Radical Temperance: “Cool Sobriety” and the Novel: Anneliese Mackintosh’s So Happy it Hurts

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Emily Hogg, an assistant professor in the Department for the Study of Culture at the University of Southern Denmark. Hogg presented this work to the Radical Temperance: Social Change and Drink, from Teetotalism to Dry January conference held in June, and this post dives deeper into her work on representations of “cool sobriety” in the novel. Enjoy!

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Prof. Emily Hogg

“An air of cool hovers around sobriety at the moment,” argues Alice O’Keefe in The Guardian in December 2017, “just as it does over veganism and clean eating.” For O’Keefe, this is exemplified by “the proliferation of sober blogs such as Hip Sobriety (hipsobriety.com) and Girl and Tonic (girlandtonic.co.uk).” Indeed, a sense of fashionable distinction is proclaimed by the very title of Hip Sobriety, founded by Holly Glenn Whitaker. The cool appeal of such contemporary ideas about sobriety rests, in part, upon the way they distinguish themselves from older, staler accounts of its meanings; if sober living was generally understood as “hip,” of course, there would be no need for Whitaker to use the word itself. In this cultural moment, there is a determined effort to rewrite familiar narratives about alcohol and its place in our lives. The Hip Sobriety manifesto, for example, directly challenges a number of well-known ideas about alcohol, stating: “you don’t need to hit rock bottom,” “Am I an alcoholic? is the wrong question” and “It’s not incurable” because “Cured is never having to drink again.”

Screenshot 2018-09-27 08.53.35This reimagining of sobriety has a significant literary dimension: it is driven in no small part by reading, writing, and the circulation of texts. In the Guardian article, O’Keefe, reviews The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober by Catherine Gray, a blend of self-help and autobiography which, as its title suggests, seeks to illuminate the pleasures of sobriety through descriptions of its author’s life. Both Glenn Whitaker’s Hip Sobriety and Girl and Tonic, by Laurie McAllister, stress the significance of reading in the maintenance of sobriety. McAllister lists “6 of my favourite books about sobriety,” whilst Glenn Whitaker’s blog includes posts called “Why Reading is Paramount in Recovery’ and “’13 Essential Books to Build a Holistic Recovery from Addiction’.”

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