Wildest Dreams: An Anthology of Drug-Related Literature by Richard Rudgley (Ed)

wildest-dreams-rudgleyOriginally published in 1999, compiled and edited by Richard Rudgley, ‘Wildest Dreams – An anthology of drug-related literature’ is nothing if not comprehensive. Ranging from the second to the twentieth century A.D. ‘Wildest Dreams’ is a grand tour of the human relationship with drugs, through the medium of literature.

Richard Rudgley had previously published The Alchemy of Culture: Intoxicants in Society and The Encyclopaedia of Psychoactive Substances before compiling this anthology. His goal is to dispel the belief that “it all started in the Sixties.” What Rudgley manages to do is portray a multiplicity of relationships that point toward a recurrent social phenomena; one which entails negative, objective and positive approaches to drugs.

“The writers have very different takes on the overall theme – some experiences are reported by observers and some by participants, some in sobriety and others in frenzy, guilt or wilful indulgence iced with jet black humour. The anthology, then, takes the form of a chimera, a composite creature made from other texts and other worlds of experience and imagination.”

The anthology is separated into seven parts, which include such titles as ‘Portable Ecstasies’, ‘Extracts of Opium’ and ‘Liquid, Gas, Smoke and Powder’. It includes work from over 50 writers and even includes King James I and his piece ‘A Counter-Blaste to Tobacco’. This division lends itself to different drugs but also to different levels of cultural interpretation, which Rudgley briefly investigates in an introduction to each part.

Although there are many passages you won’t find in other anthologies of drug-related literature there are, of course, some of the staples of the genre. McKenna’s ‘Kathmandu Interlude’ taken from ‘True Hallucinations’, Baudelaire’s ‘The Poem of Hashish’ and an extract from Jean Cocteau’s ‘Opium: Diary of a Cure’ to name but a few. However, these only go to show the lengths Rudgley has gone to give a spectrum of writing.

Spanning such a distance of time and cultures inevitably produces a collection with numerous curiosity texts. For instance, a recipe for an ant-wine aphrodisiac, a study on the preparation of zombie potions and a wonderful piece called The Satanic Nun by Montague Summers. There is, never-the-less, an ambiguity lent to the space of drug-related literature; it sizzles in open and various interpretations.

Certainly one of the most interesting passages is ‘Junking the Image’ by contemporary writer Will Self. Written to celebrate William S. Burroughs’ 80th birthday, it explores the ideas of anti-establishment/establishment writing positions and what they represent for wider culture.

“The truth is that books like ‘Junky’ and De Quincey’s ‘Confessions’ no more create drug addicts than video nasties engender prepubescent murderers. Rather, culture, in this wider sense, is a hall of mirrors in which cause and effect endlessly reciprocate one another in a diminuendo that tends ineluctably toward the trivial.”

Beyond the curiosity, even beyond the readers estimation of skilled and less skilled writers, it is the cultural contexts that makes ‘Wildest Dreams’ an invaluable anthology. One is able to procure a wealth of ideas about how the human relationship with drugs is as dependent on the social background of time and author, as it is on any specific drug itself. It is, to date, the most valuable anthology, currently on the market, which I have read.

Via the House

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