essay: Huxley – The Doors of Perception (1954)

This is one I’ve been putting off reading for years, ever since I reached the conclusion that I’m not really so much a fan of the Doors, maybe one or two albums are alright, but generally, I don’t care. And that book touted as scholarly but sold in every Barnes and Noble discussing Jim Morrison as compared to Rimbaud, I think it’s just a way to stir up some controversy, and make some money by cashing in on the significantly large population of young people who fancy themselves intellectuals because they listen to the Doors and really, really get it. The problem I’d had was that I kept running into these idiots who were convinced that after reading Huxley’s Doors of Perception, they had firmly digested the oeuvre of Blake also, maybe they’d read one of Blake’s early works and contented themselves that this was representative of the whole. And worse yet, the only thing they were able to squeeze out of Huxley was that, well, there’s a smart argument for using drugs, and if you don’t get it, just read this fucking book, okay? He’ll explain it. And essentially, by using drugs, you don’t even need the Doors, or Huxley, or Blake, because you’ve reached the world of the sensual already, through the most powerful medium of all, man, your…I don’t know, eyeballs or something.

I don’t suppose I should have been surprised that this is more like William James showing up to one his lectures a bit in love, and the most fascinating bits are that there was a time when someone took drugs and didn’t just play video games, stand around in 7-11, or hang out with their equally fucked up friends. Instead, he contemplates flowers, and then art, and then classical music. Thankfully he doesn’t do any of this for much more than a few pages, and the rest of the essay is historical, scientific, and when religious or philosophical, hardly different than what Emerson said a hundred years prior at Harvard’s commencement, hardly different than what the wise have known since the beginning of time.

Am I bitter? Yes. Because Huxley notes multiple times that mescaline (see the liner notes in James Taylor’s One Man Dog, in which his song whose only lyrics are ‘mescalito has opened up my mind’ includes a comment that the musicians don’t really agree) offers no negative effects, it brings all users to heaven…except those who have an anxious or depressed disposition, and instead, they will be in absolute hell.

In conclusion: Huxley will always hold a place in my heart since when I was 18 I read Island and, further, believed in it and its condemnation of male orgasm. But I cannot forget his godawful Crome Yellow origins that are perhaps only comparable to Jane Austen as a comedy of manners (no wonder that he was a screenwriter for the 1940 film Pride and Prejudice). I wonder if Huxley is entirely irrelevant? In short, I don’t care, and I’m not going to read the accompanying essay ‘Heaven and Hell’ because I can die contentedly without it.

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3 thoughts on “essay: Huxley – The Doors of Perception (1954)

  1. I think unfortunately you are throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

    Sure some people have negative reactions to psychedelics. But they can also open up the mind in new and amazing ways and my experience of mescaline has been times of life changing realisation about myself and the world. Could it have happened while sober? Sure. But did it happen sober? No.

    They’re not all bad, and can also be very good. That’s my message

    1. You’re missing my point, then, because this isn’t a critique or condemnation of drugs or the experiences one has on them. I’m not even quite sure what conclusion you’ve jumped too, perhaps that because I don’t find this essay especially interesting that I must have an aversion to drugs? honestly, because it should be clear that I only have a problem with people believing they’ve experienced things they never have–Huxley describes mescaline as being useful for opening one’s senses entirely, in the same way autism has been described as doing–but like all spiritual endeavors taken out of context, such as tantra or kabbalah, the results are not nearly as brilliant as they should be. I have a problem with people listening to the Doors and believing they’ve come to understand Blake’s cosmology. That’s my message.

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