Power Trip

Two new books explore how psychedelics can change your life.

  • There’s a place for drugs in the worst future, where they facilitate our participation in exploitive systems by offering an escape that doesn’t ripple into our non-tripping reality. And there’s a place for them in the best future, where they confirm our interconnectedness, accelerate our imaginations, and foster profound goodwill.
    Photo courtesy of Getty Images / Activedia

Tao Lin’s eighth book, Trip, is his best yet, and it’s all thanks to drugs. Well, perhaps not entirely thanks to drugs. With exercise comes mastery, or at least competence, and Lin has been practicing his idiosyncratic craft for over a decade. His first book was published in 2006, when he was 23; improvement during the intervening years may have been inevitable. But Lin–whose authorial voice, notoriously, is so assiduously literal that it sometimes seems transcribed from a robot failing a Turing test–has never been more creative, precise, or inspired than when he details psychedelics-begotten behavior and theories. The behavior is mostly his own, while the theories are often borrowed from Terence McKenna, the late psilocybin advocate whose YouTube videos started Lin down the path to revitalization. While studying McKenna, Lin began to make radical adjustments to his daily drug routines, which in turn radically affected his mind-set. “My default state in 2012 while sober was an easily annoyed grumpiness,” he explains. “I was chronically not fascinated by existence, which … did not feel wonderful or profound but tedious and uncomfortable and troubling.” After bingeing on McKenna recordings–“for more than 30 hours”–everything changed.

Lin’s newfound engagement sprang from McKenna’s zeal for psychedelics and other plant-derived compounds like DMT, which are very different from the recreational chemicals more prevalent today: Adderall, Xanax, and pretty much any prescription painkiller. Those drugs figured prominently in Lin’s previous book, Taipei (2013), where they created a vacuum of curiosity and investment that has little in common with the wellspring of positivity he taps in Trip. “McKenna seemed excited and delighted by topics I’d just finished expressing in my novel as sources of bleakness and despair and confusion,” Lin writes. He’d been taking the wrong drugs, habit-forming ones that are rough on the body–including the brain–and leave users feeling depleted and depressed.

Because Trip’s existence and the lifestyle therein owe a debt to McKenna, Lin devotes a considerable portion of the book to the man’s life and work. I found this a bit regrettable. McKenna–ethnobotanist, so-called psychonaut, and “Timothy Leary of the ’90s”–seems to have been sincere and well-intentioned, but Western white guys have a low success rate when it comes to planting their flags in “exotic” understudied fields: Native cultures are fetishized and exploited, and egos swell to cult-leader-like-proportions. McKenna’s propositions are kind of fun (Are the creatures who regularly appear in DMT visions aliens? Or dead people?) yet reading too many of them begins to feel like scrolling through a thread of Twin Peaks fan theories. Incidentally, Peak’s erratic conspiracy theorist Dr. Jacoby might be based on McKenna).

To his credit, Lin is judicious and concise while doling out McKennaisms. For instance, he briefly shares the “Stoned Ape Theory,” which suggests that our evolution owes a great debt to mushrooms, but he doesn’t include McKenna’s hypothesis that the impact was in part contingent on mushroom-induced orgies that prevented pair-bonding. (Because of mushrooms, he argues, monogamy was not just unworkable but inconceivable.) McKenna was prone to saying things like “It’s amazing to me that the male love of nookie would stand aside for the male love of property and dominance,” and even when sympathetic interviewers pressed him on the androcentric and ad hoc nature of such claims, he ignored their critiques. McKenna also believed psychedelics alienate users from that which is “sexist, consumerist, shallow, trivial, inane,” but his unexamined faith in the indiscriminate biologically ordained “male love of nookie” raises some doubt about mushrooms’ power to bestow wokeness.

When Trip sloughs off the weight of McKenna’s influence, it becomes a joy to read. Lin is a meticulous cataloguer, and his predilection for building entire books out of the relentlessly mundane details of everyday existence has long stuck in the craw of his critics. By recounting his drug experimentation, he’s found the perfect outlet of his obsessive MO. His hypersensitivity to the granularity of lived experience becomes a boon:

Holding a ringed binder of watercolor paper and a red crayon, ready to write or draw something, I sensed the pointlessly of recording information outside oneself. … “Crayons,” I write in words covering almost half the paper, surprising myself a little. The word seemed written to occupy and unsuspecting majority of me so that a smaller part of me could analyze the concept of note-taking in private …

stuart walker
3/6/2019 7:46:38 AM

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2/17/2019 11:35:23 AM

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