the complex inner life of denis johnson

DenisJohnson_NewBioImage_Credit-CindyJohnsonBrian B. Dille at the Los Angeles Review of Books:

Getting clean through AA marks the dividing line in Denis’s life. In his 2000 Paris Review essay “Hippies,” he describes his youth as a “criminal hedonist” followed by growth into “a citizen of life with a belief in eternity.” AA meetings provide ritual, prayer, and fellowship that includes the sharing of struggles, confession, and accountability. Denis, who regularly attended meetings as long as I knew him, told me that he hated small talk and that AA meetings spoiled him in this regard — people there only talked about real, personal issues.

He also read Alcoholics Anonymous, the program’s so-called “Big Book,” throughout his sober life. In it, alcoholics working the steps are encouraged to use whichever religious tradition, if any, works for them — “We think it no concern of ours what religious bodies our members identify themselves with as individuals” — while the foreword to the Second Edition (1955) claims that AA includes “Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Hindus, and a sprinkling of Muslims and Buddhists.”

I believe this perspective colored Denis’s thinking on religion. The last time I visited him, in 2015, something I said reminded him of an Emo Philips comedy bit that illustrates the absurdity of denominational hair-splitting, and he pulled it up on YouTube to share it with me.

more here.