Largely unrecognized within cultural studies and the history of medicine, however, is that nineteenth-century writings about hallucinogens formed this chemical intellectual and valorized his elite knowledge in contrast to another durable figure, the drug-crazed savage of the racist imagination. Silas Weir Mitchell, Havelock Ellis, and other medico-scientific professionals experimented with mescaline and peyote and described the results in the august pages of The British Medical Journal and The Lancet in the s.
The radical perceptual experience of drug-induced hallucination may seem temporarily to abstract or distance its subject from his body and social identity, but its rendering as discourse confirms all the significatory techniques of social power it supposedly suspends. Nineteenth-century hallucinogenic discourse typically produces a fantasy of visual power and omniscience for its white, masculine, and middle-class subjects. Though modern, hallucinogenic experience did not generate the kind of deep subjectivity contemporaneously formulated through psychoanalysis; rather, it dwelled chiefly in the more superficial world of visual impressions.
The result was a hallucinogenic subject, for whom peyote or mescaline offered not the spiritual and communal rituals of Native Americans, but rather imperial, modern, professional status built on the observation of dazzling inner visions. My discussion of nineteenth-century hallucinogenic discourse thus intersects with recent critical work on the history and cultural politics of vision.
Reading bodily aspects and their social significance back into an insistently decorporealized hallucinogenic discourse brings critical attention to a formative interdisciplinary moment, when anthropology and medicine focused their scientific gaze upon what had been religious and communal practices, and saw instead a highly individualized, scientific and Aesthetic experience.
I trace this appropriation in the following three sections. European hallucinogenic experimentation relied on the imperial acquisition of peyote, coca leaf, and other largely New World plants ritually or customarily used by Native Americans. In , Mooney was sent to study the Ghost Dance ritual by the Bureau of American Ethnology, a new wing of the Smithsonian Institute, and he quickly became the leading expert on Kiowa and Cherokee customs.
Hallucinogens can thus be located at the tortured heart of an imperial encounter. From the perspective of racist European commentators, Native hallucinogenic experience could only ever feebly approach the sublime intellectual heights of European use. His claim was far from unique. Such opinions conformed neatly to the familiar racist logic whereby whiteness is equated with the perceiving mind, and non-whiteness, with the mire of insensate corporeality. Neurasthenia, neuralgia, and other nerve disorders were conditions for which doctors routinely prescribed hypodermic morphine, creating the scandal of iatrogenic, or physician-caused addiction in the s and s.
Never widely produced or prescribed in the nineteenth century, hallucinogens did not generally raise substantive concerns about addiction; nevertheless, ideas about neurasthenia and hallucinogens intersected in a significant way. This came after the first dose, and was most uncomfortable. Prentiss and Francis P. Such accounts suggest that, although the white, masculine, bourgeois mind is eminently suited to hallucinogenic use, its self-observation, and analysis, the body may be unequal to these tasks.
Medical writers engaged in comparative racial speculation to explain this white discomfort with hallucinogens. The white constitution and nervous system might be too delicate to process the visual information peyote transmitted to the Kiowa, Tarahumari, and other Native American peoples.
Aviva Briefel, The Racial Hand in the Victorian Imagination
I have seen a tottering old man, who had been a priest of the ceremony for half a century, led into the tipi by the hand like a child, eat his four peyote [buttons], and then take the rattle and sing the song in a clear voice, and repeat it as often as his turn came until morning, when he came out with the rest, so little fatigued that he was able to sit down and answer intelligently all the questions I asked. Imagine a white man of eighty years of age sitting up in a constrained position, without sleep, all night long and nearly all morning, and then being in condition to be interviewed.
His contention that an elderly white man would have been too weak to participate in the ceremony contributes to the discourse of cultivated, white physical delicacy characteristic of modern nervousness. Yet his account also contains an unconscious irony: it is unimaginable that an elderly white could sit up all night, and then be interviewed by an ethnologist, not merely because he is less hardy than his more robust Native American counterpart, but also because the very idea that he could serve as an anthropological object to be interviewed, requires a total reversal of the epistemic order and the imperial framework supporting it.
Within this order, people of color served as the material of imperial scientific investigation; whites functioned as its optic. The comparative racial dimension of hallucinogenic discourse thus worked obliquely, to conjure whiteness as the preserve of intellect and knowledge production. Just as a nervous physique suited the idea of whiteness as a powerful but delicate lens, so it unsuited whites to play the role of inert physical material to be studied. Here, peyote actually assists the imperial labor of knowledge production as Mooney, boosted by the drug, efficiently photographs the Kiowa.
These writers reported their experiences before the modern categorization of drugs as stimulants, narcotics, and hallucinogens had been established, and while nascent theories of addiction were still forming.
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Occasionally the fantasy of intellectual power made the body seem irrelevant, so that it figuratively disappeared as the hallucinator luxuriated in his own mental mastery. I was seized with passionate curiosity, great things were about to be unveiled before me. I would perceive the essence of all things, the problems of creation would be unraveled. Here, the white masculine body disappears in the abstract invocation of mental conquest.
What yokes these and other fantasies of disembodiment, however, is a common desire for intellectual power, linked to the consumption of an obscure substance or drug that eases the mental labor of study and contemplation. Mescaline, by contrast, was for Ellis and others an intellectual drug, and one of power and competence rather than the corporeal mire of leisure.
In this way, it reinforced the whiteness of pure mind. Thus, where Native Americans founded religions around peyote, Europeans generated Enlightenment knowledge. Eschewing a model of mysticism or gnosis, European accounts celebrated the capacity of the individual intellect to remain in control. Setting out to investigate a biochemical reaction, Ellis and his fellow hallucinators discovered their own intellectual brilliance. Victorians often referred to vision as the most intellectual of the senses. Accordingly, the intensely visual nature of hallucinogenic experience lent itself to fantasies of intellectual transcendence and concomitant disembodiment: the hallucinogenic subject became all eye, precisely the better to take in the spectacle of color, motion, light, and image orchestrated by peyote and mescaline.
Yet hallucinogenic writings only ambivalently inhabited this context, and not merely because they remained confined to an elite. Indeed, hallucinogenic visions were frequently compared to the experience of viewing a kaleidoscope, or watching magic lantern shows, phantasmagoria, and other entertainment spectacles involving moving displays of projected light, including the emergent cinema.
For instance, I saw the most delightful dragons, puffing out their breath straight in front of them like rigid lines of steam, and balancing white balls at the end of their breath! Here the overwhelming influence of mescal, and its dissolution at the end of the trip, resembles the self-immersion characteristic of an absorptive media experience. He also declared that he could see the hallucinated colors best in a darkened room, not unlike the darkened settings of theatrical and cinematic consumption.
The fact that these researchers frequently attempted to accompany their visions with piano music, recalls the musical accompaniment of early films. The physical rhythms of modern middle-class leisure—two hours of enchanted darkness, followed by blinking emergence into ordinary daylight—offered an imaginative framework for hallucinogenic experience. In this context, the body does not simply vanish, giving way to intellectual transcendence: instead, it is transformed into the machinery of vision, becoming coextensive with the drug, and by analogy, with optical entertainment devices.
In these accounts, the hallucinogenized body becomes part of the technological apparatus of media consumption. To my amazement I saw myself as though I were inside a Chinese lantern, looking out through my cheek into the room. By making the subject the producer, medium, and consumer of his own meaning, the tropes of electronic space and physical transparency foster a solipsism that pronounces the failure of social meaning.
The radically unique locus of visual experience attenuates the analogies with popular media such as cinema and the theater, since the images and sensations consumed are never communal. The normative social dimension of media experience is channeled instead into a closed circuit, so that the experience gives only the illusion of participating in mass entertainment. This simultaneous subjective overdetermination, combined with the feeling of disembodiment, makes hallucinogenic visions largely impervious to shared meaning.
This resistance to common meaning produces a familiar trope of writing about drug experiences in general, namely the inability to describe them in language. They were the colors of the spectrum intensified as though bathed in the fiercest sunlight. The radical quality of the hallucinogenic experience lies in its fierce resistance to social meaning or representation, signified by the collapse of mental writing. Rather, the unintelligibility of visions fits into the regime of visual modernity, in which all experience is contingent and incommunicable.
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That is, the biochemical production of experience is one of many new techniques by which modern observers found themselves to be unique, isolated above the welter of human meaning. This common feature of hallucinogenic discourse is part of the larger paradox structuring writings about recreational drug experiences in general: such writings seek to represent an experience while simultaneously proclaiming their inability to do so. Indeed, this paradox itself circulates socially, idealizing white masculine drug use as exquisite and valuable precisely because it cannot be represented.
The very unintelligibility of hallucinogenic experience—its resistance to shared meaning—actually lends it the sheen of pricelessness, but only because its value appears to resist calculation. Thus, although the visions produced by peyote and mescaline could not be easily translated into the common currency of valuable knowledge, hallucinogenic ideology operated to bestow upon them the value of uniqueness, ineffability, and obscurity.
There are disagreements about what was the basis for Linnaeus' human taxa. On the one hand, the harshest critics say that the classification not only was ethnocentric but seemed to be based upon skin-color. On the other hand, Quintyn points out that some authors believe the classification was based upon geographical distribution, being cartographically based, and not hierarchical.
Kennedy , Linneus certainly considered his own culture better, but his motives for classification of human varieties were not race-centered. Thus, regarding this topic, they consider Linnaeus view as merely " eurocentric ", arguing that Linnaeus never called for racist action, and did not use the word "race", which was only introduced later "by his French opponent Buffon ". Rice agrees that Linnaeus' classification was not meant to "imply a hierarchy of humanness or superiority";  although modern critics see that his classification was obviously stereotyped , and erroneous for having included anthropological , non-biological features such as customs or traditions.
John Hunter — , a Scottish surgeon , said that originally the Negroid race was white at birth. He thought that over time because of the sun, the people turned dark skinned, or "black". Hunter also said that blisters and burns would likely turn white on a Negro, which he believed was evidence that their ancestors were originally white. Charles White — , an English physician and surgeon, believed that races occupied different stations in the " Great Chain of Being ", and he tried to scientifically prove that human races have distinct origins from each other.
He believed that whites and Negroes were two different species. White was a believer in polygeny , the idea that different races had been created separately. His Account of the Regular Gradation in Man provided an empirical basis for this idea. White defended the theory of polygeny by rebutting French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon 's interfertility argument, which said that only the same species can interbreed. White pointed to species hybrids such as foxes, wolves, and jackals, which were separate groups that were still able to interbreed.
For White, each race was a separate species, divinely created for its own geographical region. The French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon — and the German anatomist Johann Blumenbach — were believers in monogenism , the concept that all races have a single origin. They also believed in the "degeneration theory" of racial origins.
They both said that Adam and Eve were Caucasian and that other races came about by degeneration from environmental factors, such as the sun and poor dieting. They believed that the degeneration could be reversed if proper environmental control was taken, and that all contemporary forms of man could revert to the original Caucasian race. They thought Negroid pigmentation arose because of the heat of the tropical sun.
They suggested cold wind caused the tawny colour of the Eskimos. They thought the Chinese relatively fair skinned compared to the other Asian stocks because they kept mostly in towns and were protected from environmental factors. Buffon said that food and the mode of living could make races degenerate and differentiate them from the original Caucasian race.
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Buffon believed humanity was only years old the time since Adam. Many scientific racialists pointed out at the time that it would have been difficult for races to change so markedly in genotype and phenotype in such a short period of time. Believing in monogenism, Buffon thought that skin colour could change in a single lifetime, depending on the conditions of climate and diet. Benjamin Rush — , a Founding Father of the United States and a physician , proposed that being black was a hereditary skin disease, which he called "negroidism", and that it could be cured. Rush believed non-whites were really white underneath but they were stricken with a non-contagious form of leprosy which darkened their skin color.
Rush drew the conclusion that "whites should not tyrannize over [blacks], for their disease should entitle them to a double portion of humanity. However, by the same token, whites should not intermarry with them, for this would tend to infect posterity with the 'disorder' Christoph Meiners — was a German polygenist and believed that each race had a separate origin. Meiner studied the physical, mental and moral characteristics of each race, and built a race hierarchy based on his findings.