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Posts Tagged ‘drugs’

“A Few Leaves Too Many,” and Other News

December 15, 2014 | by

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Paul Cézanne, The Bare Trees at Jas de Bouffan, 1885–86.

  • Paul Muldoon on Beckett’s collected letters: “The letters collected here come in the wake of the success, in 1955, of the English version of Waiting for Godot, the play in which, according to the critic Vivian Mercier, ‘nothing happens, twice.’ One of the few things that do happen is that the tree that’s barren in Act I develops some foliage in Act II. But, as the high priest of lessness writes to the director Jerzy Krecz­mar of the 1957 Warsaw production—‘The tree is perfect (perhaps a few leaves too many in the second act!)’—even that mustn’t be overstated.”
  • Merriam-Webster’s word of the year is … culture. “When you put it next to another word it means something very different,” their editor at large said.
  • The science of mondegreens: Why do we mishear lyrics? (“You’re much more likely to mishear ‘Cry Me a River’ as ‘Crimean River’ if you’ve recently been discussing the situation in Ukraine.”)
  • How can a writer make goodness interesting? George Eliot tried to do so by examining redemption in Silas Marner. The only problem is that the narrative jumps ahead, giving us the miserly misanthrope before and the radiant saint after he adopts a lost child … But where are the unheroic, sane, consistent, quiet goodnesses? As literature thrives on conflict, the idea of a sequestered, sanguine goodness might seem impossible.”
  • The language of food: a new book crunches the data on the descriptions of 650,000 dishes from 6,500 menus. “Satisfied customers can be remarkably price-sensitive, if unconsciously so. The pleasures of expensive food are equated with sex; foie gras is seared ‘seductively’ and apple tart is ‘orgasmic.’ Cheap food, by contrast, is compared to drugs. Reviewers demand a ‘fix’ of fried chicken and liken cupcakes to crack.”

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Extreme, Extreme!

September 17, 2014 | by

The literature of laughing gas.

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“This is not the Laughing, but the Hippocrene or Poetic Gas, Sir.” Colored etching by R. Seymour, 1829, via the Wellcome Library.

What’s mistake but a kind of take?
What’s nausea but a kind of -ausea?
Sober, drunk, -unk, astonishment.
Everything can become the subject of criticism—how criticise without something to criticise? Agreement—disagreement!!
Emotion—motion!!!

These words were set to paper in 1882 by William James, one of the most celebrated proponents of the new science of psychology, and a newly minted assistant professor of philosophy at Harvard. James was in many ways the paragon of an eminent Victorian—his writing tends to summon images of the author ensconced beside a roaring fire in some cozy wood-paneled study in Cambridge. And yet here James comes off as utterly, absurdly stoned.

Because he was.

After huffing a large amount of nitrous oxide, James set out to tackle a prominent bugbear of 1880s intellectual life: Hegelian dialectics. He came up with a stream of consciousness that centered on a kind of ecstatic binary thinking:

Don’t you see the difference, don’t you see the identity?
Constantly opposites united!
The same me telling you to write and not to write!
Extreme—extreme, extreme! Within the extensity that “extreme” contains is contained the “extreme” of intensity
Something, and other than that thing!
….
By George, nothing but othing!
That sounds like nonsense, but it’s pure onsense!
Thought much deeper than speech … !
Medical school; divinity school, school! SCHOOL!
Oh my God, oh God; oh God!

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The Future According to Stanisław Lem

September 12, 2014 | by

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A still from The Congress, a new film adaptation of Lem’s 1971 novella The Futurological Congress.

In his 1971 novella The Futurological Congress, the Polish science-fiction writer Stanisław Lem describes a group of futurologists who have gathered at the Hilton Hotel in Costa Rica to stave off planetary disaster. Overpopulation and resource depletion are at crisis levels; famine and political collapse are just around the corner. Even before the conference begins, events take an ominous turn. Guerrillas kidnap the American consul and start mailing in body parts, demanding the release of political prisoners. As Professor Dringenbaum of Switzerland explains how humanity will soon resort to cannibalism, rioting breaks out in the streets. In response, the Costa Rican government deploys new types of chemical weapons, intended to make the rebels docile and peace-loving. They induce feelings of empathy and euphoria, and come with names like “Felicitine” and “Placidol.” Planes barrage the city with LTN, or “Love Thy Neighbor” bombs.

Among the conference attendees is Ijon Tichy, an unflappable cosmic adventurer with the habit of getting into outlandish scrapes. Having inadvertently received a premature dose of the drugs through the hotel’s tap water, Tichy has the foresight to take refuge from the bliss-inducing crackdown in the building’s sewer system. Nevertheless, he winds up inhaling a near-lethal dose of psychotropic chemicals and tumbles down a dark rabbit hole of hallucinations. When he finally wakes up in the year 2039, after having been cryogenically frozen for decades, he finds a world where such substances have ceased to be used for crowd control and have become, instead, a way of life.

The novella—masterfully translated by Michael Kandel and recently adapted as The Congress, a part-live action, part-animated movie by the Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman—is more a satire than a poker-faced dystopia. Rather than solving its problems, humanity learns to mask them using comically sophisticated pharmaceuticals. In the “psychemized” future, you can take drugs like “gospelcredendium” to have a religious experience, and “equaniminine” to dispel it. Books are no longer read but eaten; they can be bought at the psychedeli, a kind of one-stop psychem superstore. For a friendly conversation there’s “sympathine” and “amicol,” for an unfriendly one “invectine” and “recriminol.” Even acts of violence and revenge are sublimated into ingestible form.

Folman’s movie adopts this premise, but reframes it as a critique of the entertainment industry. Instead of Ijon Tichy, the movie’s main character is the actress Robin Wright, who plays a fictional version of herself. At first, studio executives want to scan her to create a digital avatar that will take over all of her roles. Twenty years and a switch to animation later, they want to produce a drug that will enable anyone to “be” Robin Wright, or at least to believe that they are. The Congress itself is a Hollywood bash celebrating the new age of chemical entertainment, rather than an academic conference on humanity’s doom. As in Lem’s novella, however, this future promises not social and scientific progress, but technological hedonism and senescence. Read More »

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Smack Talk, and Other News

September 10, 2014 | by

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The wry, D.I.Y. branding of heroin. Photo: Graham Macindoe, via Wired

  • In celebration of its many contributions to arts and letters, Boston has approved a plan to turn a section of the city into the first-ever Literary Culture District. “Plenty of respected (if banal) institutions supported the effort to turn downtown Boston into a literary district … What’s baffling, though, is the metrics by which we’ve decided to judge their progress—more plaques, more street fairs, and more statues, not more writers, more affordable apartments, and more books.”
  • Among the many anti-Amazon domain names owned by Amazon: www.fuckamazon.com and www.boycottamazon.com. Your dissent will not be tolerated, peon.
  • Elif Batuman on awkwardness, America’s latest bugbear: “We have a hand signal for awkwardness, and we frame many thoughts and observations with ‘that awkward moment when … ’ When did awkwardness become so important to us? … ‘Awkward’ implies both solidarity and implication. Nobody is exempt.”
  • Apocalypse fiction as immigrant metaphor: “The same way X-Men comics are sometimes considered as representations of the American civil rights movement, the apocalypse genre represented my shifting understanding of ‘home’ … For immigrants, solitude and the trap of memory are central conditions. The appeal of [apocalypse fiction] is that it renders this so finely.”
  • The art of drug branding: the haunting, grimly comic logos on baggies of heroin. “References in the names reflected the addict’s illusions of grandeur (So Amazing, Rolex, High Life) but also the insidious destructive nature of drugs and the ultimate endgame (Flatliner, Dead Medicine, Killa).”

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For Man and Beast

May 13, 2014 | by

The Internet will lead a traveler down strange byways. I no longer remember where I started, but here I stand, at the end of a circuitous and occasionally treacherous path, suddenly full of facts about Merchant’s Gargling Oil. Let’s not linger on how I got here. I’m as confused as you are.

Merchant’s Gargling Oil is “a Liniment for Man and Beast,” a catch-all salve first produced by George W. Merchant, a druggist, in 1833. Who can guess what compelled Merchant to whip up that first batch of petroleum, soap, ammonia water, oil of amber, iodine tincture, benzine, and water? Who still can say what frame of mind found him slathering this unguent on his skin? And who, at last, will stand up and tell me why Merchant saw fit to market his concoction as “Gargling Oil” even though he intended it primarily for external use?

These mysteries belong to the ages. More certainly, we can say that Merchant’s Gargling Oil was intended to treat burns, scalds, rheumatism, flesh wounds, sprains, bruises, lame back, hemorrhoids or piles, toothache, sore throat, chilblains, and chapped hands; that the Merchant business was successful enough to produce a promotional line of almanacs, songbooks (“songsters”), and stamps; and that horses were evidently crazy for the stuff. Beyond that, this Gargling Oil is awash in contradictions. For instance, despite its external uses, you could, if you wanted to, take it internally: Read More »

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My California Trip

June 26, 2013 | by

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We were gathered in the publisher’s corner office just off Park Avenue on a snowy afternoon in February, looking at the intriguing series of ads that had been coming in over the past few months. Professionally photographed, seductively styled, they showed a shiny steel apparatus encircled with golden buds of weed damp with the resins prized by discriminating potheads.

“The question is,” said Thomas King Forcade, founder and head of the publishing empire he’d built under the Trans-High Corporation banner, “what the fuck is it?”

“Shit to Gold!” declared the ads appearing in the magazine where I was employed, all full-page buys. “Paid in cash,” said the sales director of High Times, the monthly publication dedicated to the ways and means of marijuana. I was on the masthead as a contributing writer on diverse topics, mostly of a cultural nature, on a career trajectory common to New York writers who toil in diverse editorial fields. Penning pieces for anyone who paid, from garish girlie mags to in-flight journals and the glossier monthlies, my expectation was to be sitting behind the publisher’s desk one day in a similar corner office with a Park Avenue view.

Leaning back in his chair and torching an overstuffed reefer with a switchblade that doubled as a lighter, Forcade said, “More importantly, you dig—” taking a long drag and holding the smoke for a pensive moment before expelling the finished thought in a low tight voice—“does it really work?”

The device in the advertisement was called the Pot-A-Lyzer. Selling for $299.99 from a PO box in Huntington Beach, California, the Pot-A-Lyzer promised to transform ordinary marijuana of the lowest grade into super-weed equal to the headiest strains known to cannabis connoisseurs. Mexican ditch weed, for example, could be imbued with the psychoactive punch of Maui Wowee, Thai Stick, or Colombian Gold. Ergo, shit to gold. Read More »

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