junk, destiny, and personal myth

Jean-Yves Trépos, an anthropologist with the Equipe de Recherche en Anthropologie et Sociologie de l’Expertise, made a study, in 1993, of the interaction between a clinician and illicit drug users who had been referred there by the state. In “Auto-control and proto-professionalization among drug users” (2003), he used a concept from Elias, proto-professionalization – the emergence of recognizable codes, routines and disciplines in a given social set – and applied it to drug users, following the suggestion of a dutch medical anthropologist, Abram de Swann. It is not the individual that is proto-professionalized, in this theory, but the network in which the individual operates. We know these traits from our everyday experience: the guy who knows about computers but doesn’t work in the computer field, the amateur photographer, the birdwatcher. What we are searching for, in the initial period of capitalism as a dominant economic form in the West, are the gaps in the system of the division of labor - for it is through those gaps that we can understand something important about the resistance to the culture of happiness, mounted on behalf of the imagination, that was fought in one way or another by a number of disparate types - from the addict to the slave to the laundress to the poet. Imagine this as a tableau, with these as witnesses in the background. Here, in this historical moment, here it was that happiness as a total social fact and the capitalist division of labor became interdependent.

Trépos discovered a lesser level of proto-professionalization among pot smokers than among heroin users. There are degrees of the Mordspiel.

“With IT [therapeutic intervention] for heroin, one glimpses in fact another world (and sometimes even one completely enters it). Among the users arrested for this product, there are no doubt hardened professionals, who are able to reference themselves in terms of a career (in Howard Becker’s sense). But in the group one has mostly to do here with consumers on the road to chronic use, already possessing a pretty technique (of rhetoric and gestures) and who hesitate between amateur and semiprofessional experience of limits (which still offer the possibility of turning around (du retour en arriere) and submission to the corporal demands of addiction. If they don’t believe they are “there” yet, it is for different reasons than the ones above [the pot smokers]: they have already made this experience and, most likely, the most wise no longer envision psychiatry as anything other than a provider of prescriptions... But the most striking trait, in reading the notes of conversations with the doctor, it the pronounced taste for the interpretation of one’s proper trajectory, which is translated by an abundant story, pursued from one visit to the other and by a sense of dialogue [repliques]. Still, one should not imagine that we are going to find the stability of the interactions that we observed with the users of cannabis: this is the universe of missed appointments, certain being created by an interruption that is strongly reminiscent of the irruption of the real (overdose, arrest, but also cure or work). In brief, the interactions here are much more spectacular.”

The universe of missed appointments – here, too, we can connect the dots, find a path. Trépos speaks of the ‘irruption of the real’ in the sense of the negative, that which is exterior to the institution and the role the user plays within it – although in itself the cause can be positive, or at least filled with a context. An overdose, being fired from a job, getting a job. These missed appointments create two things: one is that the “chronicisation” of the drug – its chronic use – generates a chronicisation of visiting the clinic. Unlike pot smokers, heroin users have a much harder time getting away from the clinic. The other thing is that the spectacular nature of the missed appointments – the frequency of life-changing instances – is reflected in the autobiographies, the great narratives, that the users tell. They are the correlate of the failure that has brought the user to his object, his commodity, his demonic happiness. The failure is performed for the doctor. Trépos calls these negative autobiographies – here, image management is about people who are too ‘cowardly’ to commit suicide. People, incidentally, that I identify with myself. Those born to lose, and who keep picking at the skin of that loss. Why? Perhaps in order to revise the terms of any destiny that is divided between losing and winning.