John O’Brien, Leaving Las Vegas (1990)
in The Existential drinker
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This chapter views John O’Brien’s Leaving Las Vegas as a novel which is fully aware of the general tenets of Existentialism, and of the baggage that comes with being labelled ‘an alcoholic’, yet does not see that either of these categories are much use to him: the only way to live is to binge-drink his way to death. In taking this route the chapter views the novel as offering a response to Camus’s views in The Myth of Sisyphus around life’s meaning and the question of suicide. The chapter analyses the ways in which both ‘the alcoholic’ and ‘the prostitute’ choose their modes of existence, and how ‘love’ is ultimately not a viable source of meaning or salvation. The cultural context is very much that of an America deracinated by a hedonism for which the committed binge drinker becomes a logical endpoint, and in the face of which a philosophy like Existentialism begins to lose its purchase.


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