Academic journal article Hecate

'Out of Control': Excess, Desire and Agency in Female Drug Writing

Academic journal article Hecate

'Out of Control': Excess, Desire and Agency in Female Drug Writing

Article excerpt

Introduction

Addiction will be our question: a certain type of "Being-on-drugs" that has everything to do with the bad conscience of our era . . . To gain access to the question of "Being-on-drugs" we have to go the way of literature [and] the pharmacodependency with which literature has always been associated-as sedative, as cure, as escape conduit or euphorizing substance . . . the singular staging of the imaginary-"literature" in the widest sense-has a tradition of uncovering abiding structures [and as] a breeding ground of hallucinogenres, has something to teach us about ethical fractures and the relationship to law (Avital Ronell, Crack Wars: Literature Addiction Mania).

The primary interest of this paper is the articulation of a certain female (in contrast to a male) experience of "Being-on-drugs." As Ronell makes clear, the literary realm can give insight into and fracture the dominant order, the "Law" of patriarchy (11). To explicate this, this paper examines excess and desire via a postmodern feminist reading of the drug writing of US writer Emily Hahn (1950) and English writer Anna Kavan (1975). The undesirability of the "excess" of drug use (particularly for women) in social terms is inverted in female drug writing. The uncontainability presented by the literary drug trope allows and celebrates the multitudinous "excessive selves" (McWeeny) of female subjectivity represented in female drug writing. It is the excessiveness of the female drug-using body-its hyperbolic state, its extremities, the way in which it leaks beyond and exceeds the limits of "proper body" and social order that makes it so dangerous-or, in Julia Kristeva's terms, abject. Elizabeth Grosz's interpretation of Kristeva's abject body is of one that challenges "the conditions under which the clean and proper body, the obedient, law-abiding, social body, emerges" ("Volatile Bodies" 192).

The examples of female drug writing examined within this paper affirm the subversive power of agency and unique selfhood, refusing the claims of containment, not necessarily of the drug but the drug writing. The drug trope as it is used in female drug writing anticipates, as in Hahn's memoir "The Big Smoke," and exemplifies, as in Kavan's Julia and the Bazooka and Other Stories, the postmodern subject and the empowerment that comes with this conception of the female subject as ever-changing, heterogeneous and becoming. As a paper that focuses on the literary realm, instead of medical or juridical discourse, it is one that focuses on the literary trope of drug use in order to examine notions such as subjectivity and gender. The method of literary textual analysis used here aligns with Marc Angenot's understanding of literature's "trouble-making character" (217); it does not sit alone "in its corner," it is "present in the world" to read other discourses from a unique perspective (219-20). Angenot proposes that: "[a] great deal of modern literature shows that the king is naked" (220). A gendered reading of drug literature is part of this process of ideological disrobing. Indeed, the female question of "Being-on-drugs" exposes what Ronell terms the "bad conscience of our era" (3) of capitalist modernity: the contradiction between the pressures of extrinsic order and the promises of individual freedom.

An analysis of female drug writing's affirmation of self-possession, defiance, and agency can be framed by Eve Sedgwick's argument in an essay titled "Epidemics of the Will," in her book Tendencies. Sedgwick pinpoints the ontological contradictions of the concept "addiction," identifying the pathologisation of addiction as a central principle of capitalist modernity and the need to police its boundaries. Female drug texts confound the normative narrative of addiction as enslavement and the representation of a static identity. Specifically, in the chosen female drug writing significant instances can be found where women's position on a social periphery is renegotiated as one of subversion and the exertion of power rather than victimhood and vulnerability. …

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