Lyrics by Bertholt Brecht

Posted: March 28, 2018 in Uncategorized
  1. Kaden Plewe says:

    Been wondering this for a while… thought this was a fine place to ask the question. Is the role of drugs and alcohol in art progression a topic that’s discussed often? It’s hard to imagine that they haven’t had at least a minor influence on where we are today.

    The cases that involve addiction and abuse seem to go mainstream but more subtle influences aren’t very apparent. I’d be shocked if drugs/alcohol didn’t have some role in the creative process of most of the artists that we’ve discussed. Surely it had some impact on the styles of visual art and music that arose in the 50’s and 60’s when hallucinogenics exploded. Shows that have been aided or hindered by cocaine, opiates, etc. (Woodstock)?

    Is this something that’s worth being discussed? Does it matter if something happens with the help of a substance like it does in sports? Personally, I think drugs could be grouped with the emerging technologies that are a theme of this course. Maybe you have some insight into the role they’ve played in your career as an artist or some of your colleagues?

    Same goes for its application in audiences. We talked about “happenings” today. I’m sure LSD, mushrooms, etc. impacted the way that the audience was willing to engage in the situations that the artists set-up? Rocky Horror Picture Show wouldn’t be the same with a sober audience.


    • That’s a fine and timely question to ask. I tried to address the role of amphetamines in literature, when discussing Michael Fried, minimalism, and Jack Kerouac. But more timely is the fact that my friend is New York is currently at a conference presenting a paper on addiction-and-recovery memoirs written by rockstars. She has a PhD in library science and a penchant for Mötley Crüe.

      The general discussion of the relation between drugs and art is a venerable one, going back to the late 18th century. It was at that point in Western history that various curious and adventurous individuals began trying to blow their minds in search of the ‘sublime’. Not only were individuals experimenting with mesmerism and electricity (Ben Franklin is just to most popular example), but that were also drinking wine, huffing nitrous, and using opium to get way out there. The last two examples bring to mind the chemist Humphrey Davy and his (and our) old friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who was a notorious opium addiction. Closely affiliated with them was the young writer Thomas De Quincey, whose Confessions of An English Opium-Eater was a literary sensation.

      Such experimentation continued into the 19th century. The most famous writer on these topics was most likely Charles Baudelaire, about whom we read in Leo Steinberg’s essay. Baudelaire writes extensively on wine, opium, and hashish in his Artificial Paradises. In the 20th century a number of prestigious figures partook and wrote on their experiences. The most famous is the cokehead Sigmund Freud. Certainly Kerouac’s associates William Burroughs and Allen Ginzburg were no strangers to altered states. But most pertinent to us at the moment is the German critic Walter Benjamin, our next author, who dallied with a variety of drugs, especially hash.

      While it might strike some as irresponsible for me to discuss such matters with a students, I should point out that Honors is currently sponsoring a think tank on Drugs, Addiction, and Society. So I feel that I’m having a timely and appropriate conversation with you.

      Anyway, have a glance at the article below.

      • Kaden Plewe says:

        Thanks for the reply! While Benjamin’s use of drugs seems pretty minor, I got the sense that what lead him to experiment was his innate curiosity… which is probably why he ended up only really being interested in using his experiences as material for writing. Using them as content as opposed to tools; which seems to be the more romantic side of drug use. Certainly as opposed to addiction-and-recovery memoirs.

        Whatever the role, purpose, or cause may be, I think it’s really interesting to consider the presence of drugs in the lives of icons throughout history, like the ones that you shared, and the influence that they had on their work. Thanks for entertaining the question.

        • Happy to respond. I mentioned this exchange to my friend and New York and she was very pleased. She immediately asked me if I had mentioned De Quincey. I’ll continue to think about this topic. While people may not like it, the reality remains that substance, its abuse, and recovery are a major theme in American society, art, literature. I mentioned mostly literary figures in my early reply, because that’s my primary area of expertise. But it’s certainly no secret that alcohol, recovery, and relapse played a massive role in the life and death of Jackson Pollock. As American society continues to fall ever farther down the pharmacological rabbit hole, it seem to me that it would be exceedingly intellectually dishonest not to take a closer look at this issue.

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