"As Un-American as Rabies": Addiction and Identity in American Postwar Junkie Literature



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The years following World War II symbolized a new beginning for the United States. While at the height of global power, Americans founds that they were able to experience a leisurely existence where items, desired instead of necessary, could be purchased by almost anyone. This increased prosperity, however, also caused a rise in the number of addicts that included not only the hard-core drug users, but "junkies" who were addicted to filling the emptiness within through the use of illegal drugs to television to sex in order to do so. This dissertation examines the phenomenon of the rise of addicts following World War II, using the literature of addiction in order to elucidate the reasoning behind this surge. Contemporary American authors formed a new genre of writing, "junkie literature," which chronicles the rise of addiction and juxtaposes questions of identity and the use of "junk." Burroughs's Junky and Trocchi's Cain's Book are among the first to represent the shift in the postwar years between earlier narratives of addiction and the rise of junkie literature through an erasure of previously held beliefs that addiction was the result of a moral vice rather than a disease. Jim Carroll's The Basketball Diaries, Ann Marlowe's How to Stop Time: Heroin from A to Z, and Linda Yablonsky's The Story of Junk continue this trend of semi-autobiographical writing in an effort to show the junkie's identity in society, as well as the way addiction mirrors capitalism and consumerism as a whole. Finally, Hubert Selby's Requiem for a Dream, Bret Easton Ellis's Less than Zero, and John Updike's Rabbit at Rest explore a different kind of junk addiction, focusing on the use of television, diet pills, sex, cocaine, and food to fill an ineffable void inside that the characters of the novels find themselves unable to articulate. Using Julia Kristeva's theory of abjection, as well as various socio-historical critics, this dissertation investigates the rise of addiction narratives in the postwar years, linking the questions of identity to consumerism in contemporary American culture.