Cover image for The road of excess : a history of writers on drugs
The road of excess : a history of writers on drugs
Boon, Marcus.
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Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
339 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
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PN56.N18 B66 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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From the antiquity of Homer to yesterday's Naked Lunch, writers have found inspiration, and readers have lost themselves, in a world of the imagination tinged and oftentimes transformed by drugs. The age-old association of literature and drugs receives its first comprehensive treatment in this far-reaching work. Drawing on history, science, biography, literary analysis, and ethnography, Marcus Boon shows that the concept of drugs is fundamentally interdisciplinary, and reveals how different sets of connections between disciplines configure each drug's unique history.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Instead of providing a chronological history of drugs in literature, Boon (English, York Univ.) offers a sprawling, extensively researched work that explores the "more subtle, micropolitical histories of everyday interactions between human beings and particular psychoactive substances." Each of the book's five chapters focuses on writers (e.g., Baudelaire, Burroughs, Coleridge, Freud, Huxley, Kerouac, and Southey) and works associated with a particular class of drugs: narcotics, anesthetics, cannabis, stimulants, and psychedelics. Boon originally intended to confine himself to writers from the Romantics to the present but expanded his scope when after questioning the apparent lack of drug literature prior to Thomas De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater (1822). This is an ambitious effort, but as Boon himself notes in his chapter on cannabis, readers "will notice a tendency in my writing toward digression." A tighter focus would have helped, especially since many of the anecdotes have been covered elsewhere-most recently in Sadie Plant's Writing on Drugs. Still, this is a solid work of scholarship that should be of interest to most academic libraries.-William D. Walsh, White Pines Coll., Chester, NH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Boon (York Univ., Canada) presents a comprehensive overview of the relationship of literature, writers, and drugs in Western culture over approximately the last 200 years. Attempting to avoid a sensational approach, he examines the specific characteristics of individual drugs and the effects they seem to have had on their literary experimenters. Thus, a devotee of the narcotic opium, like Jean Cocteau, consistently finds himself immersed in contemplation of the complexity of time, what he called "a wound in slow motion." The use of stimulants such as coffee and tea, associated with writers like Swift, Fielding, and Pope in the 18th century, evolved into the cocaine use in the 19th and 20th centuries that reflected the speeding up of time and perception seen in a character like Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. Says the great detective, "with artificial stimulants ... I crave for mental exaltation." Boon also has a great deal to say about anesthetic drugs, along with psychedelics, and almost every topic he raises is thought-provoking, though not always plausible. With one foot in literary criticism and the other in popular culture, this groundbreaking volume is an interesting read. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. M. H. Begnal Pennsylvania State University, University Park Campus

Table of Contents

Prologuep. 1
1. Addicted to Nothingness: Narcotics and Literaturep. 17
2. The Voice of the Blood: Anesthetics and Literaturep. 87
3. The Time of the Assassins: Cannabis and Literaturep. 123
4. Induced Life: Stimulants and Literaturep. 170
5. The Imaginal Realms: Psychedelics and Literaturep. 218
Epiloguep. 276
Bibliographyp. 279
Notesp. 303
Acknowledgmentsp. 329
Illustration Creditsp. 331
Indexp. 333