Fall 2002

Benjamin Mescaline

Richard Sieburth

This portrayal of Walter Benjamin’s account of his drug-trip draws on Benjamin’s "Über Haschisch" (1934).

W. B 22. 5. 34
10 P.M. 20 mgs of Merck mescaline injected into upper thigh.

After some 10 minutes, th­e mood changes for the worse.
F. leaves the darkened room, B. remains alone by the open window.
When F. returns, B. describes his impression of the view:
“I look upon it as someone who has died,
nostalgic for a favorite object of his previous life.” ­

More and more disgruntled, pacing back and forth, flailing his arms,
then crumpling into himself, complaining of his present condition,
which he considers a humiliation and describes as “misbehaviour”
and analyzes psychologically as “a clouding of affect,” a regression
into the nebulae of ambivalence: “the true reason children misbehave—
their dismay at not being able to work magic.”

Extraordinary susceptibility to acoustic and optical stimuli,
but critical of the conditions of the experiment:
all this should have taken place in a forest of palms;
the dose, furthermore, far too light . . .

The pulse is normal, but the slightest touch
provokes a reaction: the tickle of invasion,
he explains, parried by the laughter of defense.

The subject makes a number of remarks
on fondling, dandling, combing,
all linked to the figure of the Mother:

“Stroking, she undoes what has been done,
washing life clean in times’s stream.
Combing, she drives dreams from the hair.”

“Women’s work:
hemming knotting braiding weaving;
hem to woman as fence to man;
the lie of a hem, a fence’s stand.”

“Refrains are the hems of songs.”
[The verb säumen: to hem and/or to linger]

“Children lingering, loitering, plucking the fringes of experience, strand by strand, ‘the delights of dawdling’. Faust descending into the realm of the Mothers: first terror, then the point at which he begins to tarry, his virile labors suddenly overcome by the Moment. The Moment at which Mother takes him home.”

He raises his hands and draws a net over F.’s face,
claiming to have caught the globe in a snare.
“Net or cloak” -— that is the question.
The horror: the shadow of the mesh on his body,
shudder of his skin as the world-web contracts.

Net, Cloak, Hem, and Veil.

Subject denies seeing any colored images
but glimpses ornamental patterns reminiscent of the decorations
found on polynesian paddles:
“Hairfine ornaments: these patterns also derive
from weaving.”

Weaving materials, of two kinds, animal, vegetable.
Tufts of hair, tufts of plant.
Hair halfway between animal and plant.
Tufts of hair growing out of the cracks
of the (former) Nietzsche Archive,
now the (Elizabeth) Förster House,
her school, her hell, her bordello built of red bricks,
“And I? a balky bannister
on her staircase; a pitiful replica
of the Tree of Death; devil’s hoof
(horse or chamois); yonic symbol.”

the subject is fascinated by his hand,
observes that when he lights a match
the hold of his hand turns to wax.

Poem of the Hand:
Diese Hand / ist aller Hand /
Meine Hand / ist sie genannt
“The secret economy of the catatonic:
to adjust the slightest movements of his hand
to the most massive changes of mind,
like the draughtsman who, having established the definitive outline of his drawing, proceeds, by a myriad of hatchings, to elicit one new image after another . . .”

The lights are turned on and rorschach tests are presented.
The subject refuses, maintaining that “they tickle.”
A certain peevishness, recognizable signs of annoyance.
In the end he agrees to the rorschachs.
VII interpreted as a 7 bestriding a 0.
VII judged to be of aesthetic value.
(As F. moves somewhat closer, the subject says, “Keep your distance.
I cannot touch it. When I touch it, I can no longer speak.”)
“Seven stands on naught.”
Then a number of remarks concerning the act of writing,
stemming from his realization that he had reverted to child’s script.
II interpreted as two women, fondling?
I interpreted as two poodles, the first disappearing,
a third one now taking shape.
VII, blue-grey: Pelican-lamb, lambswool.
B. then executes a lullaby-drawing —“SLEEP LITTLE SHEEP” —
And calls attention to its embryo shapes.
III interpreted as four Parcae; then traces a series of words
intended to represent witches.

“The secret of Struwwelpeter:
Children only misbehave because they receive no gifts.
The child who reads Struwwelpeter is well-behaved because he receives so many gifts from the very first page.
Gifts rain down from the night sky.
In the world of children, it always rains this way.
A veil of gifts rains down on the child, veiling his world.
Unless a child receive gifts, it will die like the children in Struwwelpeter or fall to pieces or fly away.
This is the secret of Struwwelpeter.”

Subject displays intense anxiety when F. makes to leave:
hyperventilation, shoulder spasms, groans.
F. agrees to stay, but B. remains inconsolable,
depicting his despondency as a veil,
hanging there, slack,
craving the chance riffle
of a breeze.

“The pleasure lies / in feeling / phase after phase / arise.”