An unpublished and virtually unknown manuscript from psychologist, writer, countercultural guru and provocateur,Timothy Leary, will be sold by Bonhams in San Francisco on October 10th for an estimated $30,000 to $50,000.
Titled The Periodic Table of Energy, and composed while Leary was an inmate in a California state prison, the work explores “correspondences among the Periodic Table of Elements, the Neurogenetic Theory of Evolution, the Tarot, the I Ching, [and] the Zodiac.” The 203-page typescript is profusely annotated and edited in manuscript, and illustrated with images, advertisements and articles clipped from newspapers and magazines. Originating from the papers of Leary’s one-time wife and collaborator Joanna Harcourt-Smith, whose name appears with Leary’s on the title page, the manuscript represents a major discovery in countercultural literature.
As a clinical psychologist at Harvard in the late 1950s, Leary began conducting research into the use of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) in the treatment of personality disorders and in the rehabilitation of criminals. After his efforts led to his dismissal from the university, Leary – who had already formed friendships and began collaborating with writers like Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Aldous Huxley – turned his attention to the growing youth movement of the 1960s, promoting the use of LSD and other hallucinogens as a means to achieve higher states of consciousness. Leary’s outspoken advocacy of drug use (he famously exhorted people to “turn on, tune in, drop out”), and his enormous popularity and guru status within the countercultural community prompted Richard Nixon to label him “the most dangerous man in America.” It also made him a target of governmental law enforcement agencies, and in 1970, facing a 20-year prison sentence for drug possession, Leary escaped from jail – aided by the Weather Underground – and fled the country. In 1973, he was captured in Afghanistan and returned to the United States, where he began serving time at California Medical Facility, a state prison in Vacaville, Calif., before being transferred to Folsom Prison.
It was while he was at CMF that Leary composed this ambitious and polymorphous work dedicated “to the Imprisoned,” which begins, “Most living organisms on this planet are … tied down, encumbered, caged, restrained, shackled, weighed down, confined to the planet by the pressure of gravity…. This transmission is designed to free all life forms. It is an escape note. A survival manual explaining how to decode the basic blueprints which guide the evolutionary journey” (). Mixing psychology, anthropology, sexual theory, cultural polemic and occult interpretation, the manuscript captures Leary at the height of his powers, and demonstrates why he remains, 16 years after his death, a popular and provocative countercultural oracle. Manuscripts by Leary rarely appear on the market, and The Periodic Table of Energy is by far the most substantial and important Leary manuscript to have ever been offered at auction.
An illustrated catalogue for the sale will be available online in the preceding weeks, for review and purchase at www.bonhams.com.