One Version of ‘One Version of Terence McKenna’s Life,’ by Tao Lin
The public story of Terence McKenna’s life—in my view, and by my estimates—is a ~450-page book, which could be titled One Version of Terence McKenna’s Life. It’s composed of Terence’s memoir, True Hallucinations (1993), his essays “I Understand Philip K. Dick” and “Among Ayahuasqueros,” certain sentences and anecdotes in dozens of his interviews and talks, and ~15% of The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss - My Life with Terence McKenna (2012) by Dennis McKenna, Terence’s younger brother by four years.
In a lecture called “Surfing Finnegan’s Wake,” Terence referred to a book of literary criticism that told James Joyce’s 656-page novel, Finnegans Wake (1939), in a one-page version, a ten-page version, and a 200-page version. The following biography (which to some degree presupposes knowledge of Terence McKenna’s Memes) is my eight-page, fractal-inflected, short-story-esque version of One Version of Terence McKenna’s Life.
The world which we perceive is a tiny fraction of the world which we canperceive, which is a tiny fraction of the perceivable world. – Terence McKenna, 1987. [“Understanding and Imagination in the Light of Nature”]
1. Paonia, Colorado (1946-1962)
Terence Kemp McKenna was born on November 16, 1946, in “a Colorado cattle and coal-mining town of 1,500 people named Paonia,” he said in an interview in 1993. He elaborated:
They wanted to name it Peony but didn’t know how to spell it. In your last year of high school, you got your girlfriend pregnant, married her, and went to work in the coalmines. An intellectual was someone who read TIME.
The Tao of Terence: Beyond “Existentialism”
I learned of Terence McKenna (1946-2000) on September 14, 2012, when I was 29 years old. It was the day after I had completed the main final draft of Taipei, my first book to include psychedelics and which ends with a scene in which a character wonders if he has died after eating psilocybin mushrooms. I was in my room, zombielike and depressed after a period of time embodying a “whatever it takes” attitude regarding amphetamine use and completing my book. I had somewhat randomly clicked a YouTube video in which Joe Rogan (whom I was vaguely aware of as the host of Fear Factor, the TV show, a long time ago) was aggressively, excitedly talking about DMT, a neurotransmitter-like, illegal, psychedelic compound found in human (and other animal) brains and in at least ~50 species of plants worldwide. I did not have firsthand experience with DMT at the time, and had only read about it online.
At one point Joe Rogan began referencing someone in a “if you think I sound crazy, listen to this other guy” manner. He was talking about Terence McKenna, a person who would smoke DMT and, after ~15 seconds, without fail, find himself in an “unanticipated dimension” infested with “self-transforming machine elves”—also called “fractal elves,” “self-dribbling jeweled basketballs,” or “little self-transforming tykes”—that spoke English and a kind of visible language while jumping into and out of his body, “running around chirping and singing.” These entities, which McKenna described in a word as “zany,” were maybe either “dead people” in “an ecology of souls,” “human beings from the distant future,” or things with their own hopes, fears, problems that inhabit a parallel universe.
"To be human—to exist in concrete reality and the imagination, to be material and immaterial—is to be paradoxical. And to transcend humanity—or, if that’s impossible, to go to where one can touch the wall, which bodies can’t cross, separating the human from the sublime—one first needs to be human, and embody paradox.
I imagine Mr. Knausgaard feeling on some level charged by his own existence, aware he’s closer to, or at least now positioned adjacent, the sublime as a result of the amount and scale of paradox he has accumulated in his life and, as a kind of side effect, generated in the world."