– Frank C. Voorhies, The Knocker (1903)


two morphinomanias


– H.H. Kane, Drugs that Enslave: The Opium, Morphine, and Hashisch Habits (1881) –


– Eugène Grasset – La Morphinomane (1897) –

In searing contrast [to the other prints in the album in which it’s collected], Morphinomaniac discloses a disturbing glimpse of narcotic addiction through aggressive stylization and an acid palette that pushes the lithographic print to its chromatic limits. The lithograph strikes the viewer with such immediate force partly due to its claustrophobic point of view as a close-up of three-quarters of a frail woman’s body compressed into a rectangular frame that barely contains her, with only her legs beneath the knees escaping exposure. The beholder’s point of view peers down at her as she hunches uncomfortably over a chartreuse fauteuil. As if preparing for a blow from without or a convulsion from within, her abdominal muscles are tightly retracted and her shoulders are raised to the point of shrouding the neck entirely. The flat, densely hued yellow background pushes her form against the picture plane and lends her silhouette even more severity.

– Abigail Susik, “Consuming and Consumed: Woman as Habituée in Eugène Grasset’s Morphinomaniac

An intervening “anti-mimeticism,” to borrow Curtis Marez’s paraphrase of Oscar Wilde’s “The Decay of Lying” (1889), lacquers over the subcutaneous denudity pockmarking Kane’s habitué. (possibly sexless). What smoothed out the second picture?

Counterintuitively, secret bodies multiply by contagion. Needles fascinate women especially, according to Morphinism and Narcomanias from Other Drugs (1902). A susceptibility to “neuromimesis,” among others, allows “addiction” to “become contagious, spreading in some instances throughout the community.”

Open wounds lay out open secrets – scarred bodies turn up on the scene of autopsy. “Diagnosing Opium Habitues by Snap-Shot” (1895) knew all about what stripping could disguise. Aggressively stylized, perhaps the prurience of Grasset’s flat yellow scopophilia glosses something over – the public fantasy of a wound so obvious it disappears into the thin shadow cast by needle on skin.

On the former body, by contrast, results multiply. Not just because skin had already, in the first decades of the 19th century, become a “visible organ,” as Irene Tucker has it – also because in both pictures skin finds the conditions of its visibility in shedding clothes, or undergarments turning outward (somewhere Roland Barthes talks about this).

But can the “Result of Subcutaneous Injection” turn to striptease? Why the loincloth’s concessionary modesty if every site of negative pleasure already accumulates across the surface? What does it concede to?

Maybe this is a way to invert that question: knowingness can, it seems, read its own confirmation on the first body, even if its incomplete objectification of that body compels it to resist the urge to jerk back in disgust – but can it do the same for the second? If something goes beyond the glaringly obvious, beyond any context in which it would make sense to evaluate it as concealed or obvious, as the second body seems to, how does knowingness keep operating, or not? Maybe contagion (that which you can catch from a sensation like that of the second body, but not exactly of the first) is the limit of open secrecy – there’s nothing to know about the needle’s fascination, since any exposure puts the would-be knowing subject out of the bounded space from which it could objectify the addict’s body, and not just by disgust, as in the former case. Sensation dissolves that space.

(My shot in the dark is that genre — treatise vs. album — doesn’t fully reduce the difference here: aestheticizing relies on the decorative erotics of empire, but the involution of that erotics around the morphine habit remains a question for historical research that can’t boil down to the axis of the clinical / pathologizing  and the lurid /  sensationalizing, especially if those two modes cross over some supervening logic).

Perhaps Kane’s frontispiece bears reproducing, too, especially as it classicizes (and thereby seeks to subordinate anti-mimeticism):

Mimeticism, taken too far beyond an ideality that softens affect’s disfigurations, depraves the taste in Lessing’s most famous acct of the above. Imagination needs to outstrip the striptease if it is to yield any pleasure — otherwise one risks conferring “a duration that outrages nature” on what ought to be a “transient access of passion” (19). (quoting from the 1874 translation)

Mania 1978 : other screened for the pathos of a system’s outside to flirt with – risks, still, an overongoing encounter with the undevoured, hence sticky, or endlessly incorporating system (like chewing gum) – within which the other coheres

Mania 1979 : desiring reflexivity breaks in/from manners – via unspoken lapse of “little niceties”

but do niceties = an ideosphere? or is it, rather, the pathetic because boring (flavor chewed out) consistency of the other’s system that, by forming an ideosphere of one, breaks niceties but simultaneously incorporates back into them?
Extrapolate — a kinesthetic notation of what becomes a perceptible fact of the physics of a scene but doesn’t make it to a cognition (complete or otherwise) of the significance happening — e.g. gestural condensations of cigarettes (Richard Klein)
also, what are mundane forms of incomplete cognition (e.g. stupidity, ellipsis, waiting)? 


1978 – The Neutral
1979 – The Preparation of the Novel


This boat is a womb, a matrix, and yet it expels you. …

The next abyss was the depths of the sea. Whenever a fleet of ships gave chase to slave ships, it was easiest just to lighten the boat by throwing cargo overboard, weighing it down with balls and chains. These underwater signposts mark the course between the Gold Coast and the Leeward Islands. Navigating the green splendor of the sea-whether in melancholic transatlantic crossings or glorious regattas or traditional races of yoles and gommiers–still brings to mind, coming to light like seaweed, these lowest depths, these deeps, with their punctuation of scarce1y corroded balls and chains. In actual fact the abyss is a tautology: the entire ocean, the entire sea gently collapsing in the end into the pleasures of sand, make one vast beginning, but a beginning whose time is marked by these balls and chains gone green.

But for these shores to take shape, even before they could be contemplated, before they were yet visible, what sufferings came from the unknown! Indeed, the most petrifying face of the abyss lies far ahead of the slave ship’s bow, a pale murmur; you do not know if it is a storm cloud, rain or drizzle, or from a comforting The banks of the river have vanished on both sides of the boat. What kind of river, then, has no middle? Is nothing there but straight ahead? Is this boat sailing into eternity toward the edges of a nonworld that no ancestor will haunt?

– Édouard Glissant, The Poetics of Relation (1990 / 1997)

We steamed up into New York harbor late one afternoon in spring. The last efforts of the sun were being put forth in turning the waters of the bay to glistening gold; the green islands on either side, in spite of their warlike mountings, looked calm and peaceful; the buildings of the town shone out in a reflected light which gave the city an air of enchantment; and, truly, it is an enchanted spot. New York City is the most fatally fascinating thing in America. She sits like a great witch at the gate of the country, showing her alluring white face, and hiding her crooked hands and feet under the folds of her wide garments,–constantly enticing thousands from far within, and tempting those who come from across the seas to go no farther. And all these become the victims of her caprice. Some she at once crushes beneath her cruel feet; others she condemns to a fate like that of galley slaves; a few she favors and fondles, riding them high on the bubbles of fortune; then with a sudden breath she blows the bubbles out and laughs mockingly as she watches them fall.

Twice I had passed through it; but this was really my first visit to New York; and as I walked about that evening I began to feel the dread power of the city; the crowds, the lights, the excitement, the gayety and all its subtler stimulating influences began to take effect upon me. My blood ran quicker, and I felt that I was just beginning to live. To some natures this stimulant of life in a great city becomes a thing as binding and necessary as opium is to one addicted to the habit. It becomes their breath of life; they cannot exist outside of it; rather than be deprived of it they are content to suffer hunger, want, pain and misery; they would not exchange even a ragged and wretched condition among the great crowd for any degree of comfort away from it.

– James Weldon Johnson, Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912 / 1927) – Ch. VI

I AM no physician, and not learned in physiology, therefore I cannot enter into a learned analysis of the opium appetite. Neither have I read any books upon the subject. I know nothing about the matter save from my own observation or experience. But whether I know why this is true, or that is so, or not, one fact I am entirely conscious of, and that that in this appetite abides the enslaving power of opium. The influences of opium in the latter stages would not have such an attraction for the habituate but that he could easily forego them but the appetite comes in and makes him feel that he must have opium if he has existence, and there an end to all resistance. Here dwell the Circean spells of opium. Should one become accustomed to large doses, or rather large quantity per diem, almost impossible to induce the mind to take less, for fear of fall ing to pieces, going into naught, etc. It seems in such state that existence would be insupportable were reduction made. An intense fear of being plunged into an abyss of darkness and despair besets the mind. Hence the opium eater goes on ever increasing until his final doom.

– anonymous habituate, Opium Eating: An Autobiographical Sketch (1876)

And, as all activity implies a waste of tissue (since it is dynamically equivalent to the passage of potential into kinetic energy), Pleasure is to a certain extent concomitant with a decrease of vital function. The limit at which such waste of tissue ceases to be pleasurable and begins to be painful is, I believe, the point where the waste exceeds the ordinary powers of repair.

– Grant Allen, Physiological Aesthetics (1877)

The same factors which, in the exactness and the minute precision of the form of life, have coalesced into a structure of the highest impersonality, have on the other hand, an influence in a highly personal direction. There is perhaps no psychic phenomenon which is so unconditionally reserved to the city as the blasé outlook. It is at first the consequence of those rapidly shifting stimulations of the nerves which are thrown together in all their contrasts and from which it seems to us the intensification of metropolitan intellectuality seems to be derived. On that account it is not likely that stupid persons who have been hitherto intellectually dead will be blasé. Just as an immoderately sensuous life makes one blasé because it stimulates the nerves to their utmost reactivity until they finally can no longer produce any reaction at all, so, less harmful stimuli, through the rapidity and the contradictoriness of their shifts, force the nerves to make such violent responses, tear them about so brutally that they exhaust their last reserves of strength and, remaining in the same milieu, do not have time for new reserves to form. This incapacity to react to new stimulations with the required amount of energy constitutes in fact that blasé attitude which every child of a large city evinces when compared with the products of the more peaceful and more stable milieu.

– Georg Simmel, “The Metropolis and Mental Life” (1903)


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?




two notes


  • abolition (paraphrasing Aaron Carico throughout): indebtedness is the silenced / nominally enfranchised motor of finance and its multiscalar but ultimately national circulation of creditacquiring personhood via universal manumission does not mark a systemic break with plantation slavery: it just modifies the insolvencies on which that system runs — the presumptively canceled exchange value of the ex-slave’s flesh just migrates to their person, as an injunction to assume the autonomy of accumulating the debt that will both repay (or assure the persistence of) lost exchange value and, in collusion with vagrancy, enticement, and false pretense laws, materially reproduce both geographic and temporal restrictions of slavery

    freedom from debt is the endlessly / cyclically deferred span of 12 months from now, and corporeal violence — the manifold of what Saidiya Hartman calls the “micropenalty” — hammers home bondage by both basic necessities and the occasional splurge


  • acute / eternal: Branka Arsić — some drugs speed us up and others slow us down. or rather “all drugs are related to speed” but the stimulants “speed up perception to the level of the proliferation of images without categories” (Arsić mentions cocaine so one wonders here about how Freud deals with perceptual speed beyond categorization, perhaps vis-a-vis libidinal dynamics — cocaine applies energy from outside the subject — but also vis-a-vis “free-floating” or “evenly suspended” attention — free association, automatism, etc.)opium “reduce[s] the diversity of the images to the immobile point of the ‘eternal event’ (eternal surprise by the univocal event)” (73) –>

    does opium’s eternal event — “abyss of divine enjoyment,” for De Quincey — necessarily take the form of a non-event?



Just back (or basically so) from Jackie Wang and Lily Hoang’s readings’ zigzaggings through so many networks — some bouncing analogue along Wang’s moody “chaoscillator”or figures not just figuring out but, everywhere and from the beginning biochemically beyond themselves, clearing away proximities to/from victimage in Hoang’s — this occurred to me:

One explanation, given by Wang, for the turn from New Narrative use of real names for characters might be the social network. It yields, ideally, to your every documentary impulse, or doesn’t even ask for that impulse anymore, just preemptively contains i.e. solicits it.

Another, not brought out by questioning, but at least as relevant (though actually I wouldn’t say this “explains” anything) would be that both found little reason to be discrete about their pharmaceutical emplotment by history (turbulent, hedonistic, oceanic, mood-stabilizing or not, were the concepts that bubbled up; I would add “dissociative” – like ketamine, tho that wasn’t mentioned). Neither in their poetry nor in conversation.

If the pharmaceutical is a form of “affective knowledge,” what residue does it leave on style, if any?

Or form: something inseparable, in Wang’s reading, from this anaphoric (and ultimately “tautological,” or self-containing) act of “finding” at the bottom of the pool, each diving line perhaps by necessity synchronizing with echoes of the line in her voice swimming out from the “chaoscillator” (which is therefore not that chaotic – a mood stabilizer?).

One of the students in the audience implied that the oceanic was opposite appetite. Wang picked up on it but an elaboration didn’t find time to happen.

Does a pool really hold the oceanic? Equivalent, in conversation, to asking: can a pool be sublime in a way that not just everything can be? Which is to say: pleasure in the oceanic scenario is the elapsed distance between drowning and watching oneself drown. It’s that in slow motion. So not to say a pool can’t be sublime (what would be the point, even?); rather to wonder how the pool gives form to the oceanic.

Were Edouard Glissant in the room, he’d interpose that “the abyss is a tautology: the entire ocean, the entire sea gently collapsing in the end into the pleasures of sand, makes one vast beginning, but a beginning whose time is marked by these balls and chains gone green.” An experience of the victim’s “exception” from history cannot hold together a viable existence, (to paraphrase both Glissant and Ian Baucom’s reading of this passage in Specters of the Atlantic), so “the best element of exchange” is an “experience of the abyss” that allows sharing or “‘transversality'” rather than “‘the universal transcendence of the sublime'” (again quoting Baucom quoting Glissant, 309-10). Victimage by this logic would not mean transcending history by falling out of it, but rather setting up the condition of possibility (a “vast beginning”) for traversing history. To traverse history would, perhaps, mean to move through the abyss’s continuous bounding by the “pleasures of sand,” both coastal and in the depths. Lives discarded from history remain at the bottom but the circuits of exchange value they never realized (interfaced along coastlines) now put their value beyond recovery, irremediably sunk — though it’s as if for that very reason, because of their abyssal recession from value, that they open history up as an element of exchange — via infinities of debt? via Baucom’s melancholy property in the dead? My intuition here is that Baucom’s arguments about sublimity either must be rewired here or they contort Glissant…




Lily Bart overdosing on chloral – pharmakon dose-effect curving from gift to poison, or whatever – feels the “tender pressure” of going too far after waning efficacy and then thereby finally sliding down the brink into an abyss, which is to say, the oceanic.

Down there it’s too heavy for effervescence. On the surface, playing her cards (several kinds), she stays afloat on expenditure, or as an accessory to the “new scenes” she plunges into.