De Quincey’s acoustemology

Ian Stevenson


This article reports on a reading of aspects of sound and knowledge in the writings of English essayist Thomas de Quincey (1785-1859). The article develops the concept of the sonic effect as it emerges in de Quincey’s sonic aesthetics. This is supported by a summary of de Quincey’s apparent critique of Kantian understanding and judgement as it relates to sound. The historical development of notions of effect contemporary to de Quincey is explored, and the parallels between his use of sound and subsequent sonic design in crime fiction and the development of audiovisual drama in general are considered. Three key sound effects: the knock, the sigh and the solemn wind are developed and analysed by de Quincey and are shown to be part of a unique de Quincian acoustemology. The research in this article formed the initial phase of a larger practice-based research project culminating in a new sound design for a hybrid performance-installation work.

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ISSN: 1904-500X

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