Sorry, this episode is not currently available on BBC iPlayer Radio

The Doors of Perception

The unifying idea behind this edition of Words and Music is that reality is variable and personal. The texts, read by Jim Broadbent and Miranda Richardson, cover the best part of 2000 years from the Bible's Book of Revelation, to last year's "Late" by Christopher Reid.

It's striking that, despite the various ways of coming to that reality (religion, a refined sensibility, illness, mind-altering drugs), these visions share many similarities. The weird animal hell-on-earth of Revelation is echoed in Thomas De Quincey's opium nightmares; Baudelaire's bedroom (while he's on a high, at least) is as perfect and intoxicating as the heavenly paradise described by the fourth-Century St Ephrem. Coleridge's trippy "Kubla Khan" features another Oriental paradise with hints of something disturbing but distant; Alice's mushroom has very peculiar effects. The experience of Julian of Norwich, alternating between ecstasy and pain, and the fevered ravings of Sylvia Plath are strangely similar; Blake sees the infinite in the small and apparently insignificant, and after a long marriage Christopher Reid still feels the presence of his dead wife. Funnily enough, it's Aldous Huxley with his rather too well organised mescalin experiment who stays earthbound. The music ranges from Bach to Zappa, by way of (among others) Mahler, Ravel, Debussy, Messiaen, Crumb and Cage.

Producer: David Papp.

Release date:

1 hour, 15 minutes

Last on

Wed 22 Dec 2010 17:00

Books website

Books home

Get closer to books with in-depth articles, quizzes and our picks from radio & TV.