What Is Addiction by Don Ross
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About What Is Addiction by Don Ross
In Western culture, the addict has been a stock cultural figure for many years. Consider, for example, the book (1949) and film (1955) versions of The Man with the Golden Arm. The central character, played in the film by Frank Sinatra, is introduced as a former heroin user who has shaken off his dependence while in prison. He expects his release from jail to mark a new beginning for him as a musician.
However, encounters with and pressures from his exploitative old cronies, and his morally confused and deceptive wife, lead him to relapse. In short order, his virtues, ambitions, and judgment evaporate in the face of his desperation to obtain and use his drug. He steals; he blows his carefully cultivated musical opportunity; he has brushes with the law and is ultimately (falsely) accused of murder. In the end, he finds a third chance at a well-ordered life, thanks to the intervention of an angelic woman; but first, at her insistence, he must undergo a harrowing ordeal of withdrawal.
The Man with the Golden Arm is comparatively optimistic. In many subsequent, less sentimental, popular depictions of addiction, there is no suggestion of redemption. The superb film of 2000, Requiem for a Dream, pursues its heroin-entrapped characters from heights of romantic joy and tenderness to disfigurement, degradation, self-hatred, and psychic collapse. They are last seen in fetal positions, one following the amputation of his infected arm in a prison hospital.
Addiction on this well-rehearsed conception is a pit into which any heedless person might fall. It represents a moral failing to the extent that lack of caution is moralized. But we are typically asked to sympathize with addicted characters for two reasons. First, the punishment is out of proportion to the sin; mere fecklessness is not usually taken to justify humiliation and personal destruction. Second, the addicts’ stupidity is corrected by new knowledge as their condition overwhelms them, but their enlightenment comes too late-addiction is nemesis. Thus the more recent of the addiction narratives described above has the arc of classical tragedy.
- Publisher: MIT Press; 0 edition (February 5, 2010)
- Language: English
- Paperback: 460 pages
- ISBN-10: 0262513110
- ISBN-13: 978-0262513111
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