• Timothy Leary and the trace of the posthuman

      Stephenson, William; University of Chester (Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2014-07-03)
      If we trace the line of Timothy Leary’s thought from The Politics of Ecstasy to Your Brain is God, he is outlining his programme for social and personal change based on the consumption of psychedelics and the 3-stage process of ‘turn on, tune in, drop out’. And yet, at the same time, he is mapping out a process which has a profound relationship to the shifting concept of the human. Leary’s programme was one which paradoxically urged the reader to re-humanize him or herself by stepping out of preprogrammed social games even to the extent of temporarily destroying the ego under heavy doses of psychedelics, and yet at the same time sketched out an emerging posthuman future, in which the subject in and of ideology (Althusser) was to be replaced by a post-subjective, post-ideological being whose processes Leary believed would operate on a different ontological level. Leary argued that this level was that of the cellular process of the body, the automatic somatic workings over which the ego has no control and yet which inform and create the majority of sensory impressions and subjective consciousness. His means of reaching this level was, at first, drugs; then from the 1980s his focus shifted to computer technology: ‘Electronics and psychedelics have shattered the sequence of orderly linear identification, the automatic imitation that provides racial and social continuity’. In his introduction to the 1995 reissue of High Priest (1968), Leary pointed out that ‘You will note (and, perhaps, be amused by) our Breathless Spirituality, our lavish use religious metaphors. Today, of course, we are beginning to use neurological and digital terms to suggest how we can operate our brains’; he warns the reader that the Priest in the title is ironic. My focus here is not on the means but the end: not on drugs or computers as such but on Leary’s revisions of the human; on his problematic quest to refashion the human being and move beyond it towards posthuman states which were largely uncharted but towards which his chosen tools, fashionable for each era in which he was writing, could point the way.