Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


VIRTUAL EVENT: IAS Talking Points Seminar: A literary-physiological perspective on nineteenth-c...

13 May 2020, 4:15 pm–5:45 pm


We are delighted to welcome Visiting Research Fellow Dr Alessia Pannese for this talk. Respondents: Professor Patrick Haggard (Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, UCL) and Mike Jay (independent curator). Chaired by Andrew Dean (IAS, UCL)

This event is free.

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Institute of Advanced Studies

In his autobiographical account Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821), Thomas De Quincey compares his state of mind under the influence of opium to the imaginary spaces depicted in Giovanni Battista Piranesi's etching series Carceri d‘Invenzione (1745). The time between the first and revised editions of De Quincey's Confessions (1821–1856) overlaps with a period of growing understanding of human physiology, and in particular of the conspicuous role of the autonomic nervous system in regulating human survival, thought, and behaviour. Drawing on parallels between literary and physiological characterisations of the states of mind under the influence of opium, I will discuss ways in which De Quincey's mapping of mental states onto spatial structures evolved in relation to the coeval growing understanding of the physiological mechanisms of adaptation and addiction, highlighting elements of intellectual osmosis between nineteenth-century literature and physiology.

Image: Giovanni Battista Piranesi: Untitled etching (called "The Drawbridge"), plate VII (of 16) from the series The Imaginary Prisons (Le Carceri d'Invenzione), Rome, 1761 edition (reworked from 1745).

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