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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

In a new vein: Theorizing addiction and identity in Thomas De Quincey, Sylvia Plath, and Tupac Shakur
by Horn, Katherine, Ph.D., Tufts University, 2011, 200; 3460513
Abstract (Summary)

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 present 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.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Jackson, Virginia
Commitee: Eck, Lisa, Flynn, Carol, Sharpe, Christina
School: Tufts University
Department: English
School Location: United States -- Massachusetts
Source: DAI-A 72/09, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: African American Studies, Modern literature, Black studies, American literature, Clinical psychology
Keywords: Addiction, De Quincey, Thomas, Horn, Katherine, Identity, Plath, Sylvia, Shakur, Tupac
Publication Number: 3460513
ISBN: 978-1-124-72451-5
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