Dystopia and drugs: these are the two concepts most commonly associated with Aldous Huxley, who wrote Brave New World and, decades later, advocated the mind-expanding possibilities of psychedelic substances. The sociopolitical realities of the 21st century have prompted us to return to and more fully understand what Huxley was trying to tell us with his novelistic vision of a society engineered and automated into total submission. But how many of us really understand his perspective on what the drugs did for his thinking?
Huxley may have written eloquently on the subject, most popularly in 1954’s The Doors of Perception, but in the audio clip above we can hear some of that thinking straight from the visionary’s mouth. “This is a recording of Aldous Huxley on 100 μg of LSD, made on December 23 1962,” writes the uploader, “gonzo philosopher” Jules Evans. “The trip sitter is his wife, Laura Archera Huxley.” A trip sitter, for the uninitiated, is like the designated driver of a psychedelic journey, a companion who stays on the ground to look out for the one who gets high. (This same wife would, the following year, take Huxley on his final trip, the one that would take him all the way out of this world.)
Huxley “discusses the secret of life — to be oneself and at the same time ‘identical with the divine.’ And he wonders about the value of blasting off into the stratosphere, like Timothy Leary.” Leary, a fellow champion of psychedelics, began his career as a clinical psychologist at Harvard and ended up dedicating his life to the possibilities of LSD, along the way popularizing the phrase “turn on, tune in, drop out.” “Tim is alright,” says the tripping Huxley. “He’s just sort of… an Irishman, banging around, but I think he’s doing a lot of good.” But in Huxley’s view, Leary also “just wants to be an ass. We all have to be forgiven for something. My God, will you forgive me!”
In just three minutes drawn from a longer recording stored at UCLA’s Huxley archive, the writer makes a variety of other observations as well. These include the desire of drug-users to “take holidays from themselves,” the value of psychedelic experiences showing people that “they don’t have to always live in this completely conditioned way,” and the challenge of having to be “completely boxed up in oneself as that cat is” — as he gestures, presumably, toward a household pet — “at the same time one has to be completely identical with God!” LSD has reportedly led some of its users to communion with the divine, but on this trip Huxley settles for trying to commune with the feline. After a brief attempt at speaking the cat’s own language, he returns to English to make a broader point about the human and animal condition: “Luckily he doesn’t have our problems. But he has his own.”
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.