Don’t forget to go home: Rainald Goetz’s “Rave”

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Peder Clark. Dr. Clark is a historian of modern Britain, with research interests in drugs, subcultures, health, everyday life, and visual culture. He completed his PhD in 2019 at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and is currently a Research Associate at the University of Strathclyde. 

“Meet girls. Take drugs. Listen to music.” These three short sentences function as the plot summary and the marketing blurb for Rainald Goetz’s 1998 novel Rave, newly translated into English by Adrian Nathan West. The “girls” are young, the “drugs” are strong, and the “music” is pounding. That much we know, but little else is clear. “Autofiction” before Karl Ove Knausgård or Rachel Cusk, Goetz’s protagonist “Rainald” drifts from club to industry shin-dig to Balearic island and back again, chugging beers, popping pills and chatting nonsense along the way.

Read more

Cannabis in the 1950s British Tabloids

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from guest writer Alex Brown. Brown researches and writes for the drug history podcast Hooked on History. He has a Master’s in Contemporary History from the University of Edinburgh.

It will likely surprise none of this blog’s readers that British tabloids have proved poor custodians of “drug” information. Evidence of their inflexible anti-drug stance was presented during the Leveson Inquiry in 2011. Ex-Daily Star reporter Richard Peppiatt told the inquiry: “If a scientist announces their research has found ecstasy to be safer than alcohol, I know my job as a tabloid reporter is to portray this man as a quack.”[1] Instead of offering accurate information, “drug” articles tend to act as conduits through which moral judgments and social anxieties can be expressed.

Read more

The Points Interview: Ronny Spaans

Editor’s Note: Today we’re excited to feature a Points Interview with Dr. Ronny Spaans, Associate Professor in Nordic Literature at Nord University in Nordland, Norway. He also teaches Dutch at the University of Oslo. Here he discusses his new book, Dangerous Drugs: The Self-Presentation of the Merchant-Poet Joannes Six van Chandelier (1620-1695) (Amsterdam University Press, 2020).

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

The bartender may already know that aquavit, gin and other spirits flavoured with spices and herbs, were seen as medicines in the Renaissance. But what he probably does not know, and probably will find interesting, is that there was a debate already in the 17th century about whether these “medicines” were dangerous to health. In addition, it probably would come as a surprise that in this debate, terms were used that we today attribute to drug abuse: addiction, hallucinations and moral dangers. And what makes it extra exciting, is that this debate was related to exotic substances. The debate about drugs in the 17th century has much in common with discussions we associate with the history of the spice trade, that is, spices as moral temptations. Exotic drugs could create hot desires in the body, fill you with madness, or make you think you were a king or deity, or they could give you divine insight into forbidden knowledge.

Read more

Blaming Black Vice

Editor’s Note: A week and a half ago, we noted that 40,000 Americans had died from COVID-19. Now that number is over 70,000. It’s a frightening time, but we’re trying to record history as it happens. Today contributing editor Dr. David A. Guba, Jr., of Bard Early College in Baltimore, discusses the long history of blaming alcohol and drug use–vice–on minority communities in times of crisis. 

During a White House coronavirus press conference on April 10th, the U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams urged black and brown Americans to quit drugs and alcohol and embrace family values to best avoid contracting coronavirus. 

Screenshot 2020-05-04 21.01.04

Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. And call your friends and family. Check in on your mother; she wants to hear from you right now. And speaking of mothers, we need you to do this, if not for yourself, then for your abuela. Do it for your granddaddy. Do it for your Big Mama. Do it for your Pop-Pop. We need you to understand — especially in communities of color, we need you to step up and help stop the spread so that we can protect those who are most vulnerable.

Read more

Drug consumption between public debate and political reforms in post-war Italy

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Maria Elena Cantilena, a PhD student in History at University of Trieste (Italy). Her research focuses on drug consumption in Italy during the 1960s and 1970s, exploring how its image changed in public opinion and medical debate, in the context of new legislative approaches.

Screenshot 2020-02-24 at 2.54.54 PM
Maria Elena Cantilena

On 5th May 1954, the Italian writer Dino Buzzati published «Il Morfinomane» (The Morphine Addict) in the newspaper «Il Corriere della Sera». In this short article, he described the morphine addict as a decent man who is hanging around the city looking for night-shift chemists, using these words:

«He is an old man, elegantly behaved, old-fashioned, he could be a duke, a notary or a judge. … He is a regular there, he is decent and indifferent. Chemists know him already; they call him ‘Commander’ and treat him like a high-value client».

On 23rd 1954, the Socialist congressman Giuseppe Alberti declared in the Senate:

«Drug consumption is a madness made by people who live in idleness, who long for idleness, who poisoned themselves because of laziness. In such clubs, there are no workers coming after a ten, twelve hours shift, no farmers who have woken up before dawn, and there are no clerks who have to come to terms with restricted extra-pay».

Within the Italian public debate, drugs were seen as a vice-related with upper-middle-class and show business, which in the public eye consumed morphine and cocaine because of boredom and transgression. In 1954, a new drug law was approved: consumers and drug dealers had an equal status and were punished in the same way with jail time. If a drug user declared to be a drug-addicted, he could avoid jail, but he had to be admitted in a mental hospital. 

Read more

“A Sovereign Remedy”: Grimault & Co’s Asthma Cigarette Empire

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. David A. Guba, Jr., of Bard Early College in Baltimore. 

Introduction

Most today agree that smoking is, medically speaking, bad for you. From the Surgeon Generals’ first warnings in 1964 through the anti-tobacco media campaigns of the Truth Initiative to the growing and controversial trend of vaping, Americans since the 1970s have, as Sarah Milov recently wrote, “increasingly identified themselves by their rejection of smoking.”[1] This shift in public perception has not been isolated to the U.S. Warning labels with explicit images of cancerous lungs, increasing sales taxes, and near blanket prohibitions of smoking in public spaces are now all commonplace in many nations across the globe.[2]

But across much of the world during the much of the 19th and early 20th centuries, public and medical opinion on cigarettes and their impact on health was more or less the opposite. Starting in the middle 1800s, for example, dozens of brands of “medicinal cigarettes” appeared on pharmacy shelves in nations across the West, many marketed as an effective treatment for asthma, congestion, and fever.[3] One of the most successful brands was Grimault & Co. of Paris, who produced, marketed, and sold “Cigarettes Indiennes” as a “sovereign remedy” for asthma between the 1850s and 1930s. Grimault made their Indian cigarettes from a mixture of tobacco, cannabis, datura, and belladonna, and distributed them across the world, from their pharmaceutical factory in the Parisian suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine to distributors and pharmacies in over two dozen countries, for nearly a century. 

Read more

L’Affaire Sarah Halimi and “Reefer Madness” in Postcolonial France: Part I

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. David A. Guba, Jr., of Bard Early College in Baltimore. 

In early April 2017, Kobili Traoré, a 27-year old Malian immigrant, murdered an elderly Orthodox Jewish woman named Lucie “Sarah” Attal-Halimi in the Belleville neighborhood of northeastern Paris. Neighbors who witnessed the attack told police that Traoré appeared “crazed,” repeatedly called Halimi a “Jewish devil,” and shouted “Allahu Akbar” and Koranic verses as he violently beat her, then threw her from a 4-story window to her death. After his arrest Traoré claimed he remembered nothing from the night in question and felt “possessed by a demonic force” after “smoking too much cannabis” throughout the day leading up to the assault.

Screenshot 2019-05-30 08.36.02
Sarah Halimi, from The Times of Israel

In the now over two years since Halimi’s murder, the French court has wavered in its official opinions on Traoré’s sanity and thus criminal culpability. Initially, François Molins, prosecutor in Paris’s second district, argued that the attack did not constitute an anti-Semitic hate crime and declared Traoré unfit for trial as a result of an acute episode of cannabis-induced psychosis, a decision he largely based on an initial and somewhat ambiguous psychiatric evaluation produced by Dr. Daniel Zagury, the same psychiatrist who established the legal culpability of Salah Abdselam, mastermind of the November 2015 Paris attacks, and dozens of other ISIS-inspired and -trained terrorists detained in France.[1] In his report, Zagury wrote, “Today, it is common to observe, during delusional outbreaks…in subjects of the Muslim religion, an anti-Semitic theme: The Jew is on the side of evil, of the devil. What is usually a prejudice turns into delusional hatred.” Traoré’s murder of Halimi, he thus concluded, “constituted a delusional if anti-Semitic act.”[2]

Read more

Virtuous Drinking and States of Intoxication

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from John O’Brien, a Lecturer in Sociology at the Waterford Institute of Technology in Waterford, Ireland. His research has focused on alcohol policy, political leadership and social memory. In 2018 his book States of Intoxication, a historical sociology of alcohol and its place in state and society, was published. His recent work has focused on urban policy, examining the ‘creative city’ thinking, the growth of cultural quarters, and the expansion of the night-time economy. His current research projects focus on the secularization of addiction treatment services, alcohol-related public order offences in the night-time economy, and commemoration.

Screenshot 2019-04-09 at 8.11.51 AMThe history of psychoactive substances is the history of taxation and the revenue base of states. That governments have always had this preoccupation can be seen in how the Code of Hammurabi, one of the earliest records of any state, has more to say about alcohol than any other subject. The alcohol industry has long been promoted by states as a means of guaranteeing a crucial revenue stream. Nearer to our times alcohol contributed 40% of total revenue over the 19th Century in the UK (Harrison, 1971), with this falling continuously however, as economies become more complex, to 35% in 1900, to 12% in 1940, to 7% in 1967, to 3% in 1987, with the figure standing at 0.5-3% for EU states today (Anderson & Baumberg 2006: 54). While the falling dependence on alcohol has opened the door to public health policies, it remains an old-reliable that few governments are willing to forego, and liberalisation of other psychoactive substances is largely justified through arguments concerning revenue and the costs of foregoing it.

Bernard Mandeville, in the context of the 18th Century gin epidemic (inspired by a revenue hungry British government) wrote: “Bare virtue can’t make nations live, In Splendour; they, that would revive, A Golden Age, must be as free, For acorns, as for Honesty”. In other words, private vices can be public virtues, and an emphasis on virtue can be a recipe for poverty. Vice – a going to the extremes, a failure to act in a proportionate manner, a disregard for tradition – can be beneficial, as it will generate economic vibrancy and fill the coffers. We could perhaps trace the genesis of Anglo-Saxon attitudes to alcohol and psychoactive substances involving the propensity to binges to this sharp utilitarian perspective. It is a dramatic contrast to the virtue ethics that had largely governed use previously, stemming from Platonic thought, which emphasised what was in due measure, embodied in the figure of Socrates who could not become drunk. The true philosopher could not become drunk because they were the embodiment of the measure, of ‘the good’.

Read more