Conducting Place/Consulting Space:
A Proposal to an Electronic Monument to Addiction
Introduction: The American Drug Addiction Disaster
The United States is witnessing a significant increase in drug overdoses and drug related fatalities. According to a report released by the CDC on January 1, 2016, “The United States is experiencing an epidemic of drug overdose (poisoning) deaths. Since 2000, the rate of deaths from drug overdoses has increased 137%, including a 200% increase in the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids (opioid pain relievers and heroin)” (Rudd, Aleshire, Zibbell, Gladden). Additionally, The CDC also states, “From 2000 to 2015 more than half a million people died from drug overdoses. 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose” (Understanding the Epidemic). The increase of drug overdoses and resulting deaths is clearly a public health emergency.
Drug overdosing goes hand in hand with the disease of addiction. A simple definition of drug addiction could be: The inability to stop compulsive and destructive behaviors that negatively affects an addict’s mental and physical health and has larger consequences for their families and society in general. The National Institute of Drug Abuse states:
But addiction is more than just compulsive drug taking—it can also produce far-reaching health and social consequences… the dysfunctional behaviors that result from drug abuse can interfere with a person’s normal functioning in the family, the workplace, and the broader community (Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition) 2014).
One community problem caused by drug addiction is an increased rate of crime and incarceration in the United States. The increased rate of incarceration and crime is both a product of behaviors addicts exhibit and laws which define illegal drug use. According to a study published in 2010 by the National Institute for Addiction and Drug Abuse at Columbia University, “Of the 2.3 million inmates crowding our nation’s prisons and jails, 85% were substance-involved; 1.5 million met the DSM-IV medical criteria for substance abuse or addiction” (Behind Bars II: Substance Abuse and America’s Prison Population). Furthermore, the authors discovered that alcohol or drugs were involved in “78% of violent crimes, 83% of property crimes and 77% of public order, immigration or weapons offenses and probation/parole violations.” Drug use often leads addicts to commit crimes and cause physical, property, and financial damage to others. As a society, we have decided the correct way to deter/provide restitution for these crimes is the mass incarceration of drug addicts who commit crimes.
However, according to physicians, psychiatrists, and law makers, drug addiction is a treatable disease. The American Society of Addiction Medicine includes treatment as a solution to drug addiction in their definition of drug addiction:
Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors. Addiction is characterized by the inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death. (Public Policy Statement: Definition of Addiction, 2011)
Though addiction is believed to be a treatable disease, it is not being effectively treated in the United States. The amount the U.S. government spends on addiction treatment is infinitesimal in comparison with the amount it spends on addiction punishment. “In 2005, federal, state and local governments spent $74 billion on incarceration, court proceedings, probation and parole for substance-involved adult and juvenile offenders, and less than 1% of that amount—$632 million—on prevention and treatment” (Behind Bars II: Substance Abuse and America’s Prison Population). The amount of money spent to punish drug addicts is proportionally out of sync with the amount of money Americans spend to treat drug addicts. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “In 2013, an estimated 22.7 million Americans (8.6 percent) needed treatment for a problem related to drugs or alcohol, but only about 2.5 million people (0.9 percent) received treatment at a specialty facility” (DrugFacts—Nationwide Trends). Only 10 percent of people who needed treatment received treatment in 2013. Because there is a lack of treatment for addiction, and/or a lack of treatment being sought, our society responds by punishing and incarcerating addicts, or worse, leaving them to die.
Clearly, in the United States, drug abuse and addiction is a large societal disaster. Not only is addiction causing death, but it costs taxpayers billions of dollars (factoring in the war on drugs, incarceration, treatment, hospitalization, policing, etc.). The American society lacks the ability to effectively treat drug addiction on a large scale, which leads to the mass incarceration of people afflicted with the disease. Arguably, psychiatrists, legislators, criminologists, and citizens have yet to discover a method for processing the disease or its consequences. Additionally, the civic modern academic society has yet to invest academic inquiry into potential alternative methods for mourning and inventing new lines of flight for dealing with the disaster of drug addiction. The current solutions for addicts seem to offer three outcomes: death, incarceration, or treatment – treatment being the preferred but less supported outcome. All three solutions appear to be ineffective at alleviating the addiction epidemic and it appears that an alternative approach is necessary for consulting on drug addiction.
Method: Revealing a Group Subconscious Through A Dialectical Image
To offer an alternative method for researching drug addiction, I turned to Gregory Ulmer’s work. In Electronic Monuments, Ulmer states,
How to do something, knowing how to repeat a performance, is a kind of memory, a kind of thinking that takes place in the collective conduct of a ritual. How to stop making mistakes? How to reduce error and eliminate accidents? These are the goals of certain scientific methods incapable of thinking wreckage as sacrificial ceremony, as the foundation of a national identity. To think of car wrecks as mistakes, as errors, as not knowing how to drive, for example, reflects the Enlightenment’s contempt for dreams. Individuals may not want to wreck their cars, but nations do (35).
What Ulmer sets forth here, is the possibility that disasters are directly linked to the group subconscious and that the possibility of alleviating such disasters is by revealing the subconscious links that assemble the disaster. What he makes clear is that every individual in the society plays a role in the disaster. Therefore, it is necessary to make the group subconscious conscious: to wake up the masses.
Ulmer states that monuments can awaken the group subconscious. He states, “The entry points to the network of American identity are marked by monuments,” (EM 13) and “An electronic monument is one in which there is a mapping between the individual and the collective such that the memorializing reveals to the citizens the rhizome that gives rise to the condition in which “Problems Be Us” (EM 14). Electronic monumentation provides citizens the ability to mourn a particular disaster, and identify with it. In this process, citizens can begin to understand how they both construct and are constructed by such disaster and to discover their role within it. Therefore, to begin resolving the drug epidemic disaster in the United States, Americans should construct a monument to the citizens who have lost their lives to this disease and create a monument for group mourning. Currently, there is no AIDS quilt for those who have lost their lives to the disease of addiction, nor is there a Vietnam Wall for those who have lost their lives to the War on Drugs.
To begin constructing an electronic monument, Ulmer states that an egent (a non-specialized citizen researcher) should (de)consult on a particular disaster by monitoring the daily news. Ulmer defines deconsulting as
A method… to study problems with the same analytical care of conventional consultants, but with the motive of seeking in this information possible correspondences for the feeling we have about the world to find out our disposition, our attunement, to bring into understanding the state of mind, individual and collectively, that is complicit with the forces that resist us” (Ulmer, The Chora Collaborations).
Instead of searching for a fix to a particular disaster, deconsulting allows the researcher/citizen to take into account the milieu/atmosphere created by assemblages of a disaster, and offer a new view for understanding their role in the disaster. Furthermore, Ulmer states: “deconsulting begins by monitoring the agenda-setting performance of the daily news (journalism). The kind of news event that may provoke an egent into action often may be something local, given the MEmorial function of calling attention to abject (unacknowledged) sacrifices” (EM 57).
Deconsulting is made possible through the discovery of a dialectical image through a choragraphic research method. While performing choragraphy, egents collect/sample and sort information from the discourses that construct and influence the egents’ subject formation and their relation to the disaster. During choragraphy, the dialectical image is revealed as a dialectical image and it relays an aura, a feeling that can be used to deconsult on the disaster. To deconsult on the disaster of addiction, a dialectical image must be invented/discovered.
To begin deconsulting on the drug disaster of the United States, I turned to the local news. In 2015 and through mid-2016, I was living in Bradenton, FL, a city with a population of almost 52,000 people in Manatee County. The first news I read on the subject was from the Bradenton Herald in an article titled “Sarasota Sheriff Releases PSA On Local Heroin” (August 18, 2015) by Kate Irby (Image 1). Irby states, “Suspected heroin overdose deaths in Manatee, Sarasota and Desoto counties have increased 137.5 percent in less than two years, from eight people in 2012 to 19 in 2013, and another 231 percent to 63 in 2014, to 86 through mid-June, according to Dr. Russell Vega, chief medical examiner for the 12th Judicial District.” Furthermore, On October 5th, 2016, Bradenton Herald staff writers Hannah Morse and Jessica De Leon stated, “According to the Medical Examiners Commission annual report, in 2015 Manatee County had the highest number of deaths per capita among Florida’s 67 counties in which the medical examiner found a presence of heroin, fentanyl, morphine or cocaine.” According to the Medical Examiner’s data, drug overdoses and fatalities have steadily been increasing in Bradenton, FL since 2012. Therefore, Bradenton, FL is a place/site where the disaster of addiction is currently being revealed in action.
After establishing that an abject loss needs to be MEmorialized (i.e., deaths due to overdose), Ulmer states that the researcher/citizen should “select a theory as the source of the rationale informing the consultation” (48). The theory I selected for this project is psychogeography, which mirrors Ulmer’s concept of choragraphy and allows the egent to reveal a dialectical image for a place. Debord defines psychogeography as dérive (or “to drift”), which he defines as "the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals” (Debord 23). Psychogeography is a method to explore the discursive and physical landscapes that territorialize an assemblage: in Debord’s case, the assemblage of the city. However, the purpose of psychogeography is not to just explore the city, but also the image of the city. In explaining psychogeography, Debord quotes Chombart le Deuw: “an urban neighborhood is determined not only by the geographical and economic factors, but also by the image that its inhabitants and those of other neighborhoods have of it” (As quoted, Debord, Theory of the Dérive, 62). Here, as in choragraphy, the image tying discourse together must be discovered/invented. What is the attunement between the city and drug overdoses?
To perform a psychogeography, psychogeographers:
Drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there […] The ecological analysis of the absolute or relative character of fissures in the urban network, of the role of microclimates, of distinct neighborhoods with no relation to administrative boundaries, and above all of the dominating action of centers of attraction, must be utilized and completed by psychogeographical methods (Debord, Theory of the Dérive, 62).
Psychogeographers drop their usual behaviors while navigating a city and allow themselves to be drawn by fetish around the city. In this process, the psychogoegrapher explores the place, collects samples or information, and later consults their data and arranges it into collage. The collage creates a new map (image) of the city.
On April 24, 2016, I performed a psychogeography of Bradenton, FL. I left my house equipped with a camera, notebook, and cell phone (running the Google MyTracks app) (Image 2), and allowed myself to be drawn around the city by fetish. I walked 3.5 miles through three Bradenton neighborhoods with the highest amounts of overdoses (I was currently living in one of them), and took over 200 photographs. [psychogeography map image] When I had completed the walk, I loaded the photographs onto my computer and began to flip through them. The photographs revealed the depressed environment: desolate bus stop benches, decomposing sidewalks and curbs, and deteriorating lamp posts (Image 3, 4, 5, 6). As I looked at the photographs, I couldn’t help but explain them through adjectives beginning in “de.” Linguistically, “de” connotes a negation - a word negative in meaning. But it also opened up the possibility to a dialectical image. Keeping “de” in mind, I rescanned the photographs and I landed on the photo of the local failing mall: Desoto Square (Image 7, 8, 9). “De” began to act as the first half of a dialectical image, allowing me to perform the logic of conduction. Ulmer states, “the “fourth inference (adding to inference methods invented in literacy – abduction, deduction, induction). . . . Conduction puts into logic the aesthetic operations of images (word and picture)” (Internet Invention 10). Conduction is a method of logic that allows the researcher to map an image across separate discursive and social practices and to draw conclusions across discursive boundaries (EM 85). Hence, “de” began the process to unlocking the full dialectical image: De Soto.
DeSoto Square mall is named to honor the Spanish Conquistador Hernando de Soto. De Soto became a wealthy man during the Spanish invasion of the Incan Empire. After invading and pillaging the Incas, De Soto returned to Spain. After hearing of rumors about North America and possible gold, De Soto petitioned King Charles to return to the New World. King Charles granted him the governorship of Cuba with the expectation that he would settle North America for Spain. De Soto then put together an expedition and landed in what is now Manatee County, Florida at the mouth of Tampa Bay. His expedition managed to travel north through Florida and through the Southeast region of the United States. He eventually passed away near the Mississippi River.
Hernando de Soto’s story works as an allegory for addiction. According to the National De Soto Memorial, on “May 1539 De Soto would depart Havana and sail for a selected bay on Florida's west coast to begin the expedition that would cost him his fortune and his life” (History and Culture). Arguably, De Soto’s unrestricted desire for the discovery of wealth and the conquest of land lead to his death. The story of the addict is similar. Addicts are attracted to a new frontier, a possible world away from the world in which they live. In this new world their desire is satisfied. However, they can only exist in this new world for so long before they return to their own world. After addicts return to their world, they go on another quest to fulfill their desires. This pattern repeats until death, unless there is some sort of intervention. Therefore, De Soto’s story maps the story of addiction and reflects the connection between desire, addiction, and death.
Furthermore, De Soto acts as a dialectical image that connects Bradenton, FL’s ideological state apparatuses of cultural history, education, and economics. Bradenton annually celebrates the De Soto Heritage Festival, honoring and celebrating De Soto’s North American expedition, which first began when he landed in Manatee county. The festival celebrates De Soto as the founder/forefather of the area. During the festival, some community members don conquistador outfits and reenact the landing of the expedition. In addition to the heritage celebration, Bradenton is also the site for the De Soto National Memorial, which commemorates De Soto’s expedition. The memorial is an educational site used to inform the local community and tourists of De Soto’s voyage and the European settling of the area. Lastly, Desoto Square mall was once the economic center of the city. The enclosed mall, constructed in 1973, offered a JC Penney’s, a Sears, and over 70 other stores. Currently, the majority of the shops in the mall have closed and the mall is mostly a ghost town. In sum, the mythos of De Soto is central to the historical, educational, and economical discourses of Bradenton, FL.
Stemming from the clue of “de” and leading to De Soto, the dialectical image serves as a map for the ideological discourses that construct the image of Bradenton, FL and the national drug epidemic. However, with this dialectical image, I was still missing a link to the ideological apparatus of media and to a place to construct a physical monument. It wasn’t until I was driving through Iowa that I discovered such link. Off of Interstate I-80, the sign of exit 110 reads “De Soto” and below that, “John Wayne Birthplace.” The birthplace of John Wayne connects the discourses of a place of drug addiction, Brandenton, FL, to the national media apparatus, and consequently to electronic reasoning. Ulmer states, “The point for us is that multiple border zones (frontiers) - including the borders of categorization itself, are put in question in electracy. What is at stake in this polysemic reorganization of frontiers/classification is the mythology of heroic action (emblematized in the star persona of John Wayne)” (Ulmer 96). Like De Soto, John Wayne’s star persona is the loan tragic hero constructed through narratives of rugged individualism, law and order, and conquering frontiers. However, by following electracy logic, the narrative trope of the loan tragic hero is disassembled to reveal the connection between the actor, the community and discourse.
To offer a new line of flight for addiction consultation, addicts cannot be understood as lone tragic heroes suffering alone from the disease of addiction. The lone tragic hero narrative positions the site of addiction in the addicts’ minds and bodies and allows non-addict citizens to turn a blind eye toward their role and participation in addiction. To create a new line of flight that positions non-addict citizens into the motto “problems be us,” citizens should consider: how can addiction question the boundaries of the self, desire, and community? By pursuing this line of flight, addiction is repositioned as an assemblage constructed through ideological state apparatuses. Therefore, the problem of addiction is not a solitary act, but instead located in the connections between self, desire, and community. Addiction, then, is not an individual’s problem; it is a societal assemblage. The dialectical image of De Soto reveals the connections between community (including history and education), media, and place which deconstructs the boundaries between addicts and other community members. The boundaries are revealed as fictitious constructs, because addiction does not reside in the individual, but is assembled through people’s participation in ideological state apparatuses.
Conclusion: Addiction Be Us
To provide a place to mourn and possibly recover from the epidemic, I propose an electronic monument be placed at the John Wayne Birthplace Museum. This electronic monument should include a collection of laws, media messages, victims’ stories, and educational materials about drug addiction. By creating a monument to the disease, the public will be allowed a place to mourn the disaster and to discover their role in the epidemic. Additionally, I propose that a companion website to the John Wayne Birthplace Museum website be constructed. The website should afford the ability for families and victims of the epidemic to post pictures and stories of loved ones who passed due to the disease of addiction. The website should serve as an instrument for collective memory that celebrates the life of those who have passed and allows people to mourn these losses of life. Additionally, I suggest a ticker be added to the bottom of the webpage that uses a webscraper to mine for headlines about the epidemic and pharmaceuticals. The physical monument and its companion website will allow visitors to MEmorialize the abject loss of lives to the national drug epidemic.
Lastly, to redesign an image of Bradenton, FL, I created a collage guided by the dialectical image of De Soto. The collage maps the connection between addiction, Bradenton, FL, and the national drug epidemic (Image 10). This collage includes images from the psychogoegraphy I performed, maps of the current drug epidemic, local newspaper heading clippings pertaining to the current drug epidemic, a Google MyTracks maps that tracked my movements during the psychogeography, a collection of images from the Manatee County Historical Society of the De Soto Heritage Festival, and screenshots from Ulmer and Debord’s work. The psychogeographic map acts as a countermap to both the physical maps of Bradenton and other maps of current national drug epidemic. Instead of mapping drug overdoses to a specific place, the map aims to emphasize the ideological apparatuses that construct/assemble the drug epidemic in place. The goal of the new map isn’t to pinpoint individual cases of drug overdoses or to categorize areas of crisis. The map works to image ATH in order to relate the disaster to individuals’ blindness in their participation in the epidemic. Ulmer describes ATH as blindness (the ignorance of action) that turns into tragedy (EM XXIV). Ulmer explains that in literate practice ATH, “has to do with the hero losing control, being overwhelmed temporarily by a passion, taken or possessed from without, and producing an action that might be trivial in itself but had catastrophic consequences not only for the hero but also for the community as a whole” (EM XXV). In this counter-map, individuals’ blindness is revealed through the cultural memory of De Soto, the myth of conquering frontiers to fulfill unchecked desire. Unveiling this dialectical image allows the participant to see how their role in the epidemic has been assembled. De Soto is the dialectical image that permits the individual to see the assemblage of the national drug epidemic.
Using psychogeography as a method afforded the possibility of mapping the discourses of Bradenton, FL that are conductively linked to the national drug epidemic. It is in the cultural memory of De Soto, reinforced through the historical, educational, economical and media state ideological apparatuses, that we find drug addiction. By mapping the dialectical image of De Soto, it is possible to reveal a site for MEmorializing the United States Drug epidemic and provide a possibility to awaken citizens to the condition in which “Problems Be Us” (Ulmer 14).
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Clayton Benjamin is a PhD candidate in the Texts and Technology Ph.D. Program at the University of Central Florida. His areas of research include digital humanities, visual rhetoric, philosophies of place and space, and critical geography. Benjamin's dissertation aims to disrupt the placement of drug addiction by building on Gregory Ulmer's work and advancing psychogeographic practices in the age of electracy. He writes on a variety of topics ranging from mapping praxis, to post-modern theory, to composition theory. Benjamin is currently a Writing Lecturer at the University of California, Davis University Writing Program.