Abstract

Incapable of Being Disentangled: On De Quincey’s Impassioned Prose

This article makes the case that perlocution, a notoriously tricky species of speech act, opens up news ways of thinking about De Quincey’s autobiographical writings, particularly Suspiria de Profundis. Because its effects are indirect, uncertain and unpredictable, perlocution helps us understand language’s ability to entangle: readers, writers, memories, experience, events, other texts. That uncanny ability to entangle things—and our inability to ever fully disentangle them—is one of De Quincey’s abiding preoccupations. Its readiest models are the famous involute and the palimpsest, but examples of it exist throughout his oeuvre. De Quincey’s thinking on these and related matters anticipates later theoretical concepts such as Freud’s “tangle of dream thoughts," Benjamin’s verschränkte Zeit (entangled time), and Derrida’s double bind, “which can only be endured in passion.”