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Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism Paperback – August 12, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Open City editor Pinchbeck's book debut is a polemic that picks up the threads that Huxley's The Doors of Perception, Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters and counterculture idealism left in the culture. Charting his gradual transformation from a cynical New York litterateur to psychedelic acolyte, Pinchbeck uses elements of travelogue, memoir, "entheobotany" ("the study of god-containing plants") and historical research to ask why these "doorways of the mind" have been unceremoniously sealed, sharing Walter Benjamin's melancholy about the exasperating nature of consumerism: "We live in a culture where everything tastes good but nothing satisfies." Pinchbeck travels the earth in search of spiritual awakening through tripping, from Gabon to the Nevada desert. At happenings like the Burning Man festival or a plant conference in the Ecuadorean jungle, Pinchbeck meets "modern shamans" and tells their stories as they intersect with his. In his reporting, he manages to walk a difficult tonal tightrope, balancing his skepticism with a desire to be transformed. He thoughtfully surveys the literature about psychedelic drugs, but the most exhilarating and illuminating sections are the descriptions of drug taking: he calls this visiting the "spirit world," which is "like a cosmic bureaucracy employing its own PR department, its own off-kilter sense of dream-logic and humor... constantly playing with human limitations, dangling possibilities before our puny grasps at knowledge." There's little new drug lore here, but Pinchbeck's earnest, engaged and winning manner carry the book.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
In this firsthand account of the world of psychedelic substances today, Village Voice and Rolling Stone writer Pinchbeck weaves elements of his personal life, including vivid descriptions of his reactions to the substances he takes, with larger topics, such as the history of psychedelic substances in the modern world and the foundations of shamanism. To aid his inquiry, he participates in visionary rituals around the world, e.g., taking iboga as part of a tribal initiation in Gabon. He also discusses key figures such as Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, and Terence McKenna. Pinchbeck repeatedly decries the rationalism and destructiveness of Western culture and the shortsightedness of completely outlawing psychedelic substances. The book is not an extended diatribe, however. The author offers various viewpoints on how certain drugs should be used and on whether a modern, Western shamanism is possible. Pinchbeck posits a universe that may be difficult to accept, but his book will be of interest for public and academic libraries.
Stephen Joseph, Butler Cty. Community Coll. Lib., PA
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
I keep reading his final chapter over and over. It is creating a new paradigm shift for me, leading me to greater awareness and action. Reading his conclusion as well as the conclusions of other authors I have read subsequently, thanks to Pinchbeck's references, has been a huge Aha! experience for me. His book can be a "breaking open the head" kind of experience for anyone who approaches it with an open mind and a willingness to "test all things." The concepts to which this new thinking has led me reach back to my childhood, bringing many more pieces of the puzzle together for me.
With plenty of first (and second) hand descriptions of various entheogenic experiences, the book will satisfy hardcore psychonauts seeking validation or information, as well as wannabes seeking vicarious trip thrills. But interspersed throughout are brief, pithy observations on anthropological, sociological, religious, cultural, artistic, literary and philosophical viewpoints and phenomena which offer brilliant insights into the current state of human affairs (how we got to where we are) and suggest logical but unlikely scenarios for freeing ourselves and unleashing our potential.
Descriptions of his work as "anti-capitalist" are arguably accurate but a tad simplistic. Pinchbeck's illuminating light is shined not on the sociopolitical aspect of capitalism but rather on the sociopsychological materialism which has trapped citizens of the "developed" world en masse in its web of illusive pleasure reality.
Unlike lesser writers who might pass off some of the more obscure references as their own, Pinchbeck is quick to attribute his influences and sources, affording us a glimpse into his own intellectual and psychological development, which adds depth to his psychedelic journey.
This is a wonderful book for fans of shamanism and psychedelics, and is the PERFECT gift for martini-swilling swanks who scoff at the "irresponsibility" of their more explorative friends. Like the work of McKenna and Huxley and Huston Smith, it is more evidence that psychedelics appear to sharpen the brain, rather than fry it.