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The society for the prevention of cruelty to narrative.

This article examines heroin in the 1995 film Trainspotting as a remedy for the literary declivity of senescence. The film's protagonist, Mark Renton, is compared to another literary drug user, Sherlock Holmes, to explain the title. Through his favored form of discourse, litany, Mark Renton finds an escape from the banality which characterizes the speech of his Edinburgh companions. Rather than a facile statement against or in favor of drug use, Trainspotting is an intricate proposal for the resacralization of language outside of tired narrative templates like professional success and marriage.

There is no such thing as a harmless remedy. The pharmakon can never be simply beneficial. (Jacques Derrida, Dissemination)


In Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious, Freud writes, "The English author, De Quincey ... somewhere remarked that old people are inclined to fall into their 'anecdotage'" (1963, 21-22). Anecdotage is De Quincey's punning coinage for the literary declivity of senescence, the elderly's tolerance for, and overproduction of, uninteresting narrative. Anecdotage uproots the growth from growing older, leaving what D.A. Miller calls "Freudian repetition without Freudian breaking through" (1981, 41). Though Miller does not use the word anecdotage in his classic study Narrative and Its Discontents, he essentially delineates the condition when he analyzes Jane Austen's Miss Bates as a problem for narrative, producing "an abundant text, [but] a boring one ... [with] no reserves of secrecy" (1981, 40). Miss Bates's talk is the pabulum of her mother's life, for Mrs. Bates is a "very old lady, almost past every thing but tea and quadrille" (Austen 1996, 18). Mrs. Bates is entirely sustained by her daughter's plentiful, unseasoned conversation, the discursive equivalent of the wholesome gruel the valetudinarian Mr. Woodhouse so strongly recommends. The chatterbox, as an emblem of futility who can perceive "no finer distinctions" of narrative, is of great utility to writers like Jane Austen, who use Miss Bates to throw into relief "an undifferentiated source of energy on which her own more discriminating and chastened language draws" (Miller 1981, 39).

Emma (1816) and the Scotxploitation film Trainspotting (1995, dir. Danny Boyle) have more in common than one might think, and not simply because, as Mark Currie mockingly complains, Trainspotting has no well-rounded middle-class characters, and therefore, is as limited a portrait of social class as Emma (1998, 85). Emma tires of the "tittle-tattle of Highbury" (Austen 1996, 48). She has "the art of giving pictures in a few words" (206), but her gift is a hollow one, for her lapidary truisms, puzzles, and conundrums in the end only highlight the general conversational poverty of her community: "it is rather too much to be talking nonsense for the entertainment" of an unappreciative audience, she tells Frank Churchill (206, 305). Mark Renton, like Emma, hopes that policing his community's verbal outpouring will enable him to evade the truth of anecdotage, namely that we lengthen but impoverish our lives by consenting to insipid speech acts. When Renton observes that "the downside of coming off junk was that I knew I would need to mix with my friends again in a state of full consciousness" (Hodge 1996, 16), we may invert this claim to discover that the upside of being on drugs is that one doesn't have to listen to the "tittle-tattle" of Edinburgh. In sum, the utility of chit-chat illustrates the great futility of our relationship to language and to our own deaths, and undermines our belief that we can achieve immortality through well-chosen and well-preserved language.

This article will trace the connections between narrative and mortality as propounded by Mark Renton to show that the film's social critique is not a facile pro- or anti-drug statement, but an intricate proposal for resacralizing language outside exhausted narrative templates. Renton is convinced that most verbal interaction, especially phatic speech--which we use not to communicate information, but to create a general atmosphere of sociability-actually hastens our decline into anecdotage. It's no coincidence that De Quincey first diagnosed anecdotage, nor that he fought literary banality with opiates. De Quincey set the stage for Hunter S. Thompson's use of an entire arsenal of pharmaceuticals ("Two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half-full of cocaine and a whole galaxy of multicolored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers") marshaled as the antitoxin to the mind-numbing and chimerical objectivity of journalistic prose (1971, 1-2). The conformity between De Quincey, Sherlock Holmes, Renton and other literary addicts, accents the fact that the brotherhood of the poppy is, first and foremost, a society for the prevention of cruelty to narrative, with cruelty defined as colorless, utilitarian speech, cliched characterization, and parataxis borrowed from the short "realistic" dialogue of movies. The drug writer is equally drawn to the hypodermic and the hypotactic, and in fact, uses them in an ambivalent tango of addiction and withdrawal.

Our survey of storytelling styles practiced by characters in Trainspotting will demonstrate that Mark Renton feels that his Edinburgh friends age him with their banal stories. His impatience with the language of his environment illustrates Kristeva's pronouncement, "The speech of depressed persons is to them like an alien skin; melancholy persons are foreigners in their maternal tongue" (1989, 53). Within the context of his profound alienation from spoken discourse, heroin promotes in Renton a self-involvement and isolation such as a reader achieves in front of a book. Renton is, strikingly, the only person in Trainspotting whom we ever see reading, and he only reads when he's off drugs: first, he reads William S. Burroughs' Junky in his Edinburgh squat, then a bio of Monty Clift and a letter from his Edinburgh girlfriend, both in his London bedsit.

His parents are not readers, but they love one type of narrative, embodied in game shows and bingo tournaments. There is an apparently trivial scene in the middle of Trainspotting where Mark Renton's parents are watching television together and eating their dinner at a small table. The father laughs and points at the screen with his knife, saying of a game show host, "I knew he was going to say that." His wife looks at him with a kind of blunted astonishment, as if in thirty years of married life, she has never quite gotten over how much he enjoys the curse of predicting speech patterns. I contend that Mark Renton has inherited his father's ability to predict what someone will say, and his mother's inability to see that experience as pleasurable. His mother is, crucially, "in her own domestic and socially acceptable way" (Hodge 1996, 8), the other drug addict of the family, as we learn when Renton steals her Valium, which she needs to accompany his father uncomplainingly into their anecdotage.

Renton hates the game shows and bingo nights that are his parents' one solace, since their promise, the instantaneous big win, is a specious version of the restitution narrative, which Arthur Frank pinpoints as the plot behind illness and loss stories that focus on the telos of a cure. The restitution narrative constructs "mortality itself as an avoidable contingency" if only the little puzzles of loss and setback could be individually solved one by one, and the patient restored to youth, health and vitality (1995, 87). In a lottery or game show, people are restored not to the class position they once had and lost, but to the effortless wealth falsely promised under capitalism. In his opening "Choose Life" speech, Renton specifically enumerates "watching mindnumbing spirit-crushing game shows" as a sign that you are "rotting away at the end of it all" (Hodge 1996, 4), intimating that you're well into your anecdotage if you can enjoy game shows. Spud and Renton stealing the television set from a home for the elderly is, then, liberating the seniors from the final indignity of their anecdotage. As Arthur Frank points out, every pharmaceutical commercial is a restitution narrative, and therefore a cruel plot to impose on the terminally ill who have no more upturns in health or finances before them (86). (1)

Renton's distaste for the game show is a disappointment in the false promises of capitalism and medicine to reverse mortality, for the instantaneous reversal of fortunes is the enticement of both. The hated nickname his friends give him, "Rent Boy," reminds him of the economic imperatives he structures his life to avoid. In a climactic enactment of medical and capitalist plots coinciding, Renton's drug-withdrawal nightmares include a game show in which his parents compete to win his negative result in the HIV-test by knowing enough facts about the disease:
 Renton is sitting inside a plastic booth shaped like a giant
 syringe. The Doctor, now dressed as a game show host, stands in
 front, with Renton's Mother and Father beside him.

 Doctor: Question number one: the human immunodeficiency virus is

 Father: Retrovirus?

 Doctor: Retrovirus is the correct answer.


 Question number two: HIV binds to which receptor on the host
 lymphocyte? Which receptor?

 Mother and Father confer.

 Father: CD4.

 Doctor: CD4 receptor is the correct answer.


 And now, question number three: is he guilty or not guilty?

 Mother: He's our son.

 Doctor: Is the correct answer.

 Fanfare ... Mother speechless with joy. The plastic booth opens up.
 Lights flash again, etc. (Hodge 1996, 67-68)

Renton's immunity to the HIV-virus does not strike him as lucky, just as his immunity to anecdotage seems like a curse. As soon as he's undergone detoxification in his childhood bedroom, Renton's mother takes him to a bingo night at the local pub, where Renton wins the game, but without experiencing pleasure or excitement. He wasn't even going to collect his prize, except that his mother began shouting, "House! You've got house, Mark!" (Hodge 1996, 69). The filmmakers cleverly speed up the film to emphasize the giddy activity of all the other attendees, leaving an eerily still and very pale Renton at the center of the buzzing pub, signaling that the unmoved young man is not susceptible to the restitution narratives that lend illusory hope to his fellow Edinburgh citizens.

Renton's impatience with creeping chronologies like growing old is redoubled and gratified by the break-neck pace of the film's editing and soundtrack (it's written and scored for the easily bored), so that the central character is, in effect, the ideal consumer of his own movie. Renton's unending pursuit of a hit is equated with ours as movie consumers, impatiently awaiting another exciting jump cut. My initial reaction to the film was to observe that not since Raising Arizona (1987, dir. Joel Coen) has editing been used more effectively as a tool for creating quick comedic pay-offs. Then, in reading John Hodge's incisively economical screenplay, I found that postproduction values of an editorial sensibility are built into Trainspotting's very script. For example, the screenplay specifies that Renton will sneak out the back of a pub where his family and friends are celebrating his being remanded to a treatment program; he's to climb the wall behind the pub in the afternoon, somersault, and land in a frog-position on the floor of Swanney's flat at night, ordering a hypodermic full of heroin as he lands, in a literary staging which makes the editor's job of gracefully eliding time and distance-lapse obsolete (1996, 60).

Impatient in its scripting, Trainspotting literally hits the ground running, with Renton and Spud fleeing from shop detectives, while the mobile framing of the camera pulls us along with them. Alternating between medium shots of the faces and chests of the runners intercut with close-ups of their pounding feet, we feel at one moment as if they are running towards us, and at another as if we were watching our own feet as we flee from our own inevitable fates. Stolen necklaces and wallets pour from their pockets, while the emphatic drum-beat of Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life" impels them forward. Renton has to be hit by a car to interrupt the pace long enough to fill in some basic filmic topoi like backstory, characters, motivation, and setting: It takes an act of violence to impose narrative convention onto the film.

Stylistically, both novel and film versions of Trainspotting belong to the traditional form known as picaresque narrative, characterized by "wandering desire and errant language," full of pleasing satellite episodes which, like the sexual relationships Renton and his friends pursue, have no narrative future (Miller 1981, 20). Indeed, it is difficult to apply narratological rules for kernal and satellite narratives to the novel and film, for each episode gives the pleasure of pseudoclosure, without moving the plot any further towards the privileged resolutions of marriage and death (see Chatman 1978). Welsh's novel has episodes narrated by different characters, unmoored from the epistolary style by the lack of exchanged letters, but partaking of the epistolary novel's dialogic alternation between structurally ironized voices: For all its existential angst, the literary progenitor of Trainspotting is Smollett, not Beckett. The movie unifies the episodes under the perspective of a central character, Mark Renton, who is important to the novel but not exclusively the narrative "I." Crucially, screenwriter Hodge gives Renton the unilateral power to evaluate narrative modes, depriving other characters of the interpretive styles they practice in the book. (2)

Like Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, Mark Renton is first and foremost a connoisseur of narrative. Like Holmes, Renton prefers a life stimulated by tobacco, cocaine, amphetamine and heroin because the drugs mitigate the quotidian violence of our utilitarian speech patterns. At first blush, Renton does not seem very much like Sherlock Holmes, and Trainspotting does not seem to have much to do with its own title. When I teach the film, I ask my students to define "trainspotters," and I always get the same inaccurate, yet confident assertion: "They're slackers who lay around getting stoned instead of getting a job." This response is a back-formation based on watching the film with all the prejudices of the Protestant Work Ethic in tow. In reality, trainspotters are people who, as Watson says of Holmes, "have an extraordinary genius for minutiae," particularly train schedules, which they memorize to distract themselves from not having a job (Doyle 1986, 110). Dracula's Van Helsing calls this trainspotting personality the "man-brain," although, interestingly, the only character to exhibit it is Mina Harker; she's memorized all the train schedules of Eastern Europe as a diversion from the helplessness of turning into a vampire (Stoker 1989, 358-59). Like Mina, the "trainspotter" is a Holmesian bloodhound cataloguing clues for some purpose that has not yet been revealed. The title comments on Thatcherite politics, locating the drug addicts of Mark Renton's world in a social-economic framework that explains their drug-use through the context of youth unemployment. Irvine Welsh said of his characters that they could only occur in Edinburgh between the years of 1982 and 1986, for "they're people whose ideals and ambitions outstrip what society has to offer them" (Hodge 1996, 119). Renton is a trainspotter without a context, never alienated from his job because he has no opportunity to join the workforce. Instead, he adapts his temporal and linguistic compulsions to a life of drug use, which is surprisingly well-suited to him. Those who complain that drug addicts don't want to work for a living ignore the striking similarities between drugs and work, "with their joyless meting out of fun, their constant financial count, their shared obsession with the passage of time" (Marlowe 1999, 145). As Renton says, "It looks easy this, but it's not. It looks like a doss, like a soft option, but living like this, it's a full-time job" (Hodge 1996, 47). The life of drugs depends upon the same unsatisfied, never-appeased desire as all capitalist narrative: "because no matter how much you stash or how much you steal, you never have enough. Now matter how often you go out and rob, and fuck people over, you always need to get up and do it all over again" (56-57). In other words, you might as well be a stockbroker. The demands are the same, the vicissitudes as high and low, and at least the people you're ripping off don't chase you down the street.

Having seen a number of cues lamenting anecdotage, we are now prepared to understand Mark Renton as the trainspotter of the film. He takes evident pleasure in the compulsive details of "Relinquishing Junk: Stage One," lining up cans of soup, medicine-cabinet drugs like mouthwash, vitamins, and paracetamol, and buckets for "vomitus, feces, and urine" (Hodge 1996, 9). The scene's ironic musical accompaniment, Bizet's "La Habanera," satirizes his rage for order, as much as his addiction to heroin. Renton's "rebellious love" draws him to inventory the accoutrements of detoxification on this occasion, but more consistently, to evaluate all speech patterns and narrative according to his rigid internal rules of narration, long past the point when it is pleasurable to do so. Renton's second love, heroin, enables him to manage his first, narrative, and to quiet the chatter of his friends long enough to take a break from evaluating them. Heroin enables Renton to embrace the chronological aspect of narrative quite literally one spoonful at a time. (3)

As Dr. Watson says of Holmes, strong emotions, like clues, are "grit in a sensitive instrument" to the trainspotting personality (Doyle 1986, 209). Holmes and Renton are overwhelmingly perceptive to narrative conventions, so much so that listening is an active burden when the speaker is not inventive. Opiates numb narrative trainspotters to the white noise of everyday conversation, which wreaks havoc on their delicate intellectual constitutions. Heroin, by simulating the condition of sleep, and by rendering his circle of friends too stupefied to talk, makes narrative more manageable and more pleasurable for Renton. As Holmes says of injecting morphine and cocaine: "I find it so transcendently stimulating and clarifying to the mind that its secondary action (the danger to the body) is a matter of small moment.... My mind rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram [and] I can dispense with artificial stimulants" (108). Catherine Belsey has observed that all the Arthur Conan Doyle stories "begin in enigma, mystery, the impossible, and conclude with an explanation that makes clear that logical deduction and scientific method render all mysteries accountable to reason" (1980, 112). What she does not draw out is Holmes's persistent disappointment at the ease of solution, his difficulty in finding true mystery, and therefore true sublimity, in a case. While "fiction itself accounts for its own fictionality, and the text appears wholly transparent," Holmes continues to seek indissoluble mystery in drugs, which stand for the unsolvable remainder Holmes craves in his cases (113).

Renton, enemy of the phatic and the prosaic, uses rhapsodic speech throughout Trainspotting to replace the suspect narrative plots he's tired of with a language distracted by its own surface beauty, "the exciting or sedative, 'opiatic,' effect of certain words" (Kristeva 1989, 38). Utilitarian, paratactic language marked by the juxtaposition of clauses and words without the use of connecting words reminds Renton of the futility of all human discourse, which is the impossibility that we will ever be truly understood. In Trainspotting, the futility of taking heroin ("It's a waste o' your life, man") turns out to have enormous utility: with heroin, Renton achieves the "'nonnarratable' state of quiescence assumed by a novel before the beginning and supposedly recovered by it at the end" (Miller 1981, ix). Renton employs heroin to elude emplotment in the narrative propulsion of all our lives towards forms of narrative closure, like couplehood, marriage, parenting and death:
 Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose
 a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact
 disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low
 cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage
 repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose
 leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suit on hire
 in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who you are
 on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching
 mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food
 into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pishing
 your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment
 to the selfish, fucked-up brats you have spawned to replace
 yourself. Choose your future. Choose life. (Hodge 1996, 4)

Renton's voice-over tells us of the inevitability of disappointment in narrative. Subscribe to the narrative that your consumer choices constitute your personality, and wind up disappointed. Subscribe to the narrative that says you will find fulfillment in love, marriage, and children; you only hasten your replacement in the story by your heirs. In this indelible "Choose life" diatribe, Renton, narratologically speaking, is giving a version of what Arthur Frank calls the least socially acceptable packaging of medical/spiritual illness narratives, the chaos narrative:
 Chaos is the opposite of restitution: its plot imagines life never
 getting better.... The lack of any coherent sequence is an initial
 reason why chaos stories are hard to hear; the teller is not
 understood as telling a "proper" story. But more significantly, the
 teller of the chaos story is not heard to be living a "proper" life,
 since in life as in story, one event is expected to lead to another.
 (Frank 1995, 97)

Renton understands narrative well enough to know how to use chaos to "negate that expectation" of a properly lived and properly narrated life; he knows that "chaos stories are as anxiety producing as restitution stories are preferred" (Frank 1999, 97). The "Choose Life" monologue is, then, one of the most hostile narrative gestures a voice-over could make in the first few minutes of a film, akin to promising to hold the audience hostage without allowing them to experience progress with the passage of time. Renton is violating the narrative contract by forcing on us the most depressing teleological interpretation of human life, entropy, without packaging his message in the Aristotelian narrative mode equipped to handle that message, tragedy.

Renton sees aging, entropy, and anecdotage as a cosmic irony, revealing us to be the dupes of a cruelly mocking fate. More deflating still, the film closes and opens with the same sardonically cyclical rendition of the folly of human wants, as Renton marches off with his suitcase of money stolen from his friends, reciting the identical litany, but now as consumer items he's supposedly recathected:
 Renton: So why did I do it? I could offer a million answers, all
 false. The truth is that I'm a bad person, but that's going to
 change. This is the last of this sort of thing. I'm cleaning up and
 I'm moving on, going straight and choosing life. I'm looking forward
 to it already. I'm going to be just like you: the job, the family,
 the fucking big television, the washing machine, the car, the
 compact disc and electrical tin opener, good health, low
 cholesterol, dental insurance, mortgage, starter home, leisurewear,
 luggage, three-piece suite, DIY, game shows, junk food, children,
 walks in the park, nine to five, good at golf, washing the car,
 choice of sweaters, family Christmas, indexed pension, tax
 exemption, clearing the gutters, getting by, looking ahead, to the
 day you die. (Hodge 1996, 106)

Ann Marlowe's heroin memoir, How to Stop Time (1999), uses pseudo-encyclopedic entry for much the same purpose for which Renton employs litany: to impose order on a chaos narrative of addiction. Marlowe refuses to shape her remarkable story of heroine addiction and recovery into the conversion story, a spiritual version of what we have already recognized as our only admissible approach to packaging ailment, the restitution narrative (Frank 1999, 97). In Marlowe's hands, the alphabet is a litany of the kind favored by Renton: "sanctified by usage, but nevertheless immutable, alphabetical order is one of the most obvious enemies of chance," she writes, "Alphabetical order is the schoolchild's first lesson in the implacability of fate" (1999, 11). The alphabet, the catalogue, the encyclopedia, and the litany, then, reverse the illusions of restitution narrative by returning predictability to language and contingency to the body, exploding the false promise that the body is a machine that can be repaired again and again in endless narrative triumph.

Renton is accomplishing something more than mere contumely against narrative telos in this passage, and in the one listing all the drugs he has taken. He's converting paratactic language into litany, a long chanted prayer. Renton's voice-overs in Trainspotting disclose his attempt to resanctify language, defying both style and content of prosaic narratives of the Protestant Work Ethic. Avoiding seduction by the restitution narrative's spiritual bait, Renton finds another way to spiritualize language, by going back to the mass for incantatory speech. Litany is a poetic antidote to the true poison of prosaic language, but like the drug that it resembles, it can be an overdose in the quantities Renton favors. Here his voice-over lulls us with lilting polysyllables which catalogue a pharmacy with the liturgical phrases of worship honoring the drug votary "Mother Superior," so designated "because of the length of his habit":
 Swanney taught us to adore and respect the National Health Service,
 for it was the source of much of our gear. We stole drugs, we stole
 prescriptions, or bought them, sold them, swapped them, forged them,
 photocopied them or traded them with cancer victims, alcoholics, old
 age pensioners, AIDS patients, epileptics and bored housewives. We
 took morphine, diamorphine, cyclozine, codeine, temazepam,
 nitrezepam, phenobarbitone, sodium amytal dextropropoxyphene,
 methadone, nalbuphine, pethidine, pentazocine, buphrenorphine,
 dextromoramide chlormethiazole. The streets are awash with drugs you
 can have for unhappiness and pain, and we took them all. Fuck it, we
 would have injected Vitamin C if only they'd made it illegal.
 (Hodge 1996, 51)

Like Renton, drug writers of the Romantic period were drawn to lyric incantation as a "prodigal economy" which has little to do "with a sense of restraint or containment" (Clej 1995, 36). Incantation underscores their literary interest in, and intemperate use of, opiates. Naturally, opiates seemed to writers of the Romantic period like an express ticket to the Burkean sublime. "Eloquent opium! that with thy potent rhetoric stealest away the purposes of wrath" does not make people voluble, but terse (DeQuincey 1987, 1006) (4); unlike the cigarette that, according to Richard Klein, speaks in its own rich lexicon, heroin suspends speech, in an artificially-induced aphasia that is the opposite of the chatter of speed or the shared ephemeral insights of LSD, X, or hashish, wherein, "[o]ne traverses the same paths of thought as before. Only they seem strewn with roses" (Benjamin 1997).

Jean Cocteau said something rather beautiful about the illusion opiates offer that their user can suspend time: "Everything one does in life, even love, occurs in an express train racing toward death. To smoke opium is to get out of the train while it is still moving. It is to concern oneself with something other than death" (qtd. in Booth 1999, n.p.). Heroin in Trainspotting also reinserts Renton,
 in a harsh chronology based, like the old, outmoded one, on the
 body, but this time the waxing and waning of heroin in your
 bloodstream. "Here" is defined by where in the dosage schedule you
 are.... Time, concretized as a powder, becomes fungible, and thus
 harmless. The past is heroin that has been consumed, and the future
 is heroin that you have yet to buy. (Marlowe 1999, 59)

Reinstalled in narrative chronologies by kicking his habit, Renton evaluates each of his friend's narrative styles to see if they are worth his newly valuable time. In this, he resembles Holmes, who criticizes Poe's detective Dupin, saying "that trick of his of breaking in on his friends' thoughts with an apropos remark after a quarter of an hour's silence is really very showy and superficial" (Doyle 1986, 16). When Renton's friends are explaining to him how they unexpectedly acquired four kilos of heroin to sell, he dismisses their story with contempt: "Mikey Forrester? Russian sailors? What are you boys on?" (Hodge 1996, 91). Though Renton takes drugs to manage his narrative habit, nothing he's ever taken would make such a patently fabricated story compelling. In a related episode lamenting narrative abuse, we can examine the unusual fact that the problem with Begbie, from Mark's perspective, is not his brutality, but his poor storytelling skills. In a critical scene, all the friends are gathered on the balcony of a bi-level bar listening to Begbie tell a nearly incomprehensible story which, like all "classic Begbie stories ... portray the cunt as a hardman and stud extraordinaire" (Welsh 1993, 308):
 Begbie: Picture the scene. Wednesday morning in the Volley. Me and
 Tommy are playing pool No problems, and I'm playing like Paul
 fucking Newman by the way. I'm giving the boy here the tanning of a
 lifetime. So anyway, it comes to the final ball, the deciding shot
 of the tournament: I'm on the black and he's sitting in the corner,
 looking all biscuit-arsed. Then this hard cunt comes in. Obviously
 fancied himself. Starts looking at me. Right fucking at me. Trying
 to put off, like, just for kicks. Looking at me as if to say, "Come
 ahead, square go." Well, you know me, I'm no looking for trouble
 but at the end of the day I'm the cunt with the pool cue and I'm
 game for a swedge. So I squared up, casual like. So what does the
 hard cunt do, or so-called hard cunt? Shires it. Puts down his
 drink, turns around and gets the fuck out of there. And after that,
 the game was mine. (Hodge 1996, 24)

Begbie punctuates the story by finishing his pint and throwing the glass over his shoulder off the balcony. At this point the frame freezes with the glass in mid-air and Mark Renton's voice-over comes through to let us know that he is the force that has frozen the visuals, so that he can mediate with continued extra-diegetic sound: "That was it. That was Begbie's story. Or at least that was Begbie's version of the story" (Hodge 1996, 25). Seymour Chatman describes this editing technique, which appears at a crucial moment in All About Eve:
 The effect of pure description only seems to occur when the film
 actually "stops," in the so-called "freeze-frame" effect (the
 projector continues, but all the frames show exactly the same
 image).... At the moment Eve is offered a coveted theatrical award,
 the image freezes as her hand reaches out to receive it. Story-time
 stops, while the cynical drama critic (George Sanders), speaking as
 a narrator off-screen, hints at the dark side of Eve's rise to fame
 and introduces the other principles seated around the banquet table.
 (Chatman 1978, 75)

Unlike the opening sequence, where the collision of Mark's body with the automobile is necessary to impose narrative convention on what was essentially a music video, here, Renton interrupts Begbie's storyline to forestall a moment of violence, the collision of Begbie's glass with an innocent woman standing on the bar's first floor level. Renton has done so not because he cares about the pointless injury the girl is about to suffer, but to mitigate the cruelty to narrative which Begbie has already committed. Like the drama critic in All About Eve, Renton has a debt of honor to narrative that supersedes our right as viewers to have story-time pass in a seamless manner. It's not so much that the story is untrue, for Renton complains that Tommy, who tells another version of the same events that makes Begbie look like the psychopath he is, is totally honest and therefore uninteresting. Begbie's crime is not that he beats up strangers for no reason in the middle of the day in pool halls, but that he cannot tell a commanding version of the story.

Technically, Begbie's fabula conforms to the Labovian requirement for narrative, recapitulating past experience in two or more clauses, with the grammatical sequencing of the clauses representing mimetically the temporal order of events (Labov 1981, 219-47). Begbie's recitation also fits Ricoeur's definition that narratives reveal character "as both illuminated and constructed through events" (Mattingly 1998, 8). It's simply that Renton disputes the character Begbie constructs for himself through narrative (the man of few words who doesn't go looking for trouble but doesn't run away from it either) as it is entirely unoriginal and misleading. The whole point of the pool-hall fabula is to lend Begbie a character belonging to someone else, via his reliance on the cliche that when playing pool, he resembles Paul Newman in The Hustler. Begbie even begins his narrative with a cinematic cue: "Picture the scene." Further, Begbie's recital is overwhelmingly reliant upon the paratactic dialogue of films by Sergio Leone, Martin Scorsese, and Quentin Tarantino, and the fantasy of masculinity they construct of a man as Someone to Whom Things Happen. In fact so much happens to the silent stranger in the cinematic fantasy world that he opts to narrate his activities in short, muscular sentences well-peppered with profanity, agreeing with Ernest Hemingway that a man who qualifies his statements does not qualify as a man. Parataxis signals male narrative worth by valorizing male unwillingness to reflect obsessively on past events and reconstruct a hypotactic description, using sentence subordination, modifiers, etc. Trainspotting designates socializing phatic chatter as implicitly female, but it also shows the socializing function of the macho refusal of chatter in the crypto-phatic Begbie.

Renton is further inconvenienced by Begbie's tendency to delete interesting plot lines from his repertoire if they don't obey his single narrative goal of shoring up a character called a "hardman." Begbie won't allow Renton to enjoy the extremely repeatable story of how he picked up a woman in a bar who turned out to be a transvestite (a classic bedtrick narrative tackling mistaken identity at its most intimate level [Doninger 2000, 91]) because it does not serve to make Begbie look vigorous. In fact, the narrative fits the rule for one of the more effective types of narrative seduction: the story of "those events that happen unwilled, unpredicted, and often unwished for by the actors, even if those very actors set the events in motion in the first place" (Mattingly 1988, 8). Whereas the pool hall story merely recapitulates a past event (inaccurately), the bedtrick story has the power to create evocative experiences for the auditor, actually using suspense and narrative enfolding to ensure that seduction and trickery happen on two levels, to both actor and listener. Renton, who's reading a biography of gay film icon Montgomery Clift when Begbie comes in to the bedsit to tell the tale, likes the bait-and-switch yarn because, while no doubt an identifiable species of story, it's still more narratively compelling than the "meet-cute" story of every romantic comedy promising sexual fulfillment to a population of dissatisfied heterosexuals. Begbie is so angry with Renton for his interest in the story that he threatens to castrate him, as the story effectively makes Begbie feel castrated by illuminating a side of his character that he does not want revealed. In truth, Begbie's male-centered, homosocial subjectivity is just inches from fully realized homosexuality, as we can see from intercut scenes that bookend the bed-trick episode of Renton, Begbie, and Sick Boy all sleeping together in a narrow bed, lying head to toe, like Leopold and Molly Bloom.

Mark Renton has his own bedtrick narrative: He picked up a woman in a bar and she miraculously transformed, not into a male, but a fourteen-year-old girl in school uniform. His ability to predict narrative conclusions (the jail-term he could serve for statutory rape), diminishes his pleasure in having collected a "meet-slutty" (5) anecdote, as he tells the fourteen-year-old, Diane, while walking her to school: "Do you know what they'd do to people like me inside? They'd cut my balls off and flush them down the fucking toilet" (Hodge 1996, 43). Again, Renton has found the parable that emasculates in his quest for restorative narratives. The night before, Diane had seemed like an excellent choice for Mark because she hates chit-chat, and is brutally ungenerous in the linguistic realm. In this, she resembles both Renton and Sherlock Holmes. Holmes very often amazes Watson by divining shockingly intimate information about a client or felon within a few seconds of meeting her or him, or even without meeting him, as in "The Blue Carbuncle," where he notes that a hat found at a crime scene belongs to a man whose wife "has ceased to love him" (Doyle 1986, 331). As Catherine Belsey observes, Holmes's ability to deduce motives from minutiae "owes nothing to the supernatural" (1980, 112). Holmes is able to produce such miracles of interpretation because he's tuning out the niceties of introduction, the chatter that his interlocutor believes essential to solving the case. While the interlocutor is speaking in the phatic function to demonstrate his likability, Holmes discounts the banal "how do you do's" and "listens" to what the person's skin, gloves, clothes, glasses, tattoos, and shoes are saying, which often directly contradicts the verbal testimony (Doyle 1986, 231-32).

When Mark first meets Diane, she immediately shows signs of sharing Renton and Holmes's distaste for "play nice" phatic function introductions. The scene is set in a bar, where Renton is carefully blocked under a mural of Travis Bickle, the sped-up paranoiac of Taxi Driver (1976, dir. Martin Scorsese) whose belligerent, mirror-practiced refrain ("Are you talkin' to me?") reminds us of Renton's inability to establish new friendships with phatic chatter. From his perch, he signals his desire to acquiesce to a familiar script, picking up a sex partner in a bar, by imitating soft-core pornography's attempt to convey tumescence through turgid prose:
 Renton [voice-over]: Heroin had robbed Renton of his sex drive, but
 now it returned with a vengeance. As the impotence of those days
 faded into memory, grim desperation took hold in his sex-crazed
 mind. His post-junk libido, fueled by alcohol and amphetamine,
 taunted him remorselessly with his own unsatisfied desire dot dot
 dot. (Hodge 1996, 32)

A few moments later, Renton spies Diane, a pretty young woman in a silver dress who has clearly agreed earlier to have a drink with a man, dressed in the kitschy ruffled blue shirt and high-waisted trousers of a wedding attendant or prom date. The nameless man bounds up excitedly to show her that he has bought two whiskeys while she waited. Without speaking, Diane, with cruel deliberateness, drinks first one whiskey and then the other. Then Diane silently turns on her heel and walks out, leaving her admirer speechless, in a symbolic rejection of the marriage plot to which his clothing alludes. Meanwhile Renton says in voice-over: "And with that, Mark Renton was in love." Renton follows her out to her taxi cab (which, added to the mural of Travis Bickle, ought to be a hint to Renton that the object of his infatuation, like the thirteen-year-old Jodie Foster of Taxi Driver, is well under the age of consent) and invites himself back to her place. Diane treats him to her scathing dissection of pick-up techniques:
 Renton: I'll come back if you like, but I'm not promising anything.

 Diane: Do you find that this approach usually works, or let me
 guess, you've never tried it before. In fact, you don't normally
 approach girls, am I right? The truth is that you're a quiet,
 sensitive type but if I'm prepared to take a chance I might just get
 to know the inner you: witty, adventurous, passionate, loving,
 loyal, a little bit crazy, a little bit bad, but, hey, don't us
 girls just love that? (Hodge 1996, 34)

Though apparently alarmed by the ease with which this heretofore silent woman sarcastically rattles off cloying Cosmo-gal advice for how to find a diamond-in-the-rough in today's dismal pick-up scene, at heart Renton is delighted at her intolerance for cliche She has demonstrated that, like Holmes, she would never speak "of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer" (Doyle 1986, 209). His sexual relationship with Diane, then, is founded on their agreement that pick-up lines, like all phatic function scripts in the public domain, are so suspect that the only pleasure they afford is parody. Yet Renton is slightly less enchanted when Diane throws him out of the bedroom seconds after their simultaneous sexual climax, dispatching him with the same brutality as the guy in the bar with whom she would not even share a simultaneous drink. Diane is Renton's Irene Adler, the woman who compels Sherlock Holmes because she manages to elude him; Irene earns Holmes's approval by dressing as a boy, and Diane earns Renton's by cloaking herself in the cryptic, sneering discourse coded as macho by Begbie. For Renton, the lesson of the Diane anecdote is threefold: 1) the actualization of his dread of chit-chat is completely anti-social behavior; 2) only a teenager is as bored with everyday life as he is. You have to be really young to think everything is so old; and most troubling of all, 3) from Diane's perspective of silent communication, Renton is in his anecdotage. According to the speech she gives him, "You're not getting any younger, Mark. The world is changing, music is changing, even drugs are changing. You can't stay in here all day dreaming about heroin and listening to Ziggy <sic> Pop" (Hodge 1996, 76).

Gail is the sincere doppelganger of Diane (the two even look similar, as small dark-haired women with doll-like faces), for she earnestly enacts the rules of women's magazine culture that Diane parodies. Gail is the willing parrot of Cosmo language, while Diane is its cruel liberator. Gail withholds sex from Spud in deference to dating rules handed down from above, while Diane sleeps with Renton "within twenty minutes of meeting him, give or take a cab ride. Gail tells Spud that "she doesn't want our relationship to begin on a physical level because that's how it will be defined from now on." When Tommy asks, "Where did she get that?" Spud says with appropriate incredulity, "She read it in Cosmopolitan magazine." Our romantic relationships can be run according to a script, especially if undertaken with Spud, who does not protest when Gail does eventually announce her willingness to have sex, again in the borrowed language of Cosmo:
 Gail: Our relationship is not being redefined; it is developing in
 an appropriate, organic fashion. I expect you to be a considerate
 and thoughtful lover, generous but firm. Failure on your part to
 live up to these very reasonable expectations will result in the
 swift resumption of a non-sex situation. (Hodge 1996, 35)

Gail, unlike Begbie, uses qualifiers (thoughtful, generous, appropriate, organic, swift, etc.) liberally. She also uses temporal markers like the present progressive and future tenses not available in the relentless "and then, and then" event structure of Begbie's pool hall fabula. Yet, like Begbie, Gail is also using the evaluative function of narrative to project an imaginative identity, which, in her case, is called the Woman Who Runs Her Romantic Life Appropriately. Through her narrative construction of what she and Spud are about to do, Gail casts herself as the action-generating subject of a romance narrative, not the helpless object of either male lust or her own reckless desires. In fact, Gail is simply "desperate for a shag," as she tells Lizzy in the ladies' room of the bar earlier. All her lip service to the "appropriate, organic" development of their love affair merely whitewashes her intention to have casual sex with Spud.

Begbie's narrative style, then, reveals the naive realist or mimetic stance, which presumes "on some deep level that there is a natural correspondence between life as lived and life as narrated" (Mattingly 1998, 25). In his case, Begbie asserts the seamless conformity between masculinity as portrayed in the movies and lived in his life. Gail's more sophisticated speech, like Diane's, discloses the anti-mimetic theory of narrative; i.e., that pre-existing narrative templates handed down through cultural channels like novels, romantic comedies and magazines, alter our lived experience by telling us how to plot our romances. Unlike Diane, who revels in the vacuity of the dating template, Gail feels experience requires this distortion in order to appear meaningful (25).

Throughout the scene where Gail imposes an external standard on their intention to sleep together, Spud says nothing, just letting himself be led along. Indeed, he hardly speaks in the movie at all, except in his job interview when he babbles due to the speed Renton has given him to prepare himself to exchange pleasantries with strangers. During Renton's withdrawal nightmare, Spud, leaning over Renton's door in stereotypical 1930's movie prisoner's garb (striped pajamas, clanging leg-chains) is a figure of silent reproach. On an extra-textual level, Ewen Bremner, who plays Spud in the movie but starred as Renton in the stage version of Trainspotting, implicitly reproves pretty boy Ewan McGregor for usurping his trademark role, the ginger-haired, rail-thin Renton of Welsh's specifications, whom Bremner, not McGregor, resembles. Spud's mother Mrs. Murphy also uses silence to shame Renton; she turns her back on the celebrants in the pub when Begbie taunts her with raising a junkie. Mrs. Murphy is angry that her boy has endured sentencing without uttering a peep in his defense. Renton, whose extreme sensitivity to narrative means that he can imitate the conventions of twelve-step recovery to the judge's satisfaction ("With God's help, I'll conquer this terrible affliction"), has been remanded to a treatment program. When Renton says he feels bad about cheating Spud at the end, he leaves him one-eighth of the score, reasoning that Spud "wouldn't hurt anyone." Hurting Renton is defined as telling him stories he doesn't want to listen to. As the novel puts it, "Spud is incapable ay upsettin a spurned lover wi' a bad hangover" (Welsh 1993, 198). So the sweetness of Spud is really just his habit of keeping mum, like his silent mum. Spud is of clear utility to a narrative trainspotter like Renton: being with him is as good as being alone. Like Diane and Gail, Spud's approach to chatter becomes more meaningful in relation to Begbie's. Spud's gentle witlessness contrasts with Begbie's violent, deflationary mode of relating stories, and ultimately provides a continuum for masculine silence that enables us to distinguish Renton's intellectual dismissive stance towards chatter from Begbie's brutish one.

Renton's friend Tommy is an uncomplicated storyteller who regrettably will not lie to embellish the tale: "You always got the truth from Tommy. That was his major weakness: he never lied, never did drugs, never cheated anyone" (Hodge 1996,25). Of all the characters, Tommy is the most content to live inside cliches, and therefore, the one most anxious to preserve his monogamous heterosexual attachment, since he's not afraid of getting caught in the script of courtship. Tommy, who doesn't know enough to avoid the ambivalences of narrative closure, is pummeled with the two available endings: courtship and death. He alone dies of HIV, though his intravenous drug habit is of the shortest duration of anyone in the film. On the one hand, Tommy's sad life is a testimonial to Jane Austen's cruel prescription for emplotment: "Human nature is so well disposed to those who are in interesting situations, that a young person who either marries or dies, is sure of being kindly spoken of" (Austen 1996, 151). On the other hand, fate has dreamt up for him a moderately inventive death, expressly intended, it would seem, to engage Renton briefly in Tommy's plot. At Tommy's funeral, Renton, ever arrogant of his ability to predict outcomes, asks mutual friend Gay, "What was it, pneumonia or cancer?" Contrary to Renton's expectations, Gay relates a graphic yet gratifyingly original story about Toxoplasmosis, with suspenseful turns involving rejected love gifts, kitten-waste, migraines, and strokes, and the triumphal survival of the innocent kitten whose feces killed the tragically isolated Tommy (Hodge 1996, 88).

In deference to his role as narrative scapegoat, Tommy gets all the most hackneyed lines in the film. Endorsing the presumption that fresh air and exercise help depressed people feel better, he offers, "Doesn't it make you proud to be Scottish?" but is soundly rebuffed by Renton's anti-Celtic romance manifesto, the memorable "It's shite being Scottish" speech (Hodge 1996, 46). Tommy also delivers the ultimate cliche about heroin--that it's "better than sex"--and he is very likely, along with Allison, who says the same thing more articulately, using heroin as a substitute pleasure for romantic love. To say, as Tommy does, that he's heard heroin is "better than sex" is to mistake the simulation for the real, to be entertained by the shadow on the cave wall. Renton has already told us: "Take the best orgasm you've ever had, multiply that times a thousand, and you're still nowhere near" the pleasure of heroin (5). Tommy's endorsement of the old, inaccurate cliche is marked as a clear seduction by language, when Renton has previously established that language is inadequate to describe the pleasures of heroin. Heroin is, therefore, "not good, not beautiful, but sublime" (Klein 1993, 2). Renton insists on heroin as the contemporary Scottish sublime, in direct competition with the old-fashioned sublime, represented by the Scottish highlands where Tommy takes all the drug addicts to experience sublimity and national pride. The fact that the actors are filmed against the highlands in the film's only extreme long shot emphasizes their insignificance compared to nature, in a traditional scale of the human dwarfed by majestic landscape taken from Romantic philosophers Burke and Kant. Yet Renton's complaint about the inadequacy of language, or his experience of sublimity, is most clearly formulated as a complaint about the impossibility of describing the pleasures of heroin. Renton's determined focus on the sublimity of heroin denotes him clearly as a neo-Romantic; heroin replaces Romanticism's landscape as that which cannot be adequately rendered in language.

Renton's narrative evaluation and dismissal of Tommy's "problem" as honesty, and his disgust with Tommy for buying into the old scripts about what constitutes sublimity, explains why he prefers hanging around Sick Boy, a rotten friend but one with an absorbing discursive style. Renton even betrays Tommy to enjoy a pleasure with Sick Boy, by stealing a sex tape Tommy made with his girlfriend Lizzy and watching it impassively with Sick Boy. This theft and betrayal precipitates the break-up of the only couple in the movie, replacing that script with the newer cliche of the sex tape returned to the video store, which later became a Volkswagen commercial in the U.S.

Sick Boy is the patron saint to Renton in his martyrdom to paratactic language. So convinced is he in the futility of chit-chat that Sick Boy, for the first half of the film, makes no attempt at genuine dialogue, nor does he tell past events from his own life in sequence to illuminate his character. Rather, Sick Boy's snatches of conversation are installments in an extended monologue on the career of Sean Connery. Narratives are event-centered and experience-centered; Sick Boy's diversion of talking about Sean Connery is neither (Mattingly 1998, 8). Using needlessly baroque language, Sick Boy summarizes the actor's career in a retrospective style akin not to the biographer's, but to film critic's merely descriptive and evaluative mode.

Initially, the information on Sean Connery seems to have no narrative purpose in the film except to enhance the darkly humorous mood of unearned leisure activity. Knowing a lot about Sean Connery when one is not a film reviewer, and making it your life's work to interject unsolicited comments about him into every conversation, is "hardly a substitute" for moral fiber, Renton claims. Yet, upon closer examination, Sick Boy's monologue does respond to what the other speaker in any given scene is saying, but does so elliptically. For example, in the opening scene, Sick Boy injects heroin into the arm of Allison, who, in her transport, arches her neck and closes her eyes like Bernini's St. Theresa, simulating the throes of orgasm. After the initial rush subsides into a calmer euphoria, she looks determinedly at Sick Boy and says, "That's better than any meat injection. That beats any fucking cock in the world." Sick Boy's face briefly registers hurt feelings (we later find out they have been lovers), but then he rallies, saying, "I'd say in those days, he was a muscular actor with all the presence of someone like Cooper or Lancaster, but combined with a sly wit, to make him a formidable romantic lead, closer in that respect to Cary Grant" (Hodge 1996, 5-6). Discussing Connery as "a formidable romantic lead" indirectly admits he's just been denounced as a lover, and allows Sick Boy to defend the suave, emotionally unavailable male. Identifying with Connery also allows Sick Boy to shore up his own masculinity while engaged in a chattering behavior that is coded as female. Unlike the female chatterbox, Sick Boy manages to retain reserves of secrecy by hiding behind Connery's filmic choices as a blind for his own emotional ones. When Sick Boy begins working as a pimp, he does not make a general announcement (we find out from Diane's letter), but he switches from praising Sean Connery to evaluating the Bond girls to show that he's learning women are not selective consumers who must be wooed, but mere commodities to be bought and sold: "Honor Blackman, a.k.a. Pussy Galore, what a total fucking misnomer. I wouldn't touch her with yours. Ursula Andress, the quintessential Bond girl, the embodiment of his superiority to us, beautiful, exotic, highly sexual, unavailable except to him. Shite. Let's face it: if she'd shag one punter from Edinburgh, she'd shag the fucking lot of us" (50).

Early in the film, Renton actually enjoys listening to Sick Boy, because his ornate language exceeds the purpose of establishing an atmosphere of conversational amiability and actually crosses over from utility to futility and therefore, spills over into the realm of the aesthetic. Yet, when Renton voluntarily stops taking heroin he notes that Sick Boy straight is a horrible thing to contemplate. An afternoon in the park with Sick Boy should yield more gratuitous Sean Connery praise, but unfortunately, Renton is alert enough to realize that Sick Boy's endless monologue about Connery has a narrative goal, and that goal is to illustrate the very truth about anecdotage which so annoys Renton. Sick Boy says, "All I'm trying to do is help you understand that The Name of the Rose is merely a blip on an otherwise uninterrupted downward trajectory." Renton responds, "So we all get old and we cannae hack it anymore. Is that your theory?" Sick Boy affirms, "Beautifully fucking illustrated" (Hodge 1996, 17-18).

Ultimately, the lesson of Sick Boy's life for Renton is that the absence of the phatic function spells death. In a disturbing enactment of this principle, the friends are lying around Mother Superior's squat in states of dreamy disinterest when the animal wails of Allison, Sick Boy's sometime lover, waft in. Renton's voice-over says: "I think Allison had been screaming all day, but it hadn't really registered before. It's been days since I'd heard anyone speak, though surely someone must have said something in all that time, surely to fuck someone must have?" (Hodge 1996, 54). According to the novel, baby Dawn died from cot-death ("It's naebody's fault. Cot death 'n that. Happens aw the time," [Welsh 1993, 55]), a tragedy which could happen even to a middle-class mother who wasn't squatting in an abandoned tenement and shooting up all day. But, if this is a film not so much about heroin as about storytelling, then Dawn stops breathing pursuant to the death of the phatic function. Mother Superior's house is Renton's blue heaven, because ultimate passivity of speechlessness is possible there, but the death of Dawn shows Renton at last what the preservation of our social ties through mundane language is for. Sick Boy, the baby's father, stands over the crib in wordless anguish, his muteness predicted by Derrida's dictum that "the logoi are the children ... and only the living discourse, only a spoken word ... can have a father" (1981,78). Sick Boy, who never acted like a father until stripped of the title, angrily commands Renton to mollify him with condolences: "Say something. Fucking say something." Renton's voice-over says he is searching for "something sympathetic, something human" to say to comfort Sick Boy, but he can only promise more stupefied silence: "I'm cookin' up." Allison begs him to "cook one for us, Mark" and he will, but "it's understood" that he comes first (Hodge 1996, 55). The tacit understanding of Mother Superior's is that selfishness rules the day. The child, then, is the "tokos, the return or revenue of the logos" and her death signals the portentous toll taken by refusing the phatic function: "Logos is thus a resource.... Dead, extinguished or hidden, that star is more dangerous than ever" (Derrida 1981, 84). After the death of baby Dawn, Sick Boy abandons his magnum opus, the long oral survey of Sean Connery's career, and the perfecting of theories of human creative potential based on Connery's films. Sick Boy's retreat from the construction of grand theories into merely utilitarian phatic function language (e.g., "Did you bring the cards?" "I've not bought them.") is predicted by Renton in the scene of the baby's death, when he says, "it seems he had no theory with which to explain a moment like this" (Hodge 1996, 95, 55).

Opiates also have utility for Renton in that they provide escape from that most banal and inexorable of plots, the digestive process. "Heroin makes you constipated" (Hodge 1996, 12). Renton notes, a fact known since before 1798, when Coleridge took 2 grains of opium to arrest galloping dysentery. (6) The opium gave him an interlude from the mercilessly mundane narrative of diarrhea, and substituted a heavenly allegory, "Kubla Khan," dictated to him during his high (Hayter 1970, 191). Typically "beneath the threshold of the narratable" in novels and films, evacuation is conspicuously absent: presumed to occur, but not worth talking about or showing (Miller 1981, 4). Alfred Hitchcock commented with pride on the iconoclastic starring role the toilet played in his Psycho, and in it Janet Leigh flushes only scraps of paper. (7) Not so in Trainspotting, where Renton uses a toilet as a swimming pool, and Spud uses his girlfriend's bed as his toilet. Spud's waste, splattered all over the faces of his girlfriend and her parents in a memorable scene, effectively prevents his foray into the romance plot by marking him as wrongly embodied: not sexual, but digestive.

De Quincey first began taking opium and laudanum "as an article of my daily diet" to mitigate "a most painful affection of the stomach" caused by "extremities of hunger," and hence emphasizes that his opium eating corrects problems of the digestive narrative (1987, 35). When Renton is "relinquishing junk," the cathartic functions of digestion and narration return abruptly, and concomitantly, after a long hiatus: "I am no longer constipated," he says, bent in agony by the protestations of his long-ignored lower intestines (Hodge 1996, 12). In order to make his return to the banalities of evacuation more interesting, Renton conjures his own orientalist paradise, as he begins to distract himself from digestive distress which doubles him over in the street by evoking the Kubla Khan of public lavatories: "I fantasize about a massive pristine convenience. Brilliant gold taps, virginal white marble, a seat carved from ebony, a cistern full of Chanel No. 5, and a flunky handing me pieces of raw silk toilet roll." Instead, he gets "[The Worst] Toilet [in Scotland]" as the bathroom door sign, amended by extra-diegetic graphics, tells us. The broken toilet at the bookie shop is a forthright metaphor for the linguistic cesspool from which Renton must drink in order to speak socially. When he reaches into the toilet to retrieve the opium suppositories he voided there, as when he speaks in the phatic function, he finds himself mired in the waste of others. Yet his supple fantasy mechanism saves him from experiencing the worst of humanity, when at other times his creative mind exaggerates the grief of activities less gruesome than this one. The opium suppositories--a goal for this journey into waste--transform the narrative into a cleansing ritual. Climbing gamely into the broken toilet after briefly gagging, Renton enters a delightful dream sequence of deep-sea diving in which he retrieves the suppositories "which glow like luminous pearls" on the ocean floor (Hodge 1996, 13). As he grabs the drugs, Renton cheers himself as a remasculinized hero: "Yeah! Yer fuckin' Gazza!" (Paul Gascoigne, English footballer and noted lout). Renton constructs the debasing journey into the toilet as a remedy for the effeminizing humiliation of the immediately preceding narrative, his trip to wheedle the suppositories from Mikey Forrester in the first place, a punishing plot where he is "but a pawn in a game called 'The Marketing of Michael Forrester As A Hard Man'" (Welsh 1993, 20). At the scene's conclusion, in contrast to the dissipation of Spud's waste across an entire family, a soaked but scrupulously clean Renton emerges from the public toilet, squishing into his apartment in wet sneakers reborn into his mission: "now I'm ready" (Hodge 1996, 14).

It must be noted that London is a different linguistic space for Renton than Edinburgh is. When Diane tells Renton that he "has to find something new," the next thing we see is something old, a sixties-style montage of "swinging London," including Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, Piccadilly Circus, and double-decker buses. The ad for London, viewable on any British Airways' flight, is intercut with close-ups of classic street names on a map and, "The montage ends on one street, then draws back to reveal a whole map of London pinned to a wall" (Hodge 1996, 76). The film's embracing of London cliche is matched and even exceeded by Renton's newfound willingness to read from a script in his job as real-estate broker.
 Renton: Hello, yes, certainly. It's a beautifully converted
 Victorian town house. Ideally located in a quiet road near to local
 shops and transport. Two bedrooms and a kitchen/diner. Fully fitted
 in excellent decorative order. Lots of storage space. All rood cons.
 Three hundred and twenty pounds a week. (Hodge 1996, 77)

The awkward and cramped apartment Renton actually shows bears no relationship to this description. But the fact that the place is unrentable means that Renton must repeat the description ad infinitum to more prospective customers, a crime against narrative to the Edinburgh Renton. The difference is that the London Renton, no longer troubled with the need to make friends ("I settled in not too badly and kept myself to myself"), can indulge in phatic function speech since in London it need not be used to make oneselfone amiable, but merely rich:
 This was boom town where any fool could make cash from chaos and
 plenty did. I quite enjoyed the sound of it all. Profit, loss,
 margins, takeovers, lending, letting, subletting, subdividing,
 cheating, scamming, fragmenting, breaking away. There was no such
 thing as society and even if there was, I most certainly had nothing
 to do with it. For the first time in my adult life I was almost
 content. (Hodge 1996, 77-78)

As he mimics Margaret Thatcher's party line of individual responsibility, Renton embraces the chaotic lack of meaning in real-estate ads and other capitalist propaganda. Renton concludes this speech eating a pot-noodle in a Styrofoam container in his own depressing, windowless bedsit, indicating that he has also resigned himself to the dietary equivalent of the freeze-dried, prepackaged speech into which he must breathe life every day (just add hot water and serve). In London, Renton is cured of his narrative malaise, but not his self-centeredness. Instead, he is interpolated into capitalism, even into the game show, for at the film's end, he returns to London, cheating his friends out of a score to achieve a compromised version of the game show narrative of the instant big win he so often disparaged as a hollow victory in Edinburgh. Renton cheats all his friends out of a jackpot, their take as middle-men in the heroin deal, adopting both the selfishness of Sick Boy and the narrative goal of reality-TV game shows like Survivor and Big Brother.

Trainspotting, despite being so self-consciously hip that it was renamed "Trendspotting," rewards extended critical attention because it throws into relief a number of issues about the inter-relatedness of drugs and narrative. Trainspotting teaches us that heroin is a supplement to the true poison of language, which is itself both remedy and drug. Heroin in the space of 1980's Edinburgh becomes a sublime ineffable refuge for people tired of storytelling, and therefore of living. It's no accident that Alcoholics Anonymous seeks to help drug addicts by encouraging them to recathect narrative. Going to a meeting instead of a bar or shooting gallery means listening to stories about a time when the speaker thought of nothing but going to bars and shooting galleries: "our stories disclose in a general way what we were like, what happened, and what we are like now." (8) The original Anglo-Oriental Society for the Suppression of the Opium Trade (founded 1874) was made up almost entirely of Quakers, a group whose religious meetings set the framework for understanding that spiritual growth and drug renunciation occur through democratic access to narrative (Booth 1999, 153). Talking has always been the remedy for addiction, just as addiction has been the remedy for talking. Trainspotting provides a chance to refine our understanding of the pharmakon, the poison/remedy/drug that, according to Derrida, acts as supplement to the logos (1981, 96n). Heroin, in the logic of Trainspotting, is the supplement to the true pharmakon, language, the "criminal thing, the poisoned present" (77).


The author thanks the many readers and auditors who offered helpful comments on drafts of this paper, especially Margot Backus, Michael Cobb, Blake Hestir, Diane Negra, Sharon Diane Nell, Kevin Ohi, Tara Sherwin, Karen Steele, Pam Thurschwell, the editors and readers of College Literature and the participants in the Narrative Conference at Rice, March 2001.

(1) Arthur Frank writes, "The TV commercial is a powerful master narrative not only as it instills the notion that for every ailment there is a remedy, but also because it shows the remedy as a packaged item to be purchased. Restitution is not only possible, it is commodified" (1995, 86).

(2) Though Tommy is the least narratively sophisticated character in the film, in the book, he analyzes his girlfriend's speech patterns for "the rhetorical question, the stock-in-trade weapon ay birds and psychos," and declares that a Chuck Norris video is "unwatchable" straight and "pure unmissable" for the stoned (Welsh 1993, 72-73).

(3) "By the spoonful one must draw sameness [das Gleiche] out of reality" (Benjamin 1997).

(4) The aptly named Surgeon-Major Eatwell actually proclaimed that De Quincey's abuse of opium prolonged his life which would otherwise have been cut short by gastric disease (Berridge and Edwards 1987, 51).

(5) The phrase "meet-slutty" was proposed by sex columnist Dan Savage in 2000 as an alternative to the cloying "meet cute" narratives solicited by rival columnist Ann Landers.

(6) "In diarrhoea, [opium] was a major remedy, sometimes combined with camphor, sometimes with nitric acid or calomel Its use in dysentery was common, although it was argued that the constipation it produced could mask other, more serious symptoms" (Berridge and Edwards 1987, 67).

(7) Donald Spoto discusses the tremors the toilet scene caused among studio executives, though he disputes the common reading that Psycho was the first film or even the first Hitchcock film to show a toilet, noting that the toilet is a significant prop in Hitchcock's 1935 British film Secret Agent (Spoto 1999, 455-56).

(8) Excerpted from "How It Works," the declaration read at the beginning of every AA meeting.

Works Cited

Anon., n.d. "How it Works: Rules for Conducting Conducting a Meeting Meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous."

Austen, Jane. 1996. Emma. Ed. Fiona Stafford. London: Penguin.

Belsey, Catherine. 1980. Critical Practice. London: Methuen.

Benjamin, Walter. 1997. Protocols to the Experiments on Hashish, Opium, and Mescaline 1927-1934: Translation and Commentary. Trans. Scott J. Thompson (translation copyright March 25, 1997).

Berridge, Virginia, and Griffith Edwards. 1987. Opium and the People: Opiate Use in Nineteenth-Century England. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Booth, Martin. 1999. Opium: A History. New York: St. Martin's Griffin.

Chatman, Seymour. 1978. Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Clej, Alina. 1995. A Genealogy of the Modern Self: Thomas De Quincey and the Intoxication of Writing. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Currie, Mark. 1998. Postmodern Narrative Theory. Hampshire: Palgrave.

De Quincey, Thomas. 1987. Confessions of an English Opium Eater. Ed. Althea Hayter. London: Penguin.

Derrida, Jacques. 1981. Dissemination. Trans. Barbara Johnson. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Doninger, Wendy. 2000. The Bedtrick: Tales of Sex and Masquerade. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Doyle, Arthur Conan. 1986. Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories. Vol. 1. New York: Bantam.

Frank, Arthur. 1995. The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness, and Ethics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Freud, Sigmund. 1963. Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. Trans. James Strachey. New York: Norton.

Hayter, Althea. 1970. Opium and the Romantic Imagination. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Hodge, John. 1996. Trainspotting and Shallow Grave: Two Screenplays by John Hodge. London: Faber & Faber.

Klein, Richard. 1993. Cigarettes are Sublime. Durham: Duke University Press.

Kristeva, Julia. 1989. Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia, trans. Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press.

Labov, W. 1981. "Speech Actions and Reactions in Personal Narrative." In Analyzing Discourse: Text and Talk, ed. Deborah Tannen. Washington: Georgetown Press.

Marlowe, Ann. 1999. How to Stop Time: Heroin from A to Z. New York: Basic Books.

Mattingly, Cheryl. 1998. Healing Dramas and Clinical Plots: The Narrative Structure of Experience. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Miller, D. A. 1981. Narrative and Its Discontents: Problems of Closure in the Traditional Novel. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Savage, Dan. 2000. Savage Love.

Spoto, Donald. 1999. The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock. New York: Da Capo Books.

Stoker, Bram. 1989. Dracula. New York: Bantam.

Thompson, Hunter S. 1971. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. New York: Random House.

Welsh, Irvine. 1993. Trainspotting. London: Norton.

Bonnie Blackwell is an assistant professor of English at Texas Christian University, specializing in Women's Studies and 18th Century British Literature. She has published articles on Pamela, Tristram Shandy, Twister, and La Nouvelle Heloise.
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Author:Blackwell, Bonnie
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Date:Jan 1, 2004
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