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    Genealogy of the needle

    Wisely, Colin David (2014) Genealogy of the needle. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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    The Foucault influenced Opium and the People (1981) has generated considerable interest in its dealing with the construction of the medico-legal persona of the addict and has come to dominate many different interdisciplinary areas of study. An important critique of this work can be found in Henry Bryan Spear’s response to criticisms of civil servant Sir Malcolm Delevigne. These points reveal the operation of the repressive hypothesis in drugs discourse. The limitations of Opium and the People call for a fuller genealogical analysis of the subject of addiction. Discipline and Punish (1991a) and History of Sexuality Part One (1998) are the publications closely associated with the genealogical period of Foucault’s thought. The earlier publication of History of Madness (2006a) and Foucault’s lecture series also enable further interesting insights into the hermeneutics of addiction. One minor area for Opium and the People is the emergence of injection drug use and this phenomenon represents the focus of this thesis. It is through the story of the hypodermic syringe that we can see with more detail how the hermeneutic processes that were intended to eradicate opium use for pleasure ultimately led to the spread of intravenous injection. Beginning with the structural elision of the pain controlling from the pleasure producing elements of opium we can see the unexpected consequences of utopianism in the form of an outbreak of intravenous knowledge in the 1920s New York City following the imposition of a total prohibition on opiates. Through the tale of the hypodermic we can see the creation of the modern day ‘Tom Thumb horror’, the influence of confessional technology and the importance of resistance to bio-technico power in the creation of the phenomenon of intravenous injection drug use. In Part One: ‘Self and Truths’ I outline the methodological project, the role of Friedrich Nietzsche’s thought upon Foucault’s idea of history. Here we will establish the core elements of Foucault’s genealogical method with a specific emphasis on the importance of the repressive hypothesis as outlined in The History of Sexuality Part One (1998) for the creation of the pejorative archetype of the junkie. In Part Two: ‘Structure, Monsters and Poets’ the importance of Descartes’ thought on the experimental enquiry into the control of pain are considered along with the inability to include the euphoria that opium induces. The importance of the History of Madness (2006a) is developed in this section as a key problem in our comprehension of the prohibitive response to the pleasures that are associated with opium. This section considers the importance of juridical process in the creation of the ‘Tom Thumb horror’, a process whereby legal case law is linked to broader medical and legal processes, thus enabling the creation of medico-legal persona that are related to specific jurisprudence. The importance of the creation of the idea of inebriety and the link developed between opium and alcohol enables us to observe this ongoing process. I consider the role of Thomas DeQuincey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge in the creation of the opium eater and the mysterious process whereby these musings became established as legal and medical facts. The significance of DeQuincey’s Stoic method of introspection and its impact on the creation of a new medical condition is developed. In Part Three: ‘The Needle, Inebriety and Resistance’, I explore the invention of the hypodermic and its spread across the globe. I look at the ongoing legal process that led to the abolition and the creation of an industry around a new medico-legal identity of the opium eater. The decline of the opium trade and the eventual prohibition are set against a paradoxical response of a small proportion of opium users that provides clear empirical evidence of a phenomenon that Foucault termed resistance. The importance of the relationship between hermeneutics, public policy and resistance in the creation of the conditions that led to the spread of the knowledge of intravenous injection forms the basis of the main conclusion of this study. In the final section I explore the implications of this study in the present-day and consider a Cynic alternative to the Stoic view of opium addiction.

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