262 The types of people with dilated pupils soon arouse mistrust. In the evening, when others have “friendly” get-togethers, you seldom see them. Their appearance causes surprise; they have more accidents than other people. They are viewed with disfavor, the debits against their accounts are always mounting higher in the social, economic and technical realms.
It is nonetheless likely that they have a role to play in the universe: they are not lacking in any habitats, in none of the great families of animals and plants. They live under rocks, in caves and grottoes, in the soil of jungles and the ocean depths, in the shadows, with big, dark eyes—and also blind, but gifted with extremely subtle senses, when night falls. They have their own particular arsenal: the sensitive whiskers of cats, the silent, velvety wings of butterflies and bats, tentacles and antennae with fantastic forms, pale skins that are hypersensitive to a single ray from the sun, a sense of hearing that can detect the softest sounds, an extremely sensitive sense of smell, organs created for nocturnal flight. Among these creatures, the night is enjoyed as if it were a festival.
It is common for tentacles to account for one third of a creature’s weight. In the human realm, the nocturnal type represents a limiting case. He does not dare to leave his home before nightfall, when he seeks out his kind, his comrades and their playgrounds.
Thus, Maurice de Guérin felt attracted by Novalis, and Baudelaire by De Quincey and Edgar Allan Poe. However, the nocturnal type also exercises his power of attraction in the clearest light, in the Great Noonday. Thus, Byron seduced Goethe; he communed with the dark side.
Night is as indispensable to the human spirit as dreaming is to the body. In genetics there is also a series of dark codes: this acts decisively on our image, on our fate. In this respect, it is possible that this brief excursus has not been superfluous: as a delimitation of a moral prejudice that, I must confess, is necessary for the clarification of our social condition. The situation changes when we contemplate the very character, the daimon, of the human being, as an image. It is precisely here where the divergence takes on value—although we do not reach equilibrium: this is reflected in the splendor and the misery of the poètes maudits. If we take one more step, everything is converted into a figure of fate: the drunken Verlaine in the Luxembourg Gardens, which today features his statue, and the street urchins who run after him. There is a point of view from which every crime and every misdeed becomes a service. But it is undoubtedly not advisable to grant cartes blanches for such acts.
Substitutes 263 I will not attempt to approach my Mexican excursions from a chronological point of view, if only because my experiences have not yet concluded. Besides, Mexico, whose soil has given birth to such prodigious fruits, must be understood in this context as a spiritual rather than as a geographical unity.
We must not close ourselves off from science, but take full advantage of it. Precisely in these frontier zones we must approach, now and then, the data of the specialists, which I had ignored with respect to hashish.
In this case, the doubt arises whether “Mexican” is the right word to classify three substances (mescaline, psilocybin and LSD) that produce similar affects (hallucinogenic and psychotropic). It is true that the cactus, Lophophora, and the mushroom, psilocybe, come from Mexico; ergot of rye, however, from which Albert Hofmann synthesized LSD, comes from Europe. It was obvious that the time had come—this is an example of the sudden and universal spread of a laboratory experiment to consumption.
If there is anyone who could provide me with information about this field it was Albert Hofmann, well versed in both the oneiric as well as the molecular realm. So I just called him on the telephone at his home in the Swiss village of Rittimatte, and for my peace of mind he has explained that, with regard to this point, we should distinguish between lysergic acid, the name by which LSD is often erroneously designated,102 and the diethylamide of lysergic acid that he synthesized. Lysergic acid alone does not cause any hallucinogenic effects. The diethylamide group must be contained in the molecule for it to produce such an effect.
On the other hand, LSD is very closely related, even with regard to its effects, to the amide of lysergic acid, the principal active ingredient of a Mexican “magic drug”, ololiuhqui; it was already mentioned by Europeans in the 19th century. The Franciscan Father Bernardino de Sahagún wrote in his famous Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España [General History of the Things of New Spain]: “There is an herb, called coatl xoxouhqui (green snake), which produces seeds that are called ololiuhqui. These seeds stupefy and deprive one of reason: they are taken as a potion.”
An engraving accompanies a very precise description of the plant; it seems that the Father only saw the plant’s buds before they had bloomed. It was not until quite recently that it was determined to be a member of the Convolvulaceae family: Ipomoea violacea. In our gardens we also cultivate some relatives of this plant, the morning glory, the bella del giorno of the Italians, which blooms for only a few hours. I plant them here in Wilflingen every year, along a decaying wooden fence.
It was once thought that the domains of the alkaloids of lysergic acid were restricted to the lesser fungi, particularly to ergot of rye. The fact that its existence has recently been discovered in the realm of magical drugs as well, and therefore in the juices of a higher plant, was a big surprise to the phytochemists, those highly specialized descendants of the shamans and witch doctors of old, to whom the powers and virtues of plants are revealed, in part thanks to experience, and in part thanks to clairvoyant enlightenment.
264 Such clairvoyance goes back to the epoch of the centaurs, especially to Chiron, the tutor of the gods who initiated Aesculapius in the art of medicine and to whom Hölderlin dedicated a great poem that has yet to be fully appreciated:
For then I’d look for herbs of the wood, and on
The hillside hear soft game; and never in vain.
(…) And of the crocus, thyme
And corn the Earth would pick the first bunch for me.
And in the cool of stars I learned, but
Only the nameable. Disenchanting
Now here alone I sit in silence (…)
poison divides us now….
Therefore, there is only a science of the nameable, and thought is pure poison—we have to resign ourselves to this in epochs when the nameable is only worth anything if it can be reduced to the quantifiable.
Hölderlin rebelled against this tendency even at a very early period. It has become fashionable to quote him, but what one hears said of him is as reliable as street rumors. “Quelle clarté”, this is still an atmospheric appreciation; but now there is movement afoot to politicize Hölderlin.
He offers us an example of an approach such as was never attained in the 19th century, even among the Germans. He does not return to the Olympian gods, but conjures them to the festival, as sworn witnesses—and this is precisely what Wagner was incapable of doing when he evoked the Aesir. The latter remained independent; the word did not pass through, or much less beyond them, but remained under their domain. This is the source of evil, not in the people of the Lemures.
265 In those days nature spoke directly to the senses, not because the senses were more sensitive, but because they were less differentiated and therefore the undifferentiated essence of the earth was united with the undifferentiated essence of the human being—without reflection, without thoughts. This explains, among other things, why the great medicinal plants were already known at a very early epoch.
Even in the Middle Ages, things addressed us without intermediaries. This is possible in any epoch in which approach is attained. During the great epidemics the names of medicinal plants resound, or birds bring them to human beings.
Today, all of this has changed. Long ago, the reticulum glittered in the darkness of the forest—now, in the clear light of consciousness, we must ourselves approach it, even if the amazement is the same. The world is still miraculous.
When Albert Hofmann began to research ergot of rye, his intention was to discover a drug for blood circulation; the fungus had long been familiar to both mainstream medicine and folk medicine. The discovery of the psycho-pharmaceutical was not deliberate and it was indeed unexpected, as if a door had been opened to a unique vision. The price of admittance was serious intoxication.
266 There are chemical and botanical relationships that speak in favor of the inclusion of LSD in the “Mexican” category. This clarification pertains to the behavior of the major families of plants, which are as cosmopolitan as they are faithful to their native soil.
Thus, there are ecstatic intoxications that, although originally rooted in a distant country, end up being widely disseminated—as if the wind transported their seeds from far away. Chemical classification is more methodical, but also more crude; it follows, without managing to equal, the refinement of the botanical world.
It could also be said that chemistry extracts its crystals from the bottom of a reticulum of dense netting. The pigeonholes of its formulas delimit matter with extreme detail. That is why there is a constant ongoing project to revise the borders of its classificatory system. Thus, more than a thousand isotopes have been “discovered”, some stable and others unstable. For the precision-oriented spirit of the 19th century these aberrations were as annoying as the ones that had also afflicted zoology. If construction materials change with regard to their measurements and weights, the safety that used to be taken for granted comes to an end. Starting in 1898, the house not only began to burn slowly, but also to collapse; its seismographic sensitivity increased. It is, of course, true that by way of this destructive process, forces are liberated—perhaps even more than are necessary.
267 Therefore, when we use the adjective, “Mexican”, we are only marginally referring to a chemical, botanical or geographic affinity. The main reason we use it is the distinctive feature of the ecstatic intoxication in question, its remoteness from the measurable and quantifiable world and consequently, its characteristic of approach.
The key can be made with greater or lesser art, it can even be crude; all it needs to do is unlock and open the door. Then we can leave it in the lock, or throw it away. One word might be enough, like “sesame” at the cave of Ali Baba. Today, the doors open when a ray of light breaks through. The body crosses it. It, too, belongs to the domain of the “nameable”.
If I ride a destrier to the cave of treasure, I have no other choice than to dismount before entering the cave. The destrier cannot enter; I can use him when I return with the loot.
I know: words like “destrier” and “dismount” sound old-fashioned—they must therefore be read cum grano salis: they can be replaced by any other words and, as far as possible, by expressions as highly regarded, for example, as “apparatus”. In critical situations, we are compelled not only to get out of our cars, airplanes and rockets, but also to exit from the State, society and our families, and even to shed our clothing. This is the frontier before which everything apprehensible, in general with names, and therefore the “nameable”, becomes sterile.
268 The question of whether or not LSD belongs to Mexico therefore concerns the key and how it is cut. Its legitimacy is another question altogether. This word must not be understood in this context in the juridical or moral sense, but it pertains rather to the conscience, to the self-jurisdiction of the individual who is conscious of his responsibility.
The charge that we are dealing with substitutes is an obvious one. The response: Is there anything on Earth that is not a substitute? For the Romans, surrogare meant to choose one person to act in the place of another, or to allow someone to make such a choice; it was a political concept. The world is imperfect: this is one of the few commonplace sayings to which we all subscribe. Consequently, an idea of perfection must exist. This inhabits the realm of the ineffable.
The prisoner in his cell is especially sensitive to this imperfection; his situation may serve as a model. For example, the situation of Eldridge Cleaver in the California State Prison system (1954); a fourteen year old black youth, he was sentenced to prison because marijuana was found in his house. Naturally, he missed his girlfriend and, in her place, he put a photo of a pin-up girl [in English in the original] on the wall of his cell. He chose one person instead of another: this is a substitute, a fetish, a replacement. “Out of the center of Esquire, I married a voluptuous bride.” Was this photograph only a substitute for his girlfriend or for the movie star that it depicted? Was it legitimate, therefore, for him to have a photo of a white woman pinned to his cell wall so that he could feel close to his black girlfriend? Does this not transform both the white girl and the black girl, along with their images, into substitutes? In such a situation, realism, materialism and idealism all come together. Even the prison guard noticed that something did not add up here; he tore the photo down from the wall and tossed it into the toilet. A contribution to the debate on iconoclasm.
I have taken this detail from a biography (Soul on Ice, 1969) that I was reading today, Saint Sylvester’s Day. The author is trenchant and insistent in his views. The “rulers of the land”, whom he considered to be inveterate drunks, locked him up because he smoked marijuana. “I had been getting high for four or five years and was convinced, with the zeal of a crusader, that marijuana was superior to lush….”
Nor did he have a lot of respect for those types who praise the authentic at the expense of substitutes. “Such men of God are powerful arguments in favor of atheism.” A man does not suck his thumb, and he is not content with the slogans invented by modern theology (“God is good”).
And then desperation reared its head, because he was so horrified by his situation that he was “hard-up enough to suck my grandmother’s old withered tits”—certainly a good image for those tortuous approaches in which old Gaia appears as a scrawny old hag.
Up to this point I have been addressing substitutes—they are notes from no-man’s land. In the end, everything is a stand-in for everything else. We are even obliged to pass through our father and our mother, if the door must be opened.
The “real ring” is undiscoverable, and “at bottom” or “in the last instance”, it, too, is a substitute.
269 What is the “authentic”? It is simultaneously the insufficient, that which is provided by time, and that which time once again takes back. Even “the end” [das Letzthinnige] (Schleiermacher) is still something that indicates something else.
Furthermore, an image from ballistics: in his anxiety, in his indeterminate yearning, the human being is the marksman at the shooting range. He is seeking fulfillment in the nameless, that is where his target is. In order to correct his aim, he needs what the marksman calls his “crosshairs”; the nameable, as a substitute, is indispensable.
270 Since the nameless intervenes in the process of aiming at the shooting range, quality ceases to be important. Here, all differences disappear—for example, the differences between a statue made by Michelangelo and a cheap plaster figure. We can gaze upon the Cathedral of Milan or the Pyramids of Giza with the same delight with which we look at a snowflake in the winter forest, which melts under our breath. Dulcinea del Toboso is no less worthy of a toast than the divine Helen, and the Knight of the Sad Countenance is, perhaps, closer to the goal than the Paris playboy [in English in the original—American translator’s note]: he is closer to the nameless.
They are modifications—the diamond does not display anything more than what carbon is capable of revealing with its miraculous energy. We find things of the same kind in the desert and we take them with us as fetishes. At bottom, any pebble possesses the same beauty and the same energy.
This is our theme: to place man in an upright position with respect to the universe—this is more important than increasing his knowledge. Educational programs like those which are now being introduced to reform the university open up perspectives on an unreal world, a world with more robots, more boredom, and more suicides—you do not need to be a prophet to predict these things. This is the style of the intelligent and fatuous directors of warehouses of commodities, who transfer knowledge from one place to another as if it were sacks of potatoes. Nonetheless, there are still individuals who do not content themselves with pre-masticated fodder and this world of rails and cubicles. Spirits go their separate ways.
Chinese gardens 271 I had not yet done justice to LSD. I said to Albert Hofmann: “It is nothing but a housecat compared to the real tiger, mescaline, or at most a leopard.” I spoke these words after coming down from a “trip” on acid that we had taken long before this drug acquired so much fame and such a bad reputation. It was obvious that it had shown us its velvet skin rather than its claws and that it had purred rather than roared at us. The dose was too small; I had mistaken a serenade in the lobby for the real performance. We therefore wanted to repeat the voyage with sufficient cargo; it was to take place before the conclusion of this manuscript.
It must have been during the spring; in the meadows of Bottmingen the anemones were already blooming, but the winter had not yet entirely come to an end, since Anita, Albert’s wife, had gone to the mountains to ski with the children. We therefore had the whole kingdom to ourselves: Albert Hofmann, as guide; Heribert Konzett, a pharmacologist, who at the time had not yet moved to Innsbruck; and I, a mere layman when it came to the fine points of chemistry, who had come from nearby Binningen.
The preparations allowed one to understand that, here, exact science was at home: a large tapering beaker, full of distilled water, was standing on the table. Our guide, as symposiarch, administered our doses with an eyedropper full of a colorless liquid, which dissolved immediately.
So, too, did the ancients dilute their wine with water so that the banquet would last longer. Their pitchers containing the mixture were decorated with wreaths of grape and laurel leaves and, above all, with mythical scenes that would have been familiar to all the guests. On our beaker, the only inscriptions indicated liquid measures.
Each of us received a small cup, hardly bigger than a shot glass, full of liquid poured from the beaker. We made a toast and wished each other bon voyage. The house was nice and warm; we made ourselves comfortable on the couch. In the street, very close to the window, cars and trucks were passing by. The noise was at first annoying, but then it receded. Colors got brighter, as if the Nubian sun had begun to shine or as if matter was radiating more intensely. It seemed to me as if, up until that moment, I had only perceived shadows of the light; now everything became essential. Even when I closed my eyes the colors did not cease to shine.
Then I began to feel warmth and peace, and also silence, only interrupted by deep and pleasurable breathing.
“Now I forget my business affairs.”
“I have even left myself.”
“Let’s leave all of this behind us.”
“Even the atoms—now nothing matters.”
We had taken off our shoes; it was an excursion for which neither shoes nor boots, neither wheels nor wings, were necessary. Our guide lit a stick of incense. The smoke rose, and formed a silken thread whose grey color metamorphosed into the most subtle of blues. At first it rose vertically in the almost motionless air. But then it began to tremble, to revolve and undulate, in a play of weightless shapes. It seemed to reveal the meaning of the dance and its offering. Here, matter and motion, vestments and body almost merged. Being and appearance overlapped almost without leaving a gap between them and consequently so did vision and phenomena. Were my eyes fascinated by the object, or did my eyes conjure the object? I could not tell; besides, it did not matter. To speculate about it was pure illusion.
A circle, a first movement of the dance, may even have preceded everything. What was at first separated was reunited in broad symmetries: up and down, the crest and the trough of the wave, lingam and yoni, father and mother, power and spirit. However artistically they may be interwoven and however dangerous these figures may be, their guides are the reminiscence of and the nostalgia for the reestablishment of the primordial unity.
An offering of incense. Its interpretation is, as always, the responsibility of the augur. I have described this threading smoke in another context, and I will return to it later.
The ashes fell while we followed the play and now and then we noted a turn that seemed particularly accomplished. We were in high spirits: light.
“Light”, a state that intensifies space. It is not based on “more space”, but on “mere space”; that is: the vacuum grows. Not only is the superfluous set aside, but so too is almost everything that seems important to us. After a profound dream that successfully canceled all differences, in the morning we dance down the stairs: light, cheerful, without purpose. The hall is cleared before the dance begins. Only one thin wall, a membrane, separates us from the real world.
We approach the window on the other side of the room from the street and look at the meadow below. This meadow had in the meantime taken on a great splendor, as if in the interim a team of Chinese gardeners had set to work on it. Not only had they created a great painting, but they had attended to even the least detail; perhaps they had delegated armies of ants to work on the stems of the grass and the grains of dust. And this was a crude kind of labor compared to the powerful work of the light, which radiated ceaselessly.
Now everything was in repose; the best gardener is the one whose labor is not noticed. His desire is that the world should crystallize in an image. Then time also rests. It had been some time since we had ceased to hear the noise of the traffic in the street.
272 We must have been looking at the meadow and enjoying its silence for a long time, until we felt tired and we went to lie down and enjoy a brief but deep sleep. Then came the burgundy that our guide had kept at room temperature in the kitchen. We had come down to earth; but our good cheer persisted.
It had been a brief trip, from which we nonetheless returned with something more than the memory of a fleeting vision. This is not inconsequential. In this case it was an exquisite sensitivity that persevered for weeks and months, and perhaps for even longer, with which a sharpening of the sense of judgment was also connected. This was revealed to me when I contemplated pictorial and architectural works, that is, when considering questions of style. Like “absolute hearing”, it is not something that is always beneficial.
This can be explained, from a “spatial” perspective, because we approach the reticulum and, ultimately, because we have become—in the work of art, for example—more sensitive to the twists and turns of its manifestations. The fact that mathematical figures do not bother us in this way is due to the fact that in them the reticulum is manifested with greater distinctness—thus, for example, the point in the circle or the microscopic structure of matter in a crystal. This is situated beyond the order of esthetic values, it harbors no relation with them. Therefore, the painter will take care not to include in his paintings figures that—from a geometric point of view—are irreproachably perfect. The frame constitutes an exception; here, exact measurements are even a requirement.
In every painting we must precisely distinguish what can be contributed by technique and what aspects of technique detract from the work—which is what cannot be produced.
The question can also be posed concerning every house, every architectural work, and this presupposes very ancient ramifications. On the other hand, the shells of periwinkles, and even of Globigerinida, will have a completely different aspect. The undifferentiated is incorporated into the forms.