A Psychonaut’s Guide to the Invisible Landscape by Dan Carpenter

Originally published in 2006 ‘A Psychonaut’s Guide to the Invisible Landscape: The Topography of the Psychedelic Experience’ is written by Dan Carpenter. The book details the thirteen high-dose experiences the author had with dextromethorphan (DXM) between January 2003 and July 2004.

This book stands in the shadow of Terence McKenna’s famous call-to-arms for psychonauts to record their experiences—to create topographies and cartographies of their invisible landscapes. Dan Carpenter’s thirteen high-dose experiences with DXM are the building blocks of a universe through which the reader is led and the elements that inhabit this land are the symbols that lend meaning to the landscape. “The fact that one’s awareness can leave the body completely intact and coherent is incontestable to me—and my testimony will have to do as far as proof for scientific scrutiny” (Carpenter 2006, xvi). The out-of-body experience (OBE) has been discussed in reference to a number of psychedelics before but it is especially prescient for the dissociative class, in which DXM can be categorised.

“I discovered that we humans have many defenses even in our most rational states, tangled up in our feelings. It’s the ego—self-validating its existence in a feedback loop. The idea that any emotions might be superfluous is argued away by the ego automatically when called into question. (Perhaps you are feeling that now while reading this?)” (Carpenter 2006, 31)

Ever since the English author Aldous Huxley wrote his famous cartographical analogy for the mind in his book Heaven and Hell (1956), two elements have subsequently become important components for psychedelic theories. The first is dealing with the mind in terms of a space one is able to explore and map, which is evident from both McKenna and Carpenter. The second is the role of the ‘ego’. The psychedelic ego is supposedly a problematic within the psychedelic experience. It represents the ‘self’ so far as ‘self’ is constituted by the evolutionary, social and cultural arrangements of one’s existence. The intention, therefore, is to overcome this ordinary experience and ‘free’ one’s awareness in order to explore the invisible landscape (this often is described as a sort of universal self).

In Trip Six there is a section called The Pool of Awareness: “It was awareness flowing down into a collection pool, which then seemed to flow out again into openings leading deeper into “subterranean” depths… [t]his is what got me thinking about the human race as an It not a We” (Carpenter 2006, 56).  The individuated ego is quite literally subsumed into a collective, at times depersonalized, construct. As Carpenter overcomes the ego dimension of awareness, the subjected character becomes an object of perception from a place outside the ego construct. Indeed, the body is often frozen out of the picture completely as the dissociated awareness perceives non-materially.

“I was frozen on my side, legs like boards, and a new vision descended. The paneled [sic] wall of the room became a forest. From it emerged a “witch” (the feeling was of a female demigod). She was laughing and definitely zeroing in on me—and getting a kick out of my situation! Then she said: “Comes the sprite!”” (Carpenter 2006, 95)

One of the great strengths of this book is Carpenters ability to reimagine some of the classic psychedelic motifs within the context of his own experiences of DXM. His development of such ideas as ‘the hive’, which is the complex space beyond, inhabited by such entities as the dead, neatly creates the framework for communicating Carpenter’s description of his accumulative experiences. Whether or not what he describes has an ontologically distinct existence, or if the imagery is merely psychological apparitions, the project remains valuable. Not only does it provide pharmacography with a uniquely imaginal dimension, it relates to the reader a landscape that can be explored by anyone. Even if the aesthetics are themselves individuated, our ability to enter and navigate the self through psychedelics remains and it is this ability, coupled with the many methods and catalysts, that underlines the invisible landscape and the recording project.


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