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'"Intermitting Power": De Quincey's Sublime Identifications' / Steven, Vine
Prose Studies, Volume: 30, Issue: 2, Pages: 142 - 158
Swansea University Author: Steven, Vine
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In an ambivalent reception, Thomas De Quincey’s writings identify with and parody Kant’s sublime in the 'Critique of Judgment' (1790). In his essays on the 'aesthetics' of murder, De Quincey mocks Kant’s rational sublime as itself murderous, but he also embraces t...
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In an ambivalent reception, Thomas De Quincey’s writings identify with and parody Kant’s sublime in the 'Critique of Judgment' (1790). In his essays on the 'aesthetics' of murder, De Quincey mocks Kant’s rational sublime as itself murderous, but he also embraces that sublime as a phantasm of power. The essay argues that by embodying Kantian sublimity in a series of 'intermitting' identifications, De Quincey dramatises the sublime as a theatre of conflict. In this situation, De Quincey himself is empowered and disempowered, and made a subject of elevation and abjection; this means that his work throws into sharp relief the discordant politics of the sublime. Via Kant, De Quincey identifies with both potency and privation, the twin poles of the sublime, with the result that in the fields of philosophy, murder, autobiography, nationality, politics and modernity his writings enact and anatomise the ideological dissonances of sublime power. The essay shows how De Quincey exposes and dramatizes the conflicts of sublime power in his 'Confessions of an English Opium-Eater' (1821, 1856), 'Suspiria de Profundis' (1845), his essays on murder (1827, 1839, 1854), his commentaries on Kant, and his accounts of the ‘literature of power.’ In his writings on the antithetical effects of opium, we find a self variously empowered and disempowered, elevated and prostrated – both an imperial and a ‘pariah’ subject. De Quincey’s texts, in this sense, show how the sublime heights of Kantian idealism are collapsed by the compulsive return of what they try to repress - in De Quincey’s case, violence, murder, nightmare, dependency, materiality, the body, modernity, the Oriental ‘other.’
De Quincey, Kant, the sublime, identification
College of Arts and Humanities