July, 2020

four excerpts from a charity shop purchase 

seanan mcdonnell


(Excerpted from ‘There Be Dragons: Delimiting and Improving Yourself Through Hallucinogens’ by Adlai Fisher; 1966; Metier Press, New Hampshire)


Exercise 3


          Following the ingestion of 200 mics of 5-MeO-DMT, you sit before a landscape of ambiguous darkness. Within moments, a flash of lightning illuminates its hidden features and with each successive flash, you gather a more complete picture of the landscape itself: a wavering line of mountains bisecting the sky; a rocky outcrop to the left; a wooded area to the right. However, as the intermittent lightning continues, your understanding of the landscape shifts: the rocky outcrop assumes a more central position; the wooded area becomes flattened and indistinct. Soon the landscape has assumed the shape of a man. He is either inexplicably giant or threateningly close and both possibilities terrify you. With the next strike of lightning you become certain that, whatever his nature, he is approaching you. Do you:

a. Rise to leave, reasoning that your safety is best secured by adding as much distance as possible between you and the approaching figure.

b. Turn to a friend to verify the sight, recognising that while this is a poor protective measure if your perceptions are correct, the sight is sufficiently disconsonant with your lived experience of reality to feel it worth querying.

c. Gaze and tremble, overcome with a paralytic sensation that renders logical thought not only insensible but imperceptibly distant. It is understood that this sensation renders the decision-making inherent to this exercise impossible and therefore the choosing of this option paradoxical.

Please mark your answer and proceed to Exercise 4.

Exercise 67


          Following the inhalation of 25mg of 4-HO-DMT fumarate, you sit before a landscape of kaleidoscopic colour. From it, a woman emerges. She informs you that she is a time-traveller from 150 years in the future and that in this future, a dearly- and unreservedly-held political belief of yours is viewed with universal and abject contempt. Contemporaries of yours prominent for espousing this belief have become, in the popular imagination, avatars of humanity’s capacity for evil; descendants of yours characterise you through this belief exclusively, regarding you with a mixture of willed forgetfulness and disgust; individuals, when gathered together at solemn memorials and dinner parties, voice their inability to comprehend the scale and depth of monstrosity required to sustain this belief. Upon hearing this, you are shocked and distressed: you had always felt this was a progressive opinion whose veracity and goodness would be upheld by history. Suddenly, and without opportunity to further speak of the circumstances which led to this social change, the time-traveller disappears. Do you:

a. Do nothing. Your belief is not the product of social pressures nor will it be influenced by prospective ones. Rather it was derived from thorough-going, far-reaching and dispassionate collation and analysis of relevant data made in reference to unassailable scientific and/or metaphysical truths. The opinions of those yet to come are irrelevant.

b. Gently adjust your position. While continuing to maintain your belief, you now argue it is necessary “on balance” rather than “on principle”. When in conversation with like-minded individuals, you resist caricatures of your opponents’ positions, introduce countervailing perspectives at opportune moments and speak of the necessity of encouraging a plurality voices.

c. Radically adjust your position. While you are certain that this will incite confusion and opprobrium among your contemporaries, you see this as insufficiently discouraging given the benefits that may accrue to you, reputationally, if your superior progressivism and moral courage are recognised in the future. You have never considered yourself beholden to the vagaries of the crowd and know that a durable and worthwhile legacy, which you had always intuited as being within your reach but to which a path was unclear, are not secured by being an agreeable voice among many.

d. Do nothing. 150 years from now you will be either entirely forgotten or an abstraction whose relationship to reality will be incidental at best. The advantages of changing your position are negligible. The opinions of those yet to come are irrelevant.

Please mark your answer and proceed to Question 64.

Exercise 114


          Following the administration of 125 mgs of ketamine, you become aware of a communal presence surrounding you. While you cannot tell the group’s size, its members are numerable to the point of innumerability; while you cannot tell these members apart, the features of those you know best – parents, lovers, respected authority figures – pass momentarily across the faces around you, gnarling each in an expression of revulsion. You are brought before a figure who is both ungainly and diffuse. You perceive, in the absence of words, that you are being judged for having committed a crime: the act for which you are being judged is unknown to you; the law which you have broken has been hidden from you; – but the means by which you are to be judged are clear. You glance about the crowds and see the disbelieving raised eyebrow of your third-grade teacher, the rippling upturned sneer of your driving instructor, the raised fist of your last great love, the sum total of humanity’s distaste for the weak and corrupt as understood through your life lived so far. You look to the ungainly figure. You will be soon found guilty and allowed a response. Do you:

a. Resist. The means by which you have been found guilty are ill-considered, incoherent and unjust, A thorough-going and clear refutation of these means will illuminate their shortcomings and render them indefensible. This may be supplemented by an analysis of the likely group dynamics that have caused your accusers to see you as anything but innocent.

b. Resist (alternate). The means by which you have been found guilty are ill-considered, incoherent and unjust. However, you believe that the group dynamics that have brought you to this point are inhospitable to reason. Spurred by the iniquity of the judgment, you will resist through behaviour reciprocal to your accusers’, ranging from non-compliance to violence. 

c. Plead your guilt. The means by which you have been found guilty are ill-considered, incoherent, and unjust. However, you believe that the group dynamics that have brought you to this point are inhospitable to reason and that resistance will be ineffectual and taken as further evidence of your culpability. Adopting a long-form view, you decide to accept the judgment in this most febrile of moments, in the hopes that you will be able to adjust others perceptions and recover your good standing in time.

d. Plead your guilt (alternate). The means by which you have been found guilty are ill-considered, incoherent, and unjust. However, this is incidental. You have long known the relationship between one’s behaviour and the treatment one receives at the hands of others is elastic at best; if this group composed of all those that have ever known you and all those that yet might, are unanimous in their consensus of your guilt, you are, functionally, guilty. You have stood in judgment of others similarly and now appreciate the fearful symmetry, for in your tenderest moments, you have imagined this situation and known its outcome to be true.

Please mark your answer and proceed to Question 115.

Exercise 151


          Following a three-day period of sobriety, you are presented with a book. The book is a self-help guide that advocates for the use of perception-altering substances to further one upon one’s journey of self-discovery. The guide is primarily composed of exercises: each exercise poses a set of circumstance to “you”, then requests you to select a response from a list of options: Do you:


a. Answer as “you”, which is to say “you, an individual uniquely positioned in space and time, singular in your subjective experience and constituted through a genetic, developmental and circumstantial history unavailable to any other”. For example, “you look nice today”.


b. Answer as “you”, which is to say “you, a linguistic unit constituted by its context, and applicable to every individual who does not possess the position in space and time, the singular subjective experience and genetic, developmental & circumstantial history ‘you’ (See a.) possess, but never, by definition, ‘you’ (See a.)”. For example, “you look nice today” - “ 'You look nice today?' ” - “'No, you look nice today'”


c. Answer as “you”, which is to say “you, an ever-shifting presence contingent on the perceived intent of each exercise and the judicious weighting of each response to match it, being ‘you’ (See a.) when the scenario allows for a response that will please the perceived intent and being ‘you’ (See b.) when it does not”. For example, “I know you are but what am I?”


d. Answer as “you”, which is to say “you, the God-like being that would result from ‘you’ (See c.) answering each exercise, were there an infinite number of exercises, the perceived intent of each exercise was correctly adduced, the response to each exercise unambiguously satisfied that intent and the exercise-setter was singular in intent but infinite in number." For example “You look perfect today and for all days forever”

Please mark your answer and proceed to Question 152.


SEANAN MCDONNELL is a writer based in Dublin. His plays for Sugar Coat Theatre include So, Where do we Begin? (Smock Alley Theatre, 2019), End Of (Dublin Fringe Festival, 2017), and Revolver (Theatre Upstairs, 2016), other productions include Knock Knock (Roundhouse, London, 2011).

(Image credit: Pawel Szvmanski, 2019)