Cain’s Book (Alexander Trocchi)

Let’s cut through the dread of the moral authorities and sensibilities of timid readers which reacted against this book on its publication. Yes, horror of horrors, people do have sex, sometimes frequently, and they do take drugs. While not wanting to labour the point of the latter or offer any value judgment, I refer you to Trocchi’s own polemic. That very dread (hatred is of dread) is more the point than the object of terror:

When he thinks in terms of kicking he’s hooked.There are degrees of addiction, and the physical part has nothing to do withit. The physical bit comes soon and I suppose that then technically you’re hooked. But with the right drugs you can kick that in a few days. The degrees of addiction that matter are psychological, like intellectually how long have you been a vegetable? Are you riding the horse or what? [. . . ] It’s not the shit that’s got you hooked. You shelve the problem when you think in those terms.[. . . ] There are doctors, painters, lawyers on dope, and they can still function.[. . . ] You’ve got to get up off   ass and stop believing their propaganda, Tom. It’s too much when the junkies themselves believe it. They tell you it’s the shit and most of the ignorant bastards believe it themselves. It’s a nice tangible cause for juvenile delinquency. And it lets most people out because they’re alcoholics. There’s an available pool of wasted-looking bastards to stand trial as the corrupters of their children. It provides the police with something to do, and as junkies and potheads are relatively easy to apprehend because they have to take so many chances to get hold of their drugs, a heroic police can make spectacular arrests, lawyers can do a brisk business, judges can make speeches, the big pedlars can make a fortune, the tabloids can sell millions of copies. John Citizen can sit back feeling exonerated and watch evil get its deserts. That’s the junk scene, man. Everyone gets something out of it except the junkie. If he’s lucky he can creep round the corner and get a fix. But it wasn’t the junk that made him creep. You’ve got to sing that from the rooftops.

and:

We cannot afford to leave the potential power of drugs in the hands of a few governmental “experts,” whatever they call themselves. Critical knowledge we must vigilantly keep in the public domain. A cursory glance at history should caution us thus. I would recommend on grounds of public safety that heroin (and all other known drugs) be placed with lucid literature to its use and abuse on the counters of all chemists (to think that a man should be allowed a gun and not a drug!) and sold openly to anyone over twenty-one. This is the only safe method of controlling the use of drugs. At the moment we are encouraging ignorance, legislating to keep crime in existence, and preparing the way for one of the most heinous usurpations of power of all times . . . all over the world. .

Authorities, take this as a starting point for your condemnations and the laws you frame. This isn’t a book about chemistry and law though. Much has been written of its this and that existential themes or insights, commentary on art and writing etc. Much of it is good but safely radical, the sort of stuff any arty adolescent suffused with angst, ennui and the sweet anger at provincialism could come up with:

All great art and today all great artlessness must appear extreme to the mass of men as we know them today. It springs from the anguish of great souls. From the souls of men not formed but deformed in factories whose  inspiration is pelf. The critics who call upon the lost and beat generations to come home, who use the dead to club the living, write prettily about anguish because to them it is an historical phenomenon and not a pain in the arse. But it is pain in the arse and we wonder at the impertinence of governments which by my own experience and that of my father and his father before him have consistently done everything in their power to make individuals treat the world situation lightly, that they should frown on the violence of my imagination—which is a sensitive responsive instrument—and set their damn police on me who  has not stirred from this room for 15 years except to cop shit.

Humanity is homo ludens, man at play, and his soul is stifled by “the great mechanical monolith imposed by mass mind” . There is much about the “chemistry of alienation” (and expected stuff about death, eternity, anxiety, time) but not related to the specificity of a heroin fix in general, rather to the chemistry of a body that has become separated from its abstracting mind. Not that, says Trocchi, abstraction or intellect have negative valorisation, and indeed, “The steel of logic has daily to be strengthened to contain the volcanic element within.”

This is a useful book for the burgeoning industry of addiction bureaucrats to pick over, analysers to analyse, existential psychotherapists to refer to gravely and so on.

The bottom line is that it is supremely well written, as near as words can get to inhabiting flesh. Thus, I suppose, many of its readers will never get to read it.

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