Heroin: Art and Culture’s Last Taboo

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diogenes-1860

These are the best journalistic pieces I’ve ever read/listened to that delve into the history of junk philosophy. The author doesn’t seem to have ever been a heroin addict, which is wonderful. What joy, to see our little tribe of philosophers in extremis considered on its merits by the outside world! Andrew Hussey deserves a round of slow, lethargic applause.

The Article: Heroin: Art and Culture’s Last Taboo — by Andrew Hussey, The Observer

The Radio Version, which is even better: BBC Radio 4: Heroin, by Andrew Hussey — on Art, Creativity and Heroin 

The drug did not give Baudelaire visions or hallucinations, even if he had wished for them; instead, it threw him into a profound meditation which detached him from the world and made him understand it more clearly…

Heroin users don’t need to do anything or go anywhere: they just are.

This above all is what makes the heroin user a threat to a society built on speed and movement. Heroin, in contrast, makes the individual deeply introspective. Beyond the “dirty junkie” cliches and the fear of disease, one of the reasons why heroin is still taboo is that it wipes away the sense of responsibility to the collective, to the herd. This is why heroin users are usually characterised as self-destructive narcissists who don’t really deserve to survive their habits.

But it is clear that artists who are heroin users have a clearly developed sense of negativity in relation to society, and that has its own aesthetic. This indeed is the true art of heroin – to refuse life, to refuse society; terrifyingly, in every absolute sense: to just say “no”.

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Professor Andrew Hussey: dean of the University of London Institute in Paris

 

Shakespeare on Heroin

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Newly reformulated and cut with iambic pentameter.

Relapse Day 7: Bad Scene, Act I

To use or not to use, that is the question—
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The stabs and shots of outrageous misfortune
Or tie up Veins against a sea of troubles
And by injection, end them? To dream, to sleep—
Ever more; and with a shot, put to end
This Heartache, these thousand unnatural shocks
Our brains are heir to? ‘Tis a preparation
Devoutly taken. To walk the world asleep…
To sleep, perchance to Wake! Aye, there’s the rub,
For on our heroin, what life may come,
While we flee in disdain this mortal coil,
Must give us pause, despite all the Thoughts
That make Absurdity of waking life
For who would bear the stripes and bars of time,
The prosecutor’s wrong, the social scorn,
The pangs of junky love, the Law’s decay,
The insolence of officers, all spurns
The world merits but we are forced to take
While we ourselves might our quietus make
With a bare syringe. Who would these troubles bear,
To grieve and sweat under a broken life,
But that the dread of losing our escape,
From sobriety, that unsought country
Travelers avoid return to, slows our Time,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than withdraw to a world we care not for.
Thus Suffering does make Junkies of us all,
And thus the golden rays of opium
Are sicklied o’er, with the pale cast of Dreams,
While enterprises of great pitch and moment,
Are tossed by Time as currents turn awry,
And we yield to Inaction.

Original free verse:

To use or not to use, that is the question—
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The pains and miseries of outrageous misfortune
Or tie up Veins against a sea of troubles
And by injecting, end them? To dream, to sleep—
Forevermore; and by a shot, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand unnatural shocks
Our brains are heir to? ‘Tis a preparation
Devoutly to be taken. To walk the world, asleep…
To sleep, perchance to Wake! Aye, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of heroin, what life may come,
When we have shuffled away to deny this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes Absurdity of so painful a waking life
For who would bear the stripes and bars of time,
The prosecutor’s wrong, the society’s scorn,
The pangs of junky love, the Law’s decay,
The insolence of officers, and the spurns
That society merits yet we are forced to take
While we ourselves might our quietus make
With a bare syringe. Who would these troubles bear,
To grieve and sweat under a broken life,
But that the dread of losing something in our escape,
From an unsought country, whose sobriety
No traveler wishes to return to, collapses the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than withdraw to others that we care not for.
Thus Suffering does make junkies of us all,
And thus the golden rays of opium
Are sicklied o’er, with the pale cast of Thought,
While enterprises of great pitch and moment,
Are lost to time and turn awry,
And we lose ourselves to inaction.

A grateful world to the dealer in happiness: the Count of Monte Cristo on drugs

Monte Cristo isletAlexandre Dumas’ 1844-46 serial The Count of Monte Cristo is one of the most popular novels in the world. Despite what you might expect from a 19th century adventure story, its dark protagonist is complex and philosophical. The Count’s intellectual mind, his fractured idealism turned jaded pessimism, and his ruthless individuality makes him an existential philosopher-of-action par excellence.

Hotel de Lauzun

Dumas was a member of the Club des Hashischins (Hashish-Eaters Club) in Paris, which existed from 1844-49, around the time of the publication of Monte Cristo. So it isn’t surprising that the Count of Monte Cristo is a hashish eater. In fact, in the tradition of de Quincey, Coleridge and Keats, he’s also an opium-eater and quite a proponent of the two drugs. Monte Cristo pops pills he concocts himself from a 50/50 mixture of opium and hashish. Dumas borrows heavily from the Orientalism that we see associated with drug culture in earlier 19th century literature and poetry, but he does so with a flourish that is so perfected it still holds its magic after 170 years:

“There is a struggle in nature against this divine substance—in nature which is not made for joy and clings to pain. Nature subdued must yield in the combat, the dream must succeed to reality, and then the dream reign supreme, then the dream becomes life, and life becomes the dream. But what changes occur! It is only by comparing the pains of actual being with the joys of the assumed existence, that you would desire to live no longer, but to dream thus forever. When you return to this mundane sphere from your visionary world, you would seem to leave a Neapolitan spring for a Lapland winter—to quit paradise for earth—heaven for hell! Taste the hashish, guest of mine—taste the hashish.”

Dumas expounds upon the joys of hashish at some length:

Charas HashishThat kind of green preserve is nothing less than the ambrosia which Hebe served at the table of Jupiter! …We frequently pass so near to happiness without seeing, without regarding it, or if we do see and regard it, yet without recognizing it. Are you a man for the substantials and is gold your god? Taste this and the mines of Peru, Guzerat and Golconda are open to you. Are you a man of imagination—a poet? Taste this and the boundaries of possibility disappear… Are you ambitious, and do you seek after the greatness of the earth? Taste this, and in an hour you will be a king… Is it not tempting what I offer you, and is it not an easy thing, since it is only to do thus? Look!”

At these words he uncovered the small cup which contained the substance so lauded, took a teaspoonful of the magic sweetmeat, raised it to his lips and swallowed it slowly, with his eyes half shut and his head bent backward…

Hashshashin

“Did you ever hear…of the Old Man of the Mountain, who attempted to assassinate Philippe Augustus?”

“Of course, I have.”

“Well, you know he reigned over a rich valley, which was overhung by the mountain whence he derived his picturesque name. In this valley were magnificent gardens planted by Hassen-ben-Sabah, and in these gardens isolated pavilions. Into these pavilions he admitted the elect; and there, says Marco Polo, gave them to eat a certain herb, which transported them to paradise, in the midst of ever-blooming shrubs, ever-ripe fruit and ever-lovely virgins. But what these happy persons took for reality was but a dream; but it was a dream so soft, so voluptuous, so enthralling, that they sold themselves body and soul to him who gave it to them; and obedient to his orders as those of a deity, struck down the marked victim, died in torture without a murmur; believing that the death they underwent was but a quick transition to that life of delights of which the holy herb, now before you, had given them a slight foretaste.”

“Then,” cried Franz, “it is hashish! I know that—by name at least.”

Masyaf“That is it precisely, Signor Aladdin; it is hashish—the purest and most unadulterated hashish of Alexandria—the hashish of Abou-Gor, the celebrated maker, the only man, the man to whom there should be built a palace inscribed with these words: ‘A grateful world to the dealer in happiness.’”

“Do you know,” said Franz, “I have a very great inclination to judge for myself…”

Later, the Count, impresses his wealth upon an audience of Parisians with a flourish of a large, hollowed emerald, and casually remarks that he carries it at all times. Why? Because it contains his opium.

Colombian Emerald“May we inquire what is this recipe?” asked Debray.

“Oh, yes, I make no secret of it. It is a mixture of excellent opium, which I fetched myself from Canton in order to have it pure, and the best hashish which grows in the East—that is, between the Tigris and the Euphrates. These two ingredients are mixed in equal proportions, and formed into pills. Ten minutes after one is taken, the effect is produced…

“But,” said Beauchamp, who, as a journalist, was very incredulous, “you always carry this drug about you?”

“Always.”

 

Meet Alexander Trocchi, Junk Philosopher

Alexander Trocchi

“If eternity were available beyond death, if I could be as certain of it as I at this moment am sure of the fix I have only to move my hand to obtain, I should in effect have achieved it already beyond the pitiless onslaught of time, beyond the constant disintegration of the present, beyond all the problematic struts and viaducts with which prudence seeks to bridge the chasm of anxiety, with the ability to say, avoiding unseemly haste: “I’ll die tomorrow,” without bothering to intend it, or not to intend it, as bravely as the fabled gladiators of ancient Rome.”

“For conventional men all forms of mental derangement save drunkenness are taboo. Being familiar, alcoholism can arouse only disgust. The alcoholic humiliates himself. The man under heroin is beyond humiliation. The junkie arouses mass hysteria. (The dope fiend as the bogeyman who can be hanged in effigy and electrocuted in the flesh to calm the hysteria of the citizens.) … I remember thinking that only in America could such hysteria be. Only where the urge to conform had become a faceless president reading a meaningless speech to a huge faceless people, only where machinery had impressed its forms deep into the fibres of the human brain so as to make efficiency and the willingness to cooperate the only flags of value…”

“Whenever I contemplated our poverty and how it situated me, apparently at the edge of an uncrossable gulf at whose far side strolled those fortunate few who lived their lives in well-mannered leisure, I felt like a tent pegged down in a high wind. Sermons on the sanctity of hard work, and there were many such sermons, were offensive to me. I thought of my mother’s hands, and of her poor bent body, and of her boundless admiration for the chief symbol of that class towards which all people of my acquaintance aspired, the class which did not work, the class of whose scorn my father was afraid, thinking only of money as he did, because he did not have any, because each shilling was doled out to him until he was driven to pawn the spoons…”

“For a long time I have suspected there is no way out. I can do nothing I am not. I have been living destructively towards the writer in me for some time, guiltily conscious of doing so all along… a decadent at a tremendous turning point in history, constitutionally incapable of turning with it as a writer, I am living my personal Dada. In all of this there is a terrible emotional smear. The steel of the logic has daily to be strengthened to contain the volcanic element within. …To lose my identity as a writer is to lose all social identity. I can choose no other any more than I can seriously sustain that. I am being left with a subjective identity, something I am discovering (or not) in the act of becoming.””Sometimes, at low moments, I felt my thoughts were the ravings of a man mad out of his mind to have been placed in history at all, having to act, having to consider; a victim of the fixed insquint. Sometimes I thought: What a long distance history has taken me out of my way! And then I said: Let it go, let it go, let them all go! And inside I was intact and brittle as the shell of an egg. I pushed them all away from me again and I was alone, like an obscene little Buddha, looking in.”

–Alexander Trocchi, Cain’s Book, 1960

Meet Mark Renton, Junk Philosopher

Mark Renton

Mark Renton, Junk Philosopher

“…ma concept ay success and failure only operates on an individual rather than an individual and societal level. Due tae this failure tae recognise societal reward, success (and failure) can only ever be fleeting experiences for me, as that experience cannae be sustained by the socially–supported condoning of wealth, power, status, etc., nor, in the case ay failure, by stigma or reproach.

…Why should ah reject the world, see masel as better than it? Because ah do, that’s why. Because ah fuckin am, and that’s that… Basically, aw ah ask is that cunts mind their ain business and ah’ll dae the same. Why is it that because ye use hard drugs every cunt feels that they have a right tae dissect and analyse ye? Once ye accept that they huv that

Irvine Welsh, Junk Philosopher

Irvine Welsh, Junk Philosopher

right, ye’ll join them in the search fir this holy grail, this thing that makes ye tick. Ye’ll then defer tae them, allowin yersel tae be conned intae believin any biscuit–ersed theory ay behaviour they choose tae attach tae ye. Then yir theirs, no yir ain; the dependency shifts from the drug to them. Society invents a spurious convoluted logic tae absorb and change people whae’s behaviour is outside its mainstream. Suppose that ah ken aw the pros and cons, know that ah’m gaunnae huv a short life, am ay sound mind etcetera, etcetera, but still want tae use smack? They won’t let ye dae it. They won’t let ye dae it, because it’s seen as a sign ay thir am failure. The fact that ye jist simply choose tae reject whit they huv tae offer. Choose us. Choose life. Choose mortgage payments; choose washing machines; choose cars; choose sitting oan a couch watching mind–numbing and spirit–crushing game shows, stuffing fuckin junk food intae yir mooth. Choose rotting away, pishing and shiteing yersel in a home, a total fuckin embarrassment tae the selfish, fucked–up brats ye’ve produced. Choose life.

Well, ah choose no tae choose life. If the cunts cannae handle that, it’s thair fuckin problem.” — Irvine Welsh, Trainspotting, 1993

Interview: Thomas De Quincey on Krokodil, Famous Author Has Sympathy For Victims

Thomas De Quincy invented drug confessional literature, but he would like the imitations to stop.

Thomas De Quincy invented the drug confessional, but would like the imitations to stop.

Junkphilosophy.com has scored an interview with Thomas De Quincey, the literary founder of modern drug culture.

Today we’ll ask him about his thoughts on krokodil. Krokodil is the media’s new darling drug. It’s a disaster in home cooking—a poorly made, gasoline and lighter fluid tainted version of desomorphine that the sensationalist press thinks is some kind of new invention. Made in home kitchens by desperate junkies in Russia, krokodil is now frightening junkies in more civilised countries whose previous fears mostly centered on being imprisoned for the rest of their lives for trying to feel good; to feel the way other people feel every day and take for granted. The media doesn’t see the irony that as a product of desperation, kitchen chemistry, and the absence of junky access to necessary medication, krokodil is simply yet another consequence of drug prohibition; no more and no less so than was the HIV epidemic in Britain after the banning of needle exchanges.

JUNKPHILOSOPHY:  Thomas De Quincey, it’s an honor to speak with the man who single-handedly invented modern drug culture. How are you?

THOMAS DE QUINCEY: In the phrase of ladies in the straw, ‘as well as can be expected.’

JP: What are your thoughts on the media’s new drug craze: krokodil?

TDQ: Often did this hideous reptile haunt my dreams.

JP: Your work has been heavily influenced by dreams and has, in turn, influenced psychoanalysis. How does krokodil haunt you?

TDQ: Many times the very same dream was broken up in the very same way: I heard gentle voices speaking to me (I hear everything when I am sleeping); and instantly I awoke: it was broad noon; and my children were standing, hand in hand, at my bed-side; come to show me their coloured shoes…

JP: Do you have personal experience with krokodil?

TDQ: The cursed crocodile became to me the object of more horror than almost all the rest.

JP: Well, krokodil certainly makes your laudanum habit seem harmless by comparison. But getting back to…

TDQ: I was compelled to live with him… for centuries. I escaped sometimes, and found myself in Chinese houses, with cane tables, etc. All the feet of the tables, sofas, etc. soon became instinct with life: the abominable head of the crocodile, and his leering eyes, looked out at me, multiplied into a thousand repetitions: and I stood loathing and fascinated.

Crocodile

JP: I’d like to take us out of dreams and back to reality for a minute. (This isn’t the Daily Mail, after all.) Krokodil is made from bad internet recipes in home kitchens and supposedly contains gasoline, red phosphorus and possibly lighter fluid. Apparently, none of the big-time bootleggers are making it in their labs. If they were, I suppose this wouldn’t be a story because they’d make it at least to the pharmaceutical standard of not immediately causing their customers’ deaths. With that in mind, why do you think anyone would use krokodil?

TDQ: How came any reasonable being to subject himself to such a yoke of misery, voluntarily to incur a captivity so servile, and knowingly fetter himself with such a seven-fold chain?

JP: Yeah.

TDQ: Infirmity and misery do not, of necessity, imply guilt. I protest that so awful was the transition from the damned crocodile, and the other unutterable monsters and abortions… to the sight of innocent human natures and of infancy, that, in the mighty and sudden revulsion of mind, I wept, and could not forbear it, as I kissed their faces.

JP: I’m glad to see some sympathy shown for the people who used krokodil. Especially by a person in your position: a philosopher, man of letters and celebrity. Because I think you’re about the only one, celebrity or not, who is showing any sympathy.

TDQ: I am terrified by the modes of life, by the manners, and the barrier of utter abhorrence, and want of sympathy, placed between us by feelings deeper than I can analyze.

JP: Well said. Finally, on the challenge to prohibition that krokodil raises. Should this be a lesson that society must accept realities about the consequences of Prohibition? Heroin assisted treatment has proven successful in England, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Germany, etc. while Prohibition has proven a failure for a century, arguably causing more misery and death than prohibited drugs. Do you think that krokodil is a by-product of Prohibition itself? That the forces of prohibition—that they are the ones mainly responsible for—

TDQ: The main agents.

JP: Exactly.

TDQ: It may be observed, generally, that wherever two thoughts stand related to each other by a law of antagonism and exist, as it were, by mutual repulsion, they are apt to suggest each other.

JP: So, your take on prohibitionists?

TDQ: I could sooner live with lunatics, or brute animals.

JP: Thanks for speaking with us. It’s been a dream.

TDQ: I thank you.

Child Riding the Krokodil

Child on Krokodil