“What Lies Beyond Violent Drunkeness” — Guy Debord on Drinking Booze

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In the following short chapter from his 1989 memoir Panegryic, Volume 1, Situationist mastermind Guy Debord writes a love letter to alcohol. He explains why he loves to drink, what he loves to drink, and where he loves to drink, and he does so with a scholar’s flair for quotation and an anarchic humor. Towards the end, he attacks the current state of mass-produced wines, liquors, and beers, complaining that regional flavors and varieties are being destroyed. Great stuff!

Wines, spirits and beers: the moments when some of them became essential and the moments when they returned have traced out the main course and meanders of days, weeks and years. Two or three other passions, which I will talk about, have almost continually taken up a lot of space in this life. But drinking has been the most constant and the most present. Among the small number of things that I have liked and known how to do well, what I have assuredly known how to do best is drink. Even though I have read a lot, I have drunk even more. I have written much less than most people who write; but I have drunk much more than most people who drink. I can count myself among those of whom Baltasar Gracián, thinking about an elite distinguishable only among the Germans — but here very unfair, to the detriment of the French, as I think I have shown — could say: “There are those who have got drunk only once, but it has lasted them a lifetime.” [...]

First, like everyone, I appreciated the effect of slight drunkenness; then very soon I grew to like what lies beyond violent drunkenness, when one has passed that stage: a magnificent and terrible peace, the true taste of the passage of time. Although in the first decades I may have allowed only slight indications to appear once or twice a week, it is a fact that I have been continuously drunk for periods of several months; and the rest of the time, I still drank a lot.

An air of disorder in the great variety of emptied bottles nevertheless remains susceptible to an a posteriori classification. First, I can distinguish between the drinks I consumed in their countries of origin and those I consumed in Paris; but almost everything there was to drink was to be had in Paris in the middle of the century. Everywhere, the premises can be subdivided simply between what I drank at home, or at friends’, or in cafés, cellars, bars, restaurants, or in the streets, notably on café terraces.

The hours and their shifting conditions almost always retain a determining role in the necessary renewal of the moments of a spree, and each brings its sensible preference to bear on the available possibilities. There is what is drunk in the mornings, and for a long while that was beer. In Cannery Row a character who one could tell was a connoisseur professes that “there’s nothing like that first taste of beer.” But I have often needed, at the moment of waking, Russian vodka. There is what is drunk with meals, and in the afternoons that stretch between them. There is wine some nights, along with spirits, and after that beer is pleasant again — for then beer makes one thirsty. There is what is drunk at the end of the night, at the moment when the day begins anew. It is understood that all this has left me very little time for writing, and that is exactly as it should be: writing should remain a rare thing, since one must have drunk for a long time before finding excellence.

I have wandered extensively in several great European cities, and I appreciated everything that deserved it. The catalogue on this subject could be vast. There were the beers of England, where mild and bitter were mixed in pints; the big schooners of Munich; and the Irish; and the most classical, the Czech beer of Pilsen; and the admirable baroquism of the Gueuze around Brussels, when it had its distinct flavour in each artisanal brasserie and did not travel well. There were the fruit liqueurs of Alsace; the rum of Jamaica; the punches, the aquavit of Aalborg, and the grappa of Turin, cognac, cocktails; the incomparable mezcal of Mexico. There were all the wines of France, the loveliest coming from Burgundy; there were the wines of Italy, and especially the Barolos of Langhe, the Chiantis of Tuscany; there were the wines of Spain, the Riojas of Old Castille or the Jumilla of Murcia.

I would have had very few illnesses if alcohol had not in the end brought me some; from insomnia to vertigo, by way of gout. “Beautiful as the trembling of the hands in alcoholism,” said Lautréamont. There are mornings that are stirring but difficult.

“It is better to hide one’s folly, but that is difficult in debauchery or drunkenness,” thought Heraclitus. And yet Machiavelli wrote to Francesco Vettori: “Anybody reading our letters . . . would think that sometimes we are serious people entirely devoted to great things, that our hearts cannot conceive any thought that is not honourable and grand. But then, as they turned the page, we would seem light, inconstant, lustful, entirely devoted to vanities. And even if someone judges this way of life shameful, I find it praiseworthy, for we imitate nature, which is changeable.” Vauvenargues formulated a rule too often forgotten: “In order to decide that an author contradicts himself, it must be impossible to conciliate him.”

Moreover, some of my reasons for drinking are respectable. Like Li Po, I can indeed nobly claim: “For thirty years, I’ve hidden my fame in taverns.”

The majority of wines, almost all spirits, and every one of the beers whose memory I have evoked here have today completely lost their tastes — first on the world market and then locally — with the progress of industry as well as the disappearance or economic re-education of the social classes that had long remained independent of large industrial production, and so too of the various regulations that now prohibit virtually anything that is not industrially produced. The bottles, so that they can still be sold, have faithfully retained their labels; this attention to detail provides the assurance that one can photograph them as they used to be, not drink them.

Neither I nor the people who drank with me have at any moment felt embarrassed by our excesses. “At the banquet of life” — good guests there, at least — we took a seat without thinking even for an instant that what we were drinking with such prodigality would not subsequently be replenished for those who would come after us. In drinking memory, no one had ever imagined that he would see drink pass away before the drinker.

The establishment of private drug and alcohol treatment centers for executives is mainly for the benefit of drug-addicted important people in industry who are seeking effective but discreet ways of addiction treatment.

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3 comments

  1. lauriecolson · June 29, 2009

    I find it sad that Debord is critical and condesceding of ‘spectators’ in a ‘shared delusion’ in a ‘speudo-experience’ of a ‘pseudo-life’ of ‘quotitdian alienation’. He sought to destapbilize ‘false consciousness’ thru his film. What is alcholholism if not false consciousness, quotidian alienation? How painfully obviious.

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  2. Pingback: Waking the Midnight Sun
  3. pp · June 29, 2009

    IRONY?

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