Alcoholism and creativity: the case of John Cheever

I conducted a long series of intensive structured research interviews with John Cheever, the author of five novels, over 300 stories and winner of the National Book Award for The Wapshot Chronicle and the Pulitzer Prize for his collected stories. He was also a National Gold Medal winner and one of 50 Fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the exclusive organ of the National Institute of Arts and Letters.

Born the son of a shoe salesman and bookstore owner in Quincy, Massachusetts, John Cheever has always claimed to be a descendant of an illustrious and legendary New England schoolteacher – a claim that has been disputed. reliably (Donaldson 1988). That his father was an alcoholic and unsuccessful at work is documented, but what is not generally known is that his mother also drank heavily despite her more responsible work history. Expelled from prep school Thayer Academy due to poor grades, Cheever never went to college, despite his broad intellectual interests.

Writing career

The course of Cheever’s writing career has been quite erratic. Although praised for his stories and supported comfortably by his income, he sought a more substantial literary reputation through the writing of novels. His novel Falconer has become a hallowed piece of American fiction. It is not widely known that he drank heavily before and during his work on this novel, which was eventually interrupted by a long period of alcohol abuse and concomitant deterioration leading to his hospitalization in Smithers Unit. from Roosevelt Hospital in New York. After this hospitalization, and for the first time in his life, he began a devoted commitment to Alcoholics Anonymous and quit drinking altogether. My research interviews with him took place over the next year. Falconer was published, and the material we discussed was directly relevant to both his sobriety and his creative accomplishment.

The novel Falconer is set in the fictional Falconer State Prison and concerns a drug-addicted college professor named Farragut, who is incarcerated after murdering his brother. The professor is subjected to rough treatment by the other inmates, and there is much elaboration of loving and sadistic homosexual relationships in prison. In addition, deeply poignant and meaningful human endeavors are implemented. After renouncing his drug addiction in prison, Farragut escapes by substituting himself in a prison hearse for the shroud of a dead cellmate. Totally avoiding all pursuers, he eventually finds himself in a laundromat near a bus stop, and in this mundane and physically cleansing setting, he experiences insight and a new sense of compassion and freedom. . Obviously, this is a story of resurrection and redemption.

In our discussions of the novel’s roots, Cheever pointed out that he wrote over 20 stories about brothers, and these brothers or men generally ran throughout his work. He said the novel was just another “stage ride”, but, he pointed out, the only one in which fratricide takes place. In the other stories, one brother hits the other on the head, or hits him in some other way, somehow trying to hurt him. As we explored the roots of the story, he painfully admitted to me that for a very long time he had mixed feelings about his own brother Fred.

Partial Progression to Insight with Writing

In the creation of literature, a gradual uncovering of unconscious processes and a possible progression to insight are tenuous and can go wrong. Because progression occurs without real support or help from another person like a therapist, it may fall far short of the goal. It is not a form of therapy and it can fail – only partial rather than full insight actually occurs.

I believe Cheever started to fail on its own in the previous writing of ball parkthe novel just before Falconer. Intermingled with love for his brother was mingled intense antagonism, jealousy, hostility and unconscious murderous feelings, and in writing this novel he had come closer than ever to the full discovery of these threatening affects. Rather than the killing of a brother – or a brother-like figure – however, in ball park he had depicted the murder of the symbolic brother’s young son. So I believe he was getting close at this point to recognizing unconscious murderous desires and feelings towards his brother, but he couldn’t really recognize them to himself.

Then, at the time of his descent into drinking, he went to live in Boston for the first time since his youth. His brother Fred was then living there, and he and Fred (who had actually married John’s girlfriend) saw each other more than they had in many, many years. This close association with his brother intensified Cheever’s guilt over his constant but unacknowledged hostile and murderous feelings. Finally, with his recovery from alcoholism, there was distinct evidence of a degree of insightful recognition and acceptance of these feelings. He seemed to gain insight through Alcoholics Anonymous and his experience leading to the ultimate release from Roosevelt Hospital. Prior to this, her conflict over her feelings for her brother had both intensified her alcoholism and stalled her creative work on the novel.

Cheever was only able to return to work on the novel Falconer after his release from internment in the re-education unit of Smithers, a novel in which he directly portrays an intellectual who was, from the start, sentenced to prison. The novel’s narrative about prison paralleled his own experience in the hospital, where he dreamed of punishment (for his hostile feelings) as well as feeling cared for.

Cheever’s creative and alcoholic journey, then, was as follows: in his writings he returned again and again to the theme of hostility to a brother, and his literary struggle to unearth and deal with his own personally unacceptable feelings was one dynamics that gave strength to his work. When, at last, hostility and murderous feelings toward his brother resurface and threaten to overwhelm him, as they did with the filial murder writing in ball park, he increasingly turned to alcohol for sedation and relief. This produced a typical alcoholic vicious cycle where the narcotic drug required increased absorption to produce the desired sedating effects. Finally, he enters a treatment program that helps him stop drinking and at the same time safely continue to discover his feelings for his brother while writing his novel. Falconer. He, at that time, applied the healthy creative homospatial process (actively design two or more discrete entities occupying the same space, design leading to the articulation of new identities) layering himself and his experience of breaking free from confinement and gaining insight into the literary laundry in the novel’s final plot. The triumphant and healthier struggle involved in the creative process at that time produced a very successful work of art.

Although several distinguished writers around the world have also experienced long periods of excessive alcohol consumption, including several Nobel Prize winners, healthy processes, neither alcohol, nor drugs, nor other pathological aids, are key factors in significant creativity.

About Rhonda Lee

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