Copied without the kind permission of Random House from
How to Stop Time: Heroin From A to Z, 1999,
by Ann Marlowe (b.1958).
All writing about dope, like all taking of dope, harks back to the
mythological, the glorious First Time. This is the truth behind the calumny
"to write about it is to glamorize it." But to be silent about it is also to
glamorize it by making it secret and forbidden. The charge of glamorization
comes from those who don't consciously understand why writing about dope makes
it seem appealing; it comes from the same impulse that powers all censorship:
if your truth isn't ours, shut up.
When I published a cover story on heroin in The Village Voice in 1994, I
got lots of nasty letters that all agreed on one thing: because I emerged
from years of heroin use without noticeable health, career or financial
effects, I wasn't qualified to write about dope. I didn't really have the
experience, because the sign of really having the experience is ruining your
life. This is a circular argument of course -- "we will only trust accounts
of dope use that end in ruin, because dope use always ends in ruin." But who
said Americans are rational about drugs?
Writing about heroin will ALWAYS be perceived as "glamorizing" the drug, no
matter what you say. No, I don't think taking heroin is a good idea. Period.
But given that I did it already, I might as well write about why and what I
learned from those years. And one of those things is that doing heroin isn't
as scandalous as writing about it, and this is a very interesting wrinkle in
the social drama of addiction.
I think of a letter sent to The Village Voice after my cover story; the
writer blamed my article's evocation of the attractions of dope for the fact
that a former addict friend had started using heroin again. Several other
letters also argued that any writing about heroin risked "glamorizing" the
drug. But this is only plausible because the general public already has
bought into a fetishization of dope according to which it is all-powerful.
Only pornography ("it causes rape!") and writing about drugs are supposed to
have this ability to function as immediate incitations to action. If I wrote
an article about how wonderful a time I had surfing, I doubt readers would
blame me for any injuries they received trying to duplicate my experience. But
accounts of heroin use (and sex), like the real thing, are supposed to be
irresistible, powerful drugs in their own right. Read it, and you're lost,
People who say that pornography is an incitement to rape forget that rape is a
crime of violence, not lust. Pornography may be an incitement to masturbation,
but it's no more an incitement to rape than a Cartier ad is an incitement to
jewel theft. And addiction isn't a hunger for a high, it's a disease, a system
of thought and a way of being. Reading about dope doesn't create addicts; a
combination, probably, of biochemistry and life experience creates addicts.
Many people try heroin once or twice and simply decide it's not for them (as
I did with cocaine). And many, if not most, people could read a thousand pages
about the supposed glories of dope and never want to try it.
We distrust writing about heroin (and sex) almost more than heroin (or sex)
itself. The structure of addiction is maintained by this taboo about writing
about it. The more heroin is hyped as ultimately powerful and irresistible --
to the point that merely reading about heroin is thought to cause heroin
use -- the more people are going to addict themselves to it. The biggest,
darkest secret about heroin is that it isn't that wonderful: it's a substance
some of us agree to pursue as though it were wonderful, because it's easier
to do that than to figure out what is worth pursuing. Heroin is a stand-in,
a stopgap, a mask, for what we believe is missing. Like the "objects" seen
by Plato's man in a cave, dope is the shadow cast by cultural movements we
can't see directly.