Where have all the artist addicts gone?
THE QUESTION of whether artists are more prone to abuse, or whether historically we’ve just liked to assume they are, has been with us throughout the 20th century. The drinking and drug habits of various writers became an object of morbid curiosity for their audiences, who continue to collect anecdotal evidence of addiction as if it were the key to understanding the genius. When asked by “stupid psychiatrists” why he was taking heroin, the narrator in William S. Burroughs’ autobiographical debut, Junky (1953), replied, “I need it to stay alive.”
The breast-pounding, romantic notions of writer-addicts aren’t exclusive to white males, although there is, of course, a double standard. For white men, intoxication has long been a form of social currency, an interesting whim of the mind, while women and minorities who enjoy themselves too much are breaking one of our last cultural taboos. Americans don’t seem to have the same curiosity about black or brown writers’ addictions, rather something that tends to frighten them — indeed, the toxic myth of the black drug user as a menacing criminal has fueled decades of racist laws that overwhelmingly target everyone and imprison him who is not white. Female addicts are also not seen as heroic, but as mentally ill. Heather Clark begins her 2020 biography of Sylvia Plath, quoting literary biographer Hermione Lee as saying, “Women writers whose lives have included abuse, mental illness, self-harm, and suicide have often been treated biographically as victims or psychological stories first and as professional writers second.” For female artists, drug use is generally subsumed under the larger umbrella of insanity, historically a tether of sorts to institutionalization, often against their will, for women from Zelda Fitzgerald to Britney Spears.
Which brings us to dad. It would be impossible to discuss addiction among artists without mentioning the immense privilege that Ernest Hemingway continues to enjoy as the standard-bearer of male masculinity and genius, even though alcohol caused him tremendous pain. In the 2020 Danish comedy Another Round, a group of friends experiment with spending most of their waking life mildly intoxicated, citing a debunked notion that a constant, low level of intoxication — the equivalent of being constantly Being under the influence of one or two glasses of wine is the optimal state for a person. (“You’re more relaxed and confident and musical and open,” says one of the friends. “Generally braver.”) They test this theory by sticking to what they call, albeit dubious, Hemingway’s own standard: listening Drink it up every day at 8pm to be fresh in the morning. The plan, like many with drugs or alcohol, works well until it fails.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/24/t-magazine/writers-alcohol-drugs-art.html Where have all the artist addicts gone?