This essay argues that opium’s pivotal role in nineteenth-century political economy and aesthetics constructed addiction as a relationship between labor and capital that has persisted throughout the twentieth and into the twenty-first century. Nineteenth-century discourses on opium addiction frame it as a crisis of sovereignty for individuals and masses in ways that veil its relationships to labor, collectivity, and community. Yet addiction arises within broad systems as much as it does within individuals: in this exemplary case, of labor, empire, opium, and logistics. This essay rereads nineteenth-century discourses of opium addiction through “the logistical sublime,” in which all manufacturing and distribution processes go smoothly, and “the logistical nightmare,” in which they descend into chaos. It reframes opium addiction as a logistical technique that secured and maintained the preeminence of British, and later, Chinese and US imperial capital.

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