Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Drinking and Writing

Should a lowly blogger quibble with the editor of the Claremont Review of Books?

Clearly, Joseph Tartakovsky knows his stuff. His column in the Los Angeles Times about writers and boozin’ cited many examples, from Cratinus to Norman Mailer. Keats, Pope, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Kerouac—all were there to toast Tartakovsky’s thesis, that “Intoxication, if not the source of literary creation, creates a cerebral aura congenial to it.”

Wow. That’s why I don’t have a contract yet—I’m not writing drunk!

Seriously, with 1,500 years and hundreds of well known writers to choose from, you are going to find some drunks. But to claim, as Tartakovsky does, that “Wherever you find the pen and ink set, drink is an emblem of vivacity and wit,” is misleading, silly, and insulting.

In no particular order, here are a few writers that come to mind who were not drunks, did not start each day by getting sloshed, and in spite of that, managed to produced some fairly decent prose: Abelard and Heloise, Boethius, Thoreau, Ben Franklin, Nietzsche, Asimov, Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Agatha Christie, Dante, Stephen King (now), Lovecraft, J. K. Rowling, Tolkien and his buddy C. S. Lewis, Anne Rice, Ray Bradbury, Michener, Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, George Orwell, T.S. Eliot, Henry James, Mark Twain, Gore Vidal, David McCullough, Isabel Allende, John Stuart Mill, Maya Angelou, Garcia Marquez, Melville, Orson Scott Card, Ursula Leguin, L. Frank Baum, William Golding, Jane Austen, Rex Stout, Dorothy L. Sayers, Harlan Ellison, H. G. Wells, Terry Pratchett, Daphne du Maurier, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Solzhenitsyn, Cormac McCarthy . . .

Some of these writers (Nietzsche, for instance) were teetotalers, others drank socially, but none, I’m pretty sure, needed a drink to (quoting again) “soothe anxiety and other stultifiers of reflection.” Or to “thaw the thoughts frozen in timidity.”

Does Dr. Tartakovsky have issues?


Anonymous said...

One might observe that Tartakovsky’s “thesis” was not, as you say, that, “Intoxication, if not the source of literary creation, creates a cerebral aura congenial to it.” Rather the point was that there has been, as a general thing, a clear and curious affinity between writers and drinking. The piece, whose comic spirit seems, judging by your tart sarcasm, to have offended you, aimed to discover why. Of course there have been writers who did not drink. Although I would check your sources on Ben Franklin. I recall him saying something about beer and happiness. Nietzsche, for that matter, probably could have used a drink. He was a bit high-strung.

Vix said...

Well, said. I disagree with the thesis you state, though, that there is a clear and curious affinity between writers and drinking. I don't think the anecdotal evidence in the column justified that.
One could take anecdotes from TMZ to rationalize an affinity between acting and drugs, but that ignores hundreds of working actors that do not need drugs to act.
Pointing to well-known heavy drinkers as symptomatic of all writers is irresponsible. My very incomplete list may have had errors, but the point was--even though Franklin loosened up later in life and imbibed--that these people did not need alcohol to write. Most writers, good and bad, don't.

sarala said...

I think there is very little evidence that alcohol enhances creativity. Not to mention that it shortens lives. Well put. "Expert" or not, Tartakovsky should think twice.