About Neşe Devenot: (Curriculum Vitae)
I am currently Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities at the University of Puget Sound. I received my PhD in 2015 from the Program in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory at the University of Pennsylvania, where I studied psychedelic philosophy, the literary history of chemical self-experimentation (“trip reports”), and radical poetics. I taught the class “Drug Wars: The Influence of Psychoactive Rhetoric” as a 2014-15 Critical Speaking Fellow at Penn, where I previously taught “Higher Dimensions in Literature” and “Poetic Vision and the Psychedelic Experience.” I was also a 2014-15 Andrew W. Mellon Graduate Research Fellow with the Penn Humanities Forum, where I worked on the project “‘Innumerable Fine Shades’: Psychedelics and Synesthesia in the Literary Self-Experiments of Aldous Huxley.” I am a founder of the Psychedemia interdisciplinary psychedelics conference, and the former editor of “This Week in Psychedelics,” a Reality Sandwich column that reported on psychedelic news in the media between 2011 and 2013. I have presented on psychedelics at numerous conferences in the United States, Canada, England, and Australia. I received my bachelor’s degree in 2009 from Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, where I double majored in Philosophy and Literature.
About Chemical Poetics:
Chemical Poetics chronicles the literary history of psychedelic experimentation (“trip reports”). My book project evaluates the historical development of an unrecognized literary genre—the “psychedelic protocol”—that prescribes procedures for scientific psychedelic research and subsequently catalogues its results. The “psychedelic protocol” refers to texts that describe and problematize scientific methodologies in the context of psychedelic research, wherein the production and interpretation of metaphor are unavoidable components of the investigative process. Since current brain imaging technologies cannot convey the content of psychedelic experiences, investigators depend on subjects to translate this content into communicable language. Without established conventions for describing these liminal states, subjects necessarily rely on creative language to convey them. Subjective narratives are one component of the total psychedelic protocol, which additionally includes documentation of laboratory methodology, chemical structures, and investigator notes. For this reason, I argue that literary theory and poetic interpretation are as crucial as chemical analysis for generating data in psychedelic science and the scientific study of consciousness more generally. In so doing, I elaborate on Richard Doyle’s notion that psychedelic narratives function as “rhetorical softwares” capable of orienting (i.e., influencing the navigation of) future psychedelic experiences. (See Doyle, Darwin’s Pharmacy: Sex, Plants, and the Evolution of the Noösphere .)
This project explores the relationship between experimental poetry and experimental science in psychedelic research from the Romantic period (circa 1800) to the present day. In examining the ongoing legacy of Romantic-era formal innovations in chemico-literary self-experimentation, I argue for the mutual dependence of science and poetry in both catalyzing and documenting the lasting impact of non-ordinary states of consciousness. This project reads Romantic poetry as an early prototype of present-day psychedelic psychotherapy, since both activities explicitly aim to promote psychological healing by inducing ecstatic states of consciousness. Romantic lyric poetry by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge represents a specific mode of “chemical” self-experimentation, wherein the poet isolates and reproduces natural scenes that reliably stimulate ecstatic states. These poets’ procedures arise verbatim in Romantic scientific investigations of mind-altering chemicals, demonstrating that nitrous oxide and developments in the science laboratory are equally essential to understanding Romantic poetry as are the more-familiar themes of opium, Nature, and the sublime. I trace the afterlife of this function of lyric poetry through Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception (1954) to 21st-century psychedelic medicine, all of which rely on Romantic experimental methods to heal intractable psychic wounds. With Humphry Davy’s 1799 discovery of nitrous oxide’s psychoactivity as a case study, I demonstrate that the collaboration between poetry and science is fundamental to any project of mapping new realms of subjective experience. Collectively, my conclusions expand conceptions of Romanticism’s ongoing heritage, arguing for renewed, interdisciplinary scholarship on altered states and the therapeutic impact of psychedelic experiences.