“To Fathom Hell or Soar Angelic”: The Drug Novel In The Postmodern World

[This is the title of my undergraduate dissertation. What follows is a little bit about why I wrote it and why I’ve chosen to upload it to this blog. If you just want to read the actual essay click HERE]


“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold”

When I was fifteen years old I read Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas for the first time. I can’t pretend I found it the easiest of reads – I struggled with the temporal and spatial compression throughout the text – but it struck a chord with me. I expected the typical “hippie drug novel”, all free-love and consciousness expansion, but the actual text couldn’t have been more different. Hunter S. Thompson makes an argument for deliberately fucking yourself up on drink and drugs;  he presents a beauty to consciously choosing to feel weak and small. I knew wanted to work with this text but didn’t really have an outlet to do so at this time.

Flash forward three years, I’m now 18 and applying to university. My whole life I wanted to study medicine, but due to the severity of my anxiety and physical health I finally realised that I didn’t have the fortitude to make it as a doctor. I go to the University of Southampton to read BA(hons) English Literature & Film Studies instead. Honestly this was exactly what I needed at the time: say what you want about a humanities degree, but Critical Theory forces you to consider your world view. It strengthened my knowledge of the arguments important to me (like feminism) whilst simultaneously introducing me to new ways to interpret society like post-structuralism and post-modernism. Critics like Jameson allowed me to understand how texts like Fear and Loathing… work at a more intrinsic level.

But if postmodernism is the cultural form of late capitalism, why was drug culture always missing from the long form exploration of contemporary society? You could interpret the subculture as an attempt to “opt out” of modern societal discourse. But the black market for illicit drugs is ultimately still a market and thus conforms to socioeconomic capitalist systems. I therefore felt there was an irony within the drug novel that is important to the framework of postmodernism: the ability to opt out of capitalist discourse is an illusion that props the entire system up. Well that’s what I tried to argue with my dissertation, using The Doors of Perception (Aldous Huxley), Trainspotting (Irvine Welsh) and, of course, the Fear and Loathing… books as the key texts.

I know everything I’ve written thus far is self-absorbed and it’s definitely a little bit up myself to make my undergraduate dissertation available online. But my dissertation is the thing I have achieved that I am most proud of; I am not the person I was at fifteen when I first discovered Hunter S. Thompson. This is a document that charts my own personal progress. However the main reason I am uploading this is because it is the best bit of writing I have ever done and, since I’m not sure if I ever will go back and get my MA and PHD, probably the best bit of writing I will ever do. As insignificant as it is, this is my magnum opus. I loved my degree because it was always about interacting and engaging with different ideas; English Literature is always a discussion. So that’s ultimately why I’m making this available online: there’s no discussion to be had when the only copy lives on my shelf.

“To Fathom Hell or Soar Angelic”: The Drug Novel In The Postmodern World


American Horror Story – Managing Quality and Expectations


American Horror Story is the television show that I am most critical of. It was never a series that I considered particularly good, but I’ve always enjoyed it; it was our “house show” at university so it was always fun just for the social aspect alone. But I’m very much in the post-uni stage of my life now, I have a salary, rent and a commute, yet I still find time to watch American Horror Story: My Roanoke Nightmare every single week. It is the only series, outside of The Great British Bake Off, that I actively follow instead of waiting for the series to hit VoD and then bingeing. In this respect, it’s arguably my favourite show – but why I do I find myself unable to call it objectively good?

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