Equivocal Spirits: Alcoholism and Drinking in Twentieth-Century Literature

Equivocal Spirits: Alcoholism and Drinking in Twentieth-Century Literature

Equivocal Spirits: Alcoholism and Drinking in Twentieth-Century Literature

Equivocal Spirits: Alcoholism and Drinking in Twentieth-Century Literature

Synopsis

A UNC Press Enduring Edition -- UNC Press Enduring Editions use the latest in digital technology to make available again books from our distinguished backlist that were previously out of print. These editions are published unaltered from the original, and are presented in affordable paperback formats, bringing readers both historical and cultural value.

Excerpt

Probably some readers will sense how profoundly personal this book is: the experiential suffering and knowledge in which it is grounded at its deepest levels are the kinds that, as Kirby Allbee puts it in Saul Bellow's novel The Victim, can only be gained "the hard way, the way you pay for with years of your life." To say more would be to say too much, except to add my heartfelt gratitude for being among the few who have been able to pass beyond their suffering and use it as one means to secure and enlarge their knowledge.

In many dozens, probably hundreds, of works of modern literature, heavy or alcoholic drinking is important in ways or for reasons almost too numerous to mention: a drunken character, a pivotal drunk scene, a theme or subject, or something as elusive as mood (the way in which the characters' frequent but mechanical drinking, for example, contributes to the feeling of total emptiness in Anthony Powell's Afternoon Men). In spite of this importance, one might almost say the ubiquitousness, of drinking in modern literature, mine is the first booklength study of the subject.

There have, of course, been other approaches to it, but nearly all of them seem frustratingly peripheral or brief, supplying little more than starting points for a study of the subject. Many of these works are biographical. I would not belabor them in any simplistic fashion for committing the "biographical fallacy." Their deficiency lies rather in their apparent failure to realize that without his work the drinking or alcoholic writer is of no more intrinsic interest than a skid-row derelict or a drunken truck driver, and that for this reason his work should have primary focus, even when (as in a couple of my chapters, on F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Berryman) the work is also used as a window to a new understanding of the writer. More accurately, I am often trying to show how two separate subjects, the writer's drinking and the work in which he writes about drinking, can shed light on each other. In contrast, most previous comment on a writer's . . .

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