Friday, 25 September 2009

"Those Folds in the Trousers..."

I have just finished reading Aldous Huxley's "The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell", a book I have been meaning to get around to for some time, after all, it gave The Doors their name and as someone with plenty of experience of hallucinations and mind altering experiences, I wanted to investigate what is considered a key tome in the genre.

I was not disappointed, for it gives the reader so much, including the seminal idea of Istigkeit, or is-ness, the idea that 'it just is' and that through this is-ness one can gain a sense of being in the object or thing that just is.

To be clear, "The Doors of Perception" details the author's experiences of taking mescaline and offers a crucial insight into mind-altering experiences. It famously charts Huxley's reaction to the legs of a chair, where he muses:
"I spent several minutes, or was it several centuries, not merely gazing at those bamboo legs but actually being them, or rather being myself in them; or to be still more accurate (for 'I' was not involved in the case, nor in the certain sense were 'they') being my Not-self in the Not-self which was the chair."
But it is the section where he become entranced by the folds of his own trousers that I truly shared a eureka moment with Huxley, a re-remembering of the positives from my own experiments with an alternate way of viewing things, to invest those things with new values and to discover, as described in relation to the chair leg, being myself in them.

From here Huxley departs on a fascinating tangent that is further developed in the following book "Heaven and Hell", which is that it is in humankind's representations of fabrics that the true vision of art is to be found, in that, arts love for drapery for its own sake, or rather for their own sake. Humanity's transcendence is to be found in these non-representational and unconditional forms that enable true expression. It is those things which are charged with is-ness.

The accompanying slim volume "Heaven and Hell" further distills the thoughts in it's experiential predecessor, which divests transcendental powers to humanity's obsession with jewels as means by which alternate states can be reached; alongside more prosaic methods as fasting, solitary confinement, fireworks and throwing oneself about in order to reach otherness and thus is-ness.

Huxley also leaves us with two fascinating ideas in "Heaven and Hell", the first is that heaven only exists in the minds of many as a vantage point to look down on those below, so in doing so the relationship between heaven and hell is symbiotic and self-referential, one can only exist without the other and that heaven would not be heaven if it did not have hell and also some sort of middle ground for it to be heavenly in relation to, the same of course goes for any concept of hell.

Secondly, Huxley touches on his understanding of schizophrenia, which is all about perception of what is, in that the illumination of is-ness is infernal in it's intensity and that added to this is the horror of infinity; a revelation of the universal system, the cosmic mechanism which exists to grind out guilt, punishment, solitude and unreality. This seems to be a very close friend of Sartre's nausea.

And just as Sartre teaches us how to engage and channel this nausea, Huxley makes the valid point that:
"Sanity is a matter of degree and there are plenty of visionaries who see the world of the schizophrenic but contrive none the less to live outside of the asylum."


  1. I had some very interesting epiphanies while under the influence of DXM, the dissociative drug in cough syrup that is related in class to LSD, I believe.

    Some things I learned I'd rather just forget. :)

  2. I often look at our fifteen-year-old paper girls and imagine what it is like to be in them...

    But yeah, if you think about stuff, things become very deep, man. Philosophy is great if you've got the time to sit on your behind and pondering the inponderable.

    I am more interested in the idea of "the now". There are times, usually in stressful situations, that you notice the nowness of the moment. Time slows down, the details become apparent and you can see the details in life. We often pass through at such speed that we don't notice a lot of what is going on. Wait a minute, I'm heading in Gurdieff and Bennett's territory here.

    But the "isness" can be recreated without drugs. On a summer morning, rise with the dawn and go into an open public space and stand. Do nothing. Things will become apparent. The same can be said at night, late, alone. When the psychic chatter of our fellow man and the noise pollution from modern life has ebbed away, just stop. Then there's the nowness. The coldness of the air inside your lungs, the previously foreign sounds you haven't noticed, the pulse in your temple. The now.

    I always remember the last interview that Dennis Potter gave before he died and he turned me onto this feeling of nowness. He was dying, and he knew it, but for him the perception of his life had changed. He remembered looking out of the window of his study and noticing the blossom on the trees. It was spring and this would be the last spring he would face, and the last time he would see the blossom. And because he knew that this was his last time, he could actually "see" the blossom. That's nowness.

    A tip: when in London - look up. No-one ever looks up in London - there are angels in the architecture.

  3. I have The Doors of Perception as an audiobook, but I've not got around to listening to it...I must do that, as someone who hasn't been near any mind-altering hallucinogens!

  4. M@: Indeed comrade, indeed. And you never answered my question, any DC tips?

    Beth: get listening, cracking bit of work.

    Darren: I agree totally, is-ness has nothing to do with drugs alone, the aim to to get it without drugs I think.

    And I agree also about your comment re: London, indeed many UK cities, look about the shitty shop fronts and take in the sights.


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