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Under the Influence: The Literature of Addiction (Modern Library Paperbacks)

Under the Influence: The Literature of Addiction (Modern Library Paperbacks)
Author: Rebecca Shannonhouse
ISBN 13: 9780375757167
ISBN 10: 375757163
Edition: 59041st
Publisher: Modern Library
Publication Date: 2003-02-04
Format: Paperback
Pages: 336
List Price: $15.00

Drawing on two centuries of important literary and historical writings, Rebecca Shannonhouse has shaped a remarkable collection of works that are, in turn, tragic, compelling, hilarious, and enlightening. Together, these selections comprise a profound and truthful portrait of the life experience known as addiction.

Under the Influence offers classic selections from fiction, memoirs, and essays by authors such as Tolstoy, Cheever, Parker, and Poe. Also included are topical gems by writers who illuminate the causes, dangers, pleasures, and public perceptions surrounding people consumed by excessive use of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. Recent provocative works by Abraham Verghese, the Barthelme brothers, Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, and others expand and modernize the definition of addiction to include sex, gambling, and food. Together, these incomparable writings give shape and meaning to the raw experience of uncontrollable urges.

Shannonhouse’s recent anthology, Out of Her Mind: Women Writing on Madness, is also available as a Modern Library Paperback.

The New Yorker

This is the doctrine of the true church on the subject of opium," Thomas De Quincey wrote, "of which church I acknowledge myself to be the only member." Many lonely worshippers congregate in Under The Influence: The Literature of Addiction, an anthology from Modern Library edited by Rebecca Shannonhouse that collects examples of almost two centuries of drug literature -- from De Quincey's early-eighteenth-century memoir, "Confessions of an English Opium-Eater," to the anonymous 2001 Granta essay "Confessions of a Middle-Aged Ecstasy Eater." Drugs may lie at the book's heart, but compulsions related to gambling, food, and sex are also represented.

Missing from the collection is one of De Quincey's most devoted readers and a fellow opium fiend, Charles Baudelaire, who counselled readers to be drunk continually, "on wine, on poetry, or on virtue, as you wish." But he also thought drugs were a perversion of man's taste for the infinite and that great minds could furnish their own intoxicants. In On Wine and Hashish, translated from the French by Andrew Brown, Baudelaire argues that the great poets can "by the pure and free exercise of their will reach a state in which they are at once cause and effect, subject and object, hypnotist and sleepwalker."

In Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use, Jacob Sullum dismantles the antidrug messages -- the comic figure of the slothful pothead, the spectre of the acid flashback. Sullum believes that the "silent majority" of illegal drug users indulge only moderately while still leading successful, productive lives. Once this group begins to speak up, he hopes, the myths of the drug wars "will be impossible to sustain."

(Kate Taylor)