Intoxication and the Orient in Baudelaire and De Quincey
In Artificial Paradises, Baudelaire writes this of hashish: “Enthusiasts who would procure the magical delights of this substance at any price have continued to seek out hashish which has crossed the Mediterranean—that is, hashish made from Indian or Egyptian hemp”(15). Only hashish from the “Orient,” i.e. most of Asia and Northern Africa, is intoxicating enough for Baudelaire, who finds freedom in the hashish-produced relaxation of physical and mental boundaries. In Confessions of an English Opium Eater, De Quincey describes the similarly pleasurable feelings that opium created in him. Eventually, however, Baudelaire’s use of the substance goes too far and ultimately destroys him. De Quincey develops alarming nightmares of the daunting Orient and he too succumbs to the drug. The men’s accounts of their drug use both engage the concept of “boundary” between sober and intoxicated, European and Oriental.
The origin of psychoactive substances was critical to European users, especially the upper-class and educated users. Baudelaire writes that hashish “possesses such extraordinary powers of intoxication that it has, for some years, attracted the attention of French scholars and society men. It is more or less valued, depending on...
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