Timothy Leary: Back In The Mainstream

Leary at peace rally with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Photo: Roy Kerwood (CC)

Leary recording 'Give Peace a Chance' with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Photo: Roy Kerwood (CC)

He may have turned on, tuned in and dropped out, losing his post as a Harvard professor and instead becoming an icon of ’60s counterculture, but Timothy Leary has finally (and posthumously) made it back into the mainstream. The New Yorker details the acquisition of his archives by the New York Public Library:

Sitting in a storage complex in Long Island City, waiting to be sorted and processed, are several hundred boxes that make up the complete archive of Dr. Timothy Leary, the Harvard psychologist turned fugitive drug propagandist. The material was recently acquired from Leary’s estate by the Manuscripts and Archives Division of the New York Public Library, whose collection includes Mesopotamian clay tablets from the third millennium B.C.; documents from America’s founding, including a handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson; letters and manuscripts by Hawthorne, Melville, Mencken; the papers of Fiorello LaGuardia and Robert Moses; and the archives of this magazine.

Against this eminent backdrop, Leary, who was labeled by Richard Nixon (albeit with some hyperbole) “the most dangerous man in America,” seems an odd fit. His notoriety began with his controversial stewardship of the Harvard Psilocybin Project, which in 1960 commenced a series of experiments into the effects and therapeutic potential of hallucinogens. The increasingly loose and unorthodox methodology of this analysis virtually eliminated the distinction between experimenter and subject, and Leary’s handling of the drugs was cavalier, to say the least. “Would you be willing to meet this guy for a drink, size him up and then if you think he is a swinger, make arrangements to give him mushrooms?” he wrote to a colleague in 1961. “As a pharmacist he might teach us a lot.” Allen Ginsberg took notice, and initiated Leary into the cultural cognoscenti. They gave psilocybin to Robert Lowell (to no great effect), and before long Ginsberg was writing Leary to ask, “Do you want I should take on Monk or Franz Kline or De Kooning?”

The project’s lack of discretion and diminishing credibility aroused the ire of the Harvard faculty and student body, resulting in a dispute over its merits that wound up in the pages of the Harvard Crimson and then the national press. By the end of the year, the university had shuttered the project. Defiant, Leary and his chief collaborator, Richard Alpert, defended their work in a letter to the Crimson. “A major civil liberties issue of the next decade will be the control and expansion of consciousness,” they declared. “Who controls your cortex? Who decides on the range and limits of your awareness? If you want to research your own nervous system, expand your consciousness, who is to decide that you can’t and why?” Both were soon out of a job…

[continues in the New Yorker]

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  • Guest

    I’ve tried Peace and wanted to “Believe” in it but as a Nihilist I simply “Know” that Peace is an unnatural state for Life itself. Sometimes you have to Kill to preserve what is worth preserving and that’s OK.

  • Guest

    I’ve tried Peace and wanted to “Believe” in it but as a Nihilist I simply “Know” that Peace is an unnatural state for Life itself. Sometimes you have to Kill to preserve what is worth preserving and that’s OK.

    • WarisInevitable

      Your post isn’t exactly related to the subject at hand, but I agree.  

      When a criminal breaks in your home and attempts to rape your wife, it’s your duty to fuck him up.  Or, debilitate him humanely… ;)

      Irrational preemptive strikes and arguments aside, war is justifiable.  Not all wars, but wars in self-defense.  

      • Guest

        To elaborate .. Leary was perhaps THE Primer for the 60’s Peace Movement and his fatal flaw was Peace in and of itself. That is ultimately why only Psychedelics and Historical Items from his collection will be re-introduced to the mainstream and not Leary’s Literary Works.

        • WarisInevitable

          Yeah.  Timing is strange though.  The media says, “Remember Leary?  Yeah remember him??…Cool…”

          Maybe The Beatles’ sales on i-tunes have taken a recession hit?  

    • Andrew

      If you were really a Nihilist you wouldn’t believe anything was worth preserving.

      • Guest

        lol … I digress.

    • JoiquimCouteau

      You mean, based on your personal experience overlaid upon a misguided view of ‘human nature’ you make these assumptions. 

      • Guest

        Have you ever held the still beating heart of an animal, you’ve slaughtered, in your hands? Human beings have K9 teeth and a primal rage to compliment, I was simply never conditioned to suppress that aspect of my Human Nature. Perhaps Leary never knew a man that would venture into the woods with 2 Blood Hounds, a 10″ Blade and to emerge hours later, blood drunk, dragging the carcass of a Wild Boar twice his weight, just to know his family would eat that night.

        You and I, we’re from entirely different worlds and I’m not sure we’re even the same species.

        • Liam_McGonagle

          “Have you ever held the still beating heart of an animal you’ve slaughtered in your hands?”

          No, but I have held one in between my feet.  Oh–and slaughtered animals with my feet, too, if that’s what you’re getting at.

          WTF was THAT supposed to be? A rejected entry in the Bulwer-Lytton contest?

          http://www.bulwer-lytton.com/

          Now if you was merely joking, I withdraw the comment.  That gaffe above was positively the funniest thing I’ve read all year.

          • Guest

            “That gaffe above was positively the funniest thing I’ve read all year.”

            It gets those would be creative juices flowing to feed the pen a little prop of blood in its fight against the sword, doesn’t it. Fascinatingly naive and quite telling remark … thank you for that but find someone else to try and figure out.

            Figure this out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQSjyYRTDVM

    • http://twitter.com/cybershoggoth Jonathan Smythe

      t may be for you for you but some people are civilized.

  • WarisInevitable

    Your post isn’t exactly related to the subject at hand, but I agree.  

    When a criminal breaks in your home and attempts to rape your wife, it’s your duty to fuck him up.  Or, debilitate him humanely… ;)

    Irrational preemptive strikes and arguments aside, war is justifiable.  Not all wars, but wars in self-defense.  

  • Guest

    To elaborate .. Leary was perhaps THE Primer for the 60’s Peace Movement and his fatal flaw was Peace in and of itself. That is ultimately why only Psychedelics and Historical Items from his collection will be re-introduced to the mainstream and not Leary’s Literary Works.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not sure I have this 100% verbatim, but Leary’s response to Nixon’s “most dangerous man in America” quote was something to the effect:

    “That’s right–and I have America surrounded.”

    It’s hillarious in it’s koan-like absurdity, yet it’s also literally true.  Consensus materialist philosophy has its uses, but it’s only a tiny island in the vast sea of consciousness.

  • Liam_McGonagle

    I’m not sure I have this 100% verbatim, but Leary’s response to Nixon’s “most dangerous man in America” quote was something to the effect:

    “That’s right–and I have America surrounded.”

    It’s hillarious in it’s koan-like absurdity, yet it’s also literally true.  Consensus materialist philosophy has its uses, but it’s only a tiny island in the vast sea of consciousness.

  • Andrew

    If you were really a Nihilist you wouldn’t believe anything was worth preserving.

  • Anonymous

    You mean, based on your personal experience overlaid upon a misguided view of ‘human nature’ you make these assumptions. 

  • Guest

    lol … I digress.

  • Guest

    Have you ever held the still beating heart of an animal, you’ve slaughtered, in your hands? Human beings have K9 teeth and a primal rage to compliment, I was simply never conditioned to suppress that aspect of my Human Nature. Perhaps Leary never knew a man that would venture into the woods with 2 Blood Hounds, a 10″ Blade and to emerge hours later, blood drunk, dragging the carcass of a Wild Boar twice his weight, just to know his family would eat that night.

    You and I, we’re from entirely different worlds and I’m not sure we’re even the same species.

  • Anonymous

    “Have you ever held the still beating heart of an animal you’ve slaughtered in your hands?”

    No, but I have held one in between my feet.  Oh–and slaughtered animals with my feet, too, if that’s what you’re getting at.

    WTF was THAT supposed to be? A rejected entry in the Bulwer-Lytton contest?

    http://www.bulwer-lytton.com/

    Now if you was merely joking, I withdraw the comment.  That gaffe above was positively the funniest thing I’ve read all year.

  • Guest

    “That gaffe above was positively the funniest thing I’ve read all year.”

    It gets those would be creative juices flowing to feed the pen a little prop of blood in its fight against the sword, doesn’t it. Fascinatingly naive and quite telling remark … thank you for that but find someone else to try and figure out.

    Figure this out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQSjyYRTDVM

  • WarisInevitable

    Yeah.  Timing is strange though.  The media says, “Remember Leary?  Yeah remember him??…Cool…”

    Maybe The Beatles’ sales on i-tunes have taken a recession hit?  

  • http://twitter.com/cybershoggoth Jonathan Smythe

    t may be for you for you but some people are civilized.

  • http://twitter.com/cybershoggoth Jonathan Smythe

    This article is highly misleading. Leary had his faults like everyone else, but you neglect to mention that he was jailed for political reasons. So much for the US justice system.

    There may have been good reasons for Leary wanting his ‘research’ to escape from the narrow confines of academia. 

    Harvard now boasts Alan Derschowitz, a known plagiarist and fraud, but he manages to keep his post

  • http://twitter.com/cybershoggoth Jonathan Smythe

    This article is highly misleading. Leary had his faults like everyone else, but you neglect to mention that he was jailed for political reasons. So much for the US justice system.

    There may have been good reasons for Leary wanting his ‘research’ to escape from the narrow confines of academia. 

    Harvard now boasts Alan Derschowitz, a known plagiarist and fraud, but he manages to keep his post

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