Terrence McKenna: Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge: A Radical History of Plants, Dugs and Human Revolution 

“I came across food of the gods randomly when I was living in East Texas and 10 years ago. I was learning how to farm and wanted to know more about mycology and stumbled upon the weird and wonderful McKenna who writes exactly the way he speaks. I say so in case there are people out there who would prefer listening over reading. All of his talks are archived on The Psychedelic Salon. The host Lorenzo who is a bit annoying use to be hardcore right and switched teams after an experience.” 

Caroline Wells Chandler 

The ethnobotanist co-author of Psilocybin: The Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide (not reviewed) puts forth the theory that magic mushrooms are the original “tree of knowledge” and that the general lack of psychedelic exploration is leading Western society toward eventual collapse or destruction–controversial statements, to say the least, though the argument’s details often prove fascinating. In the beginning, McKenna tells us, there were protohumans with small brains and plenty of genetic competition, and what eventually separated the men from the apes was an enthusiasm for the hallucinogenic mushrooms that grew on the feces of local cattle. Claiming that psilocybin in the hominid diet would have enhanced eyesight, sexual enjoyment, and language ability and would have thereby placed the mushroom-eaters in the front lines of genetic evolution–eventually leading to hallucinogen-ingesting shamanistic societies, the ancient Minoan culture, and some Amazonian tribes today–McKenna also asserts that the same drugs are now outlawed in the US because of their corrosive effect on our male-dominated, antispiritual society. Unconsciously craving the vehicles by which our ancestors expanded their imaginations and found meaning in their lives, he says, we feast on feeble substitutes: coffee, sugar, and chocolate, which reinforce competition and aggressiveness; tobacco, which destroys our bodies; alcohol, whose abuse leads to male violence and female degradation; TV, which deadens our senses; and the synthetics–heroin, cocaine and their variations–which leave us victimized by our own addiction. On the other hand, argues McKenna, magic mushrooms, used in a spiritually enlightened, ritual manner, can open the door to greater consciousness and further the course of human evolution- -legalization of all drugs therefore is, he says, an urgent necessity. 

Kirkus Reviews
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Further Writings by the Author: 

The Archaic Revival (PDF)

True Hallucinations (PDF)

Lecture Transcript: The Importance of Human Beings (text)

Lecture Transcript: Culture and Ideology are Not Your Friends (text)
Additional Resources: 

We Don’t Know Enough About the Universe to Have Anxiety (audio)

Final Earthbound Interview (video)

The Future of Humanity: McKenna, Sheldrake, Abraham (video)

Psychedelics Before and After History (video)  

Francis Barker: The Tremulous Private Body 

In the seventeenth century there was a profound change in the conditions and representation of the body. Reflecting on a wide range of works, including the Jacobean drama, Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress, rembrandt’s painting, the philosophy of descartes, milton’s areopagitica and Samuel Pepys’ diary, Francis Barkers essay maps a transformation of the spectacular corporeality of the dramatic stage and the scaffold of public execution in the course of which a sexually embarrassing body is redefined, privatized and pushed away from discourse into a furtive half-life beyond the text. The new regime separates the body from the soul and divides the body into two components: the absent body whose desires and appetites are denied, and the positive body which is eventually reinscribed as an object of rational knowledge, prepared for productive and disciplined labour. Built into the argument is an evocation of the way in which this process defines not only the new body, but equally the conditions of modern subjectivity and subjection. The self-gendered subject is constructed comes to define the orders of discourse and of representation which typify the bourgeois epoch. Drawing on the theoretical work of foucault, Derrida, and lacan, and the Marxism of Louis Althusser, the tremulous private body engages the central theme of post-structuralism- discourse, sexuality, textuality and power- but is not a post structuralist work and rejected many of the positions characteristic of post-structuralism, particularly its tendency to depoliticize discourse.
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Joan Didion: The White Album 

First published in 1979, “The White Album “is a journalistic mosaic” “of American life in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s. It includes, among other bizarre artifacts and personalities, reportage on the dark journeys and impulses of the Manson family, a visit to a Black Panther Party press conference, the story of John Paul Getty’s museum, a meditation on the romance of water in an arid landscape, and reflections on the swirl and confusion that marked this era. With commanding sureness of mood and language, Didion exposes the realities and dreams of an age of self-discovery whose spiritual center was California.

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20 Page Excerpt (PDF)

Further Writings: 

On Keeping a Notebook (PDF)
Goodbye to All That (From Slouching Towards Bethlehem (PDF)
On Why I Write (text)
Compilation of Texts Available Online (the Electric Typewriter)

Articles by Joan Didion (compiled by Open Culture

On Self Respect (Article)
The Women’s Movement (Article)
Eye on the Prize (Article)
The Teachings of Speaker Gingrich (Article)
Fixed Opinions, Or the Hinge of History (Article)
Politics in the New Normal America (Article)
The Case of Theresa Schiavo (Article)
The Deferential Spirit (Article)
California Notes (Article)

Additional Resources: 

Interview with Joan Didion, 1992 (video)
How Joan Didion the Writer Became Joan Didion the Legend (Vanity Fair)
The Elitist Allure of Joan Didion (The Atlantic)
The Radicalization of Joan Didion (The New Yorker)

Howard Zinn: Artists in Times of War 

“Political power,” says Howard Zinn, “is controlled by the corporate elite, and the arts are the locale for a kind of guerilla warfare in the sense that guerillas look for apertures and opportunities where they can have an effect.” In Artists in Times of War, Zinn looks at the possibilities to create such apertures through art, film, activism, publishing and through our everyday lives. In this collection of four essays, the author of A People’s History of the United States writes about why “To criticize the government is the highest act of patriotism.” Filled with quotes and examples from the likes of Bob Dylan, Mark Twain, e. e. cummings, Thomas Paine, Joseph Heller, and Emma Goldman, Zinn’s essays discuss America’s rich cultural counternarratives to war, so needed in these days of unchallenged U.S. militarism.
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Additional Resources: 

A People’s History of the United States (PDF)
Zinn Education Project
Author’s Website
Lecture: A People’s History of the United States, 1999 (video)
Lecture: How History Should be Taught in Schools, Studied and Written, 1997 (video)
Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn on Democracy Now, 2007 (video)
Lecture: On the Interpretation of History (video)

Chris Jennings: Paradise Now: The Story of American Utopianism 

In the wake of the Enlightenment and the onset of industrialism, a generation of dreamers took it upon themselves to confront the messiness and injustice of a rapidly changing world. To our eyes, the utopian communities that took root in America in the nineteenth century may seem ambitious to the point of delusion, but they attracted members willing to dedicate their lives to creating a new social order and to asking the bold question What should the future look like?
In Paradise Now, Chris Jennings tells the story of five interrelated utopian movements, revealing their relevance both to their time and to our own. Here is Mother Ann Lee, the prophet of the Shakers, who grew up in newly industrialized Manchester, England–and would come to build a quiet but fierce religious tradition on the opposite side of the Atlantic. Even as the society she founded spread across the United States, the Welsh industrialist Robert Owen came to the Indiana frontier to build an egalitarian, rationalist utopia he called the New Moral World. A decade later, followers of the French visionary Charles Fourier blanketed America with colonies devoted to inaugurating a new millennium of pleasure and fraternity. Meanwhile, the French radical tienne Cabet sailed to Texas with hopes of establishing a communist paradise dedicated to ideals that would be echoed in the next century. And in New York’s Oneida Community, a brilliant Vermonter named John Humphrey Noyes set about creating a new society in which the human spirit could finally be perfected in the image of God.
Over time, these movements fell apart, and the national mood that had inspired them was drowned out by the dream of westward expansion and the waking nightmare of the Civil War. Their most galvanizing ideas, however, lived on, and their audacity has influenced countless political movements since. Their stories remain an inspiration for everyone who seeks to build a better world, for all who ask, What should the future look like?

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Reviews: 

New York Times
The Economist
SF Gate

Additional Resources: 

The Rumpus Interview with Chris Jennings (text)
Chris Jennings: In Order to Form a Utopian Union (essay)
Chris Jennings: A French Communist Utopia in Texas (essay)
The Atlantic: 2 essays by Chris Jennings
Chris Jennings: Deep Dive into American Utopianism (podcast)
Ted Talk: High School Journalism (video)

Achille Mbembe: Critique of Black Reason 

In Critique of Black Reason eminent critic Achille Mbembe offers a capacious genealogy of the category of Blackness—from the Atlantic slave trade to the present—to critically reevaluate history, racism, and the future of humanity. Mbembe teases out the intellectual consequences of the reality that Europe is no longer the world’s center of gravity while mapping the relations among colonialism, slavery, and contemporary financial and extractive capital. Tracing the conjunction of Blackness with the biological fiction of race, he theorizes Black reason as the collection of discourses and practices that equated Blackness with the nonhuman in order to uphold forms of oppression. Mbembe powerfully argues that this equation of Blackness with the nonhuman will serve as the template for all new forms of exclusion. With Critique of Black Reason, Mbembe offers nothing less than a map of the world as it has been constituted through colonialism and racial thinking while providing the first glimpses of a more just future. 

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28 Page Excerpt (PDF)
Reviews: 

Theory Culture & Society
Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education and Society
Further Writings by the Author:

Necropolitics (PDF)
Provisional Notes on the Post Colony (PDF)
Decolonizing Knowledge and the Question of the Archive (PDF)
African Modes of Self Writing (PDF)

Additional Resources:

Panel: Critique of Black Reason: Achille Mbembe, Laurent Dubois and Tsitsi Jaji
Lecture: Politics of Viscerality (video)
Lecture: Technologies of Happiness in the Age of Animism (video)
Lecture: Democracy in the Age of Dynamism (video)
Lecture: Raceless Future

Ananda K. Coomaraswamy: The Dance of Shiva: On Indian Art and Culture

Ananda Coomaraswamy, late curator of Indian art at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, was unexcelled in his knowledge of the arts of the Orient, and unmatched in his understanding of Indian culture, language, religion, and philosophy. In this excellent reprint of a rare volume of essays, he reveals the essence of the Indian experience, rooted in "a constant intuition" of the unity and harmony of all life. Everything has its place, every being its function and all play a part in the divine concert led by Natarājā (Śiva), Lord of Dancers.
In a series of 14 stimulating and provocative essays, Coomaraswamy unfolds the vast metaphysic of India: the magnificent revelation of its art; its conception of the universe; social organization; attitudes toward feminism; problems of family; romantic love, and marriage. His sweeping commentary considers the "intellectual fraternity" of mankind; the venerable past as it survives side by side with emerging modern India; and the individual, autonomy, and repudiation of "the will to govern."
Enhancing the text are 27 black-and-white photographs — mostly of masterpieces of painting and sculpture from the second century B.C. to the eighteenth century, and including the glorious "Cosmic Dance of N taraja." This handsome volume offers rich insight into the art, philosophy, and culture of a fascinating forty-centuries-old civilization.

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Further Readings by the Author Available as PDF:
The Essential Ananda Coomaraswamy
Introduction to Indian Art
Buddha and the Gospel of Buddhism
The Aims of Indian Art (text only)

Additional Resources
A Tale of a Curator and a Collector: The Ross-Coomaraswamy Bond (Asia Society Lecture)

Lewis Hyde: Trickster Makes This World

Trickster Makes This World solidifies Lewis Hyde's reputation as, in Robert Bly's words, "the most subtle, thorough, and brilliant mythologist we now have." In it, Hyde now brings to life the playful and disruptive side of human imagination as it is embodied in trickster mythology. He first revisits the old stories–Hermes in Greece, Eshu in West Africa, Krishna in India, Coyote in North America, among others–and then holds them up against the life and work of more recent creators: Picasso, Duchamp, Ginsberg, John Cage, and Frederick Douglass. Authoritative in its scholarship, loose-limbed in its style, Trickster Makes This World ranks among the great works of modern cultural criticism.

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Profile of Lewis Hyde: What is Art? (NYT)
Review: The Guardian
Introduction to The Gift
Essay: Common as Air

Maggie Nelson: The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning

Writing in the tradition of Susan Sontag and Elaine Scarry, Maggie Nelson has emerged as one of our foremost cultural critics with this landmark work about representations of cruelty and violence in art. From Sylvia Plath’s poetry to Francis Bacon’s paintings, from the Saw franchise to Yoko Ono’s performance art, Nelson’s nuanced exploration across the artistic landscape ultimately offers a model of how one might balance strong ethical convictions with an equally strong appreciation for work that tests the limits of taste, taboo, and permissibility.

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Reviews:
New York Times
NPR
JHU Muse
Slate

Additional Resources:
Writing as Performance: Interview with Maggie Nelson
Two Poems by Maggie Nelson

Pierre Bourdieu: Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste

No judgement of taste is innocent. In a word, we are all snobs. Pierre Bourdieu brilliantly illuminates this situation of the middle class in the modern world. France's leading sociologist focusses here on the French bourgeoisie, its tastes and preferences. Distinction is at once a vast ethnography of contemporary France and a dissection of the bourgeois mind.
In the course of everyday life people constantly choose between what they find aesthetically pleasing and what they consider tacky, merely trendy, or ugly. Bourdieu bases his study on surveys that took into account the multitude of social factors that play a part in a Frenchperson's choice of clothing, furniture, leisure activities, dinner menus for guests, and many other matters of taste. What emerges from his analysis is that social snobbery is everywhere in the bourgeois world. The different aesthetic choices people make are all distinctions-that is, choices made in opposition to those made by other classes. Taste is not pure. Bourdieu finds a world of social meaning in the decision to order bouillabaisse, in our contemporary cult of thinness, in the "California sports" such as jogging and cross-country skiing. The social world, he argues, functions simultaneously as a system of power relations and as a symbolic system in which minute distinctions of taste become the basis for social judgement.
The topic of Bourdieu's book is a fascinating one: the strategies of social pretension are always curiously engaging. But the book is more than fascinating. It is a major contribution to current debates on the theory of culture and a challenge to the major theoretical schools in contemporary sociology.

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Further Readings Available as PDF
Language and Symbolic Power
The Logic of Practice
The Forms of Capital
Social Space and Symbolic Power

Additional Resources:
Routledge Profile of Pierre Bourdieu
Documentary: Sociology is a Martial Art (2002)