Convicts and Sailors, Yagé and Nutmeg, Seeing Things from a Special Angle, and the Uncut Kick that Opens Out Instead of Narrowing Down: Don’t Try This at Home, Kids

Do you remember when you were like thirteen or fourteen and you read that bit in Naked Lunch about the supposed mind-expanding properties of nutmeg? Nutmeg! Like your mom baked with! Like, readily-available, no questions asked! And then you took it, just like Burroughs indicated, and it made your stomach hurt and gave you a headache (just like he said it would). And nothing else happened. No visions, no enlightenment, nada. Do you remember that? Oh, wait…that wasn’t you? That was someone else? Sorry…

From “Afterthoughts on a Deposition,” an index to Naked Lunch:

Convicts and sailors sometimes have recourse to nutmeg. About a tablespoon is swallowed with water. Results are vaguely similar to marijuana with side effects of headache and nausea. Death would probably supervene before addiction before addiction if such addiction is possible. I have only taken nutmeg once.

There you go, kids. Knock yourselves out. Actually, don’t. Just rent Altered States instead.

Burroughs, of course, was far more interested in yagé, or ayahuasca, a psychoactive preparation of a South American vine. At the end of his spare, funny, first novel Junky, Burroughs writes:

I decided to go down to Colombia and score for yage. … My wife and I are separated. I am ready to move on south and look for the uncut kick that opens out instead of narrowing down like junk.

Kick is seeing things from a special angle. Kick is momentary freedom from the claims of aging, cautious nagging, frightened flesh. Maybe I will find in yage what I was looking for in junk and weed and coke. Yage may be the final fix.

I’ve read Junky a few times and it seems that these lines are strangely half-hopeful and also deeply ironic. Burroughs’s stand-in, narrator William Lee doesn’t get what the writer William Burroughs seems to realize: there is no permanent solution, no “final fix.” Still, Burroughs sure did have some wacky adventures looking for it. Check out this clip from a documentary, apparently called Ayahuasca, narrated by Burroughs (if anyone out there knows anything about this movie, please let us know):

8 thoughts on “Convicts and Sailors, Yagé and Nutmeg, Seeing Things from a Special Angle, and the Uncut Kick that Opens Out Instead of Narrowing Down: Don’t Try This at Home, Kids”

  1. in the summer of ’94, on the recommendation of a certain sino-american schoolmate, i put 3 tablespoons of ground nutmeg in a glass of water, downed it and waited. my stomach swelled and i thought i was going to throw up. never had a hallucinogenic experience and i curse that chinaman still.


  2. as a matter of fact, i DO remember that…mostly i remember my heart racing as i waited for the effects to begin…i was thirteen and hadn’t experienced anything more potent than mountain dew…in retrospect, it’s impossible to separate the physical manifestations of my anticipation and fear from the effects of the nutmeg itself…never tried it again…”altered states” is definitely a superior psychedelic experience…just say YES to the brilliant and delirious films of Ken Russell!


  3. Malcolm X also discussed getting high on nutmeg while in prison in his Autobiography. I don’t think he mentioned the stomach-aches, though.


  4. Niiiiiiiiiice.

    Incidentally, that’s my favorite part of that book. Not the nutmeg, I just I mean the first part. With all the zoot suits and gangsteisms, etc. And I like the end. But all that spiritual stuff…

    “Stirred into a glass of cold water, a penny matchbox full of nutmeg had the kick of three or four reefers.” — from The Autobiography of Malcolm X


  5. that’s a hysterical video, stentorian Burroughs. you can head down to Peru and get Yage organised through jungle lodges that usually cater for bird spotters. It has the consistency of clay and tastes rank. You’re either sick or get the squits afterwards. they prep you before you go in to hold a problem or question in your head, and the drug acts around that, drawing out memories that you attach significance to in the search for the answer. Interesting experience, it answered my question, but it was hardly as mind-blowing a process as the conclusion. Unfortunately my shamen didn’t have carrots behind his ears and shake a bush at me, just wore a dirty anorak. we sat in the dark for half an hour waiting for it to kick in, then he starts whistling to you. it was pretty funny.


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