with a cigarette that I can’t not hold one,” explains Woody Allen in Manhattan, partly acknowledging his af fi nity with new wave European cinema but also with his own screen idol Humphrey Bogart, the legendary rebel, radical and devoted smoker. In Casablanca, all the men smoke all the time. Cigarettes are a sign of tension, panic, sexual frustration. Bogart’s Rick, gun-runner for the Spanish Communists, secret champion of dissidents and refugees, defi er of the Nazi occupiers, smokes to bury his memories, then confront them; to demonstrate his moral neutrality and then his shift to radical hero ennobled by love. Indeed, smoking has long been associated with the idea of rebellion and revolution. Richard Klein points out that despotic tyrants often display a virulent hatred of smoking. Louis XIV, Napoleon and Hitler all repressed it. “The history of the struggle against tyrants has been frequently inseparable from that of the struggle on behalf of the freedom to smoke, and at no time was this more the case than during the French and American revolutions.” A less grand version of this pioneering radicalism reappeared when companies and offi ces began a few years ago to impose smoking bans, off ering the pitiful rump a designated room to indulge their habit. Those who braved the yellowing walls and overspilling ashtrays would develop a pioneering spirit, a sense of righteousness that they were bucking the system and striking a blow for individualism. The most interesting people, we’d maintain, could be found in the smoking room. The implicit idea was that if the company bosses didn’t want you to do it then that was reason enough to defy them. And smoking is a natural accompaniment not only to the act of rebellion, but also to thought itself. Writers have long seen smoking not merely as an adjunct to their work but as an expression of it. In a recent BBC documentary, the writer Beryl Bainbridge explained how, when she was forced to give up smoking, she found herself unable to get down to her new novel. “All the joy went out of everything.” And in the Guardian she explained that “nicotine contains something that invigorates the mind, returns it after a puff or two to its original state.” Jean Paul Sartre, who according to Simone de Beauvoir got through two packs a day, regarded cigarettes as both muse and enemy. Richard Klein points out that although he was so dependent on them,
32 new humanist July August 2007
Sartre rejected the idea of cigarettes as the source of artistic inspiration. This, he argued, was just another version of the bourgeois notion of appropriation, whereby identity becomes synonymous with property. “Precisely because the cigarette resists the illusion that it can be appropriated through smoking,” Klein explains, “that its mere enjoyment can lend substantial being to the nothingness of the self’s radical freedom, the bourgeois smoker invents a more ingenious strategy to possess it. Artistic creation, doubling enjoyment, adds a more refi ned means of appropriation to the process by which one makes the cigarette into my cigarette’.” Sartre may have been mistrustful of the process, but he was also an eager participant in it, seeing smoking as a sacrifi cial ceremony whose rituals bestow a grace and meaning on everyday acts. The cigarette is an instrument of crystallisation, whereby
“each object possessed, raised up against the background of the world, manifests the entire world.” Once he “decrystallised” the experience of smoking, Sartre claimed, he found it easy to give up. But he didn’t manage it for long, and continued to smoke heavily even at the end of his life when he was so ill that he could barely hold a cigarette and was warned that if he didn’t stop, he would lose his legs. Rationalism, it seems, is no match for addiction. Which must be why Sigmund Freud refused to give up cigars even after undergoing thirty-three operations for mouth cancer. Not only did he defy the commonsense reason of the medical profession. He even overturned his own psychosexual theories, denying that his obsession with cigars could possibly have any connection with oral fi xation. “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” he maintained unconvincingly.