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The existential drinker$
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Steven Earnshaw

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780719099618

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9780719099618.001.0001

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Jack London, John Barleycorn (1913): truth

Jack London, John Barleycorn (1913): truth

(p.65) 2 Jack London, John Barleycorn (1913): truth
The existential drinker

Steven Earnshaw

Manchester University Press

This chapter places Jack London’s autobiography John Barleycorn: Alcoholic Memoirs as the key text for understanding the figure of the Existential drinker. It is one of the first all-out formulations of the writer-as-drinker, mixing the nineteenth-century temperance view of the habitual drinker who is a moral failure with the image of himself as a drinker who can attain truths not available to the fall-in-the-gutter drunkard, nor indeed available to the run-of-the-mill sober citizen. The chapter deals with London’s idea of ‘the white logic’, that is, the attraction of alcohol as a means to enlightenment, while at the same time acknowledging that to choose this path is also to choose death. The chapter therefore covers questions of mortality, finitude, types of drinkers and drunkenness, early aspects of Existential philosophy (London partly draws on Nietzsche), as well as beginning consideration of the writer in relation to texts where drinking is central.

Keywords:   Jack London, John Barleycorn, ‘the white logic’, drunkards, drunkenness, authenticity, self, alcoholism

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