SHAD Interview: “After Alcohol: Gender and Sobriety Counterstories in Two Contemporary Novels,” with Emily J. Hogg

Editor’s Note: Over the next few days we’re excited to bring you interviews with the authors of the newest issue of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs. The current issue deals with the topic of radical temperance–the act of not drinking alcohol in booze-soaked eras. Today we’re speaking with Emily Hogg, of the University of Southern Denmark, who wrote the article “After Alcohol: Gender and Sobriety Counterstories in Two Contemporary Novels.”

Tell readers a little bit about yourself.

Screenshot 2019-10-29 at 6.57.38 AMI’m an Assistant Professor in the Department for the Study of Culture at the University of Southern Denmark, where I research and teach Anglophone literature, especially contemporary literature. I am part of a research group called Uses of Literature: Social Dimensions of Literature, which is funded by the Danish National Research Foundation and aims to produce precise, accurate and concrete descriptions of literature’s sociability – that is, its ability to both affect and be affected by the individuals, collectives, practices and objects it interacts with. Outside of work, I like yoga, true crime, swimming, baking bread and making zines, and I’m currently helping to organize a new roller disco event in Odense, the city in Denmark where I live. 

What got you interested in drugs (and their history)?

I am fascinated by the way drugs are so ordinary, so much part of everyday social interaction, individual experience and collective life in many different societies across the globe in different ways, and the way they simultaneously promise a kind of otherness, a way of perceiving or experiencing the everyday at an angle. This ambivalent relationship between ordinariness and the hope/fear of transcending the daily is at the centre of my interest in drugs. I should also mention that when I was a teenager I was obsessed with the Rolling Stones record Exile on Main St, and the strange mythic stories of creativity and heroin use in the South of France associated with that album probably had a longstanding impact on my interest in art and drugs. 

Explain your journal article in a way that your bartender won’t find boring.

There are certain ways of describing giving up drinking that have become so familiar that they get repeated again and again. One example is the idea of the “rock bottom” – more recently, sobriety has become associated with fashionable wellness and self-fulfillment ideas. My article is about the way two contemporary novels (Paradise by A.L. Kennedy and So Happy it Hurts by Anneliese Mackintosh) try to find new ways of telling stories about sobriety – and in particular, how they try to find new ways of telling stories about women’s sobriety. The idea is not that they find the “right” way, once and for all, to describe women who give up drinking, but instead that the novels’ structures and plots try to make space for the telling of more diverse stories about women, alcohol and sober living.  

Is this part of a larger project? What else are you working on?

Yes – although this article focuses on alcohol and contemporary literature, my current larger project brings these two topics into dialogue with a third: precarity (i.e. the felt vulnerability heightened by insecure work and the contraction of the welfare state).  I am working on a book called Spirits of Precarity: Alcohol, Precarious Life, and Contemporary British and Irish Literature, which is about the way drinking and precarity articulate and describe one another in contemporary novels, memoirs and poems, and how the connection between these seemingly disparate topics – alcohol and precarity – becomes in the literary texts a way of exploring significant contemporary issues related to homes and housing, the possibility of political coalition across traditional class divisions, neoliberal temporality, and the experience of risk. 

Based on your research and experience, what do you see as the frontier or future of the field?

For me, the future of the field is something that we have a long history of discussing: interdisciplinarity. It’s so hard to do truly interdisciplinary work (as opposed to talking about it), and there are many institutional constraints, but in relation to a subject like drugs, the insights that might be generated through genuine, long-term, committed interaction between different fields seem incredibly important. 

BONUS QUESTION: What scholar, living or dead, would you most like to have dinner with?

I would certainly take the opportunity to bring someone back to life. Recently I’ve been reading about Hildegard von Bingen – the twelfth-century mystic, scientist, composer. She had many fascinating views about the natural world and the power of plants, and she asserted her visionary insight and her intellect in very canny ways, at a time and in a context in which it was extremely difficult for women to do so. I’d like to hear what she’d have to say.