Interview with Charles Hayes, author of Tripping – Part 2

In part 2 of PsypressUK’s interview with Charles Hayes – editor of Tripping –  we’re going to take a look at some of the literature that first inspired him and also examine his thoughts on some of the different sub-genres of psychedelic writing.

There are a number of standard books, as there is in any genre, that one should read to best acquaint oneself with the wide scope of psychedelic literature (psy-lit). These books, and the authors who wrote them, often become the benchmark by which ones able to discover ones particular angle of personal interest. A number of authors, mentioned by Charles as inspirations for his own interest, highlight this phenomena. They also serve as an excellent way to begin to categorize the sub-genres of psy-lit.

“Where psychedelic literature works best, for instance in its most classic tome ‘The Doors of Perception,’ is it’s application of erudition, wisdom from the ages (including botany, anthropology, sociology of religion, history, etc.) poetic intuition, and scientific method.”

Aldous Huxley (1894 – 1963) is a writer best known for his dystopian novel Brave New World and his experiments, and related works, concerned with hallucinogenics. He is widely regarded as one of the first psy-writers to apply the ‘scientific method’ in his work and, whilst retaining a strong element of philosophical mysticism, essays like The Doors of Perception remain key introductory texts to the objective, scientific, sub-genre of psy-lit.

This objectivity was also woven by Huxley into his fiction. ‘The island’ in particular typifies this with it’s bridge between Eastern mysticism and Western science, and it’s clash of modernity and tradition. But the question at its core isn’t ‘can hallucinogens be used to the benefit of society?’ The question, interestingly, is: ‘can the ideal state of ‘peace’ that they might help create co-exist with states without this formula?’ It’s benefit is often a presumed given by many psy-lit authors.

Consequentially, this form of psy-lit fiction becomes, scientifically speaking, a form of political and social philosophy and embodies discourse and speculation in the possibilities of hallucinogen research. Utopian/dystopian discourse is an important meta-theme throughout the genre. As regards the possibilities of hallucinogens Charles told PsypressUK:

“The more people who can attain a positive visionary state via a sacred or psychedelic drug, the more reasonable and mutualistic our society will grow – I have hopes that our society will accept and ultimately embrace the judicious use of psychedelics, but I think it will require a steady campaign of sound, transparent medical science & research to remove the judicial and attitudinal obstacles.”

Charles HayesThe more ‘subjective’ approach to psy-lit tends to be marginalized academically. As Charles notes this is “because much of it – with rare exception – is pie-in-the-sky, speculative, outlandish, unscientific and, frankly, wacky and easily dismissed.” However, Charles does mention a number of ‘subjective writers’ among his list of inspirations.

Most notably are some works by the New Journalists Tom Wolfe (b. 1931) and Hunter S. Thompson (1937 – 2005). New Journalism applies a subjective context in it’s method of investigation; where the journalist puts himself at the centre of his story. Proponents like Thompson used drugs as a way of inducing an abstract perspective that acted not only as a theme in the narrative but as a way to distinguish their art from the a-typical journalistic method of objectivity.

“Hunter S. Thompson was a great journalist and a hell of a character, but if you isolate his passages about drug use, there are plenty of cautionary lessons to take away from the exercise – It seems to me [he] misused drugs, even if he did write about it so hilariously and, to some extent, insightfully. I still love the guy and mourn his loss, but he was very childish and narcissistic to a fault.”

Another writer who embraces the subject/object dichotomy in his work and for whom Charles holds in high regard, including featuring an interview with him in ‘Tripping: An anthology of true-life psychedelic experiences’ is Terence McKenna (1946 – 2000). In many respects Mckenna represents a bridge whereby the subjective experience itself is objectified; not as an absolute truth but as a reasonable, academic, perspective.

“I think Terence McKenna was certainly on to something trying to so loquaciously interpret the ontology and epistemological significance of the ‘self-transforming machine elves’ he genuinely encountered so often on tryptamines. He did this in a scientific, speculative, and even ironic and self-depreciating way.”

Arguably these attempts by McKenna have given rise to a more acute and, as Charles noted, speculative form of psy-lit. The premise of which is not an objectification but an actualization of their subjective experience. The academic method is then employed on various elements of culture and history by way of justification for the said actualization.

“The known universe is already weird and miraculous enough without aliens in a parallel world or preparing for the alleged ‘End of History’ in December 2012 – I agree with Brian Eno’s statement that New Age music “doesn’t ask any questions.” There’s no tension, no antithesis to the thesis and thus no synthesis, no dark side to the soul to incorporate (as Carl Jung and Norman Mailer urged us so eloquently to do.)”

What can be, partially, described as New Age in psy-lit can certainly be categorized as the ‘religious movement’ within the genre; as being defined as proposing to contain an absolute truth. It appears then that without the clash between the subject and object that we so often find in psy-lit, when the experience is taken for an actualization and henceforth a form of absolute truth, then there is a serious danger that it risks stagnation as it fails to evolve and adapt with the times.

This is surely the kind of dogma that Charles had in mind when he told PsypressUK that whilst he thought hallucinogens might benefit society “we should resist the temptation to inflict our psychedelic, or otherwise given insight and wisdom on others.”

Revelationary books proposing absolute truth, in any genre, demand a systematic process of re-perspectivization. As a literary method, revelation is suited on many levels to psy-lit, as the necessary basis of both narratives have such similar structural premises and intertextuality in content (in terms of constructing an alternative perspective.) This correlation forms the basis for a multitude of similar narratives within Psy-lit.

We have only touched upon a few of the many different sub-genres of psychedelic literature there are in existence, but we’ve begun to formulate some ideas about how they act in relation to one another and, perhaps more importantly, how a multiverse of understanding can arise from them. PsypressUK would like to say a big thank you to Charles for answering our questions; it was a pleasure.

To get a personally inscribed copy of Charles’ book ‘Tripping: An anthology of true-life psychedelic experiences’ head to his website:

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1 Response

  1. Michael Banks says:

    what a great interview! charles hayes speaks with thoughtful maturity that isn’t readily associated with psychedelic experience. clearly an intelligent gent! much obliged Psypress UK – keep up the good work.

    also ‘loquaciously’ is a fantastic word!

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