Part memoir, part history, part journalistic exposé, Trip is a look at psychedelic drugs, literature, and alienation from one of the twenty-first century's most innovative novelists--The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test for a new generation. A Vintage Original.
While reeling from one of the most creative--but at times self-destructive--outpourings of his life, Tao Lin discovered the strange and exciting work of Terence McKenna. McKenna, the leading advocate of psychedelic drugs since Timothy Leary, became for Lin both an obsession and a revitalizing force. In Trip, Lin's first book-length work of nonfiction, he charts his recovery from pharmaceutical drugs, his surprising and positive change in worldview, and his four-year engagement with some of the hardest questions: Why do we make art? Is the world made of language? What happens when we die? And is the imagination more real than the universe?
In exploring these ideas and detailing his experiences with psilocybin, DMT, salvia, and cannabis, Lin takes readers on a trip through nature, his own past, psychedelic culture, and the unknown.
Novelist Lin (Taipei, Shoplifting from American Apparel, etc.) chronicles his experiences with various psychedelic drugs in his first nonfiction book, weaving autobiography, history, and spiritual journey together to pose existential questions. Drawn to psychedelics by the life and work of Terence McKenna, an advocate for psychedelic drugs, Lin begins documenting individual trips on substances like psilocybin and salvia as well as the history of each substance. In detailing his own history of drug use, Lin separates addictive, mood-changing drugs like cocaine and caffeine from mind-altering psychedelics, which he credits with providing the imaginative, profound experiences that have reshaped his lonely, empty worldview into one more routinely populated by awe and magic. The psychedelics Lin zeroes in on are all naturally occurring, and he is best at examining and questioning the illegality and societal suppression of substances that he contends allow him to safely explore topics like time and consciousness. A lengthy epilogue, in which he switches to a third-person narrative, follows Lin to San Francisco on a visit with Kathleen Harrison, McKenna's ex-wife and a strong proponent of psychedelics herself. It's here that Lin's tendency to rattle off precise measurements and scientific terms in quick succession starts to feel a bit long-winded. He eventually steers the epilogue toward a level of personal clarity that perfectly punctuates an introspective work of this depth and caliber.
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The Hagiography of Tao Lin
In all brevity, Tao Lin is a “writer for writer’s.” No one inspires as much of a polarized reaction as the (his age) who has made a monolithic empire of hipster kulture (as Cardi B would spell it). He is both an enterprise and an enigmatic person, as such, that which he draws a reaction. You will find hateful reviews of the more Pynchon-like elements of his narrative: the glacial pacing, which is interesting for the experienced reader.
His book is like reading critical theory about human existence as he meanders through reflections upon drugs, higher consciousness, and the relevance of being. Using meta details, such as recording his usage of chemicals, Lin elegantly conveys insights and presumed biographical information. Furthermore, if Trip comes across as long-winded, he was inspired by Terance McKenna marathon lectures.
Refreshingly, Tao avoids the usual psychedelic trio (Ginsberg, Kesey, Thompson) oft cited by writers as embodying the beatnik and hippie lifestyle. He breaks from the intellectual tone with off-the-cuff remarks. One such instance of this is, when in recounting his drug history, he says “I continued to not encounter drugs from the ages of 13-18” or whatnot. His quiet, deadpan humor is delightful.
The book is more than a well-written and extended Erowid.com vault entry. Lin expounds upon the innermost connectivity between McKenna’s optimistic belief system, the complex theories therein about visible/ symbolic language, and his wrestle with the permeable nature of modern social media. He, invariably, reveals his own struggles with patterned substance abuse (the process of a couple years of “quitting” certain drugs) and begins to dabble in the realm of DMT. He vacillates between a variety of moods and ultimately expresses the attitude that a change in structured thought is in order, rather than the numbing agency of prescription pills.
Tao Lin resists those his considers excessively morally righteous. He will update his social media to declare that people should destroy their phones. He is one of millions who wants to grasp the vitality of life; but, he is a wordsmith in its truest form. He is the friend who works at the library to write better. He is the friend you admire and resent for his success because you know he worked a little bit harder than you. As such, if the writings of the years in which he is active are later chronicled by future generations... he is the OG of critical-theory-stream-of-consciousness.
However, he doesn’t want to hear about it and has surprising restraint when dealing with that arises from the openness of his writing. There is Tao Lin, the jocular yet pensive writer, and the Tao Lin no one really knows. He evades interpretation, yet constantly produces meticulously penned novels. The motto should be Tao Lin: Thinking So You Don’t Have To. His thoughts are worth a browse, a reread, and annotations and underlines.
The only potentiality of this mythos that could become negative is that he physically endangers or emotionally harms himself, operating as a larger-than-life figure amongst post-hipster culture. In this manner, it is important to recall that Tao Lin writes about quite more than drugs and we should honor his honed skill rather than the antiquated vision of a tormented artist. I’m not quite sure who I mean by ‘we’ at this juncture — people online, people watching, people reading — but that we respect Tao Lin as a multi-dimensional being and don’t conflate his image into something counterintuitive to his further maturation as a writer.