An Enlightenment Interview Addendum with
Professor Jim Fadiman on his brand-new,
occasionally best-selling, novel The Other Side of Haight
To the previous in-depth Jim Fadiman Interview
To e-mail Professor Fadiman directly with a question or comment
En: Jim, you, recently published your first book of fiction. Can you tell us about it?
JF: It's called "The Other Side of Haight." It's set in Haight Ashbury in the very early psychedelic times -- before the Haight had turned political -- when there was an attempt to live with decency, hope, caring, and compassion fueled by psychedelics and the insights gained thereby.
En: How's the book doing so far?
JF: In certain pockets, marvelously well. One week it was the best selling fiction in Marin County, and a few weeks later it was number eight on the Los Angeles Times best seller list, which is particularly amazing given a small press and few promotional dollars.
En: Do psychedelics play a major role in the novel?
JF: They played a major role in the early community. They are important in the novel, but the plot does not turn on them.
En: Are you trying to make a political statement with the book?
JF: I'm trying to re-ignite a whole discourse about the initial vision that fueled the 60's, a vision that led to civil rights, women's rights, environmental rights, and gay rights, all of which profoundly transformed the culture. We have lost that original thrust of improving how humans care for each other. That was what the first wave of psychedelic insights were about. I'm also trying to break open the thirty years of government-sponsored ignorance. I'm more convinced than ever that ignorance is really not a good way to educate people, especially about how to work with their own consciousness.
En: So are you advocating the use of psychedelics?
JF: I'm advocating that psychedelics be regulated, safe, and sacred. That we work to liberate them for entheogenic use -- to deepen sacred experience.
En: Did psychedelics play a role in your inspiration for the book?
JF: There were two original inspirations for the novel. One was Tom Wolfe saying there has never been a good novel about the 60's. The second was the recognition that my own insights from psychedelic work had really never been clearly expressed in a way that honored them. I know honor may seem like a funny word to use, but it's as if you have visited a country and you've been told you have one important thing to do. If you don't do that one thing you've been sent there to do, it's as if you have not done anything at all.
En: Why do you think so many other people have been silent about this?
JF: A lot of them simply had interesting and wonderful experiences that they didn't know how to integrate. When you are working with the basic insights that seem to be at the root of every major spiritual tradition, then you begin to feel you have an obligation to ask people to remember their full selves. Fiction seemed to be the best possible way to express truth in this realm.
En: Is the book based on people you actually knew?
JF: That's a hard question to ask any author. Ken Kesey very nicely said my characters felt like friends of his, yet certainly none of them were actually based on people he knew. On the cover of the book is a picture with four people that someone took in the 60's. One of those people has written me, and said how much the story and the book resembled parts of her life. The line between truth and fiction is never very firm, and even less in this novel.
En: But you didn't know her at all?
JF: I didn't know her or her story at all. Writers have the illusion that when they create other lives that they don't know about, those lives are fiction. But if your writing comes from love, your fiction should resemble life. I've tried to write a portrait of the Haight in its early Camelot days. A time when there was such an intense optimism that by caring and loving each other we began to change the planet.
En: Do you still believe that's possible?
JF: I don't think there is any alternative place to work from. Since it's clear that the radical left and the radical right seem to resemble each other, there has to be a third path, or I guess what the Buddhists would call a middle way.
En: But how are you going to prevent your work from being marginalized as merely being a pro-drug manifesto of sorts?
JF: If it's only read by the 40% of adults in the United States who report that they've used drugs that are illegal, then I don't think it will be marginalized. And if it is attacked as a novel about drug use that is inherently evil, it will vastly increase its outreach and sales, thereby reaching the people I'm hoping it will reach. I'm getting letters that basically say either "Thank you for helping me remember a lost part of my life" or "Thank you for letting me see a part of the world that I never had a chance to experience. I can see why it was so exciting then."
En: Is it possible that the way psychedelics have come to be used -- for example, at raves and often mainly for purposes of pure pleasure -- may have somehow (for example, via morphogenetic fields) cost the opportunity to really use these substances to enhance consciousness and bring about a better world? Is this a possibility that may now only exist in the past, in books like yours?
JF: What I've seen in the rave culture is a gradual appreciation that it is not simply recreation, but awakens a deep sense of community rediscovered. As I talk to people who are graduating from the rave scene, they seem to be close in orientation to the early psychedelic generation.
En: So maybe some type of reemergence of the primary transmission from the 60's is already happening culturally now?
JF: Yes. We are noticing, for example, that medical marijuana is meeting almost no resistance except from the usual people who don't know anything. The notion that all drugs that the government says are evil are evil is becoming more and more self-evident nonsense. It is difficult, for example, to find a major newspaper in the U.S. that has not run strong editorials saying that the current mentality of the so-called drug war makes no sense at all. More and more mainstream media are saying it has been a total failure .
En: Is there anything other than substances that might at this point be leading to a revival of the core 60's transmission?
JF: Yes. What happens when a culture's dominant institutions become institutions that no one, or that very few people, believe in any more? Right now we have a low level of respect for government, for the military, and now even for the Courts. We also have very little respect for mainstream religion. It is not fulfilling its function either as a vehicle for transcendent Experience or for social justice.
When this occurs, essentially, when the center is dying, the fringes begin to flourish. I am more optimistic that we are reaching a cultural bottom from which we can only recover. The U.S., however, is certainly not the country that is going to be at the forefront of the revival. What's happening in Europe is that they are beginning to understand that allowing the U.S. to dictate their policies about consciousness and chemicals has harmed their own cultures. Country after country is defying the United States' messianic zeal to prevent people from exploring their own consciousness.
En: Do you have any fears along the lines that Bill Joy does, about technology running amok?
JF: Sure. When any major technology first appears, it has unintended negative effects. Just as we didn't invent the automobile to be the major pollution creating device on the planet. But we sure do use it for that. So my theory is that everything that can be misused will be misused, which doesn't mean that we should stop trying to use things well.
En: What about the web along these lines?
JF: For those of us who have novels printed by small publishers, the web is a wonderful way of linking up people who individually fall in the minority, but with the web's help, are a large enough group to assist themselves. I think the web is a major evolutionary accelerator; that doesn't mean that only the best species will thrive, but a lot of sub-cultures will thrive that wouldn't have thrived without it.
En: Who would you recommend your book to, or how would you recommend that people go about reading your book?
JF: Well, they should read it entirely for pleasure. All of the profound metaphysics that we have been discussing are hopefully so well hidden that they will not ruin the pleasure of a delightful romp with wonderful people. A number of readers have told me that they have cried at least once during the novel. A few people have also asked me where they can find the heroine because they would certainly like to catch up with her.
As to who should read it, only those people who were aware of the 60's, and were in them, and those who have become aware of the 60's, and weren't in them. And people who love a good story, and want to enjoy a remarkable moment in history. Anyone who visits this website and is reading this interview is likely to enjoy this book.
En: Thank you.
| Home |