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Psychedelic orientalism: representations of India in the music of the Beatles

Cunningham, Trent (2012) Psychedelic orientalism: representations of India in the music of the Beatles. Undergraduate Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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In 1960s Britain and America, a mystical Orientalist view of India held sway: India was seen as a land of trippy gurus holding secret, ancient, psychedelic wisdom that could liberate the young hippie from the system of stuffy, bourgeois Western values. There was of course no ethnographic basis to this view – Indian philosophers, intellectuals, and musicians in the West resented the association with drugs – but mystical India was a powerful symbol nevertheless. The Beatles‟ “Tomorrow Never Knows” was one of the earliest and most potent manifestations of what I will call “psychedelic orientalism” within rock music. A close look at this song, and others like it from the Beatles‟ middle period, will reveal some of the functions of this construction, as well as some of the motivations behind it. Studying the Beatles‟ music in a historical and cultural context will uncover certain dynamics of power, themes of appropriation and cultural hegemony. These songs were written by young musicians who came of age during the last days of the British Empire, and in writing them they were enacting a musical relationship with their former colony. A close analytical look at the unique stylistic divergences of these songs, understood through Timothy Leary‟s manual The Psychedelic Experience and Ravi Shankar‟s tutelage of George Harrison, as well as through sociological perspectives on the drug-induced experience, will reveal the role that Indian musical elements (and the ancient Oriental wisdom they reportedly represented) were made to play. Finally, the perspectives of postcolonial criticism will show how that role given to India was a subordinate one, built upon an attitude of power that characterized the Empire.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Thesis AdvisorWeintraub, Andrewanwein@pitt.eduANWEIN
Committee MemberMajumdar, Neepanmajumda@pitt.eduNMAJUMDA
Committee MemberRoot, Deanedlr@pitt.eduDLR
Committee MemberThompson,
Date: 18 January 2012
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 1 November 2011
Approval Date: 18 January 2012
Submission Date: 8 December 2011
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 74
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: David C. Frederick Honors College
Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Music
Degree: BPhil - Bachelor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Undergraduate Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: rock, sixties, lsd, hindustani music, indian music, beatles, john lennon, george harrison, norwegian wood, if i needed someone, tomorrow never knows, within you without you, grotesque, appropriation, mimicry, mimesis, raga rock, exoticism
Date Deposited: 18 Jan 2012 19:42
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:55

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