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Addiction: Getting cl(o)ser - A real intoxication

The Letter, Issue 36, Spring 2006, Pages 69 - 79


Peter Kelly


One of the characteristics of post-modern culture is the emphasis given to surface over depth, image over substance, the indeterminate and fleeting over the fixed and immobile, the Real over the Symbolic. There are no absolutes, no grounding coordinates, no reference points within which the beleaguered subject can situate him/ herself. One could call this a crisis of representation. To be human is to live at the level of representation. Essentially this is what language does. It involves the movement from a situation of pure being to a symbolic representational existence. In other words, the symbolic order allows us to transform sense impressions, primitive sensations, and anxieties into thoughts and phantasies. As Rik Loose points out in his book:

We need the distance of representation.... If this is not the case one will experience the uncanny deep familiarity of the psychotic-like moment of depersonalization, an experience that occurs to people close to death or in utter trauma. When people say after such experiences that they have always kind of known this, they are already beginning to take a distance by trying to symbolize the utterly familiar, yet most alien, part of themselves.[1]

In the field of addiction and problem drug use this is played out in a number of ways. Addiction can be characterized as a kind of absence of speech or non-speech, a/diction. In other words, the movement of addiction runs counter to speech. Addiction generally revolves around an active immediacy, an instant gratification, what one could call an 'act in the real/a solution in the real' whereas speech and language involve the long laborious symbolic process of trying to represent via the medium of words and signifiers. Hence, we ask our clients to try and speak about themselves and in so doing facilitate a shift from what can be termed the'real solution of toxicity' to the symbolic solution of speech and language.

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