The Museum Dose by Daniel Tumbleweed
The books I most enjoy reviewing are those that turn up unannounced on my doorstep. Books that haven’t been heavily marketed on the fact that you’re already aware of the majority of their content, or that slip into a reading category so rigid and pre-defined that its content is predictable – sold because the publisher knows the audience already exists. Hardly the apogee for art.
However, when they materialise on my doorstep it’s like receiving a hand-written letter in a script you don’t recognise, and you know some real personal effort has been made to connect, and suddenly intrigue and fascination become the opening sentence. And so it was that I received The Museum Dose: 12 Experiments in Pharmacologically Mediated Aesthetics (2015) by Daniel Tumbleweed.
The ‘curator’ of this book, J. P. Harpignies, writes in his introduction that it is, ‘a search for meaning and a place in the world of a young man on the cusp of true adulthood in the context of the crushing alienation and the infinite possibilities of the modern megalopolis.’ And, moreover, that the book, ‘is also a quintessential New York book, a heartfelt paean to the city’s pulse and its infinite layers.’
In many respects this rings very true; it is an account of a young man, in the full flushes of experimentation, who finds himself out in the big city under the influence of psychoactive substances. Yet, if it were only this, it could easily be shelved alongside a thousand other such works that are the acute, and oft times naive, grunts about the difficult passage to adulthood. The Museum Dose, however, is no simple outpouring of heartache. Tumbleweed has constructed a thoughtful and culturally prescient text that belongs suitably to the twenty-first century.
The book is split into 12 chapters or ‘experiments’. Each describes Tumbleweed on a psychedelically-underscored journey into the various cultural happenings of his city. One of the major innovations of, not only drug culture broadly, but specifically here in a literary sense, is the type of psychoactive substances that the author used on his jaunts. Now this reviewer has always prized himself with already having an affinity with many of the substances authors discuss, so it is with some sense of trepidation that he finds some more worthwhile adventuring in the near future enclosed in these pages.
While I’m sure many readers here will have a very varied psychonautical history, at seeing the term 4-HO-DiPT I couldn’t help but think of an Egyptian pharaoh, yet this is far from an archaic chemical… in fact, it’s a TiHKAL chemical. Tumbleweed takes 15mg and goes to see the music and decor of Om: At Giza in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. He writes:
‘The light in the room had been a piercing whitish yellow, but as the sun sank closer to the tops of distant skyscrapers, its light broke apart as through a prism, traversing gradients of red, ruddy orange, and a spectrum of citrusy yellows. The light caught the temple, illuminating the hieroglyphics scrawled over its surface. Some of these symbols had of course been eroded by time and weather, but many still remained surprisingly crisp and clear.’
I once had the joy of the Van Gogh museum in a bemushroomed state and had found the whole experience particularly illuminating so far as an appreciation of a different quality was allowed. Similarly, Tumbleweed begins to experience dimensions of art anew, and also his relationship with whatever he views and, perhaps most importantly, the crowd who he ambles among. He quite beautifully balances the newness of his awareness with the full surround-sound experience, which is always underscored by his place within it, and the question of his place within the world is carefully juxtaposed with his relationship with others in the crowd.
Ultimately, the book appears to say, in what is a long tradition of art criticism, is that life is art; it is ones relationship with what one views, who one views it with, and how one is made to feel. What one might call the extravagance of doing this mediated by psychoactive substances is the question of relationships that underscores ‘life is art’. Self and object, self as viewer, self as crowd. Questions raised by psychedelic experiences, and questions raised by art appreciation, become wonderfully entangled, and Tumbleweed certainly goes a step towards illuminating the psychedelic aesthetic that is life.
A museum dose is a level at which life is not transcended, or obliterated, but rather explored, challenged, and reinterpreted, and this is the very strength of this book.