A lucid view of the darkest situation is already, in itself, an act of optimism.
Indeed, it implies that this situation is thinkable-, that is to say, we have not
lost our way in it as though in a dark forest, and we can on the contrary
detach ourselves from it, at least in mind, and keep it under observation; we
can therefore go beyond it and resolve what to do against it, even if our
decisions are desperate. (Sartre).
Commitments are lies we tell ourselves; subtle promises that we will follow through, make good on our word, that we will be what we say we are, what we lay claim to being, which are impossible for us to keep. It is impossible because we act and in acting we always fall short. I commit myself to living a certain form of life and fail to do so because the circumstances of my living forbid it. I am a drug addict who commits herself to living the clean life and I relapse more than once. What does a drug do? It produces certain neurophysiological effects that are translated into phenomenal states, specific finite existential. Already, even before the needle pierces the dermis and lances into the vein, prior to the discharge of the barrel and the transformation of the circulatory system into an opiate delivery system, the ritual of the preparation of the charge has opened me up to the heroin Universe. I have kids in the next room I need to look after and a partner I swore to I’d stay clean: but there is a craving and a situation and an availability, a friend with a certain smile and a street I knew I shouldn’t have walked down, a bad day and an easy rationalisation, it hardly matters. The commitments I’ve made disappear. I take the charge and the entire reference of commitment vanishes.
Yet for the average intravenous user getting heroin isn’t easy. You have to have money, but you’re habit has got so you can’t hold down a job and your benefits are gone before you know it. You have to do a little work. Maybe you intimidate someone, flash a blade so they’ll pay their fucking debts or maybe you’ll snatch a bag and run; you could sit in the rain and the cold for a few hours outside the metro station as the throngs of commuters pass by, mostly ignoring you, trying to ignore, to unsee your weathered sunken face, to disregard the semiosomatics of junkies and keep their own mode of life secure; shit, you could suck a few guys off, just tonight, just as a one off, or this guy wants to fuck you and he’ll give you enough to get a teenth. We’re talking about a real habit here. You need this.
So let’s say you get the cash and you can compartmentalise how you got it, or at least you will be once you get a hit. You haven’t got any tools so you walk to the needle exchange and go in and listen to their bullshit and make your choices. You can’t wait to get home, so you have to find a secluded spot to put it in you, but first you’ve got to prepare. Cook up- melt the shit down in sterile water, without burning it, without the low quality cookers twist or warp above the flame, and then you gotta draw it up, find a vein, adjust the tourniquet you just had to cobble together, and maybe the your veins aren’t so easy to find anymore, so you’ve already spent some time palpating, slapping, trying to get one up, but it hasn’t worked, and you’ve got a real habit, so you’ve been going into your groin with trousers and underwear down. Finally you get the charge. Cops are everywhere; or are you paranoid?
A biopolitical bloom of narco-administrative nodes have left scars and tics in the way you shoot up- you call it “injection technique” now- as you remove the spike from beside the place they took the blood to check for hep C, HIV, a million deadly bacterial parasites. You give you name at the chemist, the addiction team, the needle exchange, the day program, the n/a meetings………you’re registered, noted, logged, injected, sampled, recorded, prescribed, dispensed, dividuated into national statistics and computational models, risk assessed, spied on……as you turn your body into a laboratory for the production of existential deterritorialisation and de-subjectivation, you’re subjectified and turned into a laboratory for medicojuridical control mechanisms. You let the rhythmic patterns of your kinesphere contract and the egoic boundedness dissipates, dissolves.
You become a narcotics addict because you do not have strong motivations in the other direction. Junk wins by default. I tried it as a matter of curiosity. I drifted along taking shots when I could score. I ended up hooked. Most addicts I have talked to report a similar experience. They did not start using drugs for any reason they can remember. They just drifted along until they got hooked. If you have never been addicted, you can have no clear idea what it means to need junk with the addict’s special need. You don’t decide to be an addict. One morning you wake up sick and you’re an addict.
Burroughs description is one I see a lot. Its a very familiar story. Addiction begins where there are no commitments or rather where all commitments are subordinated to securing the ultimate commodity. To say that being an addict is a commitment isn’t to undo the very real need that is marked by dependency. The opioid receptors scream out; the muscles cramp and the bones feel like they’re aching; you’re hit by a powerful flu; you can’t eat or sleep at all. These phenomenocorporeal symptoms are the result and cause of the material recoding of the electrochemical informational ecology of the neural networks that gets called “the reward circuit”. This is not a closed system. Heroin enters the body like a virus and reprograms the neurocircuitry in response to its presence (and absence) causing a recomposing of ecological elements in its favour so that it becomes the molecular Master. The reward circuit is the embedded synaptic network that systems neurology has identified as being the mechanism responsible for pleasure: activation of the reward circuit expresses itself in the phenomenal experience of enjoyment.
In this model the neurotransmitter dopamine is the material medium of the informational fluxes of enjoyment that has evolved in response to survival dependencies such as food, water and sex. In chronic drug users the substance and its chain of enaction (from procurement to injection) activates the reward circuit: the eventual upshot is that the drug is as important to the chronic user as food because the neurological system responsible for desire for and cognitions about food has undergone a reassembling. Simplifying massively, the exogenous opioid transforms the circulatory system into an extended delivery mechanism and recodes the information fluxes so that the drug becomes the material asignifying particle that the brain expects. By this point it is no longer necessary that the using body experiences enjoyment or pleasure because now the reward circuit operates as an expectation-enaction pattern. Like the starving body responds to food so the addicted body literally responds to the drug. Suddenly the onto-metabolic relation is productive of drug-affordances: the drug using body stratifies and archives in terms of the drug……..this is all there is. This is why Deleuze and Guattari are able to claim that it is a decomposed body approaching the absolute and empty body without organs.
For all this it is important to realise that none of this implies that the brain has been hijacked, that the addiction (now an informational process?) is “in control”, or that their is some psychopathology going on: The brain alone doesn’t determine conduct, the experience of a locus of control is a functional delusion, and the recomposition of the neuroanatomy and synaptic machinery can only be considered pathological from a prior normative hypostatisation. At best we can say that the repeated introduction of exogenous chemicals embedded within a highly specific situational niche has produced new dispositional enactions, conducts, and existentialities. You don’t choose to be an addict any more than you choose to be a revolutionary: it all depends on being inserted into a new assemblage, or having certain heterogenetic elements insert themselves the assemblage we experience as our “selves”.
The mind under heroin evades perception as it does ordinarily; one is aware only of contents. But that whole way of posing the question, of dividing the mind from what it’s aware of, is fruitless. Nor is it that the objects of perception are intrusive in an electric way as they are under mescalin or lysergic acid, nor that things strike one with more intensity or in a more enchanted or detailed way as I have sometimes experienced under marijuana; it is that the perceiving turns inwards, the eyelids droop, the blood is aware of itself, a slow phosphorescence in all the fabric of flesh and nerve and bone; it is that the organism has a sense of being intact and unbrittle, and, above all, inviolable. For the attitude born of this sense of inviolability some Americans have used the word “cool”.
As I understand it our sense of self is based on the non-thetic autoaffective sensibility of a body that knows how to withdraw its heavy corporeality from itself. A body’s autogestive capacity to manage itself as a collectivity goes wrong all the time, but through various allostatic mechanisms it manages to pan out enough for us to navigate our day to days. This anarchic cellular field, in conjunctive work with various “co-actuations”, thus produces a very basic bodily self-awareness. What Alexander Trocci describes in the above quote from Cain’s Book is the production of a new capacity out of the insertion of heroin into the body’s machinery. For the actively heroin infused body all these mechanisms, enactions, reprogrammings of information and so on generate a perceptual detachment from the exteriority of the environment and the intensification of ipseity. Implicit bodily identity swells and inverts itself so that the physiological interior becomes a new exteriority. Here is the banality of alterity-with-identity: it doesn’t take mysticism or dialectical contortions. Like a good many ontological conclusions, it just takes the right pharmacodynamics, the right rhythmic alternations.
The blood is aware of itself. I want to pause on this. What does it mean? It means that heroin isn’t reducible to being a chemical co-efficient of an existential blackhole. Yes, the drug-user seems to exists in a kind of impossible self-enclosure, but for the blood to feel itself? This is the language of sensory intentionality not decomposed but diffused: it isn’t the case that the transcorporeal effects of heroin have the gravitational pull of collapsed stars. If that were the case you’d only ever need one hit- and for some that’s all they’ll get, the true blackhole being death by OD. Trocci’s literary recounting of his heroin delirium reveals something else: getting a gouch has more to do with becoming a sensionaut of the body’s territory. The world doesn’t disappear, it just changes places and the user experiences neither herself nor the everyday but a strange other world that is a temporary renunciation of corporeal, social and political commitments.
So there’s to be no end to my incarceration in this abominable, disgusting world…My thoughts go round in circles. Mad with despair, I don’t know what I’m doing, I can’t remember or think any more. The terror of life imprisonment stupefies me, I feel it inside me like an intolerable pain. I only know that I must escape from this hell of hallucination and horror. I can’t endure my atrocious prison a moment longer.
There’s only one way of escape that I’ve ever discovered, and needless to say I haven’t forgotten that.
So now I wave my arm frantically at a passing taxi, fall inside, and tell the man to drive to the old address.