"Never Too Much, Always A Little Less": Erik Davis on Alan Watts' recordings (Arthur No. 16/May 2005)

Originally published in Arthur No. 16 (May 2005)

Never Too Much, Always A Little Less
Erik Davis on the recently reissued recordings of Alan Watts’ Zen talks, haiku poetry and other moments of intense perception

Recently the good folks at Locust Music have seen fit to release three unusual Alan Watts recordings. Watts was a very social guy, and he hobnobbed with many Bay Area mavericks after moving to the region in the early 1950s. One of these characters was Henry Jacobs, a pioneering musician, sound collagist and radio prankster whose oddball 1955 Folkways debut Radio Programme no. 1: Henry Jacobs’ Music & Folklore was also reissued on Locust. That disc was culled, in spirit if not in fact, from the “Music & Folklore” show that Jacobs hosted on Berkeley’s insanely forward-looking free-form radio station KPFA. Jacobs was a Pacific Rim kind of fellow—he played tons of international recordings on his show, and was married to a Japanese woman named Sumire Hasegawa. In the late 1950s, Jacobs formed Musical Engineering Association, a record label in Sausalito devoted to the sort of east-west fusions that characterized much of the budding California consciousness movement. MEA issued three albums from Watts, along with some recordings of S.I. “general semantics” Hayakawa; they also recorded commercials for Japan Airlines.

The first Watts record, Haiku, begins with a side-long lecture by the former Anglican priest about the relationship between Zen and haiku, the highly formalized Japanese poetic form of seventeen syllables. In his classy, comforting, tweed-jacket voice, Watts describes the “profoundly startling simplicity” that lies at the heart of both practices. The talk is a fine example of the sort of shimmering and crystalline lectures that Watts could seemingly produce at the drop of a hat, often live on KPFA, and that still blow through the mind like a cleansing breeze. On the second side, Watts reads selected haiku, grouped according to the four seasons:

Outside the window, evening rain is heard
It is the banana leaf that speaks of it first

Following each selection, some Caucasian cats with Japanese instruments, including Jacobs, set off little improvised bursts of Japonica, not unlike the dramatic punctuations of a Takemitsu samurai soundtrack. Then Sumire Jacobs chants the poems in the original tongue. The contrast between Watts’ calm, storytime tones and Sumire’s witchy and Noh-esque singsong is marvelous, although best listened to with full attention and a receptive state of mind. As Watts explains on the first side, the sparkle of haiku partly depends on the open mind of the listener. In contrast to the over-saturation of our contemporary mediascape, the message of haiku is, as Jacobs explained elsewhere, “mystery: never too much, always a little less.”

Haiku sold decently. The intelligentsia were then fascinated with Zen, and the New York Times gave it a positive review. So MEA put out Zen & Senryu, a less successful but still worthwhile collection of Zen poems and satirical Senryu verse, drawn from Blyth’s Haiku book and Zen texts by D.T. Suzuki, Nyogen Senzaki and Watts. The poems are delivered in the same format as the readings on Haiku. The collection includes some classics—almost Zen cliches at this point—but some real gems as well:

Even in the mind of the mindless one
Arises grief
When the snipe wings up in the autumn evening
Over the marsh

The second side of the disc represents a more wry and modern side of Japanese poetics. In the senryu poems, the attention to the thusness of ordinary life refocuses on the absurdity of ordinary life:

The husband’s toenail jumps into the sewing box

Overtaking and passing her
I saw that she was not much

In the right space, these two Watts recordings go down like a cup of oolong tea in the late afternoon. This is IT, on the other hand, goes down like a bubbling vat of Haitian jungle juice cut with a fresh batch of Sandoz crystal. The origin of the recording, often pegged as the first aural document of psychedelia, seems to be a late-night free-association fest dedicated to nothing more than the pursuit and expression of The Ineffable ITness. Watts and Jacobs are joined by Roger Somers, who drums and chants, as well as other hipsters, including percussionist William Loughborough, hitting and plucking congas, bass marimbas, and a lujon. On the surface level, the recording resembles an improvised bongo jam between beatniks with exotica leanings, with moaning mantras, shaman rattles, faux gagaku, and dribbling Afro-Carribean beats. But just when you think things are just going groovy, some little nonsense ditty or stoner chant suddenly bristles into something ancient and enormous. The vocals of Watts and Somers are particularly intense, as words devolve into werewolf barks and demon coughs and windigo roars that are truly hair-raising. The contrast between Watts’ guttural incantations and the erudite diction on the earlier MEA discs could not be stronger, but both modes are equally inspired, and equally expressive of the same quest for authentic spontaneity.

This is IT was recorded in 1962, at the peak of Watts’ interest in LSD. The back cover copy quotes from The Joyous Cosmology, which was written the same year and features a thinly disguised account of tripping with Somers and Gidlow at Druid Heights. Given the historical context of the recording, and the surreal and incandescent mind-meld it captures, it is impossible not to regard This is IT as a documentary recording of an LSD session at a time when the meanings and routines of psychedelic experience were barely articulated. For this reason alone it is an exceptional recording. This is what freedom sounded like in Marin County, 1962, and it became the fountainhead and prophecy of so much freakiness, sonic and otherwise, to come. But the condition of their neurons doesn’t really matter—on “Fingernail Poem,” Alan Watts may simply be drunk. What matters is the blast these mavericks send our way from the far fields that fringe our more mundane realities. In this way, This is IT achieves the goal of haiku: a moment of intense perception, the lightning strike we profane by thinking only that life is fleeting.

Locust Music: locustmusic.com

2010 Arthur Magazine Gift-Giving Guide, approximately


Here’s a short list of recent gift-worthy work by folks who have either contributed to Arthur through the years, or been covered in the magazine. Promotional text for each item is in quotes, with order links at the end of each item’s entry, as close to the source as we could find. This list is not meant to be definitive—just some stuff that’s caught our attention recently that we thought Arthur folk might dig…

THE BEAUTIFUL & THE DAMNED: Punk Photographs by Ann Summa
Edited with an introduction by Kristine McKenna
Foreword by Exene Cervenka
Foggy Notion Books/Smart Art Press
Hbk, 9.25 x 12.25 in. / 112 pgs
“When photographer Ann Summa arrived in Los Angeles in 1978, the city’s punk scene was still fresh, diverse, smart, utterly original—and fertile territory for a young photographer. The Beautiful & the Damned is a collection of her portraits of the musicians, artists and fans who made Los Angeles such a crucial part of the history of punk. Taken between 1978 and 1984, the images mostly revolve around L.A.’s first punk generation, and include portraits of the Germs, the Screamers, X, the Cramps and the Gun Club, among many others. From there, the book expands its scope to accommodate the cross-pollination that took place between L.A.’s punk scene and the fine art community, (at the time, the audience for avant-garde artists such as the Kipper Kids, Johanna Went and Laurie Anderson was primarily drawn from the underground music scene), and the two other cities—London and New York—that played a central role in the birthing of punk. Photographed during their first U.S. tours are U.K. groups the Clash, Magazine, the Fall, the Slits, Bow Wow Wow and the Pretenders, among others. Visiting dignitaries from New York include Television, James Chance, Lydia Lunch and Talking Heads. Also included are portraits of artists who served as an inspiration to L.A. punks—Captain Beefheart, Iggy Pop and David Bowie, among others—plus candid shots of unidentified audience members. Includes 95 previously unpublished images.”

From the introduction…
“Everyone knows that punk rock is rude. What’s less known is that during its first incarnation in Los Angeles, during the late 70s, it was ecstatically beautiful. At that point mainstream culture hadn’t yet detected the scent of money on this newly-born music, and punk hadn’t yet been hijacked by adolescent boys bent on transforming themselves into human cannonballs. Punk was an intimate affair then. Nobody was watching or judging that original band of outsiders, because there was no money to be made, and nothing much to be won or lost at all. There was no reason for those people not to cast off the rules that had governed their world up until that point. And so they cast off the old rules, and made themselves a new world that was entirely their own. And, for a brief, glorious period they operated in a zone of complete freedom.
“The taste of freedom can be startling — you can see that in the faces of many of the people who appear in these pictures. They were surprised to find their tribe — surprised to discover they actually had a tribe. Surprised to learn they could be themselves and be embraced for it. Surprised to find they could create beauty, and live without the comforts of the middle-class homes they came from. What made all of this possible was the simple fact of community. Most L.A. punks of the late 70s were poor, many were high a lot of the time, and everyone was a little crazy. Nonetheless, they supported and shared with one another, and they saw the brilliance in each other.”
$39.95
Info: http://www.beautifulandthedamned.com/book.html
Buy: http://www.artbook.com/9781935202271.html

HOW TO WRECK A NICE BEACH: The Vocoder From World War II to Hip-Hop—The Machine Speaks
by Dave Tompkins

Stop Smiling Books
Color, 336 pages
“The history of the vocoder: how the Pentagon’s speech scrambling weapon transformed into the robot voice of pop music. How to Wreck a Nice Beach includes interviews with:
Afrika Bambaataa, Ray Bradbury, Florian Schneider of Kraftwerk, Peter Frampton, Laurie Anderson, T-Pain, Teddy Riley, DJ Quik, ELO, Rammellzee, Arthur Baker, Michael Jonzun, Midnight Star, Lester Troutman of Zapp, Holger Czukay of Can, Donnie Wahlberg, Egyptian Lover, Fab Five Freddy, Forrest J. Ackerman, Man Parrish, Cybotron and Wendy Carlos, composer of A Clockwork Orange and The Shining.
”
$25.00 ($10 off the cover price)
Info/blog: http://howtowreckanicebeach.com/
Buy: http://www.stopsmilingstore.com/howtowreckanicebeach.aspx

SPELL TO DRAW YOUR TRUE LOVE
by Dame Darcy

“This multimedia pink 3 ½ in. doll cake is really a little round box containing pink powder puff and magnetism glitter body powder to puff over your skin after bathing. Rose love potion bubble bath, Mini-Chalice, instructions for moon water and a magic wand for stirring your bath. Draw your true love to you now and forever!”
$35
Info/buy: http://www.etsy.com/listing/63883739/love-doll-cake-spell-draw-your-true-love

SMITHEREENS
by Steve Aylett

Scar Garden Press
122 pages
“Collects 19 stories including ‘The Man Whose Head Expanded’, the prophetic ‘Download Syndrome’, ‘The Burnished Adventures of Injury Mouse’, the full text of ‘Voyage of the Iguana’, the last ever Beerlight story ‘Specter’s Way’, ‘Horoscope’, and the closest thing Aylett has ever written to a traditional SF story, ‘Bossanova’ (featuring a robot and two spaceships!) There are also animal-attack-while-writing reminiscences in ‘Evernemesi’ and top-of-the-line declarative bitterness in ‘On Reading New Books’. Snails, whales and cortical drills. Aylett’s last collection.”
$9.55
Info: http://www.steveaylett.com
Buy: Amazon

SWEET TOMB
by Trinie Dalton

Madras Press
Paperback
104pp.
“The story of Candy, a candy-addicted witch who resents her inherited lifestyle. After a fire burns down her gingerbread house, she leaves the forest and ventures out in search of the excitement of a more urban environment. Along the way she encounters a self-mutilating puppet, tastes meat for the first time, and falls in love with Death, a skeletal woman with a shoe fetish. Proceeds benefit the Theodore Payne Foundation.”
$7
Trinie Dalton blog: http://sweet-tomb.blogspot.com/
Info/buy: http://www.madraspress.com/bookstore/sweet-tomb

BLOOD SPORT: THE LOUISIANA COCKFIGHTERS MANUAL
by Stacy Kranitz

Square 80 pgs Premium Paper, lustre finish
Cultural ethnography by photojournalist Stacy Kranitz.
Hardcover with dustjacket, $100
Stacy Kranitz: http://www.stacykranitz.com/
Preview/buy: http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/1752353

PURE COUNTRY: The Leon Kagarise Archives, 1961-1971
Text by Eddie Dean
Process Media
9.5” x 9.5” • 204 pages • 140 Color images
“Throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s, many of country music’s biggest stars played their favorite shows on the small backwoods stages of rural America’s outdoor music parks. These intimate, $1-a-carload picnic concerts might have been forgotten if it hadn’t been for the documenting eye of music lover Leon Kagarise, whose candid photographs of the musicians and their fans provide the only surviving window into this long-vanished world. Kagarise captured dozens of classic country and bluegrass artists in their prime, including Johnny Cash and June Carter, George Jones, Dolly Parton, Bill Monroe, Hank Snow, The Stanley Brothers, and many other greats. Pure Country presents this collection of rare color images for the first time, revealing an archive considered by historian Charles Wolfe to be one of the richest discoveries in the history of American music. Foreword by Robert Gordon.”
$35.00
Preview/buy: http://processmediainc.com/store/books/pure_country.php

DEFEND BROOKLYN by Dave Reeves
“We have all your favorite colors, as long as your favorite color is black.”
$24 tshirt, $40 hoodie
Info/buy: http://defendbrooklyn.com/

ENVISIONING SUSTAINABILITY by Peter Berg
Subculture Books
208 pages
“A collection of the important essays that helped define the bioregional movement and established Berg as an icon in the environmental community. Spans three decades of Berg’s life work, combines the candor, humor and vision that helped shape the sustainability revolution.” Don’t let the unfortunate cover throw you off. This has some classic San Francisco Diggers-era Berg pieces from now-unobtainable broadsides and posters in addition to the aforementioned pivotal bioregionalist texts.
Paperback $11.69, Kindle Edition $8.99
Buy: Amazon

MAKE A TERRARIUM IN AN OLD LIGHTBULB
Informational video: Arthur blog

NOMAD CODES: Adventures in Modern Esoterica by Erik Davis
Yeti Verse Chorus Press
352 pages
“In these wide-ranging essays, Erik Davis explores the codes—spiritual, cultural, and embodied—that people use to escape the limitation of their lives and to enrich their experience of the world. These include Asian religious traditions and West African trickster gods, Western occult and esoteric lore, postmodern theory and psychedelic science, as well as festival scenes such as Goa trance and Burning Man. Articles on media technology further explore themes Davis took up in his acclaimed book Techgnosis, while his profiles of West Coast poets, musicians, and mystics extend the California terrain he previously mapped in The Visionary State. Whether his subject is collage art or the ‘magickal realism’ of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, transvestite Burmese spirit mediums or Ufology, tripster king Terence McKenna or dub maestro Lee Perry, Davis writes with keen yet skeptical sympathy, intellectual subtlety and wit, and unbridled curiosity, which is why Peter Lamborn Wilson calls him ‘the best of all guides to modern American spirituality.’ Cover artwork by Fred Tomaselli.”
$17.95
Buy: http://www.buyolympia.com/q/Item=erik-davis-nomad-codes

HOWLIN’ RAIN “The Good Life” EP
Birdman/American
Ethan Miller from Comets On Fire’s other, earthier acid rock band. Features two originals sandwiching a daring cover of the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Burning of the Midnight Lamp.”
$2.97
Preview/buy: iTunes

TED LUCAS “Ted Lucas”
Yoga
Beautiful wise hippie folk music from 1974.
cd $12
Preview/buy: http://yogarecords.com/artists/tedlucas/

IASOS “Realms of Light” dvd
Inter-Dimensional Music
“Iasos has created heavenly visuals to accompany the celestial music on his Realms of Light album. There are visuals for all 8 pieces on the music cd. The visuals are synced with the music with delightful precision. Like the music, some of the visuals are stimulating, and some are relaxing. And all are heavenly, uplifting, beautiful, and celestial. It took Iasos 4 years to learn video special-effects, and then another 3.5 years to actually create the 65 minutes of visuals to go with this music. But finally, here it is! Underlying Purpose: Music is capable of inducing Divine Emotions. Visuals are capable of inducing Divine Thought-Forms. When these two work together synchronistically & synergistically,their combined influence can trigger or “ignite” expanded States of Being. THAT is the Intention behind this DVD.”
$22
Preview/buy: http://iasos.com/detalist/rol-dvd/

EARTH ”A Bureaucratic Desire for Extra Capsular Extraction”
Southern Lord
“For the first time the debut recordings of Earth are available in one concise, beautifully documented capsule. All 7 tracks have been carefully remastered by Mell Dettmer to make a more burly, mammoth and crushing audio experience. Includes liner notes from Dylan Carlson with artwork by Simon Fowler and package design via Stephen O’Malley.”
CD $10, 2xLp $18
Preview/buy: http://blog.southernlord.com/?p=297

ROTARY SIGNAL EMITTER 12-inch picture disk LP by Sculpture
Not even sure if these are even still available—they only made 300 of them—but…gee whiz. Coolest low-cost audio/art object since the Buddha Machine? Yes.
Preview/info: Arthur blog

2011 calendar and poster by RON REGE, JR.
Little Otsu
“Experience the mind-blowing combination of colors and drawings that make up this incredible 2011 fold-out calendar & poster by the talented Ron Regé, Jr. On the calendar side, the amazing devolving drawings form a comic-like linear backdrop to the twinkly bars of dimensional months. Turn it over to find a detailed panoramic scene of hot-air balloons and mountains and lands surrounding a giant inverted triangle of “abracadabra” magic. So at the end of the year, you can flip over the calendar and still have a great poster to hang on your wall, giving this calendar a second life.
Measures 8” wide x 9” tall folded and 24” wide by 18” tall when unfolded. Printed in Hayward, CA with vegetable-based inks on 100% post-consumer recycled 80# cover stock.”
$12.00 USD
flat poster (limited ed. of 50) for $16.00 USD
Preview/buy: http://shop.littleotsu.com/products/2011-calendar-poster-by-ron-rege-jr

“THROUGH THE PSYCHEDELIC LOOKING GLASS” calendar by JOHN COULTHART
“A full colour calendar comprising all-new artwork in a psychedelic interpretation of Through the Looking-Glass and what Alice found there. The 1860s collide with the 1960s in lurid efflorescence!”
£15.00
Preview/buy: http://www.johncoulthart.com/pantechnicon/lookingglass.html

2011 AUTONOMEDIA JUBILEE SAINTS calendar
32 pages, 12 x 16 inches, saddle stitched
“Hundreds of radical cultural and political heroes are celebrated here, along with the animating ideas that continue to guide this project – a reprieve from the 500-year-long sentence to life-at-hard-labor that the European colonization of the “New World” and the ensuing devastations of the rest of the world has represented. The Planetary Work Machine will not rule forever! Celebrate with this calendar on which every day is a holiday!
$9.95 / Pay for two, and we will send a third calendar for free!”
Preview/buy: bookstore.autonomedia.org

PLASTIC CRIMEWAVE’S GALACTIC ZOO MIX TAPE CLUB 2011
“Plastic Crimewave, creator of the Galactic Zoo Dossier magazine for Drag City, proprietor of the Galactic Zoo Disk reissue label, leader of spacepunkers Plastic Crimewave Sound, and general music historian/head has reached the end of the fifth consecutive year of his Galactic Zoo Mix Tape Club, and will be taking subscriptions again with another year of Mix Tape-age starting in December. You get six 90 min. tapes (one every other month) with exclusive artwork and the sounds of rare and populist psychedelia, glam, acid folk, prog, boogie, power pop, soft rock, shoegaze, protopunk, hard rawk, experimental, bubblegum, etc. for a mere $30.”
Info: Arthur blog
Paypal at plasticcw@hotmail.com, or send a check or cash to 1061 N. Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60622.

BLACKOUT Arthur mixtape
49-minute compilation curated and sequenced by Arthur editor Jay Babcock to stimulate or simulate a sweet blackout, featuring music by Moon Duo, White Hills, White Noise Sound, Lords of Falconry, Endless Boogie , Masters of Reality, Messages and Enumclaw. Mixed by Bobby Tamkin (Xu Xu Fang), with cover artwork by Arik Moonhawk Roper. All proceeds go to Arthur Magazine. Pay-what-thou-wilt digital download starting at $4.20…
Preview/buy: https://arthurmag.com/blackout/

THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON ARTHURING
A tax-deductible donation of any amount may be made to Arthur by going here: http://www.arthurmag.com/donate/

Happy season,

The Arthur Goofs
Austin * Marfa * Joshua Tree * Portland, Oregon * Greenpoint * wherever you are

Jeremy Narby on what hallucinogens like LSD and the Amazonian drink ayahuasca have to teach us

NarbyRoper

STRANGE BREW
Canadian-Swiss anthropologist JEREMY NARBY on what hallucinogens like LSD and the Amazonian drink ayahuasca have to teach us

Introduction by Erik Davis
Q & A by Jay Babcock
Illustration by Arik Roper

Originally published in Arthur No. 22/May 2006 (available from the Arthur Store)

INTRODUCTION
by Erik Davis

The anthropologist and author Jeremy Narby hit the intellectual freak scene in 1998 when he published The Cosmic Serpent, an audacious, intriguing, and entertaining dose of righteous mind candy that grew out of his decades-long explorations—both personal and scholarly—of the ayahuasca-swilling tribes of the upper Amazon. A Canadian living in Switzerland—at least when he’s not researching in the jungle or working on indigenous rights—Narby is no bug-eyed hippie prophet of “the tea.” He is a grounded, sensible fellow with a dry wit, an unromantic but respectful view of shamanism, and an allergy to vaporous supernatural claims. (In Europe he also sometimes performs with the guys behind the Young Gods, a seminal Swiss industrial band that led the Wax Trax pack back in the day.) While Narby’s head has definitely been broken open, his book does not spend a lot of time on the “spiritual” import of the jungle brew. Instead, Narby focuses on one of the biggest claims made by the Amazonian shamans: that their ritual ingestion of the hallucinogenic brew not only brought them contact with the spirits of animals and healing forces, but actually gave them knowledge—actual data—about the workings of the jungle around them.

After all, some sort of weird data transfer is going on in the jungle (though its hard to say it reaches the increasing numbers of spiritual tourists who are now hustling down to the Amazon and transforming shamanic culture with first world dollars). The existence of ayahuasca itself may be one of the greatest mysteries. Ayahuasca is not one plant, but a relatively complex brew that requires a fair amount of preparation. How did the old ones know that, out of the 80,000 some species of plants in the jungle, only this vine, combined with that shrub, and then boiled down into black gook, can produce the mother of all trips (not to mention some grade-A karmic Drain-O)?

Narby takes the mystery one step further: could the shamans be right? Could the brew, which one informant calls “the television of the jungle,” facilitate the knowledge of the jungle? To approach this question, Narby attempts to “defocalize” his gaze so that he can perceive science and indigenous understandings at more or less the same time. This trippy conceptual exercise leads him to the central mindfuck of the book: that the serpents that commonly slip into the visual field during ayahuasca trips are a figurative expression of the ultimate source of ayahuasca’s visionary communiqués: the coils of DNA. Ayahuasca is not just a head trip – it is a communication with the “global network of DNA-based life.” Narby is no true believer, and he is somewhat startled by his own hypothesis, but that makes it all the more compelling, and the lengthy notes in the back of the book prove he is doing more than riffing.

After co-editing a powerful collection of first-hand reports of Western encounters with shamans, Narby came out with the book Intelligence in Nature. Rejecting the idea that plants and “lower” animals are mute mechanisms, Narby uncovers scientific evidence that impressive feats of cognition are going on outside the precious smartypants club of the higher primates. Narby looks at bees capable of abstract thought, and unicellular slime molds who are able to solve mazes. Perhaps inevitably, the book is not as wild a ride as The Cosmic Serpent, and Narby spends too much time describing his mundane journeys to research labs and too little time wrestling with how “intelligence” relates to choice, or awareness, or intention. Nonetheless, the book is a worthwhile example of Narby’s “defocalized” gaze – an undeniably scientific appreciation whose inspiration lies with the fundamental shamanic belief that other creatures, and even some plants, are, in their own world, “people” like us.

INTERVIEW
conducted by Jay Babcock over the telephone in late January, 2006

Arthur: You attended the conference on LSD held in Basel this past January to coincide with the 100th birthday of the father of LSD, Dr. Albert Hoffman. What happened there?

Jeremy Narby: What didn’t happen? I think one needs metaphors to get at it, really. When LSD hit in the ‘60s, it was like a drop of mercury that went in all kinds of directions, broke into a lot of different shards. Because LSD affects consciousness and consciousness affects everything, LSD had an impact in art, in music, in thinking, in the personal computer industry, in biology, and so on. In Basel all the different little pieces came back together and arranged themselves in a kind of mosaic that was psychedelic, multi-faceted and beautiful. All the chickens came home to roost after 40 years, looking good. One of my favorite moments was when Christian Ratsch came on the big stage with Guru Guru, which is the original Krautrock band. He was walking around with amber incense and stuff, providing incantations and shamanistic energy during the set, and these sprightly gentlemen, who must be about 55, just rocked the house down. It was fantastic.

Arthur: So, where does it go from here?

Jeremy Narby: One of the aims of the symposium was a kind of explicit political aim at getting psychedelic research back on the scientific map, and I think the point’s well taken. But you know, I’ve been working as an activist to get recognition for the knowledge systems of indigenous peoples and essentially despite a couple of decades of work and a lot of clear data (it seems to me), there’s really a fundamental resistance coming out of rationalism, coming out of Western cultures, coming out of the political systems. So I have the feeling of having led the horse to water but it didn’t want to drink. Sure, we can talk to the horse nicely and try and get it to drink the water some more, but finally I feel like more drastic tactics are needed. Like kicking the horse in the butt, or telling it to go and take a hike, or turning your back on it.

So I applaud these efforts to legalize psychedelic research, but… There are those among us who have wanted to use hallucinogens how indigenous people use them—in a serious way to understand the world. And we’ve been doing it, underground, for the last bunch of decades, and getting results that are richer and more interesting than what the Western rationalists are producing. So, I’d say that I’d rather take hallucinogens and then write stunning books than make speeches about hallucinogens.

Arthur: What was the response of Western rationalists to your hypothesis in The Comsic Serpent—that Amazonian shamans were actually receiving information at the molecular level via the ayahusaca trance?

Jeremy Narby: Scientists said that I hadn’t tested my hypothesis. Well, okay : I was just happy to have it considered testable! [chuckles] So how do we test it? Well, you try to falsify your hypothesis. You come up with a test to try to demonstrate that it’s wrong. That’s the scientific method. So, I thought, let’s send three Western molecular biologists with questions in their labwork down to the Amazon and put them into ayahuasca-induced trances. If they didn’t come up with any information then my hypothesis would start to look falsified. Now, it is a heavy thing to ask people who have never taken mindbending hallucinogens before to submit themselves to the experience in the name of science. These people are making their psyches available to you and then you distort them with these powerful hallucinogenic plants. In terms of ethics, this is even worse than experimenting on animals. It’s experimenting on humans. They were consulting subjects and all, but sheesh, this is serious business. I mean, the first thing that ayahuasca does, before it answers whatever questions you might put to it, is it tells you about yourself. It puts its finger on your weak spots, fast. It encourages you to clean up your act. This makes it a hard path to knowledge for somebody who’s into ‘being objective’ in the lab. As a scientist, you’re not supposed to pay attention to your subjectivity—you’re supposed to jettison it. But when you end up in an ayahuasca experience, it’s your little subjective self that is the hot point. Your subjective self comes to the forefront in your acquisition of knowledge. For a scientist, that’s a rough one.

Arthur: You were able to find volunteers, nonetheless. I gather they were colleagues… ?

Continue reading

ZOINKS III: new music from JOANNA NEWSOM

joannanew

“Kingfisher”: another new song from Joanna Newsom’s forthcoming tripler Have One On Me, via the good folk at Drag City of Chicago.

Stream: [audio:http://www.arthurmag.com/magpie/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/Kingfisher.mp3%5D

Download: “Kingfisher” — Joanna Newsom (mp3, 10.3mb)

Previously:

Stream: [audio:http://www.arthurmag.com/?attachment_id=11443′ rel=’attachment wp-att-11443]

Download: “Good Intentions Paving Company” — Joanna Newsom (mp3)

Stream: [audio:http://www.arthurmag.com/magpie/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/joannanewsom-81.mp3%5D

Download: “’81” — Joanna Newsom (mp3)

Previously in Arthur Magazine:

“Forty-Six Strings and Some Truths”: JOANNA NEWSOM’s first ever major interview, by Jay Babcock, from Arthur No. 10 (April 2004)

“Always Coming Home”: How California harper JOANNA NEWSOM’s masterpiece album Ys grew from a time of personal turmoil, ambitious collaboration and eating hamburgers again. By Erik Davis, from Arthur No. 25 (Nov 2006)

Subscribe to Arthur’s iTunes Podcast and receive music automatically: click here

The best book yet on ayahuasca: ERIK DAVIS on "Singing to the Plants" by Stephan Beyer

stephanbeyer

Above: Stephan Beyer, conscientious gringo

Singing to the Plants: Stephan Beyer drinks up
by Erik Davis

techgnosis.com – January 11, 2010

Book website: http://www.singingtotheplants.com

The spiritual superhero of the baby boomers was the guru. But where the guru once hovered with his beatific smile, the shaman now shakes his stuff: an earthier, more pragmatic icon of mystical powers more suited to our era’s green anxieties. Now a significant figure for scholarly discourses as well as popular ones, the shaman, and especially the ayahuasca-swilling Amazonian variety, has not only stepped forward as a vehicle of archaic spirituality but has become—as the gazillions of bedazzled Avatar initiates can attest—a seductive site of fantasy and projection. For many of the aya tourists now hustling down to Peru in droves, or the untold thousands dropping 300 bucks or so to drink in their own Euro-American backyard, the man with the rattle (and his less common female compatriots) has become a visionary Rorschach blot: a New Age therapist, an avatar of environmentalism, a psychedelic captain fantastic.

This is why we need Stephan Beyer’s new book, the magisterial Singing to the Plants: A Guide to Mestizo Shamanism in the Upper Amazon. In this tome, Beyer has found the sweet spot between scholarly and popular writing, the otherworldly and the disenchanted, participation and observation; the result is the best or at least most comprehensive book I have seen on ayahuasca.

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"The plant-mind can be *experienced*": ERIK DAVIS on the Avatar-ayahuasca connection

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Aya Avatar: Drink the Jungle Juice
by Erik Davis

Originally posted: techgnosis.com

January 7, 2010

In paradoxical and altogether predictable terms, James Cameron’s ravishing Avatar sets a blue man group of mystically attuned forest dwellers against the aggressive and heartless exploitation that characterizes the military-industrial-media complex, with its virtual interfaces, biotech chimeras, and cyborg war machines. The paradox, of course, is that a version of this latter complex is responsible for delivering Cameron’s visions to us in the first place. To wit: before a recent screening of the film at the Metreon IMAX theater in San Francisco, we hapless begoggled ones were barraged with military ads, not to mention a triumphant techno-fetishist breakdown on the Imax technology that would soon transport us to the planet Pandora almost as thoroughly (and resonantly) as the handicapped jarhead Jake jacks into his computer-generated avatar body.

But those are behind the scenes ironies. With its floating Roger Deanscapes and hallucinogenic flora, the manifest world of Avatar instead spoke another truth: that the jungle pantheism that now pervades the psychoactive counterculture has gone thoroughly mainstream. Of course, noble savage narratives of ecological balance and shamanic wisdom have been haunting the Rousseau-mapped outback of the western mind for centuries. That said, Avatar represents some important twists in that basic tale. The most important of these is that the Na’vi’s nearly telepathic understanding of their environment is grounded not only in ritual, plant-lore, and that earnest seriousness that now afflicts PC Hollywood Indians, but in an organic communications network: the fibrous, animated, and vaguely repulsive pony-tail tentacles that not only allow the Na’vi to form direct control links with animals but also, through the optical filaments of the “Tree of Souls,” to commune with both ancestors and the Ewya, the biological spirit of the planet whose name resonates with Erda, our own Earth.

Call it ayahuasca lite. For while Avatar features nothing like the South American shaman lore and stupendous aya visuals that litter the otherwise very bad 2004 Western released here as Renegade, the film does suggest that the bitter jungle brew, and ideas of ecological wisdom now attached to it, is having a trickle-down effect. The banisteriopsis caapi vine that gives ayahuasca its name (though not its most hallucinogenic alkaloids) is also known as the “Vine of Souls,” which echoes the Na’vi’s Tree of Souls. And when Sigourney Weaver attempts to establish the efficacy of the Trees through a neurological discourse of electrical connection, the corporate tool Parker asks what she’s been smoking—a backhanded way of acknowledging how much Avatar’s visionary take on ecological consciousness is grounded in psychoactive consciousness.

After all, beyond a thriving and in many ways damaging ayahuasca tourist market in Brazil and Peru, clandestine aya circles manned by South American shamans and all manner of Euro-American facilitators are are now well established throughout the west. Among the professional creative classes who make up a sizable portion of West Coast seekers—for spirit and/or thrills—ayahuasca could almost be said to be mainstream. So it no longer matters whether Cameron or his animators have themselves drunk the tea; its active compounds are already swimming in the cultural water supply. Eco-futuristic dreams are now indistinguishable from the visionary potential of media technology itself. Indeed, whether you are talking form (ground-breaking 3D animation) or content (cyber-hippie wetdream decor), Cameron’s visual and technological rhetoric is impossible to disentangle from hallucinogenic experience.

OK, maybe I am the one smoking something. But if there is an aya-Avatar connection, it would explain one crucial way in which the film differs from conventional “noble savage” mysticism. Rather than ground the Na’vi’s grooviness in their folklore or spiritual purity, the film instead presents the vision of a direct and material communications link with the plant mind. Which means that Eyra does not have to be believed—she can be experienced. After the temporary fusion with the Tree of Souls that fails to prevent her death, Weaver’s chain-smoking left-brain doctor happily confirms Ewya’s existence. Like the Vine of Souls now wending its way through the developed world, the Tree of Souls becomes a kind of bio-mystical media, a visionary communications matrix that uplinks the souls of the dead and the network mind of the ecosphere itself.

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