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The New YorkerThis 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)