The Proto-Burroughs

Throughout his life De Quincey wrote repeatedly about himself in what one might call supplements to the “Confessions.” These include “Suspiria de Profundis” (“Sighs From the Depths”) and “The English Mail-Coach,” which opens with a paean to speed, to the thrill of racing along pitch-black roads at night, and ominously titles one chapter “The Vision of Sudden Death.” If, in some lights, De Quincey may be viewed as a proto-Burroughs, as well as a British cousin to Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Baudelaire, he might with a stretch even be seen as an ancestor of the J.G. Ballard who wrote “Crash.”

As a practicing literary critic, De Quincey memorably distinguished between “The Literature of Knowledge and the Literature of Power,” that is, between those works that add to our stock of learning, that teach, and those that move us and affect our souls. . . .

More of Michael Dirda’s thoughts on the original opium-eater here.

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