BY LARS BANG LARSEN
The renunciation of the principle of the self through drugtaking essentially subverts bourgeois self-preservation as the foundation of society. “Der narkotische Rausch,” Adorno and Horkheimer write, “ist eine der ältesten gesellschaftlichen Veranstaltungen, die zwischen Selbsterhaltung und –vernichtung vermitteln ein Versuch des Selbst, sich selber zu überleben.”*
“…ein Versuch des Selbst, sich selber zu überleben.” What terms apply to this attempt at self-eradicating survival?
Drugtaking produces a lack because it signifies the abandonment of the effort of upholding a correspondence between the subject and historical space. That is (as Adorno and Horkheimer also observe), the enlightened judgment on drugtaking is that it describes a fall back into pre-history. One becomes fundamentally anachronistic. Under the influence you can possess neither present nor future.
However this loss of subjectivity, and the cultural threat that it embodied, would be descriptive rather than critical vis-à-vis the 1960s counterculture, where it was deliberately pursued in the hippie devaluation of the hygienic, sane, adult, legal subject, and of other subjectivities that by ‘straight society’ were considered self-preserving, purposeful, active, timely, and so on. The Unmündigkeit that the trip represents became a readiness to abandon reason and to be lead by somebody or something else, into another time, another state of being.
Under the influence you can possess neither present nor future.
Alan Watts described the purpose of psychedelic self-enlightenment with his notion that “the seed is as much the goal as the flower.” The trip may help you be all you can be and unfold all your repressed visions and desires – it may help you bloom – or it may return a total, subjective potentiality to you by erasing the person that you already are. Seed-time is to be given back time itself in the form of a dormant ‘before.’ This resonates with Félix Guattari’s concept of proto-subjectivity, with which he has in mind the function of a subject’s or a machine’s relations to itself and its alterity. This parallels how Henri Michaux talked about the drug-taking subject who becomes a “pre-being, an ‘almost-being,’” by inhabiting relations of otherness, and thereby acquires a whole new temporal horizon. Pre, almost, proto… the seed, the tadpole, and the cosmic egg.
This may also be the reason why the poet Thomas Krogsbøl, writing a few years ago, likened psychedelic culture to a “verdslig loser-religion” (a ‘mundane loser-religion’), in which the high signifies an ascetic self-proletarisation through the loss of self-control and social prestige. This rather more sober, or Adorno-esque, evaluation of drug-culture is disillusioned. The magic is gone. If you trip a lot you’ll be neither seed nor flower, just a wreck who doesn’t even go out in a blaze of glory, just burns him- or herself out.
The Marxian term for loser is proletarian. In “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte” (1852), Marx claims that the revolution will evade the fall from tragedy to farce by bringing into action the self-reflexivity of proletarian practices. This is a process where historical subjects
…criticise themselves constantly, interrupt themselves continually in their own course, return to the apparently accomplished in order to begin it afresh (…) until a situation is created which makes all turning back impossible, and the conditions themselves cry out: Hic Rhodus, hic salta!
In this continuous self-critique—that psychedelia has its own viral ways of implementing in its undoing of the Marxian schema of tragedy and farce—history is owned by no one, or by all. Surely there is no better reason to jump for joy, for this psychedelia that doesn’t turn back cannot be anachronistic, or it is so dialectically.
There is no proper acid that isn’t materialistic.
By Lars Bang Larsen
*The narcotic intoxication is one of the oldest social arrangements which mediate between selfpreservation and self-destruction – an attempt of the self to survive itself.
This text was originally published in Papi No. 16/17 (2012), an issue dedicated to the topic of intoxication. Eds. Henrik Dahl and EvaMarie Lindahl.
Lars Bang Larsen, PhD, is an art historian and curator. His dissertation, titled A History of Irritated Material: Psychedelic Concepts in Neo-avant-garde Art, was presented at Copenhagen University in 2011.
Featured image: A fresco by Correggio (from the 1896 catalogue Antonio Allegri da Correggio, his life, his friends, and his time).