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ABSTRACT. Xanadu, like its milk of paradise, has no doubt become an iconic symbol of the romantic imagination, at least in Coleridge’s acceptation of this notion. The present study proposes a triple quest: understanding the essence of the romantic imagination by exploring: 1) the post-romantic story of Zenith – the main city in Sinclair Lewis’s novel entitled Babbitt (1922); 2) the science-fictional romantic story of Symzonia, i.e. Symmes’s imaginary interior, Eden-like cornucopian world of Hollow Earth, which in the story is said to be accessible through the portal at the South Pole; and 3) the romantic story of Xanadu. The present study is thus an extension of our previous article In quest for the romantic imagination (I): Irving Babbitt’s synthesis. We start with an analysis of the ways in which Sinclair Lewis, in his famous novel Babbitt (1922), harshly criticized Irving Babbitt for his path of moderation (his quest for the center), which Lewis saw as a standardization of thought or even of life, which practically meant a kind of death. We thus take a glimpse at Sinclair Lewis’s road to the dodecarchical Zenith (the twelve Zeniths making up the metropolis known by this name), which the American novelist turned into a paragon of the modern city of the future, remotely reminiscent of Coleridge’s paragon of the city of imagination, Xanadu. There is a main difference: in Lewis’s Zenith, imagination is bound (for instance by attitudes of extreme moderation, the like of which Irving Babbitt endorsed), while in Xanadu, imagination is unbound – a state of affairs reflected in the latter poetic city’s dome of pleasure, exuberant natural luxuriance, and milk of paradise (these elements were derived from Marco Polo’s memories of his days – around 1275 and after – at the court of Kublai Khan, as translated or paraphrased by Samuel Purchas; today, Polo’s memoir is preserved in English through Henry Yule’s wonderful translation; cf. Polo 1871). In this quest for an understanding of the true romantic imagination, as it would seem, all roads lead to Xanadu, i.e. to a paradise of the imagination, a metaphorical earthly paradise, where mankind feeds on some kind of transcendental “food of the gods” (the “milk of paradise,” as Coleridge would call it, referring, most likely, to physical or metaphysical-transcendental opium), in this context to be understood as a living feedbacking dynamic inter-equilibrium of all energies in the cosmos: here, inside the true romantic imagination (in the ideal romantic inner city of Xanadu), as in a perfect imaginative space, man experiences the simultaneity of equilibrium and disequilibrium, health and disease, normality and abnormality, order and disorder, rigour and exuberance, the finite and the infinite, centricity and eccentricity, exuberant explosion (energy upsurge) and depressive implosion (energy block) – all positives and negatives for ever exquisitely tuned and “married” in ideally perfect harmony, thus healing the breach between all extremes, including life and death themselves. It would appear that at a few peak moments, Coleridge experienced such unutterable ontological ecstasies, being helped in that direction by the use of opium (in the form of laudanum). There was, however, an unutterable price to be paid for such audacity: the very loss of his creative powers, as Abrams (1971a) justly concluded. pp. 85–157

Keywords: romantic imagination; milk of paradise; opium; Paracelsus; Halley; Zenith; Symzonia; Xanadu; gamma power

MIHAI A. STROE
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University of Bucharest

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