Wine Will Make Us Less Uncouth

Dear Reader,

I don’t know how it is with you, but the events of the past days have more than scratched the surface of my usual insouciance, leaving me wonder, with a leaden heart, whether to treat them as a horrible farce, or as a portent of a horrible future.   

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Good morning! I’ve just read the news. This lithography from 1985, by Borislav Stoev, is actually called Good Morning. Stara Zagora Art Gallery Catalogue.

Bravely siding with option n.1, tonight I invoked the soothing qualities of Bulgarian rakia, hoping it would help give me a state of mind more in line with a sentence from Nathanael West’s compelling black comedy novel Miss Lonelyhearts, which goes like this:

“Life is worth while, for it is full of dreams and peace, gentleness and ecstasy, and faith that burns like a clear white flame on a grim dark altar.”

…Pathetic, right? The topics of gentleness and ecstasy being way beyond my sphere of competence, my thoughts turned instead to the more pedestrian subjects of alcohol and faith, and led to the perhaps obvious revelation that alcohol – temporarily removing inhibitions imposed by an external culturing (i.e. restricting) environment – in fact separates the individual from the community, which is why it has been a traditional thorn in the flesh of organised religion, from the end of Antiquity to the present day.

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The Weeping Woman by Pablo Picasso, 1937.

Continuing the discourse we started here, let’s see what was so revolutionary about Christianity at the restless times when it emerged. The cultures of Ancient Greece and Rome, Carl Gustav Jung argues, were individual cultures, based on practices that flourished amongst privileged groups (i.e. men citizens and patrizi ) which existed alongside masses excluded from the cultural exchange, even when employed to service it (e.g. women and slaves). However, Christianity’s idea of God creating people in His image and likeness and giving them an immortal soul, vested value in all human beings regardless of their social standing and was, in this sense, democratic and collective, i.e. encompassing all. 

This equality of humans, in terms of origin and value, is also corroborated by the fact that in the ancient Hebraic texts of the Old Testament, the word for “man” and for the “first man” is one and the same – adam, spelled with a small-case a, because the ancient Hebraic script did not distinguish between small- and upper-case letters. By the way, the generic word for man in modern-day Turkish is adam too. 

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Memories, oil on fibreboard, Alexander Dimitrov, The Afternoon of an Ideology Catalogue.

According to St Augustine of Hippo (354-430), here, the first man’s falling from grace has made him break into million pieces, thus populating the world with parts of him that are individual, i.e. that cannot be divided any further. Thus, the generic category of adam assumed the definite name of Adam, thereby performing the first act of individuation in a Christian context. The result – the all-encompassing arch-adam has gone for good, giving way to numerous incarnations of the original entity, each with its own name and traits. These basic concepts of the name being a factor of individuation, or definition, and the whole being implied in its parts, are at the foundation of the world as we know it.

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Czardas, 1980, oil on canvas, Andre Daniel, The Afternoon of an Ideology Catalogue

Thus, faced with this multitude of Adams, each carrying deep in their conscience (=shared knowledge) the memory of the arch-adam‘s arch-disobedience, the Church, like a shepherd, was faced with the need to establish strong rules of community life that effectively prevented the herd, meaning the people, from replicating the adam‘s arch-disobedience, thus losing their path home.

In such a community-driven context, individuals are discouraged from fully exploring and bringing to the surface all the inventory of their adam-derived nature. Instead, they are encouraged to be useful to the community by developing their strongest traits, while stashing their less pronounced ones at the back of their minds and never looking at them again.

Or, as Marcel Proust said, perhaps between two bites of a madeleine dipped into his linden tea:

“When we discover the true lives of other people, the real world beneath the world of appearance, we get as many surprises as on visiting a house of plain exterior which inside is full of hidden treasures, torture-chambers or skeletons.”

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I am a privileged, white, educated, straight and employed middle-class individual, but I have a psycho circus inside my mind. And so do you. The Big Slapstick, oil on canvas, Yoan Leviev (1934-1994), The National Art Gallery Catalogue

In line with its truth-serum qualities, aptly summarised in the Latin adage “In Vino Veritas,” alcohol was frowned upon as a medium facilitating the exposure to the general public of the said hidden treasures, torture-chambers or skeletons. This view culminated in the prohibition of alcohol that was part of the ethos of Puritanism in late-19th and early-20th century America.

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Self-Portrait, 1952, Sasho Stoitsov, National Art Gallery Catalogue.

To bring respite to the insistent prodding of reality, Christians are instead advised to pray and get together with other Christians to keep an eye on one another, lest they succumb to the temptation to misbehave. As you see, the suggested course of action is salvation from, and not a solution to the call of the wild.

On the upside, such a focus on the well-being of the community, based on the understanding of the inherent value of all its members, has given rise to universally accepted attainments such as the modern republic, human rights or universal education. On the downside, the significant flourishing of the collective culture takes place at the expense of an adequate development of the individual one. Being out of touch with a constituent portion of one’s character eventually leads to imbalances and compensatory mechanisms, as discussed here and here

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Absinthe Drinker, 1901, Pablo Picasso.

So think of the generic adam’s fall and the swinging of the compensatory pendulum the next time global events make you feel the need to down a couple of rakias. Or better, rebel against the system and think of Pushkin, whose playful 1825 poem on the restorative effect of drinking I present to you for goodbye. Three versions are included – one in English, beautifully translated by Walter W. Arndt (1916-2011), the Russian original, and the translation into Bulgarian. Also, a great cover song by Robert Plant, whose voice I adore. In 02:00 am in particular.

Alcohol is a solvent in the alchemy of suffering,
Boryana

Winter evening

Storm has set the heavens scowling,
Whirling gusty blizzards wild,
Now they are like beasts a-growling,
Now a-wailing like a child;
Now along the brittle thatches
They will scud with rustling sound,
Now against the window latches
Like belated wanderers pound.
Our frail hut is glum and sullen,
Dim with twilight and with care.
Why, dear granny, have you fallen
Silent by the window there?
Has the gale’s insistent prodding
Made your drowsing senses numb,
Are you lulled to gentle nodding
By the whirling spindle’s hum?
Let us drink for grief, let’s drown it,
Comrade of my wretched youth,
Where’s the jar? Pour out and down it,
Wine will make us less uncouth.
Sing me of the tomtit hatching
Safe beyond the ocean blue,
Sing about the maiden fetching
Water at the morning dew.
Storm has set the heavens scowling,
Whirling gusty blizzards wild,
Now they sound like beasts a-growling,
Now a-wailing like a child.
Let us drink for grief, let’s drown it,
Comrade of my wretched youth,
Where’s the jar? Pour out and down it,
Wine will make us less uncouth.

Зимний вечер – the Russian Original

Буря мглою небо кроет,
Вихри снежные крутя;
То, как зверь она завоет,
То заплачет как дитя,
То по кровле обветшалой
Вдруг соломой зашумит,
То, как путник запоздалый,
К нам в окошко постучит.
Наша ветхая лачужка
И печальна и темна.
Что же ты, моя старушка,
Приумолкла у окна?
Или бури завыванием
Ты мой друг утомлена,
Или дремлешь под жужжанием
Своего веретена?
Выпьем, добрая подружка
Бедной юности моей,
Выпьем с горя; где же кружка?
Сердцу будет веселей.
Спой мне песню, как синица
Тихо за морем жила;
Спой мне песню, как девица
За водой поутру шла.
Буря мглою небо кроет,
Вихри снежные крутя;
То, как зверь она завоет,
То заплачет как дитя.
Выпьем, добрая подружка
Бедной юности моей,
Выпьем с горя; где же кружка ?
Сердцу будет веселей.

Зимна вечер – Translation into Bulgarian

Буря в облаци се крие,
вихър преспи сняг мете;
ту като хиена вие,
ту реве като дете,
ту под сламената стряха
шушне като таласъм,
ту почуква с пръсти плахо
по прозорчето отвън.

В тъмната ни вехта хижа,
скрила горест и печал,
бабке, що мълчиш със грижа
до стъклото занемяла?
От стихията студена
уморена ли си ти,
или твоето вретено
те унася във мечти?

Нека пием, моя свята
спътнице на млади дни.
Де е чашата! Тъгата
от сърцето прогони.
Ти запей ми, как живяла
зад морето тихо птица,
как на извора вървяла
преди изгрев хубавица.

Буря в облаци се крие,
вихър преспи сняг мете;
ту като хиена вие,
ту реве като дете.
Нека пием, моя свята
спътнице на млади дни.
Де е чашата! Тъгата
от сърцето прогони.

PS. Some peculiarities of the theological thought of England are evident from this excerpt of a glee, or a late-Baroque English song, written in the second half of the 18th century by composer Benjamin Cooke (1734-1793):

Round, round with the glass, boys, as fast as you can,
Since he who don’t drink cannot be a true man.
For if truth is in wine, then ’tis all but a whim
To think a man’s true when the wine’s not in him.
Drink, drink, then, and hold it a maxim divine
That there’s virtue in truth, and there’s truth in good wine!

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Some serious flipping through books goes into writing these posts.