Archive for June 18th, 2019

Dropping acid with Michel Foucault

Tuesday, June 18th, 2019
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What is it like to drop acid with Michel Foucault? Now there’s a whole book to tell you about the renowned French theorist’s rendezvous with LSD in 1975. From Los Angeles Review of Books‘ review of Simeon Wade’s Foucault in California (Heyday). The location, of all places, is Death Valley:

After picking up Foucault at the airport, Wade drives to his house, where the philosopher is treated to Tequila Sunrises and a small bowl of hashish. After a light dinner, [Wade’s friend Michael] Stoneman “sat down at the Yamaha grand and gave us a spirited reading of Scriabin’s Tenth Sonata, a work of pure sorcery.” The evening’s activities break the ice, making the French guest feel at home. After a few hours of slumber, the trio rise at dawn in order to reach the high desert before midday.

Wade, who has not yet mentioned the idea of taking LSD, finally decides to broach the delicate subject during the drive: “[W]e brought a powerful elixir, a kind of philosopher’s stone Michael happened upon. We thought you might enjoy a visionary quest in Death Valley.” Given that Foucault was not fluent in English, it is unclear if he really knew what Wade was talking about. Wade’s account of the events leading up to the trip has the air of a “kiss and tell” memoir, but in this case the act described is not sex with a celebrity but taking psychedelic drugs in an exotic locale. Every moment leading up to the hallucinogenic climax is described in lavish detail.

Author and subject.

When the trio finally reach Death Valley, they hike down to the Artists’ Palette, an alluvial fan at the base of a canyon. The moment of truth occurs when Stoneman produces the LSD and Foucault uncharacteristically freaks out: “Foucault appeared troubled and with grim countenance […] walked away.” Wade is forced to admit that his elaborate plan might be ruined; the last thing he and Stoneman wanted was a bad trip under the hot Death Valley sun. “We both knew that the potion taken under any kind of duress can discompose the unwilling. We certainly would not wish to force anything upon Michel.” When Foucault finally returns, he declares “with quizzical eyes that he wishe[s] to take only half as much, since this is his first experience with a potion so powerful.”

This was the response that Wade had feared the most: although Foucault had described the effects of LSD in one of his essays, he had never actually taken the drug. Wade and Stoneman were surprised because Foucault was a follower of Nietzsche who had always expressed a keen interest in all things Dionysian. Perhaps to save face, the philosopher, after a lengthy bout of indecision, asks Stoneman about the proper way of ingesting it. Much to Wade’s delight, the LSD plot is on again.

Read the whole thing here.