Leary on Libraries

You can use the library, but beware, it’s just like a narcotic. Library books are very dangerous addictive substances. Like heroin, books become and end in themselves. I made the suggestion two years ago at Harvard University that they lock up Widener Library, put chains on the doors, and have little holes in the wall like in bank tellers’ windows, and if a student wanted to get a book, he would have to come with a little slip made out showing that he had some existential, practical questions. He wouldn’t say that he wanted to stuff a lot of facts in his mind so that he could impress a teacher or be one up on the other students in the intellectual game. No. But if he had an existential problem, then the library would help him get all the information that could be brought to bear on that problem. Needless to say, this plan didn’t make much of a hit, and the doors of the Harvard Library are still open. You can still get dangerous narcotic volumes without a prescription at Harvard

                                                         Timothy Leary, Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out

What can Timothy Leary learn from history? He would learn that book smuggling network and underground reading cultures would surely develop. Certain books would develop auras of special power and magic, nurtured and ritualized by cult followings. Some followers would accumulate extensive esoteric knowledge of certain books, while others would engage in abusive misuse and misinterpretation . . . . which is not much different than current usage, except that the influence of teachers and therapeutic/educational claims would be much less pervasive. A violent legal and social struggle over the proper use and meaning of particular books might even emerge.

What can we, the professional book-pushers of academia, learn from Leary? Well, once the addiction sets in (as with most narcotics, only a fraction of the users will become hardcore addicts) the pleasure and thrill of books will inexorably decline. Reading will ultimately become a burden, one that we feel ambivalent about, both dreading and desiring at the same time—but a burden nearly impossible to quit.


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Posted on September 10, 2011, in Psychedelics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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