Monday, July 22, 2013

Why Do Writers Drink?

Does it help writers to drink? Certainly Jack Kerouac, Dylan Thomas, John Cheever, Ernest Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald thought so. But, wonders Blake Morrison, are the words on the page there despite and not because of alcohol?

From a piece in the Guardian...

Fiction is a better route, perhaps: the unspeakable truths can go into the mouths of made-up people. But as Kingsley Amis complained, readers tend to equate authors with their protagonists, and with good reason. In John Berryman's unfinished novel Recovery, the protagonist is called Alan Severance: despite the name, his experience of rehab isn't easily divisible from the author's. As for Fitzgerald, when he was sacked by MGM towards the end of his life, he took to writing stories for Esquire about a small-time alcoholic scriptwriter, as if to ward off the thought that this was what he had become. No one was fooled. "I cannot consider a pint of wine at the day's end as anything but one of the rights of man," he'd once said, but by now it was a pint of gin a day, and his escapades (losing his car licence, getting into fights, being thrown out of clubs, etc) were common knowledge. He reached his nadir when he got drunk with two tramps and brought them home, inviting them to help themselves to his ties, shirts and Brooks Brothers suits.

Fiction may look like the right form for alcoholics, as their dependency teaches them to be good at lying. But holding a novel in your head becomes more difficult when you're holding a glass in your hand as well. "A short story can be written on a bottle," Fitzgerald told his editor Max Perkins, "but for a novel you need the mental speed that enables you to keep the whole pattern in your head and ruthlessly sacrifice the sideshows." Many poets have written a line or two when pissed, but few of those lines stand up next day.

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