By Hairee Lee
Clockwise from top right: Oscar Wilde, Van Gogh, Arthur Rimbaud, Earnest Hemingway, Marilyn Manson, 'The Absinthe Drinker' by Edouard Manet, 'Green Muse' by Albert Maignan, 'Angel Fernández de Soto with Absinthe' by Pablo Picasso, and 'Monsieur Boileau Au Café' by Toulouse-Lautrec
Or “la fée verte” in French, absinthe’s cultural influence is as dramatic as those who were influenced by it. Van Gogh, Toulous-Lautrec, Manet, Picasso, Degas all have paintings inspired by absinthe and absinthe drinkers. Oscar Wilde and Rimbaud, just to name two of my favorite dead writers who were into the drink, were devotees.
Maktub Absinthe. On the label it says, 'Je Suis l'Inspiration,' meaning 'I Am Inspiration'
Wilde said of absinthe: “After the first glass of absinthe you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.” Such a drama queen, but I love him anyway.
But much of Absinthe’s notariety as a dangerously addictive psychoactive drug seems to be exaggeration and confusion. That is, exaggerated from it’s association with famous artists and writers who lauded it, and confusion from the psychoactive properties of its high alcohol content, rather than the presence of the hallucinatory agent, thujone. Absinthe’s psychoactive properties, apart from those of alcohol, is exaggerated as shown by research done at Rutgers.
The chemical, thujone, is blamed or touted, depending on your perspective, for absinthe’s alleged harmful effects. But with absolutely no convincing scientific evidence of thujone’s purported hullucinatory effects, manufacturing of absinthe continues in Europe in a dozen countries, most notably in France, Switzerland, Spain, and the . And so does the shipping of absinthe from Europe to the North America.
William Hogarth's Gin Lane. Notice the falling baby and the mother pouring gin down her baby's mouth on the left.
The mythic status of absinthe derives largely, it seems, from the national ban and its romanticization by poets and artists. Its effect on social order is far less impactful than, say, gin in England during the 18th century as illustrated in Hogarth’s “Gin Lane” above.