J.P. Sartre: Why I Believe in God

Jean-Paul Sartre

Despite the atheism which was axiomatic for his approach to philosophy and life itself, in an interview with Simone de Beauvoir from 1974, Sartre made the following curious remark:

I do not feel that I am the product of chance, a speck of dust in the universe, but someone who was expected, prepared, prefigured. In short, a being whom only a Creator could put here: and this idea of a creating hand refers to God.

Then again, as a student of mine once said to me during a class I was teaching on Hegel, people say all sorts of things when they are drunk.

Simon Critchley
The Book of Dead Philosophers (2008)

Related: Tatsuya Ishida: Drunk God (2006)

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On Asceticism

Horn of Plenty

Mens sana in corpore sano is a contradiction in terms, the fantasy of a Mr. Have-your-cake-and-eat-it. No sane man can afford to dispense with debilitating pleasures; no ascetic can be considered reliably sane. Hitler was the archetype of the abstemious man. When the other krauts saw him drink water in the Beer Hall they should have known he was not to be trusted.

A.J. Liebling
Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris (1962)

Photo by Jan Saudek: Horn of Plenty (1988)

How to Avoid a Hangover

Drawing by Charles Bukowski

The answer to the question “What causes a hangover?” is a complex one. There is more than one reason for all that pain. Most hangovers are caused by a combination of dehydration (lack of fluids in the body), the loss of sugars and salts, and poisoning of the system with alcohol – or, more precisely, the impurities in alcohol.

You can never really know when one is going to creep up on you and, once it’s there, how to deal with it. However, help is at hand. Here are some ways to avoid a hangover just by being a bit clever (and, let’s face it, none of us are particularly good at this while under the influence), so read carefully.

Before you even leave the house – that’s right, while you’re still sober – have something to eat. This slows absorption of alcohol. Carbs and fatty foods are best. If you can’t find the time to eat, drink a glass of milk at least. If you get the chance to eat something during the evening, do.

Have a glass of water after each alcoholic drink. Water keeps your body hydrated. When you drink alcohol, its diuretic qualities mean that our body expels more liquid than you drink. The body requires water to function and, if various organs within it are deprived, they will steal it from wherever they can, including the brain (see where I’m going here?). The brain doesn’t actually feel pain, but, when it starts shrinking due to loss of fluid, filaments connecting the outside membranes to the inner skull start to stretch and this is what gives you the gnawing pain in your head in the morning. Dehydration caused from increased alcohol intake makes your brain shrink. Now will you listen to me?

Stick to one drink an hour to give your body a chance to absorb the alcohol cumulatively. The body only has the facility to process roughly one ounce (a half-jigger) of alcohol an hour (this varies depending on gender, body size, tolerance levels, etc.). On a serious note, this rule of thumb is well worth remembering for those of us who may have to drive to work early in the morning after a late night.

Don’t mix different types of alcohol. It takes the body longer to recognize and metabolize each individual type of alcohol.

If you “mix it up,” remember the rules. Beer before liquor, never sicker. Liquor before beer, no fear. Beer then wine, feel fine. Wine then beer, feel queer. Confused? Me, too.

Stick to light-colored liquors. Dark liquors contain more congeners (the impurities that give alcohol taste), which will have a rousing effect on the drum solo that is about to kick off in your head.

Remember, carbonated drinks affect you faster. The bubbles help the body absorb the alcohol at an increased rate.

Drink premium liquors. The more expensive the alcohol, invariably, the better its method of distillation (the production method that helps to remove the congeners).

Avoid too many sweet drinks (like piña coladas). Not only do they make you look like a bit of a jerk, but the sweet flavors often hide the taste of alcohol, giving you an unrealistic view on how much you are drinking.

Drink a pint of lightly-salted water before going to bed. Frequent visits to the toilet will result in the loss of salt as well as water. Salts contain potassium and sodium, which are essential for maintaining a healthy body. If you are determined to stave off the pain, and you have a strong stomach, drinking a large glass of lightly salted water before going to bed will help (and another would help even more). I recommend trying this the night before, as it’s not going to get any easier the next day.

Eat something sweet before bed. Alcohol attacks the glycogen that is stored in the body. It breaks it down to glucose, which is washed out of the body when you visit the restroom. When this energy source is depleted, you will feel heavily fatigued in the morning.

Try a banana, honey, and peanut butter sandwich. The banana and honey contain potassium and glucose. Bananas are also high in magnesium, which can relax the pounding blood vessels in your head, and contain natural antacids to help soothe your gnarled stomach. And why peanut butter…? Not too sure, but it sure tastes great!

Have a long, hot powerful shower. I’m digging into the pockets of personal experience here, but a shower, especially one with massaging jets, often helps. Aim the jets on your neck or anywhere else you feel tense, and your muscles will relax, relieving tension. This is especially useful for those of us who have a penchant for subjecting our body (and pride) to a turn on the dance floor! If that’s too hectic, try a hot bath!

Take milk thistle extract. On a love-your-liver tip, this herb is quite butch when it comes to limiting the damage done by free radicals.

Go for a brisk walk. Increased oxygen intake can improve the metabolic rate, thus increasing the speed at which toxins are broken down within the body.

Drink isotonic sports drinks. These are typically used by sports persons to replace salts and sugars sweated out during exercise, which is exactly why they are good for hangovers! Try to avoid the carbonated isotonic drinks, though, as they will only bloat your stomach.

Ben Reed
Hangover Cures (2005)

Drawing by Charles Bukowski

On Hangovers

Drinking Bacchus

A hangover:
but while the cherries bloom,
what of it?

Bashō  (1644-1694)

Painting by Guido Reni: Drinking Bacchus (c. 1623)

Related: Why We Get Wasted on New Year’s
A Few Too Many: Is There Any Hope for the Hungover?

Giving Jim Morrison His Due

These days the culture would never tolerate the idealization of a famous drug user or drinker like Jim Morrison. Recovery (or abstinence), not indulgence, is today’s standard of living – which, of course, many of us regard as a healthy turn of affairs. As somebody who has had to discover for himself the ruin that comes from unbridled alcohol abuse, I can’t help but have compassion and hope for those people who struggle to live in ways that are healthier both for themselves and for those who care about them.

But there’s an old saying worth invoking at this point: Hindsight is a motherfucker. In other words, modern-day concerns and ideals aside, things clearly didn’t work out that way for Jim Morrison. He didn’t recover. He didn’t pull back from the abyss in the same way that, say, Bob Dylan or Eric Clapton did. Morrison succumbed to that void – he agreed to it – and that truth is inseparable from any meaningful examination of his life’s work and worth, no matter what our final judgments may be. Clearly, Morrison found something in his acquiescence to alcoholism – something other than just his own death (though that may have been part of what he was seeking). Anybody who drinks regularly and heavily does so for any number of reasons. Perhaps they have a genetic bent, or perhaps they’re fucked up emotionally and the drinking seems to give them a quick respite from their troubles. But there are other reasons. Drinking – like drugs – can seem to offer illumination in measured doses. Also, drinking – like drugs – can feel like a wild or brave adventure. It can give you permission for all manner of behavior – some of it fun or silly, and some of it horrible beyond belief. The trouble is, these advantages have a short lifespan. That is, they have a diminishing lifespan night after night, and as the nights add up, the drinker himself has a diminishing lifespan. Like Jim Morrison said, “It’s the difference between suicide and slow capitulation.”

Naturally, I can’t help but wish Morrison had found a way out of that slow capitulation. For all his bravado and his awful behavior, I think that not just a fierce heart beat inside the man, but also a fiercely loving and compassionate one. Morrison had some of the same sort of improbable humanity that you find in the work of Louis-Ferdinand Céline or Jean Genet: Their writing may seem nihilistic, but behind it lies a recognition that bringing the unmentionable to the surface might help free us of some of our fears or cruelties. In any event, Morrison had a great capacity to sing for those who felt wayward and deserted and angry – indeed, he was a bit intrepid in how far he would go in that regard.

Fearless, and also a bit foolish, because in the end Morrison failed to draw any saving distinctions between the temper of his art and the intensity of his life. As a result, his visions ultimately helped destroy him. He must have understood that he was headed that way; he certainly told enough people he didn’t expect a long life. In Morrison’s work with the Doors you hear promises being born and possibilities being lost – sometimes in the same breath. But even when the alcohol and other excesses were wreaking their consequences, Morrison still knew well the meanings of the experiences he was describing, and there was a courage and dignity in his best efforts at those disclosures.

It’s true, Morrison might have had a longer life, but that’s not the way he chose it. He defied everything that might have contained his nerve, and he decided to grow by negating himself. Some people, as many of us learn, simply cannot be saved or forced to recover themselves. Their decline becomes part of the object of their life. Just the same, Jim Morrison had the determination to overcome his self-negation through a body of dark and beautiful work that, some thirty-five-years-plus past his death, endures – and still heartens – with good reason. Let’s give him that due, even as we hope for our own kinder ends. After all, he had the grace to sing to young people in this land, in times when they were treated as insane children, desperately in need of some stranger’s hand.

Mikal Gilmore
Jim Morrison and the Doors: The Virtues of Waste (2001)
Stories Done: Writings on the 1960s and Its Discontents

Music: Five to One
Written and performed by the Doors
Waiting for the Sun (1968)

Painting of Jim Morrison by Guy Peellaert, from Rock Dreams (1973)