Wait, are you making a case for wine drinking as a legitimate philosophical activity?
Hell, why not! Let’s develop a little philosophy of wine drinking.
Cool, sign me up. What kind of philosophical values could wine have though?
Well, to name a few; we could explore the spiritual aspect of wine; wine as a symbol of settling and civilisation; and wine as an object of truth and also one of therapeutic benefits.
So, eh, tell me about the spiritual aspect of wine.
Wine is a big-deal symbol in spiritual practice, particularly in Christianity, where it is transformed into the blood, soul and divinity of Jesus. The idea (I think) is that by the drinking wine/blood our souls are transfigured to be in communion with Jesus; our true nature, or essence, is revealed. Also, if we’re are evoking the spirit of Jesus, with each sip we are surely bringing about the spirit of forgiveness, truth, beauty...
Alternatively, we can imagine that rather than the spirit of Christ being manifested, we’re summoning the essence of the earth, of nature — the terroir is being evoked in the glass, which in a sense is the soul of the wine...
Hmm. And what’s this link between wine and civilisation?
Drinking wine is an expression of being a settled community. Throughout history, planting and cultivating grapevines gave a sense of permanence to a place, and was a symbol of how sophisticated we had become — transitioning from crude hunter-gatherer to farmer, and — where possible — cultivator of vines. Wine was a symbol of the civilisation of a community; one that has established roots and a will to endure through time. This formed a bond not only between people in a place, but between people and the land. The act of drinking the wine consummates this sense of belonging, borne of the land.
So, what you’re saying is, wine is the ultimate expression of human sophistication, and that if I don’t drink the wine I’m denying my roots, and distancing myself from the spirit of community?
Umm, yeah. Don’t you want to belong to the world? To be in community with your history and fellow human? Drink up, buddy.
So the taste of wine evokes the spirit of a time and place… Sounds a bit Proustian.
Sure. Wine has the power to evoke a time and place like no other drink. it is capable of opening worlds in the imagination like those elaborated by Marcel Proust in his À la Recherche du Temps Perdu (1913). We are reminded of Proust’s famous madeleine dipped in tea, and the idea that taste and smell can provoke a spontaneous recall of richly-textured information stored deep within the psyche. Likewise with wine — a simple sip of wine is capable of capturing the spirit of a time and place, and holding them before us for contemplation. When we drink a good wine, trains of association are launched in our minds — is it pleasant, and what/where does this taste of? We are travelling vicariously through wine; our minds chugging along, exploring. Like Proust, through the portal of a full-on sensory experience, we’re linking thought to thought and place to place in a continuous narrative.
But isn’t Proust’s madeleine evoking his subjective sentimental experience, rather than the established terroir of a place?
You’re right. When we’re talkin’ terroir, we’re talking about how well a wine expresses its typicity, and its sense of where it comes from, which is determined by environmental factors and traditional winemaking styles. The way a fine Burgundy, for example, evokes its terroir, is mostly objective, in that the lion’s share of our judgement of a wine would be based on how faithfully and elegantly it translates its origin.
While Proust’s narrator experiences an involuntary glimpse into his childhood, by drinking a fine Burgundy we often already have a fairly well-formed expectation of how it should taste — and this both plays a part in shaping how we judge the wine, and also affects the pleasure we have in drinking it. Furthermore, for Proust’s narrator, the involuntary memories triggered by the madeleine are characterised by an element of surprise which delights him. The Burgundy drinker has pre-formed expectations; it is largely the ability that this wine has to evoke the vineyards and the magic of the delicate aromas typical of fine Burgundy that will please the philosopher-drinker.
Whoa, you went all maundering Marcel on me there. Back to the question at hand — is getting drunk basically a philosophical pursuit?
Not getting plastered, but drinking wine might provide some opportunity for reflection. The idea of intoxication is fascinating; I think we can distinguish it from drunkenness in a physiological sense. We can be intoxicated by wine in the way we might be by Bob Dylan’s lyrics, say, or Oscar Wilde’s plays; we’re excited about it, and get a pleasure distinct from the biological intoxication that alcohol induces. Maybe it is that the drinking of wine is an experience that is intoxicating in itself. We’re intoxicated in the sense that we experience a rush of enthusiasm or exhilaration for something which we perceive as meaningful, beautiful, or valuable.
We always hear that phrase in vino veritas, and if truth is the ultimate philosophical goal, teaching us more about the real nature of the world, then break out the Bordeaux, says I. It is true that while we sit with a friend, drinking a beautiful bottle of wine, the correct conditions seem to be brought about to sit back and observe the world around us in a detached way. Or, at the very least, we can agree that there is truth in wine in the sense that we tend to open up a little more, to ourselves and others, as we drink. Wine — correctly dosed — can make us speak more sincerely of our emotions. With each sip we chip away at that daytime wall of fear which separates us from revealing too much of our fragile emotions, and for a short while, with a little help, we give ourselves or someone else a little glimpse of how we’re really feeling, beneath it all.
Most people are innately predisposed to ponder on the human condition, and hunger for some sort of intellectual discussion. We might, in fleeting thoughts throughout the day, enter this way of thinking, only for these thoughts to be pushed aside to make room for ‘important’ things in our schedule — like meetings at work or dropping the kids off to the birthday party. We dismiss these thoughts are because we feel we don’t have the time to think about them, and we might also privately chide ourselves — thinking we’re not clever enough to entertain or explore these ideas.
Drinking wine breaks down our inhibitions; we speak more fluidly, and we have no problem voicing any idea which floats through our mind in that relaxed state. Our opinions might even invite agreement or sympathy, making us feel in tune with our drinking partner. This makes us feel important and good about ourselves for a while — as though what we say might matter. Having the confidence to speak out uninhibitedly — however brief — does us good. It sews together little connections between ideas and people, and makes us feel more free. At best, drinking wine opens up the imagination; it gives life to ideas brewing within us, spurred on, perhaps, by the enthusiasm and encouragement of our drinking partners.
The philosopher Nietzsche considered the drinking of wine and indeed any alcohol to be counterproductive; giving us a warm sense of well-being which temporarily lifts us from the despair which is always at the root of our psyche — a despair that should not be blurred in its depressing clarity. Personally I don’t feel quite as brave as Nietzsche, and find therapeutic benefits in mildly blurring the innate despair of my existence on occasion. How about you?
I agree. Now, can you furnish me with instructions on how to drink properly? What kind of dosage do I need?
I don’t know. I wish I did. Ehhh… here’s some Bukowski:
‘Drinking is an emotional thing. It joggles you out of the standardism of everyday life, out of everything being the same. It yanks you out of your body and your mind and throws you against the wall. I have the feeling that drinking is a form of suicide where you're allowed to return to life and begin all over the next day. It's like killing yourself, and then you're reborn. I guess I've lived about ten or fifteen thousand lives now.’