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Poe: The Trauma of an Era

Óscar Xavier Altamirano

Despite the attention lavished on Edgar Allan Poe, his long-standing status as a «critical orphan» endures. He is known as much for a poem, a story and a biographical myth as for his extraordinary body of work, often written off as second rate. He is a writer obscurely cherished by lovers of the macabre, oversimplified and entangled in sophisticated theoretical analyses and judgements that fail to consider the esoteric doctrines central to his work. In other words, lost between the initiated and the profane, Poe has become a gigantic puzzle and one that needs reassembling. His writings remain elusive, while his role in the literary history of our age defies canonicity.

An intellectual history that fills this crucial gap by restoring Poe to his turbulent historical context, this book recovers the philosophical and esoteric complexity of a riddler, a satirist and a biting social critic in his struggle to make sense of the cardinal malaises and dominant ideas of a revolutionary age, confronted with a new and shattering conception of man, nature and the universe. It reconsiders the way we read, study and present Poe to future generations, decoding with exceptional clarity the enigmas of a monumental writer – a cult figure – who is inseparable from the historical consciousness of the modern world.

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Chapter 1: The Poe Case


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The Poe Case

‘But, if this is the case, how’, it will be asked, ‘can so much misunderstanding have arisen? Is it conceivable that a thousand profound scholars, investigating so very simple a matter for centuries, have not been able to place it in the fullest light, at least, of which it is susceptible?’ These queries, I confess, are not easily answered: – at all events a satisfactory reply to them might cost more trouble than would, if properly considered, the whole vexata quæstio to which they have reference. Nevertheless, there is little difficulty or danger in suggesting that the ‘thousand profound scholars’ may have failed, first because they were scholars, secondly because they were profound, and thirdly because they were a thousand – the impotency of the scholarship and profundity having been thus multiplied a thousand fold.

— POE, ‘The Rationale of Verse’, Southern Literary Messenger (1848)

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