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date: 23 January 2022

Abstract and Keywords

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.

Keywords: Edgar Allan Poe, Baudelaire, cryptograph, hieroglyph, meaning, metafiction, race, unreadability

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