Addiction – loss of body and soul

Pierre Noaille, Ph.D

Addiction seems to be quite a seductive word.


Addiction seems to be quite a seductive word. To start with, judging by the way the notion of addiction as it is used in North American psychiatry has made its mark in institutional healthcare settings (psychiatry and specialized addiction clinics) in France in the 1990s, it appears to have become an integral part in no time, without having provoked the slightest reflection or questioning,despite theoretical, psychopathological or clinical uncertainty which often weakens the use of this reference[1].

Similarly, the word has conquered the cultural arena just as quickly and is now happily circulating in informal discourse, defining a recognized contemporary disease that we adopt willingly in all its wonderful shapes and colors. However, it also comes with semantic inflections that deserve closer attention. Addictive can also designate an attractive quality. In a notable reversal from the use of the primitive expression substance abuse, a reference to addiction is no longer associated with danger, but acquires a seductive quality intended to increase the value of many goods in the commercial economy. Proscription becomes prescription. Bottles of perfume, television series and pastries, for example, are called “addictive” in order to make them more desirable.

Can we ignore that words have an actual meaning? It is at least that which analysis teaches, with the conviction that, what the words that present themselves to us are saying depends a lot on the attention that is given to them. Addiction is, in my opinion, among those words that arrive noisily[2] and insistently. Its echo chamber is not the animated body of an analysis session – the word is hardly used in that context – but the very space of the social body to which I think it belongs even though it may seem less animated. What attention do we pay to this insistence? It seems to represent an excess all in itself – Freud calls it drive or sexual, and when treated, it determines “our fitness for civilization”, the result of “cultural work” –  that the addictive montage is intended to conjure up, in its own way, in other words by highlighting its radical notion.
Here are a few impressions resulting from an acted out dream[3]: the exacerbated drama of a Teknival, the excessive form of the Rave[4] party. These are large, regularly organized gatherings around music in remote locations – and even better often illegal venues – attended by several tens of thousands of so-called ravers, which have become cultural events. Without a doubt a matter of traumatophilia. That is where[5] I discovered a dreamlike theater just as vast as the space that sets the scene for the spirit of addiction to come to life, orchestrated as if in open air. There we find a true devotion to cult rituals, which seems to be the ideal fashionable thing to do these days: auto-engenderment, supported by a set of prosthetic solutions. The aversion to roundabout ways and the need for instant gratification rule the universe of sensory pleasure:[6] recourse to the “chemical method,” which has been established as the norm, is complemented by envelopment in a music that has become “sound” and accompanied by an implicit exclusion of conversation[7]. In contrast, the throbbing rhythm of an infinite sea of solitary bodies seems to complete the concept of a great totemic party in search of a real totem.

Sebastian is a young raver who came before me, destroyed by 48 hours of uninterrupted raving and the quantity and variety of psychotropic substances that he had swallowed up to that point. An overwhelming fear of death brought him to the tents of Doctors of the World. It took about 45 minutes of rest in my presence in a space a little to the side, a light anti-anxiety drug, and extensive and aggressive questioning of myself for a real conversation to happen during at least part of the night[8]. Sebastian seems to have recovered some semblance of his own self. At 23 years of age, he has an impressive portfolio of random violent behavior and uncontrolled multiple drug use. And here he goes again, involved in an ordeal that he only knows too well: the use of ecstasy or cocaine often causes spasmophilic symptoms in him which translate into great difficulties, if not a brief moment of not being able to breathe. Among the fragile points of reference that seem to connect him to his existence, a project takes shape in his conversation, linked to the figure of a tireless father. He tells me about it with convincing sincerity and disconcerting transparency. Without showing the least sign of emotion, other than a brief troubled look, perhaps giving away the obscure awareness that he may be on the razor’s edge of his own truth, he says: “I have planned to kill a politician for some time now.”
Too much presence, too much reality. In the addictive behavior that is taking hold of him, the psyche does not want to respond to the absence of the other, the object. The origin of his torment is much rather an absence that is struggling to show itself, the excess of presence of another that is not absent enough. The void of a sufficiently admissible loss, represented as an absence, is fertile ground for attacks against “political father figures” and the associated violent behavior. It shows itself in the context of multiple representations with indefinite variations and occurrences, in a theater that is said to be interior in that it becomes lined with otherness[9]. This mediation, the always singular commedia del arte of fantasy, is in operation as it gives shape and sense to our shapeless primitive violence, achieving precious accommodation – as the double entendre suggests – specific to the work of the imagination that makes castration conceivable; or, in other words, giving up our childish demands in exchange for the omnipotence of desire. This is how our inner life is said to take shape: through the success of an in-between state caused by the loss of the first body that is never lost, “that which connects us to our mother by rendering her absent.”[10]

Seemingly responding to an urge which has turned into pure trauma, the space of addictive functioning[11] finds its place in the eclipse of such a mediation, the loss of credit given to that fragile place, our inner life. Loss of credit given to the representations of our guardians whose quality is supposed to mobilize the wandering dramatization of that “faraway interior” year in and year out, as Michaux has already pointed out much more accurately. Freud talks about “faithful waiting” in order to qualify the attitude towards the relationship with such figures[12]. The addictive behavior is indicative of a psyche that is pushed to “autocracy” (Ibid.) in the context of the collapse of such a belief, when it becomes painful to realize that it is “under the primacy of the other” to the point of having to consider healing itself and by itself; a moment of deaf narcissistic depression[13] which suggests a breakdown[14] during the psychological process.
The opening of our psychological theater these days – like the world of dreams – is nevertheless part of a cultural piece of work that is constantly renewed. If the shaping of a body has a psychological price that everyone’s intimacy is paying on credit – the burden of guilt, debt, the weight of absence… – its development requires the support of another body, the presence of another psychological body on the world stage that cautions this, our world, in which the sky is empty, ever so slightly, and plenty of promises for the conquest of desire. The individual psychological body and social body cannot be separated in the evolution of their particular history and economy. The cultural work is included as much as it includes them, as a product and agent, in each of the individual psychological elaborations.

This addictive economy deafly inflicts violence upon this indistinctly collective and individual economy. Its acts, by way of suspending an economy based on desire and manufacturing a body that thrives on auto-engenderment, thus excluding its representation in the relationship with others, refreshes the most violent aspect of violence: a silent disassociation. As is the case with many repeated exiles, each of the various addictive solutions thus attacks the balance of the flawed human fabric, which feeds the erotic link through a continuous grouping of the economy of desire. The destiny of a body follows that of all the others in the exercise of this art of living together that we call culture. It seems, however, that the latter has to deal with the entropy distilled by the deregulation of the relationship of objects from which addiction is derived.
What to make of the dominating principles that currently guide the social response with regard to the phenomenon of addiction, where the biological body, medication and behavioral issues largely prevail? Thus, giving us a glimpse of the effects of the same autocracy that presides over the spread of addiction. Remedy and illness are in such alignment that their complicity favors the entropic diffusion of the phenomenon, to the point that holding on to its only principles based on a refusal to recognize the humanity of addictive suffering, even ignored by itself, the risk is in fact that the act of the fireman who wants to extinguish the fire by pouring gas on it is reproduced.
Addiction could also become the standard bearer for the implicit human reasoning which is supported by the prevailing ideology. Should we speak of a modern human being – like the neurosis that derives from the same name – to designate the one who agrees, doubtless in the hope of finding relief from himself, to become a kind of machine according to whose logic pleasure and suffering no longer deal with those who give us psychological life, and tend to be nothing more than a matter of scientific molecular doses and behavioral reeducation? The “augmented human being” and transhumanism are not that far off, if their attempt to make mankind the only author and producer of itself puts its intelligence toward the manufacturing of a controlled prosthetic body, depriving it from access to rest, and tragically, a private space.
This word addiction which is so fashionable in the streets of our cities as well as in the hallways of the institutions – let’s dream it like the repeated scream of the body of a persevering Eros, the “eternal” Eros that Freud himself dreamed of, an enlightened man, still with some uncertainties in 1929 (Civilization and Its Discontents). Even so, his dream did not do away with the “follies of mankind” that he examined in his study of behavior of the ego in order to prevent psychotic rupture, by agreeing to “make amends with its unity (…) by distorting itself (…) eventually even by cracking.”[15] Separation from the body: the contemporary folly of addiction could be a way to avoid losing our senses even more, by falling into a psychotic state. Separation, but with a purpose – and moving toward which figure by the way?[16] Let us dream that addiction thus asks us to listen to each other and our power to act.
[1]M.-M. Jacquet and A. Rigaud, “Emergence of the notion of addiction: phychoanalytical to psychiatric classifications,” Addictions, Dir. S. Le Poulichet, P.U.F., 2000.
[2]In photography “noise” refers to interference that deteriorates image quality.
[3]“A dream that updates itself within the dream world limits the acting out of dreams in the social sphere" (M. Khan, “The ability to dream”, Nouvelle revue de psychanalyse, n°5, Gallimard, 1972.
[4]In English rave refers to the idea of rambling, being delirious, being in a state of ecstasy.
[5]Participating in the rave mission in Paris by Médecins du Monde (Doctors of the World), in a “reassurance pool” designated to help certain Teknival participants experiencing various kinds of “bad trips.”
[6]Sensory pleasure “assumed to be thoughtful” (P. Aulagnier, The destinies of pleasure. Alienation - love – passion, P.U.F. 1984).
[7]Besides the fact that it is practically impossible to talk to each other in an environment saturated by sound, one of the principles of techno music is to separate vocal sequences.
[8]From the Latin conversariconversatio: live with; stay or live somewhere. The words are building blocks, they do not just “touch [us] remotely” (as emphasized by A. Green who recaptured M. Merleau-Ponty), the space of connection that they create by addressing an absence becomes a habitat.
[9]Represent – the work of a psychological representation essentially inviting the other person to come into our space. 
[10]J.-B. Pontalis thus sheds light on the intermediary shape of the dream world (« The penetration of the dream”, Between dream and pain, Tel Gallimard, 1977).
[11]Space of functioning limits more or less circumscribed or extensively, depending on the case, the psychological economy of the subject. Cf. P. Noaille, “Substance abuse as a borderline state” in Anorexia, narcissistic and fragile addictionsOuv.coll., P.U.F., Petite bibliothèque de psychanalyse, 2001.
[12]“Treatment of the soul” (1890), Results, ideas, problems, P.U.F. 1988.
[13]This singular state of a psyche that is pushed to live “affection of alteration” is for P. Fédida a “primordial” depression (“It takes two to heal,” The benefits of depression. Praise of psychotherapy, Odile Jacob, 2001).
[14]D. Winnicott, “The fear of a breakdown,”Nouvelle revue de psychanalyse, n°11, Gallimard, 1975.
[15]”Neurosis and psychosis” (1924), Neurosis, psychosis and perversion, P.U.F., 1985.
[16]In Latin etymology addictio - addicere means to award somebody to somebody else, slavery for debt; and in old French, addiction means: giving your body for an unpaid debt. 

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