“Foucault in California: [A True Story―Wherein the Great French Philosopher Drops Acid in the Valley of Death]” by Simeon Wade— A Well-Remembered Weekend

Wade, Simeon. “Foucault in California: [A True Story―Wherein the Great French Philosopher Drops Acid in the Valley of Death]”, Heyday, 2019.

A Well-Remembered Weekend

Amos Lassen

When I was a graduate student many years ago, I was lucky enough to meet and speak with Michel Foucault and we discussed at length his concept of gay consciousness. I had a great deal of trouble understanding the difference between gay consciousness and any other consciousness and while I understand it better now, I see no reason to have the concept of consciousness dependent on sexuality but then Foucault was a great and controversial philosopher and I am just controversial.

Stuart Elden said that “Foucault once declared that he had written nothing but fictions, and here we have a stylized account of a short moment in his life, written with the verve of a novel.” David Macey in “The Lives of Michel Foucault” tells us that Foucault spoke “nostalgically…of ‘an unforgettable evening on LSD, in carefully prepared doses, in the desert night, with delicious music, and] nice people’.” It was  when Foucault came to America in 1975 and spent spent Memorial Day weekend in Southern California at the invitation of Simeon Wade. He had come to lecture at the Claremont Graduate School where Wade was an assistant professor. What we now know is that the reason Foucault came to America and specifically to California was to explore what he called the Valley of Death. Wade and his partner, Michael Stoneman and Foucault experimented with psychotropic drugs for the first time and by the following morning he was crying and proclaiming that he knew truth. 

 “Foucault in California” is Wade’s firsthand account of that long weekend. It is often a very funny and endearing book and it captures so much of what so many expected to hear one day but never did. We quickly see here that Foucault was both an erudite and a subversive character and he can be humble but at his own expense. This book showcases Foucault’s humor and his subversiveness. He quickly made his way into subversive circles of the Claremont intelligentsia as well as parties in Wade’s bungalow, intensive dialogues between Foucault and his disciples at a Taoist utopia in the Angeles Forest and there was the synesthetic acid trip in Death Valley, performed while listening to the strains of Bach and Stockhausen. He was searching for higher consciousness, part orgiastic. Here is the story of a young man’s  friendship with one of the twentieth century’s greatest thinkers.

Michel Foucault was invited to the University of California, Berkeley, in 1975. During his visit, Simeon Wade, who assisted and accompanied Foucault, persuaded him to join him and his partner, Michael Stoneman, on a trip to Death Valley and Zabriskie Point, where Foucault took LSD for the first time. Wade wrote about this experience in his unpublished manuscript “Foucault in California”. When German artist Olaf Nicolai asked to use excerpts from the text for an artist’s publication, he was allowed a maximum of 250 words. He selected 205 words from throughout the manuscript and this abbreviated text is “a trip”.

While in California that summer, Foucault experimented with psychedelic drugs for the first time. This is Simon Wade’s firsthand account of that long weekend. It was part search for higher consciousness and part bacchanal. It is also the beginning of Wade’s friendship with Foucault.





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