I hope everyone is enjoying their Labor Day weekend; I’m not doing anything special, just riding a bit, reading a bit, and trying not to think about school starting soon. I’ve completed or am nearing the end of several books, the De Quincey one, first of all, of which I have about 25 pages left. This is one of the odder books I’ve read in a while. I’ve written a few posts on it (here, here and here), but these posts by no means capture the oddness of it. I’ve given you little snippets, but it’s the contexts they come out of that are so strange. His writing is so digressive; he takes you all over the place, and often you don’t know where he’s going until you get there, and then he’s off someplace else.
The book takes some patience to read, for me at least, since his writing is fairly dense, but it’s very much worth it. He leaves you wondering and wondering what’s going on until he hits with you a beautiful passage that takes your breath away. He tells a story in “Suspiria de Profundis” about a mountain called the Brocken in Germany with an optical effect where, if you climb to the top at the right time of day, you see an image of a person of gigantic size a couple miles off in the distance, set against the sky or clouds or rocks. Only after noticing that the gigantic figure follows all of your movements, do you realize that it’s an image of yourself. De Quincey calls this the “Dark Interpreter” and the passage starts to get psychological:
This trial is decisive. You are now satisfied that the apparition is but a reflex of yourself; and, in uttering your secret feelings to him, you make this phantom the dark symbolic mirror for reflecting to the daylight what else must be hidden for ever.
The Dark Interpreter turns out to be an aspect of yourself that, separate from the self you are familiar with, allows you to reveal your hidden depths. De Quincey says the Dark Interpreter is often the “self” that appears in his dreams. He takes the metaphor further; as the apparition of the Brocken is sometimes disturbed by storms so that it no longer looks like him, so the Dark Interpreter is sometimes like an alien being living in him:
What he says, generally is but that which I have said in daylight, and in meditation deep enough to sculpture itself on my heart. But sometimes, as his face alters, his words alter; and they do not always seem such as I have used, or could use. No man can account for all things that occur in dreams.
So the apparition of the Brocken turns out to be the strange version of ourselves that appears in dreams, sometimes recognizable, sometimes so strange that we wonder how those words and ideas got in our heads in the first place.
Kind of cool and strange, right? The whole book is obsessed with dreams — the sources of them and how our minds transform those sources.
The essay I’m reading now, the last one, is about mail coaches. Yes, he’s written a fascinating 50-page essay on mail coaches. Report to follow.
But I didn’t mean to turn this into a post on De Quincey, which is what it has become, I’m afraid. I’m also about to finish my book of Keats poems, which I have enjoyed tremendously, and I just finished Andrew O’Hagan’s novel Be Near Me. I’ll write about that one next, to give you a break from all this De Quincey.