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On Drugs

1999
Author:

David Lenson

On Drugs

A critical exploration of the user’s perspective on drug consciousness-now in paperback!

Engaging, articulate, and brilliantly argued, On Drugs is destined to become a revolutionary classic that redefines what it means to be “high.” Calling for the acceptance of a “diversity of consciousness,” Lenson delivers a searing critique of the War on Drugs as an effort based, like all attempts to eradicate “getting high,” on an incomplete understanding of human nature.

“Lenson’s magnificent book is a perceptive mapping of the rippling waves of undiscovered solar systems within our brain. It will comfort the fearful and guide the unprepared. A classic.” --Timothy Leary, author of The Psychedelic Experience

Lenson’s magnificent book is a perceptive mapping of the rippling waves of undiscovered solar systems within our brain. It will comfort the fearful and guide the unprepared. A classic!

Timothy Leary

Engaging, articulate, and brilliantly argued, On Drugs is destined to become a revolutionary classic that redefines what it means to be “high.” Calling for the acceptance of a “diversity of consciousness,” Lenson delivers a searing critique of the War on Drugs as an effort based, like all attempts to eradicate “getting high,” on an incomplete understanding of human nature.

In lucid prose, Lenson ventures outside the conventional genres of drug writing and offers a new look at the drug debate from a lost, and often forbidden, point of view: the user’s. Walking a fine line between the antidrug hysteria of the 1980s and an uncritical advocacy of drug use, he describes in provocative detail the experiences and dynamics of drugs of pleasure and desire-from nicotine to marijuana, alcohol to LSD, and caffeine to cocaine.

From lotus-eaters to hippies to crackheads, history has shown the state’s inability to legislate the bloodstreams of its citizens. After considering several specific issues associated with drug use-including sex, violence, and money-On Drugs asks what drugs really do and challenges society’s accepted notions of sobriety and addiction. Lenson concludes with his vision of the end of the War on Drugs by questioning the sense in condemning millions of Americans to lives of concealment and deceit.

On Drugs

David Lenson is professor of comparative literature at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of Achilles Choice: Examples of Modern Tragedy (1975) and The Birth of Tragedy: A Commentary (1987). A rock and blues musician, he is proudest of having played saxophone with John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, and Junior Wells.

On Drugs

Lenson’s magnificent book is a perceptive mapping of the rippling waves of undiscovered solar systems within our brain. It will comfort the fearful and guide the unprepared. A classic!

Timothy Leary

Drug epicurean David Lenson claims the ‘Just Say No’ campaign of the Reagan years was an attempt to explicitly end rational discourse on the subject. The man’s own whacked-out but brilliant ‘discourse,’ On Drugs makes philosophical points about narcotics that also apply to java and hooch. Lenson argues that once all mood-altering substances are eliminated, sobriety becomes a meaningless term. Lenson, an indulger, takes the unusual and refreshing tack of demanding a precise answer to the question: What is sobriety and the so-called ‘straight’ consciousness? His conclusion-that sobriety delimits those states of mind that allow ‘postindustrial Consumerism’ to function smoothly-sets the stage for a series of eloquent and illuminating meditations on drug use and studies of certain drugs: marijuana, cocaine, alcohol, psychedelics, and combinations thereof. Lenson concludes his eloquent exercise in, shall we say, high theory with a modest proposal regarding America’s expensive ongoing War on (Some) Drugs.

Voice Literary Supplement

Like its author-a poet, musician, and tenured professor of comparative literature at UMass/Amherst-On Drugs is heterodox and iconoclastic to the core. Lenson, for example, subjects legal psychotropic substances such as alcohol, cigarettes, coffee, and prescription drugs to the same scrutiny as illegal ones; takes an ‘anti-disciplinary’ approach that draws from a wide range of fields and genres but rejects the assumption and conventions of them all; and is so bent on establishing himself as a maverick that he presents his lack of bona fide expertise as a signal virtue. (‘I have undertaken this project,’ he writes, ‘precisely because I am unqualified to do so.’) What’s most remarkable about the book, however, is that it’s written from the user’s perspective, seldom seen in analytical works on the subject since Timothy Leary’s heyday 30 years ago. The ideas that Lenson brings to that debate are as practical and commonsensical as they are enlightened. Reading these chapters, abstainers will better understand their indulging friends, indulgers will better understand themselves and their choices, and all will suspect that anyone who was swayed by those catch-all anti-drug commercials likening a mind on drugs to a fried egg must have had his breakfast where his brains should have been. Lenson’s observations about how different these drugs are and how their effects are constructed in part by the user will surely prove instructive, both to policymakers and to voters assessing drug-reform proposals, as well as to individuals considering or reassessing drug use. By insisting that we deal directly with our eternal desire to change consciousness, Lenson points a way out of the current quagmire. It’s high time someone did.

Boston Phoenix Literary Section

In the national debate and reevaluation of attitudes toward drugs, this is a different kind of contribution, one that is speculative, discursive, and visionary.

Library Journal

Lenson analyzes our culture’s love-hate relationship with mood-altering substances from the user’s point of view in On Drugs. He writes about the differences between ‘drugs of desire’ (mainly cocaine, crack, and speed) and ‘drugs of pleasure’ (mainly marijuana and hallucinogens. The former he sees as reflecting the main ideology of Western culture-consumerism-in that frequent users tend to fixate on acquiring more to the exclusion of everything else, while the latter tend to interdict the consumerist mind-set by letting users savor everyday activities and objects already at hand.

Utne Reader

The best work I’ve read on drugs comes from outside the cultural studies-loop. In his remarkable On Drugs, David Lenson, who teaches comparative literature at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, uses a phenomenological approach to describe the effects of various drugs. What does it feel like to be high on pot, coke, LSD? What, if anything, is to be gained from them? What are the costs? What attracts individuals to different drugs? One of Lenson’s theses, brilliant and controversial, is that some kinds of drugs deliver us from the consumer world view into realms of contemplation-and are officially despised in part for doing so. What the guardians of official culture cannot tolerate, Lenson suggests, is any form of consciousnes that rises above getting and spending. What are we to do about the drug crisis? Lenson’s advice is invaluable: Throw words at it, he says, lots of words. We need to use the cultural-studies movement to break the intellectual and classroom silence on drugs. We need to re-educate ourselves about drugs, and in so doing help educate our students.

Chronicle of Higher Education