Academic journal article German Quarterly

Morphine as the Tertium Quid between war and revolution; or, the moon gland secretes poppy sleep over the western front of Johannes R. Becher

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Morphine as the Tertium Quid between war and revolution; or, the moon gland secretes poppy sleep over the western front of Johannes R. Becher

Article excerpt

Am besten ware es, ich konnte am 15. ds, noch ein wenig mich in die Nachkur begeben. Alle ihre Bedingungen nehme ich an [...] Zu Ihrer Orientierung: Ich bin seit Mittwoch morphiumfrei, bendtige aber noch abendlich ein Schlafmittel.

-Becher to Katharina Kippenberg, Munich, February 3, 1917

Hatten Sie mir nicht versprochen, ich konne dort eine Nachkur unternehmen?! ... Warte ich nicht immer?! Gut. Ich habe Disziplin, denn ich stehe auch an einer Front (-einer bei weitem heftigeren-), auch im Trommelfeuer. Man murrt nicht.

-To Kippenberg, Berlin, May 12,1917

Verehrteste gnadige Frau, uber ein Jahr, glaube ich, babe ich Ihnen bald nicht mehr geschrieben: Ich war so krank geworden, da.B ich mich zeitweise selbst aufgab. Seit Wochen bin ich nun vollkommen gesundet. Und daB these Genesung eine absolute and dauernde ist, dafur stehe ich mit meiner ganzen Ehre ein.

-To Kippenberg, Jena, September 13, 1918

"0, Nacht! Ich nahm schon Kokain," Gottfried Benn confides into his bohemian night, "Und Blutverteilung ist im Gange" (Pinthus 176). With characteristic detachment Benn (1886-1956) writes here and in his 1916 "Kokain" of the dissolute effects of cocaine on his body and ego. Although seldom discussed in the critical literature on Expressionism, drug use was as necessary an adjunct of the late Wilhelminian bohemia in which Expressionism flourished as it was of the World War I military lazarets whose casualties eventually included both Kaiser Wilhelm's Second Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire with which it was allied. After administering narcotics to one too many victim of war-- time atrocity, the young Austrian medical lieutenant Georg Trakl (1887-1914) ended his own opiate-riddled life with an over-- dose of cocaine. Geza Csath (1887-1919), a Hungarian specialist in nervous disorders and the sadistic poetry of imperial decline, poisoned himself at the Hungarian-Serbian demarcation line after 10 years of opium addiction and 4 years of warfare. Emmy Hennings (1885-1948), the actress and poet who was also to become a founding figure of Dadaism, underwent a forced opiate detoxification in a Munich jail early in 1915. Hans Fallada (1893-1947), whose career was otherwise separate from that of the Expressionists, began a morphine addiction that became the explicit focus of his writing more than it did for any other German author of the period. In France, Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) and Antonin Artaud (1896-1948) both became famous through their opiate addictions and their writings about them. And the somewhat younger Klaus Mann (1906-1949) would become a heroin addict in Parisian exile, writing extensively of opiate addiction in his journals, autobiography, short stories, and novels, and finally ending his life with a barbiturate overdose.

I want to consider here a specific and-- in light of his later fame as a disciplined Communist Party activist and bureaucrat -unlikely case of drug addiction, that of Johannes R. Becher (1891-1958). Although strongly identified after the Second World War with his orthodox Communist lyrics and appointment as the first Minister of Culture in the new East German state, Becher began his career experimenting with the drug use that pervaded the literary scenes of early century Munich and Berlin. Where Benn, whose clinical and cool self-observations come through even in his most ecstatic lines, apostrophizes the night to report on the deliberate progress of his drugging, Becher frequently invokes God Himself in his poetry of the period, heatedly confessing rather than calmly reporting the progress of his intoxication. "Ich, der Gottes Angesicht / Nacht fir Nacht geschaut: [...] Ich bin ein Rausch verklungener Zeit, / Ein Traum trunkenster Herrlichkeit" ("De Profundis, VIII"). Yet, for all Becher's shamanistic fervency, his confessions are animated by the quieter drug morphine, an analgesic first developed from opium in 1807 and in wide circulation in Germany since the 1871 FrancoPrussian war (Booth 74). …

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