Double Review: My Reality-TV Rehab Novel, Gil Fagiani’s Rehab Survivor Poetry

reviewed by Jendi Reiter:

Logos is a collection of persona poems set at a heroin treatment center of that name, in the South Bronx in the 1960s. It comes out of Fagiani’s own experience, first as an inpatient there, and later as a social worker at a Bronx psychiatric hospital and the director of a rehab center in Brooklyn. The desperation of addiction has a way of levelling distinctions between races, classes, and professional backgrounds. The first-person narrator of some of these poems, presumably a stand-in for the poet’s younger self, stepped off the privileged path of a military college cadet to do anti-poverty activism in Spanish Harlem, where he got caught up in the drug culture. But his delusional, hand-to-mouth life is no different from the teen prostitutes and con men who are rooting through the same garbage cans for the dregs of liquor bottles. In this poetry collection, Fagiani expresses gratitude for the program that turned his life around, while showing that its zero-tolerance methods condemned some other residents to fall back into deadly habits.

“Logos” is a traditional term for the Godhead in Christian theology, based on the description of Jesus as the divine Word in the Gospel of John. However, the only god in evidence for most of the poor souls in this treatment center is the director, nicknamed “The Great Him”, who justifies his humiliating punishment regime on the grounds that addicts are all manipulative, self-centered liars who need to be tough-loved into submission. As Fagiani notes in the introduction, Logos was a peer-led community inspired by Chuck Dederich’s Synanon, which used confrontational “encounter sessions” to “strip down a person’s defense mechanisms to uncover the real person.”

Tushnet’s Amends takes aim at this very notion that the self is some nugget of sincerity we can excavate from the dross of social performance, rather than something we construct–and reveal to ourselves–in the act of choosing which personae to perform. In troubling our moralistic judgments about surface and depth, and in the humane values underpinning her aphoristic wit, she shows herself to be an aesthetic heir to Oscar Wilde.

more (buy my book here & Fagiani’s here)


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