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.
Some years ago, in a plush, official government palace in Bridgetown, Barbados called the Frank Collymore Hall, I had a chance meeting with Kamau Brathwaite, Barbados’s legendary poet and historian. After some polite shadow-boxing and possibly a slippery remark or two from me he came to the point. He posed me a seemingly direct and simple question. ‘And what’, he asked, ‘does Philip Nanton have to say about the Caribbean?’. His challenge has haunted me for ten years or more and I suppose that this text is one response to his question. My struggle to answer his question in the way that I have chosen in this book has led me to incur many debts that I would like to acknowledge.
In the early stages of thinking about and writing this book it was my good fortune to be befriended by Vincentian-born Mike Kirkwood, who also has roots in South Africa. I owe him much for his enthusiasm about things Vincentian: our many discussions around the idea of the frontier in the Caribbean and elsewhere, and not least his willingness to allow his essay ‘The Roaring’ to introduce my text. The genial Father Mark DaSilva, who served his Grenadines parish for some fifteen years, knows more about the flora, fauna and people of that region than anyone I know. He encouraged me to write about the Grenadines and I took up his suggestion in my own way. Others from St Vincent, including Adrian Fraser, Vonnie Roudette, Caroline Sardine, William Abbott and Deborah Dalrymple, have offered kindness, support and encouragement at various stages of the thinking and writing process.
In Barbados, Woodville Marshall, Cleve Scott and Nan Peacocke each made time to read early drafts of the text, and each offered encouragement and criticism. Avinash Persaud, with a quiet patience, introduced me to some of the finer points of the financial services world. Christine Barrow read a later draft and helpfully suggested, in particular, that a perspective on religion in St Vincent would not go amiss, and she was right. Jane Bryce read every draft and offered lots of constructive criticism.
I have held many helpful email discussions about the Caribbean, small island states and the frontier with Shalini Puri, who lives and teaches in the USA.
In the last century, when I lived in England, it was again my good luck to be a student of and get to know as a friend the cheerful and supportive Robin Cohen. His enthusiastic response to a draft of a few chapters of this work gave added encouragement that perhaps I had something to say. Caroline Wintersgill, now at Manchester University Press, freed me to say whatever that something was in my own way. The unfailingly responsive and encouraging Gurminder Bhambra, editor of Theory for a Global Age, has allowed me to say it as part of that series. Three unidentified readers said some kind things and made telling comments about the draft manuscript. I have tried to be as enthusiastic in my response to them as they were in their criticism. I had many early discussions about writing this book with Marian Fitzgerald.
Jane Bryce, my partner, kicked my arse (metaphorically) and told me – many times – to get on with it before the curtains close. She was, as in many things, so right.
That, I suppose, is the gist of my debts of gratitude and how what appears in the pages below got done. But for what has been done I, and I alone, must say: mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
Every effort has been made to obtain permission to contact the copyright holders of ‘Shaker Funeral’, and the publisher will be pleased to be informed of any errors and omissions for correction in future editions.