I don’t have the stamina to be an alcoholic. You have to have a purity of heart in order to will one thing, as Kierkegaard said – no matter what that thing is. I have never had that purity of heart. I’m an adulterated man, and in some ways I fear that I am just the sort that God will spew out at the last judgment – half and half, lukewarm, on the one hand and on the other hand, the clauses coming out of my mouth from some infinite spool. Ratiocination is organic with me - I sweat it. To be mediocre is never, ever, to rise from the mix, just once – never to crystallize, even if as a kind of human shit. I am unadulterated only, perhaps, at the edge of sleep – mostly, I am a self riddled with the holes of non-existence, an inveterate duck-er.
But if I am questioned as to why I refused to become an alcoholic on that last day – and don’t think we can use our human standards to understand those rules, it is the hints, the exceptions, the times we weren’t “like” ourselves that we get a glimpse into our real chances in this universe – I will have to mention the stamina thing. Last Saturday, for instance, I go to a party at my friend and client’s house. R. R. has arranged for some students of hers to pick me up – I can’t bike up the fifteen miles to where she lives. The students are extremely sweet. I am introduced, at the party, to R.’s family – who are all also extremely sweet – as well as the whole Austin Lebanese community, or so it seems. And finally, fatally, R. introduces me to the largest bottle of tequila I have ever seen.
Me and the bottle seem to be getting along well. In fact, it seems to be giving me excellent advice as I chat up this woman named … well, with an unusual name. Who, it is true, seems to have come with this man, who rather fades into the background for me, although I have this feeling (as I write this) he was in the foreground for himself.
Eventually, though, the bottle got altogether too territorial, and laid claim to many of my most valuable proprioceptive functions. We went outside, and there, in a corner of the yard, in the rain, and the darkness, I threw up just the smallest amount. Almost practice. However, being a half and half, a moderate, I recognized this as a sign that perhaps I should go, and tracked down the students, who were themselves thinking that it was time to go. They had a babysitter.
Somehow, at this point, it was not noticed that I was stepping carefully from one maelstrom to another – which I attributed to the poor construction of houses in North Austin. Surely they should fix those maelstroms! But I was discrete, and didn’t say anything, and in fact in the car, I was going to be my joking self. This was the plan. As soon, that is, as I got the window open and practiced a little bit again. Unfortunately, it was some kind of child proof window - which is a thing that intoxication can't abide. I imagine a child could have opened it, really. I couldn't, though. Thus, I ended up practicing on myself – about which I was immensely relieved. Not on the seat of the car or anything, or at least much, or at least that I noticed.
And then it was six o’clock in the morning and I woke up feeling rather – excellent. That tequila had truly been good – no hangover, just a feeling of energy in my limbs. And the oddest thing of all was that I did not feel at all guilty towards the poor guys who had transported me. I called and apologized, of course, once again – but somehow I felt I deserved this.
In the second best novel about alcoholism, Moscow to the End of the Line (the first best is, of course, Under the Volcano), the narrator is a Moscovite who desires, just once, to see the Kremlin, which you would think he would have seen except that all kinds of obstacles – social, vehicular, and mostly bottle-uar – continually obtrude themselves on his quest. At one point he makes a very wrong turn before he gets to the Kursk subway station, which leads him to an interlude in which he wakes up in some unknown hallway. But what happened in the interlude? And he writes this: “No, I’m sorry because I just calculated that from Chekhov Street to this hallway I drank up six rubles—but where and what and in what sequence, to good or evil purpose? This nobody knows and now, nobody will ever know. Just as we don’t know to this day whether Tsar Boris killed the Tsarevich Dmitri or the other way around. What sort of hallway was it? I haven’t the slightest idea even now, and it ought to be that way. Everything should. Everything should take place slowly and incorrectly so that man doesn’t get a chance to start feeling proud, so that man is sad and perplexed.”
'Everything should take place slowly and incorrectly so that man doesn’t get a chance to start feeling proud, so that man is sad and perplexed' – this, and nothing else, is at the heart of alcoholism as a metaphysical disorder. Sobriety leads to pride, and pride leads to sobriety, and when the two form an impenetrable syndrome, watch out! --- that is when the system of the world loses its mind, that is when it 'works' so well that it drives us all, man, beast and angel, to ultimate destruction.
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