Literature inspired by drugs tends to swing between extremes. On the one hand, drugs are the very doors of perception, gateways to Xanadu; on the other they are a source of grim addictions, lotus plants that tempt one into indefinite living sleep. In recent decades there have been the highs of William S. Burroughs, Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson and Irvine Welsh, but rarer are those memoirists with experiences of addiction and philosophy who can reflect on the subject in the tradition of Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821). Well, cue Chris Fleming’s On Drugs.
Fleming is a philosopher at Western Sydney University who developed a serious and life-threatening addiction to drugs during his twenties. As his options in life narrowed, drug addiction ‘became the last bulwark against nihilism.’ ‘As agonising as unmet needs can feel,’ he writes with a painful clarity, ‘there is still something life-affirming in wanting something, anything at all.’ Drugs could both addle and stimulate his mind; he wrote most of his honours thesis ‘while stoned’ and obtained a score of ninety-five per cent, which led him to the unfortunate surmise that ‘pot might offer an almost unethical advantage in intellectual creation, an analogue to steroids in sport’.