The opium dens prevalent in France and the United States during the 19th century, as well as the culture surrounding them, resulted in copious literature, such as this rarely-seen work: Le livre de la fumée, by French author, musicologist, and student of Chinese culture Louis Laloy. This treatise on opium’s use and history both domestically and in China features a preface by Claude Farrère, author of the novel Fumée d’opium. It was published in 1915 by Dorbon-Ainé in a lavish limited edition of 220 numbered copies with illustrations throughout.
The Santo Domingo Collection includes several of the 220 copies; the one shown here is bound in full tan morocco with gilt stamping and embroidered cloth endsheets by the French bindery Marius Michel. The binding preserves the publisher’s original wrappers, themselves sumptuously illustrated in color.
Celebratory drinking has fueled Fourth of July festivity from its inception in the years following 1776, when double rum-rations for the troops, endless toasts at formal dinners, and makeshift booze-stalls at public gatherings became norms. And it was not long before high-minded patriots began to worry over the excesses of republican revelry. Before the Fourth of July oration itself became well established, there emerged within and alongside it a recognizable (if unnamed) theme in Independence Day rhetoric: the identification of that very day’s public drunkenness with whatever was ailing the republic.
All was not well in 1837.
Over the years, Independence Day jeremiads have taken numerous forms, from grim warnings about public health and morals, to wry satire of overzealous exceptionalism, to the ferocious indictment of national shortcomings. Many have focused on intoxication as the essential expression of decay, of hypocrisy, even of delusion.
Complaints begin with the sheer recklessness of the traditional program of events. Continue reading →
Last week two prominent critics of the War on Drugs independently declared that their years spent witnessing the civil liberties abuses involved in enforcing drug policy left them largely unmoved by the exposure of the National Security Agency’s comprehensive, only secretly and ambiguously legal, telecom monitoring program.
David Simon and John Stossel are the most unlikely of proverbial bedfellows and, when it comes down to their actual positions, they are not really sharing a bed at all. Stossel is a libertarian who has never met a government program he couldn’t mock in the exasperated, contemptuous style he developed on ABC’s 20/20 and now plies for Fox News. He opened his piece inReason last week with familiar rhetoric about the ways “politicians abuse us.” Simon is a former newspaper reporter and the creator of Homicide, The Corner, and most famously, The Wire. Essentially a voice of the left, in his blog entry Simon made it clear how he feels about “libertarian selfishness,” in which “there’s never an act of communal sacrifice or societal aspiration that rises above the requisite contempt for collective governance and shared responsibility.”
Two different kinds of reporters.
Simon’s post went much deeper than Stossel’s column, which argued mainly that the dangers of drugs have been exaggerated. Simon blasted through the struggle that some NSA critics have had marrying world-weariness (of course they’ve been spying on us) and anger by diagnosing instead full-blown myopia on the left. The basic legal and practical framework for telecom snooping has been in place for decades, he contends. It was established not in what we knew about the Bush Administration’s War on Terror, but in the wiretaps and home-raids of the war on drugs. Its abuses are not in some imagined future dystopia, but have been in plain sight, affecting real people.
If I sound exasperated with other liberal voices on this issue it’s because their barricades are in the wrong place, facing the wrong way, defending the wrong moral and legal terrain. Thus far, the sum of liberal argument against the NSA program amounts to a Maginot Line of legal ignorance, borrowed libertarian selfishness and positive proof that those who fear a civil liberties apocalypse and wish to fight against such were decades late to the fields where those battles actually rage. Shit, they’re still not in the right place.
Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.
Sorry, barkeep, but this book is about people who ceased to need your services and then made a realllly big deal about it. It’s about how and why people have told stories of recovery from alcoholism publicly since the late 19th century.
I focus especially on the legacies of the “drunkard’s conversion” testimonies given in urban evangelical missions and circulated widely in print from the 1880s to the 1910s. Despite their roots in old-time religion, these stories’ urban class dynamics made them compelling to those who saw the knot of poverty, ethnic difference, and vice as a modern social crisis. In personal voices and realistic slum settings, the drunkards’ conversion stories defied the irreversible fates associated with these categories. The practical understanding of salvation they offered also made such tales susceptible to a wide range of interpretations. So instead of seeing conversion stories as individualistically oriented distractions from structural injustices — as skeptical readers today might — many reformers, artists, and intellectuals in this period retold them as stories that modeled a wider social healing by the lights of a variety of social theories, from radical to reactionary. In the context of this contested discourse around the meaning of the drinker’s redemption, literary writers through the modern period told stories of alcoholism with high stakes. The drinker’s descent was a character-based crisis, but one that plumbed modern society’s perceived maladjustment and, possibly, harbored clues to its regeneration.
This programmatic approach to redemption shaped the storytelling conventions available to the budding recovery movement in the 1930s and beyond. A.A.’s pioneers subsumed the contested aspects of the form into a recognizably Depression-era revision of the self, one that understood the limitations of individualism in social as well as in spiritual terms. In mutual-aid circles, these stories could remain highly pragmatic, devoted to A.A.’s “primary purpose.” But public recovery stories since the rise of A.A. have taken the social ethic of mutual aid beyond twelve-step culture and out into the wider society. These stories often depict recovery as the solution to a social problem or even as the model of an ideal society. As such, they have tracked the progress of liberalism since the New Deal era and, I argue, helped to shape its redemptive ethos in the realm of culture.
So while we may not openly contest the meaning of the modern recovery story, preferring to accept that it simply describes how a sick person got well, the story form is so constructed as to embody foundational claims about the self and its relation to others. If we as a society don’t agree on those claims, neither will we agree on the meaning of recovery — arguably a dissensus increasingly in evidence since the 1960s.
What do you think a bunch of drug and alcohol historians might find particularly interesting about your book?
Most interesting might be the things they are most likely to question. First, I started my pre-history of recovery narrative in the postbellum rescue missions, rather than in the Washingtonian Movement of the 1840s. I placed a lot of weight on the secular implications of prevailing interpretations of mission testimonies, despite the fact that they had been preceded by an already secular movement a generation earlier. I did so because I found that the rescue mission stories were influential in mediating institutions — church homiletics, progressive reform, academic psychology, realist literature — which in turn informed the redemptive ideals and the storytelling styles more broadly associated with recovery in the 20th century. In other words, the rescue missions provided a master narrative of modern addiction storytelling. Continue reading →
Editor’s note: This is an exciting development for researchers in addiction history and a welcome contribution from Weiner and White.
After more than a decade of persistent searching and meticulous collecting, a team led by historian William L. White and Hazelden Library Manager Barbara Weiner has acquired and digitized all 141 issues of the QuarterlyJournal of Inebriety, which, from 1876 to 1914, documented the earliest stages of addiction medicine in the United States.
The QuarterlyJournal of Inebriety (QJI) was published by the American Association for the Study and Cure of Inebriety (AACI), a group of managers and doctors that formed in 1870 to normalize and improve practices at the residential treatment institutions that had been springing up since midcentury. Its sole editor for 38 years was T.D. Crothers, superintendent at the Walnut Hill Asylum in Hartford, Connecticut and a leading advocate of the medical treatment of inebriety until his death in 1918. The QJI‘s central principle was the disease concept of alcohol and opiate inebriety and although it announced the AACI’s position on various issues, its commitment was to medical knowledge over moral or legal polemic. It was received with some hostility by critics of the disease concept, as well as by temperance advocates and religious reformers refused publication by Crothers for their unscientific approaches. It folded, upon the collapse of the field it represented, when public and political attention to the issue shifted decisively from individual vulnerabilities to dangerous–soon to be illegal–substances (Weiner and White, 2007, see below).
“As the nation’s first scientific addiction journal, [QJI] remains an important resource for us today, in terms of setting contemporary issues in historical context,” said White, emeritus senior research consultant for Illinois-based treatment provider Chestnut Health Systems. “I’m proud that we’ve been able to make it readily and comprehensively available to the public.” White began collecting issues while doing the research for his monumental history of addiction treatment, Slaying the Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America (1998). Weiner and her team at Hazelden took up the project in 2000. Continue reading →
Spending a quiet St. Patrick’s Day with my parents and, as many of us do at a certain age, shamelessly rifling their old personal documents, I came across this item of interest.
It is my father’s Pioneer Pledge, his oath at the age of sixteen to “abstain for life,” albeit with some language about “reparations” that may or may not apply to future “sins of intemperance” as well as past ones. He took it in 1960, near the historical peak of membership in the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart, the movement founded in 1898 by the Jesuit priest James A. Cullen. Continue reading →
As the new managing editor of Points, it’s high time I introduced myself. For my lateness, I could offer some familiar academic excuses, but I have one that’s better: thanks mainly to work done by Trysh Travis and others, the blog has been filled with excellent essays in the new year, led by the wonderful symposium on the fortieth anniversary of David Musto’s The American Disease that was organized by Nancy Campbell. Reading those posts as they arrived was an especially useful way for me to start my tenure. They illustrated the development of drug history in the lived, personal pathways that are usually invisible to late-comers and onlookers. In doing so they put on display one of the best and most necessary things about Points: its role as a window into – and often, as a medium for – the multi-layered nature of knowledge production. Ideas in development, reflections on method, forays across disciplinary borders and, as in the symposium, retrospection – together these various kinds of posts constitute a fuller and more open account of how academic thought takes shape. But this is just one way of thinking about Points. One of my goals is to facilitate an open conversation about what the blog can and should do.
This is the music video for Shinehead’s “Gimme No Crack,” from his 1988 breakout reggae-rap fusion album Unity, as ripped from a VHS tape of an episode of Yo! MTV Raps.
Over the years I’ve sometimes found myself humming this song when I’m thinking or reading about rock cocaine. The tune was embedded in my memory as an incredibly catchy marker of the arrival of rap and its urban visual landscapes to my suburban adolescence. I hadn’t thought of “Gimme No Crack” as a serious item among late-twentieth-century cultural responses to cocaine, but rather as a corny pop PSA from what I have the great fortune of remembering as a more innocent time. Now that Youtube has brought this video back to me in all its vivid details, I’m not sure it doesn’t have something to tell us about the cultural construction of the crack story. Continue reading →
Recently I read a brief article by George E. Vaillant called “The Natural History of Narcotic Drug Addiction” in the 1970 volume of Seminars in Psychiatry. It was based on follow-up studies of patients admitted to the federal narcotic hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, between 1936 and 1952. I was curious about how or whether it anticipated Vaillant’s conclusions in his influential 1983 book, The Natural History of Alcoholism, which was based on longitudinal data about Harvard students, working-class men, and detox patients starting just before World War II. Before getting far, though, I was struck by the second paragraph:
A Nation of In-Patients
There seem to be many different kinds of narcotics addicts and in each decade patterns of addiction change. At first glance this makes delineation of the natural history impossible. There are adolescent and middle-aged addicts; there are “criminal” and “medical” addicts; there are heroin and Demerol addicts; there are white Anglo-Saxon Protestant addicts from small towns and black immigrant addicts from urban ghettos; there are male addicts and female addicts; there are high school dropout addicts with inadequate personalities and an allergy to employment and physician addicts who self-prescribe and remain employed throughout their addiction. However, one of the conclusions of this review will be that both the addiction pattern and underlying personalities of these disparate groups are more similar than dissimilar.
Vaillant’s reference to an “underlying personality” among opiate addicts jumps out, because it is a phenomenon he concludes is absent among alcoholics in his later book. But leaving that observation aside, what captured my attention was the rhetorical shape of the long third sentence. It reminded me of a passage written a generation earlier, by Richard R. Peabody in his 1931 book The Common Sense of Drinking:
It takes all types
When we investigate any particular group, we find the most strikingly contrasted persons succumbing to excessive drinking. The rich and the poor, the highly intellectual and the ignorant, the frail and the robust, the shy and the apparently bold, the worried and the seemingly carefree, all furnish their quota of inebriates. We find that this unhappy group includes people of accomplishment as well as those who achieve nothing, the religious and the unbeliever, those with an interest in life and those without one, those who love and are loved, and those who are alone in the world.
Both of these prominent figures in the history of addiction studies drew a series of opposites to illustrate the breadth of social locations that users and boozers hail from. These soup-to-nuts sketches of the social order have been a consistent feature of addiction and recovery discourse over the years. For me, they are signs of the way that the addiction concept has remained bound at a deep level with efforts to define and reform social relations. They are moments when the effort to describe addiction invokes not just a society but a demos, the populace of a democracy. Continue reading →
Writers’ social groupings feature prominently in literary history, whether in intentional, tightly knit circles, or in more amorphous, but still influential, “scenes.” In some of the more famous sites, the social element has depended on heavy drinking or drug use, not only as a binding ritual, but also as a medium of the intellectual endeavor: opium and absinthe among certain Romantics; heavy drinking by expatriate modernists in Paris; speed and weed among the Beats on both coasts. The point is not about “writing under the influence,” but that these drugs’ rituals and effects symbolized important aspects of those intellectual and artistic systems. Further, writers’ relationships with each other on such scenes influenced their literary outputs, as illustrated by the presence of fictionalized versions of one another in their work. They produced texts that are hard to understand without some knowledge of these relationships and their milieus. Several such scenes have been mined exhaustively by scholars, artists, and fans alike, even living on as reading-and-drinking themed tourist destinations.
Some drunk writers never die.
But many writers, too, have been changed, as writers, by their recoveries from alcoholism and/or drug addiction. And many also must have done so in conversation with one another. Recovery is a process that tends to take over a person’s life for a time, and change it irrevocably. And especially in its twelve-step varieties, it binds people together in social rituals, through which they develop, somewhat collaboratively, new theories about self, society, and world. In other words, recovery as a social and cultural practice would seem to be the kind of “scene” from which could flow new forms of literary production. Have there been literary recovery circles, and if so, how might we define them? And what might they have to teach us about literature and about addiction?
Mary Karr after three memoirs.
I’m not talking about private print culture, or therapeutic writing groups, though one can easily imagine published work emerging from such origins. I mean relationships among vocational writers that are informed strongly by their recoveries, relationships which shape their subsequent writings. This is not a phenomenon that I have researched closely, nor that I have any strong theories about. Here I want merely to trace one such set of textual “recovery relationships” and discuss briefly what significance they might hold. One fairly jumps off the pages of Mary Karr’s 2009 recovery memoir, Lit.