Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Addiction as metaphor

I am in Northern Germany again for a period, hopping around the world as it goes. Yesterday I took a less then 24 hours trip to a former (but still very much) East German town to deliver a lecture. One night in a hotel that saw more glorious days spent watching the new DVD release (Criterion Collection: prepare to shell a lot of money for it) of David Cronenberg's version of William S. Burroughs' visionary masterpiece and lucid nightmare experimental vision, the Naked Lunch. I cannot help but seeing it as a portrait of addiction as a metaphysical state. "I am addicted to something that does not exists" says the main character William Lee alias Burroughs, writing from Tangiers turned Interzone, on a live typewriter that turns into a gigantic insect or into the severed head of an aquatic monster creature. Addicted to centipede powers and the juices secreted by said creatures. Addiction needs not be to a physical narcotic, it can be to a fantasy, to an impossible life, to the surreality of Interzone, to a state of mind.

The Naked Lunch (both book and movie, albeit in very different ways) is a masterpiece, disturbing as you may find it. It gets you straight there in Interzone, where addiction is not romanticized but fully unraveled in its most intimate workings.

I see in it a picture of another form of immaterial addiction I am most familiar with. The addiction to an impossible life (rendered by Burroughs/Cronenberg through the Interzone life, with its unlikely plot of secret agent giant bugs and of addiction to non-existing and existing drugs alike). I am addicted to an impossible life of jumping around the continents like a marble in a pinball machine. Tomorrow in Holland for three days, then France for a week, then Germany for five days, then California for four days, Germany for other three days, Florida for six days, France again for a week, then Sweden for two weeks, Denmark for one, and so on. This is my travel schedule for the near future. It keeps going like this, it accelerates, it has all the qualities of drug addictions, or better, of addiction to Interzone.

The Beat literature explored in all possible ways the theme of addiction and its philosophical as well as physical significance. Jack Kerouac's On the road powerfully describes the addiction to continuous travel, through the main character Dean Moriarty alias Neal Cassady swinging back and forth incessantly between the two coasts, and his addiction to being on the road.

We find reasons that justify the addiction to frantic traveling: lectures to give, collaborations, requirements of residence and immigration, maintaining a kind of family life while working continents apart. One gets addicted before realizing one is developing a habit. Like the centipede black meat and the bug powder dust of Naked Lunch, the improbability of such a habit works against watchfulness and one becomes addict to a life style that is impossible for human body and mind to sustain.