Treatment of drug usage in some examples of modern English writing
I. The period before the Second World War
II. Fiction after the Second World War
III. Trends and changes in the attitudes towards drugs of post-war writers
SOME POST-WORLD WAR II NOVELS USING DRUG ABUSE AS A THEME
Author: S. TAQI
Pages: 17 to 31
Creation Date: 1971/01/01
Despite the massive publicity drugs are now being given, they are hardly new subject matter to the literary world. Indeed, for as far back as we can look we see references to opiates and sleeping potions in stories varying from The Arabian Nights to The Moonstone. Many earlier authors personally experimented with drugs-Poe, Coleridge, Crabbe, Keats, Thomas de Quincey, all took opium, the drug of their day, in varying forms and strengths ( [ 1] ).
Despite this experimentation, however, most nineteenth century authors depicted drugs in a sinister light-a sort of black magic treatment (a good example is Wilkie Collins' theme of sleepwalking and theft under the influence of laudanum in The Moonstone (1870)).
After the Second World War, we begin to notice in English language fiction a change in this traditionally fearful attitude towards drugs and drug-users, and we see many novelists and poets begin attempting a serious treatment of the problem of drug abuse.
This paper will attempt to trace some of the ideas expressed about drug abuse in post-war fiction, to examine changes and trends in writers' attitudes, and to explain the significance of these changes in terms of how they influence, and how accurately they reflect the attitudes of the Western reader to the drugs problem.
In order to appreciate better the treatment of drugs in fiction after the Second World War, it is useful to quickly examine the attitudes some writers before the War displayed towards drugs. Essentially, in that period, habitual narcotics usage was taken as evidence of frightening moral decay: for example, the Hollywood "dope scandals" of the early 1920s so shocked the American public that the film industry was forced to hire Postmaster-General Will Hays to clean up the industry, and give it a wholesome image. Mabel Normand, Wallace Reid and Olive Thomas were prominent film stars whose lives or careers were utterly destroyed by the drug scandals ( [ 2] ). The public simply could not comprehend that some of their idols secretly used a variety of forbidden drugs. It is apparent that most of the early twentieth century public had little actual knowledge of the lives of drug-users, and obtained this "knowledge" for the most part from over-sensational literature and, of course, highly unreliable word-of-mouth stories.
This was an era when fiction books greatly outsold non-fiction (only since 1930 or so has this situation been reversed ( [ 3] )), when readers were as likely to get their information from the "scandal sheet" newspapers or the "penny-dreadful" novels as from any other source. For serious fictional purposes, psychological disintegration was usually symbolized by alcoholism; users of stronger drugs appeared mostly in "thriller" fiction, and were for the most part depicted as morally depraved. Drug traffickers abounded in this type of popular writing and murderous opium dens were continually being infiltrated and smashed by one detective hero after another. (Despite the fact that by the early twentieth century morphine and heroin addiction were increasing, fiction dealt more with opium, perhaps because the antique word "opium" has always had a fascinating ring.) Thus, the main impression given to the average reader of the drug-addict's world was sensational, violent, shallow and misleading.
Nevertheless, a few novels before the Second World War treated drugs in both an interesting and accurate fashion, and may be said to have been forerunners of the better books on drugs that were eventually to come. The English writer Owen Rutter described the politics and economics of the Far Eastern drug trade quite lucidly in his excellent novel Chandu, which is an example of this better writing. The story of an emotionally disturbed English lady who becomes addicted to opium in the British-occupied Orient, Chandu 1 realistically describes the childish attitudes of the wealthy ultrasophisticated set towards drugs (" 'Morphine !' Dulcie looked at Judith in amazement. ' But, Judith, you don't dope? How terribly exciting !'"), and also goes into some detail in describing the moral weakness and pitiful desperation of the addict during withdrawal:
1. Chandu is the Indian word for prepared opium, i.e. opium that has been cooked or fermented and is then in a form suitable for smoking.
"For a week she fought on, living through sleepless nights, racked through endless days. Her irritation returned. It was as though she had developed a new personality, whose motives and impulses were the reverse of her normal self... in the long hot nights, when the house was still, the yin had its way with her. Then she would feel that she could struggle no longer. She had tried, but her strength was gone. The yin, like some raping demon, had beaten down her poor hopeless efforts to resist. Loathe it as she might, she must yield herself to the overpowering force..."
Rutter must be counted as one of the first novelists to give an unsensationalized, sympathetic account of the addict's mental anguish and the obstacles to be overcome in permanently curing the opium habit.
Another British writer, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in an effort to shock his Victorian readership, had the hero use drugs rather than the villain. The super-detective Sherlock Holmes used cocaine habitually-to the bewilderment and disapproval of his friend Dr. Watson. In The Sign of the Four, Watson saw Holmes's arm "all dotted and scarred with innumerable puncture marks." Holmes remarked (after three injections a day for many months):
"I suppose that its influence is physically a bad one. I find it, however, so transcendently stimulating and clarifying to the mind that its secondary action is of small moment."
Conan Doyle went to great pains, however, to establish that Holmes used cocaine only when there were no mysteries on hand that sufficiently appealed to his great intellect. When an interesting case appeared, Holmes dropped the cocaine at once.
On a more "serious" fictional level, Aldous Huxley, who for many years was fascinated by mysticism (and helped, together with Dr. Timothy Leary, to greatly publicize psychedelic drugs ( [ 4] )), made various references to real and mythical drugs in several of his novels. Huxley is one of the few authors who published drug-oriented novels both before and after the Second World War, and it is interesting to note how his attitudes changed over a span of years. In the futuristic Brave New World (1932), the imaginary soma drug is treated somewhat satirically:
"... And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there's always soma to give you a holiday from the facts... to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering... you can carry at least half your morality about in a bottle."
In Huxley's last major work, Island (1962), however, the inhabitants of Pala, a seemingly perfect island community, all conscientiously chew the hallucinatory moksha drug in order to achieve a sort of spiritual enlightenment:
"For a little while, thanks to the moksha-medicine, you will know what it's like to be in fact what you are, what in fact you have always been. What a timeless bliss!... And all that the moksha-medicine can do is give you a succession of beatific glimpses, an hour or two, every now and then, of enlightening and liberating grace..."
For Huxley, it seems, as for many other intellectuals, hallucinogens had evolved in thirty years from a tawdry means of forgetting the unpleasant into a possible way of achieving Truth. In the years after the war, many more authors began to consider drug-usage seriously -not only as a sensational plot device, but also as a rational, realistic and appropriate theme for thinking readers.
For the purposes of this study, it is perhaps best to divide fiction published after the Second World War into three categories: "serious" fiction (and poetry), "popular fiction", and "thriller" or detective fiction. Often, naturally, the boundaries between these categories will blur, but for our limited purposes this is of little consequence. Whatever the category, the post-war writer's fascination with drugs has been such that in the last twenty years there have been published literally scores of novels offering some insight into the drug abuse problem. First we shall look at various examples of drug-oriented writing that have appeared since the last war; afterwards we shall discuss how accurately drug usage has been treated, what changes in writers' attitudes have taken place, the general usefulness of these works, and their impact on the modern reader.
The emphasis on drugs in some post-war fiction.- Serious novels about drug abuse have never been very numerous. There are probably several reasons for this: in the 1920s, alcohol was a more useful literary ploy than opium, especially for American writers in the Prohibition era (one famous alcohol-oriented novel is, e.g., F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (1925)); in the 1930s and 1940s the Great Depression and the First World War supplied irresistable backdrops for most novelists, while in the post-war 1950s the spread of impersonal middle-class urban society was perhaps a more attractive theme than drug-addiction. There were, certainly, some books on drugs, but these were more often than not of the "true story" variety-like the British Monkey On My Back by Wenzell Brown ("a dramatic report on juvenile drug addiction "), or more recently, The Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Casteneda, a California student's account of his experiences with hallucinogens. Still, a few novelists of the 1950s-Jack Kerouac, Alexander Trocchi, Nelson Algren, John Rechy-began to explore the thematic possibilities of drug usage and addiction. Later on, in the drug-conscious 1960s, many more authors, including William Burroughs, Hubert Selby, and Sol Yurick, would join these pioneers in a drug explosion in print.
The early rumblings in the 1950s.- In the 1950s, the most important authors writing about drugs were Kerouac, Trocchi and Rechy. Nelson Algren, though he published a drug novel, The Man with the Golden Arm, in 1951 must take a back seat to these writers simply because his novel does not have the depth or authenticity that the novels of the other three do have. The Man with the Golden Arm is a picturesque story of the Chicago underworld and hero Frankie Machine's battle to cure himself of heroin addiction. Later made into a film of the same name, this work's most memorable contribution to modern drug lore is the hero's terming his addiction problem "a forty-pound monkey on my back". This "monkey on my back" phrase became very well known and synonymous with addiction, and is still occasionally used today.
On the other hand, Alexander Trocchi's novel, Cain's Book, written in the late 1950s, contains none of the sentimental picturesqueness of The Man with the Golden Arm. Cain's Book is an original and highly serious work about an alienated young writer, Joseph Necchi, who is a compulsive drug-taker and has travelled from London to Paris to New York, regularly using heroin and marijuana. Necchi lives and mingles with a variety of addicts and near-addicts, but somehow remains spiritually segregated from them. Trocchi's fictional addicts are surprisingly three dimensional, and also refreshingly articulate. Trocchi gives much space to the actual injection of heroin into the blood, implying that to each addict the ritual has a personal symbolic meaning, an early recognition of the "needle cult", which later serious research has also noticed.
At one point in Cain's Book the character Necchi, after "fixing" himself, compares some of the effects of heroin with those of mescaline and marijuana:
"The mind under heroin is quite as evasive as it is ordinarily; one is aware only of contents. The form itself is not available to perception. But this whole way of posing the question, of dividing the mind from that of which it is aware, is fruitless. Nor is it so much that the objects of perception are altered as they are said to be under mescaline, nor that they are perceived more intensely or in a more enchanted or detailed or chaotic way as I have sometimes found them to be under marijuana; it is that perceiving turns inwards, the eyelids droop, the blood is aware of itself, and the flesh; it is that the organism has a sense of being intact and unbrittle, and above all, inviolable...
And though in most fiction very little but pity and sympathy are bestowed upon the addict, Trocchi's hero also extends his respect:
"And when someone who had not used junk spoke easily of junkies I was full of contempt. No... it was not, not only, a question of feeling good. It was not a question of kicks. The ritual itself, the powder in the spoon, the little ball of cotton, the matches applied,.... the tie around the arm to make a vein stand out, the fix often slow because a man would stand there with the needle in the vein and allow the level in the eyedropper to waver up and down, up and down, until there was more blood than heroin in the dropper-all this was not for nothing; it was born of a respect for the whole chemistry of alienation. When a man was fixed he was 'turned on'... a man entered 'Castle Keep'... a man could accept the fact of being alone."
Though he has long been admired by fellow authors, Trocchi is only now beginning to attract the critical and popular attention that many think he has deserved for several years.
Apart from Cain's Book, another drug-oriented novel written in the late 1950s was City of Night by John Rechy. The backdrop for this book is the shadowy world of the American homosexual, and this unusual setting is probably one of the reasons why City of Night was a best-seller in several languages. It is a notable and realistic study of the bars, hotels and seedy back-rooms where most inhabitants automatically turn to liquor and narcotics in order to achieve (Rechy feels) a kind of purpose as opposed to an escape. He makes the point that wherever these social loners are, drugs are not usually far behind:
"And you're inside a bar with long splintery wooden tables...
... Scores are here, too; and masculine homosexuals cruising each other; queens in semi-beach drag; lesbians-femme and bull types... Junk is pushed here-usually soft stuff: marijuana, pills-but you can also score for hard. Ratty pushers scrutinize the crowd for tea-heads, hypes..."
Though it may seem dated to those who feel the underground world it describes has risen aboveground in recent years, City of Night none the less retains some of its original impact and is a classic in its field.
Perhaps more important than either Trocchi or Rechy is the third important drug-orientated author of the 1950s, the late American Jack Kerouac. Though Kerouac is considered out of date by some modern critics, he must be paid serious attention because he is thought by many to be the founding father of the so-called "Beat Generation" (other members of which are drug novelist William Burroughs and drug-oriented poet Allen Ginsberg), and it is this Beat Generation which must be given the credit or blame for instilling many serious readers of all ages with an interest in drugs, particularly hallucinatory drugs. It is this Beat Generation which casually made the point that marijuana smoking was a social pleasure and that many artistically-inclined personalities indulged in it. These marijuana-smoking "beatniks", as they were called, were certainly the forefathers of the marijuana-smoking hippies of the 1960s and 1970s.
Kerouac, beginning in the mid-1950s, wrote several novels which now-and-again made mention of drugs, including On the Road (1957), The Dharma Bums (1958), and Desolation Angels (1964). Desolation Angels, though published in the 1960s, is really a book about Kerouac's wanderings during the decade before, and is probably his richest and most authentic novel. It is the story of a modern pilgrim in search of inner peace; he travels to several points on the globe, mingles with a variety of alienated souls (his friends, Ginsberg and Burroughs, make guest appearances in thin disguise) and tries to piece together the purpose of his existence.
In this Desolation Angels passage, a sixty-year old veteran heroin addict living in Mexico offers an original discourse on the character of dope-fiends:
"In many ways," he says, "there's great resemblance between the dope-fiend so-called and the artist so called, they like to be alone and comfortable provided they have what they want-They don't go mad running around looking for things to do 'cause they got it all inside, they can sit for hours without moving. They're sensitive, so called, and dont turn away from the study of good books. And look at those Orozcos I cut out of a Mexican magazine and put on my wall. I study those pictures all the time, I love 'em-M-m-m-m-m...
..."Yes sir," he says, starting to search in his bedside drawer again for an old cotton, "the dope-fiend and the artist have lots in common."
The hero of Kerouac's novel also experiments with drugs while in Mexico, and very simply explains why: "for excitement, for sleep, or for contemplation, and when in Rome."
The Desolation Angels character based on William Burroughs is called Bull Hubbard (author of Nude Supper). Hubbard lives in Tangier and is apparently cured of his old heroin habit, but nevertheless continues to use a variety of other drugs:
"Majoun is a candy you make with honey, spices and raw marijuana (kief) -Kief is actually mostly stems with fewer leaves of the plant chemically known as Muscarine 2-Bull rolled it all up into edible balls and we ate it, chewing for hours, picking it out of our teeth with toothpicks, drinking it down with hot plain tea... In two hours our eyes' irises would get huge and black and off we'd go walking to the fields outside town... A tremendous high-giving vent to many colored sensations like, 'Notice the delicate white shade of those flowers under the tree.' We stood under the tree overlooking the Bay of Tangiers. 'I get many visions at this spot,' says Bull, serious now, telling me about his book."
To anyone who wants an understanding of why the Beat Generation rejected western moral standards, turned to eastern philosophy, and became fascinated with drugs, and to anyone who wants to know how this fascination was in part passed on to the younger generation of the 1970s, Jack Kerouac's novels of the 1950s are certainly essential reading.
Thus we have in the 1950s, with the work of Kerouac, Trocchi and Rechy, the beginnings of a drug explosion in fiction that will manifest itself more dramatically in the 1960s. It is important to note that each of these three authors writes mainly of alienation, and each uses the theme of drug-usage to underscore his point about alienation: Trocchi's hero, who cannot communicate with his contemporaries, segregates himself from them through the use of heroin; Rechy's homosexuals are forced to live in an underground world where drug-use becomes a purpose for existence; Kerouac's heroes, inevitably cut-off from society, ceaselessly question and test society's values, often using drugs for a variety of frivolous and serious purposes. Such studies of personal alienation would continue to appear in the 1960s, but they would be complemented by two other types of serious drug-oriented novels: (1) novels of life in the American Negro ghetto, complete with poverty, violence and drug addiction; (2) novels about young people, teenagers, college students, who seemed bent on challenging society's conventions, including those concerning drug usage. We might also say that a third type of drug novel, the Burroughs Novel, was to appear in the 1960s. A Burroughs Novel, of course, is simply a novel by the near-legendary William Burroughs.
The works of William Burroughs.-The most important novelist of the 1960s using drug addiction as a theme is undoubtedly the American William Burroughs. He is perhaps the writer with the most personal knowledge of the addict's world, having been a heroin addict on and off for fifteen years, he is also highly articulate (a Harvard background, but he was the homosexual, drug-addict "disgrace" of his very wealthy and famous family) and is considered by many serious literary figures to be one of the most important and original prose stylists of recent years. His novels are virtually impossible to categorize, as they contain conventional humour, black humour, violence, vulgarity, science fiction and, also, unmistakable sincerity: Burroughs is earnestly trying to explain the heroin menace to his readers. His most famous work is Naked Lunch (1962), which was an international best-seller (though not for its drug themes, but for the vast publicity it received for allegedly being pornographic).
2. Muscarine is contained in the mushroom Amanita muscaria. Recent research has confirmed that cannabis does not contain muscarine (see Salemink, C. A., et al., Planta medica, (1965) 13, p. 211).
The title "Naked Lunch", Burroughs explains, symbolizes a moment of truth, "a frozen moment when everybody sees what is on the end of the fork"; on the end of his own fork Burroughs saw a pointless life of heroin addiction. In Naked Lunch he describes with eye-opening violence the life and mind of the addict or "junkie". He has his own theories about drug-abuse: he considers addiction the Sickness or the Junk Virus; he has personally "smoked junk, eaten it, sniffed it, inserted it in rectal suppositories"; he makes sharp differentiations between junk ("morphine, heroin, dilaudid, eucodal, pantopon, dicodid, diosan, opium, demerol, dolophin, palfium") and hallucinogens-hallucinogens, he says, are considered sacred by their users, while no addict considers junk even remotely sacred; Burroughs compares addicts to mad dogs: a mad dog cannot choose but to bite, a dope fiend cannot help but lie, cheat, steal; he dubs junk "the perfect product... no sales talk necessary, the client will crawl through a sewer and beg to buy".
Naked Lunch is a series of loosely-knit passages that Burroughs has no conscious memory of working on; they were written while he was taking drugs over a period of years. The book's dominant themes are sickness and the incompetence, stupidity, dishonesty, and general worthlessness of the authorities.
Addicts abound in Naked Lunch, continually drifting through nightmare extremes of joy and gaiety, depression and hysteria. There are frequent police arrests and searches (in one passage, after fruitlessly examining a suspect for contraband, the authorities "dunk his hair and send it out to be analysed. 'Maybe he's got dope in his hair'."), and there are wildly exaggerated glimpses of the mechanics of the junkie's world. Here an addict is getting his "prescription" filled by a dignified but shamelessly dishonest pharmacist:
"'Well,' Doc says, 'there was a feller in here this morning. City feller. Dressed kinda flashy. So he's got him an RX for a mason jar of morphine... Kinda funny looking prescription writ out on toilet paper... And I told him straight out: 'Mister, I suspect you to be a dope fiend.' 'I got the ingrowing toe nails, Pop. I'm in agony,' he says. 'Well,' I says, 'I gotta be careful. But so long as you got a legitimate condition and a RX from a certified bona feedy M.D., I'm honored to serve you'."
But besides having a genius for exposing the junkie's mind and world, Burroughs is a zealously constructive ex-addict who has theories about methods for fighting the drug problem. He is a firm advocate of the apomorphine cure for addicts; he underwent this cure in Great Britain, and references to it pop up continuously in his fiction. In Nova Express, something of a sequel to Naked Lunch, Burroughs praises the fictional Nova police who are working to save the universe from the drug-distributing Nova mob, while he ceaselessly promotes the apomorphine 3 cure.
In a non-fiction essay, Burroughs acclaims apomorphine as the "vaccine that can relegate junk to a landlocked past." After eight days of the apomorphine treatment, he says, he was completely cured. He reports that he stayed off junk for two full years (a personal record), suffered a short relapse, and then took the cure again. He says he has tried all the cures-"short reduction, long reduction, cortisone, antihistamine, tranquilizers, sleeping cures, tolserol, reserpine." Apomorphine is the only treatment that really works, he says, because it cures addicts "metabolically".
But interesting as Burroughs theories usually are, they are not always sound, and sometimes seem almost subversive: in a semi-autobiographical book, Junkie, published in 1953 under the pseudonym William Lee, he says:
"I think I am in better health now as a result of using junk at intervals than I would be if I had never been an addict."
He then explains that an addict's physical growth never ceases because "most users periodically kick the habit, which involves shrinking of the organism and replacement of junk-dependent cells." If this "shrinking" and "replacement" could be perpetually in effect, Burroughs adds, human life might be lengthened considerably.
So we have in Burroughs a stimulating combination of the brilliant and naive; his four novels- Naked Lunch, Nova Express, The Ticket that Exploded and The Soft Machine-all revolve around drugs and addiction, and, together with the book we shall now turn to, Hubert Selby's last Exit to Brooklyn, they are among the richest and most powerful prose studies of the addict's life and mind available today.
3. This drug is not among those recommended by the World Health Organization. See eighteenth report of the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence, Technical Report Series No 460.
Hubert Selby, Jr.-While Burroughs continually gives us his opinions on the drug problem, Hubert Selby offers us a more objective and disinvolved view of the addict's world: his Last Exit to Brooklyn (1964) almost complements Burroughs' work in terms of tone and narrative style. Last Exit is mainly concerned with the psychological tensions found at the very pit of American urban society. It deals graphically in violence, perversion, addiction and squalor, and was banned as obscene in Great Britain in 1967 (though this ban was later lifted). Nevertheless it is a book of great value in that it closely, and without compromise, examines life in the dregs of society.
A typical character is Georgette, a male homosexual transvestite, who stands six feet four in a blond wig and high heels:
"She (he) was in love with Vinnie and rarely came home when he was in jail but stayed uptown with her girlfriends, high most of the time on benzedrine and marijuana... Her life didn't revolve, but spun centrifugally around stimulants, opiates, johns..."
When Georgette suffers a knife gash in his leg during a game with friends, he realizes he will be confined to bed, and worries frantically about his home drug supply:
"... she had nothing except the benzedrine which would probably be found and thrown away. There was nothing in the house; no way she could get it. In the house a week or more with nothing. I'd crack. I can't stay down that long. They'll bug me. Bug me. 0..."
Georgette's companions, also, enjoy "three-day tea parties" and handfuls of "bennies" at a time. Almost all of Last Exit to Brooklyn, sensational though it is, has the ring of authority, the ring of truth, and it is apparent that Selby's work is closely aligned with John Rechy's earlier work in City of Night, even though Selby's prose style differs in that it is more explicit, more violent. Both authors closely study characters who are sexually, financially, and culturally alienated from the mainstream of society, while neither moralizes or offers any pat solutions to the problems these characters face. At the same time, Last Exit to Brooklyn has also a clear relation to another type of drug-oriented novel that evolved in the 1960s: the ghetto novel.
Ghetto novels.-As the campaign for racial equality reached a peak in the United States during the mid-1960s, publishers scurried to put out novels describing the slum life of the lower class Negro. In almost all of these novels there was a marked absence of plot: the authors preferred simply to present photo-like images of the ghetto situation. And in almost all of these books drugs play a frighteningly major role, serving chiefly as a means of escape for characters both old and young who have lost hope in existence. The ghetto novels differed from the alienation novels of Trocchi and Rechy in that ghetto alienation is mass alienation as opposed to personal alienation. Ghetto alienation is alienation forced on an entire segment of society by the political and social powers that be.
In A Glance Away (1968) by John Edgar Wideman, a Negro youth comes home to the Pittsburgh slums after a year spent in an institution breaking the heroin habit. The story takes place during a single day and reaches a climax when the young man achieves a strange communion, based on mutual respect, with an alcoholic schoolteacher. This powerful novel makes the point that the achievement of self-understanding and the creation of personal dignity are necessary in curing the addict who must eventually return to-and resist-all the temptations to which he had once succumbed before.
Howard Street (1969) is another true-life ghetto novel. It was written by a Negro ex-convict, Nathan C. Heard, and is the story of vice as a way of life. Occasionally Howard Street hits a note of truth when it describes the attitudes of the addict in the ghetto:
"Sure I make an illegal dollar here and there," (a junkie remarks), "but then I don't claim none, neither... I ain't bothering nobody... I ain't responsible for none of the mess in the world."
The W.A.S.P., another ghetto novel, was written by the well-known American social welfare consultant Julius Horwitz. It is a book about Negro-White tensions in New York City, and its main feature is chilling conversation of several of the main characters, conversation which puts into perspective all of the grisly aspects of life in the addict-ridden slums. In this scene, the social investigator hero flatly discourages a well-bred young woman who is thinking of moving into the ghetto "for the experience."
"You couldn't" (he says). "You would get murdered. I knew a girl from Vassar who moved into a building like this on West 104th Street. She moved into a building where she didn't belong, didn't fit and that she didn't understand. She used the hallway toilet. She used the community kitchen. She came out of the hallway toilet after taking a bath, wrapped in a towel. A junkie on the third floor saw her coming out. He figured she was a nut with money. He knocked on her door and when she opened the door he ripped off her towel, raped her, strangled her and took the twenty dollars she had in her purse, all in about fifteen minutes. The girl was dead forever and he was picked up in a bar on West 87th Street, two hours after the killing, eating popcorn and drinking beer.
"I knew a crazy probation officer who moved into this building three years ago because he thought he could get a better insight into his work. Two addicts beat him to death after feeding him to fifteen men on the floor of the community kitchen on the ninth floor. One floor of this building is filled with homosexuals, one floor is taken over by lesbians, two floors are filled with addicts..."
But probably the finest, the richest of all the ghetto novels is Sol Yurick's The Bag. The Bag encompasses the entire spectacle of city life today, analysing violence, sickness, addiction and despair. Yurick comments on everything from teenage marijuana-smoking to big-city heroin pushing, exploring the different psychologies of the various types of drug-users in urban American society. He is one of the few authors to point out that there is no single "correct" position on drugs, and he offers a kaleidoscope of scenes involving a great variety of characters. At a girl's sixteenth birthday party, for example :
"...there was a little grass smoking too : someone in a corner, sitting by an open window, passed it around. They made such a big thing about it : the ceremony of rolling joints; solemn inhalings; looks of fake ecstasy. But he had been terrified they would ask him to turn on because he'd have to show he was cool and hip, cooler and hippier than the other kids."
One of The Bag's characters is Ismael, a bomb-planting anarchist who sells heroin for a living :
"He had become a pusher : you made good money that way if you didn't get hooked... it was a good way of financing yourself, though you must never forget to pay off the police and the Mafia. Ismael was a realist; he didn't live on the dreams you get in a hypodermic...
"Of course, though they didn't know it, every junkie was an enemy of the state, and Ismael's assistant. A junkie has to steal. He has to steal anything hockable. He has to steal street signs. He has to steal from the homes. He has to steal plumbing fixtures. Stealing, the junkie works to break up the way things are. Every man he hooked, whether he remained Ismael's customer or not, was in Ismael's invisible army. Every man he hooked dropped out of it and said that it was all shit and the only thing that counted was his fix, and for that he would do anything.
Further on in the book Yurick comments incisively on the current "artistic" side to drug-taking :
"And the hungry poets would be over the roast beef like piranha and they'd be smoking pot and they'd be stoned on whatever was the latest to be high on... possibly LSD, the acid test, full of sententious religious statements that were supposed to be far out but were actually, parochial, in the usual manner; Gibranism; romance; the body beautiful and the body as revelation and not much else, really, to offend Billy Graham; turn on and get up and walk."
While all of the ghetto novels of the 1960s aim for realism, each of them seems to express a different attitude; after reading these last four books we are left with Wideman's optimism, Horwitz's pessimism, Heard's indifference, and Yurick's cynicism. One point in common among each of these books, however, is that each blames society, white society in particular, for the ghetto problems of today. None of the authors offers any real solution to the addiction problem-the magnitude of the problem seems to overwhelm them, and few care to subscribe to ready-made cure-alls like Burroughs' apomorphine. Nathan Heard seems to suggest that the best solution is perhaps to leave addicts alone, while author Horwitz simply says he does not know the answers. These blunt attitudes are in themselves a far cry from blame-the-gangsters point of view of The Man With The Golden Arm in the early 1950s.
The youth novels.-We have seen that as the Negro revolution gained momentum in America, a profusion of novels about Negro life were quickly published; in the same way when the so-called "Youth Revolution" began to take place in England and the United States in the late 1960s, there were various attempts to fictionally pin down the ideologies of the much-publicized young people, many of whom seemed to be turning to LSD and marijuana. Most of these works, however, were on a commercial or exploitation level, and seemed to be written by older people who did not really understand the younger people. And most artistically-inclined young men and women seemed to prefer other mediums such as films and songwriting for expressing their own ideas. Nevertheless, some youth novels had merit and are worth discussing.
One novel that has had a wide readership among college-age people is Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me by Richard Farina, a young songwriter who was killed in a motor-cycle accident in the mid-1960s. Another is Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen, a thirty-five year old Canadian poet and songwriter who has a large following of young people all over the world. Still another is I'm Really Dragged But Nothing Gets Me Down by Nat Hentoff, a middle-aged New York journalist. Marijuana and the various other hallucinogens are not the major themes in any of these books, but are treated casually, as if they are everyday parts of youthful existence, a normal part of growing up in the 1960s.
Another recent youth novel is Talk (1968), by American writer Linda Rosenkrantz. This book consists entirely of dialogue between three self-centered young characters, Emily, Marsha, and Vincent. Though much of the book is unusually boring, the chapter in which Emily describes in detail her "psychedelic experience" with LSD is of some interest
"Emily: You know I've taken LSD. And let me tell you, at a certain point-it's really impossible for you to understand, you might be able to comprehend it in your head, but you can't experience it-all of a sudden my mind was where this boy-friend was, where that best friend was, all of a sudden I didn't understand their sickness, I had it... It's incredible. I for instance thought of Jonquil. Jonquil my cat: instant tears, instant total emotional value of the thought. My mind the next moment is on that bathing suit on the line and it's hysterically funny to me that the bathing suit is drying there, and I can feel the pull, the water going into the air.
" Vincent: My God ! How fantastic !
" Emily: The next thing I'm a mother in her loneliness, and there's a whole kind of gloomy feeling, but there's no working yourself into, it's instantly touching all the notes of the instrument...
... everything was touching and I was intimately a part of every pulsebeat of every sun that came up on everybody's life. There was a huge opening of the sky, I saw God, I had a tremendously mystical experience. I was deeply moved, deeply in love..."
Emily enthusiastically recommends the acid "trip" to Vincent at the end of the chapter, but only if he takes it under medical supervision.
Another interesting youth book is Speed, by William Burroughs, Jr., son of the author of Naked Lunch. While Burroughs, Sr., is preoccupied with heroin and morphine, his son, like many other young people today, is more fired by drugs of the hallucinatory nature. And though rather poorly written, Speed offers many perceptive thoughts on the attitudes of today's self-consciously sophisticated young towards drugs, the older generation, and western values. For example, when Burroughs, Jr., takes LSD for the first time, he matter-of-factly dismisses the adventure:
"The rest of the day was full of the type of LSD experiences that you can look up in Life Magazine or some like periodical and just after sunset, I ran into a friend of mine who gave me a ride home. He was constantly giving me rides back to Palm Beach so he could talk to me. He always had enough benzedrine to reduce me to a jibbering idiot, but never enough to sell me any."
Most of Burroughs' true-life novel tells of a three-week period when he is in New York and continuously high on "speed" (slang for methedrine), marijuana and liquor. Some of his young companions during this period are clearly psychotic, like Spanish Eddy:
"Methedrine had taken him from crazy to nasty to brave and maybe you can imagine the combination. A kid about fourteen got away from a pharmaceutical warehouse once, with a pound of meth crystal. He and Vinnie, another charmer, poured acid on the kid's legs and he never walked again. But you never can tell, medical science is making great strides these days."
After the three weeks on methedrine, Burroughs, Jr. says he had an unbearably difficult time coming off the drug, feeling fine physically, but nevertheless suffering an agonized and inexplicable depression. He remarks that he gladly would have shot his brains out if he had had a pistol. At the end of the book, he stares at the normal Palm Beach home in which he has grown up and thinks:
"... how strange that I lived there in that house, me, depraved speed freak me, with my crater-pocked arms... it was amazing, how the hell could this prim little environment have produced me? But I was not so very strange and was only a freak by the standards I rejected, so I quit my signifying."
The keynote about drugs that most of these youth novels-by authors Farina, Rosenkrantz, Burroughs, Jr.-seem to be sounding is that while marijuana and LSD usage may not be desirable to certain people, may not be healthful for any people, they are not subjects to get overly excited about. There are, most of these young authors seem to be saying through their easygoing attitudes, worse things in the world than marijuana or LSD. By the same token, none of these books make any lengthy mention of addiction to stronger drugs like heroin or cocaine-the drugs that the ghetto novels are preoccupied with: the young characters in the youth novels, most of them white, reasonably well-fed and taken care of, do not seem concerned with escaping reality on a full-time basis in the way that the fictional ghetto addict is. The young seem more concerned with finding new moral values to replace the ones they have rejected. It is interesting that the young characters take much the same social pleasure in pot-smoking that their parents did in liquor-drinking, and at the same time they feel that pot-smoking is a rejection of parental values.
Thus, we can see in summation that in the last two decades serious drug-oriented fiction has splintered into three or four different segments, each one describing a different part of society, with different life-values, using different drugs for different purposes. No longer are all drugs bundled into an "unhealthy" or "undesirable" category as they often were in the days before the Second World War: to some of the younger generation writers, as to Kerouac's beat generation, the hallucinatory drugs have become very valuable indeed.
To a white author like Alexander Trocchi, drug addiction is a symbol of supreme personal alienation-indeed his characters often feel a certain lonely pride in addiction. On the other hand, Negro addicts in ghetto novels like The W.A.S.P. feel little of this pride and simply turn to drugs because there is nothing else to turn to. In the youth novels, our third group, the young characters use only "soft" drugs and live in more or less normal society. But to addicts in the ghetto novels and the personal alienation novels, "normal" society is a meaningless, faraway, often unknown land. From the simple good guy - bad guy thesis of The Man with the Golden Arm, drug literature has in twenty years reached heretofore unknown peaks or depth of complexity and variety.
Despite this, however, it must be said that few of the authors make any well-considered attempts to explain such interesting problems as why one person becomes an addict while another in a similar environment does not. Trocchi only hints that it is some special "chemistry of alienation" in a person that attracts him to drugs, while most ghetto novelists express amazement that everyone in the ghetto is not an addict-so intolerable are living conditions in the city slums.
And even though few fiction writers (Burroughs excepted) offer any detailed programmes for eradicating the problem of drug abuse, the best of the books- Cain's Book, Naked Lunch, The W.A.S.P., The Bag, Desolation Angels, Speed-all have unmistakable value in that they offer extremely close-up, sometimes uncomfortably personal, portraits of an astonishing variety of modern drug users: the ghetto addict, the teen-age "acid-freak", the intellectual hashish smoker, the veteran heroin user, the schoolboy addict-pusher, the benzedrine-popping transvestite. Though no one book may be indispensable, the entire conglomeration as a whole (with rarely, if ever, an agreement among authors as to the true nature of the drug problem) must be rated as invaluable in its depiction of the infinite and often horrifying variety of the drug users world.
In the next few pages, the focus is changed slightly to briefly examine drug-oriented poetry, and the treatment of drugs in popular and "thriller" fiction. The significance of the current trends in these categories of modern drug-oriented literature is examined at the end.
If we include drug-oriented poetry in our study, the single most important figure is doubtless the American Allen Ginsberg, one of the primary founders of the so-called "beat" school of poetry. Ginsberg has personally experimented with a variety of opiates and hallucinogens, and must be considered a pioneer of sorts in the publicizing of the psychedelic experience. Though most of the Beat Generation has faded into nothingness over the years, Ginsberg has managed to remain in the public eye by allying himself with today's younger generation hippies (he is regarded by many of these hippies as a guru or a teacher).
Ginsberg's most famous work, the one on which most of his reputation is based, is the remarkable Howl, published in 1957. Howl is a poem of anguished protest against a destructive, machine-like modern society, and in it there are continuing references to drugs as a means of spiritual and mental escape. Ginsberg begins with these lines:
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
Dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix...
From this point on there are various references to marijuana, peyote, benzedrine, as last-ditch methods of escape from persecution and insanity for these tired souls who have suffered
... Eastern sweats and Tangerian bone-grindings and migraines of China under junk-withdrawal in Newark's bleak furnished room
... or who
... burned cigarette holes in their arms protesting the narcotic tobacco haze of Capitalism...
... who walked all night with their shoes full of blood on the snowbank docks waiting for a door in the East River to open to a room full of steamheat and opium...
Howl is a supremely tragic view of the world, startlingly forceful, unswervingly pessimistic. The rest of Ginsberg's work is often in the same vein, though rarely as good or as powerful as Howl. He has published several volumes of poetry, but the most recent do not seem to contain as many drug references as Howl, but to comment rather on the international political situation. Ginsberg has written several poems under the influence of various drugs, but these are invariably among his least effective pieces and offer surprisingly little insight into the subject of drug usage. Among these poems are Ankor Wat (written while under morphine-atrophine), The End and The Reply (both of these are "visions experienced after drinking ayahucasca, an Amazon spiritual potion "). Other volumes by Allen Ginsberg include Kaddish: and Other Poems, Empty Mirror: Early Poems, and Reality Sandwiches, 1953-60.
Though poetry nowadays is hardly popular with the general public (no poet can hope to earn a living from poetry-writing alone), there have been many poets consistently published since the War, and there are even several youthful poets emerging on both sides of the Atlantic. No poet in the last two decades, however, has matched the splash that Ginsberg made with Howl, and certainly none has been so publicly preoccupied with drug experimentation (Ginsberg once even made a speech to a U.S. Senate subcommittee: he testified that in his opinion LSD was one way mankind could achieve universal love). Many other poets, though, have of course experimented with drugs and made passing references to them in their work. One famous and respected American poet is Lawrence Ferlinghetti; he is also a mem ber of the beat school, and author of the well-known volume Coney Island of the Mind. In his poem He, Ferlinghetti describes" one of the prophets come back ", a man who is "his own hallucination", obviously Allen Ginsberg:
... For he is a head with a head's vision and his is the lizard's look with real peyote buttons on his pants
And his unbuttoned vision is the door in which he stands and waits and hears the hand that knocks and claps and claps and knocks his Death Death...
Among the younger generation poets there are many who simply because they are in the drug-conscious younger generation, must from time to time pass on the current youthful preoccupation with drugs. Young American poet Helen Chasin coolly compares love to drug dependence in her short poem Addiction:
Daddy, the concern in your expressed hope that I'm not on the stuff's extremely touching.
Would it be too much to guess your guess:
Who turned me on? what junkie pressed his packet, fixed me in his need until I moan for his sweet sake? You liar, love's a racket, at best only a connection.
As virtually few publishers ever expect to make a profit in releasing poetry (most volumes are given extremely small printings and released for prestige purposes) volumes of poetry are relatively scarce and go out of print very quickly. The small number of poets who might occasionally deal with drugs are in a worse position than most poets because they are often considered avant-garde and anti-establishment, and can hope only to publish through the "underground" publishing houses which have only limited distribution facilities. Partly as a result of this under-exposure, and partly because serious poetry is not popular with the general public, we must understand that drug-oriented poetry has an extremely minimal influence on the modern public (in fact, the chances seem good that many of the followers of Ginsberg have not taken the trouble to read most of his poetry). The main value of drug-oriented poetry would seem to be that it might occasionally offer some insight into why many intellectual personalities turn to drugs for enlightenment and inspiration, and that it might also offer vivid personal descriptions of the drugged state. But as poets are by definition introspective, we rarely receive any strong social reporting from them.
Some other prominent modern poets who occasionally refer to drugs in their works are: Richard Brautigan (The Pill Versus Springhill Mine Disaster; Gary Snyder (The Back Country); Edward Dorn (Gunslinger); Gregory Corse (The Happy Birthday of Death); Leroi Jones (Black Magic Poetry); Denise Levertov (With Eyes At The Back of Our Heads); Leonard Cohen (Poems); Paul Carroll (De Medici sur Machine); Frank O'Hara (Second Avenue).
"Popular fiction" is fiction designed to sell well with the public, as opposed to "serious fiction" which is supposedly written for its own sake. Popular fiction outsells serious fiction. As a result, sometimes a "serious" author writes an apparently "popular" book. Sometimes, also, a "popular" book is a much better piece of work than a serious one.
Because in the 1960s great publicity was given to the drug experience and to the lives of people who supposedly took drugs-show business people, "beautiful" people, students, hippies, rock-and-roll musicians-there was a veritable explosion of popular novels that "exposed" the lives of these personalities. In the next few pages we shall examine the treatment of drugs in some of these "pop" novels.
Valley of the Dolls.-The most famous popular fiction novel of the 1960s was Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann, an American television actress. Though almost unanimously ignored by literary critics, Valley of the Dolls ranks as one of the largest-selling books of all-time, and has recently been made into a Hollywood movie which has become one of the greatest box-office hits ever.
The main theme of Miss Susann's book is barbiturate and amphetamine abuse among American show business personalities (we must interject quickly, though, that this drug theme is not what attracted the public to Valley of the Dolls: it was the book's other theme, the sex-lives of American show business personalities). The book traces the careers of three young actresses over a period of years, beginning in the late 1940s and extending into the mid-1960s. One by one the actresses become successful and are soon over-worked to the point of exhaustion. Each begins to use barbiturate pills (which they affectionately call "dolls") in order to escape into much-needed sleep. Each begins to depend heavily on them. One uses the pills to commit suicide after learning her cancerous breast must be removed. (" Thank God for the dolls ", her suicide note says.) Another, singer-actress, Neely O'Hara, increases her doses of sleep-giving seconal and then downs quantities of Treatment of drugs usage in some examples of modern English writing 27 amphetamine pills in order to stay awake during the day. At some points in the book she appears to be eating pills like gum dro ps. She begins trying different pill combinations: "Have you ever tried a yellow one? " (she confides to a friend) "If you take one of each-a red and a yellow-wow! You really sleep. I learned it by experiment." Gradually Neely becomes totally dependent on the pills and, finally, after taking a near-fatal overdose, she is put in a rest home:
"She was hungry... she wanted a cigarette, and some dolls. Oh, God, some dolls! She began to scream, cursing Dr. Hall, the nurses, the hospital..."
When she has a backache, Neely asks the rest home physician for sleeping pills:
"'Do you think it's normal (the doctor said) to take sleeping pills in the middle of the day to ease pain?'
"'No, I'd much prefer a shot of Demerol,' she said. She was pleased at the angle his eyebrows shot up. 'Yes, Demerol '. She smiled. 'In Spain I got it all the time. Two or three times a day. And I functioned just fine. I even made a picture. So you see, two lousy little Seconals are like appetizers for me '."
Eventually Neely is released from the rest home, but before long she is back to her two or three demerol shots a day, and once again she barely survives a barbiturate overdose. Her future, it is regretfully forecast, will simply be a cycle of cures and relapses.
The third actress, Anne Welles, is the "normal" girl of the trio, but as she approaches middle-age, and learns that her husband is a habitual adulterer, she, too, turns to pills for escape and is finally trapped in the Valley of the Dolls.
Despite the numerous, obvious shortcomings of Miss Susann's book, despite the fact that the compulsiveness of pill-taking is not described as well as might be wished, her novel has some merit, some value, in that while showing wealthy citizens using drugs, it manages to baste them with some of the squalor usually associated with ghetto addicts-making the small but useful point that the world of drugs is much the same for all those who get caught up in it.
The Answer (1968) by the young American novelist Jeremy Larner (co-editor of the non-fictional The Addict in the Street) is about LSD, and the author has apparently done his research first-hand. The main aim of the book is to try to effectively, and commercially, describe the LSD experience and to put it into realistic perspective. The twenty-year old hero of the story is a sceptical and somewhat disillusioned college student who is drawn to a self-styled prophet and mystic (very probably patterned after Dr. Timothy Leary, the LSD promoter) who convinces him to try the Answer Drug.
The plot is a simple one and the attempts at creating a prose LSD trip are effective to a degree, but in the final result lack great originality-going through the usually publicized LSD feelings of ecstasy, wonder, tension, fear, etc.
Linda Rosenkrantz's LSD description in Talk is perhaps more thought-provoking, and is much more concise. The glimpse of university life in Larner's book does not ring especially true, and the novel ends with a basically unenthusiastic view of the Answer Drug.
Another pop novel about youth unrest in America is Babyhip (1967), by Patricia Welles. This is a rambling story about an upper-class American girl exploring the hippie way of life, complete with marijuana-smoking and communal living. Though it received considerable publicity, however, this book portrays both the modern adolescent mind and the hippie mentality very inaccurately, and is basically an undistinguished attempt at topical humour.
The Rag Dolls (1969) by Simon Cooper (a pseudonym, the publishers announce, for a writer who has struck it rich in the British fashion business) is about the "Beautiful People" of the fashion world. The characters are young designers and models, and most of them seek escape through a variety of drugs (barbiturates, hashish, hallucinogens) in a cliche-ridden fashion:
"She filled his glass with another coke and vodka and she rolled him a cigarette. ' It's meant to be great stuff', she said. They turned on together... 'Man I'm high ', she sighed and stretched her legs out on the couch."
A more interesting popular novel from Britain is Groupie (1969), by Jenny Fabian and Johnny Byrne. Selling quite strongly on both sides of the Atlantic, this book traces the experiences of a young English girl, Katie, who attaches herself in mascot-fashion to various rock-and-roll music groups (hence she is a "groupie") in order to achieve status in her own eyes and those of her peers. Groupies are a creation of the western pop music culture, and their purpose in life is to do practically anything their groups want them to do; they traditionally make drug "connexions" for their groups, and also "turn on" with them. In this scene, the Police Drug Squad is raiding Katie's flat while a party is in progress:
"'Are you stoned?' he (the Inspector) asked abruptly, looking at me piercingly.
"'No ', I said, and wondered why he asked. I didn't know they used words like stoned.
"'We can tell by the eyes, you know.'
"'Tell what?' I wished he'd get on with his searching.
"'It's the eyes, I can tell you're stoned by the way your pupils are contracted.'
"'No, no, you're onto the wrong drug,' I said. 'Pot doesn't do that.'
"'Look at your pupils,' he said. 'I know.' By now I had opened the box and spilled the pills into my hand. I think there were seven, but I didn't dare look.
"...' What's wrong with my pupils? ' I demanded. 'Let me have a look.' And I got up and went over to the mirror. 'They look all right to me.'
"' Never mind, ' he said, busy reading some letters. I pretended to study my eyes in the mirror and poked at them with the hand that was holding the pills. As I dropped my hand I popped the pills into my mouth and swallowed the lot. They seemed to fill my mouth completely and I never thought I'd swallow them, they tasted incredibly bitter. After I'd forced them down I started to choke."
Since Katie has swallowed all the pills on hand, the police are foiled and eventually leave the premises. Katie, however, is poisoned by the number of pills she has suddenly taken and collapses at the end of the chapter.
Virtually all the characters in Groupie use cannabis and various amphetamines, read Timothy Leary's The Psychedelic Experience, and experiment with LSD. One of Katie's friends, a film script writer, uses methedrine in order to work faster :
"He must have taken four shots of meths and once he spiked the cereal I was eating by squirting some on while I wasn't looking...
... Apart from the feathery tracer line of needle marks down the length of the veins, he was also pitted with thousands of other holes. For as you can't eat on speed, he had been shooting pure vitamins into himself. There were so many holes in him that Theo was almost breathing intravenously... he admitted that it was the thrill of the needle he was hung up on almost as much as the stuff he was shooting..."
Though over-sensational and written in women's magazine style, Groupie displays surprising authenticity when it describes the life habits of alienated young people today, and their attitudes towards drugs, authority and the older generation. At the very beginning of the book, when Katie is being arraigned on a drug charge, she concisely sums up the smug and infinitely troubling attitude of so many young people today :
"My drug case came and went. I got off with a small fine by playing it very straight; saying that I had just been trying to find out what it was all about; that I didn't like it; and I was sorry and never again."
Looking through these examples of cliche-ridden pop novels, we see that most of them-even Valley of the Dolls and Groupie - deal only superficially with drug abuse problems, capitalizing, basically, on the sensational aspects of drug usage among the fashionable "jet set" elements of society. This sensationalized treatment is however understandable : popular novels are only the modern equivalents of the latter-day "penny-dreadfuls "; they cannot be expected to progress thematically in the way that serious novels on drug abuse have progressed.
However, it should be pointed out that the best of the pop novels - Groupie, Valley of the Dolls - do, to some degree, accurately describe the people they talk about. And while dealing with glamorous personalities, these books rarely glamorize drug-taking. If the reading public gets only a one-dimensional version of the drug problem from these pop novels, it must be said that this one-dimension is not entirely a false one - indeed, one might go as far as to say that in a good pop novel of the late 1960s drug usage is described every bit as accurately as it was in that first "serious" post-War novel, The Man With the Golden Arm.
It would be hard to find a major detective hero nowadays who has not at one time or another outwitted criminal drug rings or dope pushers. Indeed, in thriller fiction one finds hundreds of books attempting to treat drugs in an offhand but authoritative manner. Sometimes these works succeed in their attempts; more often they fail badly. Many are glaringly inaccurate, and must be considered to contribute to some extent to public misunderstanding of the drug situation. For example, in Ian Fleming's Moonraker, a novel in the spectacularly successful James Bond spy series, a secret government dossier informs hero Bond (and us) that marijuana "addiction" begins with a single dose.
On the other side of the coin, some crime fiction deals exceptionally well with the subject of drugs and addiction : Patricia Highsmith, in her excellent thriller The Glass Cell describes how a man unjustly convicted of embezzlement becomes addicted to morphine while working in a prison infirmary. When he leaves jail, the hero, Carter, begins associating with hoodlums and using heroin. There is little of the usual hysterical fictional addict in Miss Highsmith's hero, and all aspects of his middle-class addiction are realistically handled.
Chester Himes's detective novels of the Harlem sector of New York City also have the ring of authority and, incidentally, describe the slum side of city life better than most "serious" ghetto novels. Addicts are treated matter-of-factly by Himes as regrettable nuisances that city dwellers must put up with. In fact, in Cotton Comes To Harlem, the two detective heroes of the story have cocktails in a bar with a sign over its counter calmly announcing "No junkies served here." On seeing the sign, one of the heroes remarks on its absurdity :
"Why not? Poor and raggedy as these junkies are, they ain't got no money for whiskey."
The most popular scene in all drug thriller fiction, though, continues to be the traditional "opening the package of pure heroin" sequence : in a cheap, obscure American paperback (A Bullet For Your Dreams by Don Von Elsner) the following scene unfolds :
"Novikoff... advanced on Danning's briefcase, and, getting a nod of approval, carefully opened it and gingerly extracted a package wrapped in plain brown paper... He stripped off the wrapping and raised the lid. Dozens of paper packets were wedged inside, each with its net weight in grams written in ink. He ripped one open, wet the tip of his blunt little finger, and dipped up a few granules of the white substance to taste it.
He set himself, glowering at Danning. "Pure snow. Dam' good grade!'"
Even in an ostensibly high-class, well-reviewed hardbound bestseller, The Kremlin Letter by Noel Behn, we are subjected to the same cliche-ridden scene :
"He asked me where the medicine came from. 'By way of Turkey,' I told him. He asked when he could see some. I had the heroin in a small cigarette case. I gave it to him. He looked at it, rolled it in his fingers. He smelled his fingers. Then he tasted the stuff..."
It is thus obvious that though thrillers still supply much of the public with glamorous glimpses of the international narcotics trade, they rarely offer any deep or original ideas on the drug problem. One significant point, however, about drugs in thriller fiction is that through the matter-of-fact treatment of addicts by authors like Himes, the reading public has become so conditioned to junkies that they no longer have any shock value, in the same way that once controversial subjects such as adultery no longer have any literary shock value. In fact, the casualness over drugs has become so great that often a modern thriller hero will use drugs himself : Philip McAlpine, British author Adam Diment's popular secret agent hero, is a connoisseur of hashish and coolly smokes it with his girl friends. And this scene from Moonraker takes place just before some high-power gambling :
"Bond took the envelope that was handed to him and slit it open. He took out a thin paper packet and carefully opened it under the level of the table. It contained a white powder... He reached for his glass of champagne and tipped the powder into it.
"'Now what?' said M. with a trace of impatience.
"There was no hint of apology in Bond's face... ...' Benzedrine,' he said."
Fiction's drug explosion started rumbling in the 1950s, with the alienated and answer-seeking Beat Generation's appearance; but the explosion actually took place in the mid- and late-1960s. There are several reasons for this delayed reaction : it was in the 1960s that American and British censorship barriers began to crumble (only in 1968 was Last Exit To Brooklyn allowed to be sold in Britain; there was a serious censorship battle in America before Naked Lunch could be sold freely) and it was necessary that they crumble if realistic and hard-core studies of addiction and drug usage were to be published; it was in the 1960s that the American Negro revolution began in earnest, and created a ready-made audience for authentic novels about Negro ghetto life; it was also in the 1960s that the so-called youth revolution began to snowball amid unending publicity, and there was created an instant readership for novels about young people and the rather weird lives they seemed to be leading.
As more and more drug books were published, it became possible to see changes in writers' attitudes towards drugs. Whereas before the Second World War almost all drugs were lumped together as "bad ", "unhealthy ", and" anti-social ", post-war authors began to make distinctions among the various drugs. Burroughs, though violently, even hysterically, opposed to the heroin menace, has no quarrel with cannabis or LSD. A writer like Ginsberg or Huxley might positively believe that mescaline and LSD are beatific and sacred. A young writer like Linda Rosenkrantz might hold back approval of hallucinatory drugs, but express the idea that they should be given a reasonable trial.
Whereas the Algren of the 1950s condemns the mobsters who supply heroin to addicts, the writer of the 1960s condemns society for being so corrupt as to drive anyone to addiction in the first place. In some cases, such as that of Negro addiction in the slums, this point of view becomes disturbing.
Together with the increase in the numbers of drug-oriented novels that are published, there has been a notable increase in the quality of these novels-at least so far as accuracy is concerned. Many authors -Burroughs, Kerouac, Jenny Fabian-come armed with first-hand experience with drugs, and almost all others have had personal experience in talking to and living with addicts : Horwitz, for example, was a professional social investigator, while Jacqueline Susann lived for years in the show business world she describes
in Valley of the Dolls. We find accuracy not only in the descriptions of the various drugged states (Cain's Book), but also in the reporting of background details (Last Exit To Brooklyn), and the actual mechanics and atmosphere of the drug-users world (The Bag, The W.A.S.P.). Even the often misleading mystery novels and paperback originals seem finally to be gaining in accuracy : a probable case of good information driving out bad. It is doubtful that many future writers will blunder as Ian Fleming did in his Moonraker statement about marijuana.
Most fictional drug-addicts, we see, continue to be treated as pathetic and pitiful specimens (Burroughs often symbolically portrays them as dwarfs or midgets), but it is significant that in the fiction of the 1960s we have the additional factor of Burroughs promoting apomorphine cures, while Wideman suggests that cures are not enough and that mental rehabilitation is equally necessary in treating addicts. At the same time, exconvict Heard feels that perhaps the best solution is simply to let addicts burn themselves out 4 if they wish to do so. This development is clearly a new and valuable dimension in drug-oriented fiction, with the bookshelf itself becoming something of a round-table for discussing the drug problem.
Influences on audiences. - For all their current profusion, though, it is clear that most drug-oriented novels, while useful as a source of reasoned ideas about addicts and drug abuse, are less of an influence on their audiences and more of a reflection of the tastes of these audiences. It is not because of these books that much of the general public in the western English speaking world seems to be better informed about drugs. It is because the general public of the western English speaking world has become better informed about drugs through other media such as television and radio and newspapers, and is consequently more interested in the drug problem, that we now have numerous books on the subject in English writing. It goes without saying that novels cannot nowadays hope to sway and influence audiences to the extent that the information media are able to do. For example, a fairly popular television programme may reach twenty million American viewers, while a novel is considered a thundering success if it sells a hundred and fifty thousand hardcover copies and a milion paperbacks. The most novels can hope for is to supply the general public with the miniscule details and subtleties of the drug world that the other media have no time or space for. Novels can also influence a reading elite, who in turn may influence the general public via the Press media.
4. Note by Editor: See the Winick thesis of "maturing out" of addiction to heroin, Bull. Narc., XVI, No. 1 (1964).
Thus, if we ask, "Will a pro-LSD novel convert an anti-LSD audience? ", we must answer that it does not seem very likely. A change in attitude would seem to be accomplished more easily by the major news media, which can understandably be regarded as "non-fiction" A novel may serve to inform, but it is simply not the most powerful propaganda organ available today. No matter how good or how true a novel is, it may always be cast aside as mere "fiction", the product of a writer's imagination.
Trends in the 1970s. - What predictions can we make about drug-oriented fiction in the 1970s? Probably, as interest in the psychedelic drugs and marijuana continues, largely due to the "Legalize Pot and Acid" campaigns on both sides of the Atlantic, we shall see dozens of new books in western English writing focusing on this controversial and commercial topic. Younger writers will undoubtedly emerge and publish books for young audiences in the style of the late Richard Farina. Any young author writing against marijuana and LSD will probably run the risk of being hooted down by his contemporaries. Probably one or two "old but modern" writers will stoutly defend pot and acid, and probably one or two old and old-fashioned writers will caution against them.
The ghetto novels, with their ever-present drug problems, will probably continue to appear, though there have been so many of them that public interest will undoubtedly start to flag.
Serious books about heroin addiction, never very popular in themselves, have probably spent themselves temporarily. We might possibly have a new character or two who are incidentally addicts, but fictional studies in great depth will probably not be very numerous, mainly because of the extensive work already done in this field by Burroughs and Trocchi.
In popular, serious and thriller fiction alike, however, there are likely to be large numbers of books treating drugs casually-not as major themes but as incidental ones. In the best-selling Travels with my Aunt, for example, established British author Graham Greene depicts several characters as casual "soft drug" users. These persons are not treated as menacing or evil, but on the contrary are shown to be witty and likeable. Like Greene, many modern writers are putting these incidental references to drugs into their work. In fact, nowadays it is hard to find a novel set in modern times that does not have at least one habitual marijuana smoker, at least one "pot party ", at least one "acid-freak ". This trend is evident not only in books about young people or college students-it is evident also in many novels about ordinary middle-class adults (for example : Real People by Alison Lurie, while The Heart-Keeper by Francoise Sagan, originally in French, also comes to mind). Indeed, it is this very development that is the most important point about fiction after the Second World War : the fact that in 1970 drugs are no longer a strange or sensational topic to most authors. There is no longer any universal Treatment of drug usage in some examples of modern English writing 31 literary attitude towards drugs - there are scores of differing attitudes : Selby's, Horwitz's, Jenny Fabian's, Linda Rosenkrantz's - which have their roots in the different age groups and social backgrounds of the authors. Thus, in the last twenty years we have seen drugs become an ordinary, conventional topic in serious, popular and thriller fiction alike.
In fact, it is not only in these three categories of fiction that we observe this complacent attitude towards drug-use establishing itself : we can see it now even in children's fiction. There are an increasing number of children's books using, wisely or unwisely, marijuana and LSD for purposes of plot. In one recent book for young adults, there is the following snatch from an adolescent conversation :
"'Came to get some grass?' Chuck says to me, practically cracking my bones. 'Or are you here to pick up some better grade of goodies?'"
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