This chapter brings the prior discussion of Benjamin's articles on the responsibilities of the writer in the production of social change to compare with his writings on hashish as standing for a different form of radical engagement. Although the productionist essays of the mid-1930s postdate the hashish protocols whose conclusions they might thereby appear to eclipse, this chapter argues that the earlier writings remain a key part of Benjamin's broadened platform for a transformational aesthetics. Their relevance as examples of a revolutionary approach to writing lies in the experiential depth with which they advance a tradition of drug literature and in the exceptional intimacy they bring to determining a model for an open encounter with the world. Their success at re-engaging the flâneur with a realm of reflection uncolonised by consumption shows Benjamin experimentally revisiting the problematic conditions confronting artists that are detailed in the earlier Baudelaire chapter. It is in these senses that the indeterminacy of the hashish writings offers a corrective to the rigorous conditions for engagement set out in the essays on Soviet and French Communist writing. At times the hashish protocols stand as experimental enactments of principles set out in Benjamin's writings on Surrealism, with which they are contemporaneous.
The chapter on Nietzsche provides initial examples of how the experience of intoxication frequently marks radical thought. Allusion to ecstatic states in such a context represent a wilful fall from equilibrium into uncertainty, as Bataille's real-life enactment of Nietzschean principles shows. References to ecstatic states are found in left and right-wing political texts which address social transformation. Ecstatic images serve Gottfried Benn and Ernst Jünger in reflecting on German National Socialist conditions, while Aragon and Benjamin use hallucinatory imagery as one facet of an ambivalent engagement with Communism. Most conspicuously, Benjamin's writing often uses the narratives of dream states, revelatory experiences, and drug trances as if they might be catalysts for revolutionary experience. This chapter considers the nature of intoxication in relation to some early twentieth-century political radicalisms, with particular scrutiny of Benjamin's writings on hashish experiences.
If it is at all possible to note some outcome from these experiences, some way they can be taken as productive in enabling Benjamin's grasp of the world, this will probably depend on establishing what is different about these intoxications when compared with narratives of ecstasy of opposing ideologies. It is asked if Benjamin's accounts of intoxication reveal an alternative to more familiar definitions of avant-garde action; that is, whether they avoid the plight of an aggressively insurgent avant-garde which is inevitably recuperated by the cultural institutions to which it is opposed. If so, then this inquiry could attempt to define what is effective and non-recuperable about the oppositional character of intoxication. Several concerns immediately come to mind. If the positions taken up in these accounts can be seen as subversive then is this due to the properties of those particular intoxications (heightened sensory responses, insights and reflections) as experiences without conventional issue, or due to the kinds of engagement opened up to an intoxicated person? Heightened sensory experience typifies intoxication but does its evaluation rely on a legacy of earlier accounts of intoxication rather than on new criteria? And finally, how is it possible to quantify the liberatory component of heightened sensory experience when its revolutionary outcome is so indeterminate?
Yet intoxication qualifies much political writing of the time, as if in rapture with the urgency of transformation, and may serve as a kind of counterweight to the disciplinary rigour and focus of political radicalism. Such adjustment will not be be the same for all political tendencies for which the haptic experience of intoxication may serve very different ends. I will ultimately be discussing Benjamin's writings from the late 1920s to early 1930s (at a time when they share interests with Surrealist writing) to consider his definitions of intoxicated ‘illumination' as a compensation, and perhaps redemption for revolutionary initiatives that became ineffective or altogether suppressed. I will begin however, with a brief survey of some nineteenth and twentieth-century pharmacological accounts, from which certain motifs reappear in the later narratives. In terms of relating the history of narratives of intoxication to the avant-garde issues under consideration, it will primarily be the nineteenth and early twentieth-century accounts discussed here.
In the historical encyclopedias and pharmacological glossaries, intoxication tends to be described as the unproductive outcome of a non-medical application of hashish. In these early accounts the medical benefits of hashish are acclaimed but its psychomimetic effects are only described as an intriguing aberration, though only rarely with disapproval. The 1856 and 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica entries for hemp provide examples of this tendency. The earlier of the two, with racist perspective, notes the effects of hashish on African bushmen to include "inebriation and delirium of decidedly hilarious character, inducing violent laughter, jumping and dancing". The more considered, later account describes the effects as "highly pleasurable" with "a subjective sensation of mental brilliance…not borne out by the objective results". A early study of intoxicants, James Johnston's The Chemistry of Common Life, is conscientious enough to quote at length from those who have had first hand encounters with hashish, even though cumulatively this serves as a list of the symptoms of intoxication rather than a key to any possible impact it may have. William O'Shaughnessy who conducted pioneering clinical experiments with hashish on severely ill patients in India is quoted here on the catalepsy that overcame heavy users and "the great mental cheerfulness" that characterises moderate use. Jacques-Joseph Moreau, an early experimenter is quoted "‘It is really happiness which is produced by the haschisch; and by this I mean an enjoyment entirely moral, and by no means sensual, as might be supposed…For the haschisch-eater is happy…like him who hears tidings which fill him with joy…'" (Johnston, 1855, 114).
The transformative potential of drug hallucination is more explicitly addressed by nineteenth-century travellers, artists and writers experimenting with hallucinogens and describing the visionary effects in such detail as to begin to constitute an aesthetic of intoxication. Théophile Gautier's Club des Hashischins, published in the Revue des Deux Mondes on February 1, 1846 is written as a kind of Gothic entertainment, with hyperbole as literary style. The context is a caricature of Edgar Allen Poe's Paris where almost immediately we are told "the night was black"(Gautier, 1996) with a thick fog obscuring whatever might have remained visible. Into this setting is introduced the "somber" venue with ludicrously anachronistic furnishings. Within the structure of this story, organised into chapters, is an architecture of circles of intoxication which run the gamut of sensual experience. The narrative is less reflective than a celebration of a self-gratifying bourgeois recreation (an opinion he held in common with Baudelaire) emphasising the attainment of an extremity of pleasure. It shares some motifs with other classic hashish accounts, in particular with regard to the drag on time where minutes pass in slow increments, and in Gautier's experience of fading into his surroundings:"…I myself melted into the objects I regarded; I became that very object" (Gautier, 1996). Even though from the start Gautier is "lost" in the experience he views this as a lapse from normal life, to which he expects to return at the end, no different from when he started. Though Gautier draws no conclusions from this experience there are references to quasi-religious transports—"This will be deducted from your share in Paradise" (Gautier, 1996)—yet which offer no anticipation of profane aspects that would anticipate the Surrealists.
Another historical account that deserves notice is John Bell's "On the Haschisch or Cannabis Indica", an unusually precise analysis of personal experiences conducted in the course of trying to find an application for hashish in the treatment of mental illness. Bell gives a vivid realisation of the intoxication in terms of the surge of images he can only helplessly register: "The painful attempt to regulate these disturbed states of consciousness, was soon given up, and, half voluntarily, half by a species of moral compulsion, the whole psychical nature surrendered itself, without further struggle, to the fullest and most complete belief in the actual existence of a thousand hallucinations…The firmest intentions were forgotten in an instant. There seemed to be no difference between the idea and the expression of it in words. A moment was enough to forget whether it had been expressed or not" (Bell, 1857). He notes importantly that he remained entirely aware of what was happening to him and was able to analyse the trance. His memory of the experience was generally unimpaired, though primarily only of the most salient images. The intoxication in these historical accounts usually results in benign rapture with the world. There is not the sense of a relentless consumption of phenomena, of an explicitly sensuous relation to the environment, that marks some nineteenth-century narratives of the city (like Edgar Allen Poe's "The Man in the Crowd") or which might anticipate the Surrealists' voracious assimilation of their surroundings. Much more the case is the narrator at ease within an intoxicated world, a state familiar from most of Benjamin's accounts, although as will be shown, he indicates varying outcomes.
There is one other example of drug intoxication that is of value here even though chronologically it falls long after Benjamin's experiments. Octavio Paz's commentary, accompanying Henri Michaux's own accounts of mescaline experiences undertaken in the late 1950s to early 1960s, provides illuminating definitions of intoxication with traits that correspond to Benjamin's conclusions. In particular Michaux, and subsequently Paz, are interested in developing ways to describe the affirmative experience under intoxication of the loss of subjectivity and of the characteristic sense that time consists of the sustained experience of instantaneity. Subjectivity is lost in the wake of hallucination prising experience free from meaning: "All [Michaux's] efforts have been directed at reaching that zone, by definition indescribable and incommunicable, in which meanings disappear" (Paz, 2000, 258). Rather than enabling Michaux to explore mescaline, Paz wonders whether it isn't more the case of the writer being explored by the drug (Paz, 2000, 259). His face is obliterated and on returning appears utterly vacated. "The poet saw his inner space in outer space. The shift from the inside to the outside—and outside that is interiority itself, the heart of reality. A horrible, ineffable spectacle. Michaux can say: I left my life behind to catch a glimpse of life" (Paz, 2000, 259). The second series of Michaux's experiments induces more devastating visions of the destruction and splitting apart of the self where the experience is of dazzling lights that penetrate the body and form extravagant fantasy structures: "But we have lost our footing. We have lost consciousness of footholds, of our members and organs, of the regions of our body, which has ceased to matter, fluid in the midst of fluids. We have lost our home. We have become eccentric, decentered from the self" (Michaux, 2000, 254). Though a more extreme hallucination, and impossible to reflect on in the way that hashish allows, these experiences amplify the tendency Benjamin notes as he attempts to acknowledge otherwise indiscernible secular forces in the everyday world. This is closely related to the intoxication of the everyday, intoxication with literature, with leisure, with oneself, which he emphasises in the 1929 essay "Surrealism".
The ecstatic states of mental transport, the loss of subjectivity and subsequent intense identification with the external world, along with the sense of continuous instantaneity in place of duration—these are conditions of extreme intoxication, at least as evidenced by the kind of drug experiences under discussion. Also notable is the condition of benignity, of being at home in the world, brought on by hashish. In the early accounts such qualities tend to have been experienced and appreciated for their own sake, as non-productive ecstatic encounters. It is a different outcome though when such characteristics are amplified through political intentions. An initial discussion of ways in which the Surrealists developed the characteristics of intoxication to inform their left-wing political objectives will continue with Benjamin's experiences and conclude with an account of right-wing intoxications. Both in terms of the drug and in terms of the politics it illuminates, there are distinctions made between intoxications. The passivity of language and engagement marking Benjamin's hashish states is, for example, at an extreme remove from the relentless drives of Benn's temporary embrace of fascist rhetoric and Jünger's militant feudal imagery.
Surrealism serves as a particularly appropriate example here for a number of reasons. It is the twentieth-century avant-garde movement on which Benjamin focuses one of his most important critical essays where key aspects of avant-garde agency are given extensive treatment. Besides writing on Bertolt Brecht, whose Epic Theatre he took as an irrefutable instance of effective revolutionary praxis, Benjamin did not acclaim the transformative potential of other examples of contemporary art to the extent that he did with Surrealism. Indicating his intentions in the full title of the essay "Surrealism: The Last Snapshot of the European Intelligentsia", Benjamin recognises this potential to be ebbing, going on to argue that the Surrealists are in danger of seeing their revolution submerge beneath the "unprincipled, dilettantish optimism" of distracting intoxications (Benjamin, 1999, [ii], 216). Under Breton's leadership, the Surrealists' efforts to reconcile anarchic tendencies of revolt with organised insurrection are an enlightened attempt to realise early Russian avant-garde goals which gradually become sacrificed under the Bolsheviks to a repressive revolutionary conformity. By the end of the 1920s the remaining Surrealists are Communist Party members trying to achieve the kind of reconciliation of independent aesthetic research and organised politics that the Party found paradoxical. This struggle is mirrored in Benjamin's own writings if we compare the extremes of the hashish protocols (disengaged from orthodox critique), with those more didactic essays influenced by Brecht, such as "Author as Producer". This focus is further justified by the close parallels between Benjamin's "Hashish in Marseilles", of 1932, and Aragon's Paris Peasant. Even though in "Surrealism" Benjamin cites Aragon as a key source for his enthusiasm and insights, it is not until the later Marseilles essay that he addresses Paris Peasant in kind.
Orthodox Communist thinking about political effectiveness sets out strict parameters for appropriate revolutionary behaviour and cultural production. Soviet and French Communist texts which in the 1920s and 1930s sought to determine the relationship between political action and culture were increasingly severe on artists whose work could not immediately be applied to political or economic ends. Breton's intense disappointment with the French Communist Party illustrates such pressures. In 1934, nearing a complete severance of discussions with senior Communists, he publishes a collection of essays titled Break of Day. One of these, "In Self-Defense", launches diatribe at the Party's efforts to circumscribe politically relevant action. Henri Barbusse becomes a target on account of valuing only a proletarian audience for L'Humanité, the Communist Party newspaper he edits. For L'Humanité Breton feels nothing but scorn. His hurt comments nevertheless reveal the level of doctrinaire proselytising that the Surrealists found so stultifying: "[L'Humanité] puerile, bombastic, needlessly cretinizing — is unreadable as a newspaper and completely worthless in its self-appointed role as educator to the masses. Behind those quickly scanned articles, which focus so tightly on current events that they leave no room for the larger picture, which scream at the top of their lungs about specifics, which present Russia's admirable difficulties as so many insane joyrides, which discourage any extrapolitical activities other than sports, which glorify unsatisfying jobs, and which heap abuse on common-law prisoners, it is impossible not to sense an extreme weariness on the part of those who foist them on us, a secret resignation to what exists, as well as a desire to keep the reader in a state of generous illusion—and with the least possible effort to boot" (Breton, 1999, 25). Revolutionary doctrine mandated disciplined political and economic organisation with specific propagandising support from artists and writers. In his early 1930s essays like "The Author as Producer", Benjamin himself provided such support in formulating the responsibilities of the activist writer and indicating the kind of revolutionary awakening which a work of art might induce. The earlier delicately articulated formulations, indirectly advocating an intense sensory engagement with materiality as a more oblique kind of political subversion, give way to instrumental stipulations for relevant writing. Since this latter tendency of Benjamin's is discussed in the previous chapter it will be provided with just enough of an outline here to give perspective to the hashish protocols.
John McCole explains how Benjamin's interest in Brecht develops from the latter's early espousal of an anarchic delinquent type as prototype anti-bourgeois revolutionary (McCole, 1993, 197-8). Brecht uses the romantic decadent tradition of Rimbaud for revolutionary ends that would establish a clean slate, free of traces of traditional culture and values. At this level such strategies would seem to link Benjamin's interest in Brecht with his support for the Surrealists. Yet in relation to both he develops a different kind of dialectical programme which would enable revolutionary potential. The Surrealists are to galvanise revolutionary action through the energies of intoxication whose dialectic of a world viewed as intoxicated in its very sobriety brings about the transformation where freedom can be unreservedly enjoyed. Returning to McCole's account, Benjamin is described as seeing that the "complement to Brecht's liquidationist vision was a constructive practice that aimed, as far as his literary practice could, to help the producers take things over for themselves…" (McCole, 1993, 199).
Epic theatre is primarily to teach the audience how to begin to take control of their circumstances, in particular their work. Brecht's achievement in the theatre parallels Soviet achievements in broadening access to publication through worker participation in newspaper writing. In Benjamin's view, both have changed the technology of their medium to convert it into a revolutionary one. In "The Author as Producer" Benjamin doesn't begin to acknowledge limitations to such revolutionary potential under the clearly repressive conditions of the Soviet Union. However, McCole's account of Brecht's and Benjamin's differences concerning the limitations of a use-value to art helps to explain why Benjamin persistently turned to intoxication for alternatives to Soviet and German authoritarian limitations on experience and action. With evidence all around of the failure of European left-wing initiatives in the 1930s, it was questionable whether the narrow focus of Brecht's "revolutionary use-value" for culture (which dismissed any alternative speculation on agency) was any more than historically idealistic. Yet it is not just the image-realm of the past towards which Benjamin deviates in order to expand the horizon for socially effective work. Hashish is evidently a means of opening up a present-day image-realm to greater intimacy and revelation. Perhaps the solitary nature of the experience recounted in ‘Hashish in Marseilles' shows how far away from acceptable left-wing practice Benjamin has actually ventured.
In spite of the reverses to Surrealism's momentum caused by its unworkable alliance with the Communist Party, the recourse to languages of intoxication continues among its members and among its breakaway groups right through the 1930s. For all his reservations about the Surrealists' willingness and ability to forgo the seductions of impetuous revolt, Benjamin is himself reluctant to leave behind the allure of his own preferred intoxicants: language, hashish, sense experience and the pleasure he takes in his own rather anti-productionist observations. The estimation Benjamin places on the capability of sensory pleasure to manifest insurrectionary potential, continues throughout the 1930s even though interrupted by the severe revolutionary logic of essays like "The Author as Producer". In those more politically instrumental essays, Benjamin works towards the kind of knowledge that might produce a revelation stimulating productive action. This is quite different from the hashish essays which record undirected pleasure and sensory acuity as means to revelations of ambiguous outcome. Like the attention he pays to Surrealism's "profane illumination" as operating to subvert religious experience, his own incandescent insights function as a profane correction to Communist instrumentalism and serve as a kind of subversive commentary on the privations of commitment. Benjamin's hashish protocols, the narratives of his drug experiments, also serve here as an assessment of Surrealist accounts like Aragon's Paris Peasant and Breton's 1924 Manifesto of Surrealism where a state of entrancement stands as an individual revolt anticipating wider revolution.
What is understood here by intoxication? In "Surrealism" Benjamin means it in a broad sense as deriving from an intensification of everyday experiences, such as reading, reflection, and idling, all of them "static", conventionally introspective activities, and not automatically linked to revolutionary action. Benjamin acclaims these as alternative experiences to hashish and reiterates Surrealist claims that revolutionary action must be built on a life whose most ordinary pursuits are also imbued with equivalent fervour. If this kind of everyday intoxication is a protest against counterproductive inactivity it is also a revolt against the demands of those expecting antagonistic action to precipitate radical social change. At the same time it sets out more specific expectations than anything issuing contemporaneously from Benjamin's own indeterminate hashish protocols. These latter are usually unrevised, sporadically uttered accounts of trance experiences which only find an equivalent in some other artist narratives, like those Michaux writes later on about mescaline. In this sense they run against the grain of earlier intoxication narratives which usually organise events into a coherent sequence and often draw improbable ethical conclusions.
Yet in the 1929 essay Benjamin criticises hashish as a less effective intoxicant for failing to provide the "profane illumination" that he makes a cornerstone of the Surrealist political understanding. Here, profane illumination gives us what religion cannot: a rootedness in materialist experience which, as the obverse of religious restraint, forms a dialectic of ecstatic agency. Only the more lucid states of transport can enable this experience and not the driftings under hashish which for Benjamin only offer glimpses through the curtain of debilitating religious mystification but no secure material grounding from which to dissolve it. Besides its other goals, the 1929 essay is a running critical commentary on hashish enthusiasm, in some sense compensating for Benjamin's discernible bewilderment in the protocols at the unpredictable discontinuities of drug experiments: "And the most passionate investigation of the hashish trance will not teach us half as much about thinking (which is eminently narcotic) as the profane illumination of thinking will teach us about the hashish trance" (Benjamin, 1999, [ii], 216).
Benjamin concludes his cautionary essay on Surrealism with a most startling anti-humanist image, a kind of hallucination in itself. Displacing its face, the Surrealists see only an alarm clock that is permanently ringing its revolutionary bell. This is a dialectical image issuing from the "bad" hallucinations sometimes experienced by Benjamin. There could not be a less soporific, more single-minded outcome of a trance and would seem to be the willed materialist illumination that plays secular advocate to the "satanic knowledge" of an earlier hashish encounter.
This earlier occurrence is related in "Main Features of My Second Impression of Hashish" from 1928 where the staccato nature of the writing and specificity of recalled language suggests that Benjamin is transcribing notes written during his trance. There is a strong sense of oppression in this account with the description of the claustrophobic red room undergoing metamorphosis to match each shift in Benjamin's mood. He imagines that the next room has served as the setting for disconnected historical events. The trance induces a ludic helplessness in the face of the present that anticipates what becomes overwhelming in Benjamin's story of the angel of history from one of the twenty sections of "Theses on the Philosophy of History" written in 1940. In the first sections of that essay Benjamin states the urgency of the reclamation of history for the present. Insisting that we are to take our own responsibility for the preservation of history, he predicts that without attention by historians to the true account of the past, even the dead will become material for fascist revisionism: "For every image of the past that is not recognised by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably" (Benjamin, 1968, 255).
These anxieties echo a memorable hallucination appearing in the 1928 trance where Benjamin compares the comfortable privacy of the cave-like room with an enveloping web that he has no desire to leave: "it is rather like being wrapped up, enclosed in a dense spider's web in which the events of the world are scattered around, suspended there like the bodies of dead insects sucked dry" (Benjamin, 1999, [ii], 86). The 1940 essay lends urgency to what in the hashish protocol remains an understated relation between the image of dessicated bodies and the emptiness Benjamin perceives in the hallucinated historical events: "The objects are merely mannequins; even the great moments of world history are merely costumes beneath which they exchange understanding looks with nothingness, the base, and the commonplace" (Benjamin, 1999, [ii], 85-6).
In the 1940 reflections, his anxiety for history concerns the need to inhibit this kind of evacuation where events have become empty abstractions, open to manipulation by any ideology. He imagines the consequences of the false idyll of recent European history where now "a storm is blowing from Paradise" which has forced the angel's wings open such that he hurtles into the future (Benjamin, 1968, 257). Facing the catastrophic debris of the past, he is unable to pause and put it right but can only remain an incapable witness to disaster. The helplessness of the angel of history, the blank stare and open mouth, normally taken as a sign of horror, has been drawn from that earlier hashish hallucination. Benjamin's "Paradise" evokes Baudelaire's Paradis Artificiel and, like its predecessor, is ultimately deceptive. It masks a storm which, under cover of the drug, brings the destruction of history to press up against the intoxicated subject. This angel is intoxicated then, and like an earlier Benjamin transfixed by the cocoons in the web, is riveted on the material being piled up before him. This nihilistic image is analogous to the corrective remarks in "Surrealism" about the ultimate shortfall of hashish intoxication to provide necessary illumination. Such trances will only serve as an introduction to the revolutionary experiences that have always been necessary to "make whole what has been smashed" (Benjamin, 1968, 257).
Three times in this 1928 protocol Benjamin refers to the "ambiguous wink from Nirvana". First, in relation to an intoxicated delusion of history's shallowness; next, in acknowledging his own surrender to deepest torpor; and finally in recognition of what must be Odilon Redon's charcoal drawing, titled "Eye-Balloon", of a floating sphere comprising a large eyeball with eyelashes. Here the image corresponds to his realisation that, unlike dreams, the hashish hallucinations are uncontrollable. If action is the desirable outcome then all experiences of this trance are negative. "The great hope, desire, yearning to reach the new" (an overtly revolutionary expression) is met instead by "a submerged, relaxed, indolent, inert stroll downhill" (Benjamin, 1999, [ii], 86). In addition, there is the great disappointment during the trance in what people say, as their words always fall short of what we expect to hear. Worse still, the depressing realisation for Benjamin that the person with whom we are speaking "painfully disappoints us through his failure to focus on the greatest object of our interest: ourselves" (Benjamin, 1999, [ii], 88). All the same, there is this need for people to be around "like gently shifting relief-figures on the plinth of your own throne" (Benjamin, 1999, [ii], 86).
Benjamin's emphasis on the magnitude of Proust's physiological immersion in the task of recollection suggests that he shares the latter's model of apperception: "Smell—this is the sense of weight experienced by someone who casts his nets into the sea of the temps perdu. And his sentences are the entire muscular activity of the intelligible body; they contain the whole enormous effort to raise this catch" (Benjamin, 1999, [ii], 247). The encounter with the dream, the walk around a foreign city, the effort to grasp the functions of the hashish trance, all likewise require great exertion from the writer. For Benjamin their function is as an inverse materialism. The further he is from engagement in the logical ordering of reality, the closer he is to people and things. This effect is clear in the hashish writings: from 1928, "Main Features of My Second Impression of Hashish"; from 1930, "Hashish, Beginning of March 1930"; from 1932, "Hashish in Marseilles". In these pieces Benjamin progresses by stages from recording an uncomfortable submersion within hallucinations to recounting his competent management and enjoyment of the drug's effects. His ability to manage the experience is matched by his success at generating a narrative form to relate his conviction that a radical freedom is enabled by the sense of proximity to objects that hashish facilitates.
Yet for Benjamin, in the process of formulating a concerted revolutionary purpose for organised insurrection and unstructured hedonistic revolt, it is not easy to accommodate the unpredictability of the trance. The characteristics of any intoxication, whether or not from hashish, do not automatically set events into action. Its nature is anti-productionist and non-linear. Since the intoxicated person themselves is spent through the experience, intoxication's relation to the world is the reverse of the expenditure of external material. As such it induces a liberation from the entrancement of commodities. Benjamin writes at the close of "Hashish in Marseilles" that it is like "that squandering of our own existence that we know in love" (Benjamin, 1999, [ii], 678). The possibility of an agency that would intervene in events is undermined by the intoxicated self's subordinate relation to its environment. The realisations achieved through intoxication are alogical and non-dialectical. No reconciliation of contradictory states is achieved in the realisation of a fuller understanding. There is no progression of intoxicated knowledge but rather an aleatory centrifugal identification that spreads out towards the world in all directions simultaneously. This strikingly anti-teleological aspect remains unmodified in the first two protocols while "Hashish in Marseilles", by attempting to make something consequential out of the evening's intoxication, becomes the most composed of the writings, narrating a beginning and end and concluding with a redemptive coda—"[Nature] now throws us, without hoping or expecting anything, in ample handfuls toward existence" (Benjamin, 1999, [ii], 678)—a sentiment which moves in the opposite direction to the more instrumental writing of 1934.
The "divided, contradictory experience" described in "Hashish, Beginning of March 1930" results in a less structured and reflective piece than the companion essays. Its immediacy gets across the feeling of involuntary envelopment in disorientating sense experience. Writing an account of involuntary automatism in progress, Benjamin is like a distracted drug anthropologist, neither scripting a redemptive ethical pantheism (as he tends towards in the later essay), nor reading into the experiences to expand on their haptic or poetic significance. It is bare-bones hallucinating in a confined space. These first two essays describe indoor hashish experiences and their interiority is striking in comparison with the outward identifications of the Marseilles experiment where Benjamin moves freely around the port.
In the 1930 account Benjamin imposes the further confinement that he keep his eyes closed to allow his imagination to escape from the tiny room in which he finds himself. He is piecing together a record of the experience from fragmentary evidence. Of his trance companions, a cousin Egon Wissing and his wife Gert, some account of conversations is later relayed from the latter, with whom in any case he has a sensual rapport. Whereas in the Marseilles trance Benjamin is able to refer to notes made at the time, here he has only written about incidents retrospectively. Perhaps, as Benjamin notes, it is because he had his eyes closed that the greater impressions this time are made by visualisations. Colours eclipse Egon's words; Benjamin observes quasi-material qualities of auras, that they enclose objects as if in a case; as his companions take morphine and Benjamin no longer feels understood, he says that his relationship with Gert "seemed to me to be coloured black" (Benjamin, 1999, [ii], 328); there is a "blizzard-like production of images" (Benjamin, 1999, [ii], 329) of which he can remember very little. Hashish has freed this rush of images normally retained in the unconscious. Every word from Egon is an insupportable distraction from concentrating on these visions that "are so extraordinary, so fleeting, and so rapidly generated that we can do nothing but gaze at them simply because of their beauty and singularity" (Benjamin, 1999, [ii], 329). Of such visualisations Benjamin mentions the cryptic ones like those in Surrealist paintings; suits of armour, for example, with flames escaping from the apertures.
These insights into the hashish trance parallel observations made a year earlier in "Surrealism", where at a moment of cultural history the most vital life is to be found within the massing of imagery whose sheer volume blocks out meaning. The loss of meaning is especially marked in the 1930 protocol. There are the odd, inconsequential word-image puzzles, like the one about the cakes: "decline of the pâtissier's art" (Benjamin, 1999, [ii], 329)—images of giant confections so perfect that their sight is enough to satisfy any desire for them. This admission of a plethora of unrecordable stimuli concludes interestingly with what is really its introduction: "It was strange at the beginning, when I could just sense the approach of the trance and I compared objects to the instruments of an orchestra that was just tuning up before the start of the performance" (Benjamin, 1999, [ii], 329). Here is the anticipation of imminent spectatorship, the involuntary passivity of the intoxicated onlooker.
In the record of these hashish experiences Benjamin records the involuntary rejuvenation of the link between his senses and his perception, as if this link had become dulled by the barrage of unassimilable sensations of the contemporary world. This relates to his deep interest in the mechanics of what Proust calls mémoire involontaire, that instant suffusing of our consciousness and body with the materiality of the past, brought about however, by chance—in his case by the taste of a madeleine dipped in tea. It is not so much that Benjamin expects hashish to provide that kind of access to his own past but that the present might in a related way be felt just as profoundly as Proust re-experiences his past. It is as if hashish might compensate for the temporal and physiological restrictions on experiencing our surroundings. Benjamin expresses this concern in the essay "The Image of Proust" written in 1929 at the time of the hashish trances: "[Proust] is filled with the insight that none of us has time to live the true dramas of the life that we are destined for. This is what ages us—this and nothing else. The wrinkles and creases on our faces are the registration of the great passions, vices, insights that called on us; but we, the masters, were not at home" (Benjamin, 1968, 211-12).
Recognising the problem of recording his own hashish experiences, Benjamin writes during the trance and in addition has his companions simultaneously compose their accounts from his intoxicated conversation. From memory he then expands on these records immediately after the event. In no way does this fill all gaps in the recorded event and the more immediate of the accounts shift continually between sharply focused observations and unexplained gaps in continuity. It is as if Benjamin is both watching and acting in a series of films in which he is incessantly moved from one temporarally disconnected scene to another.
"Hashish in Marseilles", as the most worked up of these accounts, may be the closest to the kind of Proustian depth of recollection that Benjamin so admires. Here the gaps in continuity have been converted into a narrative device where Benjamin moves backwards and forwards in time, reflecting on, or even physically revisiting, earlier encounters to reappraise his physiological condition. The extent of the structural work done on "Hashish in Marseilles" is more noticeable when compared with a fictional version Benjamin made of this experience for publication in the journal Uhu in 1930 (Benjamin, 1997, [ii]). The story of the hashish experience is attributed to one Edward Sherlinger, and reads as if hastily adapted to fulfil a commission. Here the subtle observations on food, passersby and street paraphernalia, so memorable in the 1932 version, are sacrificed to a linear narrative about the failure (through taking hashish) to invest in shares whose escalating value would have made Sherlinger rich. The story that follows develops a certain dramatic urgency where the trance motifs are introduced as interferences in the objective of sending a telegram to confirm the share purchase. By contrast, in the autobiographical version the motifs that embellish Benjamin's drift across the city are unobtrusive prosaic objects splendidly transformed. This recalls Proust's own transformations of ordinary incidents into accounts whose intense detailing provoke a delirious and vertiginous response. As indicated by the earlier quotation on Proust, it is the density of these experiences that Benjamin is concerned to feel, and the immersion into hashish intoxications is to draw out this quality from the present with his entire body, as if his nets were drawing the passions and insights to shore. (Benjamin, 1968, 214).
This rejuvenation of perception is also an attempt by Benjamin to become, in entrancement with images in the world, as a child would be when facing an illustrated book for the first time. Hashish allows a new first relationship to things, a rebirth which is neither a consumption nor expiration but which lets both viewer and object live freely. In two early essays on children's books Benjamin writes of the child's immersion in the book's coloured illustrations in a way that anticipates his accounts of absorption by objects during the hashish trance. The introduction of colour in early nineteenth-century children's books allows the imagination to run riot amongst images which immerse the reader in a dream-like state.
There is very little mention of colour in the hashish protocols, although when it does occur it provokes complex reactions. In "Hashish, Beginning of March 1930" Benjamin speculates that it is Gert's black pajamas that provoke the association of that colour with their latent sensual relationship. In the same trance sounds become colours as Egon's words are "instantly translated into the perception of colored, metallic sequins that coalesced into patterns" (Benjamin, 1999, [ii], 328). Linking the trance experience to the earlier pieces on children's books, this intoxicated perception of colour reminds Benjamin of knitting patterns he had enjoyed as a child. In the 1924 essay "Old Forgotten Children's Books", the title of the work he is reviewing, he quotes that author's own entrancement with colour:"‘It seems to me that in that Biedermeier period, there is a preference for carmine, orange, and ultramarine; a brilliant green is also used. When set beside these glittering clothes, this sky-blue azure, the vivid flickering flames of volcanoes and great conflagrations, what is left of the simple black-and-white copper engravings and lithographs which had been good enough…in the past?'" (Benjamin, 1996, 409). In the 1926 essay "A Glimpse into the World of Children's Books" Benjamin again takes up this idea of imaginative transport in language that points towards the adult intoxications: "The objects do not come to meet the picturing child from the pages of the book; instead, the gazing child enters into those pages, becoming suffused, like a cloud, with the riotous colours of the world of pictures" (Benjamin, 1996, 435). In the trances then, Benjamin enters the room or city quarter as if it were a book which beckons him in. The innocent amazement at objects and events induced by hashish then brings him close to the memories of his earliest childhood encounters with images.
"Surrealism" is written between the more sinister 1928 "spider's web" protocol ("Main Features of My Second Impression of Hashish") and the relatively benign trances of 1930 ("Hashish, Beginning of March 1930" and "On the Session of 7/8 June, 1930" [Thompson, 1997]). It postdates the composed and redemptive "Hashish in Marseilles" of 1928, although this was only published (and perhaps revised) long after, in 1932. The inadequacies Benjamin impugned to hashish in the Surrealism essay did not discourage him from further drug experiments (including opium in 1932 and mescaline in 1934). Yet in 1928 in Marseilles there occurs the closest Benjamin gets to an irrefutably revolutionary experience under the sway of hashish.
"Hashish in Marseilles", is a kind of manifesto of the drug, and importantly it supplants the aggressive hectoring typical of manifestos with a submissiveness that develops latent qualities of Breton's Manifesto of Surrealism and Aragon's Paris Peasant. Benjamin ascribes this submissiveness to himself as flâneur, finding a level as a discarded being amongst desirable commodities. In this persona, not only does he surrender to his desires but offers himself up to be consumed by the material he haphazardly encounters in his sensuous drifting. This process is central to determining the style and contents of "Hashish in Marseilles" where Benjamin finds a lucidity in structure and language to match a particularly insightful intoxication. Its completion would in any case be required as a finished essay published in the Frankfurter Zeitung. Yet its coherence answers a wish of Benjamin's to form a contemporary address to a nineteenth-century precedent. Benjamin begins his essay with a long quotation from Baudelaire's "The Poem of Hashish" which he takes from a German book called "The Hashish Trance" of 1926. Benjamin quotes these authors, Jöel and Fränkel, thus: "It is curious that hashish poisoning has not yet been experimentally studied. The most admirable description of the hashish trance is by Baudelaire" (Benjamin, 1999, [ii], 673). By this double citation Benjamin intends his own essay to be the asymmetrical match to Baudelaire's. He is to provide as effective an account, but in place of Baudelairenegative appraisal of a bourgeois recreation Benjamin will redeem hashish as an experience that, amongst other illuminations, provides a glimpse of class boundaries disappearing.
Benjamin had expressed this intention long before in a letter of September 19, 1919, to Ernst Schoen. There he writes of having just read Baudelaire's Paradis Artificiel, which he finds a very restrained attempt to derive philosophical insights from the effects of hashish and opium, adding that it will be important for him to repeat Baudelaire's attempt, albeit by taking a different approach (Benjamin, 1994, 148). Nine years later, a January 30, 1928 letter to Gerhard Scholem repeats this wish as Benjamin elaborates on his experience being a hashish subject for Ernst Joel. He hopes that his future book, which he urges be kept a secret, will be a "very worthwhile supplement" to his philosophical writing (Benjamin, 1994, 323). In contrast to the earlier protocols, "Hashish in Marseilles" develops a more lyrical style and a linear narrative which sustain continuity over lengthy paragraphs and make a totality of what previously had been recorded as less than coherent fragmentary impressions. Like one of his earlier protocols, Benjamin's composition includes sentences written under the effect of the drug, but this time they are successfully worked into the main narrative. As suggested earlier, the totality of this account takes a more explicit political turn in illuminating a new revolutionary outcome for hashish intoxications.
There are many indicators of this tendency. The set-up for recounting the experience in Marseilles involves a series of fluid transitions from one environment to another as under hashish the city's new permeability answers utopian projections of an urban space that anyone can freely and rapidly traverse. As if the psychic transport induced by the drug must have its material counterpart, Benjamin recounts his own stroll about the port as set within the flow of passersby and various forms of passenger transport: boat, car, taxi, streetcar. The first of his moves is particularly significant since it entails leaving the hermetic hotel interior (the scene, in a sense, of earlier less successful experiments) for the unpredictability of the street. This stepping out from the interior that was also the confine of Baudelaire's bourgeois hashish indulgences, brings the intoxicated Benjamin into contact with a different kind of people. In a bar dangerously close to the roughest quarter he notes "no bourgeois sat there; at the most, besides the true port proletariat, a few petty-bourgeois families from the neighbourhood" (Benjamin, 1999, [ii], 675). Later on he admires some women soliciting outside a dance hall. For intoxication Baudelaire's class hatred made him celebrate wine over hashish. It was affordable to the working class and, unlike hashish, would get people fighting. This is evidenced by The Wine Poems from Flowers of Evil and "Get Drunk" from Paris Spleen. Benjamin answers this by noting at one stage how well the wine he was drinking accompanied his drug. Similarly, the notion that he might sit in a port dive intoxicated with hashish and have a drink alongside workers, indicates his attempt to dissolve boundaries between wine and hashish, and between their users.
In 1929 Benjamin publishes a review of Franz Hessel's flâneur account On Foot in Berlin. Hessel's plea is for a more lived-in city, one where the streets will serve as a surrogate domicile, although his Berlin wanderings come at the cost of the suspicion of his fellow citizens. By way of appraising the differences between wandering around Paris and Berlin the review provides a comprehensive definition of flânerie which might amount to appreciation of an urban fabric as "chronicle, document, and detail" (Benjamin, 1999, [ii], 263). Benjamin's approval of Hessel's responsiveness recalls motifs of his own Marseilles hashish wanderings. He is struck by Hessel's remark that in the city we see only what looks at us, as if the acknowledgement of our presence by person or thing is a trigger provoking, or inviting, an unexpectedly incisive perception. In the deeper moments of the trance, "Hashish in Marseilles" contains many such encounters as motifs step forward from their surroundings to trigger an empathic reading from Benjamin. In these instances the incomprehensible wink from Nirvana becomes the readily interpretable flirtations of the material world. Hessel's sympathy for the genius loci of Berlin streets also interests Benjamin. In his review he writes of Hessel as an expert reader of images that inhabit these spaces, as their presence is discerned by the flâneur able to interpret the surface evidence of dwellings. Benjamin recognises that in the depth of Hessel's reflections on Berlin walks the character of the flâneur, effectively himself in Marseilles, who experiences life in the interstices of city architecture rather than within the buildings themselves. This appreciation must pass over the most obvious landmarks for baser attractions: "And he would be happy to trade all his knowledge of artists' quarters, birthplaces, and princely palaces for the scent of a single weathered threshold or the touch of a single tile—that which any old dog carries away" (Benjamin, 1999, [ii], 263).
Such succumbing to the lure of ordinary things acquires transformative force in "Hashish in Marseilles". The ecstatic impact of the numerous pantheistic identifications recalled by Benjamin function like images of a de-hierarchized future which must first be imagined if it is to be achievable. There is a recurrent emphasis here on the liberatory experience of emasculation, which has always lurked as an unstated condition of the flâneur who as penetrated by and absorbed into the material world, represents an ambiguous potency. Reaffirming this tendency, Benjamin has formed a plangent language as if in compliance not just with the passivity of the hashish trance but also with the proposition that the path taken by a revolution will be determined by the terminology used to foment it. In a future that would conjoin the profane illumination of the Surrealists to a revolutionised classless society, experience is formulated in murmurs. From the start Benjamin articulates the "benevolence" with which the defamiliarised city accommodates him. He is alarmed that a shadow might harm the paper on which he writes. Ashamed to be sitting alone at a large table he moves to one smaller and is then concerned that his selection from a menu will offend the other items on offer. On seeing the wind blow the fringes of café furniture Benjamin feels "amorous joy". At the quayside he is deeply moved by the love he feels is conferred on boats by their names. He notes that the trance "shrinks and takes the form of a flower". Confronted by the sight of the women at the dance hall he experiences no sexual desire yet is sensitised to the sensuality of their clothing. He compares himself to a distracted Theseus, unmasculinely absorbed by the unravelling thread and oblivious to any threat in the maze.
There is a certain tension between Benjamin's hashish writings and those, like the 1929 Surrealism essay, in terms of the evaluation of euphoric states. In the drug protocols, engagement with the exterior world is no more invasive than a passive wonderment at its details, as acute perceptions uncover alternative associations between things. For there to be any impact beyond the duration of the trance, Benjamin's reading of Surrealism requires intoxication to induce a catalytic change in our relationship to the world. Yet why should this ultimately have beneficent results? In what lies the assurance that either the drugged flânerie or the explosive release of potentiality will take us to the left rather than the right? There will be some indication from looking at what the trance is directed against. Away from what is it taking the exhilarated person? There is a sense that the trance acts in politically prescribed ways, that you have the hallucinations demanded by your ideology. In this case there are no inherent qualities to an intoxicated state but only to the context which it intensifies. In Benjamin's trance, where he is enamoured with Marseilles, we have an outline for engagement with a world whose intricacies of object/person relations are of primary value. Benjamin suggests that without respect for the interconnectedness of this skein of lives you cannot have a peaceful world.
"Hashish in Marseilles" unites the obvious form of drug intoxication with a less explicit one of immersion in the flow of entities, "that squandering of our own existence" without fear of the consequences, as Benjamin defines it. Entranced by commodities, the nineteenth-century flâneur is the evolved subject of Kant's aesthetic judgement. Kant's static concept of beauty as the result of a disinterested response to form becomes the flâneur's purposeless marvelling at the new beauty of commodities. Benjamin imagines a new life for the flâneur whose nineteenth-century protest at notions of progress and utility forms itself as a detached intoxication with commodities only to expire under the inescapable economic absorption of the most marginal positions, for example, as the flâneur becomes department store assistant or sandwich board carrier. Discussing plans in 1939 for The Arcades Project, in a letter previously cited Benjamin writes to Adorno of his aim to develop the relationship between flânerie as a state of intoxication and Baudelaire's experiences with drugs (Benjamin, 1994, 598). Encouraged much earlier by Surrealist writing, Benjamin imagines new opportunities for flânerie in reoccupying those nineteenth-century artifacts abandoned by capitalism and inhabiting alternative contemporary interstices of thought and intervention, can generate new intoxications to break apart obdurate prejudices. This preparedness to work at revolt, at the displacement of all prior values and enchantments by alternative intoxications, is celebrated in Benjamin's 1929 Surrealism essay in which he reservedly acclaims the Surrealists' embrace of antagonistic cultural strategies. This is a form of revolt, Benjamin explains, which shows the world to be a chained and precarious order which will be overturned by the exhausted images of its cast off past: "Breton and Nadja are the lovers who convert everything that we have experienced on mournful railway journeys…into revolutionary experience, if not action. They bring the immense forces of ‘atmosphere' concealed in these things to the point of explosion. What form do you suppose a life would take that was determined at a decisive moment by the street song last on everyone's lips" (Benjamin, 1999, [ii], 210). It seems that here is the meaning of Benjamin's Marseilles trance. The street song suggests an entranced encounter with the entire life of the city, which is then transformed by the flâneur's intoxication into the material of a marvellous future.
But what becomes of the trance when the utopian objectives diverge from such benign outcomes? Jünger's first world war accounts acclaim an entirely different kind of explosive transformation with recourse to similar language and imagery of euphoria. The distinction Michael Hoffman makes between Storm of Steel, of 1920, and War as Inner Experience, of 1922, would seem to draw the intoxications of the earlier text closer to the fine-tuned and intimate observations of Benjamin and Aragon. Hoffman notes of Jünger's style the "anonymity and dandyishness, hebetude and exquisite sensitivity; nature and warfare; living in cosy near-domesticity and like animals in a hole in the ground" (Hoffman, 2004, xviii). However, Jünger's characteristic flattening of emotion where the poses of corpses are observed with the same detachment brought to methods of trench construction would dramatically broaden the gap once again. For Hoffmann, in this book "War and time and being are compounded into one great narcotic experience" (Hoffman, 2004, xx) and there remains a sense in which Jünger is here chronicling the experiences from which he will soon be developing a doctrine for a transformed future through the encounter with war.
In the later work there is no doubt that Jünger writes as if war compels the German soldier into metaphysical and biological evolution where, transformed into a reflexive killing machine, he lives in harmony with newly naturalised forces of technologised immolation. In these accounts the battle against enemy soldiers is an abstraction where symbolic forces envelop the troops in a play of sublime energies. Klaus Theweleit quotes Jünger from War as Inner Experience: "‘This was a whole new race, energy incarnate, charged with supreme energy … These were conquerors, men of steel tuned to the most grisly battle … Jugglers of death, masters of explosive and flame, glorious predators, they sprang easily through the trenches. In the moment of encounter, they encapsulated the spirit of battle as no other human beings could. Theirs was the keenest assembly of bodies, intelligence, will, and sensation'" (Theweleit, 1989, 159).
This struggle continues under the sway of a battle-induced euphoria where "‘…Ecstasy is an intoxication beyond all intoxications, a release that bursts all bonds. It is a madness without discretion or limits, comparable only to the natural forces…A man in ecstasy becomes a violent storm, a raging sea, roaring thunder. He merges with the cosmos, racing toward death's dark gates like a bullet toward its target'" (Theweleit, 1989, 184). Yet the purpose of this death-wish immediacy doesn't exhaust itself in the present of the battleground. As Jeffrey Herf explains, Jünger's retrospective account of the fighting is intended to convert German defeat and slaughter into a cultural victory where masculine self-realisation is achieved through violence and decisiveness (Herf, 1984, 76). In this way the State can be saved from decadent bourgeois values of pacifism and rationality.
These military intoxications are as exclusionary as the hashish trances are inclusive. They subsist on the destruction of everything alien to their logic of morbid innervation which claims to be restoring life in direct proportion to what it annihilates. Such a figure might be responsible for the piled up disaster at which Benjamin's angel of history is staring. He suggests as much in the 1931 piece "The Destructive Character" whose subject "positions himself at at crossroads. No moment can know what the next will bring. What exists he reduces to rubble, not for the sake of the rubble, but for that of the way leading through it" (Benjamin, 1978, 303).
Theweleit explains how this kind of soldier is not a natural entity but has to be formed by stamping ideologies of purity on his body through exacting punishment and discipline. This kind of regimen forms an addiction to the rule of the machine of the military corps which is organised using the same the rigour with which the individual bodies of the recruits have been bullied into submission: "The only site at which feelings have legitimate existence is the body as a ‘bundle of muscles and skin, blood and bones and sinews'" (Theweleit, 1989, 150). At a certain point it is not only bourgeois security that seems irremediable but any indication of family affection or concern now drives the emotionally cauterised soldiers back into the comforts of violence and pain. Drawing on concepts familiar to the Futurist or Expressionist avant-gardes, Jünger describes the aftermath of battle as an ecstatic empowerment:"‘At such times I feel existence to be vital and intoxicating—hot, wild, insane—a fervent prayer. Expression is imperative…I'm alive. I'm still alive.' And just how does he ‘express' himself?…‘I plunge my glance, quick and penetrating as a gunshot, into the eyes of passing girls.'" (Theweleit, 1989, 19).
It is striking just how limited this intoxication is in its self-knowledge and engagement with others, once nothing remains of the emotional gamut now considered decadent. The war determines how Jünger grasps his own vitality (he is alive only in the sense of not being dead) and how he encounters women (as if he were a weapon). Could any intoxication be more different from this than Benjamin's in Marseilles? The multitude of enhanced encounters with phenomena, the passionate sensitivity towards figures passing in the street, the lack of any sense of possessiveness about the experience, all make this as emblematic of peace as Jünger's is oblivious. In "Theories of German Fascism" from 1930, Benjamin expresses this contrast with his furious attack on Jünger's compilation of other writers' essays on the qualities of war. This prescient essay is fully aware of the impending catastrophe should "this mysticism of the death of the world" fail to be permanently dispelled (Benjamin, 1999, [ii], 320). It is in the range of references on which Benjamin draws to counter belligerence with pacifism that we glimpse what might qualify as a core purpose of the hashish trances: "However, we will not tolerate anyone who speaks of war, yet knows nothing but war. Radical in our own way, we will ask: Where do you come from? And what do you know of peace? Did you ever encounter peace in a child, a tree, an animal, the way you encountered a sentry in the field? And without waiting for you to answer, we can say No!" (Benjamin, 1999, [ii], 317).
Where right-wing intoxication is defined as an intensification of the most limited experience, of life at the edge of death, in Benjamin's hashish trances the most is made of a helpless surrender to all surrounding events. If Benjamin finds valuable affirmation in the unravelling of the conventional meaning of objects that follows surrender to the trance, so Jünger redeems his hallucinatory experience of the war by interpreting it as a process of purification, of excision, leading to social revolution. Faced by an inescapable degradation and probable death, Jünger survives by surrendering his reflexive individuality and turning horror into spectacle. Under the hashish trance the surrender enables one to become part of an intoxicated world in a different way to how the entrancement of the conventional flâneur keeps the world at one remove. The flâneur of Marseilles is a new type who sinks deep into what is observed.
Jünger's soldiers are likewise intoxicated observers, in this case on the inside of an ecstatic destruction. This trait endures in a novel Jünger publishes in 1939. On the Marble Cliffs recounts the destruction of an idyllic community of warrior monks whose previous military companions provoke a struggle for control of the town and its surroundings. The aristocratic aloofness of the conventional flâneur is related to the apartness of Jünger's warrior monks for whom the world in almost any condition is a watchable panorama. In Aragon's Paris Peasant we find his visits to the Opera Passage described as looking into an aquarium where the green light subsumes all. He stands outside, dissecting all its occupants, not so differently from how Jünger's warrior monks conduct their detached relationship with all those around them (except for the plants they obsessively cultivate). Like them Aragon is a retired militant/avant-gardist (an ex-Dadaist) relaxing into a disengaged relation with the world. What do the militants do when they stop being avant-garde? They place their earlier active life under critique by assuming a leisurely approach to living.
Sometimes taken as an attack on fascism, On the Marble Cliffs marks the start of Jünger's shift towards a non-military outlook. However it is filled with ambiguous images that straddle warlike and benign pursuits. In one of numerous medieval anachronisms,the concluding battle is ultimately decided by killer mastiffs as a thinly disguised embodiment of Jünger's first world war troops unified by machinic violence. Decadence impairs the clarity of Braquemart, one of the military caste who now confuses his fighting origins with different indulgences: "[He] intoxicated himself with perfume of synthetic flowers and the pleasures of mimed sensuality. Creation has died in his heart, and he had reconstructed it like a mechanical toy" (Jünger, 1947, 82-3). Persisting amongst Jünger's themes is his early Freikorps suspicion of any prolonged peaceful activity. The idyllic settlement is doomed because it allows military vigilance to lapse as other intoxications gain ground. Though fierce, the counteroffensive is launched too late to be effective and the sybaritic community is annihilated.
From 1933-34 when Gottfried Benn remained in the Prussian Academy of the Arts in an expression of sympathy with National Socialism, he wrote in outspoken defence of his decision to stay in Germany. In "Answer To The Literary Emigrants" Benn disparages those Germans who have moved into exile. He resorts to a hyperbolic euphoria for crude emphasis, a style impersonating a kind of intoxication, which nevertheless was not entirely out of character with his expressionist work of the 1920s. This essay responded to a pleading open letter from Heinrich Mann explaining his disappointment and incredulity at Benn's decision to align himself with the National Socialists. Benn's public response was written with such conviction of his decision that it was quoted in Nazi propaganda speeches. This essay casts Benjamin's "Hashish in Marseilles" into the unusual state of being twice decadent since Benn derides the implied comfort of those exiles who have settled on the French coast, in "the little resorts along the Gulf of Lyon", continuing, "But let me ask you in turn: how do you visualise the movement of history? Do you regard it as particularly active at French bathing beaches?" (Benn, 1961, 48). To be an exiled writer in Marseilles, publishing hashish accounts qualifies this an antithetical kind of intoxication. Benn argues that only those staying close to events in Germany can judge the political conditions, although in his enthusiasm he succumbs to an intoxication with contemporary events, mythologising their implications. These events he says are "the emergence of a new biological type", a "mythical" and profound one, close to creation, and whose nature is of "the eternally primal vision: wakefulness, day life, reality—loosely consolidated rhythms of hidden creative intoxications…the last grand concept of the white race" (Benn, 1961, 49). This most extreme of Benn's essays concludes with recourse to a disturbing military image: this "vision" of Germany that he is propagating will withstand "ten wars".
Wolf Lepenies, speaking on the self-image of German culture during the second world war, describes Benn's distaste at the 1934 executions within the Nazi Party. Hardly moved by the violence of the event, German intellectuals are disappointed in the display of bad taste on the part of the new regime. The support they give the Nazis is due more to the promise of a unified political and cultural State under the evidence of the aestheticisation of politics by the fascists. Benn's response to the 1934 massacres is expressed as disgust at an aesthetic failure: "‘What a horrible tragedy. The whole thing begins to look to me like a third-rate theater that constantly announces a performance of Faust when the cast hardly qualify for a potboiler like [the operetta] Hussar Fever. How great seemed the beginning and how dirty it all looks today…'" (Lepenies, 1999, 20). Like others, Benn conducts an internal exile, viewing as un-German those like Thomas Mann who moved abroad, and remains blind to the necessity of emigration for those being persecuted by the Nazis. He imagines that his continuing presence in Germany will be of no consequence and that his lack of cooperation with the Nazis constitutes a form of resistance. By the end of 1934 Benn had been disgraced as Nazi Germany fixed on the "decadence" of his earlier work as a disqualification for office.
It is relevant to this discussion to note the theme of ecstatic involvement in events as a recurrent motif for Benn. This was never more so than in the 1929 essay "Primal Vision" which in its life-philosophy of harmonisation with overwhelming natural forces presages his later surrender to the naturalisation of National Socialist forces. Here Benn notes the "immense urges and intoxications" of life (Benn, 1961, 32), the "Heritage of exaltation and intoxication, astral conflagration, transoceanic decay" (Benn, 1961, 36), and a "monism in rhythms, mass in intoxications…" (Benn, 1961, 37). After his disqualification, the same themes still serve, but are taken to an annihilatory nihilistic conclusion. "The Way of an Intellectualist" from 1934 recalls the character of Dr. Rönne, a self-portrait from earlier fiction. In Ronne's experience "a primal stratum emerged, intoxicated, image-laden, Panic" (Benn, 1961, 54). The end of history is defined as its beginning where Nietzsche is the prelude to the series of "great, insoluble dooms…of the last nihilistic destructions" (Benn, 1961, 61).
These accounts of Benjamin's reveal a normalisation of intoxicated states that obliquely and inconspicuously serve political goals. The application of ecstatic experiences to impact on a social or political context converts them into a form of subversive agency that is distinct from other forms of activism. It is a dimension to radical thought that attempts to develop a position outside conventional forms of oppositional action from where its subversiveness can retain some independence against recuperation. In a way, the understated low expectations of Benjamin's hashish narratives and Aragon's reveries in the Opera Passage evade rebuttals of their political effectiveness. Who can be bothered with the critical recuperation of such marginalia to the history of subversion? This does distinguish them from the conservative accounts of Jünger whose alarming interpretation of the intoxication of violence as proof of political destiny becomes a monstrous inversion of utopian goals.
By contrast the intimacy of Benjamin's accounts shows an openness to incidents, inconsequential and significant alike. At the time, European modernity was finding meaning in a series of contemporaneous intoxications, some benign, others extremely violent. One key to understanding the merit of Benjamin's version of euphoria is to recognise his responsibility to avoid statements implying fixed values or ethics, at a time when much commentary assumed the opposite. In answer to Benn's lethal facetiousness, indeed history also turns out to have been written at French seaside resorts. In the case of "Hashish in Marseilles" it is a history whose marginalised interests are what enabled its survival and its continuing relevance to what has followed.
In Benjamin's hashish writings the subject of intoxication as a subversive alternative to conventional avant-gardism, first traced here in relation to Nietzsche's critical philosophy, forwards a discourse of productive contemplation and unconventional engagement which recognise, and perhaps generate, images of utopian transformation. The following chapter looks at the production of alternative realms of intoxication by two writers who are influential on Benjamin. The location by Fourier and Aragon of these realms in fantastic versions of the nineteenth-century arcade links this discussion to the earlier chapter on Baudelaire by recognising the liberatory potential of an architecture originally directed to commercial ends.
This is one chapter from an unpublished manuscript, completed in 2004, titled “Revolutionary intoxications: theory of the avant-garde in the aesthetics of Nietzsche and Benjamin”.
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