Browse

You are looking at 91 - 100 of 178 items for :

  • Philosophy and Critical Theory x
  • All content x
Clear All
Abandonment
Steven Earnshaw

Brian Moore’s novel The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne is set in a boarding-house in early 1950s Belfast, but it is quite a few pages before Judith Hearne’s drinking habit is revealed. The novel then portrays the effect on an individual when belief in God disappears. Alienated through ostensibly social causes such as her ‘odd duck’ physical appearance and family responsibility, the character’s dulling of reality through drink is also her response to the kind of bleak truth that Jack London identifies in John Barleycorn. Hearne’s society, family, and upbringing are powerfully infused with Catholicism, and as her experience of apostasy becomes stronger so does her recognition that she is completely free to behave how she wishes, which includes more socially unacceptable drinking. The chapter places the novel’s thematic concerns within the wider context of Existentialism’s focus on how to respond to a world which is now deemed to have been abandoned by a God who, nevertheless, cannot be entirely shaken off. These difficulties are partly filtered through the secular and religious meanings of ‘passion’.

in The Existential drinker
Life projects
Steven Earnshaw

Charles Jackson’s novel The Lost Weekend is usually seen as an indictment of alcoholics, an accurate depiction of their self-deceptions and lying to others, with an accusation that drinking is no more than an escape, a failure to face up to personal and social responsibility. As with other books with protagonists who commit to drinking, possible reasons are given for the failing self (suppressed homosexuality; relationship with the parents; unsuccessful career), but such interpretations miss the significance of repetition in this novel: the drinker continually faces his demons in a manner that London’s John Barleycorn argues is more truthful than the evasions of everyday sobriety. Unlike the Hollywood film version of the novel (which brought ‘alcoholism’ as a serious issue into the cultural mainstream), Jackson’s narrative is unusual in that rather than offering an ending which sees the death of the drinker or his reformation, it shows the character wondering what all the fuss is about and preparing himself for another binge. The chapter analyses the novel’s various conceptualisations of self and alcohol, its knowing engagement with psychiatry and psychology, the figure of the writer-drinker, and also covers its treatment of temporality.

in The Existential drinker
Abstract only
Steven Earnshaw

This chapter considers the decline of representations of the Existential drinker figure, partly a consequence of Existentialism’s fading from view as its ideas became assimilated, diluted, or discredited, and its major proponents faded away. It also notes an increasing antagonism towards the writer-drinker, once a staple of twentieth-century literature. The change in the philosophical, literary, and cultural landscape is seen in a number of texts where the protagonist is a committed drinker: Ivan Gold’s Sams in a Dry Season (1990), John O’Brien’s Better (2009, published posthumously), and Patrick de Witt’s Ablutions (2009). The acceptance of a neo-liberal world devoid not just of meaning but the search for meaning often characterises the nihilistic and hedonistic impulses of these novels.

in The Existential drinker
Author: Steven Earnshaw

Drinking to excess has been a striking problem for industrial and post-industrial societies – who is responsible when a ‘free’ individual opts for a slow suicide? The causes of such drinking have often been blamed on heredity, moral weakness, ‘disease’ (addiction), hedonism, and Romantic illusion. Yet there is another reason which may be more fundamental and which has been overlooked or dismissed, and it is that the drinker may act with sincere philosophical intent. The Existential Drinker looks at the convergence of a new kind of excessive, habitual drinking, beginning in the nineteenth century, and a new way of thinking about the self which in the twentieth century comes to be labelled ‘Existential’. A substantial introduction covers questions of self, will, consciousness, authenticity, and ethics in relation to drinking, while introducing aspects of Existential thought pertinent to the discussion. The Existential-drinker canon is anchored in Jack London’s ‘alcoholic memoir’ John Barleycorn (1913), where London claims he can get at the truth of existence only through the insights afforded by excessive and repeated alcohol use. The book then covers drinker-texts such as Jean Rhys’s interwar novels, Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano, Charles Jackson’s The Lost Weekend and John O’Brien’s Leaving Las Vegas, along with less well-known works such as Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes, Venedikt Yerofeev’s Moscow–Petushki, and A. L. Kennedy’s Paradise. The book will appeal to anybody with an interest in drinking and literature, as well as those with more specialised concerns in drinking studies, Existentialism, twentieth-century literature, and medical humanities.

Authenticity
Steven Earnshaw

Fred Ex is the committed drinking protagonist of Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes, in thrall to the career of the New York Giants footballer Frank Gifford. He realises he will never have fame of his own, and over time discovers himself to be alienated from all aspects of modern life and the American dream. The chapter analyses how these elements relate to Existential authenticity, including the novel’s play around the idea of ‘fictional memoir’ and autofiction. There are periods of depression for Fred Ex which lead to being committed to a mental asylum, and the chapter covers the philosophical issues around agency in relation to drinking and mental well-being. This chapter also looks at the protagonist as a developing writer since the novel is partly a Künstlerroman, and how this in turn is entangled with drinking.

in The Existential drinker
Case studies from the Victorian period
Steven Earnshaw

Through four ‘case studies’ this chapter identifies behaviours, attitudes, and representations which hint at the emergence of a new figure, and suggest significant moments in the transition from the nineteenth-century’s stereotyping of the habitual drunkard to the twentieth-century’s Existential drinker. Mary Thompson was a habitual drunkard discussed in a Parliamentary Report who rejected all attempts to make her respectable, preferring to live the life of a drunkard; George Eliot’s tale ‘Janet’s Repentance’ provides an unusually sympathetic religious/philosophical apprehension of somebody determined to drink; Zola’s novel L’Assommoir describes the drinker’s response to the modern, alienating city; van Gogh’s painting Night Café at Arles, along with a letter he wrote to his brother, introduces a self which is perched dangerously close to ruin, transformation, or oblivion. The figures encountered here, both real and fictional, are largely ‘ordinary’ people, rather than (Romantic) ‘others’ or self-avowed ‘philosopher-drinkers’, and offer glimpses of the themes and representations which in the twentieth century contribute to the figure of the Existential drinker that is discussed in the following chapters.

in The Existential drinker
Absurdity
Steven Earnshaw

This chapter places a lesser-known text into the Existential drinker canon. Written whilst in a Nazi criminal asylum by the once highly popular author Hans Fallada, the protagonist Erwin Sommer takes to drinking for reasons which never seem to fully explain his course of self-destructive behaviour. While not given to much overt philosophical contemplation The Drinker does nevertheless have many characteristics of the Existential-drinker text, in particular its expression of absurdity, the belief that we find ourselves born into a world not of our making and which has no intrinsic meaning or purpose. The novel indicates that being a good citizen – the good businessman, the good husband – is meant to provide Sommer with a reason for living, but ultimately these appear futile and Sommer remains alienated. The chapter places the novel in its historical context, with some consideration given to how we might interpret it with its semi-autobiographical origins and knowing the circumstances of its creation.

in The Existential drinker
Abstract only
Steven Earnshaw

This chapter introduces the idea of ‘the Existential drinker’, placing it in historical, literary, and philosophical contexts. It gives a clear account of Existential philosophy and issues in relation to drinking, such as questions of authenticity, freedom, self, and finitude, while also addressing wider concerns around questions of will and consciousness. A section on ‘happiness, hedonism, and illness’ analyses other possible understandings, including contemporary concerns to do with alcoholism and ethics. A canon of Existential-drinker texts is established, and the characteristic features of these are noted, paying attention to the uses of narrative and lyric selves in the novels. The Introduction also places The Existential Drinker in the context of other books on drinking and literature, noting how this is the first study to treat the material extensively in this way, often contrary to prevailing attitudes around such literature.

in The Existential drinker
Truth
Steven Earnshaw

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.

in The Existential drinker
Steven Earnshaw

Jean Rhys published four novels which have female protagonists who all drink at levels beyond those regarded as socially acceptable: Quartet (1929), After Leaving Mr Mackenzie (1930), Voyage in the Dark (1934), Good Morning, Midnight (1939). These four novels present the reader with a complex of self, consciousness, and modernity, inflected by an argument that women are forced to live differently in the world from men, and therefore experience and understand the world differently from men. One of the major achievements of the novels is the way in which they render the various states of consciousness of the female protagonist in the modern capitalist world, and this chapter considers the way in which Rhys integrates questions of gender, consciousness, modernity, alcohol, and the self. Rhys’s protagonists choose their orientations as a way to define their selves and to define what is true in and about the world they inhabit. The modernist focus on alcoholic consciousness ensures a form of self-validation against a patriarchal and increasingly rationalistic society. This chapter also considers Rhys’s presentation of consciousness alongside our contemporary understanding.

in The Existential drinker