May 7, 2008

Wednesday Wisdom

“I used to keep notes of my altered states of mind under the influence of drink in the hope that they would offer startling new images for poems. They didn’t. It was impossible to decipher my handwriting, and I kept throwing up. Another poetic myth bites the dust.”

Gwyneth Lewis


  1. Anonymous6:17 PM

    There was a H.R. Robinson, an opium addict living in British-ruled Burma, who was convinced his narcotic episodes gave him access to the Great Secret of the Universe.

    But he could never remember what it was, so one night he resolved to write down any Great Thoughts that might occur to him while he was tripping.

    Next morning, he found his efforts yielded a single sentence:

    "The banana is great, but the skin is greater."

  2. He would never have known that without the opium though Jacob.

    Each to their own munchies, well, perhaps.

    We'll never truly understand the depths of his ambiguous insight: did he eat the banana and then the skin, or did he observe the banana and pronounce the skin to be the more important component, or was he, perhaps, speaking of his own member - metaphorically?

  3. I think he was just a wanker Caz!

  4. Well, sure Kath, that would be option four. :-D

  5. Apparently it worked for Coleridge, several times. The story of Kublai Kahn (written following an opium dream) is well known, but apparently it happened when he was working on Christabel, as well. He got writer's block part way through, then had a few-too-many drinks one night with some friends, and next morning was right back into it.

    Phil K Dick was a heroin addict (though he came off it afterwards), and it may have been his early drug years that gave his writing the quality it had - full of intensely bizarre ideas, though the prose-style itself is strangely dead and flat. It might also account for the way his writing gradually lost its youthful vigour; and certainly accounts for an experience he had in his final years, a quasi-religious experience.

    Not saying that inspiration is dependent on drugs or anything like that, definitely not, but there does seem in a few cases to be a link.

  6. I'm thinking that a severe kick up the arse or a significant tumble down several flight of stairs might have a more statistically significant relationship with creativity Timmy.

    The case for correlation > causation is flimsy and anecdotal, at best. Even correlation has never been established, as far as I know. I think it tends to be inferred, with a degree of yearning wistfulness, but sans evidence.

    Dick himself speculated as to whether he may have suffered from schizophrenia.

    Well duh.

    "Phil K Dick was a heroin addict ... full of intensely bizarre ideas, though the prose-style itself is strangely dead and flat."

    Hmm, you've met heroin addicts, right?

    "Dead and flat", in an altogether predictable way, pretty much sums up heroin users - on good days.

  7. Anonymous9:25 PM

    Then there was Alfred Russell Wallace, who independently discovered the principle of evolution by natural selection contemporaneously with Charles Darwin.

    Wallace's epiphany came to him while he was half-dead and in a delirium with malaria.

    Much to Darwin's disappointment, Wallace also later became a 'spiritualist', positing a spiritual agency as instrumental in the development of human higher faculties, a resort to teleological causes that Darwin vehemently rejected.

    Self-infection with malaria for creative purposes is not recommended, and anyway there's question marks about its effectiveness -- e.g., how many other acts of creative genius are attributable to malarial delirium?

  8. You can get much the same affect by sleeping on an electric blanket, turned up full, for the whole night Jacob.

    Not recommended for restful sleep, but delirious dreams and delirious sleep are pretty much assured.

  9. Anonymous11:37 PM

    Sleep Wonderfully Warm With Linda --- for a delirious night of Hot Epiphany...

  10. Err, thanks for that Jacob.

    My electric blanket is hereby named Bruce.

  11. Hmm, well I guess I was repeating half-remembered anecdotes, one from an essay I'd just been reading about Coleridge - it went on to say that Coleridge himself credited his loss of poetic inspiration to opium/laudanum. And I only know that Dick was a heroin addict because he said so himself, in the intro to 'A Scanner Darkly', which is largely critical of heroin addiction. He may have hinted or said outright that he'd come off heroin by that time. (I don't remember.)

    A yearning wistfulness about drugs? Maybe. But I still remember a one-liner from Honi Soit in reply to one of the occasional puritanical Christian letters on the subject of drugs/abstinence that they got from evangelical students:

    Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, and Oscar Wilde were all talented alcoholics - and we should all aspire to be more like them.

  12. I'm not sure if it was the same issue that had this poem by Dorothy Parker:

    I like to have a drink if I'm able,
    Two at the very most:
    Three, and I'm under the table;
    Four, and I'm under my host.

  13. Couldn't come up with appropriate words Tim. I think it's around the idea that drugs or drinking might be a short-cut to some other dimension, a higher level of thinking, a fast avenue to genius - badda bing, you're there, without having to put in any effort. No hard slog. It's a human fantasy, like wanting to be Superman.

    In the end, drugs are just drugs and are a short-cut to being out of it. Drinking is a short-cut to being drunk.

  14. "Drinking is a short-cut to being drunk."
    Precisely, Caz!

    And I plan on doing just that tonight.
    It is, after all, Friday..

    And,I might add, I have never been inspired from a night out on the turps.Had some bloody good times though!

    Btw Timmy, I believe the first line of Parker's little ditty was:

    "I like to have a martini"

    Parker was a wonderful and talented writer with a brilliant wit.
    Sadly her life was dogged with depression, disillusionment and alcoholism.


    "There's little in taking or giving,
    There's little in water or wine;
    This living, this living, this living
    Was never a project of mine.
    Oh, hard is the struggle, and sparse is
    The gain of the one at the top,
    For art is a form of Catharsis,
    And love is a permanent flop,
    And work is the province of cattle,
    And rest's for a clam in a shell,
    So I'm thinking of throwing the battle---
    Would you kindly direct me to hell?"

    Then there is this.
    "You can lead a whore to culture but you can't make her think!"

    Just love it!

    I believe that Parker uttered that line when she was asked to use the word "horticulture" in a sentence.

  15. Letter sent by Parker to a friend who had just given birth after 'a highly publicised pregnancy'

    Dear Mary, we all knew you had it in you.

    Thanks for the poem and the martini, Kathy! I never remember the poem perfectly myself, but think that at some point I subconsciously changed the first line to

    like to have a drink if I'm able

    to rhyme with 'table'. It seemed to work.