In this uncomfortable and ethereal journal of an unwitting psychedelic trauma Henri Michaux is the paramount stylish dandy; in his shamelessly self-promoting introduction, on the other hand, Allen Ginsberg is the fawning, drooling, tourist oaf. So force yourself to ignore Ginsberg's self-adulation. This unsolicited mortification aside, Michaux truly explores with a surgical intent the pain-filled anguish and courage he experienced in facing the mental near-disintegration and perceptual terror herein disclosed.
By Surprise begins with his arbitrary, languid decision to swallow an unknown drug left with him by a vague acquaintance. We never learn the drug's name or its pharmacological family. We don't need to. If you've ever been spiked, or similarly misled your brain by imbibing the random and surprisingly strong neurological stimulant, then you will comprehend how bizarre, frightening and tedious such a situation can become.
Drug stories are impossibly personal and subjectively vivid. They are probably not intended to lend themselves to everyday vocabulary. The ineffable is speechless. Given all these limitations, Michaux succeeds remarkably well—in particular, in conveying the peak paranoia that “this time he's done it!” and will “never come back” and the inevitable, complementary dislocation and ripping of the entire fabric of time.
This is a decidedly worthwhile addition to drug literature. Brief, clear and honest. In its concise way it covers, in a few dense pages, most of the subjective ground other books dwell on ad nauseam.
Paperback: 110 pages