Later in the day, when I was entering the reassuring but unsatisfactory state known as ‘being in one’s right mind’, I was taken to a row of books stood at the back of what claimed to be The World’s Biggest Drug Store. I picked up a slender little book called The Doors of Perception (1954) by Aldous Huxley.
Yes, Aldous Huxley. That mysterious author, possessed of the rare talent to be able to describe a mescaline trip with lucidity and erudition enough to convey the infinite meaningfulness of naked existence. The Doors of Perception is a record of Huxley’s experience of taking mescaline; but in the transfiguring hands of Huxley it becomes an exploration of how we perceive the world, the nature of art (and the art of nature), and the evolutionary factors that have led us to blot out all but the most necessary stimuli. Were it a less skilled author it may be simply the tale of a middle-aged man wandering around in a mescaline-induced stupor, but Huxley forces the reader to sit up and to consider seriously his proposal of the Mind at Large, tempered by our built-in ‘reducing valve’. His argument, built in slow, considered prose of long but always clear sentences builds an immense force, appearing, after just fifty pages or so, as nigh on irrefutable. Perhaps the weakest factor of the text is Huxley’s tendency to generalize; he talks in sweeping terms of art – but his generalizations are tempered also by his humility and his honesty.
It is a testament to the strength of Huxley’s composition that The Doors of Perception has gone down in literary history as a classic counter-cultural text, earning him a standing alongside Beat writers such as Ginsberg and Burroughs, a place on the cover of The Beatles’ 1967 album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and inspiring the name of rock band The Doors.
I stared at the letters in the book, entranced by Huxley’s prose – how rich, how deeply, mysteriously, convincing!