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.
This book has a single author but rests on many shoulders, often those whose position in the political economy of academic knowledge is more marginal than mine. I owe the perspective I have been able to express in this book to two women in particular: the feminist writer and cultural critic Flavia Dzodan, whose writing first confronted me with very different meanings of ‘Europe’ from those that dominated the study of the Yugoslav region and my own experience, and the philosopher Zara Bain, whose explanations of her research on the critical race theory of Charles Mills first suggested to me that the spatialised hierarchies of modernity with which the literature on ‘balkanism’ was so familiar were also part of global formations of race. These interactions, through online platforms in the early to mid-2010s, came about at a novel moment in the history of digital media and feminism, yet the perspectives they enabled me to form were not in themselves new: Anikó Imre and Miglena Todorova elsewhere in east European studies, and Dušan Bjelić and Konstantin Kilibarda in post-Yugoslav studies themselves, had all written on race, whiteness, postcoloniality and postsocialism before I had even begun questioning the absence of race in the debates to which I was contributing. I hope that their work will be cited at least as often as this book.
My first rough notes of topics a book like this might cover were written while listening to Julija Sardelić (who directed me towards Imre's work on whiteness and antiziganism) discuss her research on post-Yugoslav Romani minorities at a workshop organised by the Europeanisation of Citizenship in the Successor States of the Former Yugoslavia project at Edinburgh in June 2013. In 2014, the ‘Why Is My Curriculum White?’ campaign by students at University College London challenged me and other academics to rethink how we could redesign our teaching to integrate race into topics where, due to the structural whiteness of the academy itself, it had traditionally been erased. Talking to postgraduates including Olivia Hellewell and Laura Todd in Russian and Slavonic Studies at Nottingham after I first presented an early version of this book's argument, in March 2015, showed me that arguing for race to be explicitly part of the agenda of post-Yugoslav studies invited others to re-reflect on racialised representations they had encountered in their own research. The contributions of all participants at a workshop on ‘“Race” and Racialisation in the Study of South-East Europe’ I held at Central European University in February 2016, at the invitation of the Department of Gender Studies, reflected a combination of situated knowledge and critical engagement that it would be rare to find at any other university, and were decisive in persuading me that the argument should be book-length. Amid a suddenly expanding body of research on postcoloniality and race in Yugoslavia, conversations with Srđan Vučetić, Jelena Subotić and Sunnie Rucker-Chang across several conferences – and a guest lecture at the University of Cincinnati – in 2016 enabled me to sharpen the book's claims from questions into potential answers. This book appears in the ‘Theory for a Global Age’ series thanks to the enthusiasm of Gurminder Bhambra at a time when it has probably never been more politically urgent to understand how global coloniality and the marginalisation of postsocialist Europe have interlocked.
While writing this book, I have been indebted to the encouragement and critical feedback of Elissa Helms, Marsha Henry, Konstantin Kilibarda, Jelena Obradović-Wochnik, Sunnie Rucker-Chang, Julija Sardelić, Paul Stubbs and Srđan Vučetić, and to conversations with Anna Agathangelou, Petra Bakoš Jarrett, Dušan Bjelić, Wendy Bracewell, Dario Brentin, Alex Cooper, Susan Cooper, Elizabeth Dauphinée, David Eldridge, Lucian George, Michael Gratzke, Amela Hadžajlić, Tea Hadžiristić, Olivia Hellewell, Aida Hozić, Vladimir Kulić, Tomislav Longinović, Jo Metcalf, Jasmin Mujanović, Astrea Pejović, Joy Porter, Jemima Repo, Melanie Richter-Montpetit, Jelena Subotić, Sara Swerdlyk, Marianna Szczygielska, Laura Todd, Miglena Todorova, Naum Trajanovski, Rosemary Wall and Peter Wright. Responsibility for the book's interpretations, of course, remains my own. Parts of the argument have been presented at the University of Nottingham, Central European University, University College London (School of Slavonic and East European Studies), the University of Hull, the University of Graz (at a conference supported by the Leverhulme Trust), the London School of Economics and Political Science (at the annual conference of Millennium: Journal of International Studies), the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies annual convention, and Cincinnati. I am grateful to staff at the British Library (especially Milan Grda) and Hull's Brynmor Jones Library for assistance with bibliographic research, and to what is now the School of Histories, Languages and Cultures at Hull for providing an intellectual environment where situating the Yugoslav region within global formations of race seemed all the more essential. I am also grateful to Caroline Wintersgill, Alun Richards, David Appleyard and Diane Wardle for the smoothness and speed of this book's journey through production. This book owes its earliest origins to the anti-racist engagement of my mother, Helen Baker, from whom I first understood that the legacies of colonialism and slavery shape the global present.