Terror Recollected in Tranquility: The Oriental Gothic and the Sublime Imagination of Thomas De Quincey
Keywords:Romanticism, Thomas De Quincey, Orientalism, British Imperialism, Gothic, Aesthetics
This paper explores Thomas De Quincey’s seminal text Confessions of an English Opium Eater, examining the artistic vision of the writer and locating the author and his text within the context of the growing British Imperial project in the early 19th century. By locating the substance of his addiction, opium, within the economic, political, and cultural discourses that were developing in Britain at the time, this paper aims to deconstruct the ambivalent relationship that De Quincey, and by extension large segments of British society, had towards an imagined construction of the Orient. By analyzing the Gothic elements of De Quincey’s text, I argue that these images of the East are the signs of growing Orientalist discourse. They squarely locate Romantic tropes within the narrative of British Imperialism. In addition to exploring the fissured imagination of Asia that marks De Quincey’s work, this paper also briefly analyzes the psychological aspects of De Quincey’s contemplation of his addiction and presents a brief account of the role, opium played within the Romantic movement of the early 19th century. Through De Quincey’s opium-induced hallucinations, I attempt to analyze a mode of reflecting and presenting the sublime which was intrinsically linked to an imagined East that revisits the intersection of discourses of art, lived experiences, and the cultural and political anxieties of the era in which the primary text was produced to create a glimpse of the larger discursive function of De Quincey’s confessional memoir. This paper can thus be read as an intervention to re-engage with the links between Romantic aesthetic imaginations and the colonial enterprise of Empire building in the early 19th century.
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