mercoledì 27 febbraio 2013

The Multiform Self of Edgar Allan Poe

Here is my essay about Edgar Allan Poe.
Translation from English by Leni Remedios, with the supervising of Jane Broadhurst.
You may find the original essay, in Italian,  in

The Multiform Self of Edgar Allan Poe

“It was no great full-rigg’d ship, nor majestic steamer, steering firmly through the gale, but seem’d one of those superb little schooner yachts...flying uncontroll’d with torn sails and broken spars through the wild sleet and winds and waves of the night. On the deck was a slender, slight, beautiful figure, a dim man, apparently enjoying all the terror, the murk and the dislocation of which he was the center and the victim. That figure of my lurid dream might stand for Edgar Poe, his spirit, his fortunes, and his poems – themselves all lurid dreams”[1].

It is with the dream of the American Poet Walt Whitman that I like to open this reflection about one of the most controversial and influential figures of the literary outline: Edgar Allan Poe.
No other image should be more aesthetically and psychologically proper than the dream vision of Whitman to immortalise the writer from Baltimore: a lonely and gaunt profile in the middle of his favourite element, the sea, not by chance quite often present in his tales and dominates one of his two novels, The Narrative of Gordon Pym from Nantucket. A figure that flies above the darkest waters of the human soul and who not only is not afraid but seems to be delighted by it.
Before plunging into the dreamy and emotional ocean of Poe – because that is what I intend to do here – I’d like to spend a few words about what has been written or said about him, just to provide a brief synthesis to readers lacking this knowledge.
At the beginning I mentioned Poe as a controversial and influential figure.
Influential, not just because he arouse as a pivot for the admirers of supernatural and psychological horror, raising “the bar for all subsequent work” [2] but also because his versatility deservedly gave him the paternity of the detective story such as is conceived in modern times (see the so called tales of the ratiocination, as The Murders of the Rue Morgue  or The Mystery of Marie Rogêt) while it’s common that his influence on the French poets, thanks to the precious intermediary Charles Baudelaire - his first translator in France, strongly contributed to new literary movements as the Symbolism and in general to his positive reception in Europe.

Further, Gordon Pym will be inspiring not only for other geniuses of supernatural and fantastic like H.P. Lovecraft, whose At the Mountain of Madness is a clear reference to the Master work, but also for Hermann Melville, the author of Moby Dick, and for a great adventures teller like Jules Verne, who wrote an ideal continuation of Poe’s novel in The Sphinx of the Ice Fields.
Yet very harsh criticisms coming from men of letters, mostly his compatriots, have weighted on him, that’s why Poe is also controversial: he never reconciled the critics and the other writers, maybe up to our days. A fact that needs to be contextualized, on one hand, in the literary circles of the time: due to his corrosive reviews, it was natural Poe had several enemies.
But on the other hand much weight had (maybe still have?) the anathema pronounced by Henry James, fellow countryman of Poe, author of the ghost story The turn of the Screw, who wasn’t very subtle on it “an enthusiasm for Poe is the mark of a decidedly primitive stage of reflection. It seems to us that to take him with more than a certain degree of seriousness is to lack seriousness one’s self”[3].
About this harsh sentence I invite the reader to weigh up with accuracy the word primitive used by James. I will return to the topic later.
The other heavy anathema comes not surely from a fanatic alarmed by the horrible truths revealed by Poe, but rather from a pivot of the counter-culture, Aldous Huxley, who accuses Poe, as poet, of vulgarity: the critic done by the author of The Doors of Perception is a worthy critic and, without being misled by the word, it has nothing to do with morality.
Huxley’s objection is bluntly technical-poetical, where he charges Poe with the exploiting of a certain easy musicality intrinsic to words in order to create sensation, in particular making an exasperating use of the rhyme, sometimes in an inappropriate way[4]. 
That’s true, but just up to a point. Poe is not faultless, but Huxley forgets something: devices and tricks that turn unavoidably trivial in unskilled hands, offer quite the opposite results in the hands of a genius, exactly as H.P. Lovecraft points out regarding the prose “These bizarre conceptions, so awkward in unskilful hands, become under Poe’s spell living and convincing terrors to haunt our nights”[5].
It is no accident that the charm and the atmosphere evoked by The Raven, considered unanimously by the critics not certainly among his best poems, has become indeed a cross-generational flag, continually touching thousands of readers.

Finally, we can’t fail to mention another authoritative judgment, that of T.S. Eliot, who attributes to Poe “the intellect of a highly gifted young person before puberty”[6]. In regards to boldness and content it’s not very far from what expressed by Henry James.
I’d like to end this digression bringing the following observation, that I offer as a momentary provocation, a cat put among the pigeons, that I will take back later: we can say that never the morbid attention of the public towards the private dimension of a writer was so high, as in the case of Edgar Allan Poe.

Now, I’m inviting you, reader, to get rid of all this just for one moment, to clean up your mind from all the concepts and the bias, from all the chatting done on Mr Poe and on his works.  I’m inviting you to begin a journey underground, in the darkest unconscious depths, without ready-made arguments.

The descent into the abyss.
That’s what really matters to Mr Poe. There’s no more abyssal depth than the human soul. There’s no other land more extensive and doomed to remain unavoidably unexplored.
What’s stirring and hiding in ambush in the most recondite twists and turns of ourselves? Which are the issues that steal in the inner self and that we can never completely master, like a slimy eel that we try to grab in vain and is continually slipping out of our hands? There’s a human condition in particular that can arouse, although just for a moment, the most hidden contents of our, we can say, psyche: fear.
Poe opens the wound and he doesn’t limit himself on twisting the knife in it to see what happens: he analyzes accurately, seizes the scalpel and lances the nervous ganglions one by one.  
It’s a so radical vivisection that it obtains a multiplicity of the individual who is under the knife: who is the narrator of The Black Cat? Is he the young fellow “noted for the docility and humanity of my disposition (...) especially fond of animals”[7] as he qualifies himself at the beginning? Or is he the abominable man that turns out in the end of his days, a murderer with an atavistic hatred towards the felines? Yet isn’t he the very same person? What happened in the meantime, what is the mechanism who installed the germ of perverseness?
Changing is a natural and desirable process in the development of the individual conscience, in which thoughts and external experiences bring new insights to individuality.
But what happens in the case of a radical overturning of the feelings, a total revolution of personality, induced and supported by extreme external agents, such as a chronic hunger or a helpless addiction to alcohol, or by more intimate elements, such as a personal hypersensitiveness or a certain inclination to insanity? Is there any chance to become, Poe seems to ask, even inhuman?
“The fury of a demon instantly possessed me. I knew myself no longer. My original soul seemed, at once, to take its flight from my body; and a more than fiendish malevolence, gin-nurtured, thrilled every fibre of my frame” [8].
Here Poe, the surgeon of the soul, draws our attention to another, ambiguous feeling dawning. The fury found its own expression and the black cat, victim of his master’s atrocity, is now eyeless. Once the alcoholic fumes are chilled, the narrator starts to think and something uncommon emerges “I experienced a sentiment half of horror, half of remorse, for the crime of which I had been guilty; but it was, at best, a feeble and equivocal feeling, and the soul remained untouched” [9].
Feelings are rarely pure, univocal. The negative ones, in particular, often contain a component of duplicity.
“(The cat) went about the house as usual, but, as might be expected, fled in extreme terror at my approach. I had so much of my old heart left, as to be at first grieved by this evident dislike on the part of a creature which had once so loved me. But this feeling soon gave place to irritation. And then came, as if to my final and irrevocable overthrow, the spirit of PERVERSENESS. Of this spirit philosophy takes no account. Yet I am not more sure that my soul lives, than I am that perverseness is one of the primitive impulses of the human heart – one of the indivisible primary faculties, or sentiments, which give direction to the character of Man. Who has not, a hundred times, found himself committing a vile or a silly action, for no other reason than because he knows he should not? [10].
It’s a question asked also by the narrator of The Imp of Perverse, as we will see later.
What is inducing Arthur Gordon Pym, after a disastrous misadventure in the sea in which he put at risk his own life, to embark again in the most precipitous way and in precarious conditions, when any other rational individual should be very careful not to go to sea again?
“For the bright side of the painting I had a limited sympathy. My visions were of shipwreck and famine; of death or captivity among barbarian hordes; of a lifetime dragged out in sorrow and tears, upon some gray and desolate rock, in an ocean unapproachable and unknown. Such visions or desires – for they amounted to desires – are common, I have since been assured, to the whole numerous race of the melancholy among men – at the time of which I speak I regarded them only as prophetic glimpses of a destiny which I felt myself in a measure bound to fulfil” [11]
Perverseness has got an unequivocal seductive component.
Beyond the disgust and the aversion other silent presences hide in ambush, presences that the rational and conscious man hardly acknowledges to himself: an irresistible attraction, curiosity, even pleasure. There’s a scale of shades regarding the same feeling or sensation: Poe’s narrators live undoubtedly extreme situations, on the top of the scale, hovering on the last step leading straightforwardly to madness or already irreparably mad, but they speak directly to the multiplicity of human beings who stand in the middle of the scale, who live the very same feelings, just on another level (“Who has not, a hundred times, found himself etc...?”).
Further, in tales like The Imp of Perverse, The Black Cat and The tell-tale Heart the protagonists disclose a further shade about this ambivalence, difficult to explain in rational terms: the excitement provoked by risk.
The utmost terror for the crime to be discovered goes hand in hand with a display of arrogance, nearly a will to be discovered, bringing to surface an ambiguous intention: the boasting in accomplishing a similar deed before humanity, the fact of telling to the world “Do you see what I was able to do?”.
Every single trace of repentance or remorse has been erased; the process of dehumanisation has been brilliantly accomplished.
It’s not by chance that the imp of perverse to which the tale refers doesn’t regard at all the crime committed, the murder, but the tendency to confession: that is regarded unwholesome by the narrator, miserably fallen in the spiral of madness, the revealing of his misdeeds while he should do the best to hide them.
Perverseness doesn’t have just a seductive component, as I said, but also a constitutive component of disobedience, intolerance, opposition, without which it shouldn’t be what it is: as displayed in The Black Cat, the subject returns back here too “And because our reason violently deters us from the brink, therefore do we the most impetuously approach it” [12].
Here too the narrator is evidently mad, but he speaks straight to the reader, to the human being who stands in the middle of the scale, hooking him with harmless examples, in which Poe genially uses the first plural person:
“We have a task before us which must be speedily performed. We know that it will be ruinous to make delay. The most important crisis of our life calls, trumpet-tongued, for immediate energy and action. We glow, we are consumed with eagerness to commence the work, with the anticipation of whose glorious result our whole souls are on fire. It must, it shall be undertaken to-day, and yet we put it off until to-morrow; and why?” [13].
Any procrastinator of any level should be touched by these words.
But what is the deepest chasm onto which man faces himself? Isn’t it death, the most extreme experience by definition? Yet even on the brink of death it is plausible that a weird, uncommon upheaval happens in the turns of our soul, a radical and unpredictable overturning.
The narrator of The Descent in the Maelstrӧm, from my point of view one of Poe’s best tales, during a fatal trip on the sea with his brothers finds himself in the middle of a gigantic sea whirlpool, and he reports as honestly as he can what happened in the moment of looking into the jaws of death. From sheer terror, in which body and soul is shivering throughout with genuine fear, he suddenly turns to a sort of ecstatic catalepsy:
“Having made up my mind to hope no more, I got rid of a great deal of that terror which unmanned me at first. I suppose it was despair that strung my nerves.
It may look like boasting – but what I tell you is truth – I began to reflect how magnificent a thing it was to die in such a manner, and how foolish it was in me to think of so paltry a consideration as my own individual life, in view of so wonderful a manifestation of God’s power” [14].
Maybe the theme of internal ambiguity is developed at its best in William Wilson, unparalleled masterpiece about the double, the identity crisis and the will (notice the word pun Will-I-am, Wil-son). Also here a radical transformation of the narrator is pointed out by the very beginning:
“Men usually grow base by degrees. From me, in an instant, all virtue dropped bodily as a mantle” [15].
It’s never clearly aversion what Wilson feels towards his homonymous, a lad who attends the same school, was born the same day and enjoys subtly provoking the narrator.
“It may seem strange that in spite of the continual anxiety occasioned me by the rivalry of Wilson, and his intolerable spirit of contradiction, I could not bring myself to hate him altogether” [16].
A feeling that seems to be mutual:
“(...) there were times when I could not help observing, with a feeling made up of wonder, abasement, and pique, that he mingles with his injuries, his insults, or his contradictions, a certain most inappropriate and assuredly most unwelcome affectionateness of manner”[17].
The relationship between good and bad conscience is a link of love and hate, an interdependence that cannot be renounced, in which nothing is well defined and shades adumbrate all the interstices.
“It is difficult, indeed, to define, or even to describe, my real feelings towards him. They formed a motley and heterogeneous admixture; some petulant animosity, which was not yet hatred, some esteem, more respect, much fear, with a world of uneasy curiosity. To the moralist it will be unnecessary to say, in addition, that Wilson and myself were the most inseparable of companions” [18].

Eventually, Poe isn’t just afraid to sound situations on the edge, but he also doesn’t refrain himself from going beyond the edge: The Adventures of Gordon Pym, far from being a tale for boys, as it could be labelled, is a gruesome and macabre descent into the hell of human cruelties and miseries, a “coming-of-age novel” with a negative mark, in which what the enigmatic ending gives us is more a suspension, a magical-dreamy escape than a resolution.
One of the grisliest and most brilliant scenes is when the four shipwrecked, tormented by an atrocious hunger in the middle of the ocean, decide to resort to the most extreme and inhuman act for the sake of survival: cannibalism.
They have recourse to a trick to decide who among them will be the sacrificed; a sort of Russian roulette in which the one who takes the shortest splinter of wood will be the intended victim.
Where probably any other writer should have smoothed the rough edges off with strokes of uplifting morality, Poe doesn’t refrain from examining the lowest meanness about his narrator, who until the end struggles to find a way to cheat his companions, so much for any feeling of compassion and complicity that are supposed to keep bound a group of people involved in the same tragedy.
Yet “Before any one condemn me for this apparent heartlessness, let him be placed in a situation precisely similar to my own” [19].
Left alone with his companion Parker in the delirious competition, Pym goes through a frightful, horrible feeling towards his friend, under the pressure of an imminent death: “At this moment all the fierceness of the tiger possessed my bosom, and I felt toward my poor fellow-creature, Parker, the most intense, the most diabolical hatred” [20].
Is it the natural selection for the survival sake? Is it the law of homo homini lupus to dominate in the situations on the edge and to get rid of any moral superstructure, of any ethics?
Poe doesn’t seem to offer a definite answer with the narrative of Pym, but rather invites to take the distance from any sterile intellectualism, from the convenience of a rational detachment in order to empathise with the personal experiences.
It’s worthy to notice that Poe overlooks the horrible ending of this event, halting at a step from the edge, at the death of poor Parker, without indulging further. Maybe it was too early to pass a so extreme threshold, by this time a door knocked down by the current literature or cinematography.
The process of Pym’s coming-of-age doesn’t end here, but seems rather to indulge on the repetition of continuous comedowns, of continuous challenges to the eventuality of an accommodating positive ending.
Another brilliant turn of events, preceding shortly before the cannibalism episode and somehow pre-announcing it, is the approaching of a vessel that, to the eyes of the desperate shipwrecked, seems to put an end to long days of starvation, thirst and unease.
But right at the height of the enthusiasm, in the delirium of happiness, the utmost delusion makes its way, the most deceiving of the visions: the vessel – a clear reference to Coleridge’s The Ballad of the Ancient Mariner – it’s a load of dead, where the apparently smiling and gesticulating sailor (another incredibly brilliant idea of an inspired Poe) is nothing but a corpse bound to the edge of the ship and devoured by a seagull leant on his back: his quirky smile is due to the lips eaten up by the bird, his gesticulating provoked by its bites on his torso.
Here, I said, the theme of cannibalism is preannounced, but still there’s a hint of ethics to refrain the souls, when the seagull, a massive blood feathered bird, leaves its prey to hover above the shipwrecked and to drop by their feet a piece of entrails of the poor sailor:
“May God forgive me, but now, for the first time, there flashed through my mind a thought, a thought which I will not mention, and I felt myself making a step toward the ensanguined spot. I looked upward, and the eyes of Augustus met my own with a degree of intense and eager meaning which immediately brought me to my senses. I sprang forward quickly, and, with a deep shudder, threw the frightful thing into the sea”[21].
Not to mention the meeting with the natives. The only two shipwrecked remained, Pym and Peters, are rescued by the ship Jane Guy and together they land at some inhospitable islands at the limits of Antarctica. 
Tsalal inhabitants, primitives in their costumes, yet prove to be welcoming after a starting distrust. Now the reader is inclined to think to a positive outcome, to a happy interaction between two different cultures, where modernity can serenely meet tribal way of living. But it’s not the case.
After weeks of pacific life in common and interaction, the real plan of the tribe comes out: they commit a horrible butchery of the entire foreign crew, out of which just Pym and Peters save themselves thanks to an extraordinary coincidence.
Nothing else remains that escape, aboard of a canoe taken away from the savages. In their flight they are helped by an incredible stream that sucks them and progressively brings them to the edge of the world, supposed to be, according to some odd theories of the time, one of the accesses to the centre of the earth.
White and luridly warm waters run through this portion of planet, enshrouded by a thick mist, in the middle of which a mysterious, gigantic white figure rises.
I wanted to resume this part because it’s undoubtedly one of the most enigmatic and less understood pages written by Poe.
From my point of view with this ending Poe didn’t mean to suggest any definite idea or message. After such a ferociously honest display of human debaucheries as it’s made all throughout the narrative, he simply needed a stratagem to put an end to the story in a sort of suspension; how else could he have concluded it? Any other explicit and rational gloss, maybe with a hint of morality to keep conscience clean, should have been superficial or too much emphatic.
Now, after this digression among some of Poe’s pages, I’m asking you, reader, to re-emerge from the warm white waters of Antarctica with which I ended this journey and to go back to the beginning of the essay, glancing to critics and judgments with different eyes.
Henry James’s words come home to roost despite himself: it’s right primitive the most proper term to define the horror analysed by Poe.
Poe’s horror is primitive and honest.
If you look at where he is set in the context of the gothic tradition, his tales have nothing of the detachment, of the filters – intellectual, moral, geographical – of his precursors. Horace Walpole, Ann Radcliffe, up to the deservedly famous Mary Shelley set their novels in ancient times and in far places, in exotic Mediterranean countries or at best among the woods of an ethereal Switzerland where, according to Nature, passions burst out in distorted way, element from which the Anglo Saxon audience is exonerated and that arouses an unavoidable distance and sense of superiority.
Poe doesn’t have filters, instead and with the device of writing in first person perennially used, the effect resounds like a shock wave to the reader.
It’s perfectly normal that Poe, at least at the beginning, should be misunderstood, scorned “perhaps the most thoroughly misunderstood of all American writers”[22].
It’s perfectly normal that the literary establishment should be upset by the irreverence of the one who seems to be the ‘enfant terrible’ of literature.
The genius of Poe is a simple and straightforward genius that tells the truth in no uncertain terms, that’s why he can be disliked. It’s not always true that geniality resides in complexity, it’s rather often true the opposite: geniality finds its own way in the ability and lucidity of catching the core in complexity.

Simple and straightforward, never trivial.
If he had been trivial, the narrator of The Pit and the Pendulum, for instance, should have died in a bloodbath, as is actually displayed in the trivial movie dedicated to him, The Raven, because “people want gore”, as said by one of the characters and eventually market is what really matters; keeping on the digression for a moment, this movie doesn’t deserve even a review, but just a brief hint: I consider good just the idea at the basis, I mean the play-acting of the tales following the string of events of a serial killer, may be the only way to give a consequentiality to the different narratives, but unfortunately the movie is highlighted for its mediocrity and its risible epilogue. Surely it won’t make the movie history and saying that, I think I won’t dishonour Poe as critic who, if alive, should have harsher words about this film.
Ending the digression, Poe puts in first person the modern man, dissecting his moods in the heat of the moment, like a surgeon dissects a wound without any kind of anaesthetic and although he sets his stories in nearly timeless contexts and in indefinite places – the “never-never land”[23] as called by S.T. Joshi, the message is glaring, who is pointed at is the everyday man, all of us. 
In this way what we detect in his tales it’s not just “a subliminal self endlessly repeated” [24], but a never ending, exponential multiplication of the self, because the duplicities and multiplicities pointed in the characters mirror the duplicities and the multiplicities of us readers.
Poe anticipates psychoanalysis issues with several years and we can say that James’s reaction, as well as that of the other detractors, appears as a mean of defence before the revelation of a disturbing content: to belittle is the most immediate and effective defence.  
 Talking about the artistic process as elaboration of unconscious contents and dynamics: in Marginalia, Poe gives a definition of Art that, according to Robert Regan, should be Carl Gustav Jung’s: “Were I called on to define, very briefly, the term ‘Art’ I should call it ‘the reproduction of what the Senses perceive in Nature through the veil of the Soul”[25].
With the time psychoanalysis should consider attentively Poe’s works, especially in the person of Marie Bonaparte who wrote a very accurate and diligent critical commentary about his output, using Master Freud’s categories.
I’m joining the general comments of disappointment about her commentary, adding that, if Poe undoubtedly opened the way to the unconscious dynamics that later will be dominion of psychoanalysis – in particular about the mechanisms of attraction-repulsion and about the levels of personality – we can’t say, on the other hand, that psychoanalysis has been so much respectful of his works, projecting indiscriminately its own categories on them.
It seems to me, for instance, that interpreting symbolically the Gordon Pym with categories of infantile masturbation and incestuous desires is at least limiting[26].

Merits and limits.
I should assert, as said by Edward H. Davidson, that the strongest point in Poe is also his biggest limit “Poe’s great limitation is the repeated topic of the self” [27].
But that is what mainly contributed to the greatness of his genius and made him the pillar of psychological horror, as Richard Wilbur rightly observes pointing out “the upward and downward spiral motifs that he (Wilbur) believes are symbolic journeys into depths in the self, and that thereby enrich symbolic texture in these writings” [28]. S.T. Joshi is much more peremptory “over the next half-century or more after Poe’s death, we can find no writer who focused single-mindedly upon either supernatural or psychological horror as Poe has done” [29].
The other strong point I’d like to underline is merely stylistic, but it’s also instrumental to the upward and downward psychological spirals I mentioned before: in Poe’s works it’s not infrequent to realise just afterwards of a double level of reading, strongly supported by the use of the first person.
Ligeia is maybe the perfect example in this sense: a supernatural tale at a first superficial reading, it actually turns to be another incredible psychological journey into insanity.
The visions and the bodily transmutation of the dying Lady Rowena into the features of the dead Lady Ligeia are but the figment of the narrator’s delirious mind, supported by an exaggerated use of opium, as he candidly admits, in addition to a sick obsession. To the point we have to reckon with the fact that in reality Lady Ligeia never existed, as it can be suggested by an apparently trivial initial statement “And now, while I write, a recollection flashes upon me that I have never known the paternal name of her who was my friend and my betrothed, and who became the partner of my studies, and finally the wife of my bosom” [30].
But it’s the very incipit of the story, although vague, to show itself to the more attentive readers as a candid confession “I cannot, for my soul, remember how, when or even precisely where, I first became acquainted with the lady Ligeia” [31].
The same stratagem is used in William Wilson, where it’s never totally cleared – it’s evident Poe’s will of maintaining this ambiguity – if the narrator’s antagonist is really another boy or rather the figment of his imagination, already twisted at such a young age, so much so the other school mates seem not to notice the rivalry and the provocations between them, so evident at the eyes of the protagonist.
Yet in all this, is Poe really keeping a distance from his characters? I mean, it has been often insinuated that the ravings described in his tales were his own ravings and this has often aroused the morbidity not just of the public, but also illustrious critics, especially the American ones, whose tendency to indulge on Poe’s alcoholic past records and lifestyle has been for a too long time their favourite hobby, in addition to be the easiest excuse to confine him on the fringes of the literary world.
We have to wait Baudelaire’s nearly devotional admiration, abroad, to reconsider the value of Poe’s output and several years will pass before it should have the proper recognition.
The point is that, as Lovecraft said, fear is “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind (...) and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” [32].
Now, Poe often makes his characters evoke the philosophical reflection and doing that he actually seems to explicate his own thinking, his own point of view. 
If philosophy, according to some contemporary thinkers, is to be explained, more than as wonder, rather as an answer right to terror, to fear of mankind towards the unknown, Poe accuses philosophy (and theology) to have never given proper answers to this question, that is the most urgent one of mankind, because it has always been too much levelled over a rationality that wants to schematise man at any rate, without having first studied materially, honestly, his real dynamics; further, I dare add, leaving all the irrational issues to the exclusive dominion of other sciences, as though these arguments didn’t regard philosophy. As though they didn’t regard mankind.
“It would have been wiser, it would have been safer, to classify  (if classify we must) upon the basis of what man usually or occasionally did, and was always occasionally doing, rather than upon the basis of what we took for granted the Deity intended him to do” [33].
Further on perverseness, he insists “Of this spirit philosophy takes no account”[34].
But obviously philosophy, intended as a rational instrument that man uses to explain the world, is glad to overlook over a land that doesn’t cope to explain. It’s much easier to confine the irrational to the mere field of impulses and in this way considering it not deserving the attention of its inquiry. But doing this means to consider man amputated, lacking a considerable part of himself.
Well, from my point of view it’s not just that Poe anticipated psychoanalytic theories, but also in some subtle way he hinted to the modern crisis of fragmentation of sciences, from which philosophy is certainly not immune and that let it lose sight of the complexity of human being: philosophy can’t be either reason, or irrationality, but rather both the things together and inseparably.
Finally, getting back to strictly literary arguments, it makes you wonder whether prejudice towards the man Poe is also, but not only, a prejudice against the genre: if we think about it attentively, every great writer’s output in the whole is not exempt from faults or falls off. Nonetheless he or she remains a great writer.
In the case of supernatural, psychological horror or fantasy it does exist a sort of double will of finding in it ‘a priori’ a lack of credibility.
As I said above, Poe had to wait several years before enjoying certain recognition, after a whole life passed in economical difficulties. Same destiny was for the great H. P. Lovecraft, dead in poverty and entered in the American literary canon pretty much late.
The question, for me never really faced deeply and honestly, remains opened.
I’m ending this essay pointing out that Poe coped in a big hoax, he, whose irony has been often undervalued: the morbidity with which the public, scholars or not, has been always tried to penetrate his private dimension using it as a weapon to denigrate him, is the very same morbidity and ambiguity that he often laid bare in his tales. Conscious or not, the reader mirrors himself over Poe’s pages. In a continuous run-up of a multiform Self.

[1] Robert Regan, Poe. A Collection of Critical Essays, Prentice-Hall, Inc, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1967, p.147.
[2] S.T. Joshi, Introduction to American Supernatural Tales, Penguin Classics, London, 2007, p. xiii.
[3] Robert Regan, op. cit., p. 2.
[4] Aldous Huxley, From “Vulgarity in Literature”, in Robert Regan, op. cit. pp. 31-37.
[5] H.P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature, in Eldritch Tales. A miscellaneous of the Macabre, Gollancz, London, 2011, p. 456.
[6] James W. Gargano, The Question of Poe’s Narrators, in Robert Regan, op. cit., p. 164.
[7] E.A. Poe, The Black Cat, in The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Wordsworth Editions Limited, London, 2009, p. 62.  
[8] Ibid. p. 63.
[9] Ibid. p. 63.
[10]Ibid., p. 63.
[11]Ibid., p. 596.
[12] E.A. Poe, op. cit., p. 264.
[13] Ibid. p. 263.
[14] Ibid, p. 113.
[15] E.A. Poe, William Wilson, in E.A. Poe, op. cit., p. 151.
[16] Ibid., p. 155.
[17] Ibid., p. 154.
[18] Ibid., p. 155.
[19] E.A. Poe, The Narrative of  A. Gordon Pym of Nantucket, in E.A. Poe, op. cit., p. 652.
[20] Ibid., p. 652.
[21] Ibid., p. 644.
[22] Floyd Stovall, The Conscious Art of Edgar Allan Poe, in Robert Regan, op. cit., p. 172.
[23] S. T. Joshi, op. cit., p. xiv.
[24] Allen Tate, Our Cousin, Mr Poe, in Robert Regan, op. cit., p. 40.
[25] Robert Regan, op. cit., pp. 6-7.
[26] See Sidney Kaplan, An Introduction to Pym, in Robert Regan, op. cit., p. 153.
[27] Benjamin F. Fisher, The Cambridge Introduction to Edgar Allan Poe, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2008, p. 119.
[28] Ibid., p. 119.
[29] S. T. Joshi, op. cit., p. xiii.
[30] E.A. Poe, Ligeia, in E.A. Poe, op. cit., p. 95. For a complete essay about this subject see Roy P. Basler,  The Interpretation of Ligeia, in Robert Regan, op. cit., pp. 51-63.
[31] Ibid., p. 94.
[32] H.P. Lovecraft, op. cit., p. 423.
[33] E.A. Poe, The Imp of Perverseness, in E.A. Poe, op. cit., p. 262.
[34] E.A. Poe, The Black Cat, in E.A. Poe, op. cit., p. 63

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