The Smoking Book
University of Chicago Press, $22 hb, 238 pp
When I was still a jot at uni, a medical student friend stumbled late out of her latest lecture and reassured me. And then she assured me, ‘It was horrible! We had slide after slide of some dead smoker’s lungs. And they were disgusting! I’m gonna be sick! Give me a cigarette!’ That’s when I first understood that ‘smoking’ was not ever going to be a straightforward subject.
Smoking? What an unsound practice, apparently even anti-social! But what hard, anti-social times we all live in, what a century, what centuries, we have just expelled, breathed out, like so much smoke! We are all, here in the first world, so complicit, and so much more energetically so it seems, as time passes and ideological arteries harden as rigidly as emotional ones have. When could puffing away on a fag ever possibly assume a greater moral, and even quasi-political, dimension than the excesses of capitalism? Economic, and even physicalised, traumatic imperialism and colonialism? In real time too. You think I’m exaggerating? Check with the IMF. O tempora, o mores.