Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Allan Pero


This project argues that by reading first-person accounts of drug intoxication in European modernism, one can uncover qualitative structures that broadly inform the modernist experience of space, time, language, desire, and embodiment. Evidence for this systematization of subjective experience appears in the early twentieth-century movements of phenomenology, existentialism, psychoanalysis, and even structural linguistics. In addition to their systemic approach to subjective experience, however, these movements also insist that some form of psychic or existential discomfort is inherent to modern experience, and all of them engage in a marked attempt to address this pain therapeutically. Thus while modernist thought conceives of experience within a certain set of qualitative structures, it also aims to alleviate the pain that these structures conversely make possible. By reading the first-person accounts of Jean Cocteau, Aldous Huxley, and Walter Benjamin, I argue that representations of drug intoxication reveal the extent to which European modernists draw upon similar qualitative structures when giving form to their experiences. More specifically, I argue that it is by moving incrementally toward death while stopping short of it that the modernist subject achieves a therapeutic experience through drug intoxication. This method of palliation ultimately reveals that in modernist thought, the subject is located on an experiential spectrum spreading from the pole of discrete, reflexive consciousness to the utter non-being of death. In the interest of exploring this spectrum, I read Cocteau, Huxley, and Benjamin’s work through the theory of Jacques Lacan, Georges Bataille, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Martin Heidegger.