History Stops: Narcotics

I’ve tried to quit smoking several times before, but I’m beginning to think that this time will actually be a success. It’s been around seven weeks now, with two weeks of being completely clean with no lapses. It’s one of my last vices. I pretty much gave up on drinking around a decade ago, and I hope that I won’t have to give up on caffeine—now that’s a vice I truly love. Smoking, well, after thirty years the magic is gone.

Roland Barthes’ Michelet is a peculiar little book. It is quotes interspersed with commentary and biographical detail. One of the chapters features Michelet on smoking:

Henceforth, men increasingly resorted to seeking the brutal illusion of drink, of dreams in fumigation. Two new demons were born: alcohol and tobacco.

Arabic alcohol, eau-de vie distilled in the West in the thirteenth century and still, in the sixteenth, a very expensive remedy for the sick, will be diffused, offering all the temptations of a false energy, barbaric overstimulation, a brief moment of frenzy, the flame followed by the moral chill of the void, by humiliation.

And also, narcotics: nicotia (now known as tobacco) substitutes and indifferent reverie for serious thought, causes all ills to be forgotten, and their remedies as well. It makes life undulate, like the faint smoke whose spiral rises and fades away at its own sweet will. Vain vapor in which man is dissolved, unconcerned with himself, with others, with any true affection.

Two enemies of love, two demons of solitude, antipathetic to social concerns, deadly to generation. The man who smokes has no need for women; a widower even in marriage; his love is this fume into which the best of himself passes and vanishes. (65)

1 thought on “History Stops: Narcotics”

  1. Congratulations on so many things! I’m *very* impressed — such a difficult task for a long interval, not to smoke. But I think the day will come when you simply won’t miss it at all.

Comments are closed.