November 02, 2004

Placing Poe


Oh well, okay -- this is not the thing I was thinking of immediately below, but one of the things that I find so interesting about Poe is a tendency, I think, to overlook his achievements as a writer. Perhaps it's because we all read him in high school, perhaps it's because stories like the Tell-Tale Heart are so accesssible, that we regard them as somehow being inevitable, and perhaps not as impressive as the works to which we're exposed as freshmen in college. At least, that was my experience to some extent -- perhaps I shouldn't generalize (although I do recall some of my classmates regarding Baudelaire's enthusiasm for him as being Poe's main justification).

Poe's contemporaries were similarly baffled by him -- some transcendentalists argued, for example, that Poe's tales lacked moral content. Poe responded with a tale called "Never Bet the Devil Your Head: A Tale with a Moral," that wickedly satirizes the Transcendentalists; beyond that, as Dawn B. Sova succinctly reminds us in the surprisingly engaging Edgar Allan Poe A to Z,

Poe rejected the idealism of the movement which, rather than turn to scientific measurement and inquiry to make sense of the world, believed that pure reason in the absence of external evidence would elicit an immediate perception of truth. Unlike the transcendentalists, most of the narrators and characters in Poe's stories and poems cannot trust that their senses are eliciting truths or correctly representing their situations, nor can we as readers. Further, in his preoccupation with scientific advances, Poe appeared to have rejected the idealism that pervaded the thinking of the Transcendentalists.

Perhaps we tend to forget that Poe wasn't as mad as his characters, that he understood perfectly well the intellectual movements of his time, and by and large rejected them, and for very good reasons.

Posted by Ideofact at November 2, 2004 12:20 AM