The question of drugs

Félix Guattari with Jean-Fancis Heldwhich, a conversation, occurred between the 12th and the 18th of April 1984, which became in part the content of “Les défoncés machiniques” [“Machinic Junkies”] (1984).

Charles Stivale’s video summary:

“I really can only address a few points. The main one concerns the overlap between the Machinic Junkies essay (1984) and the video clip/interview. I watched the latter, and I can see that Guattari takes off in the interview from precisely the same ideas he developed in the Machinic Junkies essay. In the latter, he is preoccupied, it seems, with Japan as a case study, but then makes his way through several countries before returning to France, an itinerary which is not the case in the interview. But by and large, he does the same thing in the interview as in the essay, starting by questioning the common, accepted definitions of drugs, drug experiences –questioning the multiplicity of forms of “drugging”, via food with bulimia and anorexia; the Kafka experience of drugging via insomnia; sadomasochism experiences e.g. of cold. So what is their common denominator: falling back into oneself, [2:20: «…c’est une façon de saisir soi-même, de se remplir soi-même, une façon de se couper, dans ce type de rapport à autant, dans ce type de rapport à l’ autre»] e.g. Also there is the research looking at the brain chemistry, self-secretions of endorphins, endomorphines. But he cannot propose a psycho-physiological definition, but rather one based on certain phenomena. E.g, there are certain rituals (e.g. religious) that can resemble kinds of drug experiences, e.g. repetition of sounds, rituals, rhythms.

So, drugs/drug experience connects with a way of semiotizing time, making oneself a subjective territory via rhythm, territorial relation [6:30]. And then, one needs to ask how the social attitudes deal with these kinds of actions. E.g. the sake ritual in Japan – drinking just to drunkenness in certain circumstances; TV as a kind of collective drug, with chemical reactions in the brain in front of the screen; there have been experiments done with asking groups of people to stop watching TV, and they had to stop the experiment when people reacted negatively, deprived of their TV! Other drug sectors are not tolerated, are repressed, and he is not trying to give excuses for hard drugs. But these experiences tend to occur in circumstances of isolation and suffering, and society should not treat drug victims as they do, e.g. hurting them more.

These are two extremes. Between these extremes are different kinds of experiences that probably should not be called drugged, but are done so for the sake of economy, e.g. drugs for sleeping issues, or smoking marijuana for various reasons. So drugs constitute a huge range of substances and experiences, with these intermediary, social “drugs”. And this points to a larger problem: what do these phenomena of “drugs” mean? Sometimes the adult, industrial, white world as a kind of normality, rationality –whereas it is just the opposite. All these communication and scientific techniques end up in a huge situation of infantile regression. [13:30] The whole existential experience, being on earth, and everything that goes on in our cosmos, all this is in question in discussing drugs. What can be done to keep people from hiding under the covers [14:55] when confronted by all this we face? Certain drugs repressed by society go in the opposite direction (e.g. Henri Michaux) [15:20], TOWARD the cosmos, rather than away.

So it is difficult to see what are the social attitudes towards drugs, if we cannot take into consideration the enterprise of normalization, repetitions, and programming of individuals. [16:00] And paradoxically what is repressed in repressing drugs is the people who are trying to escape from other drugs, i.e. there are so many IMPOSED drugs, why go looking for the minority drugs when the majority drugs are so prevalent. And besides economic reasons, Guattari sees these practices in terms of morality, a kind of sorcery within society, trying to get people to enter into the social drugs, e.g, alcohol, but not outside –even people who are aged, infirm, cancer victims, these kinds of people derange the norm – other behaviors (transsexuals, prostitutes) all are marginalized, and are part of this same problematic. So these are the main points that he covers in the 20 min interview. At the end, the interviewer asks if he administers drugs to his patients, and he says no, he doesn’t, but that he’s associated with a clinic that does. Here the interview ends.»

Excerpts from Guattari’s article, “Machinic Junkies”(1984) in “Soft Subversions”:

«We must begin by enlarging the definition of drugs. In my view, all
the mechanisms producing a “machinic” subjectivity, everything that
contributes to provide a sensation of belonging to something, of being
somewhere, along with the sensation of forgetting oneself, are “drugs.”
The existential aspects of what I call the experience of machinic drugs
are not easy to detect. Only the surfaces are visible, in activities like cross
-country skiing, piloting ultra-light motorized vehicles, rock music,
music videos—all these sorts of things. (…)

Repeated pain and certain very “engaging” activities incite the brain to
secrete hormones, endorphins, which are much “harder” drugs than
morphine. Is this not then some sort of self intoxification? At the La
Borde clinic,1 I observed the extent to which anorexics resemble drug
addicts. The same bad faith, the same ways of fooling you by
promising to stop… Anorexia is a major form of “doping.” So is sado-
masochism, as is any other exclusive passion that induces bursts of
endorphins. One “turns oneself on” with the sound of rock-and-roll,
with fatigue, with lack of sleep like Kafka, or one knocks ones head
against the floor like an autistic child. One can use excitement, cold,
repetitive movements, strenuous work, sports, fear. Skiing down a
practically vertical slope will transform your notions of personality for
you. It is a way of making yourself be, of personally incarnating
yourself, while the ground of the existential image is blurred.
Again, the result of “dopings” and their social representations
have every chance of being out of phase with each other: an intense
buzz involves processes that radically elude individual consciousness,
bringing about biological transformations whose need is experienced
only vaguely, although intensely. A “drug machine” can generate
collective euphoria or oppressive gregariousness, but it is nonetheless
the response of individual urges. The same thing occurs with minor
buzzes. The person who comes home exhausted, spent after a
draining day, who automatically turns on his television, evidences
another personal reterritorialization by totally artificial means.
I find these phenomena of contemporary doping ambiguous.
There are two means of access: repetition, stupidly, like the mono-
mania of pinball and video game addiction, and the intervention of
“machinic” processes that are never futile, and never innocent. (…)

People subjectivize themselves, and remake their existential
territories with dopings, but complementarity between machines and
refuge values is not guaranteed. If the buzz aborts, if it fails, the whole
thing will implode. There is a critical threshold. If it doesn’t bring out
a social project, like Japanese enterprise or American mobility, one can
die from it. Look at Van Gogh or Artaud. They could not get out of
the machinic process and it destroyed them. Like true addicts. My
existence carried away into a process of singularization? Perfect. But if
it stops short (“Stop, time’s up, turn in your papers!”), catastrophe is
immanent for lack of perspective and a micropolitical outlet. It is
necessary to make oneself exist “within” the process. Repetition in a
doped void is horrible: ’60s counterculture. (…)»

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