Die form suspiria de profundis
Confessions of an English Opium-Eater & Other Writings by Thomas de QuinceyDe Quincey’s account on opium consumption is perhaps one of the earliest books on drugs addiction, before Charles Baudelaire’s “Paradis artificiels”. It seems that De Quincey started taking laudanum in order to relieve a stomach condition. The drug did not affect him negatively at first; quite on the contrary, since it improved the acuteness of his senses and uplifted his spirits. “Oh!, says he, subtle and mighty opium! that bringest an assuaging balm!” And so it is that he got involved in an opium-eating habit for more that seventeen years. In the end, De Quincey was haunted by horrible nightmares.
The book, written in first person singular, doesn’t delve immediately into the description of De Quincey’s experience with opium, and he beats about the bush for quite sometime, telling us about his life as a student and about a love-story with a young prostitute, probably “considering what is proper to be said” and trying to gain the benevolence of his readers, before he tackles the main subject. The ending, with the account of what took place in his hallucinations and dreams, under the influence of the drug, is perhaps the most interesting part.
Here is one example of his visions: “Be it as it may, now it was that upon the rocking waters of the ocean the human face began to appear: the sea appeared paved with innumerable faces, upturned to the heavens: faces imploring, wrathful, despairing, surged upwards by thousands, by myriads, by generations, by centuries...” All this, to be sure, would give much to think to the soon to come psychoanalysis…
The “Confessions” in this short volume, are followed by “Suspira De Profundis” (a sequel to the former) and “The English Mail-Coach”, which, for now, I do not care to read or to review.
Suspiria De Profundis
Suspiria de Profundis, by Thomas De Quincey
Academic journal article Studies in Romanticism. Here pause, reader! Imagine yourself seated in some cloud-scaling swing, oscillating under the impulse of lunatic hands; for the strength of lunacy may belong to human dreams, the fearful caprice of lunacy, and the malice of lunacy, whilst the victim of those dreams may be all the more certainly removed from lunacy; even as a bridge gathers cohesion and strength from the increasing resistance into which it is forced by increasing pressure. Seated in such a swing, fast as you reach the lowest point of depression, may you rely on racing up to a starry altitude of corresponding ascent. Ups and downs you will see, heights and depths, in our fiery course together, such as will sometimes tempt you to look shyly and suspiciously at me, your guide, and the ruler of the oscillations. Here, at the turning point between "the lowest depth of [his] nursery afflictions" and his first exalting opium dreams, the reader is exhorted to pause.
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By the power of the keys it is that Our Lady of tears glides a ghostly intruder into the chambers of sleepless men, sleepless women, sleepless children, from Ganges to Nile, from Nile to Mississippi. These were the Semnai Theai, or Sublime Goddesses, these were the Eumenides, or Gracious Ladies so called by antiquity in shuddering propitiation , of my Oxford dreams.
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I knew her by her Roman symbols. Who is Levana? Reader, that do not pretend to have leisure for very much scholarship, you will not be angry with me for telling you. Levana was the Roman goddess that performed for the new-born infant the earliest office of ennobling kindness, typical, by its mode, of that grandeur which belongs to man everywhere, and of that benignity in powers invisible which even in Pagan worlds sometimes descends to sustain it. At the very moment of birth, just as the infant tasted for the first time the atmosphere of our troubled planet, it was laid on the ground. That might bear different interpretations.