David Woodard / Jesse James Hollywood: Thoughts of God

Thoughts of God


In 1999, I wrote an outline for a possible book concerning ketamine and showed this to a publisher in Los Angeles. Adam Parfrey had published a classic anthology of essays by various writers in the 1980s, Apocalypse Culture, and as it happened was now finalizing a second volume of the same title. The editor/publisher asked if I would render the ketamine outline in essay form, to be included in Apocalypse Culture II—I agreed. In keeping with his youth subculture readership, Parfrey asked if the title could be changed from “Ketamine: Thoughts of God” to “The Ketamine Necromance”, the sole edit. Reluctantly, I agreed.

Over the next few years, following its 2000 American publication, Apocalypse Culture II appeared in various translations. In 2005, the Russian publishing company Ultra.Kultura’s edition combined selections from both Apocalypse Culture I and II, including “The Ketamine Necromance”. In the summer of 2006, the Russian government condemned the substantial tome, confiscating copies and consigning them to the flames. The ban was triggered not by the book’s inclusion of texts indulgently justifying pedophilia or heavily armed Jewish paramilitary organizations in America, for example, nor by white supremacist Larry Wayne Harris’ self-righteous explanation for his Machiavellian acquisition of and experimentation with military-grade Anthrax, rather by my cautionary essay on the profound religious experience often visited upon persons—especially children—emerging from ketamine anesthesia. Contrary to findings of Ultra.Kultura’s team of philologists, who had examined each chosen text for legality of publication, Russia’s Federal Drug Administration summarily determined that inclusion of this particular essay had constituted criminal propaganda.

On February 4, 2007, Russian poet Ilya Kormiltsev—the founder / senior editor of Ultra.Kultura, responsible for selecting and finally approving “The Ketamine Necromance”—keeled over and croaked, apparently the result of a stress-related mishap suffered whilst traveling abroad. Renowned in the 1990s and 2000s for his translations of many English and American works by authors such as William S. Burroughs and Bret Easton Ellis, Kormiltsev was also the lyricist for Nautilus Pompilius, a popular rock music group. A suitably paranoid opponent to Soviet and post-Soviet authorities, he solemnly rejected the Lenin Komsomol Award offered NP in 1989.

And if there are those who come to you,
Then there will also be those who come for you.
—Ilya Kormiltsev

Unlike tryptaminic/serotoninergic hallucinogens, such as LSD, DMT and psilocybin, which enhance a user’s interest in myriad details of the outer world, ketamine’s dissociative “emergence phenomenon” focuses one’s attention on essential archetypes of experience: being and nothingness, death and eternity, the question of the soul and its direction. Whereas effects of the former are essentially erotic, with their magnification of the world of the Other, ketamine’s minimalist, exclusionary focus more fittingly renders it thanatotic, a means of effectively stepping outside the circles of time.

Ketamine is not an addictive drug—at least not technically, in the physical sense. While it may have potential for abuse in the hands of immature or otherwise careless persons, it is a difficult and expensive substance to manufacture. Even if the essay were to have contributed to its popular interest / underworld demand in Russia’s vast, nearly unaccountable agricultural sector, where an epidemic of drug abuse might pose an economic threat, access to ketamine would continue to be restricted as a scheduled pharmaceutical—it is not a recreational drug likely to be manufactured, at least not successfully, by unprofessional laboratories. In the interest of promoting good will and critical thinking, I would suggest that security measures protecting Russia’s pharmaceuticals from misappropriation be strengthened, rather than independently published sociological studies confiscated and set on fire.

Thoughts of God, Jesse James Hollywood’s and my contribution to Adina Popescu’s “Saloon” within Moscow Biennale 2007, is an installation based on the essay’s description of a well-appointed setting for the dissociative religious experience. The installed setting is enhanced by crucial elements—e.g., a Dreamachine—that I did not feel would be available to the layreader and therefore had omitted from the essay’s original details. In light of the nonjuridical zone that characterizes a saloon, a Wild West institution where one might vigorously brawl with an adversary amidst snaggletoothed sleight-of-hand con artists, career gamblers, wall-eyed loan sharks, mysteriously pro bono defense lawyers, underbathed judges, unsafe prostitutes, bewhiskered killers for hire, Dr. Popescu’s Saloon seems the ideal courthouse in which we might finally defend my honor and respond to the Russian government’s condemnation of my essay and, by extension, the anthology in which—in a hopeful flicker that swept the Capitalist frontier—it appeared and disappeared.

It is in the 1840s, at the height of America’s Wild West era, that we encounter influential European and Russian notions of total environment, a place that resonates with the inner psyche whilst effectively negating the outside world, particularly in J-K Huysmans’ Against Nature. The protagonist Des Esseintes, like Goncharov’s Oblomov character, conceived during the same two-year period, is compelled by a selfish yet reflective nature to tap the treasures of his inner life. But unlike tragicomic Oblomov (long ago christened a Russian cliché), for whom a couch in the country suffices as means to reflection—which increasingly reveals itself as a form of passive decadence or pathological need for distraction from societal obligation (many a Russian dandy has since been accused of suffering from “the Disease of Oblomovka”), Des Esseintes, commanding a spirit of aesthetic perfectionism, has sought methods of parasemantically articulating that which lay beneath or beyond the Ego. The better you look, the more you see. He delivers two mature tortoises to a lapidary, has diamonds, rubies and emeralds embedded into their shells, and installs them in a silent, carefully appointed study room (far, but not too far, from Paris), illumined by a peripheral inlet defining the juncture along the room’s ceiling and two of its walls. The slow metabolism of the bejeweled, long-lived creatures, yielding a subtle, mesmeric flicker by combination of their pensive movement and the filtered sunlight by day and minimal candlelight by night, enables Des Esseintes to transcend the linguistic and egoistic restrictions associated with our brain’s cortical functions, thus laying bare formerly enshrouded, religious aspects of his nature.

By 1849, during the onset of the California Gold Rush, Richard Wagner had begun his increasingly vigilant practice of maintaining a holy room in which to compose his operas. These hermetic settings followed Wagner’s dictates for fragrance, lighting, floor/wall/ceiling surface textures and colors, and the filtering of sunlight, not to mention supplies of then-legal psychoactive substances. Moreover, the Master would attire himself most specifically when reporting to the blessed shrine: a Flemish painter’s costume, consisting of a black velvet coat, black satin knickers, black silk stockings, a periwinkle or other light-blue satin cravat tied in a rich bow, with a piece of his fine linen and lace shirt showing below, and a painter’s tam-o’-shanter on the head.

But neither Huysmans nor Wagner—and certainly not Goncharov—had access to a psychoactive agent which could so utterly suspend the ego as ketamine. These figures’ devoted attempts to achieve a ‘religious’ total environment thus, sadly, retained vestiges of orgasmicized mundanity.

I am pleased to introduce, through our collaborative Thoughts of God, the monastic thinking of fellow Santa Barbara native Jesse James Hollywood.

—David Woodard