A glanced thought from one or two of the speakers at the conference — something about how “proleptic mourning” may stage nervousness — raises the question of mourning without futurity.

Not mourning in advance those bodies which haven’t yet been killed, which is what I take “proleptic mourning” to mean, but rather living through the lateral topographies of a death that will not be grieved — that’s what mourning without futurity would entail.

Nervousness does this, at least in the 19th century, specifically by pointing bodies classified as “morbid” toward their preemptive death: a death that her body draws the nervous woman towards irresistibly, as though that were the only solution to the problem of decomposing, as an abstract member of an aggregate body,  in the statistical record. (See, for instance, Sutton E. Griggs’s Imperium in Imperio (1899), in which a suicide note cites the racial statistics of degeneracy).

What do all these suicides, or just self-abandonments to tracks toward death, solve? Usually this is a rhetorical question.

One of the case histories collected in Alonzo Calkins’s Opium and the Opium-Appetite (1871) turns the figure of one “Mrs. B., demi-veuve, æt. 25” into a seismograph of national mood:

[O]f delicate habit and fair complexion, [she] had been habituated to morphine three to four years, introducing solutions of the same intra rectum, by means of a small acuminated glass-syringe. Repeated efforts to break off, with veratria as a substitute, had been of no permanent avail, for the appetite would not thus be put down. One day, in the height of the gold-excitement (Sept. 1869), the lady (a frequenter of the bourse) went down to Wall Street about ten o’clock in the morning, but without her usual supply which she in her hurry had left behind. Suddenly seized with overpowering tremors, she rushed into the first saloon she could find and swallowed a full tumbler of raw whiskey, and again a second after a little interval only, besides purchasing a bottle for use on the return home. The doctor found her about 7 P.M., tremulous all over in body, and in great mental perturbation, for she had drunk, as appeared, a good deal besides the extra bottle, though without any inebriating feeling” (57)

In this case, Mrs. B’s body opens both to the syringe and to the stock market. Its tremulousness constitutes, in other words, the minimal difference between stimulant and stimulus, in the sense these two latter terms would acquire in George Miller Beard’s 1881 treatise, American Nervousness. Or, perhaps, the excitement that happens to her in the midst of withdrawal still remains in solution — what Fitz Hugh Ludlow called, in 1857, “national stimulus.” Either way, what her body marks in the first place is an appetite for opium (a “morbid appetite,” in Calkins’s words) that goes beyond her desire as a subject. Yet it isn’t clear whether withdrawal alone seizes her with tremors — whether it is simply an effect on her body of the stimulant’s loss — or whether withdrawal just makes her more receptive to the stimulus of “gold-excitement” — so receptive that she almost hysterically (but, of course, also beyond hysterically) drinks like a miner. America’s national stimulus is, for Ludlow, the cigar (and notably not its diminutive).

After 1865, why not morphine?

 

 

 

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