the great law gift-gift

“…étranges croisements d'idiomes comme ceux qui
traduisent « se donner la mort » par « to take one's life ». Cette
inversion relève de la grande loi du Gift — gift.” – Derrida, Donner le temps

“Fundamentally, there is nothing less interesting than the life a morphine addict. It is limited to the periods in which he takes the poison, and periods, in which society forces him to give up the stuff. All the reasons that people have discovered to excuse addiction may work on the literary and poetic level: concretely it is sheer filthiness, because you are ruining your life with it. “ – Friedrich Glauser, Morphine (my translation)

Glauser was a Swiss detective novelist. He was enormously influential in that genre. He was also a sad case, a juvenile delinquent in Vienna, a druggy in Basel. According to his account, parts of which are published at this excellent site , he ‘started out on Burgundy but soon hit the harder stuff’ – or, less poetically, he found WWI so unbearable that he could no longer get drunk enough to forget it was happening.

I came to morphine through a detour. During the war, the daily need to ignore reality, even in neutral countries, was very strong. Since I could take even large quantities of alcohol without any problem, I sought other means, and began with ether. But his is an unpleasant poison. Its smell is hard to get rid of and remains as a penetrating taste in the mouth all day long. Also, ether attacks the lungs. During one cold night, I suffered an attack of bronchial bleeding, and had to search out a doctor at midnight. This man gave me a morphine injection, and had me drink concentrated saltwater.

I still remember exact the effect of this injection. Suddenly I became quite weak. A curious, hard to describe feeling of happiness “took possession of me” (one can hardly express it otherwise). In spite of that fact that, materially, this things were going badly with me, everything was suddenly changed, misery lost its importance, it was no longer present (vorhanden), I held happiness in my hands: it was, to make a bad comparison, as if my entire body was a smile. And then I lay there, awake, until morning.”

In the twenties, Glauser mixed up some hopeless affairs (“And yet another effect of opium and related poisons: they repress sexuality. I came to morphine after a bad love affair. In the ‘unconscious’ I made a conclusion and saved myself by regressing to a childhood stage, a sage, in which the business of dealing with the sensations of my own body had handed in the prize of pleasure.”) with stays in prison or clinics for the mentally ill, where he would set fires. Having happiness in his hands once, he wanted it again; and so the pursuit of happiness led him to the marginal life of the main chance.

To be marginalized in the pursuit of happiness, which one has found, as de Quincey says, in pill form – this is an anthropologically important social fact.

And one that leads to the direction of the pursuit – either inwards or outwards. Or, by some impossibility, can the inward become the outward?