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230362 Intercultural Negotiations of the Opium Wars (S) (SoSe 2019)

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This seminar explores Romantic, Victorian and neo-Victorian literature with regard to discourses on opium – appropriated for example to bolster notions of literary inspiration, to inform literary criticism and to support Britain’s colonial enterprise – from an intercultural perspective. The opium trade elucidates capitalist atrocities in the context of colonial expansion and Empire building, culminating in two so-called Opium Wars. Cultivated in India, marketed by the East India Company, and forced onto a Chinese market to lubricate global trade, opium has become shorthand for colonial exploitation. In a domestic British context, however, opium was normalized as a quotidian drug employed to pacify children, to help people sleep or to alleviate pain. In literature, opium not only inspired Samuel Taylor Coleridge to an innovative strand of poetry or Thomas De Quincey to a new form of a flâneurist confession, it also becomes a mediator for unconscious processes in Wilkie Collins’s sensation fiction. Neo-Victorian fiction, in its turn, reflects on the historical as well as the literary long-term effects of a drug flooding markets, cementing power hierarchies and calibrating cultural practices. We will address discourses on opium in order to explore their manifold intersections with negotiations of race, gender and class, with debates on the function of literature, notions of creativity and inspiration, as well with strategies of economic and imperial expansion.

Required reading:
• Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Kubla Khan”
• Anna Seward, “To the Poppy”
• Henrietta O’Neill, “Ode to the Poppy”
• Maria Logan, “To Opium”
• Sara Coleridge, “Poppies”
• Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton
• Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone
• Amitav Ghosh, Sea of Poppies

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