For the past few years I’ve been totally enamored with The Guardian, especially for its books coverage and blogs. Then today, Stuart Walton has to take everything down a notch with his odd public service announcement for writers everywhere.
Eloise Millar’s compendium of great literary cocktails raises the interesting question of whether intoxicants can ever be an aid to the writing process. Some may claim that the creative juices only start flowing after a certain critical level of saturation has been reached. Can this be so, or are we looking only at another of the ways we find to sublimate our requirement for altered states?
The answer after the jump.
Apparently, the answer is categorically no:
Any attempt to convince ourselves today that drinking might be conducive to writing is, however, self-delusion. We now know that, like many other intoxicants, alcohol has an initial stimulant effect on the key neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, which contribute to the familiar feeling of well-being that the evening’s first drink delivers. It also acts on a neurotransmitter known, sweetly enough, as GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which is an inhibitory agent found throughout the brain. GABA plays an important role in the memory function, which includes assisting the brain to discard the material it doesn’t need to retain. Alcohol’s stimulation of the GABA receptors enhances the inhibitory action of this chemical, which is why it becomes harder to remember your PIN number, your colleague’s name, and finally your own address, during a particularly determined session.
Thanks for the science lesson Stuart! But he goes on:
The question arises as to whether other less cognitively debilitating intoxicants than alcohol might aid the writer’s task. Cocaine, perhaps, won’t reduce you to the horizontal Malcolm Lowry position, but it hardly facilitates thought processes. What it does instead is call attention to itself, which is after all why it seems like a good idea in the first place. But you won’t find yourself focusing more intensely on those Second Empire crinolines while your central nervous system is under stimulant attack. It frankly can’t be bothered with such mundanities.
When all is said and done, writing is, to those professionally engaged in it, a form of work. And if you expect to be able to lubricate the process with Shiraz, the truth is that you aren’t really taking either the writing itself, not to mention the possible dysfunctional drinking, seriously.
OK, this all smacks of the overly personal—hi Stuart, meet Robert Olen Butler it’s a good message for children and aspiring writers everywhere. I guess.
Seems to me though that this is a personal thing. Some classic books have been written “under the influence,” so to speak. And granted, only 1 in a million alcoholics become the next Hemingway, but take away alcohol and half of all great Irish writing is eliminated from literary history.
That’s the problem with this PSA-type nonsense. Nothing is one size fits all, no matter what paper prints it.
Upon completing Albertine Sarrazin’s Astragal I was left to wonder why it ever fell from print. Aside from the location, Astragal could pass as the great American novel. Its edginess and rawness capture the angst and desires we all had. . .
When my eyes first crossed the back cover of Fabio Genovesi’s novel Live Bait, I was caught by a blurb nestled between accolades, a few words from a reviewer for La Repubblica stating that the novel was, however magically, “[b]eyond. . .
“I preferred the war to the plague,” writes Curzio Malaparte in his 1949 novel, The Skin. He speaks of World War II and the destruction it has wrought on Italy, the city of Naples in particular. But the plague he. . .
With the steady rise of feminist scholarship and criticism in recent decades, it is little wonder that the work of Louise Labé should be attracting, as Richard Sieburth tells us in the Afterword to his translation, a “wide and thriving”. . .
In Conversations, we find ourselves again in the protagonist’s conscious and subconscious, which is mostly likely that of Mr. César Aira and consistent with prototypical Aira style. This style never fails because each time Aira is able to develop a. . .
You are not ashamed of what you do, but of what they see you do. Without realizing it, life can be an accumulation of secrets that permeates every last minute of our routine . . .
The narrative history of. . .
Literature in translation often comes with a certain pedigree. In this little corner of the world, with so few books making it into this comforting nook, it is often those of the highest quality that cross through, and attention is. . .
Alessandro Baricco’s Mr. Gwyn is a set of two loosely interlinked novellas that play with narrative and the construction of character. Ably translated by Ann Goldstein, Mr. Gwyn plays some subtle metafictional games as Baricco delves into what it means. . .
I must admit upfront that I went into reading Saadat Hasan Manto’s Bombay Stories almost entirely blind. I have not read Salman Rushdie. I have read, perhaps, two short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri. I might shamefully add that I really. . .
Throughout his work The Gray Notebook, Josep Pla mentions many different authors, some of whom have inspired him to pick up a pen. One of them is Marcel Proust. Even though Pla normally prefers nonfiction, he lauds the French novelist. . .