This article discusses the American constitutional elegy. It argues that American national difference in literature can be tracked in the terms of its engagement with specifically American constitutional principles, concentrating on the national period, beginning in the late eighteenth century with the Revolutionary War and sketching the story up to the present day. It then returns to the great theme of elegy as a flexible form and its practices under persistent self-scrutiny. All choral poetry carries with it an association with the choruses of ancient, especially Athenian, tragedy and thus with the common understanding that the chorus speaks as or on behalf of a democratic citizenry. Marilyn Hacker has written a ‘constitutional elegy’ in the great American tradition, a tradition that continues to challenge our principled commitment to the legal and symbolic bonds of ‘adjacent difference’ in a rights-based national polity.
Poe regularly attended New York City literary salons during the 1840s with women writers referred to as “bluestockings” in an homage to the feminist intellectuals of the eighteenth-century Blue Stockings Society. Poe depended on the salons of bluestocking women to help him access the literary marketplace. Poe’s posthumous career during the 1850s and 1860s followed a similar pattern, as his reputation was linked to a coterie of New Yorkers who modeled themselves on the bohemians of Paris’s Latin Quarter. These bohemian writers, who included Walt Whitman, used Poe as a touchstone for their own work. The various groups of New York writers who claimed Poe during his life and after his death illustrate a central tension in coterie practice: namely, that membership in a literary community both models and informs the fickle nature of the marketplace.
Poe sits at the intersection of the tightly interwoven fields of computing and mass surveillance. Examining Poe’s Dupin tales through a lens of surveillance, rather than Holmesian detection or Lacanian psychoanalysis, provides new insights into Poe’s relationship to information, communications, and metadata. In the three Dupin tales, I argue, Poe explores various aspects of digital surveillance, from data mining and profiling in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” to metadata in “The Purloined Letter.” Rereading these tales with a surveillant eye allows us to perceive more clearly the sociohistorical forces, rather than interiorized psychodynamics, at play in the Dupin tales.
This chapter looks at the dozens of enemies Poe acquired in the course of his career. Instead of understanding these enemies as a phenomenon peculiar to Poe and his individual psychological state, the chapter argues that enemies were a kind of dark, unconscious side of the friendship culture that prevailed in the magazine industry in the early nineteenth-century United States. At a time when magazines depended for their content and profitability on the voluntary labor of unpaid contributors, friendship culture, in which friends volunteered to write for the periodicals of other friends, was crucial to the functioning of the magazine publishing economy. But hatred and rage were also productive energies, goading writers to write for free for magazines as easily as friendly indebtedness. Examining Poe’s rancorous relationships with his fellow authors, this article argues that Poe’s many enemies were part of a larger economy of violent invective and grudges that formed a companion to the culture of friendship.
From 1831, when he joined the Baltimore household of his aunt Maria Clemm, to his death in 1849, Poe’s life and career were inextricable from the print culture in which he immersed himself. He worked as an editor or assistant for five different periodicals, and throughout his career he sought control of his own monthly magazine, but the closest he came was the brief ownership of a fast-failing weekly, The Broadway Journal. He published ingenious fiction and poetry as well as acerbic reviews and editorial filler, won fame for “The Raven,” and became infamous for his skirmishes with other writers. Meanwhile, he struggled with poverty, alcoholism, and the illness and death of his wife Virginia.
Both a poem and scientific treatise, Eureka is famously generically unstable. This essay considers Eureka’s instability as a symptom of the bifurcation between the domains of literature and science that took place in the nineteenth century’s first half. The essay turns to Michel Foucault’s Order of Things for a historical and conceptual framework that describes this division and suggests its implications both for Eureka’s reception and its textual strategies. Written at a time when “knowledge” was relocated from the domain of literature into the discourses of science, Eureka stages a competition between literary and scientific epistemologies.. By pointing to celebrated examples of intuition and imagination in the realm of science, Eureka confirms their epistemological value. The text then reclaims the epistemological imagination for poetry as way to shore up the waning status of literature as a legitimate form of knowledge.
This essay discusses Poe’s magazine pieces that are comprised of brief quotations or fragmentary comments upon other works of literature. First, as these piecemeal pieces were artifacts from “the Magazine Prison-House” in which Poe labored, the essay will set out to establish their functions within Poe’s editorial work and his sense of their relation to public and literary erudition. Second, because Poe recycled or returned to many of these marginal comments in the making of his essays, tales, and poems, they are discussed as building blocks or conceptual nodes for his various creative endeavors. Third, the essay will discuss the critical strategies within these pieces that served Poe more generally as statements of opinion on a range of literary topics (e.g., originality/plagiarism, transcendentalism, rationale of verse). The essay concludes by discussing the importance of the marginal as a critical position from which Poe would make his literary inventions and interventions.
Examining oratory as a dynamic, changing medium for communication during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in America and, to a lesser extent, Great Britain, this essay scrutinizes several of its most important sites of performance: religion, politics, social reform, performance, and education. In each of those arenas, oratory helped to fuel some of most exciting social and political changes of the era by reconceptualizing ideas about the relationship between leaders and the public, the notion of rhetorical persuasion, and the importance of public opinion. An exceptionally interdisciplinary set of scholarship on the subject has done much to invigorate the study of oratory in recent years, and yet this field lacks an intellectual center from which scholars might move beyond individual studies to conceptualize the larger significance of oratory across all sites of performance.
James M. Hutchisson
Poe’s early life and early verse were intertwined, his chief subjects being trauma, grief, mourning, and the desire to establish a concrete identity that would enable him to move beyond his own uncertain upbringing. An orphan, Poe was raised in Richmond by the Allan family, but bitter quarrels with his adoptive father led him to rebel and eventually wander far away. During this time Poe completed three volumes of poetry, but he gained little recognition for his work. After a brief stint as an enlisted soldier in the Army and then at West Point, Poe eventually formed an alliance with the Clemm family in Baltimore, relatives on his father’s side, and in Baltimore he began to write short fiction.
Leland S. Person
This reader-centered essay examines four of Poe’s murder tales (“The Black Cat,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Imp of the Perverse,” and “The Cask of Amontillado”) by focusing on the way Poe seduces readers into identifying with criminals. Using Poe’s concept of “perverseness”—the irresistible impulse to do what one should not—the essay examines the ways that Poe plays with perverseness as a means of manipulating reader response. The Imp impels confession in “Imp of the Perverse” but compels both murder and confession in “The Black Cat” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” as perverseness becomes an authorial power. “The Cask of Amontillado” represents the culmination of Poe’s experiment with perverseness, as he manipulates reader responses through first, second, and third readings of the tale.
This chapter approaches Poe’s life through his letters with reference to historical contexts that shaped letter writing in antebellum America, Poe’s interests in handwriting and “Autography,” the relationship between letter writing and antebellum authorship and celebrity, and shifts in Poe’s voice across multiple letters and recipients. In his letters, Poe performed identities ranging from the wronged son, the victim, the lover, and the literary genius. Poe’s epistolary “rhetoric of dread” may be linked to his lyric poetry. As scholars of letter writing in the nineteenth-century United States attest, letters were not “private documents.” Rather, they were “self-conscious” artifacts “circulating between friends and strangers.” Poe’s letters were written when the distinctions between privately circulated manuscripts and public cultures of print were destabilized. His letters to women are studied in this chapter as is the issue of poverty haunting his letters. Finally, Poe’s letters also document his desire for editorship of a magazine and his participation in the business of publishing in antebellum America.
This essay traces a literary history from Poe’s tales and essays in which imaginative speculation and rationalist explanation are fused to create an effect of verisimilitude. Poe’s pioneering prose techniques had a decisive influence on the emerging history of science fiction as a genre, which this essay considers in relation to Jules Verne, Raymond Roussel, the pulp magazine Amazing Stories, Isaac Asimov, Alan Turing, and the emerging philosophy of artificial intelligence, Philip K. Dick, and the filmmaker Ridley Scott.
This chapter examines Poe’s exploration of how the human brain functions in his critical essays and tales. It locates his ideas concerning the brain’s functions within mid-nineteenth-century theories about the mind and the brain, specifically phrenology, and alongside his description of intuition as an alternative or supplement to a scientific epistemology based purely in induction and deduction. After doing so, it theorizes how his views might intersect with recent developments in neuroscience and the cognitive sciences, especially as applied to aesthetics. Like many other Romantic authors, Poe approached scientific pursuits and methods, especially those regarding human mental faculties and functions, with both skepticism and a great deal of interest. Ranging over a number of Poe’s works, from Eureka to “The Imp of the Perverse,” “Murders in the Rue Morgue” to “Philosophy of Composition,” the chapter argues that Poe’s celebration and critique of human rationality and the limits of scientific methods, especially in regards to the human brain, provide a valuable template for thinking through the application of developments in brain science to literary-aesthetic questions in the twenty-first century.
Philip Edward Phillips
Success in the literary marketplace of Jacksonian America required shrewdness, and Edgar A. Poe sought to increase the publication and circulation of his work during his editorial stints at the Southern Literary Messenger, Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, Alexander’s Weekly Messenger, Graham’s Lady’s and Gentleman’s Magazine, the New York Evening Mirror and Weekly Mirror, and The Broadway Journal. Unlike most of the literati of his day, who pursued belles-lettres as a leisure activity, Poe earned his living, meager as it was, as a “magazinist.” A formidable critic, poet, and short story writer, Poe developed an aesthetic of “unity of effect” that was influenced but not dictated by the literary marketplace. This article examines Poe’s engagement with the literary marketplace, his experiences with the “magazine prison-house,” and his ultimate aspiration to own and edit a magazine of the highest quality that would elevate the status of American literature worldwide.
Because nineteenth-century American prosody has not seemed very important to most accounts of American poetics, critics have not noticed how important it was to Poe. In fact, Poe was so thoroughly immersed in nineteenth-century theories of poetic meter that what he wrote on the subject may serve as a guide to transatlantic Anglophone prosodic discourse in the period as a whole. Poe may actually help scholars remember why they have wanted to leave that discourse behind. This essay considers “The Rationale of Verse” (1848), Poe’s longest and most difficult essay on prosody, in the context of the mid-nineteenth-century “prosody wars” over the relation between accentual and quantitative meter. Although that debate has been considered a British phenomenon, Poe’s immersion in it shows how central such prosodic debates were to the history of American poetics, in which British nationalist theories of meter were displaced by racist anxieties.
This chapter focuses on the appearance of historical details in short stories about near-death experiences. It examines in particular how “A Descent into the Maelström” and “The Pit and the Pendulum” refer to pre-Anglo-Saxon forms of New World colonization (Viking and Spanish) as a way of agitating readers’ anxieties about the rise of American civilization. These references provide examples through which to rethink the conflict between historicist and allegorical interpretations of Poe’s work. In particular, his oblique representations of Manifest Destiny and white supremacy look differently when read through the metahistorical notion of the “course of empire,” with its inevitable end in moral decay. The chapter concludes by pointing out how Poe’s scheme of extreme individual experience against the backdrop of long-durational historical narrative was taken up by Frantz Fanon, who focused on the psychological predicament of the native in a very different story of empire.
J. Gerald Kennedy
Poe’s production of magazine tales led to an intellectual preoccupation with terror—its origins, meanings, and effects. Read as analytical investigations into the causes of dread, many of Poe’s narratives offer striking insights into contemporary terrorism. Reexamining the events of 9/11 with Poe’s theory of the prose tale in mind, we understand better why symbolically unified events, orchestrated into dramatic action unfolding in ninety minutes, created sensational, overwhelming effects. Jean Baudrillard’s deconstruction of uncanny doubling in the 9/11 spectacle conversely explains the terrifying symbolic logic of “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Poe claimed that terror arises from the soul, but threats from antebellum culture impelled his fiction: consumption, pestilence, premature burial, slave rebellion, and mob violence. Three tales—“The Man of the Crowd,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” and “Hop-Frog”—employ different strategies to analyze the creation and weaponizing of terror as well as how it may be demystified and managed.
This essay provides an overview of how artists have responded to the “graphicality” of Poe’s writing. It assesses illustrators of Poe’s work as well as artists who have been influenced by his writing. Because more than seven hundred painters, illustrators, and sculptors have reacted to Poe’s work from the time of the first illustrated edition in 1852 to the present, this essay focuses on only a handful of exceptional artists.
Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock
This chapter addresses Edgar Allan Poe’s relation to postmodernism in three parts. It first considers the postmodern elements of Poe’s writing with an emphasis on hoaxes, metafictional self-referentiality, fragmentation, and an overall postmodern suspicion of metanarratives. Next it offers an overview of how Poe’s fiction has been used by poststructuralist theorists—notably, Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida, and Barbara Johnson—as well as critics including Dennis Pahl, Michael J. S. Williams, J. Gerald Kennedy, and Louis A. Renza, to illustrate poststructuralist claims about the nature of the self and language. Finally, it explores how the postmodern elements present in Poe’s fiction make him attractive to modern sensibilities. This final section considers the commodification not just of Poe’s writing but of Poe himself—how his biography and image themselves become postmodern narratives available for appropriation and exploitation in the contemporary culture of the Gothic.
Many of Poe’s stories are allegories of reading or misreading or the impossibility of reading. The first sentence of “The Man of the Crowd” intones “it does not permit itself to be read.” Here, Poe is citing a “certain German book,” though which one has eluded critics since the story’s publication in 1840. Perhaps the most obvious reason it cannot be read is because the book simply does not exist. Such a superficial but overlooked explanation would certainly fit with Poe’s penchant for sabotaging readers’ expectations. But critics have correctly used this statement of unreadability as Poe’s self-conscious gloss on his own writings, which feature all kinds of reading material, as it were, including documents that are sometimes purloined, hieroglyphs, anagrams, and specific letters in the alphabet. My essay will discuss images of unreadability in Poe’s oeuvre with special attention to Pym, which contains both a narrative of white superiority and a critique of it.