Saturday, September 15, 2007

Twilight Sleep

When I was writing my still unpublished novel, The Magic Slate, (Summary and sample chapters HERE, I came across some medical literature on the drug, Scopolamine. This drug, a derivative of Bella Donna, was given to women in labor. It did nothing to reduce discomfort, and in fact, increased sensitivity and reduced inhibitions and self control. These patients, who remained conscious, would be left to scream in pain, strapped down, likely cursing, with good reason, all the men in their lives, not excluding their own unborn sons.

The sole advantage of this drug (the Nazis, who used it for interrogating prisoners... does the Bush administration know about this--called it Damerschlaffen, twilight sleep)--was that they would remember nothing of their experience when it was over.

In The Magic Slate, a woman has been given Scopolamine while in labor, but suffers a paradoxical reaction. The only memories she retains, are of those eighteen hours in labor. What little she knows about her life before she gave birth, comes from the store of random recollections during that experience.

Yesterday, I was reading, Slavoj Žižek's essay, Is it Possible to Travers the Fantasy in Cyberspace?, (from The Žižek Reader: Editd by Elizabeth and Edmond Wright. Blackwell Publishing) and came across the following passage.

In 'le Prix du progrès', one of the fragments that conclude The dialectic of Enlightenment, Adorno and Horkheimer quote the argumentation of the nineteenth-century French physiologist Piere Flourens against medical anesthesia with chloroform. Flourens claims that it can be proved that the anesthetic works only on our memory's neuronal network. In short, while we are being butchered alive on the operating table, we feel fully the terrible pain, but later, after awakening, we do not remember it. For Adorno and Horkheimer, this, of course, is the perfect metaphor of the fate of Reason based on the repression of nature in itself: his body, the part of nature in the subject, feels fully the pain; it is only that, owing to repression, the subject does not remember it. Therein resides the perfect revenge of nature for our domination over it: unknowingly, we are our own greatest victims, butchering ourselves alive. Isn't it also possible to read this as the perfect fantasy--scenario of interpassivity, of the Other Scene in which we pay the price for our active intervention in the world? A sado-masochist willingly assumes this suffering as the access to Being

In The Magic Slate, the character, Yudit, having lost her fixed place in the Symbolic Order, has a transformative affect on others, disarming them, as it were, from their defensive responses. Needless to say, I was quite amazed to find this passage in Žižek's essay, some eight years after I finished writing my novel.

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