Friday, February 11, 2005

History for smokers

Here is a great book review on a potentially orgasmic read that I am too broke to buy.

SMOKE: A global history of smoking
Sander L. Gilman and Zhou Xun, editors

Read the highlights:

In his excellent Cigarettes Are Sublime (1993), Richard Klein cites a motto that decorated a Parisian gentlemen smokers’ magazine in 1856, a gentleman and a smoker being at that time more or less the same thing: “fumer est prier”, smoking is prayer. The metaphor is as rich as it is ambiguous. It promotes the curious thought that clutching a cigarette makes the hand more and not less eloquent. Then there is that hint of divine inspiration (the word itself speaking of breath), of faith as narcotic. Each exhalation of the praying smoker rises up to tease the nostrils of the gods. The huddle of smokers outside the tall tower has the rattish look of a persecuted cult. Whatever can be said against smoking, you can’t argue that it isn’t meaningful: it “signifies signification”, as Derrida pungently put it.

More so than even more destructive pastimes, smoking is pre-eminently an adult vice. Imagine troops passing mince pies across no man’s land one nervous Christmas, or a brace of sated lovers nibbling on opposite corners of an After Eight mint. A defining characteristic of adulthood is the ability to consent to things happening to you. The efforts of concerned parties to protect the innocent from the clearly substantial dangers posed by passive smoking are as rational as they are laudable. But adults, innocent or not, are surely themselves entitled to be protected from infantilization, something present debates about smoking and public space often fail to take into account.

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