Part of my reading in the past three months has been re-visiting the books and audio lectures of the late Terence McKenna (1946 - 2000).
Terence was somewhat of a rogue thinker, forever on the fringes of acceptable debate and often referred to as the heir to Timothy Leary, which I think is rather unfair. To me a more accurate relationship can be made with the British writer Aldous Huxley. I once attended a two day workshop seminar by Terence in London in 1994, where I sat and listened to his hypnotic voice discuss ideas about Time, novelty, psychedelics, history and what he called 'The Archaic Revival'. I think my initial interest in him came through his involvement with groups like The Shamen and Space Time Continuum who both created backing electronic tracks to Terence's monologues. While most academics and scholars have pretty much dismissed his ideas, I have recently come across a number of references to McKenna in interviews of artists (Carroll Dunham, Fred Tomaselli ) and in the now swelling debates about apocalypse and the end of the world in 2012 . The main cultural reference for 2012 issues seems to be aspects of the Mayan calender, but McKenna's Time Wave Theory (also called Novelty Theory ) also indicated late December 2012 as a point of some phase shift event. Listening to Terence's voice again on downloaded mp3 talks and lectures (a good starting point would be Psychedelic Salon Podcasts or LanceRules) my early interests in mysticism (in which I did a Masters at Kent) and its various manifestations with shamanism, entheogens and speculative philosophy have been stirred once again. I suppose in particular my perspectives on art being made now has, in the last year or so, been gradually moulded by intimations of what Terence would call an 'Archaic Revival'. This is something I have quietly been pondering as I wander through biennales and galleries, or speak with artists. Other posts in this blog have also outlined aspects of this territory. Something Terence said in a public talk has resonated in particular: "The secret faith of the C20th is not Modernism. It is a nostalgia for the Archaic, for the Paleolithic." This neatly sums up his position, and much of his writings and speaking was concerned with explicating the manifestations of this 'nostalgia' through art movements, music and entheogens.
Many exhibitions and art projects today seem to be referencing what can be called a 'pre-Modern' time line, accessing notions of the occult, the unseen and ritual to evoke disturbances or breaks with our current space-time (for example read Lars Bang Larsen's article The Other Side in frieze magazine 2007), or moving outwards to re-connect our present with the infinity of space, science fiction domains and telepathic technologies. I find this very interesting because I think it also moves art practice and thinking about art back into a realm which it has always occupied, although often forgotten and veiled over by pre-occupations with heavy theory. Taking into account and giving room for the important discussions about Primitivism and cultural globalisation which have matured since the 1990s, I feel that much current art asks us to consider different linguistic landscapes which take account of bodily experiences, perturbed states of consciousness and their evaluation. In mapping this terrain the work of Terence McKenna seems to offer some significant markers. Another McKenna-ism which he frequently used was 'Culture is not your Friend!' - indicating that culture is an operating system which dictates how one can behave and think in a given context, effectively curtailing one's abilities to investigate potential. In an age when culture seems to stand for some abstractly defined sense of 'Goodness', and for those of us who work in the so-called 'cultural industries' such a mantra may be rather important. For Terence the figure of the shaman was someone who knew this, and who intentionally 'took flight' from it, crucially returning to share knowledge with the community.
How one can 'take flight' today, eight years on from Terence's passing, is something which we perhaps need to imagine.