English 189-2 - Winter, 2019

Seminar in Literary Studies

    Topic: Psychonauts: Sex, Drugs and Magic in 20th Century Literature

Class Information

Instructor: Shershow, Scott
CRN: 54934
Time: TR 9:00-10:20
Location: 248 Voorhies


    In this seminar we consider a wide variety of different kinds of texts – novels, stories, poetry, essays and journalism — that participate in a twentieth-century tradition of psychic and spiritual exploration. In other words, we’ll be reading texts by or about what a 1966 anthology calls “astronauts of inner space:” people who experiment with occult researches, spiritual disciplines, psychotropic drugs — as well as avant-garde modes of art, literature, and theater — to envision and create new selves and new worlds.

    In the final weeks of the quarter, students will develop and share individual projects in which they either read further in one of the writers on our list, or else research another example of a twentieth-century “psychonaut.”

    Tentative reading List:

    William James, First lecture, The Varieties of Religious Experience (1901-2).

    Helena Blavatsky, from Isis Unveiled (1877)

    W. E. B. Du Bois, “Of Our Spiritual Strivings,” from The Souls of Black Folk (1901).

    Alistair Crowley (1875-1957), The Book of the Law, “The Drug,” and other writings.

    Pauline Hopkins, Of One Blood: Or, The Hidden Self (1903).

    Kenneth Graham, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” from The Wind in the Willows (1908).

    H.P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu” (1926), and “The Dreams in the Witch House” (1932).

    William Butler Yeats, from A Vision (1925) and selected poetry.

    Antonin Artaud, from The Theater and its Double (1938) and “Concerning a Journey to the Land of the Tarahumaras” (1945).

    Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited (1945).

    Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception (1954)

    Margaret St. Clair, The Sign of the Larys (1963).

    Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols (1964).

    Timothy Leary, The Psychedelic Experience (1964).

    Phillip K. Dick, VALIS (1969).

    William S. Burroughs and BrIon Gysin, selections from The Third Mind (1978).

    David Bowie, selected interviews and songs (1971-2016).


    Evaluation will be based on one short paper, a concluding term paper and presentation, a take-home final examination, and participation in seminar discussion.


    Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
    Of One Blood: Or, The Hidden Self, Pauline Hopkins
    VALIS, Phillip K. Dick
    The Sign of the Larys, Margaret St. Clair
    Other texts availabel on electronic reserve