Sick of Happiness II

“Not the opium-eater, but the opium, is the true hero of the tale.” – De Quincey, 148

“When addicts desire to give up their drug use and change their lives, they frequently are confused about what they should do instead. This confusion is especially dramatic for those who have been deeply immersed in the world of addiction for long periods of time. They may see themselves as having nowhere to turn, having burned their bridges with family and ordinary friends.” – Peter Biernacki (1990)

It is exactly this – the confusion about what to do – that defines the liminal space between one world and another. I have been focusing on the literary addict as a figure who both decodes all too perfectly the flow of commodities in the artificial paradise, and the one whose sickness is made out of happiness.

Long before there was any notion of addiction, there was a keen sense that potions can create transformations that were intrinsically irreversible. By no act of will could Odysseus’ men return to their humanity from the pig’s life that Circe’s potions had made out of them – only by a counter-drug. This confusion about what to do is a world making confusion - that is, it gets more acute as one reaches the limit of the particular routines that define a particular world The poetry of addiction, the attraction of the poet to addiction, has always been about transcendence. This is often spelled out in terms of the body - the too too mortal flesh, from which we go up. But I'd like to spell this out in terms of the world and the things that we do there. The moralistic trope that there is nothing ‘artistic’ about drugs – that the fun in them soon runs out, that they kill rather than stimulate the imagination – revenges that moment when the routines stop, when the lines around normal – around that world – vanish. For it does happen. And yet, using a routine - the taking of a drug - to transcend routine, transcendence does give way to the round of getting and taking. And so the addict becomes the victim of this narrow circulation of the commodity. With the difference that this commodity cannot be substituted. The gift stands at one end of the commodity defined system of exchange, and addiction at the other.

The artificial paradise views the addict with untender eyes because the addict knows that it is an artificial paradise. He has taken the imperative of the routine into his very cells.

That swallowing of routine, of the drug, brings us back around to the bifurcation, so sweetly and swiftfootedly traced by Derrida, between writing as that which exists in the register of simulacrum and that which exists inside as the privileged metaphor for memory and truth itself. In the first, the references take us, inevitably, back to the witch – in the second, the references take us back to the original commerce between the sense organs and the world. In De Quincey, we see this in his notion - or rather, in his routine - concerning the palimpsest.