Terence McKenna Archives – Random Item #21 – Erik Davis: Data Density Data-Dense

Today’s random item from the Terence McKenna Archives is one that only mentions Terence in passing and, yet, feels more Terence-relevant than many of the items in the archives that feature him more heavily. It is a 1999 article in The Santa Fe New Mexican erikdavisnewspaper (Jan. 22) profiling Erik Davis (who Rob Brezsny apparently once called “the next Terence McKenna”) as prelude to a local event for the release of his book Techngnosis: Myth, Magic & Mysticism in the Age of Information at Santa Fe’s Plan B Evolving Arts. The profile, by Antonio Lopez, includes sections of an interview conducted with Davis by phone. I think those who pay attention to Terence McKenna will find this to be an interesting read. It’s a well-done profile of a writer (and podcaster!) whose work is well-worth paying attention to. He was also potentially the last person to interview Terence–it’s a long interview that I still think of as one of the best. The article includes a discussion of Davis’ visit to the Cyberthon in San Francisco in 1991, discussed in a previous blog post (Esquire, Apr. 1991), at which Terence and Tim Leary spoke along with VR pioneer Jaron Lanier and others, including Debbie Harlow, who told those in attendance that she had “received a newsletter put out by the criminal justice department of the state of Hawaii that quoted McKenna and Mondo 2000 on virtual reality and alerted judges to the possible dangers of this new “drug” (Spin, Apr. 1991).

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Erik Davis speaking at Burning Man 2003 next to a picture of Terence McKenna, whose work provided the inspiration for the Palenque Norte theme camp.

The convergence of mysticism and pop culture is a niche journalist Erik Davis carved out one spoonful at a time.

Several years ago, in “Technopagans,” a story for Wired, Davis explored the neopagan world of Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) programmers and other Net practitioners and occult denizens in San Francisco [which features eventual Terence collaborator, and VRML co-inventor, Mark Pesce].

With the recent publication of his tome, Techgnosis: Myth, Magic and Mysticism in the Age of Information (Harmony Books), Davis has become somewhat of a de facto expert on the strange, secret history bridging technological culture and the spiritual realm.

“Personally I have always been fascinated by weird religious ideas, psychedelia and the occult,” he said. Moreover, he said, “I’ve always been a pop-culture junkie.”

“In terms of looking at new technology, I always look at it through a science-fiction lens because I’m interested in the mythic and fantastic aspects that are always part of the discussion of technology rather than tracking the business and technological aspects,” he said. “I’m interested in where the machine and psyche meet.”

In the early ’90s, such a connection became real in Northern California, where the Information Age and Aquarian Age mingled, symbolized by psychedelic mentors Terence McKenna and Timothy Leary exchanging with technological visionaries Jaron Lanier (an early developer of virtual reality) and Howard Rheingold. The Berkeley-based magazine Mondo 2000 served as a forum for the kookier aspects of the psychedelic-computer convergence.

Davis set out for San Francisco, where he attended the Cyberthon festival and gathering. “It was an attempt to be the Woodstock of virtual reality,” Davis said. “It was that whole San Francisco mixture of psychedelia and computer technology. When I was there, I saw that this is real. I wanted to know how it was that these ’60s psychedelia ideas became mixed up with information technology.”
Although the event proved pivotal in sparking Davis’ exploration of the netherworld of information technology and mysticism, the rhetoric of the movement remains a dream. “It did not develop into some great alternative culture,” Davis said. “The record is very bad. As I wrote the book over the years, I became more and more critical of the way that people use utopian, mystical and psychedelic language in order to hype technology. “There was some genuine, authentic experimental space that was really there and is still there but what I’m afraid happened is basically a certain kind of capitalism absorbed those energies and language with a purpose to sell something to consumers, like psychedelic screen savers that are in the offices of Internet startup companies that don’t do anything. “This is a true consensual hallucination, like Gibson said,” Davis said. “It’s not so clear what’s going on. In the end, I was rather disappointed in how these utopian dreams played out.”

Davis juggled to address an eclectic readership, which includes a cyber-theoretical, cyber-critical audience, smart new-agers and what he called “new consciousness” people, and those interested in underground spirituality. In addition, Davis believes Techgnosis appeals to those interested in the history of technology and contemporary culture from a journalistic perspective. “In response to that, my voice jumps inside the text,” Davis said. “It’s a symptom of how difficult it is to explain the moment we live in. You have to become a kind of pragmatic schizophrenic.”

“I’m trying to articulate the collective dreamworld of contemporary technological culture rather than just analyzing it,” Davis said. “Even though I use academic material and scholarly questions, I’m also equally interested in expressing something strange and fantastic about the times we find ourselves in. “For example, when I write about UFOs, on the one hand I’m very interested in the sociology of UFO believers. But on the other hand, I’m interested in catching the bizarre side of whatever it is that compels people to be fascinated with UFOs and looking at these perceptions that don’t fit into ordinary reality. “I’m not interested in whether UFOs are real but how people come to believe they are real. What is that about? It’s trying to do both things at once.”

Asked if he follows a particular spiritual path, the author remained cryptic. “I’m very interested in mindfulness practice,” Davis said. “I think paying attention to attention is one of the key tools for facing the Information Age.”

Weekly Terence McKenna Archival Haul (6/11/17)

Another mellow week at the Terence McKenna Archives. Here’s what we took in this time around:

  1. I received the other three issues of Psychedelic Monographs & Essays–I received and mentioned the first ordered issue last week only to note that there was not much to be found in its pages related to TM. Well, the same is largely true of the remaining volumes of PM&E, although there are a few mentions that I will note. In #2, there’s nothing. In #3, there is a citation for both The Invisible Landscape and the original audiobook of True Hallucinations (before a published book ever existed) as part of an article on Rupert Sheldrake and his ‘Hypothesis of Formative Causation’. The McKenna’s are cited among a group of observers who have noted “past life remembrance” with psychedelics. In #4 there are a few more citations: in an article on ‘Meditation and Resonance Effects’ by Philo Stone, the ‘Organismic Thought’ chapter of The Invisible Landscape is cited and in an article on ‘The Mushroom Entheogen’ Terence and Dennis are cited under their Oeric & Oss pseudonyms for their book, Psilocybin: Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide. Terence also shows up in an advertisement for an event in honor of Albert Hofmann at which he would be a featured presenter to take place on October 2, 1988 at the Scottish Rite Temple in Los Angeles and is listed on the subsequent page as among the board members for the Albert Hofmann Foundation. Finally, there is an advertisement for Terence’s talks, via Kat Harrison’s Lux Natura catalog, which appears near the end of the volume located next to an advertisement for Botanical Dimensions.

2. Exposure magazine from October 1990 included a dual-article with pieces written by both Timothy Leary and Terence McKenna. This is a fairly rare and little-known (and quite large) item. I am only aware of one other copy currently available online going for about $60.

3. I received a hard copy of an issue of SPIN magazine from April 1991 that I featured a couple weeks back in the weekly haul as a set of digital images. One thing that I failed to mention last time that I will highlight now is a curious mention of a government document that is supposed to reference Terence as a way of pointing to the potential dangers of virtual reality. I would be GREATLY obliged to anyone who might be able to help me track down that document…

At the end of McKenna’s talk, Debbie Harlow rose with a concrete warning: she and Jaron [Lanier] had recently received a newsletter put out by the criminal justice department of the state of Hawaii that quoted McKenna and Mondo 2000 on virtual reality and alerted judges to the possible dangers of this new “drug.”

4. The April 1995 issue of Yoga Journal featured an interview with Ralph Abraham, which mentioned Terence in passing as a collaborator.

I also spent a few hours in the Image Resource Center on campus scanning photos from Chip Simons’ early 1990s shoot at the house in Occidental. I will be able to offer these very high-quality photos as part of the forthcoming crowdfunding campaign and am excited to eventually show them.

And, finally, once again, I will also include a final section with books that came in this week that don’t mention Terence (or weren’t represented in his library) but that nonetheless might be of interest:

This Week’s Terence McKenna Archival Haul (5/19/17)

This is the first of what will be an ongoing series of ‘Weekly Haul’ posts showing off materials that have been added to the archive over the course of the preceding week. This week’s intake has been particularly noteworthy, including quite a range of TM-related literature for the archives, among which are a couple of incredibly rare items. Here’s what came in this week:

Let’s begin with a pair of books by Mark Jacobson:

  1. Teenage Hipster in the Modern World: From the Birth of Punk to the Land of Bush: Thirty Years of Millennial Journalism (2005)
    • Jacobson reprints his well-known interview with Terence that appeared in Esquire in 1992, but in his book, he amends the title, taking dispute with the tongue-in-cheek but somewhat derogatory title that Esquire assigned to the interview in the magazine, which was ‘Is Terence McKenna the Brave New Prophet of the Next Psychedelic Revolution, or Is His Cosmic Egg Just a Little Bit Cracked?’ 

    • As part of my effort to write this blog post, looking back at the original Esquire piece, I was fortunate to come across several other relevant issues of the magazine that contained material related to TM.
      • The September 1992 issue included a couple of curious reader responses to Jacobson’s interview with Terence that had appeared in the June 1992 issue. 

      • The April 1991 issue included an article on Virtual Reality that contained a description of an event called Cyberthon, at which both Terence McKenna and Timothy Leary spoke. The article describes part of Terence’s talk. 

        1991 - Esquire - VR Conference 07

      • The November 2006 issue includes a cheeky article about apocalyptic expectations and includes a rather mean-spirited jab at McKenna as one among many misguided prophets calling him a “drug-eating dead man.” 

  2. Gojiro (1991)
  3. Terence’s bibliographer alerted me to a copy of a rare zine called Light Times: A Random Periodical (1988) that was for sale online. I had long been aware of its existence but over the years (and after a lot of searching) had never seen a copy for sale anywhere, and the UCSB Interlibrary Loan department was not able to find a single copy available in a worldwide search of libraries (though there does actually appear to be a copy in Special Collections at the University of Michigan if anybody is in the area and wants to check it out). The hand-printed and stapled zine includes an edited version of one of Terence’s talks that was originally a KPFK/Botanical Dimensions co-fundraiser sponsored by Roy Tuckman (aka Roy of Hollywood), under the title Understanding and Imagination in the Light of Nature (which is interrupted by a letter to the editors from Timothy Leary under the pseudonym Irving Blum), as well as an article by underground psychedelic icons Gracie & Zarkov (who have a great, unpublished interview with TM), titled Gracie’s ‘Visible Language’ Contact Experience, which makes several mentions of TM, including one of my favorite analogies for the Taoist concept of wu-wei

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    [Note for the super geeky: It’s not entirely clear to me how often Leary used the Irving Blumenthal pseudonym. On a quick search, I could only find two clear references to it as Leary’s alternate name. Antero Alli references it here, and there is a reference to another letter under this name in Michael Horowitz’s extensive Leary bibliography, in 1981, listed under C118. Horowitz’s bibliography was published in 1988, the same year this zine, and, as such, the latter does not appear in the bibliography. Horowitz does list another (1982) reference to a publication called Light Times under J433, though it’s not clear that the two publications are related. If you have any further information about Leary’s Irving Blum pseudonym, please do leave a comment.]

     

  4. Andy Roberts’ Albion Dreaming: A Popular History of LSD in Britain (revised edition, 2012) doesn’t devote much time to Terence McKenna, but he is listed as among the guest speakers at Fraser Clark‘s London Megatripolis club. Here’s a song from a Megatripolis compilation CD that sample’s McKenna’s voice (and another). And, here’s Terence talking at Megatripolis. Here’s a nice clip of Terence talking about the difficulties of being a club-scene philosopher (and mentions Megatripolis). 

  5. Most of you have probably heard Terence’s several interviews with Fortean shock jock Art Bell on Coast to Coast AM (now hosted by George Noory). Well, Art also included some of Terence’s ideas in at least one of his books, The Source: Journey Through the Unexplained, co-authored with long-time pulp paranormal writer Brad Steiger. I added both a first edition (1999, hardback) and second edition (2002, paperback) to the archives.
     

  6. Sometimes, I stumble upon really great Terence McKenna material unexpectedly. I ordered a copy of Cam Cloud’s Acid Trips and Chemistry (1999), because there was a cheap copy available and I had a coupon at Thriftbooks. When it arrived, even though I assumed that since it was a book about LSD, it probably wouldn’t have any relation to TM since LSD wasn’t one of the psychedelics substances he went out of his way to promote (though he certainly had plenty of experience with it, having explored it “quite occasionally” among his youthful endeavors, often waiting until the peak of the acid trip to smoke some DMT). Nonetheless, despite my assumptions, I flipped to the back of the book (as I do) looking for an index in order to locate the letter “M.” Frustratingly, as is often the case in these matters, an index was absent, but a brief bibliography was present, which, to my surprise, did, indeed, include a reference to The Archaic Revival. So, I flipped through the pages hoping to locate where TM showed up, expecting maybe a passing quotation and was genuinely non-plussed at what I found. There is a “famous” photo, by Chip Simons, of Terence that appeared in the April 1992 issue of High Times as part of an interview conducted by David Jay Brown (and has been muchmemed). In Cam Cloud’s book, there appear to be further photos from that same photo shoot that I’ve never seen before. I have contacted Simons to see if he still has the originals, which would be professional color photographs rather than the black-and-white scans in Acid Trips and Chemistry. But, regardless, it is still fairly exciting to find out that there was a whole series of photos from this shoot at his home in Occidental, California….and that they are so creative! Keep an eye out for more on this front in the future.  [Update: Simons is going to find his originals from the shoot and send me scans!]
     

  7. Alt.Culture: An A-to-Z Guide to the ’90s–Underground, Online, and Over-the-Counter (1995–the title pretty much explains it) includes an entry on Terence, which begins by describing him as “ethnobotanist, philosopher, historian, and Nabokovian know-it-all.” Lodged between ‘McJob’ and ‘media moguls’, he is praised by authors Steven Daly and Nathaniel Wice as “one of the world’s greatest rhetorical ravers.” I think they like him.
     

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  8. Visionary Plant Consciousness: The Shamanic Teachings of the Plant World (2007), edited by J. P. Harpignies, contains material that, so far as I know, has not been represented in any other collections and does not exist in the online YouTube/mp3 corpus collected and distributed by the TM fan-base. The slim volume contains quite a few chapters of interest, including a transcript of a talk that Terence gave at the Bioneers conference in 1993 and a transcript of a trialogue from the following year that he had with his brother, Dennis, and the esteemed ethnographer and ethnobotanist Wade Davis. All of the material in the book comes from the Bioneers conferences from 1990 to 2004. The chapter list is fairly impressive and includes presentations by and discussions with Kat Harrison (Terence’s ex-wife), Paul Stamets, Dale Pendell, Luis Eduardo Luna, Jeremy Narby, Francis Huxley (who died in Dec. 2016), Alex Grey, Michael Pollan, Andrew Weil, Charles Grob, and others. 

  9. In Ayahuasca: The Visionary & Healing Powers of the Vine of the Soul (2003), Joan Parisi Wilcox includes just a passing mention of “intrepid psychonaut Terence McKenna” in her entheogenic travelogue. While introducing a chapter where she allows her ayahuasca-drinking companions to tell their experiences in their own terms, she quotes TM from The Archaic Revival, saying “What we need now are diaries of explorers. We need many diaries of many explorers so we can begin to get a feeling for the territory” (of course, this was before Erowid’s Experience Vaults manifested this kind of database). 

  10. Spirit Matters is a memoir by Matthew J. Pallamary that includes several interactions with Terence in the years leading up to his death. I’ll be meeting with Matt when he comes to town next month to teach at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, so I’ll keep this entry relatively short in anticipation of a future post after our meeting. In Spirit Matters, Pallamary recounts his journey to the Maya ruins of Uxmal to meet Terence in 1998, his meeting with Terence, his gift of a short story collection, how he was turned on to TM by a “sweet little old lady who had sent [him] tapes of his lectures,” an experience on thirteen Hawaiian baby woodrose seeds combined with “what Terence McKenna would call a ‘heroic dose’ of nine grams of mushrooms that nearly killed [him],” a second meeting with TM the following year in Palenque (including a 5-MeO-DMT trip), and a delightful story about a successful attempt (see photo below) to get the “very first copy…from the very first print” of his novel, Land Without Evil, to Terence at the 1999 AllChemical Arts Conference in Hawaii (the last place that most people saw him). Pallamary returned to the 2000 Entheobotany conference, but Terence was too ill at this point to attend; he recounts a conversation with Lorenzo Hagerty (who you’ll know as the host of the Psychedelic Salon podcast) where they reminisced about Terence’s absence, noting, “we all knew that if it hadn’t been for Terence, most of us would not have come to the tribe.” Look back for another post after I meet with Matt in June. 

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  11. It’s not often that I encounter explicit support for (or even mention of) Terence’s argument (in Food of the Gods, Chapter 7), against R. Gordon Wasson and others, that the soma plant of the Vedas, ritually consumed by the ancient ṛṣis (“rishis”–Vedic seers) was a species of Psilocybe mushroom (Wasson, of course, argued that it was an Amanita muscaria). However, in an endnote to his bestselling The Heart of the World: A Journey to Tibet’s Lost Paradise, Ian Baker does just that. [Here’s a short clip of Terence talking about soma and its potential relationship to the Zoroastrian haoma, which is identified as the harmaline-containing Peganum harmala (aka Syrian Rue); and here’s a talk by Baker that some may find interesting on the use of mercury among alchemical practitioners in present-day Burma.] 

  12. In Acid Christ: Ken Kesey, LSD, and the Politics of Ecstasy, Mark Christensen offers one of the strangest McKenna quotes to date (an idea that just seems patently wrong on its face, on all accounts, no matter how I spin it). 

  13. Ok, we’re getting near the end…. Penultimately, I received another very rare and hand-bound publication directly from the artist/editor (published in a series of 200), which includes an interview with Terence from 1996. I’m hoping to do a series of email dialogues with both of the editors soon, so won’t say too much now in anticipation of a future blog post entirely devoted to this. However, I thought it worth at least including in the record of the week’s haul. In the meantime, enjoy this interview with Ken Weathersby and David Keith, founding editors of Hootenanny, which includes details about the unique nature of the publication and some reminiscences of their meeting with TM. 

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  14. And, finally, for this week, I received a copy of Paul Krassner‘s Murder at the Conspiracy Convention and Other American Absurdities. Krassner includes the same piece, “Further Weirdness with Terence McKenna” (under the section heading “Several Dead Friends”) that also appears in his books Magic Mushrooms and Other Highs and Sex, Drugs, and the Twinkie Murders (although the edits do appear to be slightly different each time and the latter two books include an extended Q&A session (“in person and by e-mail”) that is not included in Murder at the Conspiracy ConventionIMG_0604IMG_0605IMG_0606

Whew! That was quite an intake for the Terence McKenna Archives for the week. As always, if you have any materials that you would like to contribute to the archive, please send an email to terencemckennaarchives@gmail.com, and if you would like to donate to help assist with the acquisition effort, for now, use the Paypal link at the Terence McKenna Transcription Project website (and include a note with your donation that says “for archival acquistion” or the like). In the coming months, there will be a crowdfunding campaign for the Archive. So, please do follow this blog to keep up-to-date on even further weirdness with Terence McKenna…