Tuesday, March 16, 2010


At the very end of class we touched on a theme that really resonated with what I noticed in Dequincey's autobiography: the idea of being "trapped" in the state of abstraction. The entire narrative reminded me very much of the the "Bodies and Souls" pieces that we read at the beginning of the semester. At first, Dequincey falls in love with the idea of the philosopher and uses opium to escape from his body. In the end, he struggles violently to re-enter his body. He talks about feeling the pain of digestion, feeling separated from his own hands, being incapable of walking. When he diminishes his reliance on opium, he talks about the pain of passing from one mode of existence to another. Dequincey presents an enormous tension between his body and his mind that is exasperated by his addiction. On the one hand, Dequincey seems to have a sort of philosophical fascination for what is happening to his body, but at the same time it is evident that the physical agony is equally significant as his hallucinations. In my opinion, the author's struggle between reality and abstraction, body and mind, heightened by the opium, was really the central conflict in the narrative.


  1. I agree completely. When I first read the text, I was constantly and almost solely on the lookout for social and political commentary. While I found these in the negative references to the upper-class and the struggles of the lower-class, I thought these were too overt to serve as the central theme of the work. Instead, I agree that the conflict between body and mind, philosophy and reality, opium and sobriety form the more essential and important backdrop of the work.

  2. I too like your comment very much, Peter--particularly because of how the body has remained constant, but the soul has been transmuted into philosophical, analytical mind. One might read this shift as part of the secularization of nineteenth-century culture--or perhaps more rightly, "literary culture." Certainly, we see the elevation of the rational to the level of a spiritual condition in De Quincey, but he (like Wordsworth, Keats and Shelley) are by no means representative of the larger populace, for whom religious tenets still carried immense importance and value.

  3. It's interesting that you put this strange physical/philosophical relationship in terms of being "trapped in abstraction." It's usually in abstraction or related fragmentation that I think of the mind as becoming most free. But I guess the nature of addiction is such that one can become addicted to almost anything, even that which might once have been classified as freedom. Perhaps it's in his inability to construct reality from these fragments of drugged dreams that constitutes his incarceration -- another way in which DeQuincey complicates a body/mind divide, as the trapping of the mind is irrevocable linked to the shattering of body and spirit.