pink cover aside, James Hughes' book, Altered States: Creativity Under The
Influence, is one of the most visually attractive books in print. It certainly
deserves coffee table status, but don't be fooled. Altered States contains
much more than just pretty pictures. Altered States is full of descriptive,
thought-provoking, inventive text-- text that has been thoroughly researched,
and is decidedly well-crafted.
Dismay became delight when it became
clear that the book's title is a bit misleading. While it does delve into
issues surrounding creativity under the influence of alcohol and drugs,
"influence" is defined as any state of mind through which creative
energy can flow or flourish-- dream states, epileptic seizure, manic depression,
madness, shamanism, music, ritual, meditation, genius, even childhood.
Altered States achieves a delightful
balance-- it dedicates neither too much, nor too little, text to any given
subject in the book. Each subject is explored with enough depth to foster
a solid understanding of it, but not so much as to be exhaustive. Quite
the contrary-- I found myself taking notes on details that intrigued me, things
I will explore in more detail on my own. What was Lewis Carroll's fascination
with little girls? Why did Dionysus get such a bad rap? How did
Helen Keller break out of her body's prison? Aeschylus was gay? How
will information technology affect creativity? What kind of man would
paint the graphic, sexually antagonistic, Judith and Holofernes?
The artwork of this fine book includes
Egon Schiele's painting, The Embrace; a 1929 photograph of Picasso in his
studio; a beautifully rendered image of a handwritten page from Dostoyevsky's
notebooks; a photo of A.A. Milne with young Christopher on his lap; a black and
white of Bobby Fischer peering over a chess board; and a depiction of an
ancient wooden Inuit mask. Even a student of fine arts will discover at
least one piece of art that she has never encountered before-- a number of
pieces, most likely.
Altered States is an absolute treasure
that will enrich personal libraries for years to come. It will act as an
impetus for a great many conversations amongst creatives and intellectuals
alike. It can be read cover-to-cover, or skimmed randomly whenever the
mood strikes. Altered States is an exciting journey through the
history, philosophy, and experience of high creativity.
© 2002 Chris S. Witwer
S. Witwer is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas. She holds a Bachelor's
degree in English Literature from the University of Texas. Her publishing
credits include Austin Monthly Magazine, a weekly column entitled "Lesbian
Aesthetics" for Bluway.com, and the recently-launched Sistertrip.com