The pot-valiant cannot prosper as a literary journeymanWritten by Alexander Khamala Opicho
The word pot-valiant means any person that can only do something in an excellent manner because he or she is under influence of alcohol, whereas the word journeyman means a good performer in any given field. I have used these two words in this essay out of the musings and personal reflections I have about the article that was published in Nairobi in the Saturday Standard on 21st August, 2016.The article was loud and clear that one can get energy to write excellently by drinking alcohol some few minutes before embarking on writing. This was wrong in all perspectives. Alcohol destroys career of an individual, it is never a source of any inspiration, neither energy nor passion. This is why I have chosen my stand on the relationship between alcohol consumption and excellence in literature by arguing that the Pot-Valiant cannot prosper as a Literary Journeyman.
The study of psychology points out that consuming alcohol destroys mental balance, self-reliance and professional responsibility. Similarly the study of medicine also points out that consumption of alcohol is likely to cause memory loss and hence rotting of the brain commonly known as dementia in the argot of medical practitioners. Religion and Sociology has not so far officially endorsed alcohol consumption as an input into human efforts towards any given workmanship. Instead, they are both full of examples about alcohol consumption as a cause of rural and urban crime, advancement into hard drug abuse, strumpetery, and all other vices that threaten the social wax holding the human society from falling apart.
It is Shakespeare, who made alcohol to look uncouth in a social sense in his play Julius Ceaser, where Julius Ceaser who had been drinking overnight had his mind to be clouded off the capacity to judge soberly, in that when his killers were near, influence of alcohol lulled him into useless bravery not to run away, and instead he condemned the idea of running away as an act of cowardice. And according to him in that particular moment, cowards die several deaths before their final death. It is out of such negative results of beer drinking that Luther King Jr. philosophized that women and wine corrupt the soul of a simple person.
The writer of the essay I am criticizing had also averred that Oscar Wilde was a good writer because he used to drink beer when writing. It is true Wilde was a good writer who used to drink, but it can be utter naivety to associate Wilde’s literary greatness to beer drinking. Just like Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde’s literary greatness can only be associated with his Irish consciousness under British tyranny. However, there are literary scholars that link Oscar Wilde’s greatness to being a gay; given the evidence that most of the gays, lesbians and Castrati display superior capacity in art, music and drama. Facts in relations to this premise are openly bare when we think of Walt Whitman a gay poet, Sappho a lesbian poet, James Baldwin a gay novelist and literary critic. The list in this line is so long that only one is better advised to make an in depth independent study into the relationship between sexual orientation and artistic excellence.
Someone can quote a joke by Richard Wright in an introduction to the Native Son, where he wrote that a secret behind his good writing is to hide behind the street and sip some hard wine then come back to his house to write . If Wright meant it, then he did not understand what he was. But when you read his autobiography, The Black Boy, you easily fret into a literary reality that Wright’s good writing is an outcome of mastery of English language, extensive self-education, informal book or novel reading, stark racial exclusion, newspaper reading and family anxiety about education. This is also the analysis that can logically be extended to Malcolm X. Similarly Henri Troyat praised Alexander Pushkin for love of alcohol and women, But both Henri Troyat and Hughes Bairness still blame Alexander Pushkin for irrationally participating in a duel that led him to early death out of nothing else but a vice that Pushkin was under the influence of Alcohol by the time he got involved into the duel. Jointly, these two biographers of Pushkin go ahead to associate Pushkin’s literary excellence to the experience of social exclusion by the mainstream Russian Society given his African ancestry, extensive reading and simplicity of Russian language. Not beer Drinking.
I concur with the arguments of Rene Wellek and Austin Warren in their book, Theory of Literature, under the chapter Literature and Psychology, in which they argued from the historical perspectives of literature that good writers have always suffered from some level of physical and neurotic disorder. This is somehow and somewhat true when we look at a few living examples like Binyavanga Wainaina and his open and aureate crusade for rights of homosexuality, Wole Soyinka’s stealing or to put it accurate purloining of the prison warder’s pen in order to write his play The Man Died. Other cases in history that are propelled from physical and neurotic deformity to literary excellence as pointed out by Rene Wellek are; Milton and Homer were blind, Dostoyevsky was epileptic, Shakespeare was Kleptomaniac, Plato was a hunchback, short and gay in sexual disposition, Frantz Kafka was concerned with sex with Germany girls, Gogol was mute, and even Friedrich von Schiller used to write by depending on voodoo as he always had charms or amulets in the bureau of his writing desk.
Above all else, excellence in writing comes from mastery of language, in depth understanding of one or two cultures or histories, simplicity of language, modesty of themes, humour, being topical and current in approach, patience and intellectual focus on what the readers wants, passion to write without thinking about the money you will get from writing, pertinent research about what you are writing, intellectual audacity and also going beyond self-discouragement to put words on the paper not a glass of wine on your mouth.
Alexander Khamala Opicho writes from Lodwar, Kenya