Trip offers only a hazy, liminal view through the doors to perception.
In the novella-length epilogue to his drug memoir, Trip: Psychedelics, Alienation, and Change, novelist and poet Tao Lin explains that he’d originally titled his book Beyond Existentialism, but his editor talked him out of it. While Trip certainly sounds snappier, Lin’s book—while devoting entire lengthy chapters to the history of and his own experiences with psilocybin, DMT, salvia, and cannabis—ultimately explores how psychedelic substances remove the psychological and physiological boundaries that define our existential experience, allowing users to perceive a consciousness greater than themselves. While Lin’s impeccable research, particularly through his scholarly consumption of famed 20th century psychonaut Terence McKenna’s work, makes for compelling insight into the historical use and scientific aspects of these unique plants, the accounts of his own experiences are mildly amusing at best and tedious at worst.
Lin makes the distinction between psychedelics and “drugs”—both of the pharmaceutical and more commonly recreational variety—in a number of ways, but most notably in that he perceives drugs as robbing from his future energy to enhance his present state in ways that psychedelics do not. He also tends to draw a line between organic and synthesized substances, leaving LSD in an underexplored middle ground throughout the book. The most profound insight he offers regarding the psychedelic experience is how “using only plants and fungi that have evolved over millions of years and have been selected and used by humans over millennia, I can safely travel to the furthest places humans have gone and stay there 5 or 30 or 120 minutes, during which I can experientially research consciousness, death, time, existence, magic, ecstasy, and the mystery within a tradition older than agriculture.”
And yet the written accounts of his own experiences rarely convey this type of wonder. After one particularly significant psilocybin trip, he deletes his social media accounts and destroys his computer. When he arranges to smoke DMT through an online acquaintance, he can’t remember the trip itself and focuses instead on the intense paranoia he felt following it. Even when he smokes and eats cannabis with Kathleen Harris, ex-wife and longtime collaborator of McKenna’s, he focuses on conversational minutia rather than anything inherently meaningful, completely flatlining the momentum he’d built up in the earlier chapters.
An insular and introverted personality, Lin describes his writing and research process at great length in this book, which is of far less interest than the subject matter he’s studying. His chapters on the substances themselves are fascinating, particularly salvia, which doesn’t enter into the psychedelic discussion nearly as much as it deserves to. His exhaustive analysis of McKenna’s worldview marks a high point of the book, which makes Lin’s actual interactions with Harrison in the epilogue (in which he makes the contrived stylistic choice to switch from the first to third-person) something of a disappointment when he simply relays the mundane details of a relatively uneventful visit with someone he admires. Elsewhere, Lin has a tendency to be too scattered, interspersing personal and experiential accounts with lengthy tangents into dense academic discourse. Ultimately, the book’s self-indulgent tone and alternatingly contrived and unfocused structure means Trip, though touching upon a few fresh insights into achieving transcendence through the psychedelic experience, offers only a hazy, liminal view through the doors to perception.