Collection Exhibition: “Altered States: Sex, Drugs, and Transcendence” at Harvard’s Houghton Library

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The search for something beyond the limits of ordinary experience—for transcendence—has preoccupied humankind for millennia. Religion, the occult, philosophy, music, endorphins, sex, Ecstasy: various paths have been taken in the hope of achieving it. In Altered States: Sex, Drugs, and Transcendence in the Ludlow-Santo Domingo Library, on view at Houghton Library September 5 – December 16, one collector’s quest to document the history of this search through rare books, manuscripts, photographs, posters, prints, comics, and ephemera is celebrated.

Investment advisor Julio Mario Santo Domingo, Jr. (1957-2009) assembled the world’s largest private collection documenting psychoactive drugs and their physical and social effects. His interest was broad, from cultivation and synthesis to the many cultural and counter-cultural products such altered states of mind have inspired and influenced. Rich in scientific, medical, legal, and literary works, the Ludlow-Santo Domingo (LSD) Library documents in depth both the benefits of controlled use and the horrors of addiction.

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!”

tumblr_mtuygmsjbu1s83h8do2_1280Highlights 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 comics 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.

The LSD Library came to Harvard in 2012. The collection is shared between various
libraries at the University; this exhibition includes material from the Botany Library,
Countway Medical Library, Fine Arts Library, Harvard Film Archive, Houghton Library,
Law Library, Schlesinger Library, and Widener Library. “Since its arrival at Harvard in
2012, the Ludlow-Santo Domingo Library has been one of our most heavily used
collections for research and for teaching,” said Thomas Hyry, Florence Fearrington
Librarian of Houghton Library. “With this exhibition, we now look forward to presenting
selections from this remarkable collection and to welcoming a broad audience of visitors
who can engage with and learn from it.”

Programs
Complementary events include:
– Lectures by Don Lattin, author of the Harvard Psychedelic Club, and Laurence
Bergreen, author of Casanova: The World of a Seductive Genius
– A film series at the Harvard Film Archive
Social protest inspired poetry readings and other events hosted by Houghton
Library’s Woodberry Poetry Room
– Altered Gazes: Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll at Schlesinger Library, an exhibition
at Harvard University’s Schlesinger Library

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Houghton Library
Houghton Library is Harvard University’s principal repository for rare books and
manuscripts, literary and performing arts archives, and more. The library’s holdings of
primary source material are managed by an expert staff and shared with scholars,
students and the public in the reading room, and through exhibitions, lectures,
seminars, publications and courses.

Houghton Library is located in Harvard Yard, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138,
USA. It is open Monday, Friday and Saturday 9am-5pm, and Tuesday through Thursday
9am-7pm. Houghton Library is closed on Sundays. Exhibitions are free and open to the
public.

Media Contact
Anne-Marie Eze, Director of Scholarly and Public Programs, Houghton Library annemarie_eze@harvard.edu; +1 617-998-5210

 

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