Foucault in California [A True Story—Wherein the Great French Philosopher Drops Acid in the Valley of Death]

In The Lives of Michel Foucault, David Macey quotes the iconic French philosopher as speaking “nostalgically…of ‘an unforgettable evening on LSD, in carefully prepared doses, in the desert night, with delicious music, [and] nice people.’” This came to pass in 1975, when Foucault spent Memorial Day weekend in Southern California at the invitation of Simeon Wade—ostensibly to guest-lecture at the Claremont Graduate School where Wade was an assistant professor, but in truth to explore what he called the Valley of Death. Led by Wade and Wade’s partner Michael Stoneman, Foucault experimented with psychedelic drugs for the first time; by morning he was crying and proclaiming that he knew Truth.

Foucault in California is Wade’s firsthand account of that long weekend. Felicitous and often humorous prose vaults readers headlong into the erudite and subversive circles of the Claremont intelligentsia: parties in Wade’s bungalow, intensive dialogues between Foucault and his disciples at a Taoist utopia in the Angeles Forest (whose denizens call Foucault “Country Joe”); and, of course, the fabled synesthetic acid trip in Death Valley, set to the strains of Bach and Stockhausen. Part search for higher consciousness, part bacchanal, this book chronicles a young man’s burgeoning friendship with one of the twentieth century’s greatest thinkers.

Praise

“A wildly entertaining memoir written by someone who helped curate, witness and then document a mind-altering experience in the life of one of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century. The act of witnessing, in fact, is what makes Wade’s account so masterly.”—Eric Bulson, Times Literary Supplement

 

“Excellent and surprising.”—Scott Bradfield, Los Angeles Times

 

“At times a gay, psychedelic Divine Comedy and at others a Plato's Symposium for the 1970s.”—Andrew Marzoni, The Baffler

 

“Wade's poetic rendering of Foucault's LSD trip...manages to capture the philosopher's hesitations and fears but also conveys the spectacle of a towering intellect leveled by the visceral power of the drug experience.”—James Penner, Los Angeles Review of Books

 

“Engagingly offbeat.”—Helmut Mayer, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

 

“Foucault once declared that he had written nothing but fictions, and here we have a stylised account of a short moment in his life, written with the verve of a novel.”—Stuart Elden, author of Foucault's Last Decade

 

“Very funny and endearing.”—Reviews by Amos Lassen

About the Author

Simeon Wade was born July 22, 1940, in Alabama. After earning his Ph.D. in the intellectual history of Western civilization from Harvard in 1969, Wade moved to California and became an assistant professor at Claremont Graduate School. His early teaching years culminated in his hosting a Death Valley trip for Michel Foucault in 1975, an experience Foucault described as “one of the most important in my life.” Wade later taught at several universities in Southern California and worked as a psychiatric nurse. He died in Oxnard, California, on October 3, 2017.