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“Appetite for Ecstasy: Chronic Dispossession and Biochemical Governance in America, 1870-1920” is a study of how appetitive bodies could verge on and converge around the ecstasies of biochemical alteration amidst the dispossessive conditions that restricted, fractured, and normalized life under industrial settler capitalism. Its archives set those ecstasies off against urban and borderland locales imagined to belong only precariously to the jurisdictional frame of the United States—the transient atmospheres of New York or San Francisco’s subterranean opium joints (chapter one, “On the Inertia of Appetite: Transient Relations from the Chinatown Opium Scene”), the autonomous movements of indigenous peyote meetings across the expropriative frontiers of federal territorial rule (chapter two, “Moved by Another Life: Allotted Time and Historical Poiesis in the Peyote Craze”), the nullified time of sensoria consumed by cocaine or drowned in chloral hydrate (chapter three, “Appetite for Nothingness: Pharmaconormativity and the Abandon of Reified Time”). Appetites for these sorts of altered experience were reconceived between the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth as the byproducts of and catalysts for scenes of somatic disorder. More than just excavating the phenomenological feel of such experiences, this dissertation zeros in on aesthetic relays between the orectic and the ecstatic in order to lay out the regulatory protocols that the human sciences, public health authorities, and colonial bureaucracies developed to apprehend those who went out of their senses. In question throughout is how the settler capitalist imperatives to secure national borders, privatize landownership, and standardize time drove the formation of a split regime of biochemical governance. Or, put differently, how the forces of chronic dispossession came to invest a dispersed infrastructure of clinical knowledge and state power that divided illicit drugs from therapeutic medicines so as to constrict the molecular flux of human bodies along interlocking strata of race, class, sex, and citizenship. Yet, as a critique of biochemical governance, this dissertation also queries how the dispossessed people and populations it administered could bypass state and extrastate projects of somatic, fantasmatic, and spatiotemporal enclosure. No matter how totalizing the drive to secure the apparent coherence of day-to-day existence amidst the endogenous crises of settler capitalist social reproduction, I argue, the calculated volatility of these projects nonetheless left openings for ecstatic amplifications of experience to warp, decenter, or run out of sync with the common sense of collective and political life. Altered states, far from simply escaping or smoothing out the world as it is, carry the potential to assemble scenes of alternate worldmaking at the seams of what should feel seamless.

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