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date: 23 January 2022

Abstract and Keywords

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.

Keywords: Poe, phrenology, induction, deduction, intuition, aesthetics, epistemology, cognitive science, Eureka, “Imp of the Perverse”

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