Gift, Text, and the Sublime in De Quincey
This study argues that during the eighteenth century and early nineteenth centuries, with the rise of a modern market economy in which the text became commodified into a material object—the book—writers fought against a perceived loss of authority by developing a theory of the rhetorical Sublime. Like the sacramental presence in the Christian church, the realm of the Sublime allowed the reader an opportunity for incorporation in a spiritual communion with an immaterial text offered by a disembodied authorial presence.
Drawing on the phenomenology of reading and the cultural dynamics of gift-indebtedness and sacramentalism, Charles J. Rzepka advances his argument through a detailed examination of the life and work of writer and opium addict Thomas De Quincey. The book offers both a psychobiography of De Quincey and a fresh study of the evolution of his ideas from early childhood up to publication of his masterwork, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater.
"A remarkable book. It will become one of the leading new historicist works of criticism in the field of Romantic studies, providing a major reassessment of De Quincey's Confessions."—Raimonda Modiano, University of Washington
"Rzepka tells a story of how De Quincey just couldn't say no—not to the need for money, nor to 'the sacramental concept of literary power,' nor, finally, to the will to affirm. As pure exegesis, Rzepka's study of the Confessions invites favorable comparison to J. L. Lowes's classic analysis of the sources of 'Kubla Khan,' another opium-infused composition. At the level of theory, Rzepka's lucid and welcome book redefines and expands the role of gift-exchange within what is being called the New Economic Criticism."—Kurt Heinzelman, University of Texas, Austin