“Those who can’t handle drugs turn to reality.” – Tom Waits
I paid another visit to the Foreign Language Bookstore in Wangfujing recently and I was surprised to see a copy of The Psychedelic Experience, Timothy Leary’s counterculture retelling of the Bardo Thodal (or Tibetan Book of the Dead) as a manual for tripping balls. I was equally surprised yesterday evening to find a Chinese translation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas at 798 Art Zone. I don’t pretend to understand China’s censorship laws (and it’s hardly beyond the realm of the possible that one or both of these books was an illegal import), but I was definitely under the impression that drugs were a no go.
Over the last few days I finally read Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs, my fourth or fifth attempt at getting more than halfway through it. When I left Vancouver I made damned sure that Naked Lunch was one of the books I brought with me, for the reason stated above.* My only other encounter with Burroughs had been reading his debut (short) novel Junky, often described as his most ‘accessible’ text.**
You may gather that I kind of like drug literature, despite my own philosophy on substance abuse being that I lean towards not pissing around with that sort of thing. I’m not saying that I lived in Vancouver without ever ending up one toke over the line, nor that my autobiography will be totally free of anecdotes about trying to buy cheesy wotsits and a single carrot at a 24 hour Tesco when the party was long since over.*** But these were single experiments with a handful of substances. I’ve been to one rave in my entire life, and it made me just as miserable as any other social gathering I’ve been to.
I certainly don’t buy the romanticized image of ‘the junky’ as some sort of tortured, WASPy middle-class bloke who goes on to clean up his act, fire a shitload of guns in the air and create Interzone. I’ve never met a druggie or a boozer who wasn’t an absolute wastrel twat.
I have never read The Psychedelic Experience, although I am tempted. Ironically, though, another ‘banned’ book that I made sure to bring with me was Penguin’s recent unabridged translation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead.
* I also packed Thomas DeQuincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater. A third volume of ‘drug lit’, The Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda, simply didn’t fit in my suitcase.
**(which isn’t saying much, and presumably ignores the inaccessible parts).
***(nor indeed of actually trying to prove to one long-suffering friend that I could dig a tunnel backwards in time to the 1960s).