Acid test

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is a work of literary journalism by Tom Wolfe, published in 1968. Using techniques from the genre of hysterical realism and pioneering new journalism, he tells the story of Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters as they drive across the country in a DayGlo painted school bus dubbed "Furthur," reaching what they considered to be personal and collective revelations through the use of LSD and other psychedelic drugs. It covers their cross country road trip, as well as the Acid Tests, early performances by The Grateful Dead, and Kesey's exile to Mexico. Wolfe is primarily concerned not with narrative, but with relating the Pranksters' intellectual and quasi-religious experiences.

Tom Wolfe's influences

Though Wolfe did not indulge in the same frequent drug use as the subjects in his work, he was intrigued by their experience and attempted to capture their state of mind and frequent revelations. To do so, he used extensive interviews and primary texts including many interviews, letters, and recordings from Ken Kesey, Norman Hartweg, and Robert Stone (among many others) to re-create not only the story of the Merry Pranksters, but the "subjective reality" of their experience, which relates obviously to Kesey's philosophizing of intersubjectivity. Far more controversially, Wolfe used (and vaguely cited) the research of Hunter S. Thompson, who encountered the Merry Pranksters while writing his own nonfiction novel on the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang. Unlike Wolfe, Thompson was a friend to Kesey, before and after all of these publications. Wolfe seems to write just as maniacally as someone who would have been “on the bus", while his "[recreation] of" his subject's "subjective reality" is occasionally interrupted by his "impersonal and objective" narrator's self-inclusion. Wolfe's infrequent first-person recounting creates the underpinning dynamic between subject and journalist in the novel, which establishes Wolfe as a medium of the acid culture to what he calls "the outside world," in a form which he was concurrently establishing as a medium of journalism within a greater medium of literature.

Mentioned in Acid Test

Film adaptation

A film adaptation of the book, directed by Gus Van Sant, is expected to be released in 2009. The screenplay is written by Big Love writer Dustin Lance Black, and the movie is being produced by Richard N. Gladstein.


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