many essays and articles, researching and compiling evidence of CIA’s involvement, but it would take ten years, and the publication of McCoy’s book in 1972, before anyone took him seriously. In 1978 Allen received a note from the chief editor of the New York Times, apologizing for not taking his allegations seriously so many years previous.[83]

Despite our notions of how counter-cultural drug use is its history is steeped in academia and politics. Even so-called counter-cultural writers theorize the government is behind drug trafficking.

Of course there are others who’d suggest that it was Timothy Leary and Allen Ginsberg who were conspiring to change the world.

 

How Antonin Artaud Came to Influence the Beats

24 Apr

Antonin_Artaud_jeune_b_SDAntonin Artaud had great fashion sense.

Bronx-born writer Carl Solomon joined the United States Maritime Service in 1944 and traveled overseas to Paris, where he was encountered Surrealism and Dadaism. When he came back to the US, he voluntarily admitted himself to a New Jersey psychiatric hospital as Dadaist expression of being beat, being conquered, being overpowered. There, he received shock therapy instead of the lobotomy he requested. He wrote about the experience in Report from the Asylum: Afterthoughts of a Shock Patient.

At the psychiatric hospital, Solomon met Allen Ginsberg. (You can read about how Ginsberg ended up there in Burning Furiously Beautiful.) He introduced the young poet to the poetry of Antonin Artaud, a French poet of Greek ancestry (his parents were from Smyrna) whom he had seen give a screaming poetry reading in Paris. Artaud had written the first Surrealist film, The Seashell and the Clergyman (1928), and produced Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s The Cenci in 1935. The year after that, he went to Mexico, living with the native Tarahumara people and experimenting with peyote, before Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs would pack their bags for Mexico. Another year passed and Artaud was found penniless in Ireland, where he was arrested and deported. Back in France, he was sent to various psychiatric hospitals, where he was subjected to electroshock therapy. Notably, in his earlier years, Artaud had spent time in a sanatorium, where he read none other than Arthur Rimbaud.

Solomon wrote Report from the Asylum with Artaud in mind, while Ginsberg wrote “Howl” with both Artaud and Solomon in mind.

Once again, I could not find any of his poems in public-domain English translation. So, here’s a quote I found interesting and relevant from Artaud’s prose piece The Theater and Its Double:

“I cannot conceive any work of art as having a separate existence from life itself.”

You can read one of his poems, “Jardin Noir,” here.

*4/24/14: The subject’s name was originally misspelled and has now been corrected. Thanks to my reader for pointing that out!

Dream Journal: Travels with Chuck D.

15 Aug

Voyage

Jack Kerouac kept a dream journal. This log of nightly dreams was later published by City Lights Press in 1960 as Book of Dreams. Even before it was published, though, Kerouac encouraged others to pay attention to their dreams. He told Allen Ginsberg to infuse his poetry with his dream life.

When I was a high school student, my psychology teacher assigned us the task of keeping a dream journal. Isn’t that the most fantastic homework assignment you can think of?! According to psychology, we dream every night, but only some nights we remember our dreams. Keeping a dream journal was supposed to help us better remember our dreams. I know some people who hardly ever dream, but I have wild dreams—especially after eating pizza!

This past Friday night I had a doozy of a literary dream! I dreamt that I was writing a book entitled Travels with Charlie, which was a riff on John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. Steinbeck’s book is a chronicle (it was purported to be nonfiction but it’s since come out that portions of it were made up) of the American road trip he took with his standard-sized poodle. My book, however, was about Charles Darwin’s travels. Incidentally, in real, waking life I once edited a reissue of his travelogue The Voyage of the Beagle. I didn’t make the connection in the dream, but perhaps there was some connection between Steinbeck’s poodle and Darwin’s Beagle. In the dream, I was retracing Darwin’s footsteps for a book about his “road trip.” I kept referring to Charles Darwin as Chuck D. or Chuckie D.—like the rapper!

I definitely need to start a dream journal!

Do you keep a dream journal? What is the wildest dream that you’ve had lately?