14 February 2011


This is the end of the story ”Out on Bail,” from Denis Johnson’s stunning Jesus’s Son---

    “As for Hotel, who was in exactly the same shape I was and carrying just as much heroin, but who didn’t have to share it with his girlfriend, because he couldn’t find her that day: he took himself to a rooming house down at the end of Iowa Avenue, and he overdosed, too.  He went into a deep sleep, and to the others there he looked quite dead.
    The people with him, all friends of ours, monitored his breathing by holding a pocket mirror under his nostrils from time to time, making sure that points of mist appeared on the glass.  But after a while they forgot about him, and his breath failed without anybody’s noticing.  He simply went under.  He died.
    I am still alive. “

Notice how Hotel’s friends try to look after him, however incompetently their human love is able to see through the mist of heroin.  In this book human love and human being are always trying (unsuccessfully) to break through the ‘virtuality’ of the intoxicated state; for example, the hyper-clear perception of ‘points of mist,’ dissociated from any clear understanding that something further should be done about Hotel’s breathing. 

Johnson teaches us about vital aspects of being fully human precisely because he conveys so vividly how intoxication dehumanizes us in the face of our very best intentions.

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