In February 1933, on its way from San Diego to Manila, the US Navy ship Ramapo was caught in the teeth of a relentless storm. The wind had slowly gathered momentum across thousands of nautical miles of the open Pacific, piling up monstrous swells: twenty feet, then thirty, then higher. On the seventh day of the storm, with the east wind howling at sixty knots, the swells grew to an average of fifty feet. Every fifteen seconds a new behemoth — large as a five-story office building — shouldered its way into the stern.
Late in Heart of Darkness, after Marlow has meandered deep into the jungle but before he meets Kurtz, who utters his now-famous judgement upon human nature, The horror! The horror! – before this, the most famous scene in twentieth century literature, Marlow finds himself making necessary repairs to the ship. He ruminates on these activities as distractions from the shadows around him, from the haunting underbelly of his own nature that he sees in the wilderness around him, in the passionate abandon of the local tribes-people. Here’s the full passage:
They were led, one at a time, from the smoky dark of the hold and up the narrow companionway. Each man was flanked by a crew-member who spoke in clipped and rushing tones. The ship was quiet, the sails slack.The men in the hold waited, unsure of what was happening. Dread spread among them. They did not speak the language of the crew, though they understood perfectly the gestures of the guns.
The indomitable spirit cannot be diminished – by negligence, by war, by time spun farther than the grasp of memory. This occurs to me on September ninth, in the Egyptian gallery of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, as I stand before the only remaining fragment of an ancient sculpture. The body has vanished, and most of the head is gone. What remains is a small artefact, about six inches high: an elegant mouth – smiling, in repose – and the beginning curve of a face, carved from yellow jasper. Between ragged fractures where the stone is sheared off – one just above the top lip, the other below the chin – the mouth has been sculpted with astonishing precision by the craft of a culture now strewn across the debris field of history. This statue, all that’s left of the queen of a remote age, was fashioned in devotion and shattered by war, almost twenty-five centuries ago. And still, she smiles.
The rates of success for contemporary addictions treatment are miserable. The vast majority of people who undergo it, whether at a treatment center or in the so-called recovery movement – AA, NA and their companion abbreviations – fail to improve (though if they keep trying, their chances of success increase). Those who enroll in a program do about as well as those who do not. Sometimes they do better. In any given attempt, most addicts who try to improve their situation do not achieve success. And within any given year, something like fifty thousand people in North America die of drug and alcohol use. This number does not include deaths from nicotine addiction, which claims the lives of half of all smokers, or from obesity (addiction to unhealthy eating), which will soon be the leading cause of preventable death in North America.