Friday, January 18, 2008

Preliminary notes on Robert Greenfield's biography of Timothy Leary

Which I've pretty much finished. I'd say it's pretty good, although critical. But the very definition of critical involves precision, you know. Main themes running through it are Leary's irresponsibility in failing to ever acknowledge the dangers that people could be exposed to with bad trips, professional cavalierness while at Harvard, self promotion, and then betrayal of the counterculture and political radical culture when the noose tightened around his neck. The most objectionable part is actually the beginning section where Greenfield tries to trace Leary's later irresponsibility to his youth, arguing that this was a common theme throughout his entire life, from high school on. But the book isn't as negative as some people have made it out to be. I initiatily found out about it and got interested in it because the author and R.U. Sirius, editor of Mondo2000,
had a shouting match about it on Sirius' podcast (which you can find through a link on my sidebar). The sort of cyberculture psychedelicism that Sirius is a huge part of was very influential on me. Anyways, I felt that if these two people got into an online verbal brawl that the book must be good.

And indeed it is. I came in contact with Leary's writings not through "The Psychedelic Experience" or "Turn on, Tune in, Drop out", although I did read the last one and recommend it, but thorugh his later writings on psychology that were published through New Falcon Publications, like Exopsychology. Robert Anton Wilson in Cosmic Trigger proved to be another bridge into Leary's later philosophy. I think that this later fate, to be published by a small press and be read by counterculture figures while living in obscurity, is probably one that Leary deserved, because it was based on honesty and the power of his thought in many respects and not about an overwhelming star power.

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