The Spiritual Versus The Pharmaceutical

Erdedy’s addiction to pot.  Don Gately’s addiction to Demerol.  Hal Incandenza’s addiction to pot.  Michael Pemulis’s addiction to…well, whatever he’s talking about in that paragraph on pages 66-67.  Kate Gompert’s addiction to pot.  David Foster Wallace’s addiction to alcohol and pot.

The eventual rise of Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and any other Anonymous I don’t remember from my first reading of IJ.

One of the great themes in this book is the spiritual battle that each of these characters (and the author) undertakes alone and in groups against their own personal demons and their addictions.  It’s a great conflict that expresses itself via moment-to-moment will power wins/losses, daily affirmations, and long term promises and planning.  It is representative of a moral struggle for the very soul of America.

And it’s all bullshitmaybe.*  Yes yes yes, a drug that cures drug addiction.  The irony isn’t lost on me.  But this is what science is, people.  This is what science does.

Would naltrexone or acamprosate have helped Kate with her pot smoking?  Possibly.**  Would it have resolved her deeper issues with depression?  Probably not.  But what about Gately at the end of the book?  He’s not fighting depression, just addiction.  Not trying to get too far ahead of the game here, but what if the nurses could give him that muscle relaxant the cocaine user in the Radiolab episode used to quench his thirst for coke and then gave Gately the morphine?  Well…that changes the whole symbolic meaning of his suffering, undermines his reliance on  X Anonymous, strips the book of its most (in my opinion) powerful character.

Granted, drugs that help tackle the brain chemistry issues of addiction probably weren’t even a scientist’s day dream back when IJ was written, but it’s quickly becoming a possibility/reality today.  And I feel this does something to the novel’s overall message (a moral message (there’s that word again!) about character and assumed personal failures) and its ability to transcend its late 20th Century context and become something more timeless.

* It wouldn’t be the first time Radiolab fucked up the science, intentionally or unintentionally, in order to tell a good story.

** Read the top-rated comment at the link.

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