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Pioneers of Inner Space: Drug Autobiography and Manifest Destiny

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020


The drug autobiography emerged as a genre in the United States primarily through imitations of Thomas De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821). For De Quincey, the intoxicating consumption of opium and print was linked to imperial mastery. Texts such as Fitz Hugh Ludlow's Hasheesh Eater (1857) adapted this association to suit the westward expansion of the United States and its accompanying ideology of manifest destiny. Under the influence of hashish, Ludlow explored his inner psychic space as if it were the United States frontier. As nineteenth-century Romantic models of intoxicated dreaming gave way to early-twentieth-century theories of addiction, drug autobiographies such as D. F. MacMartin's Thirty Years in Hell (1921) readapted the genre, representing the disappointments of manifest destiny as addicted exile. While drug autobiographies accrued countercultural authority, appearing to signify the irrational underside of Enlightenment modernity, their fantasies of esoteric exploration derived from broader cultural ideals of imperial power and knowledge.

Special Topic: Remapping Genre Coordinated by Wai Chee Dimock and Bruce Robbins
Copyright © 2007 by The Modern Language Association of America

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