Psychological Foundations of Alcoholic Writing
Most alcoholics are compulsive in protecting their delusions of power and in nurturing the fallacious image that they are emotionally stable. This may be the critical reason why so many writers are alcohol-dependent. For an addicted writer, the frustrations manifested in striving to overcome social barriers and behavioral limits are frequently projected and defused through the written word. Much of the poetry written by Allen Ginsberg, for example, has focused on the effects of self-mutilation, frustration, alcoholism, addiction, nonconformity, and poverty, and has done so in the interest of presenting a new image and a new medium of expression. A contemporary of Ginsberg, John Berryman, was deeply concerned with describing the texture and focus of alcoholic rebellion, denial, and social protest, most especially as they related to his own problems with alcohol and his difficulties staying in recovery. That same concern can also be found in certain poems written by Edwin Arlington Robinson. In “Mr. Flood’s Party,” Robinson describes the struggle and grandiosity of an intoxicated, lonely old man who fantasizes that he has been somehow endowed with tragic nobility. Another poem, “Miniver Cheevy,” tells how the commonplace deflated Miniver’s comforting illusion of history, with its facade of heroism, its pretentious nobility, and its art. Cheevy concludes that he was born in the wrong time, and so he relapses into self-pity, destroys his sensibilities with liquor, and allows himself the illusion that he might have been something other than a drunken failure. In the realm of fiction, John Cheever wrote a number of fascinating short stories on the effects of drunkenness, especially as it relates to the violation of social norms and relationships. Similarly, in The Sun Also Rises (1926), Ernest Hemingway presents an excellent and timely portrait of the drunkenness, aimlessness, and dissipation of his Parisian compatriots after World War I.