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Ecstasies of Philosophies

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Ecstasies of Philosophies

and the Snark as Symbol of Self. From the files of the RJ's Surrealist Research Bureau

Recalling my college days in the turbulent yet tranquil 1970s Santa Barbara only one teacher stands out to me. I was a just-returned Viet Nam vet going to school on the GI Bill and, like many others, felt those strange rumbling stirrings of a spiritual quest. Philosophy and Comparative World Religions seemed a good way to start and an unknown Professor, Dr. Timothy Fetler, taught the courses.

 Every other week Dr. Fetler would bring in guest lecturers, Tibetan mystics, Apocalyptic Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Sufi saints who’d try and explain to us their various worldviews. Dr. Fetler would occasionally regale us with tales of his own spiritual journey and there’s one in particular I’d like to relate. 

In the late 1950s a duo came to campus from an unnamed government agency (the CIA, it later came to light) and gathered together separate groups of the area’s religious leaders, philosophers, Jesuit scholars and poets to try the effects of a new drug called LSD-25. The subjects were given a dose and left to wander the grounds of a scenic mansion in the sylvan hills behind Santa Barbara.

Dr. Fetler related they moved all day, molasses-slow, through a wonderland of never-before-seen colors, heartbreakingly beautiful bird songs, and Mozart playing softly on a hi-fi in the mansion. His soul filled with ecstasy and in a flash the secret, hidden meaning of life revealed itself to him. He pulled out a pen and hurriedly wrote down the secret on the back of a dollar bill from his wallet, afraid he’d forget it in the midst of that transcendent day’s wonders.

And forget it he did; it wasn’t ‘til nearly a week later that he came across that bill while paying for gas and in a rush it all came back to him: the incredible day, the ecstatic raptures of his winged soul and the secret of life he’d written that day on the dollar bill: “It’s not whether you win or lose it’s how you play the game.”

Now at the time of my own classes, I was no stranger to exotic, mind-altering substances and my grades suffered. I was more interested in helping out a fledgling group of like-minded Viet Nam vets in campaigning to end the war and bring our brothers home. Dr. Fetler first helped bail us out in 1970 when we were arrested for trying to march in a Veterans Day Parade. He told me though I was failing his class he suggested he’d pass me with extra credit if I’d submit an essay on the Search for Self. In between skipping classes and traveling to veterans’ groups and demonstrations (and the never-ending search for true love) my own Search for the Self had led me to the works of surrealism, Lautreamont, and to the creations of Lewis Carroll, especially “The Hunting of the Snark,” which in yet another vision through magic mushrooms I came, like Dr. Fetler’s insight written on a dollar bill, to find secrets revealed to initiates and holy madmen alone in the mystical.

Revelations abounded in every line: “The bowsprit got mixed with the rudder sometimes,” seemed to refer to the to halves of the brain or the animus and anima, ever separate, not communicating and worse, the helmsman (or soul) cannot mediate, knows it’s wrong but alas, like Catch 22, Rule 42 of the Naval Code states: “No one shall speak to the man at the helm and the man at the helm shall speak to no one.” And some snarks are not snarks at all but boojums... now, lest the bakers among you faint dead away: “But oh beamish readers, beware the day—If your snark be a boojum for then—You will softly and suddenly vanish away—and never be met with again!” That seemed to refer to the legend which holds that the Self (or snark or grail) when found at last will cause your self/ego to dissipate and the real “boojum” self will take its true place, transformed alchemically through the search process.

The different crewmen on the Snark hunt seemed to refer to parts of the self, ego, or character traits—The Banker, the Butcher, the Baker, the Lawyer. A mathematics lesson is given in the fifth stanza and a mapmaking treatise in the third. Yet at the end, as all searchers after Self discover, “In the midst of the word he was trying to say—In the midst of his laughter and glee—He had softly and suddenly vanished away—for the snark was a boojum you see!” 

Rest in Peace, Dr. Fetler. and All Homage to Xena!

A note to readers: “The Hunting of the Snark,” by Lewis Carroll, while not as wildly popular as the Alice books, can be found in almost any library. The early CIA experiments with LSD, while not widely known, gave rise to one remarkable account, “The Good Friday Miracle at Harvard,” in which 20 divinity students were given the drug in church and fully 80 percent felt they’d communed with God.

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Jody Forest Jody Forest When he's not hidden behind the palatial gates of his Dover estate, Casa de Bozo, Jody is out using outdated and corny pickup lines on various gullible women.

Tagged as:

Surrealist Research Bureau, philosophy, Lewis Carroll, Dr. Timothy Fetler, LSD, LSD experiments, Santa Barbara, The Hunting of the Snark, The Good Friday Miracle at Harvard

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