4inquiries (4inquiries) wrote in psychoanalysts,

Derrida on Pharmacia

From “Plato’s Pharmacy” (1968):

Piehl and Austin miss several majorly important elements of the structure of the pharmakon as Derrida understands it.

Derrida argues that Plato’s use of the word ‘pharmakon’ is exemplified by anaesthesia, “Socrates’ pharmaceutical charms provoke a kind of narcosis, benumbing and paralyzing into aporia,” as Meno tells Socrates “you are exactly like the flat stingray (narke) that one meets in the sea. Whenever anyone comes into contact with it, it numbs him, and that is the sort of thing that you seem to be doing to me now. My mind and my lips are literally numb” (118, quoted on 118). Futher Plato identifies the hemlock which killed Socrates as a pharmakon, for “the hemlock is given as a poison that harms and benumbs the body,” yet “later turns out to be helpful to the soul, which it delivers from the body and awakens to the truth of the eidos” (127). Even writing, as a pharmakon, is anaesthetic, since “writing is given as the sensible” but “later turns out to be harmful and benumbing to the invisible interior of the soul, memory and truth” (127). If psychoanalytic interpretation is a pharmakon, it is because a psychoanalytic interpretation touches upon the limits of our sensibility, the limits of our aesthetic.

This anaesthetic schema situates Derrida in the hair-of-the-dog camp of drug therapy, which Derrida confirms by citing the ‘Socratic itch.’ The pharmakon can be likened to “relieving an itch by rubbing” (99). So an irritation on the skin, an itch, is cured by an additional irritation on the skin, a scratch. The same thing that caused pain caused pleasure. It is in this sense that Derrida claims, “This type of painful pleasure, linked as much to the malady as to its treatment, is a pharmakon in itself” (99). Explicitly, “elimination, being therapeutic in nature, must call upon the very thing it is expelling, the very surplus it is putting out” (128).

Thus we are again also in the space of ego death therapy, “the pharmakon properly consists in a certain inconsistency, a certain impropriety, this nonidentity-with-itself always allowing it to be turned against itself. What is at stake in this overturning is no less than science and death” (119). Derrida invokes pharmacia as a space for ethics, and Derrida claims, “The pharmaceutical operation must therefore exclude itself from itself,” or we might say that a toxicological ethics is to exclude its self from itself (128). We must avow our personal grey markets at the cost of subverting our law-giving agency. To clarify, in Plato’s myth the gift of drugs is rejected by the law, allowing Derrida to ask, “Isn’t this pharmakon then a criminal thing, a poisoned present?” (77). Derrida infers that drugs are “indebted” to the law (81). The pharmakon supplements and supplants the place of the law which excludes the pharmakon, like “the moon as supplement to the sun,” or “night light as supplement to daylight,” a “mad” economy of substitutions because the law cannot pin down its excess (89). This can be clearly illustrated when drug law is clearly divided, as when state law permits commercial marijuana usage while federal law prohibits commercial marijuana usage; the ‘mad’ economy of the grey market props open and stays in the place of the gap between state and federal law, and because this excess cannot be pinned down, we even see this grey market becoming perpetually mobile as a delivery service when the brick-and-mortar dispensaries are prohibited by county law.
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