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October 24, 2002 Challenging theories of addiction



Anna Alexander

File photo


by Sara Collin

In the introduction to Anna Alexander’s new book, High Culture: Reflections on Addiction and Modernity, Jacques Derrida writes, “There are no drugs ‘in nature.’ There may be natural poisons and indeed naturally lethal poisons, but they are not, as such, ‘drugs.’”

High Culture looks at the place of addiction in modern art, literature, philosophy, and psychology, and includes chapters on gambling and media addiction. Alexander, who edited the book, said in an interview that it is meant to “unsettle and disturb complacently accepted terms” with regard to drug addiction.

“We need to understand what we mean by addiction and to be more forgiving of the addict. To treat addicts as citizens would be a start, because now the addict and the citizen seem to be irreconcilable terms.”

Alexander, who teaches in the Simone de Beauvoir Institute and the Department of Political Science at Concordia, co-edited High Culture with Mark S. Roberts, who teaches in the Department of Philosophy at State University of New York at Stony Brook. Many of the 17 essays in the book were produced for philosophy conference on addiction and culture at Claremont Graduate School, in California, in 1997.

One of Alexander’s own essays on addiction is called “Freud’s Pharmacy: Cocaine and the Corporeal Unconscious.” Alex-ander is one of few researchers to have exposed Freud’s research work on cocaine, as well as his own regular use of the drug, and wrote her master’s thesis on Freud and psychoanalysis.

“His writing on cocaine falls in the literary tradition of writing on addiction, but he got blacklisted for his cocaine work,” she said. “He was hoping to make great discoveries about using cocaine as a treatment for other addictions,” but after one of his close friends died of a cocaine overdose, Freud turned his attention to psychoanalysis and the well-known theories we study today.

Alexander’s own interest in addiction began when she quit smoking in 1982, which proved much more difficult than she could have ever anticipated.

“It completely transformed my life,” she said. “I wanted to write about the dangers of quitting an addictive substance, and transferred my addiction from cigarettes to writing.” For three years, Alexander wrote about cigarettes instead of smoking them. The log became The Diary of a Smoker.

She hasn’t yet turned her smoking manuscript into a book. Although she has published excerpts, she wanted to publish High Culture first to “give a certain legitimacy to drugs in literature, to the kinds of pains and pleasures that come with drugs, to the conflicts that surround drugs and the struggles with the withdrawal process.”

Alexander believes High Culture appeals to interdisciplinary academics and students, and to the average person who might be interested or involved in the subject of addiction.

High Culture was released in December, but sold out its first run by the end of January. A launch of the second printing took place March 27 at the Casa Del Popolo. The book is available at the Concordia Bookstore.