Narcocapitalism by Laurent de Sutter

The Blurb On The Back:

What do the invention of anaesthetics in the middle of the nineteenth century, the Nazis’ use of cocaine, and the development of Prozac have in common?  The answer is that they’re all products of the same logic that defines out contemporary era: ‘the age of anaesthesia’.  Laurent de Sutter shows how large aspects of our lives are now characterised by the management of our emotions through drugs, ranging from the everyday use of sleeping pills to hard narcotics.  Chemistry has become so much a part of us that we can’t even see how much it has changed us.

In this era, being a subject doesn’t simply mean being subjected to powers that decide our lives: it means that our very emotions have been outsourced to chemical stimulation.  Yet we don’t understand why the drugs that we take are unable to free us from fatigue and depression, and from the absence of desire that now characterises our psycho-political condition.  We have forgotten what it means to be excited because our only excitement has become drug-induced.  We have to abandon the narcotic stimulation that we’ve come to rely on and find a way back to the collective excitement that is narcocapitalism’s greatest fear. 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Laurent de Sutter is Professor of Legal Theory at Vrije Universiteit Brussel and in this book (translated from French by Barnaby Norman) he describes how contemporary life is characterised by the use of drugs to manage human emotions and how this is manipulated to benefit the capitalist system but although I enjoyed the historical sections, I found de Sutter’s arguments confusing and unconvincing, which ultimately made for a disappointing read.

The strongest sections in de Sutter are the historical ones that recount the development of various drug milestones (including anaesthesia, Prozac and the wide use of cocaine).  I was particularly interested in the sections about Freud and his work on drugs as I wasn’t aware of this but I felt uncomfortable that the sections on the Pill focused on how it interferes with a natural process without apparently considering whether women wanted to disrupt that process.

However I felt that de Sutter’s argument wanders around, making it difficult to follow his chain of thought and the way he jumps from topic to topic was alienating, returning to some themes (including the work of Merck) in a way that wasn’t immediately obvious. In addition, de Sutter expects his readers to be familiar with the academic theories he throws in, which can be difficult to follow if – like me – you’re not an expert in the field.

Ultimately, I didn’t find this a bad book – there was a lot here that I did find interesting, even if I didn’t understand all of the theory – and such it’s worth checking out if you’re interested in the field.

NARCOCAPITALISM was released in the United Kingdom on 3rd November 2017.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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