FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Down the Rabbit Hole—Leary as Fiction

1962 was a year on the cusp. John F. Kennedy and his promise of a United States leading the world into a future of liberty and justice for all guided the liberal masses in the Midwest, California and Harvard Square. Critiques of this brave new world driven by a profit-based idealism had yet to become mainstream. The Left was making some noise as the Red Scare ebbed and the civil rights movement grew, yet politics remained within the arena defined by Republicans and Democrats. Hardly anyone outside of Washington and the Pentagon had heard of Vietnam and the Cuban Missile showdown had resolved itself without a missile being launched. Life was good for the US middle class—white, well off and secure. The counterculture was in the future and the beatniks kept to themselves. A guy who called himself Bob Dylan was getting ready to record his first record, the Beatles were playing bars in Germany, and Jerry Garcia was playing bluegrass and teaching guitar on occasion. Ken Kesey had just published his bestselling novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It was a work inspired in part by his participation in US-government sponsored research that involved Kesey and others ingesting synthetic psilocybin and LSD-25.

Back in Harvard, perhaps a few blocks away from the previously mentioned Square, a psychologist was conducting his own research utilizing the same chemicals. Along with fellow psychologist Richard Alpert, Timothy Leary administered doses to himself and selected graduate students in a series of experiments that would eventually get the two of them kicked out of the university. But, in 1962 there was little or no attention paid to Leary or his research outside of his department.

This is where TC Boyle’s newest novel begins (after a brief interlude describing what it might have been like for Dr. Albert Hoffman and his assistant when he discovered LSD-25 in April 1943). Titled Outside Looking In—assumedly after the line from the Moody Blues’ song “Timothy Leary’s Dead”–Boyle’s work takes place inside Leary’s group of psychedelic pioneers. The story takes us from their assembly at Harvard to his retreat in Mexico and finally to the Hitchcock Estate in Millbrook, NY. Told primarily through the eyes of a young couple who are invited into Leary’s circle, Boyle’s novel chronicles their interactions with other members of the group, the ups and downs of their own relationship and the influence of Leary and LSD on everyone. It is a tale of a time and a place; a tale of innocence and discovery, love and family, egos and sexuality.

Timothy Leary was a complex and often problematic personality. His self-promotion and ego often conflicted with his expressed belief that US society’s overemphasis on the individual and the fulfillment of individual needs and desires needed to be changed if humans are to survive. Like other bigger-than-life personalities of the era known as the Sixties, Leary stood in the middle of the bridge between the US culture of the past and the new one being invented throughout that period. These individuals we’re harbingers of the future, but were products of the past. It is that new culture within which we exist now. Yes, there are those who continue to try and bring us back to the world that ceased to exist by the mid-1970s, but their efforts are ineffective and even laughable.

This statement is not a judgment on whether or not some of the values forever mutilated or destroyed in the Sixties were worth keeping; it’s just a statement of fact. Women are not going to go back to subservient roles. Nor are Black Americans, Latinos, Native Americans or any other people of color. In terms of Timothy Leary and LSD, the acid has been eaten. Millions of US residents have tripped on psychedelic substances and even more have ingested marijuana. The genie is out of the lamp. The magic—good, bad and neutral—is already present.

Boyle does an almost perfect job writing down something that is often difficult to capture in words. Outside Looking In provides a genuine feeling of what it is like to be high on acid among friends. More impressively, the novel makes the reader begin to understand what it is like to be among a select few intent on changing themselves and ultimately the world. In his ultimately clever storytelling, Boyle presents the individual and collective struggles of Leary’s band of not-quite-acolytes as they navigate their way through a journey for which there were few maps.

While reading the novel, I was reminded at how easily so many of the stories of the Sixties lend themselves to fictionalization. In part, this is because they are often unique to the time. In other words, they never happened before or after. At the same time, it is also because the stories seem too fantastic to be real. This truth has led to a romanticization of the period just as it has led to its demonization. TC Boyle understands this, as he proved in his earlier novels based in the counterculture. That is one reason why he’s so damned good at telling those tales.

More articles by:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
March 30, 2020
Marshall Auerback
Washington Uses the Pandemic to Create a $2 Trillion Slush Fund for Its Cronies
Ron Jacobs
Going After Maduro
Justin Podur
When Economists Try to Solve Health Crises, the Results Can Often be Disastrous
Thomas Knapp
Decarceration: COVID-19 is Opportunity Knocking
Arshad Khan - Meena Miriam Yust
Dying Planet and a Virus Unleashed
William Astore
How My Dad Predicted the Decline of America
Seth Sandronsky
Reclaiming Vacant Homes in the COVID-19 Pandemic
John G. Russell
Racial Profiling Disorder: the All-American Pandemic
Vijay Prashad, Paola Estrada, Ana Maldonado, and Zoe PC
As the World Tackles the COVID-19 Pandemic, the U.S. Raises the Pressure on Venezuela
Laura Flanders
Covid-19: Our Health Crisis is Born of Bigotry
Cesar Chelala
The New World of Coronavirus
Lawrence Wittner
The World’s Major Military and Economic Powers Find Happiness Elusive
Ted Rall
My Dead French Grandfather Helped Me with COVID-19
Rob Okun
A Citizens’ Call to Invoke the Twenty-fifth Amendment
Ashar Foley
COVID-19 Proves It: We Need Medicare-for-All
Robert Koehler
The Virus is Our Teacher
Wim Laven
Are You Prepared to Needlessly Die for Your Country?
Jill Richardson
Stay Home, Stay Angry
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
What’s Wrong with Ranked Choice Voting
Mike Garrity
Alliance for the Wild Rockies Sues Trump’s Bureau of Reclamation for Bull Trout Fatalities in Saint Mary-Milk River Irrigation Project on the east Side of Glacier National Park
Weekend Edition
March 27, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Bailouts for the Rich, the Virus for the Rest of Us
Louis Proyect
Life and Death in the Epicenter
Paul Street
“I Will Not Kill My Mother for Your Stock Portfolio”
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The Scum Also Rises
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Stimulus Bill Allows Federal Reserve to Conduct Meetings in Secret; Gives Fed $454 Billion Slush Fund for Wall Street Bailouts
Jefferson Morley
Could the Death of the National Security State be a Silver Lining of COVID-19?
Ruth Hopkins
A Message For America from Brazil’s First Indigenous Congresswoman
Kathleen Wallace
The End of the Parasite Paradigm
Anthony DiMaggio
Misinformation and the Coronavirus: On the Dangers of Depoliticization and Social Media
Andrew Levine
Neither Biden Nor Trump: Imagine Cuomo
David Rosen
God’s Vengeance: the Christian Right and the Coronavirus
Evaggelos Vallianatos
In the Grip of Disease
David Schultz
The Covid-19 Bailout: Another Failed Opportunity at Structural Change
Edward Leer
Somebody Else’s World: An Interview with Kelly Reichardt
Robert Fisk
What Trump is Doing in the Middle East While You are Distracted by COVID-19
Daniel Warner
COVID-19: Health or Wealth?
Thomas Klikauer – Norman Simms
Corona in Germany: Hording and Authoritarianism
Ramzy Baroud
BJP and Israel: Hindu Nationalism is Ravaging India’s Democracy
Richard Moser
Russia-gate: the Dead But Undead
Ron Jacobs
Politics, Pandemics and Trumpism
Chris Gilbert
Letter From Catalonia: Alarming Measures
Richard Eskow
Seven Rules for the Boeing Bailout
Jonathan Carp
Coronavirus and the Collapse of Our Imaginations
Andrew Bacevich
The Coronavirus and the Real Threats to American Safety and Freedom
Peter Cohen
COVID-19, the Exponential Function and Human the Survival
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail