"Timothy Leary’s notes on Aleister Crowley’s Diary of a Drug Fiend"

Exhibition at Harvard’s Houghton Library Explores the History of the Human Search for Something More—Fine Books & Collections

The exhibition, curated by Leslie A. Morris, Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts at Houghton Library with the assistance of colleagues throughout the Harvard Library system, focuses on eight major topics represented in the LSD Library: opium, cocaine, hallucinogens, marijuana, sex, social protest, underground comix, and ephemera. “The incredible variety of material in the LSD Library has transformed our collection,” said Morris. “The Library can now support innovative new research on 20th-century culture and counterculture. And it’s very cool stuff!”

Highlights include illustrations of poppies in a 16th-century doctor’s manual; an album of delicate 19th-century Chinese paintings showing stages of opium production; a binding with mirror and Amex card for cutting cocaine by artist Damien Hirst; self-portraits drawn under the influence of LSD; and posters from the Black Panthers and the May 1968 student protests in Paris. A selection of classic literature, including work by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Thomas De Quincy, Charles Baudelaire, William S. Burroughs, and Allen Ginsberg; and association copies such as Adolf Hitler’s annotated Kokain by Pitigrilli and Timothy Leary’s notes on Aleister Crowley’s Diary of a Drug Fiend, rub shoulders with pulp fiction such as Marijuana Girl, and underground comix illustrated by R. Crumb and Trina Robbins. Medical works on therapeutic drug use, and true-life tales of crime and addiction, provide a sobering reminder of the danger of excess.

Sex, another path towards transcendence, is explored through poet Pierre Louÿs’s sex diary; erotica by Rachilde, Guy de Maupassant, and Pauline Réage; the first X-rated comic, Barbarella; and Jeffrey magazine. Works on birth control, AIDS prevention, and the Illustrated Presidential Report of the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, and a female condom, show the individual and social consequences such exploration may provoke.