William Faulkner was an alcoholic

Intoxication and knowledge

The volume “Flight from Reality and Knowledge Addiction” examines the broad field of alcohol and literature

By Jörg Auberg

Discussed books / references

"Drinking is the writer's vice," stated F. Scott Fitzgerald, who was killed by this vice itself. In his study “Alcohol and Author” (1988), the psychiatrist Donald B. Goodwin discussed the thesis that alcoholism is a stress-related “loner disease” that can result from self-imposed expectations in artistic and economic terms. Alcohol is not only the fuel for the productive power of the imagination, but also a means of escaping realities. While Goodwin mainly analyzed American writers such as Edgar Allan Poe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner from a medical point of view, in the anthology "Escapism and knowledge addiction" edited by Markus Bernauer and Mirko Gemmel, alcohol and drinking are primarily literary Phenomenon described.

Romantic poets such as Jean Paul and E. T. A. Hoffmann saw alcohol-induced intoxication as a form of knowledge, with the figure of the drinking writer eventually turning into a literary drinker. Although alcohol was sometimes demonized as the “moral deformity of the Germans” and the “excessive drinking” was scourged, the number of creative alcoholics grew rapidly in the century of the Enlightenment. The more enlightened society got, it seems, the more depressing the present looked. By drinking, the artist gained access to the imaginary and was able to penetrate everyday life while intoxicated. Finally, for Charles Baudelaire, alcohol was a symbol of modernity, while others chose alcoholism as an escape route from modern society.

In naturalism, however, especially in the novels of Émile Zola, alcohol is described as a disinhibiting liberator and potential destroyer of the individual. Beyond any romanticization, dependency is exposed and the consequences of addiction are depicted in gloomy colors. Later authors such as Hans Fallada, Uwe Johnson, Wolfgang Hilbig or Jörg Fauser tell ambiguously about self-built prisons in which they lost themselves, and show the destructive side of addiction, although in the anti-bourgeois affect it is the “intoxication of the philistines” (the expression of a everyday alcoholism is) to oppose the "intoxication of the bohemians", which should enable them to a different, "mind-expanding" knowledge.

Overall, this anthology leaves a stale impression, despite some interesting glimpses of the interaction between alcohol and literature, as the articles too often appear sluggish and inconsistent, contain repetitions and overlaps, and come in clumsy, administratively intricate, disengaged seminarist language. The selection of the topics and authors dealt with is hardly explained; Criteria and motivation remain approximate. The book lacks the conceptual depth that Olivia Laing demonstrated in her rightly acclaimed study “The Trip to Echo Spring” (2013), in which she worked on six exemplary authors (F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, John Cheever and Raymond Carver) not only examines their texts and drinking habits, but also the spatial contexts of the authors, so that a complex web of mania, fear, suffering and destruction emerges before the eyes of the reader. Unfortunately, there is no trace of Laing's subtlety and empathy in the volume “Flight from Reality and Knowledge Addiction”. In the end, more in-depth knowledge remains hidden.

Markus Bernauer / Mirko Gemmel (eds.): Flight from reality and knowledge addiction: alcohol and literature.
With a foreword by Norbert Miller and drawings by Johannes Jansen.
Ripperger & Kremers Verlag, Berlin 2014.
352 pages, 29.90 EUR.
ISBN-13: 9783943999082

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