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John CarlosRowe Space, the Final Frontier: Poe’sEureka as Imperial Fantasy Space exploration, satellite transmissions of communications’ media, and extraterrestrial defense systems such as “Star Wars” remind us that the politicalstrugglesfor power are no longer tied to earth. Contracts for intellectualproperty routinely include rights to “the earth and outer space,” impressing some as fanciful but legally designating “territories” already penetrated by human communications’technologies.President John F. Kennedy’s designation of NASA’s space explorationaspart of his “NewFrontier”hasbeen frequentlycited asan instance of how nineteenthcentury Manifest Destiny was used to support new economicand foreign policies that included both U.S. ambitions around the globe and outer space. The “conquest of space” and efforts to “put a man on the moon,” both crucial phrases in the “space race” of the 1960s, depend upon a broader technological sublime, whose cultural history begins with romanticism’s struggle to transcend the sensuous, corporeal, and natural aspects of existence for the sake of a completely ”spiritualized”humanity. In my previousinterpretationsof EdgarAlan Poe asa “herald”of the “Americanempire,”I have stressed Poe’s aesthetics,rather than his interests in science and technology, as the basis for his hierarchiesof race,gender,and class,which are the crucial predicates for the “white man’s burden” of modernization.’ Poe attempts to identlfy his poeticand rhetoricalgeniuswith the civilizingmission and general progress of nineteenthcentury imperial ideology. In his works most explicitly concerned with travel, exploration,and colonialism , Poe often pits his literary talents against the scientific,economic,and technologicaladvantages associatedwith Europeanimperialexpansion.For example, Poe parodies the scientific details in many eighteenth- and nineteenthcentury travel narrativesto createpoeticopportunitiesandweave complexspiritualallegoriesin works like TheNarrative o f Arthur Gordon 5 m ,“TheJournal ofJulius Rodman,” and “A Descent into the Maelstrdm.” Initially,European invadersof the WesternHemisphere used religious conversion to justlfy their selfishmotives. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the systematizing of colonialism into imperial networks relied on arguments based on the “advancement” of science and knowledge. Cook’svoyages,Lewisand Clark‘sexpedition,and Humboldt and Bonpland’s travels were commissioned in largepart to map new territories,gather specimens for scientificstudy, and develop commercial routes and opportunities. Even in works with no ostensiblereliance on travel and exploration , Poe often invokes this colonial imagination. The very presence of the orangutan in Paris in “TheMurdersin the RueMorgue”remindsus not merelyof the sailorwhobroughthim fromtheEast Indiesbut of the natural and cultural dislocations occasionedby Eurocolonialism. Poe admires and emulates powerful men and mythic heroes, striving to ally literature with militaryconquest,scientificknowledge,economic wealth, and political rule. His envy and ambition are by no means unusual among his contempraries . Emerson’s “Man Thinking” is variously compared with God, Napoleon, and such scientists as Newton and Herschel; Whitman models his poetic self onJesus, Columbus,and Lincoln.* Despitehis criticismof theAmericantranscendentalists , Poe endorsed their claims regarding art’s powerfulinfluencein modern societies,especially in its ability to expand our horizons and carry us into new territory.To be sure,such “frontiers”are conventionally designated “spiritual” or “tran- 20 Poe Studies/Dark Romanticism scendental,”even when they are metaphorized as “TheDomain ofArnheim,”the gothic castlein the “Apennines”of “TheOvalPortrait,” the narrator’s home in “thedim and decayingcity by the Rhine” of “Ligeia,”and “themelancholyHouse of Usher” in “a singularly dreary tract of country” (Works, 3:1267; 2:662,320, 397). Poe’s fictional locations appear to be deliberately abstract, fictional embodiments of his imagination, but they often depend on surprisingly precise historical referents. In “The Oval Portrait” (1845),Pedro makes “forcibleentrance” into a chateau “among the Apennines,” “rather than permit” his master, the narrator of the story, who is in a “desperately wounded condition,” to pass “anight in the open air” (Works, 2:662). The narrator admits that his “deep interest” in the chateau’s painting might have been caused by his “incipient delirium,” occasioned, we are led to believe, by his wounds. The first published version of the story, “Lifein Death,” details how this “delirium”is induced by the “opium”the narrator usually smokesmixed with tobacco in his hookah, a “habit of smoking the weed with the drug” he “acquired“atConstantinople.”Sufferingfrom an “excessive”“fever”“of long duration” and blood lost “in the affraywith the banditti,” the narrator of “Life in Death” resorts to desperate measures and swallows...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1754-6095
Print ISSN
1947-4644
Pages
pp. 19-27
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-07
Open Access
No
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