The Public Intellectual: Part 1

Greetings! I’m looking forward to our first conversation on Thursday, June 24 at 7 p. m. at the Walker’s new picnic table plaza. We will be talking about Timothy Leary and Norman O. Brown. You can download the readings from this site (if you have problems, email me at


I imagine our conversation will undulate between layers of discourse involving the argument or agenda of the writer we are discussing; the strategies the writer uses to engage a public audience—people who are good readers and probably have some post-secondary education, but who are not specialists in the fields of psychology (Leary) or classics (Brown); how the two sets of readings complement each other—for the first session, how each writer posits a more perfect state of existence, unshackled by egotistical concerns or Freudian meta-narratives; and the historical context of the readings, as put forth by anyone in the group who has lived through, studied, heard about, or intuited the zeitgeist of the American 1960s.


If you are looking for some points of entry into the readings, here are a few things to think about—but please, feel free to posit your own impressions and connections.


Leary: While cautioning against mind-body dualisms, Leary himself posits some binaries. For example, empty mind and game existence; reality and illusion; death (good) and rebirth (bad).


Leary proposes that we use psychedelic drugs to achieve transcendental insights, but often describes states of enlightenment in material terms, in the language of biology, physics, and technology (TV, oscillograph, computer).


In The Peaceful Visions: Vision 2, Leary discusses an experience of universal Eros and the dissolution of emotional boundaries. Here he seems very in tune with Brown’s project.


Can we validate Leary’s ideas through our own experiences of meditation, with or without the aid of psychedelics?

Try Letting Go, by Sean Greene

20x200: A Jen Bekman Project


Untitled (Suzie Hedge),
by Brandon Herman
20x200: A Jen Bekman Project

Brown: Whereas Leary is (still) a household name, Brown is the least well-known of our six case studies. Back in the day he was a big influence on young, left-leaning intellectuals, important enough for the philosopher Herbert Marcuse to dispute the argument of Love’s Body in print (see the attached document). Brown’s students called him Nobby, affectionately, so we shouldn’t feel intimidated by his erudition (Marx, Freud, Roman and Greek literature) or his nonlinear style. (Unlike Leary’s outline structure, Love’s Body takes the form of prose-poemish philosophical musings.)


The ego is an obstacle to a full knowledge and experience of human existence in the writings of both Leary and Brown. They agree that the boundaries of the self are artificial in the sense that we make them; they are psychic rather than “real,” and both talk about the impact of these self-created limitations on our bodies and minds.


In the critique of the ego as the first example of “private property” and the source of “alienation,” “Freud and Marx meet.”


Brown loves paradox: “The nucleus of one’s own self is the incorporated other”; “To have a self is to have enemies”; “Our identity is always a case of mistaken identity”; Schizophrenics are suffering from the truth.” Paradox abolishes contradiction.


“The defense of personal liberty is identical with the defense of property”—think about this in the context of the current conservative mood of the American people, especially since 9/11. Back then it was the communists, now it’s the terrorists.


Not we are all one (Leary), but each one of us is everybody (Brown).


It’s a little scary to think that everything we reject causes another division between conscious and unconscious (repressed) parts of ourselves, causes “private parts,” shame.


Here’s what Marcuse (with his progressive social agenda) could not tolerate: that the reality principle is “a false boundary.” “It is only as long as a distinction is made between real and imaginary murders that real murders are worth committing.” (Nobby’s heroes include the poet William Blake and novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky; comment if you are familiar with these writers.)


The alternative to dualism is love. The personal body and the social body are organized by “libidinal cathexes”; Nobby sees the body as a magnetic field and not an inert object with one erogenous zone.


Thanks for reading!



The Public Intellectual: Guru, Gadfly, and Cultural Gunrunner

Part 1, June 24

Expanding the Boundaries: Readings from Timothy Leary’s The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead and Norman O. Brown’ Love’s Body


Timothy Leary (1920-1996) was an American writer, psychologist, futurist, and advocate of psychedelic drug research. An icon of 1960s counterculture, Leary is most famous as a proponent of the therapeutic, spiritual, and emotional benefits of LSD. He coined and popularized the catch phrase "Turn on, tune in, drop out."


Leary traveled to Mexico in 1960 to experiment with psychedelic mushrooms. Upon his return to Harvard that fall, he and his associates, notably Richard Alpert (later known as Ram Dass), began a research program known as the Harvard Psilocybin Project. Beat poet Allen Ginsberg participated in the experiments. His enthusiasm inspired Leary and the two shared an optimism in the benefit of psychedelic substances to help people discover a higher level of consciousness. Leary and Alpert were fired from Harvard in 1963. In 1964, Leary, Alpert, and Ralph Metzner co-authored The Psychedelic Experience. In 1966, LSD and all scientific research on it were made illegal in the United States. Leary continued to study, use, and proselytize for psychedelic drugs. Although he accumulated prison sentences of 95 years for various busts, he managed to escape from prison, take refuge abroad, and later to be released by California governor Jerry Brown.


Norman O. Brown (1913-2002) was an American classicist who brought the thinking of the 19th-century titans, Marx and Freud, to the theorization of conformist mid twentieth-century culture. Love's Body, published in 1966, examined "the role of erotic love in human history, describing a struggle between eroticism and civilization." In the late 1960s, Brown moved to the University of California, Santa Cruz, as professor in the department of Studies in History of Consciousness and Literature. He was a highly popular professor, known to friends and students alike as "Nobby." He is best known for his vision of salvation through polymorphous perversity. Love’s Body was criticized by Herbert Marcuse, another thinker with an immense influence on the student movement and leftist politics.

Charisse Gendron,
Jun 5, 2010, 2:16 PM
Charisse Gendron,
Jun 5, 2010, 2:18 PM
Charisse Gendron,
Jun 13, 2010, 2:08 PM