The Cia and poetry

In 1841, when I published my memoir on hallucinations, I wan’t yet able to study the effects of hashish except in an imperfect manner. Since, I have made a great number of experiments on myself and on some persons (among others, many doctors) that I succeeded, with some difficulty, in making decide to take it. – Moreau de Tours

Central Intelligence Agency – what a marvelous deathgrip phrase, out of the forge of the Cold war, that titanic maker of acronyms and euphemisms! In its specific institutional form it was, of course, founded under Harry Truman in the USA in 1948 – but the principle of the Central Intelligent Agency – its spirit – was a spectre that haunted the happiness culture from the beginning. The convergence of intelligence towards some panoptic center – which would then be institutionally clad, in hospitals, schools, academies, government bureaucracies, and markets – something like this has always stirred on the horizon of the industrial economies, with their decreasing rural populations and increasingly murky urban areas, with their feverish imperial projects and their sciences.

In the history of those special psychoactive markets in of exotic commodities – sugar, tobacco, coffee, tea, opium, cannabis, etc. – we know that the American CIA played a special and shadowy role in the twentieth century. It was, for instance, the broker and bankroller of the first wave of research on LSD. In effect, it is to the CIA that Ken Kesey, among others, owed his first acid trips.

Gnostic historians, seeing the intersignes where others see simple coincidence, who understand that the path is no simple thing (a path of breadcrumbs, or a path of pins, or a path of needles), are alert to all intersections of art and the CIA – and thus to the fact that in the 19th century, the first conjunction of artists and cannabis, in Paris, was presided over by a CIA like figure: Joseph Moreau de Tours. Moreau de Tours holds a special and little known place in the history of neurology – he is generally acknowledged as the first scientist to premise that madness was based on neurological chemistry. Further, he was sure that this chemistry could be simulated through the use of hashish – and that it could, as well, be treated by hashish. One can leap over the intervening synapses to the present to find variants of his theory dominating psychiatry today, where the reigning model assigns to seratonin a mysterious power over mental health. Mysterious because, in spite of the billions of dollars in research on the subject, we have really only observed that certain chemical neurotransmitters can be effected by our drugs in such a way as to palliate or impede schizophrenia and depression – but nobody understands why. The proof is in the effects of the drugs, which, of course, is not proof at all, but a falling back on an earlier medical logic of like producing like.

As Alan Baumeister and Mike Hawkins put it in “The Serotonin Hypothesis of Schizophrenia: A Historical Case Study on the Heuristic Value of Theory in Clinical Neuroscience” (2004): “The inspiration for toxicologic theories [of madness] was the observation (which has been made repeatedly for centuries) that numerous exogenous substances produce effects that resemble, at least superficially, the signs and symptoms of mental illnesses. One of the first psychiatrists to systematically exploit this observation was Moreau de Tours, who in the 1840s conducted studies of hashish on normal and mentally ill persons (Moreau, 1845).”

Foucault, of course, noticed Moreau de Tours as well, in his lectures on Psychiatric power. He points to the fact that Moreau directly links the phases of his own intoxication with hashish to the phases of mental illness – without any intermediary explanation of why the two should be connected. Foucault makes the rather mysterious comment that “to tell the truth I think it [the book] should be analyzed within a history of drugs rather than within a history of mental illness.” But he then makes a very Baudelairian statement:

“Anyway, with regard to the history of mental illness, according to Moreau de Tours this use of the drug, and the immediate assimilation of the effects of the drug and symptoms of mental illness, provide the doctor with a possible reproduction of madness, a reproductin which is both artificial, since intoxication is needed to produce the phenomena, and mantural, because none of the symptoms he lists are foreign, either in their content or successive sequence, to the course of madness as a spontaneous and natural illness. So, we have an induced but authentic reproduction of the illness.” (279)

Of course, the mind leaps to the de Quincey-ian notion that if we can artificially produce mental illness, could we not artificially produce mental health? And find a pill for happiness that we can put in our pockets, and latter in our mouths? Is there not some Central Intelligence Agency, some science, some technology, that could deliver us from every pang and lead us along all the correct paths, the path of what is, the path of day, the healthy neural pathway? And yet, always, there is something sinister about the CIA – as if the intersignes we have gathered here do not signify our delivery at all, but rather our collective forgetting, our increasing inability to see and understand the system of the artificial paradise.

Ma femme est morte, je suis libre!
Je puis donc boire tout mon soûl