Monday, 4 January 2016

On Poe and the Academic Tendency.

I’m not sure I would have liked Edgar Allan Poe very much. For a start, he had some characteristics too similar to mine, and I’m not my own biggest fan; and those which were most unlike mine would probably have encouraged me to like him even less. He did, however, glory in two indisputable facts: he was a superb writer and a most formidable subversive. I like those two.

Who else, for example, would spend the first four and half pages of a detective story – The Murders in the Rue Morgue – engaged in deep commentary on the subject of ‘analysis,’ followed by further commentary on the respective mental qualities needed to succeed in chess, drafts and whist, concluding with a projected assessment of how those respective qualities might benefit a person engaged in other fields? It’s fascinating stuff brilliantly written.

And I sympathise with the fact that he seems to be the victim of that academic tendency to ascribe hidden phallic allusion to every mention of a cigar. I’ve read several accounts of Poe’s life and works, and have come across a number of references to the ‘implicit incestuous relationship’ between Roderick and Madeline Usher in The Fall of the House of Usher. I read it again tonight (and what a splendid story it is if you don’t mind decompressed fiction) and the only statement I found concerning the relationship between brother and sister comes from the narrator:

… I learned that the deceased (Madeline) and himself had been twins, and that sympathies of a scarcely intelligible nature had always existed between them.

I take this – not unreasonably, I think – as referring to the unusually empathic understanding which I believe is common in twins. Why assume anything different?

Well, I suppose brothers and sisters will always be brothers and sisters, and academics will always be academics. And maybe I missed something.

No comments: