Peyote songs

Here are some recordings of Native American Peyote meetings, the second details music from the NAC, the first from an independent group. You will need your King’s ID to access the recordings, but I thought they’re are particularly interesting when compared with Peyote Queen. Percussion features quite heavily in them so there are clear links to cultural misappropriation of the African Drums in De Hirsch’s film.

Harry Smith’s is also revealing as it shows the complexity of the NAC, you hear ‘authentic’ voices from the NAC – who provide details of the peyote ceremony, its music, and some particularly the merging of Christian theology with Native American beliefs.

Track 3. Music of the Pawnee. Folkways Records. Prod. Gene Weltfish, (1965). Music Online: American Music. <>

Kiowa Peyote Meeting. Rec. 1 Jan. 1973. Folkways Records, 1973. By Harry Smith, (1974). Music Online: Smithsonian Global Sound for Libraries. <>

Refresher: Wittgenstein’s Beetle & The Gap of Language

Hey, Please do not forget to check my previous post!

I do not know if I ever focused too much on this idea a lot in the discussions. It could be nice just to have a bit of a glimpse of it because I think it relates to some of the assumptions made under the idea of ‘Constructive silence’.

This is a very concise and nice video that explains a very famous thought experiment by Wittgenstein, the ‘Beetle in a Box analogy’. Very influential throughout the XX century’s philosophy of language. And would be later be reinterpreted by, one of my personal favourites, Saul Kripke.

It is a nice reminder of how whenever people y refer/utter any word/idea, we don’t have a ‘transparent’ view of what an utterance means to them. It is to say, that we do not have access to their ‘private language’.

This is what I refer to as the gap of language. It is even more evident when you also add the ‘veil’ of translation. However, as one can derive from the ideas here, even when we speak the same language we do not know transparently what another person feels/knows.

If you want to have a better & deeper grasp on the concept. Here I give a link to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Peer-reviewed & authoritative) that also contains a very good bibliography.


Philosophical/Conceptual Outline of the presentation

Hey Guys, here I give you an outline of my part of the presentation. In a way, the conceptual outline of the presentation too. I hope this can be useful to have a very clear sense of what we are doing so we can always refer back to how we are linking all of the project together.

We aim to address two different kinds of silence that arise/occur in translation Obstructive and Constructive.

  • Obstructive silence:
    • Silence in negative terms
    • By: Missing important details, wrong cotextualisation, misinterpreting, etc.
    • Instead of ellucidating, It obscures
    • Thus, one ought to avoid this kind of silence
    • Antoine Berman: The Ethics of Silence
      • Translation is more than communication
      • Translation ought to entail the recognition & respect of the otherness
      • To achieve this, he believes, the translatio needs to embody ‘the foreigness‘ of the original.
    • Consequently, if one comes from an obstructive approach to silence, one should aim for ‘literal translation’.
  • Constructive Silence:
    • Takes advantage of the impossibility of a transparent translation. (Every time we translate something there will be something missing from the original/ even every time we interpret it. This is the gap of translation, or in more radical terms, the gap in language).
    • In this gap there is the Constructive Silence.
    • Jorge Luis Borges: Translation as re-creation
      • Borges believes that there should be no preference between the original and the translation.
      • So, translation is not merely the act of finding equivalents between one language & the other.
      • Instead, translation is the act of exploring the potentialities that the original work might have overlooked/missed.
      • This exploration is practiced thorugh emphasis & omission.
    • Therefore, the Constructive Silence view aligns with an ‘Affective Translation’.

Some Images

Acid Trips Festival with Allen Ginsberg flyer, (1966)

Acid Trips Festival with Allen Ginsberg flyer, (1966)

Cover of Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley (1954)

Cover of Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley (1954)

Peter Orlovsky High on Peyote at Half Dome, Yosemite (1956) Photo by Allen Ginsberg

Peter Orlovsky High on Peyote at Half Dome, Yosemite (1956) Photo by Allen Ginsberg

Philosophical/Theoretical Approaches to Translation by Efrain Kristal (Synthesis & Discussion)

Hey, I will outline some of the approaches that we can use to understand translation (and consequently ‘silence’ in our project).

I am basing myself in Philosophical/Theoretical Approaches to Translation by Efrain Kristal, the second chapter from A Companion to Translation Studies.

I will follow a different structure than the one presented by Kristal. What I will do is to outline the different ways in which different authors could answer to the Newman & Arnold’s Dilemma’. What is important from this interpretations is that the different ways in which they respond to the dilemma are as well different answers that our research question could have. Even the very own positions of Arnold and Newman are answers to the question: what is a ‘good’ translation?

Preliminary Remarks

As long as the different expressions that we talk about are part of a language, in the broad sense, (i.e. governed by semantic units and a syntactic structure), none of the perspectives below is limited to ‘written/verbal’ languages.

Newman & Arnold’s Dilemma

The dilemma presented did not originate with the case of Newman & Arnold, it was explicitly pointed by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Wilhelm von Humboldt, I think it illustrates very well what the issue at hand is.

Newman considered that the English Tradition’s translation of Homer was flawed. He believed it ‘naturalised Homer’, it was presenting as if he was a contemporary. For him, this missed the ‘essential’, the fact that Homer was ‘garrulous, prone to quaintness and vulgarity, that he already felt archaic in his barbarian age, that his language lacked beauty, and that his audience was gullible’ (p.32). Thus, his alternative proposed to meticulously render each detail of the original work, including Grammatical phenomena that are present in the Ancient Greek but are not present in English. For him, eliminating Homer’s oddities would mean to eliminate the world of ancient Greece

Arnold rejected Newman’s approach. For him, the aim of translation is to approximate the way in which the original text affects those who have a solid grasp of the original, to those that are not familiar with it. Homer’s Style, for expertise in Ancient Greek, is ‘plain and rapid, that he conveys ideas with directness, that he is noble’. None of these features is conveyed in Newman’s translation. Thus, regardless of its ‘literal’ accuracy, Newman’s translation is a failure under Arnold’s view. Unlike Newman, Arnold believes that translation shall focus on the general effects of the work rather than focusing on the details. The translator is ‘free’ from the original text, as long as he/she is able to convey the correct ‘affect’ that is present in the original.

For practical reasons, I shall call Newman’s view ‘Literal’ and Arnold’s as ‘Affect’.

W.O. Quine: The Indeterminacy of translation

In general terms, what Quine brings to the dilemma, rather than solving the problem is that he can be a framework for understanding the ‘why’ there is a discrepancy between Arnold and Newman in the first place and the fact that we can not ground any argument (objectively) to prefer one over the other.

Quine’s aim in ‘Word and Object’ is to undermine the notion of synonymy (sameness of meaning). To do so, he proposes the following thought experiment: ‘a rabbit scurries by, the speaker of an unknown language utters “gavagai,” but the linguist is unable to determine, on that basis, whether gavagai might be a rabbit, a moving rabbit, rabbithood, an attached rabbit part, or an indefinite number of other possibilities.’ (p.38). The behaviour of the speaker alone underdetermines the possible meanings that the utterance.

What the linguist has to do is to import his own conceptual scheme to make sense of the unknown language to make sense of the utterance. This results in ‘translation manuals’ (i.e.criteria to make judgments about a translation).

What is problematic is the fact that there is an indeterminate number of possibilities to produce such ‘manuals of translation’. And in many cases, the divergent ways to translate can be “all compatible with the totality of speech dispositions, yet incompatible with one another” (1960, 27).

This leads to the “Indeterminacy of translation”, it is to say that there is no matter of the fact that can tell us which is the correct translation. There are no abstract criteria to chose one manual over the other. (p.38). After all, it is possible that an indefinite number of manuals align with the ‘behaviour’ that we see from the person uttering the unknown language.

In this scenario, each possibility: Arnold (Affect) & Newman (Literal), are just two different ‘translation manuals’ that exclude each other, and from which we can not objectively choose one from the other.

Berman: ‘The ethics of translation’

Berman is concerned with the ‘ethics of translation’. He thinks there is more than mere communication in it. For him, Translation entails recognition and respect of the otherness. To achive this, he believes, that the translation ought to have the ‘foreignness’ of the original.

I have two points against this interpretation:

First, the question of what is exactly the ‘foreigness’ is dubious, or at least needs to be explained further.

Also, he presupposes that such ‘foreginess’ is the only way that can achieve the respect and recognition of the other. This can be easily contested.

One might be inclined to think that Berman straight away would support Newman (Literal).

However, as shown by the previous objections, it depends if one buys in the whole picture of Berman (Recognition+Foreigness) or if one does not follow the whole picture and just advocates for Recognition without necessarily entailing the need for Foreigness.

Von Herder & Schleiermacher:

Von Herder claimed that there is no equivalence between ‘the thoughts of one nation and the thoughts of another’ (p.31). For him, a Language is the mirror of a nation’s mind/spirit. In his view, linguistic differences are evidence for cultural differences.

Following this reflections, Schleiermacher proposed his view on translation. For him, the role of the translator was that of taking the reader to a foreign point of view, allowing him to “assimilate into one language the products of another language” (1992, 36).

However, Kristal highlights how Schleiermacher ‘offers no methods, practical criteria, or advice about how to translate in a way that would transfer the foreignness of the original.’ (p.32).

This view clearly aligns with Newman’s side (Literal).

Jakobson: The Same Message in a Different Code

The aim of translation in Jakobson’s view is very straight-forward, to ‘search for equivalent messages in different codes.’ (p.35). This view would clearly align with Newman too. However, I find it very problematic as I think that speaking of ‘equivalence’ in translation is a very contingent idea.

Borges: Translation as re-creation

Borges is one of the few that seems to move away from the idea that there is such a thing as a ‘correct’ interpretation of a text. On the contrary, he is an advocate for the multiplicity of new meanings that arise from a single text (Reading is writing).

He establishes that one shall not be drawn to the idea that there is a ‘perfect original’. Thus, the preference that we have for ‘originals’ over ‘translations’ is arbitrary.

In this view, the translation and the original are just two variations on the same theme. Thus, translation is the exploration on the potentialities (of a theme) that might have been overlooked by the original author. These explorations are obtained by emphasis and omission. However, there is no original

However, not every text is limited to one theme. Instead, there is an infinite number of possible themes that emerge from any given text and thus an infinite number of possible translations.

It wouldn’t be far-fetched to see this as a sort of Platonic Metaphysics. After all, Plato is one of the recurrent thinkers in Borges’ work. Thus, the theme would be the eternal/abstract/perfect/independent entity while,  the original and the translation, would be the imperfect/physical/dependent/perishable manifestations of the theme.

I have my views of whether one shall stick with this ‘Platonism’. Instead, I advocate for a more radical interpretation. However, I would not extend on that here.

Borges would be able to defend both sides and would not prefer one over the other.

Works mentioned

-Arnold, Matthew. 1914. “On Translating Homer (including F. W. Newman’s reply).” In Essays by Matthew Arnold, 245–424. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


-Berman, Antoine. (1984) 1992. The Experience of the Foreign, trans. S. Heyvaert. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.Berman, Antoine. 1990. La Traduction et la lettre, ou L’Auberge du lointain. Paris: Seuil.

-Berman, Antoine. 1990. La Traduction et la lettre, ou L’Auberge du lointain. Paris: Seuil.

-Borges, Jorge Luis and Jill, Suzanne Levine PMLA Vol. 107, No. 5 (Oct., 1992), pp. 1134-1138

-Borges, Jorge Luis. 1985. “Mis Libros.” La nación, April 25: 1.

-Quine, W. V. 1960. Word and Object. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

-Quine, W. V. 1975. “Mind and Verbal Dispositions.” In Mind and Language, ed. Samuel Guttenplan, 83–95. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Constructive and Obstructive Silences

Last time we decided that we would structure our presentation by dividing our theme into two parts with regard to the case study: Constructive silences, and Obstructive silences.

We’ll be looking at the Peyote ritual as a translated phenomenon: That means that the silence becomes an issue as the peyote tradition gets translated from its home ground in native Southern American shamanic rituals, to North American (US) sub and pop culture.

The silences we encounter in this translation are twofold: the ones that close a door on certain crucial aspects of the peyote ritual, and the ones that create new meanings for it.

We will draw from examples in American post war and Beat literature and film for evidence of both obstructive and constructive silences, as well as contextualise and support our material by looking at the ethnographic and scientific research of peyote and mescaline, political issues regarding drugs (the war on), and censorship in America, and the essential problem with translating rituals into writing.

The Naked Lunch (YAZMEEN)

Hey Guys,

The Naked Lunch (1959) by William S. Burroughs presents the story of Lee, a drug dealer (agent) and an addict. He travels from the US to Mexico and South America. What I found very interesting was the description of the protagonist’s use of hallucinatory drugs and the creation of imaginary locations once he travels south (the renaming of locations). These locations are Annexia, Freeland, and Interzone. All of which hold at least one of the following: orgies, homosexuality, drugs, sadism, psychiatric manipulation, totalitarian governments, etc. The text considers the search for answers in the discovery of new practices from different cultures.

Also, if considering Storm de Hirsch’s Peyote Queen (1965), these are some important perspectives on experimental film.

Movement as Meaning In Experimental Film: Part I 

7. What the Surface of the screen can tell us about Image: “But more importantly I was excited by the potential of an articulable surface to stand as a tabula rasa of expressive possibility, a plane of articulation that had been well prepared by the evolution of music, painting, poetry and conceptual art. Unlike the cinema of the window – which was already constrained by the embedded narrative grammars of speech, theatre and photographic exposition, the cinema of the surface, as well as being nearly drama free, is nearly grammar free. This almost untouched surface, this barely explored machine seemed a really spectacular lab for scoping out what a new way of parsing the world can reveal. Perhaps above all, it’s an approach that invites rather than ignores a serious consideration of phenomenology and the psychology of perception as they impact the creation of meaning.”(p.17,18)

8. Language integrates our perceptions as surely as the nervous system integrates our sense data: Hallucination or Metadata?

“But something else gets thrown into relief as well: the mediating force of language. Not only can one see how the brain might be thought as a filter, it becomes much clearer, amid the unparsed swarm of sense data, how pervasive a filter language is: sense data have no names. In the analysis that follows, cinema stands as one possible way to get beyond the filter of language as regards existence, while keeping the filter of the brain more or less intact.” (p.19)

In this case, it would also be useful to consider chapter 17 in A Companion to Translation Studies, What Is Special about Postcolonial Translation? by Ben Conisbee Baer.

He mentions Alton L. Becker’s Beyond Translation: Essays Toward a Modern Philology. Conisbee states, “It is the point where a rational organisation according to the codified rules comes undone, and something else begins to happen that is not quite of the order of instituted knowledge.” Becker calls this “stock of remembered prior texts”. It would be interesting to consider the translation of peyote rituals into these kind visual representations.


Two items and an update

From article: Death within a Chrysalis

On Jack Kerouac:

‘Jack first tried mescaline—the psychoactive compound also found naturally in the peyote cactus—in October 1959,[8] and he was apparently most open about it with Ginsberg, to whom he wrote the following on June 20, 1960: “When on mescaline [last fall] I was so bloody high I saw that all our ideas about a ‘beatific’ new gang of worldpeople, and about instantaneous truth being the last truth. etc. etc. I saw them as all perfectly correct and prophesied, as never on drinking or sober I saw it—Like an Angel looking back on life sees that every moment fell right into place and each had flowery meaning…”[9] This kind of clarity must have been cherished by a guy who saw his life as a long chain of rambling misadventures. Kerouac was even moved to create a 5,000-word “Mescaline Report” in order to document his hallucinations and revelations. He said he intended to take mescaline monthly, and he couldn’t wait to test out LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide).’

This is when he was writing the Big Sur– I can’t remember if there’s any explicit use of mescaline in On The Road but if there is it’s probably not enough for us. I will try and give Big Sur a quick read and see if it’s useful for us, and will re-read the Doors of Perception/Heaven and Hell which I reckon will be our best bet for a strong case study. (Edit: just seen Julian’s post below– assuming this is the main primary source we will go for then?) Electrik Kool Aid Acid test will be a good example of the culture that followed through from the beats’ experimental drug use (so the Tom Wolfe book I mentioned last time about Ken Kesey and the Grateful Dead crossing the US on that School bus and taking acid).

Note to self: read this article


I’m just going to copy paste the middle chunk of the notes I took during our meeting, hoping it will serve to keep our brains fresh as we move on with the project:

Deciding to think of our study as:The peyote ritual as translated into 1950s American post war counterculture

Namely, the Peyote vs Mescaline phenomenon, the transformation from one drug to another, and the translation of the drug’s culture that came with that transformation.

 Key terms to think of:

Peyote: Native American church, translation from ritual to writing, from south America to USA, ethnography

Mescaline: Cultural appropriation, war on drugs, censorship, counterculture (pop culture)

We thought more about layers of translation: the journey of peyote from Mexican spiritual realm to pop culture. (via native American church and the 1960s drug fad and war on drugs, from spiritual realm to physical writing or video art, from peyote chemical to mescaline chemical).

Must address many silences that are destructive or constructive in the journey of peyote. What this means: silences are constructive when they create new meaning, but destructive when they obscure other narratives.

(there is no such thing as a transparent translation: what has been silenced on this journey of peyote? Who has been silenced and why? Why the war on drugs? Is there an American political agenda? Stigma of hippies, mental illness, socio-political revolution, an age of enlightenment

Enlightenment is a very important part of the peyote process, the silencing of certain native American/south American peyote ritual allows space for a ‘contemporary’ agenda to take place. Silence in this case of translation is constructive because it allows space for new meaning to come in and take its place

Case for: The doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley

– Explicit in its use of mescaline. Thus, it will be easy to focus on our broader topic.

-The very intention of the book is that of translating the experiences lived under the effect of Mescaline

-Relatively short.

-It’s Impact. Not only on the Mass culture. It also had an impact on the literary and academic life of the time.

– Controversy. The fact that it instigated controversy and thus a response from different sources; helps us to see what was the overall attitude of the time towards this kind of practice.


Howl and Mescaline/Peyote

As agreed, here is a post roughly arguing for my chosen case study central source: Howl by Allen Ginsberg (1955) ( I think it’d be of particular relevance here, because

-It speaks to/of a generation of individuals both heavily influenced by the nascent drug culture and laying the foundation for its mass spread from the late 50s, while pointing to the search for an ‘authentic’ spirituality/sense of dissatisfaction with the post-war American reality that arguably fed this drug culture:  ‘I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,/ dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,/angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo/ in the machinery of night…’

-It shows some of negative silences we are concerned with: there is a conflation of alternative/ esoteric spiritualities and an arguably racialist view of the native Indian ‘who vanished into nowhere Zen New Jersey leaving a trail of ambiguous picture/ postcards of Atlantic City Hall….’, ‘who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross telepathy and bop kabbalah because the/ cosmos instinctively vibrated at their feet in Kansas,/who loned it through the streets of Idaho seeking visionary indian angels who were/ visionary indian angels‘. It’d be interesting to compare Ginsberg’s hipster figure with ‘mainstream’ America(ns) within the frame of peyote/mescaline/hallucinogenics more generally.

-It also shows the complexities of translation: where lives ‘negative’ silence, so does ‘productive’ silence. This can be interpreted simply through the Beat generation as a counter culture: ‘who scribbled all night rocking and rolling over lofty incantations which in the yellow/ morning were stanzas of gibberish.’ (See:, an article which discusses Ginsberg and his arguing for drug use as a spring broad for self reflection/enlightenment)

-It is shorter than a novel and therefore considering time constraints, may allow for a more rounded or in depth analysis. There is also an immense body of literature available on this text.

-The poem not only refers directly to peyote, but was also influenced by experiences with both peyote and its transformed form mescaline. ‘Peyote solidities of halls, backyard green tree cemetery dawns…’ and  ‘Holy the groaning saxophone! Holy the bop apocalypse! Holy the jazzbands marijuana hipsters peace peyote pipes & drums!

– As with de Hirsch’s Peyote Queen, we can argue that the poem, stylistically and aesthetically, is a direct translation of the Peyote experience. Here is a short recording of Ginsberg discussing how peyote influenced Howl:

– Because Ginsberg was such a central figure of the Beat generation, we can easily compare his approaches to his contemporaries, and the legacies left by his work. He would also be a good avenue through which to look back at the ‘stages’ of Peyote/Mescaline discussed on Thursday, for example, he was influenced by surrealism (e.g. Artaud and Peyote) and maintained relationships with individuals seeking a non-Western spirituality (e.g. the ethnographer Harry Smith (Folkways productions ). And finally, the poem itself is replete with references (context, landscape etc.) that we can use for our presentation.