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creativity and intoxicants / romanticism run amuck

updated sun 13 oct 02


Lily Krakowski on sat 12 oct 02

Many years ago A--was is Albert or Alfred--Kazin wrote an article in
COMMENTARY about Alcohol and the American Writer. His essential point was
that alcohol and writers became a "thing" and people concluded that getting
drunk was a sign of Being a Great Writer. Someplace --maybe in that
article--Edmund Wilson is quoted as saying something to the effect that
during Prohibition drinking became an article of deficance--and many then
could not stop.

The linkage of course is immensely self-flattering. "I drink to excess, I
write/paint/pot, many great writers/painters/potters were drunks, I must be
a great w/p/p."

There is no record of Shakespeare or Milton, Donne, Ronsard, Lamartine,
Colette, Renoir, Monet, Kathe Kollwitz, El Greco, Vermeer, Rubens,Goya,
Rembrandt, Emerson, Thoreau, the Bronte sisters, Emily Dickinson, and then
some being drunks. Bach? All those sons? Vivaldi? Mozart? Judah Ha'Levi?
I could go on and on, just within Western culure.

Now good old Goethe with Werther (there is an h ain't there?) was one of
those who started the Romantic notion that Artists Suffer. Oy, do they
suffer. And from then on--as part of the Romantic movement, but no time for
this now, this notion began that Artists Suffer More Than Others, and
therefore it is ok for them to drink themselves silly.

And in cultures where alcoholism is not considered amusing, where people
drink wine and beer but moderation is insisted upon, whoopdidoo, Suffering
Artists are cut no slack.

Personally I am just amazed how much energy has gone into the life on one of
us who likes booze. Would he get half as much attention if he told us that
despite elevated blood sugar he cannot keep awaay from chocolate?

primalmommy writes:

> There is a major logic problem, I think, in lists like that. The way I
> figure it, everybody on that list is/was at least famous enough for
> somebody to have sorted out the details of their lives (like to write a
> biography or some scholarly research) -- and they were in the "public
> eye".
> So the question is, what percentage of people whose lives are less
> visible struggle with addiction? If I could run out a list of insurance
> salesmen, accountants, bus drivers, lawyers, construction workers,
> loggers, housewives, and (god help us) surgeons and airline pilots with
> addictions of some sort, would that prove some kind of connection
> between career and lifestyle?
> I'm willing to accept the possibility that some people have an
> interesting creative perspective because their mental health status is a
> little outside the norm. I am sure, also, that artists (and others) with
> highly tuned sensitivities or depressive conditions find ways to sedate
> themselves. (Like a recent description on clayart of the post-hangover
> "inner peace" that comes from killing off those pesky brain cells.)
> But I worry that "all artists are addicts/suicidal/unbalanced" can
> become self fulfilling. Young creative types searching for an identity
> are awfully quick to grab onto that whole "tortured young artist" thing,
> liking the romance of "it's better to burn out than fade away". I found
> I was not the only poet in college who feared that the creative path
> would lead to an end like Sylvia Plath's, or Edgar Allen Poe's.
> Musicians get to watch the latest bios on MTV and decide whether they
> will be the drummer who overdoses, the bass player who dies in a flaming
> car crash drunk, or the lead singer who slowly dies of AIDS.
> The book "The Artist's Way" is great at smoking out the fears we have
> about what will happen if we dare become artists. Again and again, the
> vision of earless Van Gogh and the list of drunken, addicted or suicidal
> artists scares people out of testing their creative limits.
> I am certainly not a prude, and spend a lot of my younger years -- uh,
> researching altered states of consciousness... I like a beer or two, now
> and then, now that everybody is born and weaned. But I am not sure the
> list of Hemingways and Hendrixes serves a very useful purpose, without a
> matching list of CEOs and hairdressers and mechanics and their various
> addictions.
> Unfortunately it's harder to come up with a list of artists, writers,
> musicians, actors with healthy habits, happy marriages and long lives:
> it just doesn't make the headlines. I'd love to HAVE a list like that,
> just for reassurance. In the meantime I'm going to keep working on being
> included in that list one day.
> Yours, Kelly in Ohio
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Lili Krakowski
P.O. Box #1
Constableville, N.Y.
(315) 942-5916/ 397-2389

Be of good courage....