“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Drunkenness is a number

When Moreau de Tours writes of hashish, it is as a chemical means to simulate madness – implying that madness occurs by means of chemicals. When Baudelaire writes of intoxicants, he writes in an entirely different register. Wine, opium, and hashish are always connected, in Baudelaire’s works, to the “multiplication of individuality” - to quote the subtitle of “Wine and Hashish”. In his notebooks, published as Fusees, he puts it another way: “Tout est nombre. Le nombre est dans tout. Le nombre est dans l’individu. L’ivresse est un nombre.” [Everything is number. The number is in everything. The number is in the individual. Drunkeness is a number.] In the Artificial Paradise, the first section on hashish is entitled ‘the taste of infinity’ – LE GOÛT DE L’INFINI – which plays on the meaning of taste as both a thing of the tongue and an inclination of the spirit. There are also the great poems of multiplication, the most famous of which is the Seven Old Men, which begins: Fourmillante cité, cité pleine de rêves,/ Où le spectre en plein jour raccroche le passant ! and which proceeds to describe the apparition of an old man who is followed by another and another, until there are seven in all:

“Son pareil le suivait: barbe, œil, dos, bâton, loques,
Nul trait ne distinguait, du même enfer venu,
Ce jumeau centenaire, et ces spectres baroques
Marchaient du même pas vers un but inconnu.

À quel complot infâme étais-je donc en butte,
Ou quel méchant hasard ainsi m’humiliait !
Car je comptai sept fois, de minute en minute,
Ce sinistre vieillard qui se multipliait !

Que celui-là qui rit de mon inquiétude,
Et qui n’est pas saisi d’un frisson fraternel,
Songe bien que malgré tant de décrépitude
Ces sept monstres hideux avaient l’air éternel !”

It is noteworthy that in the taste of infinity section of The Paradise Artificial, the same cosmological references – to heaven and hell – and the same references to sacred and secular arithmetic – the eternal and the infinite – provide the cardinal points for Baudelaire’s spiritual variation of Moreau’s thesis: that the inspired mood is exterior, a refined mode of exteriority, in fact, in which the world yields its secrets to the poet-subject.

“It is certain that a constant elevation of desire, a tension of spiritual forces towards heaven, would be the most appropriate regime for creating this moral health, so brilliant and glorious. But in virtue of what absurd law does it manifest itself sometimes after guilty orgies of the imagination, after a sophistic abuse of the reason, which is to its honest and reasonable usage what physical sprains are to gymnastic health? This is why I prefer to consider this anormal condition of the intellect [l’esprit] as an authentic grace, as a magic mirror where man is invited to see himself beautified, that is to say such as he must and could be; a kind of angelic excitation, a rappel à l’ordre under a complimentary form. Likewise, a certain spiritualist school, which has its representatives in England and America, considers the supernatural phenomena such as the apparition of phantoms, of revenants, etc., as the manifestation of the divine will, attentive to awakening in the intellect of man the memory of invisible realities.”

Angelic grace. Grace is, of course, a kind of gift. Gratia, pleasing, or a favour, goodwill. It is the mode in which revelation occurs to the bearer of charisma in Weber’s formulation of charismatic legitimation:
“Charismatic Dominion by the power of affective surrender to the person of the master and his gifs of grace [Gnadengaben] (Charisma), in particular magical abilities, revelations or heroism, power of the intellect [Geistes] and of speech. The eternally new, extraordinary, never-seen-before, and the emotional possession thereby are here sources of personal surrender. The purest types are the dominion of prophets, of warriors, of great demagogues. The dominating combination is communal association in the congregation or the order of disciples [Gefolgshaft]. The type of the orderer is the Guide [Führer]. The type of the follower is the disciple [»Jünger«] Obedience derives exclusively for the sake of the leader‘s person and his purely personal, un-utilitarian qualities, not because of a prescribed position or traditional values. And thus only in so far as these qualities are ascribed to him; his charisma is preserved through its proofs.”

Of course, Weber’s language takes on a much more sinister tone for us, who vividly recall one such Führer. But I am more interested, here, in the underlying opposition of one type of knowledge involving number – in drunkenness, in inspiration – against another type of knowledge involving number – in an algebraic/commercial system of substitutions, in technology, in science. Just as the taste of infinity can lead to the misery of addiction, the taste for inspiration can lead to the misery of fascism. A parallel that I will muddy, blur, scratch – but that I do leave as a marginal gloss.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

spleen and ideal

De fait, le cas le plus significatif me paraît être la route. Si l’on veut
vraiment protéger la nature, il faut supprimer la plus grande partie des
routes. – Jacques Ellul

I love the term “artificial paradise”. A few remarks, philological and speculative.

At first, according to a letter Baudelaire wrote to Poulet-Malassis, his publisher, on April 25, 1859, the essay on hashish and the translation of parts of the Opium Eater were to be published under the title, L’idéal artificial. L’idéal, in Baudelaire’s lexicon, has a prominent place in Fleurs de mal – where it is paired with Spleen. In Baudelaire’s poem, L’idéal, it is related to women – and yet, in that poem, the women are all plucked from either literature, prints, or painting:

“Ce ne seront jamais ces beautés de vignettes,
Produits avariés, nés d'un siècle vaurien,
Ces pieds à brodequins, ces doigts à castagnettes,
Qui sauront satisfaire un coeur comme le mien.”

In the decision to use Paradise as the object modified by artifice, Baudelaire delinks it from women, and links it to drugs – which gives us an old set of connections – woman as a drug, woman whose sexuality is offered to the man as a drug, the woman – Eve – who offers the fruit to the man – but, in the end, breaks with, ruptures that myth. The artificial paradise begins precisely where the old paradise ends – in swallowing, in taking a substance into one’s mouth.

I’m all jumpy at this point, all careless. I love the phrase, “artificial paradise”, because it hints, it speculates on, a notion that is anathema to the simple dualism of man vs. nature, or culture vs. nature – artifice is not only a second nature, but it is one that is not an extension of man. Rather, it exists separately, outside of man, distinct from the human. The idea that the world is humanized by human technology – comforting to some, a scandal to others – is not quite right. Rather, the “extensions of man” – the artifices – penetrate both man and nature, operate as a third domain, introduce into nature the addicted being. In the binary of artifice and nature, man – o man – is, at best, a bystander. To suppress the roads, to bring down the artifice, to turn against the third domain, is, truly, unthinkable, a cold turkey unto death.

To put this another way, following up some posts this spring on Foucault’s Les mots et les choses, the mutation at the end of L’age classique was not at all about the birth of ‘man’, that figure drawn – a vignette! – in the sand by the seashore, but was all about the birth of the Other, that Other which is at the dead center of the human sciences.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

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