High Weirdness: Drugs, Esoterica, and Visionary Experience in the Seventies (The MIT Press) Hardcover – June 11, 2019
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The book focuses on three people who were, well, highly weird.―RAWIllumination
With prose as fluid as his subjects' beliefs regarding consensus reality Erik Davis brilliantly dissects three otherworldly experiences and in doing so makes clear how “a decentralized and postmodern nation―the nation Americans still live within, even more fractiously―became codified.”―Lit Hub
Davis isn't looking to hack your common sense. Instead, he's asking the reader to question the rigid hierarchies of their perceived realties.―Happy Mag
What happens when a trained historian of religions seriously engages the magical mushrooms, flying saucers, science fiction, and invisible trickster entities of the 1970s counterculture with the open mind and heart of a gifted literary artist? What happens when a rigorous intellect encounters a monstrous bestiary of actual spectral presences? Erik Davis happens. This book happens. And I could not be happier about it. May this book, like a glowing UFO, land on your lap, and every other lap,and weird our world beyond all measure.―Jeffrey J. Kripal, author of Secret Body: Erotic and Esoteric Currents in the History of Religions
- Item Weight : 2.2 pounds
- Hardcover : 550 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1907222766
- ISBN-13 : 978-1907222764
- Dimensions : 6 x 1.5 x 8.5 inches
- Publisher : The MIT Press (June 11, 2019)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #904,756 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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A prominent "skeptic" once titled his book How To Think About Weird Things, but he was wrong: High Weirdness is how you think about the weird.
In Berger and Luckmann's classic sociology of knowledge text, The Social Construction of Reality, they make the point that the sociology of knowledge needed to consider anything "taken as knowledge" if we want to understand not just Others, but ourselves. By reading the entire oeuvres of his weirdo generalist "garage" (Davis's term) intellectuals (which alone must be 150 books, plus massive numbers of ephemera, interviews, archival material, etc), and combining the rigorous scholarship of the PhD thesis, PLUS a desire to engage a much wider reading audience than fellow PhDs, Erik Davis has given...I'll speak just for myself here...an encyclopedia that will lead me down an inexhaustible number of labyrinthine avenues of sheer weirdness. And let's face it: it's gotten pretty damned weird, and will only get even more so.
I read every word. Closely. The footnotes are a blast. His reading hypermultidisciplinary reading is astonishing. Davis's own humor lightens the load and his awe at the worlds he's immersed himself in for over 30 years is palpable. He is THE great scholar of occulture, but he also wonders if the world's culture has exacted a heavy price for not paying attention to this stuff; his subject matter has been marginalized by "serious" academics for so long (now they're joining him, as he notes near the end), but is it too late? Davis: "It is as if civilization made a sorcerous pact with petroleum genies, and the debt is now coming due."
Read Terence McKenna, Robert Anton Wilson and Philip K. Dick. I hope you already have. Then read Erik Davis, the one person in the world most qualified to flesh out the implications of their works and their exceedingly bizarre experiences in California in the 1970s. How did 1970s weirdness in California affect our entire culture? Read this. Because nothing has ever been the same, and it will only get weirder. For everyone.
all this is to say that i could perhaps be described as the ideal target audience for this book, and allow me to offer the proverbial three thumbs up. it is no surprise to fans of Erik Davis that the scholarship is dizzying and off the charts excellent. you also get an excellent cast of supporting characters, too; detours with Tim Leary, Aleister Crowley, and H.P. Lovecraft in particular are entertaining and illuminating. and i'll do a poor job trying to characterize one of the key theses of the book, but i'll try anyway - the notion that you can take hallucinatory or psychedelic or visionary experiences at face value while retaining access to your inner skeptic is powerfully represented by the tactics and techniques of McKenna, Wilson and PKD. it's well worth this in depth study to be concretely reminded of what these renegade philosopher-mystics accomplished (and didn't) in their unique adventures beyond the limits of consensus reality.
Top reviews from other countries
Philip K. Dick, Terence McKenna, and Robert Anton Wilson are all of interest - I have read at least 20 of Dick's SF and other books, and was involved in the production of a stage version of Anton Wilson (and Smith)'s Illuminatus! Trilogy, although I'm not very familiar with Terence McKeena's work on integrating the Hallucinogenic with a post-enlightenment view of how the objective universe actually works.
The book is pretty much a PhD dissertation, plus plus- very readable (I found) and well cross-referenced and sourced, with plenty of back story. The author is not afraid to take the three subjects' work in its own terms, and at face value, for the purposes of exposition and discussion. However, it is clear that behind all this, there's a very healthy degree of scepticism. This is very refreshing as it leads to a great deal of honesty and precision reporting of the thinking at the time, without unnecessary revisionism about the flakiness of it all.
If you are into the real 1960s alternative culture, even just out of interest, but especially if any of it impinged on your life, I recommend this. Others may find the subjects tiresome, although perhaps, not the writer&writing.