Where did you find so many stories, Master Ludovico?



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14
Even when they are precise, statistical data can only extract numbers from a problem. Nor can they even touch upon the problem in its deepest layer; it remains, in the literal sense of the term, as the object of controversy. This is particularly true of those fields that touch upon the psyche, as well as all behavior, including that of animals, and it is also quite applicable to our topic: drugs and ecstatic intoxication.
Thus, to mention at this point one of the greatest gifts that America gave to Europe, tobacco, a corpus of very precise figures has been compiled concerning the relation between nicotine and a wide range of diseases. Such data belong to the domain of the economy; in order to concede any value to them, however, it is necessary to have already accepted the concept of “utility” upon the basis of which these data have been gathered.
In this case, the utility is of a health-related nature. From another perspective, however, smoking might entail a certain kind of profit: the word “enjoy” already suggests as much. One might think of the tranquility it infuses into a conversation, or of how a tedious period of time is abbreviated or how a time of sadness is ameliorated, or how it enhances association with others in times of happiness. Every act of concentration, but also every act of dissipation, must be paid for. Is the pleasure worth the price? This is where the root of the problem lies, and statistics can only provide data. It is the question posed to every smoker by each cigarette he smokes.
Statistics only corroborate a fact that has been known since time immemorial: drugs are dangerous. Anyone who takes them also takes a risk, one that is all the more serious the less it is considered in advance. In this respect, when it is a matter of comparing profits and losses, the statistical method naturally has its value.
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If we have mentioned wine and tobacco, it is because it is advisable to start from familiar magnitudes in the measurement of the possible. Both pertain to our real theme only marginally. The more rigorously we delimit the definition of “drug”, the less likely it will be that these two products will fall under that heading. For Baudelaire, wine, like opium and hashish, opens the doors to artificial paradises. The lover of wine is right to disdain to view wine as a drug. He would also prefer that vintners and grape farmers should be the ones who make wine, rather than chemists and manufacturers. Even today, from the cultivation of the vine to the renaissance of the grape in grocery stores, gardeners and artisans are still painstakingly devoted to the art of wine; even today, it is perceived as a divine gift with a marvelous power of metamorphosis. The blood of the earth placed on the same level with the blood of the gods.
If one wants to view wine as a drug, this would only be one assertion among others, such as, for example, one could make concerning any alcoholic beverage. Tobacco seems to be closer to the world of drugs. Nicotine offers a glimpse of the possibilities contained in the sphere of the alkaloids. The sacrifices of smoke that are offered every day all over the planet announce the defeat of gravity, the spiritual liberation of the great dreams of levitation. Compared, however, with the magical power of opium, it is only capable of contributing to a minor increase in elevation, a mild euphoria.
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Like many etymological explanations, the interpretation of the word “drug” is also unsatisfactory. Its origins are obscure. Just like the word “alcohol”, it is in part derived from Hispano-Arabic, as well as medieval Latin, roots. The origins of the Dutch word drog, dry, is more plausible. These drugs were substances that came from many different countries and were sold in herbalists’ shops and pharmacies and were used by doctors, cooks and merchants in the perfume and spice trades. From time immemorial, the word has had connotations of mystery, with hints of magic, and, in particular, of being of oriental origin.
In our context, a “drug” is a substance that causes ecstatic intoxication. Whatever form it takes, it has to entail something specific that takes place to distinguish this substance from others that are used in medicine or for pure pleasure. This specific factor must not be sought in the substance, but in the purpose, for both medicines as well as means of pleasure can be employed as intoxicating drugs in this more strict sense of the word.
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare speaks of the “common dream” and he distinguishes it from a more intense magical condition. The former brings dreams; the latter brings visions and prophecies. Similarly, the intoxication caused by drugs produces particular effects that are hard to define. Anyone who aspires to experience this intoxication is motivated by their own particular reasons. And anyone who uses the word “drug” in this sense takes it for granted that his reader or his listener will share his views on the matter in a way that is not definable more geometrico. With them, he crosses over into a border zone.
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Infusions and concentrates, concoctions and elixirs, powders and pills, salves, pastes and resins can be used in this particular sense. The substance can be solid, fluid, moist or gaseous; it can be eaten, drunk, applied to the skin, inhaled, smoked, snorted or injected.
To provoke states of intoxication one needs not only a particular substance, but also a certain quantity and concentration of the substance. The dose can be insignificant or excessive: in the first case it does not lead beyond sobriety; in the second case it leads to unconsciousness. As one becomes habituated to a drug, as everyone knows, it becomes increasingly more difficult to maintain a course between the two extremes: on the one side looms depression; on the other, overdose. The price exacted for pleasure is always increasing. This entails the following choice: retreat or go to the bottom.9
When the drug’s effect diminishes, one can increase the dose or the concentration. This is what happens to the smoker or the drinker who, at first, increases his usual level of consumption and only later proceeds to stronger kinds of smoke or drink. And this also demonstrates that pure pleasure no longer satisfies him. A third possibility resides in the modification of the frequency of use: in the transition from instances of excess on extraordinary or festive occasions, to an everyday habit.
In the third case, it is not the dose that is increased, but the inclination to use the drug. The smoker who imposes upon himself the discipline of being content with one cigarette in the morning will be forced to pay the price, when he attains an intensity of pleasure that up until that time, despite much heavier consumption, had always remained alien to him. A circumstance that once again contributes to temptation.
18
Some people are extremely sensitive and the dose of a drug can be correspondingly small, and even minute. Since the time of Hahnemann we have known that even microscopic traces of a substance can be psychoactive, and this has been confirmed by modern chemistry. But along with the right formula, one also needs a receptive disposition. This is how homeopathic medicines can be of use to some people; they presuppose a homeopathic behavior. A suggestion is enough for the sensitive subject. This is a universal law that is valid not only for the field of health but also for ways of life in general. On the other hand, the old saying is true: “There is an axe for every tree”.
The dose can therefore be minimal. Likewise, under certain circumstances, certain substances that are usually thought to be neutral, like the air we breathe, can intoxicate. It is upon this hypothesis that Jules Verne’s Doctor Ox’s Experiment is based. On the pretext of wanting to build a factory to produce manufactured gas, Doctor Ox changed the state of mind of the inhabitants of a provincial city, intoxicating them by supplying them with pure oxygen. Thus, concentration transforms a substance that we breathe every day into a poison. As Paracelsus said: “Sola dosis facit venenum.”
Doctor Ox distilled air. We can assume that for sensitive natures, air can itself be intoxicating. And so it is. Few indeed are those human beings who, at least with respect to certain moments, would not agree with Goethe’s saying: “Youth is drunkenness without wine.” It is of course true that in order to experience this feeling one needs that intact disposition which is one of the distinctive traits of youth. However, external factors are always also involved, whether these factors are “stronger varieties” of familiar substances, or unfamiliar substances, or atmospheric influences. In novels we find rhetorical flourishes such as: “The air was like wine.” “Ineffable serenity” bursts forth from quasi-immaterial springs.
Even so, the perfect moment can also give rise to melancholy. The latter often possesses an admonitory and dissuasive power and, by virtue of this property, is no less favorable, for in this way it often announces the approach of imminent dangers. Alongside perceptions that are as hard to explain as they are to dispute, there are many others that are justified only by the enhancement of sensitivity. In his Voyage aux régions équinoxiales, Alexander von Humboldt undertook a detailed accounting of the phenomena that preceded volcanic eruptions and earthquakes and, in this context, addressed that state of nervous unease that, in humans and animals, acts as an omen and as perception.
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To this very day, people have never ceased to attempt to isolate some kind of psychogenic substance or force from the atmosphere. Thus, for example, on the basis of magnetism, Mesmer believed he identified a “fluid” that emanated from the human body and that could be stored in certain objects that would act like batteries. Mesmerism was never more than a passing fashion in the medical arts; its influence, however, has survived in poetic fantasy. E.T.A. Hoffmann was particularly fascinated by it. He eagerly awaited Mesmer’s doctoral dissertation. De planetarum influxu could have been the title of an essay by Novalis, not unlike the articles published in the Athenäum.
Less well-known, but no less relevant than Mesmer, is Carl-Ludwig von Reichenbach, who distinguished himself not only as a natural philosopher, but also as a geologist, chemist and industrialist. Reichenbach claimed to have discovered in the od10 a substance whose energy or radiation was comparable to Mesmer’s fluid. Although it exists throughout all of nature, this od can only be perceived by beings of a delicate organization whom Reichenbach called sensitives or, in exceptional cases of heightened sensitivity, hypersensitives.
Reichenbach, whose personality reconciled the gifts of the natural philosopher with the precision of the physical sciences, sought to prove experimentally the existence of the od and, in his attempt to do so, he used sensitive types the way a near-sighted person uses eyeglasses. With this purpose in mind, he carried out procedures that we would today call tests,11 without of course resorting to any mechanical apparatus, but with very subtle differences. Thus, for example, he excluded from the category of sensitives all those persons who did not sense any thermal difference between the round end and the pointed end of a chicken egg held up between two fingers. Reichenbach dared to venture into regions that, without being either distant or easily accessible, are inaccessible to those with dull senses.
Physicists, however, paid just as little attention to the od as the psychiatrists and neurologists paid to the sensitives. As a scientist, Reichenbach was annoyed by this lack of interest, but as a philosopher he knew that he had to remain dispassionate. He had arrived with his ideas in the least favorable era that could be imagined. This untimeliness was even more applicable to the case of Fechner, who saw the physical-mathematical image of the world as the “dark side” of the universe, and his “psycho-physics” owed a great deal to the writings of Reichenbach.
Fechner’s ideas on the animate nature of the celestial bodies and plants could only be suppressed in a time when mechanistic theories were generating discoveries at an unprecedented rate. In the field of medicine, the way was being paved for a massive positivism, whose hubris led a certain surgeon to boast that he had never seen any souls during his operations.
Such antitheses within the realm of intuition suggest the idea that the spirit is active in two different wings of a building, between which there is no door. One may also think of a double mirror whose two surfaces are separated by an opaque layer. There will once again be eras that approach the unity of intuition. This unity will not be achieved absolutely, since both the physical-mathematical image of the world, as well as the natural philosophy of Fechner and Reichenbach, are only different aspects of the “inside of nature”.
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The dose capable of intoxicating a person can therefore be minimal when the person is sufficiently predisposed for the experience. In this respect, as well, there are particularly susceptible sensitive types. The rules that the legislator is compelled to promulgate, for example, in the motor vehicle code, only offer a crude standard. This code will be made increasingly more strict, because with each passing day the empirical world provides us with new proofs of the fact that in the collision between intoxication and technology, two mutually exclusive powers are involved. In fact, this is true not only for drugs in general. Rather, the number of remedies increases endlessly and so does the field of their application. And so, too, do the number of jobs for which the indispensable automobile is not merely optional. The car has become a science in itself.
The predisposition to intoxication can be so pronounced that the subject may pursue a life of purity, without chemical products. This is a privilege reserved for the ascetic; his intimate relation with ecstasy has been well-known since the most remote times. In addition to abstinence, prayer and fasting, he avails himself of the solitude that never ceases to bestow power upon artists and sages. The flood of images in the Thebaid: televisions that do not need drugs, much less any equipment.
The thinker, the artist, who is in good form, experiences phases in which a new light glows. The world begins to speak and to respond to the spirit with boundless power. It is as if things were charged with energy; their beauty, their order that is overflowing with meaning, are revealed in a new light. This “being in good form” is independent of any physical well-being; it is in fact often opposed to physical well-being, as if a state of prostration is more conducive to the free flow of images flow than normal states of physical health. In any event, Reichenbach already warned against the error of confusing hypersensitivity with illness; with regard to the question that interests us, however, it is not very easy to avoid making this mistake. This is confirmed with particular force in the disputes in which conclusions concerning the psyche of an artist are drawn on the basis of his works. It is not by chance that it is precisely our epoch that should be so rich in such controversies. It is likely that these states of unprecedented predisposition to ecstatic intoxication precede not only productive phases in the life of the individual, but also stylistic changes within cultures. The latter necessarily produce a Babylonian confusion in the language of forms as well as in language in general.
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Jung-Stilling characterizes this predisposition as “the gift of prophecy”, which he understands as a higher degree of receptivity, attainable thanks to a certain way of life. “But, in the end, a pure and devoted man can also, after long practice and peregrinations, attain to God in ecstasy and magnetic trance states”. According to him, “in its natural state, the soul works through the brain and the nerves; in its magnetic state it works without either”. Only after death does the human being acquire the full power of the prophetic dream, for then he has separated completely from the body, and this capacity is more perfect than the state he was able to attain to in life.
Those who, according to Jung-Stilling, are gifted with prophetic powers, more or less correspond to Reichenbach’s hypersensitives. In accordance with contemporary terminology we could interpret them as extremely rare, but constantly recurring, mutants. The gift of prophecy can be cultivated, but its origin must be innate. Jung-Stilling thus sheds light on, among others, those cases in which admonitory dreams or revelations are not directly communicated to the person who is under threat, but to a third person who plays the role of receiver for the threatened person. This capacity need not be crowned with spiritual or ethical gifts; it can be manifested in a coarse or a refined existence. In the figure of Prince Myshkin, Dostoyevsky describes a highly developed type of admonitory gift that leads people to think that the person who expresses it is an idiot.
In biographies, whether ancient or modern, we constantly come across the figure of the sensitive who, before a fire, a bolt of lightning, or some other mishap, overwhelmed by an urgent sense of unease or distress, departs from his location, leaving other individuals who remain unperturbed.
States of excitation or meditation, like those of intoxication, can also flourish without the use of toxic substances. This possibility indicates that one can, by way of drugs, awaken forces that are greater than those of a specific intoxication. Ecstatic intoxication is a key that opens doors to kingdoms that are inaccessible to normal perception, but it is not the only such key.
To define the state to which one may aspire, the concept of ecstatic intoxication might be insufficient, unless it is extended to include diverse and even contrary phenomena. We shall therefore begin with the assertion that a drug acts both on one’s will as well as on one’s vision. Within this ambivalence there is an extensive range that in both senses leads to the loss of consciousness and finally to death. Drugs can be sought after as excitants and stimulants, or as soporifics, narcotica or phantastica;12 they are used both for inducing narcosis as well as stimulation. Hasan Ibn Al-Sabbah, the Old Man of the Mountain, was familiar with this scale in all of its degrees. He led the fedavis, the initiates, who were later known as the hashashins, from the tranquility of artificial paradises to fury directed against princes and rulers. We do not find anything exactly like that in the morass of our technological world, but there are similar phenomena. They form part of the tendency of this technological world, both in the escape to oblivion as well as in kinetic intensification by way of stimulants.
The legislator is obliged to simplify this complexity. He views intoxication as “the state caused by narcotics, especially intensive intoxication by ethyl products”. It is his job to decide whether, in each individual case, inebriation was or was not implicated in the commission of a crime or the failure to do something. And it is for this very reason hard to judge which state of consciousness triggered the punishable offense, since there are drugs that favor, at least temporarily, technical execution. In every epoch competitive athletes have been familiar with such drugs, but the border that separates illicit doping from authorized stimulation is uncertain.
New drugs are always coming on the market, drugs whose harmfulness is often only recognized when the damage has already been done. In other cases, the immediate harm is minimal, but the cumulative damage occurs over many years of use, often with fatal results. This is true of such stimulant drugs as tobacco and even for tranquilizers, such as the mild soporifics. We may also point out that the stimulantia and the narcotica are often used in combination with, or in opposition to each other. What goes up must come down. We may also think of weights on a balance: for each weight on one side of the scale, a counterweight is placed on the other side. In this way, one maintains an artificial equilibrium until, one day, the scale breaks.
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The sober, indifferent spectator notes the aspect of movement in the spectacle of inebriation. In such a situation, one cannot ignore change; the latter is announced far and wide, through sound and vision. The words used to denote this state refer, at least in the wine- and beer-drinking countries, to immoderate libation or to exaggerated activity. Most are derived from the Latin bibo and ebrius, from the ancient High German trinkan and from the Gothic drigkan.
The German word rauschen, however, denotes lively movement, for example, like the fluttering of butterfly wings, which can also be perceived acoustically as “whispering” or “murmuring”. This movement may be very energetic: the Anglo-Saxon rush is one such example. It also suggests a vibrant and constantly increasing vitality. Rauschzeit denotes the mating season. It is said of the wild boar that during that season he is in rut. Insects and birds gather in swarms and flocks; immediately after the nuptial flight, termites lose their wings.13
Mating season is a time for forming flocks; human beings and animals group together. This fact alone allows us to obtain a better understanding of the active or volitional aspect of inebriation. The drunk is not afraid of company; he has a taste for the festive hustle and bustle and is not looking for solitude. He often behaves eccentrically, but he enjoys with respect to his behavior a greater license than a sober person would. It is more pleasing to see a smiling person than a sorrowful one. The drunk is viewed with benevolence, and is often considered to be a foe of tedium and depression. A messenger from Dionysius erupts to open the door to the world of festival. He even has a contagious effect on the sober person.
One must not disregard this exaggerated activity that has given its accent to the word “inebriation”. In most cases, the visible aspect of things demands a participation in language that is more relevant than the hidden part. The word “day” offers an example. When we say it, we also include the night. Therefore, the luminous side includes within itself the dark side. We hardly ever reflect on this point. In a completely analogous sense, the word “inebriation”, while it emphasizes the obvious exaggeration of the vital forces, also includes their torpor: the lethargic and indolent states, similar to daydreams and the condition of being half-asleep.
Inebriation is expressed in diverse and often opposed phenomena; drugs also cause diverse effects. They nonetheless complement one another in the framework of a vast all-encompassing whole. Hassan Ibn Al Sabbah had to lead his assassins with a single means, hashish, both to the world of beautiful dreams as well as to the world of criminal nightmares.
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Someone who wants to tranquilize himself does something different from someone who seeks to become intoxicated in the visionary sense. He does not seek company, but solitude. This is closer to addiction; hence, he tries to conceal his habit, which lacks the festive quality of periodic celebrations. The “secret drinker” is viewed with suspicion.
Someone who tranquilizes himself regularly and profoundly, is compelled for that very reason to maintain secrecy, because the drug almost always comes from shady sources. His pleasure leads to a zone outside of the law. When such drugged individuals no longer fear to show themselves in public, it is a sign of imminent anarchy. Thus, after the First World War one could observe in the cafes drugged types with blank faces staring off into the void.
It is not just because that other people instill him with fear for various reasons that the narcotized individual avoids company. He is by his nature addicted to solitude; his essence is not of a communicative kind, but passive and receptive. It is as if he was lingering before a magic mirror, immobilized, entirely enclosed within his ego, and taking no pleasure in anything but that ego, whether as pure euphoria or as an imaginary world that engenders its own interior and reflects on him. Thus, there are lamps whose fluorescent light can transform a grey rock into a nugget of gold.
Baudelaire, who called hashish “a weapon for suicide”, mentions among its other effects the extraordinary cold that he felt after taking the drug, a pleasure that he includes in “the class of solitary pleasures”. This iciness, which is also caused by other phantastica,14 is not of a physiological nature. It, too, constitutes a sign of solitude.


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