Cerise Phiv (張俐紫)

Cerise Phiv (張俐紫)

Former Managing Editor of eRenlai.com

前e人籟執行主編

Tweets @cerisefive

Wednesday, 17 June 2015 12:13

An Interview With a Translator of Teilhard's Books in China

Alex Wang completed the translation in Chinese of Teilhard de Chardin's book, La Place de l'homme dans la Nature: Le Groupe zoologique humain (Peking University Press, 2014)


Why did you choose to translate this book by Teilhard de Chardin?

The evolution of mankind on the earth, I should say, the evolution of intelligent life in this universe depicted by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin provides us with a clear vision of what would come and what we should do to make it happen.
Teilhard has shared this version in his masterpiece "The human phenomenon" with a scientific and yet poetic language, while integrating the progress of his time. But the access to this major work is not easy, requiring patience and perseverance. "The place of human in the nature" is a condensed "but clearer" version of this important book, according to Teilhard himself.[1] It could be considered as a stepping stone to enter Teilhard's world.


Why is it important to promote Teilhard de Chardin in China?

China has been achieving the huge and astonishing progress in each important domain for more than 30 years. There is no doubt that China will become a superpower of the 21st century, reshaping the entire world to come. Its uprising will be one of the major events of human history. All along the desire for the modernization and a better life, people feel at the same time and even more deeply a hunger for meaning, the meaning of life, the meaning of human efforts, the meaning of a higher moral standard, etc. In short, people are looking for the answers to the following questions: why are we here? Where do we go? In which direction and why?

Teilhard's thoughts provide us with his answers, inviting us to an extraordinary journey of exploration.


Could you recount for us the history of your career?

When I was a 13 year old boy, I asked myself a simple question: "What's the value and the meaning of human life?" Since then, all my life has been oriented to the search for this meaning.

Then in 1978, I felt the urge to leave the factory to resume my studies at the university after "the Cultural revolution". In 1983, I left my home land, flew to France, in order to "learn" with all the philosophers and thinkers I could find. There I obtained a PhD in philosophy and a second one in engineering.

But I remained unsatisfied until I encounter Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. For me, his thought is like a candle in the darkness of night.

I have been working for more than 25 years for the France Telecom Orange Group. After taking different positions in various divisions such as HR, Business development, Sales, R&D and procurement, I currently work as CEO of Orange Sourcing Consulting. I am very much involved in promoting Teilhard's thinking and also in the implementation of Corporate Social Responsibility principles, understood as part of efforts in the direction of ongoing human evolution pointed by Teilhard.

[1] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Lettres à Jeanne Mortier, 1949, Seuil, p. 53


Alex Wang shares his thoughts about his translation work (in Chinese)

 

Wednesday, 17 June 2015 12:08

An Introduction to Teilhard's 'The Phenomenon of Man'

Teilhard de Chardin wrote The Phenomenon of Man (Le Phénomène humain) over a period of time that coincided with his entire stay in China, from 1922-1946, during which time he often left China to visit Europe, other countries in Asia and the US. This book, still considered as his magnum opus, tells the great story of the "human phenomenon" advent through the continuity of the formation of matter and the debut of life on earth, while being at the same time a reflexion on what will become of the "human phenomenon."

The book was published posthumously in 1955.

This excerpt of the documentary Teilhard and China introduces an original typed copy of the book conserved at the Beijing Center and gives us the testimony of a Chinese reader.

In the following video taken from the unused footage of the documentary 'Teilhard and China', Thierry Meynard, SJ, director of the Beijing Center, discusses the theory of evolution according to Teilhard de Chardin and its significance for the World today.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015 09:02

Teilhard and China, Behind the Scenes

The 'Teilhard adventure' started for me at the beginning of the year 2013 after reading the 'libretto', written in French by Benoit Vermander. Very dense and documented, the 20 pages were my first immersion into Teilhard de Chardin's world. I appreciated Benoit Vermander's pedagogical approach: in his usual concise style, he resumed a lifelong story while giving prominence to the texts and the voice of Teilhard. Thus I discovered the intense text of the Mass on the World and even had the chance to re-read a French school classic: an excerpt from 17th century philosopher Pascal.

But my challenge was to make a film of this 20 pages-long literary piece.

While working on the pre-production phase of the movie, we came across another team preparing a bigger scale documentary for US television: Frank and Mary Frost from Frank Frost Productions. Frank and Benoit had met during a colloquium on Teilhard in 2012 and they had kept in touch since then. Frank and Mary had planned a research site trip to China and they were very kind to invite us to join them.

In May 2013, I embarked on a trip to Beijing and Ningxia with Taiwanese filming assistant, Sharon Liu. Thanks to Frank and Mary's contacts, we met for example Hailu You, a paleontologist from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of China (IVPP) who appears in the movie.

IVPP-group

The following video is an interview with Frank at the end of our trip:

In the meantime, Benoit Vermander was planning an intercultural workshop organized by Fudan University with the support of the Taipei Ricci Institute. The workshop, held in Inner Mongolia, would invite scholars and writers, mostly from Shanghai and Taipei, to read and discuss excerpts from Teilhard's work. The logistical preparation of the workshop was undertaken by Liang Zhun, a photographer based in Shanghai and a long-term collaborator of Benoit Vermander. She notably contributed to the film the beautiful shots of the desert and the Salawusu Valley.

The workshop was also quite an interesting experience: our heteroclit group got immersed in the immensity of the landscapes that Teilhard had crossed nearly a century ago. One of the most dramatic moments was probably when a small group of us went at dawn to the plateau bordering the desert of Ordos to listen to Yaling Wu, a lecturer at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, read in Chinese the Mass on the World at the same spot Teilhard celebrated it.

Yaling-Messe

After my trip to China, I joined Benoit Vermander in the region of Auvergne, Teilhard's birthplace in France, where we were very generously welcomed by his closest living relatives: his nephew Henri du Passage and daughter Marie Bayon de La Tour who inherited Teilhard's passion for geology. As we accompanied her to the banks of the river Allier where he used to take his nephews to show them rocks, one could even more vividly feel Teilhard's deep understanding of nature and Marie Bayon de la Tour, interviewed in the film, also emphasized this aspect: "Auvergne can only be understood if we imagine that it is alive, and that its geology evolves with time. I think it influenced Father Teilhard."

Marie-Allier

Once back in Taipei, I undertook the task of editing and finalizing the production of the movie, and finally the French version of the documentary premiered in Paris in June 2014 at the Centre Sèvres. The Chinese version was screened during the colloquium "Teilhard and the Future of Humankind" held in Beijing in October 2014. (Lien vers article BV) A year later the release of the DVD in its three versions, French, English and simplified Chinese would coincide with the anniversary of Teilhard's death.

Like any other project and human experience, this film in its three versions is the result of lucky encounters and fruitful collaborative work with all the difficulties and obstacles that it implies. I hope that this attempt of introducing Teilhard de Chardin to the Chinese audience, and to a broader public in general, can be the start of more dialogue, discussion and understanding between the people of different horizons.

Meynard beijing-small

Wednesday, 18 March 2015 15:22

Teilhard de Chardin Memorial Event

On April 9, 2015, in memory of the 60th Anniversary of Teilhard's death, John J. DeGioia, president of Georgetown University is hosting an event that features an academic seminar, a special presentation of Mass on the World, and a reception.

The Seminar begins at 3:00 pm. Entitled "TEILHARD DE CHARDIN: HIS IMPORTANCE IN THE 21ST CENTURY," its panelists include leading U.S. Teilhard scholars:

• ILIA DELIO, OSF, PHD, Haub Director of Catholic Studies, Visiting Professor, Georgetown University
• KATHLEEN DUFFY, SSJ, PHD, Professor of Physics, Chestnut Hill College
• JOHN GRIM, PHD, Senior Lecturer and Senior Research Scholar at Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale Divinity School, and the Department of Religious Studies, and president of the American Teilhard Association
• JOHN F. HAUGHT, PHD, Distinguished Research Professor,Theology Department,
Georgetown University
• JAMES F. SALMON, SJ, PHD, Professor of Chemistry Emeritus, Loyola University, Maryland
Moderator is FRANK FROST, PHD, Director of The Teilhard de Chardin Project

After the seminar there will be a special presentation of Teilhard's "Mass on the World." This meditation written in 1923 on the edge of the Ordos desert has special meaning at Georgetown where it had been celebrated annually on campus by professor Thomas King, S.J., for students and devoted followers.

The event is open to the public but an RSVP is required. For information or an official invitation, contact Mary Frost at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Thursday, 11 December 2014 11:09

An Interview with Peter and Anne Venton

Peter and Anne Venton are both researchers from Canada, they are respectively concerned with economic inequality and human rights from an environmental point of view. In November 2014, they were on a tour in Taiwan, giving speeches in various cities about "the Radical Changes in Canadian Democracy for the Ecology and the Public Good" and "The Environment, Women and Human Rights".

We caught up with them at the end of the tour of Taiwan for a brief interview. 

Anne Venton talks about the necessity of enshrining the right to a clean environment in the Constitution.  

 

Peter Venton addresses some of the weaknesses of Canadian democracy.

 

Read the paper Peter Venton presented at the Global Ecological Integrity Group International Conference in June 2014:
Radical Changes in Canadian Democracy for Ecology and the Public Good

Monday, 29 September 2014 00:00

Entre ville et mont (見山‧畫城)

Exposition Benoît VERMANDER (peintures) – LIANG Zhun (photographies) 

Le musée municipal Xuhui, Shanghai, accueille du 24 octobre au 10 novembre 2014 une exposition de Benoît Vermander (France) et Liang Zhun (Chine), intitulée « Entre ville et mont (見山‧畫城) ». Le dialogue entre les peintures de Benoît Vermander et les photographies de Liang Zhun – les unes et les autres confrontant condition urbaines et populations montagnardes du sud-ouest de la Chine - ouvrent sur d'autres confrontations : celle entre la « tradition » chinoise, et des modernités éclatées ; celles entre un regard ancré dans les grandes terres du sud-ouest et une esthétique du passage, de la fluidité ; celle entre l'instant photographique et le trait calligraphique.

Juste avant l'inauguration de l'exposition, une table ronde réunit au musée Xuhui des professeurs du département de philosophie de Fudan et des artistes de différentes nationalité habitant à Shanghai autour du thème : « L'œil et le trait. Qu'est-ce qu'une esthétique inter-culturelle ? » L'apport d'auteurs tels que Merleau-Ponty et Henri Michaux fera l'objet d'une attention spéciale.

Inauguration: Vendredi 24 octobre 2014, 16h
DATES : 24 octobre 2014 – 10 novembre 2014
Lieu : Xuhui Art Museum, Shanghai 1411 Huaihai Middle Rd, Xuhui, Shanghai, Chine

BV-expo-Xuhui-oct2014

Wednesday, 17 September 2014 00:00

Launch of a "Chinese Thought and Cultural Resources" training program in Shanghai.

With the continuous development of the Chinese economy and China's more prominent role in the world, Chinese traditional culture correspondingly receives increased attention. To help managers in Chinese or foreign companies gain an understanding of Chinese philosophy, history, and contempory culture, Fudan School of Philosophy, in association with DPark, is sponsoring an English-language Certificate of Chinese Thought and Cultural Resources. The program is tailored for foreign and Chinese entrepreneurs/executives willing to mobilize such resources for managing their business endeavors in a culturally and socially responsible fashion.

This English-language program seeks to enhance international and Chinese managers' knowledge of Chinese cultural resources so as to enrich and facilitate the exercise of their corporate missions and social responsibilities in China. The program is designed and taught by professors from the School of Philosophy at Fudan University. Its unique teaching and rich research resources have been organized to create a ground-breaking training program adapted to the needs of decision-makers through course work, interactions with native informants, and field trips.

The program starts next January and lasts for nine weekends spanning over one year.

Details are included in these two online brochures:

http://www.dpark-shanghai.com/pdf/brochure-base.pdf

http://www.dpark-shanghai.com/pdf/brochure-suite.pdf

Antonio Duarte, director of Dpark, and Benoit Vermander, professor in the School of Philosophy, Fudan University, will present the program at a lecture and discussion evening on September 25th, 2014, at DPark  (No.738 Changyang Road, Shanghai). Please confirm attendance to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Monday, 14 April 2014 00:00

Movie Screening at the 'Eyes and Lenses Festival' in Warsaw, 24-27 April 2014

The movie Writings that Weave Waves has been selected for screening at the 11th edition of the Ethnographic Film Review: Eyes and Lenses in Warsaw (April 25-27, 2014). The creening will take place on Saturday April 26th at 1pm.

Here are the synopsis of the movie and the trailer:

East Formosa has been the departure point of the great migration that, six thousand years ago, shaped the present Austronesian world. And it is now home to the majority of Taiwan's aboriginal population, some of them living in the plains and on the shore of Eastern Taiwan, and some in the mountains. This documentary focuses on a small group of young aborigines from the Atayal tribe, located on Taiwan East Coast, showing how they express and live their identity, while linking their narrative to the world of Oceania, to which their culture spread, and where aboriginal people nowadays struggle to express their cultural, social, political and spiritual selves. Thus, this movie embarks on a trip across time and space, from Taiwan to Vancouver Island in Canada, where our protagonists met during a cultural exchange with First Nations and then to the Solomon Islands where Taiwanese aborigines met with Melanesian and Polynesian peoples during the 11th Festival of Pacific Arts. Taiwan is a point of departure, a meeting point, and a destination for the stories weaved by the waves. This documentary aims at nurturing in Taiwan's youth, especially in its indigenous youth, a sense of belonging within the Pacific world, while encouraging their creativity, their appreciation of the variety of the cultural resources offered by other Austronesian people, and its perception of the "resonance" that related stories, music and art forms inspire throughout this oceanic interchange.

Also read a review by Madeleine King on eRenlai:
http://www.erenlai.com/en/focus/2013/taiwanese-aboriginal-villages/item/5220-review-writings-that-weave-waves.html

 

Thursday, 20 March 2014 00:00

End of Lines - A Photo exhibition in Shanghai by Liz Hingley

Liz Hingley came to Shanghai in June 2013, twenty years after line 1 of Shanghai's metro opened. It is now the second largest metro system in the world and transports an average of more than 7 million people daily. She was fascinated by how its development has dramatically changed the city's social, economic and geographical structure. Liz spent two months traveling to every metro terminus to document the landscapes and communities at the peripheries of Shanghai's urban sprawl. The work was published as part of the Portrait De Villes book series in November 2013. Liz is also curating the 'Mapping Shanghai' talk and workshop series at K11 Shanghai Art Space.


《 End Of Lines 》INFORMATION
• Opening Party: 7pm Friday April 18th 2014
• Exhibition Date: Saturday April 19th 2014 – Sunday May 18th 2014
• Opening Hours: [Every day] 13:00-19:00 * Closed on national holidays
• Venue: ONE
• Address: #201, Bldg 5, 831 JiangNing Road, JingAn District, Shanghai
• Entry fee: Free of charge
• Enquiry: +86 (0)21 3131 7023 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. / http://www.one-magazine.net/
• Curator, Design and Organizer: ONE

 

Liz Hingley

Liz Hingley is a renowned photographer, researcher and member of Agence Vu. She holds a first class BA Honors in Photography and an MSc in Social Anthropology with distinction from University College London. Her work has received numerous awards including the Getty Image Grant, Prix Virginia and Photophilanthropy Activist Award. During a two-year scholarship with Fabrica in Italy she made the work "Under Gods " which was published by Dewi Lewis in 2011 and became an internationally touring solo exhibition.
She moved to Shanghai in June 2013 to continue her work on multi-faith urban communities at the invitation of the Ricci Institute at Fudan University and as a visiting scholar of Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

http://www.lizhingley.com/

http://portraitsdevilles.fr/

 

Read an interview about her project on eRenlai:

http://www.erenlai.com/en/extensions/spiritual-computing/a-spiritual/item/5451-an-interview-with-liz-hingley

Tuesday, 04 March 2014 00:00

Sun Ta-ch'uan, New Chair of the Taipei Ricci Institute

Prof. Sun Ta-ch'uan (孫大川 - Paelabang Danapan) was elected President of the Taipei Ricci Institute on January 15th, 2013. Prof. Sun, of the Puyuma tribe, is a most gifted writer, a leading aboriginal intellectual, and a former Minister of Aboriginal Affairs. Professor Sun's leading role in aboriginal research will reinforce the efforts deployed by the TRI since many years for linking concerns having to do with spiritual empowerment, sustainable development and cultural diversity into one.

In an interview from 2011, Prof. Sun talks about the challenges of the young aboriginal generation in Taiwan: 
http://www.erenlai.com/en/focus/2011-focus/canada/item/4762-the-mission-of-this-generation

Matilde Hong remains the executive director of the Taipei Ricci Institute which counts among its board members Jacques Duraud, S.J., Olivier Lardinois, S.J. and Benoit Vermander, S.J.

Thursday, 29 October 2009 00:58

A Synesthetic Adventure

Vowels
A black, E white, I red, U green, O blue: vowels,
I shall tell, one day, of your mysterious origins:
A, black velvety jacket of brilliant flies
which buzz around cruel smells,
Gulfs of shadow; E, whiteness of vapours and of tents,
lances of proud glaciers, white kings, shivers of cow-parsley;
I, purples, spat blood, smile of beautiful lips
in anger or in the raptures of penitence;
U, waves, divine shudderings of viridian seas,
the peace of pastures dotted with animals, the peace of the furrows
which alchemy prints on broad studious foreheads;
O, sublime Trumpet full of strange piercing sounds,
silences crossed by [Worlds and by Angels]:
–O the Omega! the violet ray of [His] Eyes!
Arthur Rimbaud, 1871


In his poem ’Vowels’, Rimbaud creates metaphors which associate letters to colours and colours to images, shapes, and feelings. This kind of association is called synesthesia which is originally a neurologically based phenomenon where several senses are associated. For example, as in this poem, letters or numbers can be perceived as coloured whilst words can evoke taste or gustative sensations. Synesthesia is also very common in music: we can talk about the colour of the voice or the tint of a melody. To the extent that the expression ’blues’ became a music style. Some people even say that souls are coloured. A friend once told me that he used to see coloured auras around certain persons, he said that though he knew these colours were psychological, he saw them as real as strokes from a paintbrush. Later on, he shut down this ’gift’, he confided to me, because the colours were getting darker and darker.

Indeed every colour carries a symbolic meaning. Some of these connotations seem rooted in the culture and become incarcerated in certain mindsets. For western societies, black is obviously the colour for death and evil. More generally, green has become the near universal sign of permission and authorisation thanks to traffic lights. Yellow is associated with sex in the Chinese world (porn movies can also be called ‘yellow movies’), while for the Colombians it brings good luck if they wear yellow underwear on new years eve because yellow is similar to the colour of gold. I also knew a Japanese who had a strange synesthesia, he couldn’t wear yellow underwear, as it reminded him of the rutting season.

Colours...at the same time so universal and so subjective. Scientists say that our eyes do not even see the same colours; vocabulary for example shows the discrepancy between the different perceptions of tints: one says this colour is bluish whilst the other affirms that it is greenish. In fact none of them are right or wrong; in French ’teal’ is almost equally called bleu canard (Blue Duck) or vert canard (Green Duck).

So the point is to precisely explore our different perceptions of colours and the way they influence or change our appreciation of our environment. I have lived in France for more than twenty years and now I have been living in Taiwan for more than four years. When I close my eyes, I see the mole grey of the Parisian macadam and I can almost smell the ozone scent of the evaporating rain. When I open them, I see the green hills that surround the basin of Taipei, my first vision of the city when I arrived from the airport and I can smell the perfume of the night jasmine which permeates through the waft of the cockroaches feces scattered in the brown and dark alleys of the night market.

However I invite you not to close your eyes but to open them wide to the photographs on Taiwan presented here and maybe create your own synesthetic adventure.
 
 
 
 
 
 


(Picture: Athena’s This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )
Wednesday, 30 December 2009 06:50

Drugs, addiction and literature

It is now common place to link drugs to the world of Arts and Literature.From the 19th century onwards, many writers have taken over the subject to describe either its psychical or physical effects. French poet Baudelaire published an essay on hashish and opium in Les Paradis artificiels (Artificial Paradises, 1860) inspired by Thomas de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. In the mid-20th century, writers from the Beat Generation in the US put the use and the experimentation of drugs at the center of their works, as for example with William Burroughs’ novels Junky and The Naked Lunch. Since then, the subject has also been exploited abundantly by film directors who have adapted novels such as Requiem for a Dream realised in 2000 by Darren Aronofsky from the eponymous novel by Hubert Selby Jr. published in 1978.

 
It is certainly very difficult and maybe impossible to objectively assert or analyse the relation between the taking of drugs and creativity, although many writers have evoked their own use of hallucinogenous substances to stimulate their imagination. Indeed, the use of drugs is known for its power of transgression, of modifying the perceptions and also sometimes making the body and the mind more efficient and productive. Drugs could tally with the fantasy of a creator who would not need to sleep or stop in order to achieve his work. For example, Jean-Paul Sartre was reported to having used mescaline and amphetamines by his companion Simone de Beauvoir (in The prime of life); he would have injected himself with mescaline while writing L’Imaginaire because he wanted to study and observe the process of hallucinations while being himself the subject of these visions. In fact, apparently Sartre was also distinguishing different uses for different drugs: he would take mescaline when writing literary works while he would take amphetamines for philosophical works. Pascal Nouvel, the author of Histoire des amphetamines (The History of Amphetamines, 2009) recalls that Sartre would have written La critique de la raison dialectique under the influence of amphetamines as apparently, for him, philosophy was the development of an idea that he already had; then the amphetamines would help him to produce more energy in order to develop this idea when mescaline would be more reserved for the stimulation of creation. Pascal Nouvel also quotes another original use of amphetamines by science fiction author Philip K. Dick. The latter took these drugs to reach a state of paranoia (also called ‘amphetaminic psychosis’) which would inspire him to reproduce this atmosphere of fear and paranoia in his novels.

 

These alterations and modifications of perception once under the influence of a drug are described by Baudelaire in his essay on hashish and opium, Les Paradis artificiels. In the first part of the book entitled “le Poeme du hashish”, he relates his own experience of hashish; in the second part of the book, named “the Opium Eater”, he analyses the book written by Thomas de Quincey (1785-1859), a British writer who related his addiction to opium. Baudelaire describes precisely the different steps of his intoxication, starting with the physical symptoms and the behaviour changes which result. And Baudelaire mentions a hallucinatory phase which he himself compares to poetic analogies, when the senses seem to take a more distinct power:

“It is, in fact, at this period of the intoxication that is manifested a new delicacy, a superior sharpness in each of the senses: smell, sight, hearing, touch join equally in this onward march; the eyes behold the Infinite; the ear perceives almost inaudible sounds in the midst of the most tremendous tumult. It is then that the hallucinations begin; external objects take on wholly and successively most strange appearances; they are deformed and transformed. […]The enthusiast eye of the hashish drunkard will see strange forms, but before they were strange and monstrous these forms were simple and natural. The energy, the almost speaking liveliness of hallucination in this form of intoxication in no way invalidates this original difference: the one has root in the situation, and, at the present time, the other has not." (’The Theater of Seraphim’, Chap.3, translation by Aleister Crowley, 1895)

But the final judgment of Baudelaire is not positive: after the acme of the drug’s influence, there is the ‘comedown’ which he qualifies as “terrible”:

“But the morrow; the terrible morrow! All the organs relaxed, tired; the nerves unstretched, the teasing tendency to tears, the impossibility of applying yourself to a continuous task, teach you cruelly that you have been playing a forbidden game. Hideous nature, stripped of its illumination of the previous evening, resembles the melancholy ruins of a festival. The will, the most precious of all faculties, is above all attacked. They say, and it is nearly true, that this substance does not cause any physical ill; or at least no grave one; but can one affirm that a man incapable of action and fit only for dreaming is really in good health, even when every part of him functions perfectly?“ (’The Moral’, Chap.5)

At the end, Baudelaire condemns this drug because it forces one to abdicate their will and takes away the control of one’s thoughts. Drugs may be a way to reach a certain ideal and to increase one’s imagination but this ideal remains “artificial”, “fake” as the creator should be the master of its own creation and realisation.

Here we can suggest an approach to the definition of addiction. If drugs usage is necessarily a transformation of oneself which is not necessarily a bad experience in itself, the negative ontological effect of using drugs could rely on its potential addictive power, as addiction would be the dissociation of the subject from its autonomy through the alteration and the submission of oneself. Heir of the Beat Generation, Hubert Selby Jr. describes in a very striking way the mechanism of addiction in his novel Requiem for a Dream. The book follows the four seasons of one year to depict the relentless decay of the four main characters: Sara, the mother of Harry, his girlfriend Marion and his best friend Tyrone. The latter are all young heroin users. The addiction of Harry is evoked since the very first pages of the book: in order to get money to go buy drugs, he has established a ritual during which he takes his mother’s television set to the pawn shop where Sara has to re-buy it. It is summer; Sara is a widow who spends her days watching the same television show and eating chocolates. She receives a phone call which announces to her that she may participate in the television show. She becomes obsessed with her appearance as she wants to wear a special red dress on the day of the show and, in order to slim fast, she starts a regimen of amphetaminic diet-pills. It is probably in the middle of the book that the reader becomes conscious of Sara’s addiction when she calls her doctor’s office to complain that she doesn’t feel the effects of the pills, then after the physical addiction comes the mental one almost inevitably follows.

All characters share the same craving for an ideal of happiness which they see as attainable at first. The youngsters have entrepreneurial dreams which define their ideal of success while Sara dreams of seeing herself on television. Harry’s leitmotiv is that there is never anything to worry about: whether it’s when they do not find their dose, when they get into trouble, when he recognizes his mother’s addiction she’s unwilling to admit it etc. But their passivity is what also condemns them; all four are waiting: Sara for the confirmation letter from the television show, the three kids for the stroke of luck which will decide their future. Their will is totally annihilated by the use of drugs and their habits, the automatism of their daily lives which is symbolized by the television set. Whether it is to relax after taking drugs or to feed one’s fantasies, the television is the symbol of this artificial paradise created by addiction. Actually, the author doesn’t only relate the addiction to drugs, he tells more the story of people who have renounced their will and, somehow, their ability of living together and acting their own lives. All their addictions could be exchangeable (Sara for example exchanges her bulimia for anorexia); the drugs are the means and the symptoms of the characters’ meaningless life, which reinforce somehow the idea that anything can be an object of addiction.

So one cannot say that literature, or art, have participated in normalizing the use of drugs as one can see that drug usage and addiction, whether the actor or the object of the writings, belong first to the social sphere: literature and philosophy might be able to help put into words the ‘language of drugs and addiction’ but it is also a matter of knowing what kind of society we want, how we want to consider the margins of our society, if we want to stigmatize them or to help the distressed instead.
 
 

Read a study on cocaine (in French)

 
 
 
 
 

 


Additional information
There is no doubt that rehabs for drug addiction can help treat drug addicted people from all walks of life.
 
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