Jack London, John Barleycorn (1913)
Truth
in The Existential drinker
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This chapter places Jack London’s autobiography John Barleycorn: Alcoholic Memoirs as the key text for understanding the figure of the Existential drinker. It is one of the first all-out formulations of the writer-as-drinker, mixing the nineteenth-century temperance view of the habitual drinker who is a moral failure with the image of the writer as a drinker who can attain truths not available to the fall-in-the-gutter drunkard, nor indeed available to the run-of-the-mill sober citizen. The chapter deals with London’s idea of ‘the white logic’, that is, the attraction of alcohol as a means to enlightenment, while at the same time acknowledging that to choose this path is also to choose death. The chapter therefore covers questions of mortality, finitude, types of drinkers and drunkenness, early aspects of Existential philosophy (London partly draws on Nietzsche), as well as beginning consideration of the writer in relation to texts where drinking is central.

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