"The Horrors of Insulated Selfhood": Psychedelic Culture, Governance, and Intoxicated Spectatorship
135 Nicholson Hall, 216 Pillsbury Dr SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455
1966, the year that psychedelic art stormed American mainstream culture, brought a cavalcade of explosive media experiences, often inspired by Marshall McLuhan, to the forefront of film exhibition. Much of the movement’s art and film mimicked or heightened the experience of drugs like LSD and psilocybin under the guise of consciousness expansion. Two years later, the federal government would make LSD a controlled substance. This presentation will analyse psychedelic art and multimedia extravaganzas like Richard Aldcroft’s Infinity Machine alongside contemporaneous developments in mainstream screen technologies and legal discourse to consider the ways in which psychedelic drugs both confounded and reiterated prior configurations of spectatorship. Artist collectives like USCO and cultural figureheads like Timothy Leary embraced psychedelics as gateways to the spirit, yet relied upon technological structures inherited in part from exhibition hucksterism, like Cinerama’s 1952 debut. The promise of self-exploration obfuscated the necessity of contemporary technologies to achieve a communal pathway to the timeless divine.
Jocelyn Szczepaniak-Gillece is an assistant professor of English and Film Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and the author of The Optical Vacuum: Spectatorship and Modernized American Theater Architecture (Oxford University Press, 2018) as well as multiple articles in journals and anthologies. Her current book, Movies Under the Influence, engages with the history of film exhibition and spectatorship in the mid-century period of the early 1930s through the very early 1980s via the lens of intoxicants. She argues for the necessity of substances in understanding the history of moviegoing and its ties to governance, legality, and the counterculture.
This event was generously co-sponsored by The College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota's Cinema in the Cities, The Institute for Advanced Study - MIMS Graduate Group Collaborative, The Department of Art History, and The Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature.