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.
In this exceptional book, Race and the Yugoslav region: postsocialist, post-conflict, postcolonial?, Catherine Baker brings together her extensive scholarly expertise on former Yugoslavia with theoretical work in postcolonial and postsocialist studies to offer us a novel and distinctive insight into how the region is configured by, and through, race. Moving beyond a simple engagement with key concepts from within postcolonial theory to describe the current situation of the Balkans, Baker is more interested in examining how global colonial histories have themselves been integral to the formation of geopolitics and culture there. She argues, for example, for the Yugoslav region to be understood as entangled with more extensive histories of coloniality and, thus, as shaped by ‘transnational racialized imaginations’ as many other parts of the world.
Baker skilfully fulfils the task she has set out for herself by first investigating what the demographic transformations of, and in, popular culture reveal about the historical legacies of coloniality and racialisation in the region. She locates the discussion of the cultural archive also in the question of how, as a consequence of the Non-Aligned Movement, people were able to move into and through spaces historically constituted as white. She then goes on to examine the multiple and intersecting connections of ideas and peoples within the historical contact zone of the Balkans. She weaves together discussions of historical migrations and myths of nationhood to present a complex and compelling account of the longer history of the region. In this way, Baker is adeptly able to highlight the ways in which historically constituted racial formations organise the ground of Yugoslav politics in the present.
One of the key aims of the Theory for a Global Age series is precisely to ask what difference theory makes, and is made to theory, when we start from places other than the Euro-centred West. Here, Baker uses postcolonial theory to better understand a region seen to be unmarked by processes of colonialism and uncovers both a richer history of the region and the basis for sharpening theoretical concepts and categories in the process. It is an outstanding contribution to the series, providing new insights, theoretical clarification and a rich narrative.
Gurminder K. Bhambra
University of Sussex