Tuesday, October 23, 2007

On Absinthe


Now Absinthe is a drink I have never had but thought of. I thought it didn't exist any more. But it does, and though I am not entirely sure, not even banned in England. It has gone through the process of being banned in France, and then other places and so on. But my interest in it is primarily of the link it has had with literature, poetry and writers, for it has been claimed to be inspirational, inspiring poems and grand thoughts, fights of fancy and other similar escapes. It has been called the Goddess of artistic rebellion, and surely that sounds interesting.

The relation of absinthe with creativity seems to be quite old. It has been called the green fairy as it induces hallucinations and other perceptual experiences. I understand that hallucinations are not always unpleasant and this fairies do not actually exist but I am willing to believe that this particular green fairy does. If she brings escape with her, poems in her arms and literature on her wings, then surely only a fool would not feel tempted.

Absinthe has long had romantic associations, especially in Europe, particularly France where it was banned in the last century because of addictive potentialities. The origin of the word itself is unclear, probably derived either from the Greek absinthion or Persian aspand ( familiar to me) or a combination of these. It is derived from wormwood and anise and goes through a complex process and perhaps it also contains methanol. All these components add and conspire to give birth to this green princess.There is a lot of information here about its chequered history through the centuries, its birth, death and near revival. Among artists, Picasso and van Gogh have been devotees. Oscar Wilde one said that " After the first glass of absinthe you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world." Hemingway, Baudelaire, Rimbaud and so many others have sung praises. In more contemporary and popular culture, Marilyn Manson has been a fan and is supposed to have developed his own brand called Mansinthe.

There are countless societies and dedicated sites to absinthe on the internet and I was really surprised as to its dedicated following. This folklore is called absinthiana and I was surprised to find this site here calling itself the Absinthe literary review, with numerous articles, and other trivia, all an ode to the green fairy. There are quotes from Shakespeare and other fun essays too.

People have attributed inspiration to various drugs, herbs and other extraordinary things from times immemorial. These thoughts or ideas are not limited to the West or the East. It is also widely believed that Manic Depression is commoner in poets and writers, and in such mental states, Poesy drops her guard and lets the senses soak with delights. Does poetic inspiration really follow from such experimental acts? Is it a matter of coincidence or one of those myths that time lends to such phenomena? I don't know the answers but am trying here to understand these strange flights. I hope poetry is more prone to arise from the inner heart, whatever that is.

Yet, one must search and seek monsters and fairies. They exist at the rims and edges of out of normal experiences. Mystics, near and Eastern have been lenient to such influences. Why not? Why must one always be so patient for poems to drop in our laps? Artistic creativity is surely not journalistic reportage. Creativity and rebellion, madness and brilliance, these are old mates.

And when night hunts, with its witchery and its insomnia, a friendly fairy can frighten it off!

20 comments:

Marta said...

This is very interesting. My grandma who was a sort of 'strange woman'and feminist ante literam, once told me about this and some other things connected to allucinations and reality. I am still in that area,in fact, in some different ways,like you it seems :) but why and how you connect this to causal stimulation of creativity I sort ofhope that could one day expanded to connections more...transversal...but not sure of what I amsaying

js said...

I had some in Prague on a couple of occasions. The cafe Slavia has a painting on the wall called "visions of an absinthe drunkard" or something similar, just google the "of an absinthe drunkard" part and it should appear. The stuff truly did knock me over for a bit, green fairy indeed. The Slavia itself has an interesting literary & political history.

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