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<nettime> Rausch, Rebellion, and Rauschgiftbekämpfung
Ed Phillips (by way of Pit Schultz <pit {AT} contrib.de>) on Sat, 3 May 1997 09:05:57 +0200 (MET DST)


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<nettime> Rausch, Rebellion, and Rauschgiftbekämpfung


I'm offering this on nettime because it is timely and the Author,
Scott Thompson will be going to Amsterdam this summer to deliver a
similar paper at the Walter Benjamin Society's First International
Congress on the 26th of July. Also attending will be the likes of
Derrida, Baudrillard, and Buck-Morss.

Scott Thompson is a scholar, translator, and the leader of the San
Francisco Walter Benjamin Society.  Scott has done some
ground-breaking research on Benjamin, The Weimar period, and the War
on Drugs.  It seems that the Nazis' Rauschgiftbekämpfung was a
precursor to the U.S War on Drugs. I hope that Scott's work is of some
help to those in Europe who are trying to prevent an EU War on Drugs.

Scott also wants to inquire about any recent scholarship in German on
the Weimar period, the Nazis and the Rauschgiftbekämpfung. Please
contact me if you know of any authors or works.

#1.  FROM RAUSCH TO REBELLION: Walter Benjamin's Uncompleted Book on
Hashish.
 
When Thomas Mann and Georg Lukács reprimanded Aldous Huxley for
"glorifying" his mescaline experiences to the world they were
convinced that their position represented reason and the
responsibility of intellectuals in the face of neo-fascist
mind-control and late capitalist chemical escapism.  What they failed
to consider was that they were playing into the hands of a propaganda
machine which had functioned quite well under the Nazis. Called
"Rauschgiftbekämpfung" [The Combatting of Drugs],it was a true
precursor to the U.S. War on Drugs which has mobilized the entire U.S.
armed forces to root out the demonized forces of irrationalism
threatening the performance principle of Late Capital's global sweat
shop.

Mann and Lukács, who have no doubt made very valuable contributions to
western literature, represent an academic attitude toward the
irrational that would appear to be based on certain aesthetic biases.

We can locate the germs of their anti-inebriant bigotry in the debates
on Expressionism, particularly those between Lukács and Bloch. Mann
and Lukács represent that "grandeur in repose" of neo-classicism,
which is always so predictably horrified by displays of passion.
Visionary inebriants evidently threatened their "masks of composure."


It was precisely to jar the post-industrial self loose from its
de-humanized and well-adjusted mask that Walter Benjamin advocated
rescuing the energies of the cosmic-rausch of the ancient world for
the proletarian revolution.  While Benjamin's concept of "Profane
Illumination" [Profane Erleuchtung] stands in marked contrast to
Huxley's semi-theosophical "Mind-at-Large" [see DOORS OF PERCEPTION],
there are indeed some striking similarities in their observations
while under the influence of psychopharmaka.

Had Benjamin been successful in his flight to the U.S., he would no
doubt have joined  Salka Viertel's salon in Los Angeles along with his
associates Bertolt Brecht and Theodor Adorno, and there he would have
also come into contact with Thomas Mann (who was consulting Adorno on
musical questions related to DOCTOR FAUSTUS) and Aldous Huxley, to
whom he could have communicated his own mescaline experience from 22.
May 1934 --almost two decades before Huxley's mescaline experience. To
add the finishing touch to the intricate irony, he would have
discovered, had he not already known, that writer-actress Salka
Viertel's personal physician in Berlin had been none other than Dr.
Ernst Joël, the psychopathologist who initiated Benjamin into the
world of hashish on December 18, 1927.

If one compares Huxley's comments on the folds in draperies
depicted in classical western artworks ("draperies are living
hieroglyphs that stand in some peculiarly expressive way for the
unfathomable mystery of pure being") with Benjamin's comments on the
delicate dance of fringe hanging from an awning ("Hashish in
Marseilles") or "the ornamental" in his CROCKNOTIZEN [Crock Notes],
one discovers enough similarity and correspondence to make for an
interesting and constructive dialogue:

"Es ist höchst eigentümlich, daß die Phantasie dem Raucher Objekte -
und zumal besonders kleine - gern serienweise vorstellt.  Die endlosen
Reihen, in denen da vor ihm immer wieder die gleichen Utensilien,
Tierchen oder Pflanzenformen auftauchen, stellen gewissermaßen
ungestalte, kaum geformte Entwürfe eines primitiven Ornaments dar."
Trans.: "It is highly characteristic of the reverie that it tends to
present before the smoker [i.e. opium-smoker] objects - particularly
small ones - in series.  The endless successions, in which the same
contrivances, little animals or plant forms suddenly surface in front
of the person over and over again, depict, so to speak, misshapen,
barely formed sketches of a primitive
ornament."

Both Huxley and Benjamin were attempting to recover a concept of
experience which had become entirely alien to the neo-classicist
thinkers of the Enlightenment.

Benjamin's early treatise "On the Program of the Coming Philosophy"
(1917/1918) was an attempt to rework the concept of experience from
within the Kantian system. While praising Kant for his insistence that
knowledge justify itself in quest for certainty and lasting knowledge
within an ephemeral world, Benjamin called the reality of Newtonian
physics upon which Kant based his certainty "a low, perhaps the lowest
order." Benjamin perceived the metaphysical and religious
presuppositions underlying the moral imperative to justify knowledge,
but as a metaphysics he considered the Kantian "mythology" of a "pure
epistemological (transcendental) consciousness" "different in kind
from any empirical consciousness" to be "only a modern and,
religiously, a particularly infertile one."

In contrast to the clockwork-metaphysics of nascent Protestant
capital, Benjamin sought "the intoxication of cosmic experience"
[Scholem, "Walter Benjamin and his Angel"]. True experience would have
to account for other mythologies as well, and those Benjamin names
betray his reading of Ludwig Klages: "We know of primitive peoples of
the so-called preanimistic stage who identify themselves with sacred
animals and plants and name themselves after them; we know of insane
people who likewise identify themselves in part with objects of their
perception, which are thus no longer objects, "placed before" them; we
know of sick people who relate the sensations of their bodies not to
themselves but rather to other creatures, and clairvoyants who at
least claim to be able to feel the sensations of others as their own.
The commonly shared notion of sensuous (and intellectual) knowledge in
our epoch, as well as in the Kantian and the pre-Kantian epochs, is
very much a mythology like those mentioned."

Benjamin's critique of the Kantian concept of experience finds its
parallel in Dr. Ernst Joël's critique of Kraepelinian
psychopharmacology. Emil Kraepelin (1855-1926), father of modern
psychopharmacology and "discoverer" of "dementia praecox" [later
called "schizophrenia" by Jung's teacher, Bleuler] had advanced the
technical capabilities of psychology by treating it as a physical
science.

Rather than treating a human personality, the Kraepelinian method
artificially severed partial functions of psychic life, altered them
with psychopharmaka and subjected them to testing. A cursory scan of
German monographs on mescaline written during the Weimar Republic and
the Third Reich reveals this method in a great number of monograph
titles, e.g., "Meskalinwirkung auf das Phantomglied" (Mescaline-effect
upon the phantom limb) or "Meskalinwirkung bei Störungen des optischen
Systems" (Mescaline-effect in disturbances of the optic system). It is
not at all surprising that such titles predominate theresearch during
the Third Reich, for the humanity lacking in the Kraepelinian paradigm
was easily steered in the direction of mind-control and
chemical-biological warfare.

Under the Nazi's mescaline research continued, but laboratories like
the Dachau concentration camp were the preferred setting. Humanistic
and therapeutic research with psychopharmaka was forbidden under the
pretext of "Rauschgiftbekämpfung,"a component of the racist ideology
which perceived a threat to the "performance principle" in the exotic
inebriants coming into Germany from the "racially inferior" peoples of
Asia and Latin America [the intro. to Reko's MAGISCHE GIFTE,written
in 1938, spells it out quite clearly].

Ernst Joël proposed the alternative of "experimental psychopathology".
Substances which were thought to be "psychotomimetic" would be used to
arbitrarily engender "rausch-states" in specially selected test
subjects OUTSIDE the clinical laboratory setting. It was under this
very loose"supervision" that Walter Benjamin, whose philosophical
intentions were, according to Adorno ["Benjamin, the Letter-Writer"],
"to render accessible by rational means that range of experience that
announces itself in schizophrenia," agreed to participate as
"Versuchsperson" [test subject] in Ernst Joël and Fritz Fränkel's
hashish experiments in Berlin.

Of the hundreds of books, articles, essays, monographs and
dissertations on Benjamin (supposedly over 3000 exist), only a handful
discuss the writings on hashish and opium and the Drogenversuchen, and
none of them situate the experiments within a historical context. When
Benjamin became a "test subject", he also became part of a
long-forgotten community, the Weimar Republic's psychonautic
avant-garde, which included Benjamin's friend, Ernst Bloch, his cousin
Egon Wissing and Egon's wife, Gert.

With the synthesis of mescaline from peyote by Arthur Heffter in 1897,
Germany became the leader in psychopharmacological research.  The year
Benjamin began his experiments, Louis Lewin published his second
edition of PHANTASTICA in Berlin, which appears on the list of books
which Benjamin read from cover to cover.

This book alone would have supplied Benjamin with a library of
information about psychopharmaka. Hermann Schweppenhäuser's claim that
Benjamin's writings on hashish, opium and mescaline are among the most
genuine ever put to paper can only be evaluated against the context of
Weimar experimentation with psychopharmaka.

Kurt Beringer's amazing monograph on mescaline, DER MESKALIN-RAUSCH
was also published in 1927, and remains the greatest work ever written
on the subject.  Beringer's book contains over 200 pages of protocols
from 60 experiments in Heidelberg among doctors, medical students,
natural scientists, and philosophers, all of whom demonstrate
remarkable articulateness. Only within the full context of this
research, which produced literally hundreds of monographs on peyote,
mescaline, cannabis, opiates, ayahuasca, cocaine, can we really begin
to evaluate Benjamin's writings and experiments, in which he
participated not merely as test subject, but at times as supervisor.

In the third of the published protocols, Benjamin is writing the
protocol of Joël's hashish experiment.

 What does make Benjamin's contribution to this research unique is
summarized quite concisely by Scholem in his essay, "Walter Benjamin
and his Angel": to rescue the intoxication of cosmic experience that
the human being of antiquity possessed for the proletariat in their
coming seizure of power.  This attempt to wed "rausch" and "rebellion"
in a "profane illumination" should come as no surprise to anyone who
came into majority during the late 1960s.  It is hard to imagine the
anti-war demonstrations becoming as large as they did if they had not
been partially fueled by marijuana and LSD, and this is precisely what
the moribund left in the U.S. seems to have forgotten.

Benjamin scholars have more often than not misinterpreted "profane
illumination" as an awakening "from" rausch. Hermann Schweppenhäuser,
Peter Demetz, Richard Sieburth, John McCole, Margaret Cohen, Susan
Buck-Morss and others continually repeat the refrain that Benjamin
considered the most important aspect of his experiments to be the
crystallized intellectual yield gleaned AFTER the rausch had subsided.
In Schweppenhäuser's depiction, it is as if Benjamin were heroically
running some painful gauntlet in order to capture the pearl from the
rausch-dragons of obscurantism.  But "profane illumination" can take
place within the inebriated voyage itself.  If rausch is analogous to
being adrift in a turbulent sea, then "profane illumination" is like
suddenly awakening in the midst of a dream and seizing the helm,
becoming the pilot of one's inner voyage.  Norbert Bolz understood
this perfectly well in his essay "Vorschule der profanen Erleuchtung,"
and he has prefaced his essay with a quote: " 'Man kann nicht immer im
Rausch leben.' Kann man es nicht? Man muß ihn nur richtig
orientieren." ["'One can't always be high.' Oh no? One onlyhas to
properly orient oneself."]  The autoworkers who smoked pot, dropped
acid, and instead of 'tuning out' shut down auto-factories in wildcat
strikes understand Walter Benjamin perfectly well whether they have
read him or not.

Herbert Marcuse seemed to be coming to a similar idea in his ESSAY ON
LIBERATION which postulated a "new sensibility" as a biological
necessity for revolution.  Discussing this new sensibility in 1969,
Marcuse wrote:

"Today's rebels want to see, hear, feel new things in a new way: they
link liberation with the dissolution of ordinary and orderly
perception.  The 'trip' involves the dissolution of the ego shaped by
the established society - an artificial and short-lived duration.  But
the artificial and "private" liberation anticipates, in a distorted
manner, an exigency of the social liberation: the revolution must be
at the same time a revolution in perception which will accompany the
material and intellectual reconstruction of society, creating the new
aesthetic environment.  Awareness of the need for such a revolution in
perception, for a new sensorium, is perhaps the kernel of truth in the
psychedelic search." (37)

The drawback to this search, according to Marcuse, was the "narcotic
character" of the artificial paradise, which all-too-often tended to
free one from concern for the social liberation.  For Marcuse, like
Benjamin, the voyage into the secret garden must be a messianic
voyage, and the psychonaut is duty-bound to articulate his perceptions
and discoveries to the entire community.

Little did Marcuse realize that the late capitalist state would
mobilize its entire army and police forces into an all-out effort to 
eradicate self-induced euphoria once and for all.

At the end of his book, ONE-DIMENSIONAL MAN, Marcuse quoted Benjamin's
famous dictum: "It is for those without hope that hope is given to
us." Those of us who are fortunate to have hope owe it to our fellows
to become articulate in our ecstasy.


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