The Invisible Landscape by Dennis & Terence McKenna
When this book was first published in 1975 it remained for a long time an obscure and little known pseudo-scientific oddity. In psychedelic circles however it gained an increasingly mythical status and as rumour of this rare book spread, alongside an increasingly vocal Terence McKenna, the pressures for a re-publication finally broke in 1993, when HarperCollins took the job on.
Written by two brothers, Dennis and Terence McKenna, ‘The Invisible Landscape’ attempts to do two quite different approaches as far as psychedelic literature goes. The book is split into two major sections: Part 1, entitled ‘Mind, Molecules and Magic’, is largely the work of Dennis and part 2, entitled ‘Time, Change and Becoming’ is Terence’s half of the book. I will briefly say a little about both and how they fit into the larger schema of psychedelic literature.
Part 1 investigates, analyses and speculates on several areas that have already been touched upon by the genre. For example, schizophrenia, which in many respects is a continuation of work like the essay “Psychosis: “experimental” and real” by Joe K. Adams that appeared in the Psychedelic Review in the early 1960s. However, the framework of the investigation has moved on slightly to reflect the specific entry into psychedelic knowledge that the McKenna’s experienced during their famous mushroom trip in La Chorrea. (See ‘True Hallucinations’)
Primarily, what their experience in La Chorrea gave the McKenna’s was a geographically new background, i.e. South America and more specifically, a historical entry of inquiry via the shamanic use of psychedelics and their place within ‘primitive’ societies. Dennis uses these entries points to create an academic conception of the ideas that surrounded their ‘experiment in La Chorrea.’
“Shamanism and the experiment at La Chorrea are not merely theoretical aberrations but are precursors of the ways and means by which consciousness will eventually organize its dominants to overthrow the modern ontology of reductionism and arise reborn in an atemporalized and holistic mode of understanding.” (1993: P.208)
The book isn’t purely a socio-historical evaluation. One needs to bare in mind that Dennis was a scientist, so therefore we also see an attempt “toward a holographic theory of mind”. How successful he was, is perhaps not the remit of this literary review but suffice to say that it provides ‘The Invisible Landscape’ and psychedelic literature in general with a (pseudo) scientific basis.
Part 2, ‘Time, Change and Becoming’, is a very different prospect however. It is no merely a “towards a theory” premise, it is the extrapolation of what Terence McKenna believed to be a working mathematical theory of time, history and a concept he introduces called “novelty”. It not only provides a historical link, within psychedelic literature, between Eastern and South American influences but also began the manifestation of psychedelic literature’s interest in the date 2012, which is so prevalent nowadays.
The ‘Novelty Theory’ is the information, or psychedelic knowledge if you will, that came out as a consequence of the experiment at La Chorrea but also, more importantly, from Terence’s dealings with the ancient Chinese divinatory tool, the I Ching. Built from 64 lined hexagrams, the method only became widely known to the West less than 100 years before this time, though it had existed since before 2000 BC, in various forms, in China. The King Wen sequence, a specific form, was developed in around 1150 BC and it is this specific sequence that Terence uses in his calculations.
“The I Ching, through its concern with detailing the dynamics of change and process, may hold the key to modelling the temporal dimension that metabolism creates for organisms, the temporal dimension without which mind could not manifest” (1993: P.121)
The key cross-reference point for Terence was astrological timing and through a series of mathematical calculations (which have since been questioned by several mathematicians) he arrived at what he believed was a chart of “novelty” throughout history. This chart, or map and its calculations were fed through a computer and the program was named Timewave Zero.
“Novelty” itself is perhaps best described as akin to ‘originality’ and Timewave Zero plotted the extent to which originality fluctuated over history. In examining the chart there are many uncanny matches between spikes/dips in the chart and important historical events, which ultimately led to “novelty” disappearing off the chart on 21st December 2012. This also happened to be the end date of the Mayan calendar.
The second important investigation in this process to note was an understanding of time through ‘fractals’. This however, is a rather large topic, which I have no room to extrapolate in this review but will be doing a specific analysis of at a later date. Suffice to say, the “novelty” in time is increasing mathematically up to 21st December 2012. As Terence himself notes though, this is uncanny and although he believes his own work may not itself hit the nail on the head, there is certainly something odd at play in the results of the theory.
There are some wonderful linguistic nods in Carlos Castaneda’s direction where Terence uses terms like “crack between world” and “nonordinary reality”, which rubber stamp the move between the I Ching of the East and the shamanic understanding of the Americas. In the end it is these cultural collaborations that the genre of psychedelic literature needed in order to give it a new lease of life and ever since the genre has begun to snowball in the popular sense. Arguably, this is a great work of creative non-fiction but in the end it will be judged on the outcome of the 21st December 2012.