The Yage Letters Redux

The Yage Letters Redux

Book - 2006
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Publisher: San Francisco : City Lights Books, 2006
Edition: 4th ed
Branch Call Number: 816.54 B972y
Characteristics: lii, 127 p. : ill. ; 19 cm


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Mar 02, 2016

This book which has a long introduction by the editor Oliver Harris, covers the letters Burroughs sent to Allen Ginsberg in 1953, and the last brief part comprise of letters written by Allen Ginsberg in 1960 to Burroughs from South America. This was not an enjoyable read by any means, especially the introduction, and letters that Burroughs wrote to Ginsberg.

Burroughs goes on and on about the beaurocracy and corruption he encounters in South America (S.A.), the boys he picks up and for how much, searching endlessly for Yage, with little success. It reads more like a haphazard travelogue than anything else.

When he does obtain some Yage (Ayahuasca), and drinks it, he thinks he has taken too much and abruptly follows it with its antidote which is some form of opiate, his drug of choice. None of the fasting and preparation that people go through before embarking on this frightening and possibly illuminating journey; instead he drinks alcohol every night, so I can see why he never really experienced this powerful medicine of the Amazon, but skirted around it.

Having experienced Yage once, I can say for sure that it takes you to the brink of death or at least the experience of dying is a common occurrence reported by many who have dared to ingest it. But Burroughs was looking for “the final fix”, not knowing perhaps that Yage was not a drug like the others, that it served to open one’s eyes unlike its antidote the opiates which puts you to sleep. I feel that if he had endured the initial discomfort and purification (nausea and vomiting) that this plant concoction inevitably brings, he would have come out of that into an insightful and serene place full of profound realizations about his life. But I found no such thing in his meandering accounts of his adventures.

So there was not much in the way of his actual experience of Yage in his account. However, Ginsberg’s letters to him which comprise a very small part of the book are eloquent poetic descriptions of a true experience of Yage.

Jul 08, 2011

On the surface this appears to be stream of consciousness letters that Burroughs wrote when he was in South America looking for Yage. But the long, scholarly (and much less fun to read than Burroughs text) introduction shows that these texts were revised over many periodical publications and 3 editions of the book from City Lights Press. Burroughs is ostensibly writing to Allen Ginsberg but this edition includes original drafts of the texts, revised drafts that appeared in magazines, an obscene section that was left out of the first book edition but resulted in prosecution when it was excerpted in a literary magazine, and letters, poems, and journal entries written by Allen Ginsberg.

One reason Yage will never become a drug of choice is that it has to be prepared from the bark of the vine within 4-5 hours of cutting.

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