Many writers stretching back hundreds of years have always held in high regard their alcoholic choices. As Hemingway describes in ‘A Moveable Feast’:
‘In Europe then we thought of wine as something as healthy and normal as food and also as a great giver of happiness and well being and delight. […] it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary…’
For them it kept time moving simultaneously slowly and quickly, and however heavy the hangover might be the next day, they wouldn’t say no to the next drink that came to them.
It was that opportunity to socialise with either their closest companions or the next stranger that would walk into the bar, to talk and act with unstable freedom that otherwise wouldn’t occur under sober circumstances. It is then up to the skilled writer to then extract these details in a hungover state, note them down and manage to abstain just for a brief period in order to craft a piece of writing.
This leads them to a key component of writing that alcohol unconsciously teaches them: research. In P. J. O‘Rourke’s words: ‘I like to do my principal research in bars, where people are more likely to tell the truth or, at least, lie less convincingly than they do in briefings and books.’ It is not only in the socialising where they gather stories or information, but the inebriated gaps in memory can be later retrieved by those who were there to witness the occasion. On the other hand, gaps present the writer with the capacity to interpret the situation using another important component: the imagination.
Notable writers such as Bukowski, Kerouac, and Welsh have written extensively on alcohol (among other debaucheries), almost to the point of dependence. It must always be kept in mind that there is always the risk of alcoholic capitulation, but it is a risk that, if kept in check, is more than worth its troubles. It is almost inescapable with its inter-connected links to other pleasurable outlets such as eating, gig-going and sporting events, and it’s there because it enhances the experience through unbridled concentration towards those aspects. To tenuously link Blake, it temporarily unshackles those ‘mind forg’d manacles’ of sobriety and allows us to forget about responsibilities large or miniscule.
Now it would be a stretch to suggest that all of us should be drunk all the time, otherwise nothing (especially writing) would ever get done; we’d be enjoying ourselves too much to ever write down the tale. It is with a balance that many of the greatest works of literature have appeared. One such example, with which I sign off this essay with, is Lord Byron’s ‘Don Juan’, in which he writes:
Man, being reasonable, must get drunk;
The best of life is but intoxication:
Glory, the grape, love, gold, in these are sunk
The hopes of all men, and of every nation;
Without their sap, how branchless were the trunk
Of life’s strange tree, so fruitful on occasion!
But to return,–Get very drunk; and when
You wake with headache, you shall see what then.