White Hand Society: The Psychedelic Partnership of Timothy Leary & Allen Ginsberg

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Overview

In 1960 Timothy Leary was not yet famous—or infamous—and Allen Ginsberg was both. Leary, eager to expand his psychedelic experiments at Harvard to include accomplished artists and writers, knew that Ginsberg held the key to bohemia’s elite. “America’s most conspicuous beatnik” was recruited as Ambassador of Psilocybin under the auspices of an Ivy League professor, and together they launched the psychedelic revolution and turned on the hippie generation. A who’s who of artists, pop culture, and political figures ...

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White Hand Society: The Psychedelic Partnership of Timothy Leary & Allen Ginsberg

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Overview

In 1960 Timothy Leary was not yet famous—or infamous—and Allen Ginsberg was both. Leary, eager to expand his psychedelic experiments at Harvard to include accomplished artists and writers, knew that Ginsberg held the key to bohemia’s elite. “America’s most conspicuous beatnik” was recruited as Ambassador of Psilocybin under the auspices of an Ivy League professor, and together they launched the psychedelic revolution and turned on the hippie generation. A who’s who of artists, pop culture, and political figures people this story of the life, times, and friendship of two of the most famous, charismatic, and controversial members of America’s counterculture.

Peter Conners is the author of Growing Up Dead, The Hallucinated Confessions of a Teenage Deadhead.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In 1960, Allen Ginsberg, high on William Blake and the resounding success of his epic poem, Howl, met Timothy Leary, the new Harvard psychologist eager to convince the world that getting high on psychedelic drugs could soothe the savage beast in the human heart. Conners (Growing Up Dead: The Hallucinated Confessions of a Teenage Deadhead) splendidly brings these two mavericks back to life as he chronicles that first meeting at Leary's house and traces their growing bond as they built the bridges between the "holy trinity" (Albert Hofmann, the father of psychedelics; Aldous Huxley; and William Blake) of visionary consciousness expansion and the 1960s psychedelic movement. Along the way, we glimpse all the familiar faces of the 1960s psychedelic era--Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, who conducted their own acid tests; Jack Kerouac; William Burroughs; and Neal Cassady, among others. As Conners keenly observes, Ginsberg gave Leary entrée to the influential world of artistic America, and Leary gave Ginsberg an opportunity to expose America to powerful hallucinatory visions. Conners records Ginsberg and Leary's long, strange trip, from their earliest experiments with psilocybin to their deaths in the late 1990s. (Nov.)
Electric Review
"White Hand is notable for both the tremendous amount of new information it provides and they way that it's presented. Conners not only tells us the whens and whys but he does so by-way of a seamless narrative that puts history into relevant perspective. Obviously, Conners instinctively understands the sensibilities of both Leary and Ginsberg and he writes from the 'inside,' giving a voice to the secret details of a movement that would come to influence the course of every art form."
Washington City Paper
"Combining strong archival research (especially in the Ginsberg archives at Stanford) with a narrative flair that animates, say, a lecture Leary made in Copenhagen into something out of Kinsey. Conners traces Leary’s progress from philandering West Coast researcher to psychedelic convert and Harvard lecturer alongside Allen Ginsberg’s progression from clean-shaven Blakean to hirsute Blakean. On the way, the two join forces to convince the Youth of the virtues of acid."
San Francisco Chronicle
Conners writes like a poet and researches like a scholar. He pored over hundreds of letters, FBI files and other primary sources to shed new light on these two avatars of altered consciousness. He argues convincingly that Leary 'would have just been some square Harvard professor' without the introductions and connections that Ginsberg provided.
Popmatters
Conners maps the trail of where Ginsberg's paths intersected with Leary's over three-hundred readable, well-paced, straightforward pages.
Prague Post
"Leary's life, and his fruitful collaboration with the poet Allen Ginsberg, has been illuminated in Peter Conners' recent study, White Hand Society: The Psychedelic Partnership of Timothy Leary and Allen Ginsberg, an engaging narrative which spans several decades, as well as the entire U.S., with side trips to Europe and North Africa."
From the Publisher
"A full account of the two 1960s icons who made it their cause to launch the psychedelic age…an entertaining overview of an era whose echoes still ring."—Kirkus
Kirkus Reviews
"A full account of the two 1960s icons who made it their cause to launch the psychedelic age. . . . an entertaining overview of an era whose echoes still ring."
Library Journal
Although Allen Ginsberg and Timothy Leary were more friendly acquaintances and fellow travelers than close friends, LSD was the common bond in their relationship, a fact that holds back any real drama from Conners's pairing here of their stories. Leary essentially partied his way out of a Harvard temporary appointment—and out of academe altogether—because of his obsession with acid. In contrast, Howl conferred upon Ginsberg the status of greatest poet of the American individual spirit since Whitman. As anecdote upon anecdote here demonstrates, Ginsberg had rich (and middling and silly) things to say about every aspect of a culture that he both exemplified and influenced. Leary was stuck on LSD, and although hanging out with Ken Kesey and living in Algerian exile under the resentful sponsorship of the Black Panthers increased his luster, he never was or could be Ginsberg's peer. While this may not have been the Conners's intent, his clear conclusion—which others before him have reached—is that Leary was a relative lightweight, certainly when compared to Ginsberg.Verdict Rich on story, absent of backstory, but a must skim for fans of Sixties counterculture memoirs.—Scott H. Silverman, Earlham Coll. Lib., Richmond, IN
Kirkus Reviews

A full account of the two 1960s icons who made it their cause to launch the psychedelic age.

BOA Editions editor Conners (Growing Up Dead: The Hallucinated Confessions of a Teenage Deadhead, 2009, etc.) begins with sketches of his subjects' early years, then moves to 1960, when they met. By then, Ginsberg was the famous symbol of the Beat generation, open about both drugs and sexuality. Leary, a Harvard instructor, had begun using mescaline to research schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. Another Harvard psychologist introduced the two, thinking Leary might find the poet an interesting subject. Each was convinced of the importance of psychedelics, and the two had complementary strengths: Ginsberg's wide connections in the artistic world and Leary's cachet as a Harvard researcher. In November 1960, they created a plan to spread the gospel of psychedelics. Letters went out to writers, jazz musicians, artists and others who might try the drugs and spread the word. But Leary underestimated how straight society would react as Harvard, then the world at large, became aware of his drug sessions. Losing his job in a blaze of publicity, Leary went on the road in his new role as prophet of LSD. Meanwhile, Ginsberg was pursuing mystical paths to enlightenment in India. They grew apart as the '60s played out—Leary as the leading advocate of a drug-fueled counterculture, Ginsberg as an advocate of peace and social change. Leary increasingly became the target of busts and persecution, and eventually went to prison in California. After escaping, he fled overseas, but was recaptured and served hard time until he turned state's evidence to gain his freedom. The two men were never really close thereafter, but their paths crossed from time to time, surrounded by a cast of characters ranging from Ken Kesey to G. Gordon Liddy.

Conners sometimes falls into hero worship, especially of Ginsberg, and the time frame is occasionally unclear, but he provides an entertaining overview of an era whose echoes still ring.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780872865358
  • Publisher: City Lights Books
  • Publication date: 11/23/2010
  • Pages: 312
  • Sales rank: 1,438,061
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Conners

Peter Conners is author of the memoir, Growing Up Dead: The Hallucinated Confessions of a Teenage Deadhead (Da Capo Press, 2009). His other books include the prose poetry collection Of Whiskey and Winter and the novella Emily Ate the Wind. His next poetry collection, The Crows Were Laughing in their Trees, is forthcoming from White Pine Press in spring 2011. He is also editor of PP/FF: An Anthology which was published by Starcherone Books in April 2006. His writing appears regularly in such journals as Poetry International, Mississippi Review, Brooklyn Rail, Fiction International, Salt Hill, Hotel Amerika, Mid-American Review, The Bitter Oleander, and Beloit Fiction Journal and will be included in the Forty Under Forty poetry anthology forthcoming from Yale University Press.

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Table of Contents

Turn On

1 Blakean Vision in Harlem 11

2 A New Game 19

3 The Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost 27

4 Immovable If Not Immortal 35

5 The Road to November 55

6 Ambassador of Psilocybin 75

Tune In

7 Dear Mr. Monk 95

8 Applied Mysticism: From Tangier to Copenhagen 109

9 Fallout at Harvard 123

10 Allen Abroad 135

11 Enter LSD, Exit Harvard 147

Drop Out

12 "Superheroes wanted for real life movie work." 163

13 The King of May 187

14 Human Be-In 199

15 Shoot to Live. Aim for Life 215

16 "America I've given you all and now I'm nothing." 235

17 Om Ah Hum 245

Postscript Final Trips 257

Notes 263

Houseboat Summit Transcript 271

Bibliography 303

Thanks and Appreciations 207

About the Author 309

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