March 11, 2008

Amis on Alcohol

Yes, I know. Any discussion of either Kingsley Amis, hangovers, or (especially) Kingsley Amis' thoughts on binge drinking and its consequences must include Lucky Jim's peerless description of a particularly wretched hangover. So without further ado:
Dixon was alive again. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of the morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he'd somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad.
Now that that's out of the way, Alexander Waugh has written a whole essay on Amis' (rather extensive) views on drinking. "Beer drinkers," Waugh observes, "have bellies, gin swiggers sallow jowls, and wine, port, and brandy drinkers a 'Rudolph conk,' formed by a rosaceous labyrinth of tiny, luminous blood vessels assembling itself on the nose." Amis was a whiskey man himself and his telltale, Waugh offers, was the "Scotch gaze," a phrase that may be familiar in Aberdeen, but seems to be beyond the ken of Google. Ah, well. Amis, who was very often hilarious, insisted that hilarity and drink were "connected in a profoundly human, peculiarly intimate way," but I actually found this passage of his extraordinarily sad:
When that ineffable compound of depression, sadness (these two are not the same), anxiety, self-hatred, sense of failure and fear for the future begins to steal over you, start telling yourself that what you have is a hangover. You are not sickening for anything, you have not suffered a minor brain lesion, you are not all that bad at your job, your family and friends are not leagued in a conspiracy of barely maintained silence about what a shit you are, you have not come at last to see life as it really is, and there is no use crying over spilt milk.
Well, I won't belabor it, but read the whole thing if you need a break from Eliot Spitzer, or Democratic delegate counts, or whatever else is going on.
-- Brad Plumer 11:43 AM || ||