A short review of one of my famous books by Paul Hermite. It was published in The Unconventional Reader Magazine a few years ago.
The Book of Imaginary Drugs
“You should have realized it by now, but I still feel the urge to say it. You have no cosmic significance! Therefore, there is only one sensible thing to do. Let me tell you how to do it.”
These are the first sentences of The Book of Real and Imaginary Drugs (BRID), a detailed and systematic study of drugs and intoxication, written by one of the most original and obscure writers of our time. People who are familiar with the writings of Hede, usually know him as the writer of The Art of Intercourse With Intelligent Beings: A Case Study With Dolphins. BRID is very much in the same spirit. It is full of bold claims and irritating — or patently false– conclusions about the meaning of life. His style on the other hand, is quite different, being less sarcastic and more to the point than Intercourse.
The architecture of BRID, unlike its content, is rather orthodox. The introduction is followed by three chapters, namely, Real Drugs, Imaginary Drugs and Imagining Drugs While Drunk. Each chapter has numerous small sections similar to entries in an encyclopedia. There is also an appendix where one can learn to synthesize both legal and illegal drugs.
One of the highlights of the first chapter is the section titled Wine. In this section, Hede discusses artists, poets, and the influence of wine on their work. From one of Omar Khayyam’s rubais about god and wine, he “proves” the nonexistence of god (and existence of wine) with the help of an argument which is reminicent of the Babel-fish argument by Douglas Adams. He later says in an interview that the similarity is unintentional.
The section titled Hashish is based on the book Artificial Paradises by Baudelaire. Hede first says everything he wants to about the drug and the poet, then digresses to a book by Sartre named Baudelaire. As you can guess from the quotation in the beginning of this review, Hede is not a big fan of existentialism. He thinks that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way Sartre interprets Baudelaire’s notion of ‘volupté’, although he does nothing to support his claim. Some traces of this theme can be seen in other sections, one of which is Virtue.
Virtue begins with the last sentences of Get Drunk from the book Paris Spleen, again by Baudelaire. “…If you are not to be the martyred slaves of Time, be perpetually drunk! With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you please” After a little meditation on the poem, Hede arrives at a rough classification of virtue used as a drug. Here, we will mention only one interesting category proposed by the writer: the ritualistic virtue. To convey the idea of ritualistic virtue, Hede gives the following example, which also illustrates the general passive-obsessive mood of BRID. “…pick a particular form [of virtue], say, patience. Then act as if you are patient. Force yourself . If you receive a letter from someone you love in the morning, don’t open it immediately. Carry it with you all day. And when the day is over, put it on your kitchen table and watch it for an hour. Make speculations about it. Then sleep. Next morning, while preparing breakfast, remind yourself that the letter is on the table but don’t look at it. Continue until you lose control!”
Some other noteworthy sections of Real Drugs are Absinth, LSD, Shrooms, Glue, Adrenalin, Chocolate, Physical Pain, and Perfect Vacuum Cleaners. We will not comment on the last ‘drug’ as we don’t want to spoil the joy of discovering its working principle.
The second chapter, Imaginary Drugs, is considerably shorter than the other two chapters and it mainly serves as a link between them. The first imaginary drug is The Brazilian Centipede from the book Naked Lunch by William Burroughs. (This is neither the first nor the last reference to Burroughs, by the way.) Other than Lilac Wine, which is a song by Jeff Buckley, all other imaginary drugs are taken from mythology with a strange twist. Hede claims that being a deity actually means being drunk, because the essence of both is not being bounded by reality. As a result, he sees the Ambrosia from Greek mythology and Amrita from Hindu and Buddhist mythology as drugs.
Imagining Drugs While Drunk is the most colorful chapter of the book since it was written under the influence of absinth, hashish and a perfect vacuum cleaner. Unfortunately, certain parts of this chapter are lost because most of it was written on newspaper. (Hede couldn’t afford buying both paper and drugs after he lost his job at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.) The main subjects of this chapter are the hallucinations of the writer and their ‘philosophical’ interpretations; these are however, irretrievable to the sane. In the section titled New Applications of Nuclear Physics, Hede finds himself eating the mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion for its hallucinogenic effects. But then he realizes it is already a hallucination caused by an actual mushroom and ‘concludes’ that one should use deuterium oxide (heavy water) in a bong to become heavy-headed.
The structure of BRID is a smooth transition from nonfiction to fiction, not, as asserted by the less erudite, a cornucopia of written insanities. The book is a metaphor for getting drunk, which is, as described by the writer, a journey from the real to the imaginary. To design such a book requires great mastery, considering its size: 1004 pages. It is not easy to keep track of ideas in a book this long, especially towards the very end, when the writer doesn’t make any sense at all. But it doesn’t prevent BRID from being a contemporary literary –not philosophical– masterpiece which should be read by any self-respecting hedonist, amateur or professional.