Thomas De Quincey and the Making of a Murderer

Efd1f0de6df70171d7e4729a047a7670de24d82aColin Dickey at The New Republic:

Artistic considerations of death and mayhem were De Quincey’s bread and butter. De Quincey, she writes, “gorged on scenes of violence,” but unlike others he was able to transmute this passion into high art, particularly in his Macbeth essay and the satiric tour-de-force, “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts. “Everything in this world has two handles,” the anonymous narrator tells the assembled Society of Connoisseurs in Murder. “Murder, for instance, may be laid hold of by its moral handle (as it generally is in the pulpit, and at the Old Bailey); and that, I confess, is its weak side; or it may also be treated aesthetically, as the Germans call it—that is, in relation to good taste.” Long before Hollywood began catering to our innate fascination with murder, De Quincey was, like no one else before him, plumbing the depths of our darkest humanity, eschewing morality in favor of that second handle. “It was De Quincey who legitimized the luxurious excitement of murder,” Wilson reminds us, “just as he legitimized, in his most famous work, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, the pleasure of opiates.”

It is that most famous work, the opium essay, which has paradoxically stood in the way of properly appreciating De Quincey’s many other contributions to literature. InRebecca Solnit’s biography of Eadweard Muybridge, she describes how the photographer “undermined his vast output of good work with his great work.” Had he never done his excellent Yosemite studies, he might have been known for his less ambitious San Francisco cityscapes, and the Yosemite photos, in turn, have been all-but-forgotten by the later motion studies that changed the world.

more here.