the substances of literature

Too often too much is made of which writers used which drugs and how much: a lot of people have this dimly romantic view of literary creation, according to which it’s fundamentally important that Hemingway drank heavily or that Coleridge was an opium addict or that Pynchon likes to smoke weed.  Not to say that the theme of drug use and/or addiction isn’t important to many literary works qua works; but it’s probably going too far to assume that a particular writer’s brilliance has much to do with her chemical habits (although the problem of writers who DIDN’T fully develop their gifts can often be substantively connected to drug use, especially alcohol use—see Fitzgerald, F. Scott*).  Artists in general do seem to be attracted to alcohol and other drugs, but nonetheless for every bibulous scribbler you can find two writers who didn’t indulge much.  And there are plenty of dentists and plumbers who like drugs, too.

That said, this chart from Lapham’s Quarterly is tons of fun.  Did you know Auden was a speed freak?  (In the morning at least, when he needed to wake up after all that boozing he did.)


*But seeing as though The Great Gatsby is one of the finest novels any American has ever written, who really cares?


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