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Literary Criticism English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh

Psychedelic Prophets

The Letters of Aldous Huxley and Humphry Osmond

edited by Cynthia Carson Bisbee, Paul Bisbee, Erika Dyck & and Sexton James Spisak Patrick Farrell

McGill-Queen's University Press
Initial publish date
Nov 2018
English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh
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    Publish Date
    Nov 2018
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    Nov 2018
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Aldous Huxley (1894–1963) was the author of nearly fifty books and numerous essays, best known for his dystopian novel Brave New World. Humphry Osmond (1917–2004) was a British-trained psychiatrist interested in the biological nature of mental illness and the potential for psychedelic drugs to treat psychoses, especially schizophrenia. In 1953, Huxley sent an appreciative note to Osmond about an article he and a colleague had published on their experiments with mescaline, which inspired an initial meeting and decade-long correspondence.

This critical edition provides the complete Huxley-Osmond correspondence, chronicling an exchange between two brilliant thinkers who explored such subjects as psychedelics, the visionary experience, the nature of mind, human potentialities, schizophrenia, death and dying, Indigenous rituals and consciousness, socialism, capitalism, totalitarianism, power and authority, and human evolution. There are references to mutual friends, colleagues, and eminent figures of the day, as well as details about both men's personal lives. The letters bear witness to the development of mind-altering drugs aimed at discovering the mechanisms of mental illness and eventually its treatment. A detailed introduction situates the letters in their historical, social, and literary context, explores how Huxley and Osmond first coined the term "psychedelic," contextualizes their work in mid-century psychiatry, and reflects on their legacy as contributors to the science of mind-altering substances.

Psychedelic Prophets is an extraordinary record of a full correspondence between two leading minds and a testament to friendship, intellectualism, empathy, and tolerance. The fact that these sentiments emerge so clearly from the letters, at a historical moment best known for polarizing ideological conflict, threats of nuclear war, and the rise of post-modernism, reveals much about the personalities of the authors and the persistence of these themes today.

About the authors

Cynthia Bisbee is a psychologist who worked with Humphry Osmond at Bryce Hospital in Alabama for over two decades.

Cynthia Carson Bisbee's profile page

Paul Bisbee worked for the Alabama Department of Mental Health for thirty-five years, first at Bryce Hospital, where he met and worked with Humphry Osmond.

Paul Bisbee's profile page

Erika Dyck is a historian of health, medicine, and Canadian society at the University of Saskatchewan. Her research has concentrated on the history of mental health, institutionalization, and experimentation.

Erika Dyck's profile page

Patrick Farrell is a philosophy instructor and editor based in Toronto. James Sexton is a contributing editor of the Aldous Huxley Annual, who has published numerous articles on Huxley, as well as ten book-length editions of his work. James W. Spisak is the executive director of the Aldous and Laura Huxley Literary Trust.

and Sexton James Spisak Patrick Farrell's profile page

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