On May 15, 1871, fifteen-year-old Arthur Rimbaud wrote a letter to his friend Paul Demeny. In the letter, Rimbaud spoke of creating new poetic effects by engaging in a "rational disordering of the senses."
Bob Dylan became enraptured with Rimbaud. Dylan concluded that the disordering he sought needed to by-pass the rational; he evidently assumed the changed senses would change his imagination. Like some of his literary ancestors--such as Aldous Huxley who tried mescaline or Allen Ginsberg who tried many drugs--Dylan sought in using drugs to find and enter a hidden inner world, one buried beneath the structures that society had built there, one that his own conscious mind might not even recognize or acknowledge. Once there, he would see and understand the unique symbols of his own mind, and then he could present those symbols in songs to the world.
Various critics and fans have seen the influence of drugs in Dylan's work. But it's hard to make sense of such a notion. After all, if drugs could propel creativity, we would by now have an incredibly rich library of drug-induced books. We don't have the library. People who write while on drugs characteristically produce incoherent or disconnected fragments of the experience. And then comes the really cruel part. Even if a drug experience could produce a perfectly-rendered re-creation of the experience, who would want to read it? Either it is a secondary experience that can't subsitutute for a person's direct experience with the drug or it is somebody else's experience that has little meaning for us.
Writing is a rational act. When Dylan wrote, he was in command of his visions. When he took drugs, the visions were in command of him. Whether he needed those visions for inspiration, or as examples of the kinds of visions his mind was capable of producing, or to confirm that he was a leader of an emerging culture, or to experiment for its own sake is not clear. But using drugs as an explanation for Dylan's creative powers and mastery of words evades the still elusive aspects of his artistry.