he first time I heard the voice of Terence McKenna, the famed
New Age spokesperson for those alien creatures who express themselves
in psilocybin hallucinations, I found the experience painful. Perhaps
it was the context. Over the noise of our loud office, through two
huge stereo speakers, and partially obscured by a relentless techno
soundtrack, McKenna was droning obscurely about the journey of human
consciousness to a higher plane - or at least I think that's what he
was talking about. "Somebody please turn it off," I prayed, and
thankfully, somebody did.
When I saw that McKenna had released audio tapes of his lectures on
James Joyce and Marshall McLuhan, I had to give the famous mycophagist
another chance. I already knew that McLuhan was a big Joyce fan and
that it was from the bottomless imbrications and bejeweled depths of
Finnegan's Wake that McLuhan had retrieved some of his
most durable ideas.
Finnegan's Wake remains murky to me, and I'm always
interested in getting a little help. So when I saw that McKenna had
paired these two writers, it seemed to be a sign that he had something
intelligent to say.
In fact, he does. These two lectures are extraordinarily
entertaining. McKenna's laconic drone and his casual but accurate
explanations ease you right into the state of vulnerable curiosity
necessary to absorb the obscure, hypnotic messages of Joyce and of one
of his greatest readers.
McKenna's discussion is not startling - he describes Joyce's
multivoiced work as a challenge to the proud rationality of
enlightenment culture. He also calls upon McLuhan to show how modern
media and electronic culture realize Joyce's vision of a world in
which hallucinations, dream logic, and supraindividual thoughts
function as the driver (or perhaps the back-seat driver) as we
accelerate toward the millenium. McKenna quotes extensively and
explains the hard parts clearly.
These tapes are fun. I listened to them in my car, where the
background soundtrack, in the interstices of McKenna's sentences,
included only blank and comforting silence.
By Gary Wolf
Illustration by Marcus Sorensen
Surfing on Finnegan's Wake & Riding the Range with Marshall McLuhan
2 cassettes; 120 minutes; US$18.95
Mystic Fire Audio
PO Box 422
Prince Street Station
New York, NY 10012