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Posts Tagged ‘drugs’

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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314 Bedford

March 12, 2012 | by

“Love amid apocalyptic urban debris, love amid pimps and drug pushers, love on staircases scattered with used needles … can barely pay the rent.” This was not an atypical note to find myself jotting down in my early twenties, part of a scribbled, half-legible foray into a novel I would never write. I wrote this in 2002, three years into my very first no-lease, single-occupant New York apartment and one year before I would eventually leave it, fleeing on grounds of emotional distress for a nondescript studio in Gramercy across from the Thirteenth Precinct (note my subconscious need for police protection). The cloying repetition of the word love suggests a rather flagrant tendency toward romanticizing crime and poverty, the ellipses symptomatic of someone too undisciplined to develop a thought. The only real character of this imaginary novel is the building. At least it was for me during the years that I called 314 Bedford Avenue, between South First and South Second streets on the grimy, sun-bleached south side of Williamsburg, my home.

To pass by the six-floor tenement now is not to see the building I lived in a decade ago. DuMont Burger has replaced the Puerto Rican dry cleaners in the street-level store front, where I never recall a single person entering or exiting with pressed shirts or anything approximating a claim ticket. Green metal café tables have taken the place of the wheelchair-bound homeless man with no legs who lived and slept seated for nine months of the year outside the entryway, his single mode of communication being “don’t touch me!” whenever anyone asked if he needed help. The building’s facade, still the color of a sick tongue, seems to have been water blasted, and the fire escape has been skinned and painted. As New Yorkers, we all live in a peculiar state of location upgrade, a kind of reverse Manderlay, where places we had once known have outpaced our own internal soft-focus (as an exercise, I recommend replacing the word nature with real estate developers in the opening page of Rebecca). Memory must do the decay work of time, and it is here at 314 that I remember the black, rusted iron gates of the front door, the hallway swabbed in yellow plaster, the chipped linoleum floor tiles attempting a marble mosaic, the five flights up to my apartment where, even drunk at 2 A.M., I had to be careful not to step on syringes, used condoms, sleeping prostitutes, and take-out ketchup packets. Read More »

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Things Change

January 14, 2011 | by

The final installment of a five-part story. Read part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.

The author in his backyard, alongside his head shots from his teenage years.

Sometimes my friends tell me I should get high and go on TV. They say it might blow my mind—to reach a twisted reality as I act out a fake me on a made-up television set, looking through altered eyes into a camera that projects me through little boxes into living rooms all over Nashville.

“It’d be a crazy trip, man.”

“Too crazy,” I say. “I don’t think I could handle it.”

I’m content to get high quietly, mostly alone. Lots of my friends are in it for the party, to take their acid and lose their clothes, run around like rednecks, doing cartwheels and staring at tracers.

But I try to take it seriously. I read a little Timothy Leary, feel like I’m some psychedelic pioneer working through important, meaningful, universal things in my own spinning mind. I feel, in fact, like I’m finally reaching the real me, walking through the wardrobe and discovering the acid-drenched Narnia that was there all along. Some nights I feel like I might be the king of the whole damn place.

It's just that the paranoia grows, too. Everywhere I go, every gas station or shopping mall or skate park, people start whispering, "Hey, that’s the Kids Club dude." I’m never sure if they’ll want to fist fight or ask for my autograph.

I project a vivacious, wholesome, ridiculous me to a few hundred thousand viewers every day. And as soon as the cameras click off, I use my earnings to buy a hundred, a thousand chemical portals, highs and trips and all kinds of pills to creep further and further into myself—to the only place where I can close my eyes and feel peace.
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