Altered States and the Master Cleanse


My first awareness of Paddy Chayefksy, that celebrated wordsmith of the greatest screenplay ever written—Network not Chinatown—was when he told off Vanessa Redgrave at 1978 the Oscars (I was sixteen at the time and in love with Richard Dreyfuss in The Goodbye Girl). I pulled up the YouTube clip today and I must say I am impressed with his extemporaneous alliteration: “propagation of their own personal political propaganda”. For the record, I adore Vanessa Redgrave (I admit to skimming over the political sections of her autobiography).

Altered States, Chayefsky’s only novel, has been on my shelf for awhile. I dig this first edition copy with this cool 70’s/80’s typeface. I watched the Ken Russell film years ago, but gave it another watch recently. Russell has a singular vision, and he and the writer apparently battled so much over the script that Chayefsky took what amounted to an Alan Smithee in the credits. I’m guess both of these men could be quite the egotists. I like the film a lot and it follows the book pretty faithfully.


The basic plot is that a university professor (Edward Jessup, played in the movie by a very young William Hurt) attempts to discover the nature of consciousness by combining psychedelic drugs with floating in a sensory deprivation chamber. In the process, he trips on magic mushrooms in Mexico and changes into a hominid and back again, giving Ken Russell plenty of opportunities to exploit his visionary imagination.

Blair Brown plays his long suffering wife, Emily, who sticks it out long enough with him to help him realize, by the end, that all we have is the now, and that love—represented by a naked man and woman in an embrace—is the only truth we can cling to.

The final truth of all things is that there is no final truth.

I quite enjoyed Chayefsky’s writing style, which is simultaneously both erudite and commercial. It’s a shame this was his only novel.

I’ve never been much into psychedelics (too scary for me), but I am interested in dreams and have experienced the pleasure and terror of lucid dreaming. I especially enjoy my flying dreams. I’ve often wondered if the experiences of dreams is as real as our waking reality. I’ve been dreaming off the charts this week because I am currently in the midst of the dreaded Master Cleanse. Fasting, of course, has a spiritual component and has traditionally been part of the mystic’s vision quests. This, I admit, is not by motivation (that would be my tight Levis). I’m in the home stretch and the jeans are already falling off me (yes!) I must be in a pure state because the other night my dream was so vivid I think I crossed over some plane where I actually felt pain in my dream. It could have been a leg cramp, but in the dream I was barefoot and when I stepped on a gravel path I felt the pebbles digging into my feet and it bloody hurt. Unfortunately, the ouch moment snapped me out of the Alpha state and back into wakefulness. Often during these lucid dreams the moment of realizing you’re dreaming is difficult to hold onto. My fasting experiment (for whatever reason) has enabled me to enter the dream world with more consciousness. It’s also made me more present during my waking state. Who’s to say which is more real?


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