Robert Louis Stevenson used cocaine. Charles Baudelaire used hashish. Jean Cocteau used opium. Jean-Paul Sartre used amphetamines. Philip K. Dick used speed. Aldous Huxley used mushrooms. Hunter S. Thompson used mescaline along with the usual stuff like LSD and pot. William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Ken Kesey, Stephen King, Thomas de Quincey, Hubert Selby, William Yeats, the list goes on.
As if the list of authors on drugs was not illustrious enough, cannabis residue was recently identified in pipe fragments found in the gardens of Shakespeare’s residence in Stratford-upon-Avon suggesting that the Bard may have enjoyed a few Midsummer Night’s Dreams. Edward Delman, and other conscientious journalists, rightly point out that the study is inconclusive. But you can’t put the meme back into the bottle. The picture of the Doping Bard is fixed in our minds.
Since I live in Japan, I do not expect marijuana to be legalized around here any time soon. But it will probably be legalized (or at the very least, decriminalized) in much of North America and Western Europe in the foreseeable future. Other recreational drugs may follow. Which begs the question, will literature be the same after the legalization of drugs? Prohibition never stopped heavy duty artists from using, but will the increased availability of mind expanding substances for the average writer change the landscape of the writing world?
The world of writing has changed drastically in the past few decades. Not only can you post your stories and opinions on websites, blogs and social media, and sell your books through digital publishing at the fraction of the cost of conventional publishing, but access to material teaching you how to write has exploded in volume. Online writing seminars can be attended from around the world where ever you are. There is even the National Novel Writing Month, a worldwide online writing fest involving hundreds of thousands of aspiring writers. Writing used to be the sequestered activity of isolated geeks who typed away in attics and basements while other kids played baseball. Books on writing were hard to find and writing seminars were Big City things attended by artistic types in Eastern European jackets and Rasta colored hats. Today, everybody is writing. You can find excellent blogs on every topic. You can read much of the material for free and digital download books can be had for less than a dollar. You would think that such an infusion of novice writers and abundance of reading material would flood the market and cut the profits for the individual writer. In fact, the reverse has happened. There once was a time when Peter Benchley selling the paperback rights to JAWS for two million dollars was front page news. Today, Fifty Shades of Grey earned a hundred million dollars for the author and it barely raises eyebrows. You had to own factories to become a billionaire only a few decades ago, J.K. Rowling became a billionaire by writing children’s books. The scale of a writer’s earnings, if only theoretically, has increased by orders of magnitude.
So, more people are writing, publishing and selling, which alone turned the whole activity of “writing” into something unrecognizable, and soon more people will be doping. Of course, drugs alone cannot produce books, or prisons will become writing establishments (not to say that some excellent work did not come out of them). But it is difficult to imagine that an army of flying writers will fail to conquer at least some segment of the world in one way or another. Looking forward to what will happen in the National Weed Smoking Writing Month.