Thursday, December 30, 2010

What Does Woman Want?

What Does Woman Want?, by Timothy Leary
1976, 88 Books

Timothy Leary wrote his first and only novel What Does Woman Want in prison, after his 1973 arrest. Founding the one-off publishing house "88 Books" with his then-wife, Leary published the book in a limited run of 5,000 copies in 1976; coincidentally, my copy is number 88.

Posing as science fiction (or as Leary calls it in the opening pages, "Science Faction"), Woman is mostly a sequel to Leary's 1973 autobiography Confessions Of A Hope Fiend. It picks up directly after the events depicted in that book, with Leary and his wife holing up in Switzerland under the care of wealthy arms financier Michael Duchard, aka "Goldfinger." Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty, and Leary himself poses as "Tim Leri," an "acid assassin" sent to Earth to help us "primates" advance up the chains of consciousness. The book operates on three narratives, with a 1960 section detailing Leary's LSD experiments in Harvard, a 1971 section dealing with the aftermath of Confessions, and a future section set in 2575 detailing the future of the human race.

Woman is built around Leary's concept of the eight levels of consciousness, which Robert Anton Wilson examined in Prometheus Unbound and Antero Alli molded into a plan for action in Angel Tech. Speaking of Wilson, his imprint is all over this book, providing a blurb on the back cover and a concise introduction (RAW fans will remember Wilson discussed his friendship with Leary in 1977's Cosmic Trigger).

That metaphysical bent so prevalent in Confessions is stronger than ever here, with Leary's female consort again referred to as "She" and "Her" and so on; Leary again giving her the status of the Archetypal Female. (Incidentally, I know this is Leary's attempt at flattering her so much that he considers her a god, but really - isn't it a bit demeaning to his wife herself? As if she has no personality of her own, and acts only as the faceless avatar of some unknown god.)

This is a strange novel to grasp, as it's so disjointed. Parts of it are blow-by-blow recounts of Leary's mundane reality, hobnobbing with underground royalty on the beaches of France. Other parts are Burroughsian extracts of interstellar intrigue. Other parts seem to be torn from neuroscience journals, filled with psychobabble jargon. There's no unifying thread, no cohesive narrative for the reader to hang on to. The book does at least answer the question posed by the title (a question famously asked by Freud), with aliens descending to the Earth and telling mankind what woman wants.

As if realizing this, Leary rewrote the novel several years later. New Falcon published this version in 1987, and it too is now out of print. I haven't read this rewrite, though it's my understanding the novel is entirely different from its 1976 incarnation, with Christopher Hyatt (New Falcon guru and Leary follower) taking the role of the villain.

So, a rare find for the Leary admirer, but not one everyone would want to seek out. Parts of it are great, other parts boring, and other parts grating with the usual Leary egotism in full effect.

1 comment:

Joanna Harcourt Smith said...

check out my autobiography