The Poetics of Haunting and the Haunting of Poetics: Author and Reader as Uncanny Doubles in the Work of Edgar Allan Poe
Caruso, John Charles
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This project examines the crucial tension between author and reader that animates Poe's poetic theories and gives rise to the doppelganger as the central figure in all of his work. This study begins by exploring how Poe has emerged in recent years as one of the most original and enduring of antebellum American authors despite his long dismissal by literary scholars as juvenile, vulgar, and merely popular. As the young nation's foremost critic and (along with his contemporary Nathaniel Hawthorne) its primary innovator in the modern short story form, Poe insists that by combining a focus on compositional "unity of effect" with skillful and meticulous literary craftsmanship, a text can be made to embody authorial intention so fully that it completely determines the reader's experience and thus enforces authorial control over the work's meaning. Yet, as his many uncanny tales and morbid explorations of liminal states serve to attest, Poe recognized the vexed nature of textual ontology. Poe's poetic theory breaks down by what modern theorists would call "the death of the author." That is, while wanting to control the reader's experience, Poe comes to fear the reader's ultimate freedom and thus the failure of his own theory. The reader becomes his uncanny double. Performing a thorough analysis of the poetic theories Poe develops in his reviews and essays not only illuminates Poe's choice of haunting psychological themes but also opens up new ways of reading his tales and poems while beginning to explain why his work so profoundly continues to haunt us.
- English