Pipe Dreams cover art

Pipe Dreams: The Drug Experience in Literature, edited and with an introduction by Gilbert Alter-Gilbert

From antiquity to the present, people have sought artificial paradise in the stimulations and insights afforded by the use of intoxicants. Famous literary figures have often been the first to experiment with little-known drugs, and to champion their unique fascination upon the human imagination. In this remarkable anthology, a dazzling array of authors, including H. G. Wells, Marie Corelli, Guy de Maupassant, Leo Tolstoy, Charles Dickens, Stephen Crane, Sadegh Hedayat, Santiago Dabove, Jean Cocteau, William James, Charles Baudelaire, Théophile Gautier, and a host of others from many cultures and historical periods, raids a pharmacopoeia containing ether, absinthe, morphine, hashish, opium, cocaine, heroin, alcohol, chloral hydrate, psilocybin, ayahuasca, carbon tetrachloride, LSD, amyl nitrate, ecstasy, and angel dust, in flights of descriptive prose of unparalleled suggestive power and visionary splendor.

The Book of Tasks by Christopher Spranger

The Book of Tasks, Volume I: Atlantean Undertakings by Christopher Spranger

“There are incompletable tasks. Tasks which are either impossible to accomplish or impossible to comprehend. Such tasks allow one neither the illusion nor the distraction nor the escape of what is styled “success.” On the contrary, the unperceived glory of perpetual failure is their sole promise. Far from whetting the appetite for worldly enterprise, tasks of this sort exercise a stunning and bewildering effect on the will, plunging it into a perplexity which borders on vertigo. Did it puff and pant before in frenzied pursuit of some hallucinated prize? Now look as, crawling to a halt, it sinks, as if seized with paralysis, into that luminous quiescence which hitherto eluded it! . . .  When the will is quelled, the muscles go slack, and when the muscles go slack, the mind kicks into gear; then, on the ruins of volition, perspicacity erects itself. So the servitude to action ends, and the heroism of introspection begins.”

     — Christopher Spranger

The Comedy of Agony by Christopher Spranger

The Comedy of Agony: A Book of Poisonous Contemplations by Christopher Spranger

This book is the fruit of my desire to perform simultaneously two feats impossible to perform simultaneously, two feats that could not even be performed separately, by myself: to write the next Commedia, and to bring forth a volume whose every page would remain pure of the word “God.” Needless to say, the more I tried to exclude this latter from my concerns, the more I was haunted by Him. God is like a disease whose etiology is not well understood of which the helpless victim seeks to cure himself in vain. As for redoing Dante’s epic: my total inability to detect even the slightest hint of reality anyplace outside of Hell turned out to be a considerable obstacle to the completion of this enterprise. To save Purgatory from what I perceived as its insipidity and to make it into something more than a mere watered-down Inferno, I was forced to transform it in my mind into a realm where one got stuck, into a realm where one waited forever for a delivering call that never came. Nor could I seriously entertain any Paradise save that death consisting in complete extinction promised us by the utopian doctrine of reductive materialism. In case the consequences of this weren’t already catastrophic enough, there is yet another way in which I failed to meet up to my own expectations: aspiring to a very serious and solemn tone, to a tone as black as midnight and as cold as the moon, I wound up writing a book riddled with laughter and not a little frivolous. I flatter myself some dismal notes ring out amidst so much diverting music, but all too few, I fear. Lest this should produce the impression I am one of those lofty Stoical beings capable of smiling indifferently at Fate’s demonic pranks, I will say now for the record I am not. As a matter of fact, the mere idea of ataraxia gives me the blues. My blood, my nerves, and my heart unite in repudiating ancient and modern therapies alike. In literature, however, anything is possible. Save genuine happiness, of course — which isn’t possible anywhere. Even the idea of Heaven appears to have no other purpose than to amplify the pain of the universally damned. So long as the human mind is poisoned by the faintest hope of “something better,” we shall all be tormented in the same way as Tantalus is tormented by that water he so longs for and will never taste.

     — Christopher Spranger

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