by Sebastián Marincolo on 08/06/2016 | Opinion

Henri Michaux, Cannabis, and the Flying Carpet, Part I

Henri Michaux During a high, Michaux experiences many surprises – and he follows their trail. Myriads of cannabis users have reported that a cannabis high makes them feel as if they would perceive something for the first time; whatever comes to their attention often comes with a strong feeling of awe and curiosity.


Henri Michaux, Cannabis, and the flying carpet

Everywhere I go I find that a poet has been there before me.“

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)

He was admired by many of his contemporaries both for his poetry and writing as well as for his unique paintings. The French writer André Gide was so fascinated by his work that he wrote a book to promote him entitled Let’s Discover Henri Michaux. Paul Celan, the German poet who translated Michaux into German, thought that Michaux’s work was just as enigmatic and hard to decipher as Kafka’s writings. And the art critic Peter Schjeldahl wrote about Michaux in the New York Times:

„He strikes me as being one of the most palpably authentic of post-war European artists. Influenced by Ernst and Klee, he created an art of energized ideograms and meandering calligraphy, of figures evolving haphazardly out of weltering chaos, or of the chaos asserting itself to wipe out anything recognizable.“[1]

Michaux Painting “Chinese Ink drawing, 1961”, painted under the influence of mescaline.
Michaux Painting “Chinese Ink drawing, 1961”, painted under the influence of mescaline.

Michaux was born in 1899 in the small Belgian town of Namur, the very town where the French writer and poet Charles Baudelaire died. Like Baudelaire and the German philosopher Walter Benjamin, Michaux experimented with several psychoactive substances including mescaline and hashish to explore what he would call the “space inside.”

Baudelaire, Benjamin, and Michaux certainly belong to the most vigorous, proficient, and brilliant modern psychonauts.[2] All three of them were prodigious literates and explicitly set out to self-experiment with hashish, determined to express their journeys into the inner realms of consciousness.

Like Baudelaire and Benjamin, Michaux left us with incredibly perceptive, poetic and sometimes cryptic descriptions of the effects of cannabis on the human mind. Michaux is much better know for his writing on his mescaline experiments – he also created many of his more famous paintings under the influence of this substance – yet, his writing on hashish is just as profound and insightful. Like the writing of Baudelaire and Benjamin’s protocols written under the influence of the hashish high, Michaux’s work needs decoding and interpretation. But from all we know about the cannabis high today we can say that he beautifully and accurately described many of its most amazing effects in meticulous detail.

The three dedicated psychonauts Baudelaire, Benjamin, and Michaux often experimented with very large ingested doses of hashish, which led to much more pronounced effects on their mind and body than those experienced by most modern users. This allowed them to make observations on some extreme effects, which helps us to understand the nature of the cannabis high. It is especially interesting to see in how much vivid detail Michaux described many interesting cognitive and perceptual enhancements of the hashish high.[3]

A Sense of Wonder, The Hyperfocus of Attention, and Stereovision

In his book Miserable Miracle Michaux notes:

“Anyone who takes hashish as an experiment witness after taking mescaline leaves a racing automobile or a long distance electric locomotive for a pony.”

Yet, he adds in a footnote: “A pony, however, is capable of surprises not to be looked from a locomotive.”[4]

During a high, Michaux experiences many surprises – and he follows their trail.

Myriads of cannabis users have reported that a cannabis high makes them feel as if they would perceive something for the first time; whatever comes to their attention often comes with a strong feeling of awe and curiosity. This is certainly one of the great enhancements a high can bring. For the philosophers Aristotle and Plato, the feeling of awe and amazement towards something perceived or contemplated is the very beginning of all philosophy. If we feel this, we do not take something as given anymore and we wonder about it, we start our investigation. Many cannabis users had this feeling of awe seeing a landscape, hearing music, or experiencing a kiss as if it was for the first time.

In his book Miserable Miracle, Michaux writes:

“(…) whatever Hashish displays interests me. I follow it all the way. I want to know the end. I want to know where it is taking me.”[5]

Looking at a photograph, he writes: “And I so devoured this colored landscape with a new eagerness. How wonderful looking it is! A new youth came back to me, one of the subtlest, the youth of the eye.”[6]

Michaux also observes that the high focuses his attention (I have often called this the “hyperfocus”-effect of attention during a high):

“With Hashish in me I am a falcon. If I give a circular glance it will be only once, as one makes a general survey, not to be repeated. I am against dispersion. I look for an object in order to follow its trail. (…) Nothing can distract me.”[7]

Michaux notes that he can perceive a photo with “marvelous optical dexterity”. He describes his “stereovision” of a photograph – which makes him better see the photo ‘in depth’– and also describes ‘stereoaudition’ of sounds.

An enhanced ability for stereovision has also been reported by other cannabis users, such as an anonymous planetary geologist to Lester Grinspoon’s collection of anecdotal reports of marijuana-users. This scientist reports that planetary geologists rely on two stereo image photos of planetary landscapes taken from two slightly different angles by satellites and that usually, one needs a device like a stereo-opticon to judge depth perception from those paired photos:

„But one evening we smoked some especially potent marihuana, purely for pleasure. I amused myself by looking at a pair of stereo photographs that had been left in the room. Suddenly the two pictures merged into a single three-dimensional view. It was like a gift from God.“[8]

stereo-photo cbc1f0c049844260e18943f83446c048
An early stereo image photo which can create the illusion of depth with a stereo-viewer.

Altered Body Image Perception and The Flying Carpet

Interestingly, Michaux also notes a drastic change in his perception of his own body. Many users have times again reported that they have intensified body sensations during a high. For very strong dosages, users report body image distortions (such as the feeling that one’s leg is 3 meters long) as well as ‘loosing their body’ completely. Likewise, Michaux writes:

“At the time I did not know that the sensation of floating in the air, of being weightless, was one of the characteristics of hashish. The flying carpet is not just a legend, but an old reality in Persia and Arabia where for centuries Indian hemp made people float on the air and travel through the skies.” [9]

Flying Carpet
Flying Carpet

 

[1] Quoted from Douglas McGill, „Henri Michaux, Poet and Artist

[2] In his book Approaches to Drugs and Intoxication (1970), the German writer Ernst Jünger coined the term “psychonaut” for someone who explores the inner realms of his consciousness by means of consciousness-altering substances.

[3] For an overview on some possible cognitive enhancements during a high see my essay “The Ten Most Useful Mind-Enhancements During a High”,

[4] Henri Michaux, Miserable Miracle, Lycaeum, Translated by Louise Varese 1963, Chapter 4, Indian Hemp,

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Anonymous, „Cannabis and Planetary Surfaces“, in: Lester Grinspoon (ed.) (2016), marijuana-uses.com

[9] Henri Michaux, „Miserable Miracle“, Chapter 4, Indian Hemp

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