Sacramental Commodities

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.

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