DXM, Big Fun, And My Favorite Hypertext

by Jens Alfke ⟿ January 5, 2002

By way of introducing my favorite hypertext, I have to digress a bit. Last March [2001] I had a particularly nasty flu for about three weeks, which ended up as a wretched dry cough. I couldn’t go one minute without coughing, and I had a horrible sharp pain in my ribs caused by a sprained chest muscle. One night I was lying on the couch (so I wouldn’t keep Diana up all night) trying in vain to sleep, and decided to look up exciting Drug Facts about various medications I was taking. Guaifenasin wasn’t very interesting (just an expectorant, toxic in large doses) but Dextromethorphan turned out to be fascinating stuff – chemically similar to opiates, it suppresses coughs but doesn’t bind to any opiate receptors. What the mainstream medical websites don’t tell you, however, is that it does have very potent psychedelic effects at large doses. I’d heard about people getting stoned on cough syrup and assumed it was just codeine, but no, DXM is quite odd stuff in its own right.

Disclaimer. I would never try high doses of Dextromethorphan myself and don’t recommend that you do. Not only does chugging cough syrup sound disgusting, but DXM can become addictive, and the long term effects are known to include brain damage. Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t safely enjoy ourselves by reading about other people’s unwise use of this interesting drug!

Tussin space. The Erowid archive has quite a lot of information about the effects of DXM, including a mention of the term tussin space, which refers to the sort of self-consistent alternate reality or apparent physical construct that seems to be produced by the drug. “Many find it to be a vast, open space, full of exotic and alien constructs, buildings and shapes. Some see crystalline towers and cloud-like lifeforms; others see the Tussin Space as a forest, desert, or other natural setting. Your Mileage May Vary.” I love this idea – I’m a sucker for things involving alternate realities or overarching shapes behind the world – so I googled about for other references to “tussin space” and found … Big Fun.

Big Fun was a commune of sorts inhabited by a group of young slackers in the mid ’90s. It was immortalized by one of its members, The Gus, who compiled a glossary of the group’s slang, rituals, characters and situations and posted it on the web. Glossary is of course a natural form for hypertext, and you can happily traipse around inside this one for hours on end (as I did that night). It gives a vivid kaleidoscopic image of what that scene must have been like. I have to say I would never want to live in that kind of squalor, but Gus describes it with a romanticism that makes it great fun to read and to imagine oneself in:

Despite its nearly-unlivable conditions and constant social tension, Big Fun is a place unlike any in the world. Big Fun people are full of ambition and interesting ideas, but for now they are distracted by the fragrance of life. So they stroll along for now, enjoying the considerable fun that the greater Charlottesville area has to offer. They can always buckle down and begin life in earnest when they have worked out whatever it is that is joyfully blocking them. Perhaps, as is the case for this glossary, a great creative force can be tapped from the unconventional decadence that surrounds them.

Yay for youthful idealism!

Some thoughts on hypertext. The experience of the Big Fun Glossary hypertext is quite different than that of a normal narrative. There’s definitely a story, and one could imagine a novel or film set there. But when I think of Big Fun, it’s in terms of the individual events and characters, and associations between them, not in any sort of chronological structure (I don’t think I could describe the timeline in any detail if my life depended on it!) I think this qualifies The Gus’s glossary of it as an entirely different form of literature. One could of course get the same effect on paper with a written glossary (and it’s been done: Milorad Pavic’s Dictionary Of The Khazars) but looking up references in a paper book is sufficiently awkward that this is a form that, I think, really needs the computer to be practical.