Points Forward: Kerwin Kaye, “Drug Courts and the Treatment of Addiction: Therapeutic Jurisprudence & Neoliberal Governance”

Editor’s Note:  Today marks the first in a new series, “Points Forward,” where your intrepid editors interview recent PhDs in the field of alcohol and drugs history and policy.  Our goal in this is to showcase some of the newest and boldest work in the field, obviously, but we also want to take advantage of the blog’s capacity as a social networking site.  As anyone who’s been following Points for the last eleven months knows by now, our purview ranges across the disciplinary and methodological, generic and generational boundaries that, too often these days, give shape to (read: prop up) the contemporary university.  By bringing together researchers from different areas–and different points in their careers– to read and comment on one another’s work, we hope the blog will create a social as well as an intellectual space.  We’re grateful to Kerwin Kaye, recent graduate of New York University’s Department of Social and Cultural Analysis, Program in American Studies (Advisor: Lisa Duggan), for being willing to be the first recent PhD to “point forward” for the rest of us.

Yeah, This Guy Wants to Hear about Your Dissertation

1) Nothing’s more popular right now than taking potshots at over-specialized, overstuffed, jargon-y academics.  Prove the haters wrong by describing your dissertation in terms that the average man in the street could understand.

I was interested in the way in which the idea of addiction gets operationalized by various people and programs, and wanted to see if there was a discrepancy in the ways that various people in the criminal justice and treatment communities, as well as drug users themselves, defined and understood their drug consumption.  So I hung out at a drug courtin New York City and at one of the treatment centers where the court refers participants.

At the court, I sat in on staff meetings and court sessions, interviewed judges, administrators, prosecuting and defense attorneys, case managers who worked for the court, and participants in the program. I also visited other courts to get a sense of comparison. At the treatment center, I similarly sat in on all aspects of the treatment process, further interviewing staff and administrators, as well as nearly 70 clients (and again, I visited other treatment programs to gain a sense of comparison). My central questions were: How was the “drug” problem defined? How did the court and the treatment program know that people were getting better? And what did treatment look like as a result? Continue reading →


Drugs and Discovery: An Early Modern Perspective, Part II

Editor’s Note: Last week historian Matthew Crawford argued against the overdetermined notions of “discovery” and “invention,” and called instead for a palimpsestic understanding of the plant-derived drugs that appeared courtesy of transatlantic encounters.  Today, he takes his thinking further, looking for the earliest–and persistent– traces of the presence of cinchona bark in the pharmacopoeias of the Amazon.

Peru Offers Chinchona Bark to "Science" (Guess Who's Who?)

Before 1820, when the alkaloid was isolated, quinine effectively did not exist. Instead, people had a drug known in Spanish as quina or “the Peruvian bark” in English. Quina was a term for the pulverized bark of the cinchona tree, native to the Andean forests of South America, that would be dissolved in water or wine and administered to patients suffering from intermittent fevers. It was from this bark that Pelletier and Caventou isolated quinine and other alkaloids. Quina was a product of the early modern Atlantic World. Europeans, probably Jesuit missionaries, first encountered the bark in the 1630s and 1640s and it became quite popular by the end of the seventeenth century.

One point of contention in the early history of qiuna is whether the indigenous people of the Americas knew about and used the bark before the arrival of Europeans. In our current context of the destruction of indigenous cultures, debates over intellectual property rights with regard to pharmaceuticals derived from ethnobotanical knowledge, and the long shadow cast by colonialism, the question of indigenous use of quina is highly politicized.  Continue reading →

Points Recommends: The Gift of Alcohol and Drug Fiction (and Memoir)

Editor’s Note: As we head into the holidays, the Points staff finds the spirit of the season is indeed upon us.  In other words, we’re all scrambling to wind up our semesters, get our classes ready for January, replace the bulbs in the twinkle lights, make a gingerbread replica of the Unabomber’s cabin, and–oh yeah– finish Christmas shopping.  Figuring that our loyal readers are in the same boat, we’ve compiled a few suggestions with recommendations for the drug and alcohol historians (or fans) on your lists.  Feel free to add your own greatest hits in the “comments” section.

The Thin Man (Knopf, 1934)

Caroline Acker:  I’ve taught Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man (Knopf, 1934) many times in my drug history courses. I think every single scene except one actively depicts an aspect of drinking or its effects; it is easy to discern a portrait of a late-stage (but functional!) alcoholic in Nick Charles.  As for drugs, Cain’s Book by Alexander Trocchi (Grove Press, 1960; rprt. 1993) and Saul’s Book by Paul T. Rogers  (Pushcart Press, 1983) offer gritty, compelling portraits of street addiction in New York. The better known Trainspotting (Irvine Welsh; Secker & Warburg, 1993) is wonderful experimental fiction.  Clarence L. Cooper, Jr.’s 1967 novel The Farm, (Crown, 1967; rprt. Old School Books/W.W. Norton, 1998) set in the Lexington Narcotic Hospital, contains some of the angriest but controlled prose I’ve ever read. Also highly experimental, it anticipates rap. Search it out and buy it for someone very dear to you—but read it before you give it!

Chuck Ambler: Chris Abani’s brilliant novel, Graceland (Picador, 2005) jumps back and forth between rural eastern Nigeria in the 1970s and Lagos in the early 1980s.  It follows a young man, Elvis, sunk in poverty when his dissolute father drags him to the slums and chaos of Africa’s mega-city.  There he pursues a meager career as an Elvis impersonator and finds himself a bit player in the emergence of Lagos as a processing and transshipment center in the global heroin trade.

Brian Herrera: Benjamin Alire-Saenz’s Last Night I Sang to the Monster (Cinco Puntos Press, 2009).  This young adult novel set in a rehab and detailing the unlikely friendship between a young addict and elder mentor is both poetic and powerful.

A Scanner Darkly (Ballantine, 1977)

David Herzberg:  Not all drug books are books about drugs. Some make little effort to convey genuine drug experiences or to make a point about drugs themselves, but still draw on drugs’ cultural power for other narrative or political purposes.  We know about the most famous manifestation of this:  anti-drug literature and films that sensationalize the horrors of addiction to demonize particular social groups. But drug warriors are hardly the only writers to “use” drugs for cultural creativity. Here are a few novels, somewhat randomly selected, in which drugs figure prominently–even crucially–in the narrative, but not necessarily realistically, in expected ways, or for predictable purposes.

  • China Miéville, Perdido Street Station (Macmillan, 2002).  The “manufacturer” of a drug turns out to be much, much more dangerous than the drug itself in this steampunk/fantasy novel.
  • Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections (Picador, 2002).  What if Aslan (yes, the magical lion from the C.S. Lewis series) was available from a major drug company in pill form? What would it be a symbol for? Only one way to find out!
  • Joan Didion, Play It As It Lays (Farrar, Strauss, 1970) and Jacqueline Susann, Valley of the Dolls (Bernard Geis, 1966).  Before Prozac, before Valium, there were barbiturates! And the women who took them. Check out an earlier decade’s take on America’s pill-popping culture:  Didion’s is beautifully written and depressing, Susann’s a guilty soap-opera pleasure.
  • Frank Herbert, Dune (Chilton, 1965).  A very different take on the 1960s dream of drugs changing the world by transforming consciousness. If you read it as sci fi back in the day, read it again as a book about drugs.
  • Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly (Ballantine, 1977).  About as uncomfortably realistic as whacked-out speculative science fiction gets. You’ll never guess who the real bad guys are in what may be the strangest anti-drug novel ever written.

Jesus' Son (Farrar, Strauss, 1992)

Amy Long: Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son paints the era’s preeminent portrait of the heroin addict as a young man in this empathetic but totally unflinching collection of interrelated short stories that trace their protagonist’s path toward an uneasy recovery. Prone to self-deprecating humor and poetic musings, the unnamed narrator of Jesus’ Son never fails to make me laugh out loud and fall in love, but Johnson’s pull-no-punches storytelling and dead-on depictions of depravity, desire, and desperation refuse sentimentality to ensure that the story is as believable as it is engaging. Give this to your hapless brother-in-law, your sister who can’t resist a charming cad, and any English majors in your family (seriously – the sentences are beautiful).

John Barleycorn (The Century Company, 1913)

Michelle McClellan: Jack London, John Barleycorn.  The prose is a delight no matter how many times I read it.  It cannot be easily categorized– autobiography? memoir? fiction?  It works so well in part because present-day readers may feel compelled to resolve the question of “is he or isn’t he an alcoholic?”– and can then ask themselves why it matters so much to diagnose him one way or the other.  Now almost a century old, it reads as both a document of its time and a contemporary depiction of a drinking life.

Trysh Travis: Ann Marlowe, How to Stop Time: Heroin from A-Z (Basic, 1999).  Ann Marlowe’s memoir is the addiction story that never gets told: a Harvard grad with an MBA from Columbia, from the late 1980s through the mid-’90s, she was a successful financial analyst and a recreational heroin user.  When she began to feel that her drug use was negatively affecting her life, she stopped using it without any drama whatsoever.  The book does an excellent job of narrating the pleasures of the drug and of the music scene with which it was intertwined in Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the late 1980s, and, more subtly, of interrogating what is now the culture’s standard narrative of drug use and abuse.  Full disclosure: for part of this time I lived in the same neighborhoods Marlowe did, went to the same clubs, and watched the same behaviors take over the lives of friends and acquaintances.  If I’d gotten an MBA instead of a PhD, would I be a trade author now?

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Coming this Thursday: Points recommends non-fiction gift books…

Freaky Friday: Documents: Chester Anderson’s “Uncle Tim’$ Children”

Editor’s Note:  Recent ponderings on the place of drugs in the Occupy Wall Street encampments, plus our ongoing engagement with all matters psychedelic, has led Points to think about the counterculture.  As Dr. Dave Smith, founder of the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, noted in a talk that we posted here a few months back, drug use and abuse was rampant in the high tide of the counterculture.  The steep human costs of that drug use are routinely omitted from that story–as is the fact that those costs were probably not distributed evenly, but fell disproportionately on the under-resourced and the young, on women and people of color.  Looking for some resistance to and critique of this destructive and predatory culture, we turned to Eric Noble’s online Digger Archives, an incredible resource for ’60s-era history.

For those not familiar with them, the Diggers (who appropriated their name from a 17th century British group of radical nonconformists) were a loosely organized anti-capitalist direct action organization active in the Haight between 1966-68.  Members of the Diggers served reclaimed food for free in Golden Gate Park, and were responsible for creating the Free Switchboard (which helped to locate resources for travelers passing through San Francisco), the Free Stores, and with Smith, the Free Clinic. 

Revolutionary Publishers (Digger Archives)

Less well-known is the Digger’s publishing project, the Communications Company (or ComCo), started by journalist Claude Hayward and novelist Chester Anderson.  An older (b. 1932) denizen of the Greenwich Village beat scene, Anderson was skeptical about many elements of the counterculture–commercialism and opportunism, predatory behavior, sex and gender politics–and he used the ComCo’s broadsides as vehicles for his criticisms.  Perhaps the most famous of these, a scathing commentary on the effects of the commercialized traffic in LSD on the social fabric of the Haight, is reprinted here.

ComCo Broadsheet, ca. May 1967

Pretty little 16-year-old middle class chick comes to the Haight to see what it’s all about & gets picked up by a 17-year-old street dealer who spends all day shooting her full of speed again & again, then feeds her 3000 mikes and raffles off her temporarily unemployed body for the biggest Haight Street gang bang since the night before last.

The politics & ethics of ecstasy.

Rape is as common as bullshit on Haight Street.

The Love Generation never sleeps.

The Oracle continues to recruit for this summer’s Human Shit-In, but the psychedelic plastic flower & god’s eye merchants, shocked by the discovery that increased population doesn’t necessarily guarantee increased profits at all, have invented the Council for a Summer of Love to keep us all from interfering with commerce. Continue reading →

Conference Details: Multidisciplinary Approaches to the Study of Religion and Plants, 15-17 December, 2011

Editor’s Note: Points readers who have followed our coverage this fall of ayahuasca, mushrooms, and other psychoactive plants will be excited to learn the details of the first annual conference sponsored by the Working Group on Plants and Religion at the University of Florida, which will take place next week (15-17 Dec.).  As we noted in an earlier post, two eminent Latin American scholars will grace this conference.  The keynote address, “Legal Issues in the Ritual Use of Ayahuasca in Brazil,” by Professor Edward MacRae of the Federal University of Bahia, Brazil, will be at 4:30 on Thursday the 15th in 219 Anderson Hall.  Beatriz Caiuby Labate, currently of the University of Heidelberg, will be present to offer questions and comments at all the sessions, and will lead the plenary on the morning of Saturday the 17th.  The complete schedule of conference events is available here.

Conference Participants Include:

Benjamin Hebblethwaite   Assistant Professor of Haitian Creole, Haitian & Francophone Studies, Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, University of Florida.

Bron Taylor   Professor of Religion, University of Florida.  Bron Taylor is the editor of Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture, and an active contributor to the Encyclopedia of Religion & Nature and The International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture.

Growing Stories (U. Press of Kentucky, 2009)

Whitney Sanford   Associate Professor of Religion, University of Florida.  Dr. Sanford teaches and researches two main areas: Religion and Nature, and Religions of Asia.  She focuses on environmental movements of the global South and religious attitudes towards agricultural sustainability.  She will discuss her recent book Growing Stories from India: Religion and the Fate of Agriculture.

Christopher A. Wright
Independent Scholar of religions and professional photographer.  Mr. Wright holds an M.A. in Religion from  Hartford Seminary and did his doctoral thesis research on Mesoamerican art of the sacred, at University of Montreal.  A survivor of a Mucopolysaccharidosis (also known as Morquio’s Disease), a rare genetic disorder that affects all weight-bearing joints, Dr. Wright has long been an advocate of the use of cannabis sativa for medicinal purposes. Continue reading →

Johnnie Carson on “African (Drug) Issues”

Heeere's Johnnie!

In a recent talk on “African Issues” and US policy on those issues, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Ambassador Johnnie Carson, chose to conclude by stressing the growing challenge of drug trafficking in Africa.  Having discussed democratization, having covered all of the regional hot spots and having emphasized hot-button topics such as HIV AIDS, malaria, and lagging agricultural production, Carson turned his attention to a topic that he reminded his audience would not have been included on his list of “African problems” a decade or even five years ago.  Addressing a large audience at the African Studies Association meeting in Washington in mid-November, Carson, who has had a long career at State and was formerly Ambassador to Kenya, Zimbabwe and Uganda, reminded fellow Africanists that a claimed 40% of illicit drugs interdicted in Europe had passed through West Africa.  What is a major issue for Europe and the USA must therefore become a major issue for Africa.

"Africa Confidential," UNODC

All of the focus on Guinea Bissau as the first African narcostate (a topic that I addressed in an earlier blog post) has tended to distract us—according to Carson—from a much broader and growing pattern of drug trafficking throughout Africa.  Although Guinea Bissau may provide a dramatic tale of high level politicians in the thrall of global drug lords gunning each other down in the ramshackle capital of a marginal state, the drug trade routes run through virtually every West African country and certainly through Sénégal, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and especially Nigeria—which has been a nexus of trafficking and drug gangs that spread across five continents through networks that reach across the Indian Ocean as well as the Atlantic.  Unsurprisingly, Carson made the case for US official support for efforts in African countries to combat the trade.  Again unsurprisingly, he talked exclusively about the need to provide moral, material and training support to the USA’s African allies in a global war on drugs. Continue reading →

Drugs and Discovery: An Early Modern Perspective, Part I

Editor’s Note: Historian of the early modern transatlantic world Matthew Crawford  discussed the concept of “disturbance pharmacopoeias” in a post for Points a few weeks ago.  Today, in the first of a two-part post, he makes an argument for a palimpsestic understanding of the drugs “discovered” in the contact period.

Are drugs discovered or invented? The question is not as simple as it seems. To say that drugs are discovered is to treat them as a part of a natural world where they were simply waiting for the right person – usually a scientist – to reveal their existence.  To say that drugs are invented is to treat them as an artifact made by humans.  In the case of plant-based or plant-derived drugs, they would appear to be both discovered and invented.  That is to say that a human agent uses scientific and technological artifice to

Chloroplasts--Discovered, then Manipulated

identify and isolate a small piece of the natural world — a root or a molecule– that produces a desired physiological or psychoactive effect.  But this is only the beginning. That tiny piece of the seemingly infinite diversity of the natural world then acquires meaning to human communities through social and cultural artifice, as noted by recent scholarship showing that drugs are not reducible solely to their chemical properties and physical effects.

Regarding plant-derived drugs, it may not seem appropriate, at first, to treat such drugs as inventions. After all, isn’t it much more “natural” to harvest, dry and smoke the parts of a plant – say Cannabis for example – than to create a purely “artificial” drug – like methamphetamine – through chemistry? I would argue that both kinds of drugs are inventions and artifacts. After all, it takes a lot of work to transform a plant part into a drug – or at least, humans tend to put a lot of work transforming plant parts into drugs. Continue reading →