Writing on high

A review of The Road of Excess by Nick Kre for the Toronto Star that was originally published in print on November 17, 2002.

There is a common trait among such intoxicating writers as William Lee Burroughs, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Paul Bowles and a number of other influential, literary talents: intoxication.

Such classic works as The Naked Lunch, The Seraphim and The Sheltering Sky were written while their authors were under the influence of some inhaled, injected or ingested stimulant. Some of those organic and chemical stimulants were medicinal, some mind-altering. Among some of the stimulated, drug addiction served as a creative catalyst as much as a route of escapism.

It fueled work habits, helped fire the imagination and provided temporary relief to whatever misery the tortured artistic soul was suffering at the time. It also often sentenced those creators to a form of purgatory, imprisoned by their dependence to suffer stunted health, severe depression and premature death.

Despite the drawbacks, the association of drugs and literature has been one of romantic chic. The drug-induced abstract stream of conscience spewed by gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson isn’t pitied, it’s envied. The passionate pharmaceutical-stoked rants of rock critic Lester Bangs are viewed through the rose-coloured glasses of admiration, despite his eventual death by overdose. The futuristic psychoactive-inspired visions of sci-fi writer Philip (Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep) Dick are showered with praise and exploited as movies. Whether these tacit endorsements soothe or raise your moral heckles is moot, for the behavioural patterns matching certain writers with certain habits.