The End of the Dream

Butts

In the end, of all our reasons only ashes remain – the least trace of motives that are momentarily shaped but, like them, left to vanish – and the persisting butt, the next-to-nothing-left  of a cigarette that remains only to be discarded. Abandoning the butt deflates the delicate mood that the cigarette installs and restores the reality principle – stubs out the little dream that the cigarette elicited. Butts are the end, the last word or punctuation of smoking that serves to mark the close of the parenthesis the cigarette has opened. But there are good butts and bad. In France, there is a whole vocabulary of butts among clochards, the street people who are the most discriminating collectors of discarded cigarettes. A butt (mégot), for example, may be called an ophelin [an orphan] if it is too short to be smoked. A good one is called a boni, a word attested in French since the sixteenth century – not the plural of bonus, a premium or dividend that comes on top of what is normally due, but from the Latin alquid boni, something good. When the butt is not the end of a smoke but the beginning of another, the profit seems infinite – something has been gotten for nothing: a free lunch. A good butt that can be smoked entertains the illusion that the dream of smoking, the smoking dream, can go on being consumed – with no remainder. But the illusion veils the cruel fact that every butt that is smoked in turn leaves a butt that must be discarded. In the end, the dream is stubbed out.

Richard Klein
Cigarettes Are Sublime (1993)

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