Monday, May 15, 2006

When Someone Has Done Something Good, Then Perhaps That Good Deed Becomes the Eye of a Bird

Featured in the latest edition of Harper's:

From a “protocol,” dated April 18, 1931, by Fritz Fränkel, a friend of Walter Benjamin’s, detailing an experiment of Benjamin’s with hashish. The notes, translated by Howard Eiland, are included in On Hashish, published this month by Belknap/Harvard University Press. The Latin phrase below, from Horace, means “Mountains will labor; a funny little mouse will be born.”

11:00 P.M. Walter Benjamin, 1.0 gram.

12:00 A.M. SUDDEN LAUGHTER; repeated short bursts of laughter.

“I’d like to be transformed into a mouse mountain.” (Naturally: “Parturiunt montes, nascetur ridiculus mus.”)

Subject notices a crumpled piece of paper lying next to a bottle on a little table, and in a delighted tone he designates it “little monkey” and also “stereoscope monkey,” “little stereoscope.”

It is a sign of the very bright and friendly character of the intoxication that the subject’s pleasurable relation to his own existence does not manifest itself here, as it usually does, in arrogance and distance. His exultation is put to use in an opposite direction—namely, as tenderness toward things and, above all, toward words. The play with the words “stereoscope monkey” is wholly characteristic of the way the hashish intoxication sets going a volatilization of ideas into word aromas, so much so that, for example, the proper ideational substance of the word—the root idea “monkey”—ends up completely evaporating.

The room we’re in is said to be “lacking charm.” The subject explains that “oriental palaces belong here. I am not thinking of describing them, although that might suit the palaces.” Then the subject says he would like “to see something beautiful.”

Subject picks up a newspaper and makes a serious attempt to read it—is therefore not really occupied with any inner visions brought on by intoxication. Of course, for whatever reason, physical or mental, the reading attempt fails. (Presumably, the cause is physical and mental.) The subject finds himself inexplicably amused by the dullest political slogans.

At this point, the test subject crosses the threshold of intoxication (properly speaking).

“All colors take their rise from the snow—you must have regard for the colors.”

As in earlier experiments, the subject raises his right arm, supported at the elbow, to a vertical position, with the index finger pointing upward. “Perhaps my hand will slowly turn into a little branch.”

Test subject occupies himself again with the room, this time in a friendlier spirit than before, calling it “little room” and addressing it in the familiar: “Little room, I’d like to say something beautiful to you.”

The test subject turns to colors again, uttering the word “green” in a long, singing tone (held for about twenty seconds), and then he says, “Green is also yellow.”

So far as this last remark is concerned, it surely means what it says, hut also presumably more than what it says. Fundamentally, there is the experience of a representation of something yellow next to that of something green. These representations can be circumscribed most readily by the image of a luxuriant meadow whose border spills yellow sand. The lengthened vowel in the word “green” implies that the voice is being drawn out by the sound, just as the idea of green has appertaining to it something attractive, enticing, something that draws one ever further into the distance. The voice wanders in pursuit of the sound, and the inner eye in pursuit of things.

The deepest stage of the intoxication begins, it would seem. Introduced with much ado, the proclamation of secrets begins. Unfortunately, the second of these secrets cannot be recovered, since at this point the compiler of the protocol was very energetically prohibited from taking notes. This behavior speaks for the depth of the intoxication, for at shallower stages the vanity of the intoxicated man is gratified by the fact that his words are being noted down. The first of these secrets: “It is a law: There is a hashish effect only when one speaks about the hashish.”

The test subject urgently requests that the window be shut. I close the window, and my action is greeted with a lively show of gratitude. In this context arises a speculation: “When someone has done something good, then perhaps that good deed becomes the eye of a bird.”

The test subject claims to be feeling “an exceedingly strong effect, combined with the most powerful things I’ve ever felt with hashish.” The character of the intoxication seems to him now “indescribably festive.” At this point the second secret made its appearance.

Test subject expresses the wish that the protocol writer not address him in the familiar as “du.” The reason for this: “I am not I; I am the hashish at certain moments.” Physical manifestations are also particularly strong at this stage:
“My legs as though tied together.”

The following sentence—”Important thoughts must be put to sleep for a long time”—may relate to the process of deferment in the expression of a thought, that hesitation which can sometimes lead to total suppression of the thought. There follows, in a “deep phase, in which I descend almost at will, and to a mighty depth,” the third “great” secret. This is in fact a crystallization of the basic character of this particular intoxication. It is designated the “secret of wandering.” What defines wandering is not purposeful movement, not a spontaneity, but an unfathomable being-drawn. Wandering may be understood in reference to the clouds, if one were prepared to follow their drift with the feeling that they are not moving on their own but are being drawn.

“No one will be able to understand this intoxication; the will to awaken has died.”

Some chocolate offered to the subject is declined with the words: “Eating belongs to another world.” He is “separated from food by a glass wall.”

The mood suddenly shifts. Test subject calls out abruptly: “New turn in the intoxication!” and, laughing repeatedly, says he’s now “suddenly in an operetta mood.” The subject’s consciousness of the strength of the intoxication is demonstrated by his comment that “the intoxication could last thirty hours.”

Test subject suddenly falls asleep (1:15 A.M.).

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