CYRIL: Well, before you read it to me, I should like to ask you a question. What do you mean by saying that life, “poor, probable, uninteresting human life,” will try to reproduce the marvels of art? I can quite understand your objection to art being treated as a mirror. You think it would reduce genius to the position of a cracked looking glass. But you don’t mean to say that you seriously believe that Life imitates Art, that Life in fact is the mirror, and Art the reality?
VIVIAN: Certainly I do. Paradox though it may seem — and paradoxes are always dangerous things — it is none the less true that Life imitates art far more than Art imitates life…”
I’m just going to leave that there for a bit and come back to it.
Don’t think about it too much… but also, don’t NOT think about it too much, if you know what I mean.
Think instead about alcohol. Specifically, think about how it must have been invented and how long ago that must have been.
Like, let’s take a long-ass walk backwards from year 0 and see how far we get.
- Around 2,000 BC, we had our first known code of laws.
- By about 3,000 BC, Mesopotamia had its first non-religious ruler.
- At goddamn 4,000 BC is the first evidence of pictographic writing, (which we currently can’t decipher).
- 6,000 BC we start finding the earliest pottery. (and maybe the invention of dirt and your mom?)
- Fucking 10,000 BC, before humans knew how to make clay pots, they had carved jugs out of stone. Ya know what we’ve found inside those jugs? Take a guess at what humans were making prior to inventing the written word.
Yep. Priorities, y’all. We had em.
And in reality, they were probably making alcohol way before that and we just don’t know about it.
I mean, in 9000 BC it was being made in mainland China, and humans started arriving there like, 70,000 years ago? That’s our best guess at the moment. It’s feasible that nomadic humans, knew a really basic method of letting cereals hang out in water for long enough to get you buzzed. We don’t have the proof… but it was probably pretty low. AMIRITE?!?!
ehem. sorry. booze joke.
Anyway, where was I… something about life imitating alcohol? or art? something like that?
That quote at the top of this post is an excerpt from “The Decay of Lying” by Oscar Wilde (which only by coincidence features a character named Cyril). It’s an essay that he published in 1891, and chiefly deals with the idea that art is fabrication, a lie, that is often more beautiful and true than actual life, and that life does its best to imitate the beauty of art. I don’t entirely agree with Oscar about this, but considering how much he was hitting the sauce back in the day, I’ll let it slide. The reason I bring it up, is that I think it does drunkenly point towards a greater truth which is this: humans, in their fumbling curiosity, often seem to figure shit out, before they fully understand it.
For instance, alcohol.
Long before humans understood what yeast were, or how they metabolized sugars into ethanol, or even what ethanol really was, or did to the human body, humans got really good at the art of making spirits.
And not fully satisfied with its potency, two separate nations, greece and china, independently invented distillation, giving rise to the first high proof beverages, basically the first ancestors of vodkas and whiskies. Not only did they figure that out, but they also realized that alcohol had a funny way of taking things that used to be deadly, and in some ways, taming them. For instance, around 771 BC, at the end of the Western Zhou dynasty, we see the first written record of spirits which were used to drown venomous snakes, then after a sufficient amount of time, the spirit would be consumed. They weren’t doing this because the snake was delicious. They did it because they thought drinking the snake whiskey would give them the snake’s power. And by “snake’s power”, I mean what you think I mean, which is they thought it would make their baby maker into a super-human, god-like wizard staff… for making babies. And why not, right? They took this magical liquid, that gets you drunk, which they don’t understand, and the put a deadly venomous snake in it, which they don’t understand, and after they let that shit set for a little while, you can drink the whisky, and totally NOT die! BY THE POWER OF GREYSKULL, BRING ME MY WIFE AND A BARRY WHITE RECORD, I JUST DRANK THE ESSENCE OF A FUCKING COBRA!!!
So, the part about fertility was pretty much bunk, but they did totally stumble upon the wonders of denaturing proteins.
Nearly 2000 years later, Antione Fourcroy and friends (would make a great sitcom), would discover proteins as a class of biological molecules. And denaturing would only become understood after the work of Walter Kauzmann in the 20th century. Like, the dude who came to explain how alcohol breaks down the hydrogen bonds of proteins (and thus by proxy, understanding why you can put a venomous snake in alcohol and then drink it and not die), died in 2009. Which was right around the time that the pilot for Archer (then called Duchess), was getting greenlit by FX and would premiere 12 months later.
A coincidence? I THINK NOT!
I know that like, zero percent of you will have any access to it, but if you do, this week, totally take some shots of COBRA WHISKEY.
If you’re like me and don’t have access to liquid snake essence, perhaps you could enjoy something else.
Thai beer. Singha would work nicely if you can find it. Or some SAKE. Hot or cold, however you like it.