Tag Archives: drugs

Thoughts on “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace – Part 5

InfiniteJest

Addiction is a devastating disease, and in our society, it is almost impossible not to be affected in some way by addiction, whether it is to substances, obsessive thoughts, or self-destructive behaviors. We all know someone who has struggled with addiction. And one thing seems to be consistent—no addict can begin the recovery process until he or she hits bottom and becomes desperate enough to seek help.

There is a great passage in this book where Wallace describes what it is like for an addict to hit bottom and become ready to take the first step in the recovery process.

—then vocational ultimatums, unemployability, financial ruin, pancreatitis, overwhelming guilt, bloody vomiting, cirrhotic neuralgia, incontinence, neuropathy, black depressions, searing pain, with the Substance affording increasingly brief periods of relief; then, finally, no relief available anywhere at all; finally it’s impossible to get high enough to freeze what you feel like, being this way; and now you hate the Substance, hate it, but still you find yourself unable to stop doing it, the Substance, you find that you finally want to stop more than anything on earth and it’s no fun doing it anymore and you can’t believe you ever liked doing it but you still can’t stop, it’s like you’re totally fucking bats, it’s like there’s two yous; and when you’d sell your own dear Mum to stop and still, you find, can’t stop, then the last layer of jolly friendly mask comes off your old friend the Substance, it’s midnight now and all masks come off, and you all of a sudden see the Substance as it really is, for the first time you see the Disease as it really is, really has been all this time, you look in the mirror at midnight and see what owns you, what’s become what you are—

(pp. 346 – 347)

Throughout my life, I have known many who have suffered from addiction; some have hit bottom and sought help, some have continued on in denial and justified their behavior, and others ended up in institutions or have died. My experience has shown me that only when someone hits an intense bottom, then and only then do they become willing to seek help. And sadly, many who reach this point are still incapable of recovery. Addiction is a powerful, insidious, and destructive disease. I hope that those who suffer manage to find help.

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Thoughts on “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace – Part 3

InfiniteJest

One of the signs of a great writer is the ability to use multiple voices and to make them sound fluid and natural. Wallace certainly accomplishes this. So far, I’ve been very impressed with his ability to shift voices and styles. One great example of this is when a junkie is describing his friend dying from shooting heroin that was laced with Drano. The language is real, and the scene is viscerally gut-wrenching. When I finished reading it, my heart was racing. I had to stop reading for a little while to process it. As I was reflecting on what I read, I could not help but wonder whether Wallace had witnessed something like this. Is it possible for a writer to describe something so vividly and realistically without first-hand knowledge? I don’t have the answer to that.

Anyway, the passage had such an impact on me that I figured I would include it in the post. Let me know if you find the writing as powerful and intense as I did. Be warned; some might find this disturbing.

Laced. It started the instantly C undid the belt and booted up we knew allready, yrstrulyI and PT thearized it was Drano with the blue like glittershit and everything like that taken out by subservant slopes it had that Drano like effect on C and everything like that it was laced what ever it was C started with the screaming in a loud hipitch fashion instantly after he unties and boots and downhegoesflopping with his heels pouning on the metal of the blowergrate and hes’ at his throat with his hands tearing at him self in the most fucked up fashions and Poor Tony is hiheeling rickytick over over C zipping up saying he screams sweety C but and stuffing the feather snake from his necks’ head in Cs’ mouth to shut him up from hipitch screaming in case Bostons’ Finest can hear involvment and blood and bloody materil is coming out Cs’ mouth and Cs’ nose and its’ allover the feathers its’ a sure sign of Drano, blood is and Cs’ eyes get beesly and bulge and hes’ crying blood into the feathers in his mouth and trying to hold onto my glove but Cs’ arms are going allover and one eye it like allofa sudden pops outof his map, like with a Pop you make with fingers in your mouth and all this blood and materil and a blue string at the back of the eye and the eye falls over the side of Cs’ map and hangs there looking at the fag Poor Tony. And C turned lightblue and bit through the snakes’ head and died for keeps and shit his pants instanly with shit so bad the hot air blowergrate is blowing small bits of fart and blood and missty shit up into our maps and Poor Tony backs offof over C and puts his hands over his madeup and looks at C thru his fingers.

(p. 134)

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Jim Morrison’s Last Poem?

Image Source – AP

Image Source – AP

I am a huge Doors fan, so when I saw an article about the auctioning of what may be Jim Morrison’s last poem written while he was in Paris, I had to check it out.

According to the article, it’s not sure whether this was his last poem, but it is the last poem in the notebook that was found among his possessions.

“Obviously, we don’t know if it’s the last thing he ever wrote … but it was among the last things he ever wrote – certainly.”

“What stands out is the fact that the one on page 152 was indeed the last page of the notebook,” said Lipman. “I actually saw the notebook when it was intact years ago and I remember seeing that last page and those last words and thinking, ‘Wow, this is pretty powerful stuff.’“

What stands out the most for me in this poem is the line: “I have drunk the drug of forgetfulness.” Morrison was a very heavy drinker and one can assume he drank as much as he did as a way to escape the pressures of fame. There were also rumors of heroin use during his last days in Paris, certainly another drug of forgetfulness. But personally, I think Jim, who was always obsessed with death, sensed that he was nearing the end. As such, I see the drug of forgetfulness as symbolic of the river Lethe which runs through Hades. According to Greek mythology, the souls of the dead were required to drink from the river Lethe in order to forget their earthly life. I suspect Jim was ready to forget his earthly life before breaking on through to the other side.

Last words, Last words
out

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“Odyssey” by Homer: Book IV – The Red-Haired King and his Lady

Proteus

In this episode, Telemachus and Pisistratus go to Sparta and meet with Menelaus and Helen to inquire about the fate of Odysseus. Over dinner, the king and queen share stories of Odysseus’ feats at Troy, and Menelaus recounts how he made it back after the war. Also in this book, the suitors discover that Telemachus has left Ithaca and they plot to murder him upon his return. Mendon overhears the plans and informs Penelope who grieves that she may lose her son as well as her husband. She prays to Athena, and Athena sends a phantom to let Penelope know that Telemachus will be protected by the goddess.

There is a lot that takes place in this book and it would be easy to write a long post analyzing all the various tales and symbolism, but instead I will focus on one small section that I found to be the most interesting, which was Menelaus’ encounter with Proteus.

Menelaus tells how he was stranded in Egypt and could not figure out how to please the gods and gain favorable passage to leave the region. Proteus’ daughter, Eidothea, takes pity on him and agrees to help Menelaus capture Proteus and thereby acquire the information he needs to escape the doldrums.

I’ll put it for you clearly as maybe, friend.
The Ancient of the Salt Sea haunts this place,
immortal Proteus of Egypt; all the deeps
are known to him; he serves under Poseidon,
and is, they say, my father.
If you could take him by surprise and hold him,
he’d give you course and distance for your sailing
homeward across the cold fish-breeding sea.
And should you wish it, noble friend, he’d tell you
all that occurred at home, both good and evil,
while you were gone so long and hard a journey.

(Fitzgerald Translation: p. 64)

Before continuing, it is important to note that Proteus is a symbol for the unconscious mind. The god is also associated with Mercury in alchemy.

The German mystical alchemist Heinrich Khunrath wrote of the shape-changing sea-god who, because of his relationship to the sea, is both a symbol of the unconscious as well as the perfection of the art. Alluding to the scintilla, the spark from ‘the light of nature’ and symbol of the anima mundi, Khunrath in Gnostic vein stated of the Protean element Mercury:

“ our Catholick Mercury, by virtue of his universal fiery spark of the light of nature, is beyond doubt Proteus, the sea god of the ancient pagan sages, who hath the key to the sea and …power over all things.”

—Von Hyleanischen Chaos, Carl Jung, vol. 14:50

In modern times, the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung defined the mythological figure of Proteus as a personification of the unconscious, who, because of his gift of prophecy and shape-changing, has much in common with the central but elusive figure of alchemy, Mercurius.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Eidothea lays out the plan to Menelaus. It is a fairly long passage, but one that I find rich with symbolism and worth including in this post.

I’ll tell you this, too, clearly as may be.
When the sun hangs at high noon in heaven,
the Ancient glides ashore under the Westwind,
hidden by shivering glooms on the clear water,
and rests in caverns hollowed by the sea.
There flippered seals, brine children, shining come
from silvery foam in crowds to lie around him,
exhaling rankness from the deep sea floor.
Tomorrow dawn I’ll take you to those caves
and bed you down there. Choose three officers
for company—brave men they had better be—
the old one has strange powers, I must tell you.
He goes amid the seals to check their number,
and when he sees them all, and counts them all,
he lies down like a shepherd with his flock.
Here is your opportunity: at this point
gather yourselves, with all your heart and strength,
and tackle him before he bursts away.
He’ll make you fight—for he can take the forms
of all the beasts, and water, and blinding fire;
but you must hold on, even so, and crush him
until he breaks his silence. When he does,
he will be in that shape you saw asleep.
Relax your grip, then, set the Ancient free,
and put your questions, hero:
Who is the god so hostile to you,
and how will you go home on the fish-cold sea.

(Fitzgerald Translation: p. 65)

First off, the depths from which Proteus will emerge represent the mystical realm which is the source of archetypes and forms, the unseen source of divine emanation. The seals are symbols of the forms which are emanated from the depths of the creative consciousness. The fact that the seals emerge from “silvery foam” suggests the alchemical connection to mercury.

Proteus is described as having “strange powers.” While these could be the powers of transformation, I suspect that the powers also have something to do with the ability to manipulate the emanated forms into corporeal manifestations.

Finally, Menelaus must wrestle with the god of the sea, and must hold onto the god no matter what. This is very similar to Jacob wrestling with the angel, which is symbolic for man wrestling with the concept of the divine. So essentially, Menelaus must grapple with the unknowable aspect of the god-consciousness in order to acquire the knowledge he seeks. He must struggle to keep hold on that which is fluid and ever changing.

As I said, there are many other rich aspects to this book: Menelaus’ comparison between earthly riches and spiritual wealth; the mystical knowledge of herbs and drugs that Helen acquired from the magicians in Egypt; and Telemachus’ voyage to sea as a symbol of a rite of passage. As always, feel free to share any thoughts or comments below, and thanks for stopping by.


 

Further Reading:

Fascinating Mythical Creatures: Proteus

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ODY-C: Issue 2

ODY-C_02

I’m still on the fence about this comic. I love the artwork, which is nothing short of stunning; but while the story has gotten a little more cohesive, the writing still feels somewhat choppy. I’m giving it one more issue to decide.

In this installment, Odyssia and her crew encounter the lotus-eaters. As I said, the artwork is stunning. The vivid colors and surreal images really capture the descent into a drug-induced state. I also found it interesting that the story incorporated different levels of intoxication and addiction, reminiscent of the levels in Dante’s Inferno. Each level is also connected to one of the deadly sins and serves as another trap to ensnare a person’s consciousness and destroy the desire to return to reality.

This comic really has a lot of potential. The ideas are fresh and the artwork is excellent. I really hope the writing catches up.

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“From Play to Carnival” by Umberto Eco: Capitalizing on Play

Sofonisba Anguissola

Sofonisba Anguissola

This essay is included in the book Turning Back the Clock: Hot Wars and Media Populism. It explores how society has taken the basic human need for play and twisted it into a commercialized commodity in a process that Eco refers to as “Carnivalization.”

Eco mentions Homo Ludens early in this essay, which is a book by Johan Huizinga and something I actually read in college. The book is critical in game studies and explores the role of play in society. In his book, Huizinga lists five characteristics that play must have:

  1. Play is free, is in fact freedom.

  2. Play is not “ordinary” or “real” life.

  3. Play is distinct from “ordinary” life both as to locality and duration.

  4. Play creates order, is order. Play demands order absolute and supreme.

  5. Play is connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained from it.

(Source: Wikipedia)

For those of you who are interested, here is a link to a free PDF version of Huizinga’s book:

yale.edu

When we consider these qualities that define play and then consider our society’s distorted sense of entertainment and the marketing machine behind the entertainment industry, it is evident that we are losing our playfulness as a species. What parent does not secretly lament the loss of freedom that their children have to go out unsupervised to engage in spontaneous and unstructured play? We placate ourselves by saying how we are keeping them safe and that the world is more dangerous now than when we were younger. But is that really true? There were dangers when we were young. We are just more afraid now, which is a result of media hype.

Eco talks about the various ways that play has been destroyed through capitalization. Television is the obvious one, but he also discusses the tourism industry, the ability to incorporate play into work hours, mobile phones which blend function with entertainment, shopping as entertainment, and religion. I completely agree with all his assertions regarding these carnivalizations, but the two that he discusses that really rang most true for me are sports and politics:

Sport has been Carnivalized. How? Sport is play par excellence: how can play be Carnivalized? By becoming not the interlude it was meant to be (one soccer match a week, and the Olympics only every so often) but an all-pervasive presence; by becoming not an activity for its own ends but a commercial enterprise. The game played doesn’t matter anymore (a game, moreover, that has been transformed into an immensely difficult task that requires the taking of performance-enhancing drugs) but the grand Carnival of the before, during, and after, in which the viewers, not the players themselves, play all week long.

Politics has been Carnivalized, and so we now commonly use the expression “the politics of spectacle.” As parliament is steadily deprived of power, politics is conducted on television, like gladiatorial games…

(Turning Back the Clock: pp. 74 – 75)

I personally hate watching televised sports, particularly because of all the commentary. I would much rather participate in a sport than watch others play. It almost feels like voyeurism to me. And as far as politics go, one of my main reasons for cancelling cable television is I just can’t stand the constant assault of political pundits who have turned politics into a spectator sport where it is our team against theirs.

The other day I went with my youngest daughter to a local game store to purchase a new board game. This store has a gaming area upstairs where people can gather and play games. I was encouraged by the fact that the parking lot was full and the place was crowded with people who were playing games for the sheer fun of doing so. I hope this is an omen of a shift away from media-controlled profit-driven entertainment and back to an emphasis on play for the sake of play.

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“Phantom” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

All look and likeness caught from earth
All accident of kin and birth,
Had pass’d away. There was no trace
Of aught on that illumined face,
Uprais’d beneath the rifted stone
But of one spirit all her own ;—
She, she herself, and only she,
Shone through her body visibly.

According to the editor’s note in my book, this short poem is one of Coleridge’s attempts at describing Sara Hutchinson as she appeared to him in a dream. But as is often the case with Coleridge’s work, there is more meaning hidden below the surface.

As one who was fascinated by the supernatural and metaphysics, we can assume that Coleridge believed that the human body is inhabited by a soul that continues to exist after a person has died. When a person enters into an altered state of consciousness—whether through sleep/dreams or psychotropic substances or meditation—that person becomes more open to perceiving non-corporeal entities. Coleridge makes it clear in this poem that he believes the spirit is the true essence of a person and not the physical form. Based upon the way he describes his interaction with Sara, I suspect that Coleridge believed he actually crossed a threshold while in the dream state and met with the spirit of Sara Hutchinson.

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