terça-feira, 6 de agosto de 2013

As brumas do álcool

O Tribunal da Relação do Porto obrigou uma empresa de recolha de resíduos de Oliveira de Azeméis a reintegrar um trabalhador que tinha sido despedido depois de ter tido um acidente alcoolizado, em 2012.
"Com álcool, o trabalhador pode esquecer as agruras da vida e empenhar-se muito mais a lançar frigoríficos sobre camiões, e por isso, o público servido até pode achar que aquele trabalhador alegre é muito produtivo", consideraram os juízes da Relação do Porto.
Este Acórdão que foi notícia, nestes dias, em Portugal  , quais brumas do álcool,  levam à transcrição de um artigo publicado no TLP (Times Literary Supplement) em que Paul Quinn analisa o livro de Olivia Laing " The trip to echo Spring" que versa sobre  o uso do álcool pelos escritores

John Cheever, Mary Pennington Updike, John Updike, 1964 Photograph: 1964 David Gahr

Hemingway hits the bottle
Paul Quinn
Olivia Laing
Why writers drink
284pp. Canongate. £20.
978 1 84767 794 5
Olivia Laing’s ambitious debut, To the River (reviewed in the TLS, September 9, 2011), was not a straightforward contribution to Bloomsburiana. Circling artfully around the suicide of Virginia Woolf, digressing along the many windings of the River Ouse, fusing biography and travelogue, it was natural, cultural and literary history combined. Her new book again focuses on a much-chronicled group of writers. Her drunkards’ canon consists of a predictable selection of the American literary mainstream: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, John Cheever and Raymond Carver. Once again, however, any sense of over-familiarity with her cast is counteracted by a bold use of syncretic form. The Trip to Echo Spring: Why writers drink is part travel book, part literary criticism, part collective biography, all wrapped around a nested misery memoir.
As well as the danger always inherent in literary biography of confusing or collapsing the work and the life, there is an additional one here of reducing writers who drink to drinkers who write. The reasons why writers drink are, of course, as various as the reasons writers write; but Laing avoids nebulousness by concentrating on this particular nexus of American writers – all of them notoriously hard drinkers – on their elective affinities, friendships and feuds, and the way that they “experienced and thought about their addiction through their fiction, journals and letters”.
John Berryman trailed his bad mentor, Dylan Thomas, through New York’s traditional stations of dissolution
The reasons why these particular writers drank, or more precisely why they became dependent on alcohol, were inter alia weak, suicidal or resentful fathers (when Cheever was conceived his father’s first act was to invite the local abortionist to dinner), suffocating mothers, class anxiety, sexual anxiety (Cheever endured the dual burden of passing for both bourgeois and heterosexual), shyness, guilt, pram-in-the-hall pressures, disastrous role models (Dylan Thomas in the case of Berryman, who trailed his bad mentor through New York’s traditional stations of dissolution, the White Horse, the Chelsea Hotel; Hart Crane, the alcoholic poet and suicide, in the case of Williams), and a shared genius for self-sabotage. None of them drank to improve his writing, but addiction and recovery became for some an important theme, something to chronicle, and, moreover, had a subterranean but profound impact on their literary styles. Laing is acute about the warping impact alcoholism has on memory, a writer’s major resource. Reading Cheever, for example, she identifies “a persistent attribute of his work: a kind of uncanniness produced by radical disruptions of space and time”. Excess drinking might have contributed special effects to Cheever’s prose, but Laing refuses to romanticize this given the damage done. Similarly, after waxing lyrical about the landscape of Port Angeles, Washington, and empathizing with Carver’s view of Morse Creek as a “holy place”, she adds: “Watching water work through rock, you might come to a kind of accommodation with the fact that you’d once smashed your wife’s head repeatedly against a sidewalk for looking at another man”. This movement between heady rhetorical inflation and sobering deflation is felt throughout the book, beginning with its florid title – Echo Spring is the wistful pet name that the drunkard Brick, in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, gives to his liquor cabinet – which is soon undercut by the baldly explanatory subtitle.
Carefully, guardedly, Laing reveals that one motivation for writing the book (and, we presume another reason why any romanticization of, or “excuse notes” for, the mythic drunken writer is anathema to her) is the alcoholism that overshadowed a period of her childhood during which her mother’s lesbian partner was prone to drunken rages. This is also one of the reasons that her examples of alcoholic writers here are all men, she explains. Otherwise her material would be “too close to home” to bear the delicate work of displacement.
One text that not only galvanized but shaped Laing’s project was Cheever’s short story “The Swimmer”, with its drink-damaged and self-deluding title character who decides to swim across Westchester, New York, via the swimming pools of his friends, “that quasi-subterranean stream that curves across the county”, taking full advantage of their overflowing hospitality on the way. The confluence of alcohol and waterways is abidingly suggestive for Laing:
“’The Swimmer’, which I would judge among the finest stories ever written, catches in its strange compressions the full arc of an alcoholic’s life and it was that same dark trajectory I wanted to pursue . . . . Like Cheever, I had a notion that it might be possible to plot the course of some of these restless lives by way of a physical journey across America. Over the next few weeks, I planned to take what is known in AA circles as a geographical, a footloose journey across the country, first south, through New York, New Orleans and Key West, and then north-west, via St. Paul, the site of John Berryman’s ill-fated recovery, and on to the rivers and creeks of Port Angeles, where Raymond Carver spent his last, exultant years.”
As the words “dark trajectory” suggest, this book about drinking is at bottom Bunyanesque rather than Rabelaisian. There is no celebration of conviviality here, precious little about the pleasures of intoxication. Instead, it is predominantly a cautionary prose allegory rendered in spatial terms. This topography has its many Sloughs of Despond, and various Valleys of Humiliation. Ultimately, the state of grace that these writers seek is approached via the “gruelling realities” rehearsed in AA meeting halls (one of which she visits in New York). Although Laing takes pains to play down the judgemental aspects of her study, her choice of an “encoded” allegorical structure means that something of the English Puritan tradition still haunts the text, even if explicitly moralistic terms are subsumed by AA nomenclature and medical discourse. She refers throughout to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders which categorizes alcohol dependence as manifested by three or more of seven symptoms: its Seven Deadly Sins, as it were. The book also reproduces (twice) AA’s enhanced version of the Ten Commandments, its Twelve Steps, and makes use of AA keywords throughout – denial, levelling, minimizing, and so forth. Indeed, “denial” is a constant sub-theme of the book, “the keynote of the alcoholic personality”: and like so much in the drinker’s discourse it is fraught with paradox, since to deny denial is to shuffle like a Cretan liar.
The medicalizing of these writers’ lives and works is obviously a contentious matter; therapeutic discourse is often privileged in this study, to the extent that at times one wishes for a little more of the anti-psychiatric scepticism of the author’s namesake, R. D. Laing (and certainly more of his sense of the wider social enmeshment of any mental illness; at one point, for example, Carver’s self-exculpating, family- and poverty-blaming essay “Fires” is criticized as “a kind of moral blackout, a refusal to link cause and effect in any meaningful way”, before, as a grudging afterthought, she adds: “which isn’t to say, of course, that poverty doesn’t exact a cost or profoundly influence the destiny of a writer”). At a conference Laing attends in New Orleans a Turkish academic presents a paper called “Diagnosing Tennessee: Williams and his Diseases”, which treats the plays as little more than dramatic expressions of alcohol-induced brain damage, much to the consternation of some delegates. Elsewhere, we zoom in on Cheever’s CAT scan, and its incontrovertible evidence of severe alcohol-induced atrophy. The most chastening and chilling example of the writer reduced, distilled, into the alcoholic reproduced here, however, is Berryman’s own drinker’s résumé, the kind of “searching and fearless inventory” required by AA’s Step Four, the curriculum of an alcoholic’s damaged vita: “Wife left me after 11 yrs of marriage bec. of drinking. Despair, heavy drinking alone, jobless, penniless, in N.Y. Lost when blacked-out the most important professional letter I have ever received. Seduced students drunk. Made homosexual advances drunk, 4 or 5 times . . .”.
Problematically, Laing interprets literature as a kind of higher therapy
When moving from clinical data to the fictional texts, Laing is often perceptive. She has a flair for elegant, cursive summaries of these various bodies of work and the shaping pressures of drink upon them. She is insightful about “the weightless element in Cheever’s work”: for example, the updraught at the end of certain of his stories, which she is torn (that biographer’s tension, again) between censuring as another manifestation of a drinker’s escapist flight from responsibility, or celebrating as a writer’s altogether more complex and critical distancing from the world as it is. She catches a similar updraught in certain death-haunted fictions of Hemingway, paradoxical in their “voluptuousness of despair”, and finds an analogous paradox in the way he drank: “to simultaneously ward death off and lure it in”.
Her account of the well-rehearsed creative relationship between Carver and his editor, Gordon Lish, takes on an interesting light in the context of alcoholism and recovery; Lish’s scrupulous removal of the early stories’ redemptive elements and consolatory endings might have been good for the stories, she suggests, but bad for the recovery. (Carver did recover, but only after he’d wrested back editorial control.) Lish was interested in improving the story, not self-improvement; fiction is not a talking cure. Yet ultimately and problematically, Laing interprets literature as a kind of higher therapy (for writer and reader); in her conclusion she extols the redemptive power of stories and “the capacity of literature to somehow salve a sense of soreness”.
These sentiments are expressed before the prospect of the purifying waters of Morse Creek, a curative section of her journey, where allegorical structure, close observation of nature and botany, and biography mesh well, justifying the hybrid form. There are some sequences, significantly associated with water, clearly her preferred medium, in which the various strands of her narrative cohere into something as genuinely layered and effective as her first book. At Key West, swimming in the sea, she invokes Tennessee Williams’s twin obsessions, “liquor and swimming”, and playing on the phrase “drowning your sorrows”, reflects that “the dream of letting go into water is prevalent in the work of alcoholic writers”. For the most part, however, and for all the defamiliarizing intent, there is a nagging sense reading this book that high-concept travel narratives with their allusive digressions around a central trauma (complete with badly reproduced photographs) have themselves become too familiar: a sub-genre dictated by publishing imperatives. This book is often at its best when most sedentary, when engaged in close reading of texts. "in TLS, Published: 31 July 2013
Paul Quinn is a freelance writer and programme-maker.

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