This essay contributes to a growing number of studies that find in the work of Thomas De Quincey major contributions to the general practices, values, and blind spots of literary criticism in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. In particular, this essay argues that he aspires to create an embodied reading practice by underwriting his general theory of literature with his writings on drama. De Quincey values the theater as a place for phenomenal effect, and his literary criticism attempts to formulate a mode of textuality that can replicate, or at least approximate, the material effects of stage-work, thereby implicating the reader’s perceptive body in the reading process. He, however, arrives at the impasse between the sensorial body and literature, an aesthetic medium completely mediated from the empirical world. In order to make the sensitized body the primary target of literature, De Quincey has to invent an interior space that obviates the problem that the body puts to reading, and he calls this the “subconscious.” This essay not only demonstrates how De Quincey creates his literary theory of dramatic writing in conversation with William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and contemporary discourses about the stage. It also proposes that De Quincey fashions a formative critical practice that enlists techniques of the stage to sensitize and spatialize the reader’s body. The problems, inventions, and solutions that he discovers prove that embodied reading can be possible only when supplemented by a notion of depth psychology.
"Thomas De Quincey's Stage-Work: Theater, Reading, Body, Affect,"
Criticism: Vol. 60:
3, Article 4.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/criticism/vol60/iss3/4