Monday, December 19, 2011

The phenomenology of spirits

Human life is tragic.  And while there are, without question, a great many evils we would all wish away in a heartbeat if only we could, to wish away all of them would be to wish away much of what gives our existence depth and meaning.  Every grownup knows that life would lose its savor if it entirely lost its bite.  (Of course, a certain kind of atheist thinks that a really loving God would have made the world a 24/7 Disneyland.  But I was talking about grownups.)  

Nor are the pains always extrinsic to the pleasures.  Some of them are built in; indeed, the greatest earthly delights are never without a sharp sting.  Examples are all around us: Tobacco.  Women.  And whiskey.

Spirits are an adult pleasure.  They grow on you with experience -- experience with the drink itself (no one ever likes his first sip), but, more than that, experience in living.  High school and college kids like their keggers.  The school of hard knocks breeds a preference for something more refined and bittersweet, or indeed just bitter.  Show me a guy who doesn’t like whiskey or gin and I’ll show you a guy who’s never lost his job, or had his heart broken or his ass kicked.  Beer is for party people dancing to “Love Shack.”  The Scotch drinker’s favorite song, as everyone knows, is “Deacon Blues.”

Hilaire Belloc, it seems, recommended confining one’s drinking to beer and wine, or in any event to alcoholic beverages developed before the Reformation.   One can easily see Chesterton heartily agreeing.  What this shows is that for all their insights, the Chesterbelloc were capable of saying eye-rollingly stupid things -- something you already know if you’re familiar with Belloc’s views on the French Revolution (now there’s modernism for you) or Chesterton’s on jazz (now there’s Puritanism for you).  Where culture is concerned, the “more Catholic than thou” card ought seldom if ever to be played -- Catholicism is universal and embraces what is of value in all cultures, not just the medieval.   

But if we are going to play that silly game, the friend of spirits has the better of the argument.  The Incarnation, after all, is not a story of beery pub songs and forced bonhomie, after the fashion of the local Chesterbelloc Men’s Supper Club:

Come on now, fellows, let’s show the world we Catholics aren’t Jansenists!   Um, but do stick to the script.  Please put down the Martini and cigarettes!  Pick up the burgundy.  Light that pipe.  Adjust that monocle.  Now sing along, everyone:  “Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine etc.”  

No, the Incarnation is the story of God Himself taking on the pain of being a human being, to the point of public humiliation and gruesome death.  It’s a swig of frozen gin, or a bracing shot of peaty Laphroaig.  

And the peatier the better, I say.  Youth prepares you for adulthood, with its greater joys and deeper sorrows.  And beer and wine exist in order to prepare you for the Speysides, which in turn exist in order to prepare you for the Islays.  

Now listen to the gorgeous Carolyn Leonhart singing gorgeously on the theme.  (She looks like my wife, by the way.  Just sayin’.)  More reflections on our subject here and here.

55 comments:

John Thayer Jensen said...

"Show me a guy who doesn’t like whiskey or gin and I’ll show you a guy who’s never lost his job, or had his heart broken or his ass kicked."

Ah, a falsifiable hypothesis! I've experienced all three but don't like whisky, and detest gin - Karl Popper would be proud of me!

Red wine's all right, though :-)

jj

John Thayer Jensen said...

PS - if it redeems me at all, I'd even drink gin over lager - but dark ale is lovely!

jj

John Farrell said...

I'm a Beefeater man when it comes to Gin. I do enjoy a nice Scotch now and then, but lately, Ed, my taste has been wandering south of the border.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/johnfarrell/2011/07/22/the-science-of-tequila-snobbery/

:)

Of course, being in southern California, you've probably got a nice variety of reposados and anejos to choose from. But in Boston the selections are only just now beginning to really broaden.

nate said...

I always drink whiskey while I correct papers. Just picked up a new bottle of Jameson.

man with a computer said...

I'm not fond of gin but man I really like me some good scotch.

Nothing against wine, though. I drink red wine 3-4 times a week.

Anon said...

Those who don't like gin (and those who do) should pick up a bottle of Bombay Sapphire.

Eric said...

Here's Hitch singing about those boozing philosophers...

Anonymous said...

How could you?! Alcohol is of the devil!

joescannura said...

Are you sure Carolyn Leonhart looks like your wife, and not the other way around? I suspect the wife was watching you write this post.

I think this is definitely an age thing. I like mixed drinks, but i can't drink whisky or gin straight yet. maybe in ten years.

Mark Szlazak said...

Try exercise instead, it works better.

I drink only a bit so women can enjoy me a bit longer, not because I can't enjoy them any longer.

Pattsce said...

I'll be the dissenter here. "Show me a guy who doesn’t like whiskey or gin and I’ll show you a guy who’s never lost his job, or had his heart broken or his ass kicked."

There's something kind of weak about a person who relies on or uses alcohol when life gets difficult. Man up. Don't alleviate your pain with some liquid buzz that usually just turns your brain off.

Both fortitude And temperance are virtues, and that whole line of thinking often runs directly contrary to them. There, I said it.

Edward Feser said...

Mark and Pattsce,

Lighten up!

I wasn't recommending drowning one's sorrows in drink. In fact, I wasn't recommending anything. I was talking about the personality type to which this or that drink (yes, yes, in moderation) appeals. That is, to the extent I was being serious at all.

Kinda ruins it when you've gotta explain everything, y'know?

Pattsce said...

Now I feel like kind of a jerk. In my own defense, though, I will say that I was at least 15% joking myself (hence the "There, I said it"). But it is also true that I am probably around 60% oversensitive to drinking stuff. For that, I apologize.

All That said, I don't really like Steely Dan. There, I said it.

Edward Feser said...

nate,

I always drink whiskey while I correct papers.

Like I said, pain.

josescannura,

Resemblance is a symmetrical relation. Anyway, my wife wasn't watching as I wrote. Though, um, you know, she might be reading it later on...

John F.,

But in Boston the selections are only just now beginning to really broaden.

Uh oh, Bostoners not sticking to what's made locally? What would the Chesterbelloc think?

jj,

Ah, a falsifiable hypothesis!

No, an airtight metaphysical demonstration. We don't need no stinkin' empirical evidence...!

(Now, watch that get quoted over and over by the Gnu combox psychos...)

Edward Feser said...

All That said, I don't really like Steely Dan. There, I said it.

Uh oh, now you're banned, pal!

Seriously, though, no problem, Pattsce. I'll raise a glass to you tonight! ;-)

Josh said...

The Chesterbelloc kindly invites you to duel to the death over this insult, and comforts you with the thought that though you'll lose, you'll be too hammered on whiskey to feel much pain.

Edward Feser said...

Tell you what, Josh. To make up for my rash remarks, I'll wash down this evening's Martini with a fine Cabernet, in honor of the Chesterbelloc. A whole bottle, just to make sure I learn my lesson good and hard. Blogging may be light for a couple of days...

John Thayer Jensen said...

@Ed:

"jj,

Ah, a falsifiable hypothesis!

No, an airtight metaphysical demonstration. We don't need no stinkin' empirical evidence...!"

Anyway, I (sort of) lied. I do kind of like the taste of smooth whisky, or dark rum, or nice brandy - but straight. Can't understand the attraction of mixed drinks, and I rarely drink spirits - I don't much like the effect, only the taste.

Wine is (a little) slower.

Probably the hypothesis is insufficiently precisely specified to be falsifiable.

And I have purchased (so far) three copies of TLS - and got different people to read them. So maybe that should be considered.

Anyway, my heart only seemed to be broken at the time; I deserved to lose my job; and my arse is well-enough padded that no harm was done.

jj

Asadullah Ali said...

Down in the Islamic Empire (kidding, of course) we have to substitute with sheesha and strong arab tea.

Still does the charm.

berenike said...

I always thought the rather obvious Islay malts were for beginners, and that one progressed from there to the more subtle delights of the mainland distilleries.

But then my most usual drink is what a co-blogger described this weekend as "cooking lager flavoured with cheap apple diluting juice", so I probably cannae talk.

Ray Ingles said...

"the greatest earthly delights are never without a sharp sting."

What about heavenly delights? Is there call for courage in Heaven?

Corrigan1 said...

My old man could sup whiskey for Ireland; personally, I've never gotten the taste. I'll split a bottle of wine over a good meal with a good woman, but I'm afraid you lost me when you implied Jazz constituted music. Is that a poseur alarm I hear in the background?

Tim Lambert said...

One of my friends, while at Notre Dame, had a philosophy class where Michael Ruse came as a guest lecturer or something to that extent... while he was lecturing (which he did in a reclined position, with his feet up on a table) he drank regularly from a large glass of beer that he had sitting right next to him.

The Deuce said...

So where does this place those of us who prefer vodka (in our martinis, with olives) and strongly dislike gin? Is that even worse than beer, in the way that a lukewarm faith is worse than none?

Maolsheachlann said...

As the founder of the GK Chesterton Society of Ireland, I say: don't be too hard on the poor Chesterbelloc. Even the Fesderberg can't hope to be right all the time...

21st Century Scholastic said...

I just LOVE this kind of posts.

At this point it would be appropriate for everyone to share their favourite brands of vodka or their favourite gin to vermouth ratio, for the sake of justice and inebriation.

21st Century Scholastic said...

@Anon, Dec 19, 2011 6:36 PM

"Those who don't like gin (and those who do) should pick up a bottle of Bombay Sapphire."

Let me second that. You can never go wrong with Bombay.

DNW said...

Edward Feser writes

"It’s a swig of frozen gin, or a bracing shot of peaty Laphroaig.

And the peatier the better, I say. Youth prepares you for adulthood, with its greater joys and deeper sorrows. And beer and wine exist in order to prepare you for the Speysides, which in turn exist in order to prepare you for the Islays. "

Thanks for the recommendations Ed.

But, if I wanted that experience, I could always place a charred stick in a glass of iodine water mixed with pure grain alcohol, and take a swig.

Ok, on the music.

Still, from the perspective of this palate, The Macallan (your Speyside) or Glenmorangie, a "special" with its cask flavoring, will do.

Speaking of what will do, and nicely at that, we come to gins.

Bombay was recommended, and I agree; but not about the Sapphire. The regular, in my opinion, makes for a less raw more sophisticated drink.

Now the kicker. For those who like martinis made with a clean tasting gin having a bright but subdued juniper scent yet no cloying perfuminess, you might try Gordons with your touch of Noilly Pratt.

Go ahead and laugh. I did too, at first.

I only tried it after reading about it in one of those table top Christmas books on cocktails which had lain unread for years. Some English author whose name I can't recall and would be unsuccessful in looking up if I tried, stated that it was along with Booth's the classic martini gin.

What could he be expected to know? A 10-12 dollar bottle of gin? Really?

Well, yes, believe it or not.

Don't forget the lemon twist or the large anchovy olive you stuffed yourself, either.

Then when the other couples get there and you're mingling before dinner you'll need some background, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2mB9qyduhHM

John Thayer Jensen said...

@Corrigan:
"My old man could sup whiskey for Ireland; personally, I've never gotten the taste. I'll split a bottle of wine over a good meal with a good woman, but I'm afraid you lost me when you implied Jazz constituted music. Is that a poseur alarm I hear in the background?"

Interesting! I have been too embarrassed to say this to Ed, but, as I have already said, I don't really care for spirits at all - and I dislike jazz. I am a bit of a musician myself - horn player in Manukau Symphony - and know musicians whose judgement I respect who tell me that jazz is real music, and can be good music - so I just suppose I am lacking something - both musically and alcoholically :-)

jj

Lazarus said...

'I always thought the rather obvious Islay malts were for beginners...'

Treachery, Berenike! Islay malts such as Laphroaig are a miracle of transubstantiation. They allow you consume the accidents of earth, fire, smoke and wood and survive. (Indeed probably benefiting my clogged arteries by dilation.)

John Farrell said...

Deuce, I like vodka, too. I highly recommend martinis with Boru (Irish vodka).

:)

N.J.P.B. said...

Maolshachleann was right I think, and I would add that GK was the furthest thing from puritan, and the furthest thing from snobbery. If there were two things he hated most in this world, the aforementioned would be them.

‎"I represent the jolly mass of mankind. I am the happy and reckless Christian.”"

Josh said...

I think what Ed is saying is that he is more of a Sebastian Flyte Catholic than a G.K. Chesterton one. But that's ok, there will be more beer left for us Love Shackers!

Edward Feser said...

I think what Ed is saying is that he is more of a Sebastian Flyte Catholic than a G.K. Chesterton one.

Whoa. What the hell is that supposed to mean?

As to Chesterton, what I meant was not that he was a Puritan, but that his (obvious) anti-Puritanism was selective, or inconsistent, or at any rate reflective of his personal tastes as much as of any well thought out position. Again, to the extent that I meant anything serious at all. (And of course, even the Puritans weren't as Puritanical as their reputation would have it. These things are complicated.)

Edward Feser said...

I mean, did I mention that I'm married to a woman who looks like Carolyn Leonhart, Josh? (Ahem) ;-)

Josh said...

Whoa. What the hell is that supposed to mean?

What? It just means you like whiskey after dinner instead of port!

I mean, did I mention that I'm married to a woman who looks like Carolyn Leonhart, Josh? (Ahem) ;-)

Well that will certainly put you back in good graces with the cult of Chesterton. I suppose you aren't quite as effeminate as Flyte after all. :-)

Edward Feser said...

I've actually been on a port kick of late. But don't mention that to anyone, 'cause it'll negate the whole point of my rigorously argued post...

Charles E Flynn said...

The account of a moment in the life of a future philosopher can be found by searching at Google for:

Bertrand Russell Gladstone port claret

Maolsheachlann said...

Chesterton's anti-Puritanism becomes a bore sometimes, as all anti-Puritanism (in the loose, non-theological sense, of course)becomes a bore sometimes. People forget that Puritanism can be something enjoyed for its own sake, in the same way children (and sometimes adults) skip over the cracks in the pavement. It's a bit like what Dr. Feser says in the post about life losing its savour if it had no bite. People impose limits on themselves for the pleasure of sticking to them. My father won't read any science-ficton or fantasy because they have fantastical elements. When I point out that ghost stories are fantastical too, he says: "But ghosts really exist". I don't think it makes any sense but the world would be poorer without such bloody-mindedness and prejudice.

DNW said...

I earlier missed the metaphysics of the martini link, which had covered the subject pretty well, I think.

Bill said...

As for Gin and Scotch. I couldn't agree with Mr. Feser more.

Though a little esoteric, I would recommend Hendrick's gin from Scotland. As for that other Scottish drink the Talisker is a man's drink and if you can get across the pond the Morlach is quite sublime.

Merry Christmas to all.

BenYachov said...

Note to Self.

Don't feed the trolls on Feser's & don't mock Steely Dan.

Carolyn Leonhart?

Whatever works for you bro.

Myself? I like fat chicks & BBW's.

Richard said...

Jameson, or Crown Royal. Actually, one of my darkest moments came about due to a bottle of Crown Royal. My friends drank a whole bottle I had been given as payment for a weeklong dog-sitting for my sister and brother in law. I never even got a drop as while they were drinking it down I had to go get my daughter from the aforementioned in-laws. When I got home and saw the bottle empty... Lets just say that they are lucky that they are my dearest friends. And it helps that they paid for it later in the form of terrible hangovers. And for the record, not much of a jazz man. Sorry.

monk68 said...

Ben,

"Myself? I like fat chicks & BBW's"

I take it you are not married!

:>)

Just another mad Catholic said...

I love my Gin and Tonic.......... enough said.

BenYachov said...

>I take it you are not married!

>:>)

No I am married & I like fat chicks & BBW's specifically one in particular so much so I have been married too her for almost 20 years.


Skinny babes have nothing on my gal.

Now I am inspired to pour out my heart to her. Right after I listen to a Freddie Mercury song.

I think you know which one.

".....make the rocking world go round".....

grodrigues said...

@BenYachov:

"Skinny babes have nothing on my gal."

One might almost say that "Skinny babes have nothing" and leave it at that.

Tony said...

But, if I wanted that experience, I could always place a charred stick in a glass of iodine water mixed with pure grain alcohol, and take a swig.

I'll go with what DNW said.

Don't you guys know that every glass of scotch dissolves a little more your capacity to grasp the truth in an excellent wine? In vino veritas, I say!

As for jazz, Ed already knows my thoughts on the subject: jazz is what you get when somebody who wanted to be a musician stopped trying because it wasn't coming. You did know that jazz was the music of choice at NICE, didn't you, before Merlin got there and dealt with them?

Back to spirits: does it occur to you that the stories of ghosts and the drinks of distilleries use the same word for a reason? That they both imbibe from the same source of vague unreality?

;-)))

Frank La Rocca said...

Laphroig - Quarter Cask strength: peaty and medicinal - the essence of Islay.

Takara said...

As I live in Japan, recently I've been into the Japanese spirit, shochu. It is nice in winter with hot water and a slice of lemon.

Cheers!

Charles R. Cherry said...

I don't care for gin or whiskey, really. However, I love Guinness with a passion, and I've lost jobs, had my heart broken, and have had my ass kicked on more than one occasion.

Roberto di Mare said...

Every language is a testament to its culture. And I must say, regardless of the philosophical positions espoused, the nihilism, insecurity and pettiness of Anglo-American culture drips from every word in the comments. Losing one's job? Heart broken? Ass kicked? Drink? Sharp sting?

My goodness. No offense is intended, but sometimes remaining silent is uncharitable. Despair and absurdity abound. The 7 mortal sins undergird the whole mess. An intellect petty and confused. I envy none of you or your society, whether it is one of mutual admiration, corroboration or domination and submission. Philosophy was to free man from confusion and illusion, to raise him out of depravity and superficiality into true humanity and true authenticity. But I suppose no matter how hard some try, they never manage to break through the oppressive ceiling of lies offered to them from birth, from absurd pretensions, from shallow arrogance, masking and insulating them from the simple and blatant reality of their souls, of their very being. The hole in one's heart finds its missing piece elsewhere...

I hate Anglo-American-Colonial culture. It pollutes and infects everything it touches, and presents itself with an air of universality and rightness. It saddens me on a good say, or terrifies me on a bad day

Edward Feser said...

Roberto,

What a bizarre, humorless -- and indeed, uncharitable -- comment. Perhaps it is the language barrier that prevents you from recognizing the lighthearted spirit in which these comments were intended. That would be a charitable interpretation, anyway.

Edward Feser said...

And by the way, what does anything said here have to do with "domination and submission," "an air of universality and rightness," and "the Anglo-American-Colonial culture" -- whatever that is? Must even the most unserious blog post be read through the lenses of Euro-leftist geopolitical paranoia?

Take the beam out of your own eye, please, before commenting further.

Oliver said...

I gave up drinking whiskey last year, 2011, except for New Year's Eve when I tasted Laphroaig, Bushmill's White Label, Bushmills 1608, Coopers 1977, Jameson Redbreast, Famous Grouse and Jura Superstition, not in that order. The Jura stole the show despite being a relatively cheap single malt, about £20 in most UK supermarkets.