‘The Acid Diaries – A Psychonaut’s Guide to the History and Use of LSD’ by Christopher Gray was originally published in the UK by Vision under the title ‘The Acid: On sustained experiment with lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD’ in 2009. The author sadly passed away last year but fortunately this extraordinarily insightful book is being republished by Park Street Press, in November 2010.
Christopher Gray (1942-2009) first came to prominence in the 1960s for his involvement with, and text translations of, the Situationist International. During his formative lifetime he saw himself, politically, as being part of the New Left – a movement, in many ways, entwined with the counterculture. Having travelled extensively, he eventually settled back down in the UK with his wife and child. The book picks up with Gray post-divorce and pushing retirement age, in a time of personal crisis. He finds himself drawn into the psychonautic world of LSD, something he’d not considered since its 1960s heyday, but through which he saw a possible salvation for himself.
The Acid Diaries is a potent mixture of psychedelic threads. Broadly speaking, it is a genuinely engaging attempt at synthesizing psychological, political and spiritual discourse within psychedelia. The basic framework is centred around his own trip journal, which he quotes Terence McKenna as saying is an important method for the psychonaut. However, in using the backdrop of his own life, and reports from other notable sources (like Charles Hayes’ Tripping,) Gray produces a succinct argument for the repoliticization of psychedelics; along the lines of their spiritual and psychologically demonstrated attributes.
As Gray notes: “The concept of deconditioning was at the heart of the New Left” and “if any single feature set ‘60s and ‘70s radicalism apart from any previous insurrectionary politics, it was the insistence that individual subjectivity had to be transformed”. During the course of the book Gray begins to see LSD at being at the heart of this process. The slow passing of the counterculture, its last coffin nails seemingly hammered in by 1980s neo-Conservativism, and the recent, so-called, “psychedelic renaissance” is a potent metaphor that resonates along all three threads of the book; not least along his own life.
The exploration begins with Gray’s re-reading of Stanislav Grof’s Realms of the Human Unconscious, which has since been republished as LSD: Doorway to the Numinous. Grof’s model of the psychedelic experience is a central study within text. In coming to various new understandings of himself, he corresponds the experience of his LSD trips alongside the descriptions given by Grof, which in effect gives the novel its theoretical grounding. Gray also discusses Masters and Houston’s Varieties of the Psychedelic Experience, published in 1966. The outcome of examining these models biographically is a startling personalization of theory that creates a very clear and sympathetic relationship with the reader.
The locations and setting of many of his trips are in London and there are some very picturesque passages, as he roams the parks and woods of the capital. Yet, the insights of the world were always tinged with a political edginess – a touch of Marxist alienation perhaps. Walking through London, during rush hour, tripping with the content focused on death: “They were all young men and woman, in what should have been the pride of youth – falling in love, wanting to hitch around South America, afire with new ideas – and here they were shuffling along like tired old people, with the last bit of fight long kicked out of them”. Though LSD began to put his own psychological problems into focus, it simultaneously did so on society as well.
Yet whilst Gray could more readily assimilate his insights into society, through his own understanding and political position, he struggled more to comprehend the transpersonal nature of the psychedelic experience: “For I was being taught from the inside, as it were; as though I had looked something up in an encyclopaedia, but instead of reading the entry, I was actually experiencing it. The text was lived existential states”. The idea that language/information is the very stuff of nature and experience is an increasingly popular line of exploration in psychedelic studies. Literarily speaking, however, Gray does an extraordinary job at elucidating the problems of his “lived existential state”. This, again, is at the heart of his deconditioning argument.
In the end, the argument follows that the New Left, rather than being an inherently atheistic stance – inherited from some Marxist conception of history – is better off becoming a “sacramental vision of reality”. And that “it is here that the much-aligned “recreational” quality of psychedelics suddenly takes on a surprising spiritual originality. Because psychedelics are basically an adventure – an adventure in a world without any. Because, despite the hair-raising moments, they are fun. They are celebratory. They reveal their own incandescent spirituality, and their anarchism is something that cannot be defended against. They get in under the atheist radar…”. So, in Gray’s argument, whilst multiculturalism openly contrasts religions and consequentially allows them to undermine one another, the psychedelic sacrament pervades all.
In his quest, Gray utilized many important works of psychedelic literature, which being read through his own narrative sequence of trips, has enabled a fresh look at old material. Whilst, on the one hand, he uses the literature to inform his passage through LSD, he simultaneously challenges it within his own experiential field. His conclusion, as with any good conclusion, is the synthesise of his research into a single new question: “Essentially three factors – God, the world, and the self – confront us. What we have to do is discover the true relation between them. Can the three coincide?”. Truly The Acid Diaries is a return to form for psychedelic literature, not only is it a beautifully written narrative but it’s full for engaging ideas that Gray uses to weave a web of possibility and, ultimately, hope for the future of psychedelics.