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Methods of Absorption

August 13, 2009

Spoiler line: No spoilers! Yay!

Photo by Flickr user incurable hippie, used under a Creative Commons license.

Just a general observation: Is there any form of substance-ingestion more simplistic and inherently un-social, and lonely, than pill-popping? There’s no bong or pipe to pass around, no lines to snort off someone’s cute lil’ bottom, no need to have someone else tie off your arm while you shoot up, none of the sudsy conviviality that often accompanies boozing.

I mean, so many other forms of substance abuse have all sorts of cultural (and hence social) rituals associated with the act of ingesting. But I can’t think of anything equivalent to say, drinking games or pipe-etiquette having to do strictly with pills. The pill-popper* is robbed even of the zany intricate methodologies that accompany the preparation of other substances — there are basically whole realms of human knowledge devoted to mixing drinks or rolling the perfect J-bird or, as Wallace taught us, cooking up a batch of freebase cocaine. But with pills it’s down the hatch and you’re done. Just a ruthlessly efficient and inherently solitary mechanism for funneling Substance x into your body.

I don’t think it’s any accident that most of the substance abuse going on at ETA in Infinite Jest is pill-related.

A lot of us Infinite Summerians have done some pissing and moaning over the relentlessly dry pharmaceutical footnotes in IJ that detail things like drug name, street name, chemical structure, manufacturer, etc. I’m pretty sure this dryness is by design. There’s something terribly cold and rational and engineered about a pill: it’s a commodity, for one thing, created by a pharmaceutical company and sold, at least initially, in a legit marketplace. So it’s going to have all this dry impersonal commodified data associated with it. I think there’s an analogy you can draw between pill-commodities and entertainment-commodities (cartridges and the like) in IJ — both created by distant and impersonal corporations, sold on the open market, engineered to deliver maximal benefit from minimal effort, etc. — that you can’t do quite the same way with a drug like weed or coke.

And finally, can it be just a coincidence that the apotheosis of all Infinite Jest substances, DMZ, is a pill?

* When I first typed that it came out “pill-pooper”!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 15, 2009 6:12 pm

    This is a terrific insight as to the “purpose” for the pharmaceutical notes. The contrast between coke/weed experiences and pill experiences is, as you say, structurally different. (There are some interesting in-between drugs, e.g. ecstasy and lsd, which come in little packages but often have related rituals and definitely are taken in groups. But there is still no “special knowledge” or practical skill involved in their ingestion.) With the additional description of all the different reactions people have to cocaine (yikes), there is definitely something very “modern” about the pill-pleasures, something neat and clean and as you say “engineered,” fully guaranteed to adjust you in a specific and well-managed way.

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