In a New Vein: Theorizing Addiction and Identity in Thomas De Quincey, Sylvia Plath, and Tupac Shakur.
Abstract: This dissertation examines the development and limitations of the
existing definitions of the concepts addict and addiction and offers a new theory of
addiction and identity. The definition that this study proposes is informed by analysis of
Thomas De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater ,
Sylvia Plath's letters and journals, and Tupac Shakur's lyrics, as well as by presen... read moret
psychological, psychiatric, neuroscientific and cultural analyses of the phenomenon. I
argue that a need for a less identity-conferring, deterministic, and reductive definition
of addiction exists and that analysis of the work of the three above-mentioned figures
leads to such an understanding and theory of addiction. By identifying the paradoxes of
Thomas De Quincey's innovative Confessions of an English Opium
Eater (1821), Chapter One unveils three key traits essential to a revised
theory of addiction. De Quincey at once sets the groundwork for traditional theories of
addiction while also revising these theories. The three traits that De Quincey introduces
include: the distinction between repetition and return, the complexities of hierarchizing
the object of addiction over the addict, and the dangers of viewing
“addict” as an identity-conferring and totalizing term. Moving from De
Quincey's text, Chapter Two focuses on the analysis of patterns of addiction as they occur
in Sylvia Plath's journals and letters. Plath's writing highlights her meta-obsession with
why she struggles without success to shift her attention from her incapacity to stop these
patterns of addiction. The chapter also addresses the significance for Plath of the
following: the role of repetition; the concept of a fluid self; the prominence of patterns
of addictive language; and the impact of external pressures on her internalization of
perfectionism. Finally, Chapter Three reads Tupac Shakur's lyrics and interviews for
evidence that Shakur was aware of the cultural beliefs that made addiction and despair so
common in the impoverished, urban, violent and drug-ridden communities in which he lived.
Moreover, Shakur, as a rapper and activist commits himself to addressing and helping
resolve these problems. Unlike De Quincey and Plath, Shakur understands the political and
cultural machinations driving addiction and aims to disable them.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Tufts University, 2011.
Submitted to the Dept. of English.
Advisor: Virginia Jackson.
Committee: Christina Sharpe, Carol Flynn, and Lisa Eck.
Keywords: American Literature, Literature, and African American Studies.read less