At the beginning of the 19th century, opium influenced not only the policy of trading empires in the Far East, but also, quite unexpectedly, the aesthetic forms and style of European thought. In a sense, European society was awakening from narcissistic employment with a revival of classicism and turned out to be like a spectator at a temptingly metaphysical and aesthetically exotic banquet held by the Ottoman Great Turk, a banquet whose main aperitif was opium vision.
In this regard, it is impossible not to mention here about Thomas De Quincey. Like Timothy Leary in the 1960s, De Quincey was perfectly able to convey the visionary action of what he experienced. For De Quincy, it was an action in a poppy maze. He knew how to convey opium vision with that subtle melancholy that is typical of the Romantic era. Almost carelessly, as they say, “one-handed” he created in his “Confessions of one Englishman – opium consumer” a cultural image, “Zeitgeist” (spirit of the times – him) experiences of opium intoxication and a kind of metaphysics of opium. He invented the form of “drug confession” – the most important genre of subsequent narcotic literature. His descriptions of the world’s perception of opium are unsurpassed.
Many years ago, when I was looking through the “Antiquities of Rome” by Piranesi, Mr. Coleridge, who was standing nearby, described to me a series of illustrations by this artist, called “Dreams” by him and transmitting an image of his visions during feverish delirium. Some of them (I am writing only from the memory of Mr. Coleridge’s story) represented huge Gothic halls, where various machines and mechanisms, wheels, cables, blocks, levers, catapults, etc., stood on the floor — an expression of tremendous exerted power and resistance to be overcome. Sneaking along the walls, you notice the stairs, and on it, feeling for yourself a way up, Piranesi himself. Follow a little further up the steps, and you will see how they lead to a sudden, abrupt cliff, without any balustrades, not giving any further step to the one who reached the edge except deep down. Whatever happens to poor Piranesi, do you thinkat least here his labors must somehow be completed. But raise your gaze, and you will see a second flight of steps, even higher, on which Piranesi is again visible, this time standing on the very edge of the abyss. Look again, and you will see another airborne flight of steps; and again poor Piranesi, engaged in his inspired labor; and so on – until the unfinished steps and Piranesi are lost in the darkness at the top of the hall. With the same force of endless growth and self-reproduction, my constructions developed in dreams.and so on – until the unfinished steps and Piranesi are lost in the darkness at the top of the hall. With the same force of endless growth and self-reproduction, my constructions developed in dreams.and so on – until the unfinished steps and Piranesi are lost in the darkness at the top of the hall. With the same force of endless growth and self-reproduction, my constructions developed in dreams.
Opium cheers the spirit; he can evoke infinitely unfolding ribbons of thoughts and ecstatically enthusiastic speculations, and for half a century after De Quincey ‘s “Confessions” , serious attempts were made to use the effect of opium on creative abilities, especially on literary creativity. De Quincey made this attempt; he was the first writer who consciously studied through personal experience the method of forming dreams and visions – how opium helps shape them and how they are strengthened, how they are then rearranged and used in conscious art (he himself – in “passionate prose”, but this process will be applicable in poetry). He learned his waking writing technique, partly from observing how the mind works in dreams and dreams under the influence of opium.
He was convinced that “opium” dreams and dreams themselves can be a creative process, analogous to and leading to literary creativity. He used these dreams in his literary work not as some kind of decoration or allegory, not intently creating an atmosphere, somehow anticipating the plot or helping him, not even as a hint at some ultimate reality (although he considered them as such), but as an art form by itself. His study of the work of imagination in the creation of dreams was carried out with the same concentration as some of his contemporaries devoted to the waking imagination for the creation of poetry.