- Abstracts for PSA Panels at the MLA
129th MLA Annual Convention, Chicago, January 9–12, 2014
324. Hoaxing Poe
Friday, January 10, 1:45–3:00 p.m.
Program arranged by the Poe Studies Association
Presiding: Paul Lewis, Boston College
1. “The Hoaxing Impulse in Poe’s ‘Macabre’ Tales,” Tamari Cheishvili, Akaki Tsereteli State University
The purpose of the present paper is to discuss the hoaxing impulse in Poe’s “macabre”/“Gothic” tales rather than analyze his specific hoaxes. What I suggest here is the view of Poe as a hoaxer in a broader sense of the word. Within the last forty years the comic side of Poe has come to seem important for an adequate reading of his Gothic works. Earlier criticism offers a psychoanalytic reading of Poe as a driven hysteric and views him as a romantic sentimentalist. It draws a rigid distinction between Poe’s “serious” and “comic” works. More recent criticism views Poe as a detached, intellectual artist, a deliberate literary hoaxer who mediates terror by an irony that demonstrates intellectual control (G. R. Thompson). Critics have begun to suspect that even his most famous “Gothic” works have ironic double and triple perspectives playing upon them. Even in Poe’s allegedly “serious,” “macabre” tales full of “too horrible grotesquerie,” such “The Black Cat,” “Ligeia,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and “The Pit and the Pendulum,” there is likely to be an undercurrent of unexpressed mockery that is either at cross-purposes with, or a counterpart to, the apparent meaning or intent of the surface plot. Paul Lewis develops a different perspective, in a way reconciling the previous ones—he argues that it is useful to move beyond purely literary concerns toward an analysis rooted in ongoing work in the psychology of humor. He tries to find a middle ground between the old psychoanalytic reading of Poe and the more recent view of Poe as detached, intellectual artist. Criticizing the one-sided view of Poe as a detached artist and Gothic ironist always in control of his material, he convincingly argues that this kind of criticism misses the collapse of humor in the face of fear and fails to see the desperation in Poe’s humor. In a similar vein, Daniel Royot argues that Poe was a Janus figure who viewed the world in two [End Page 249] opposite directions, yet sometimes provided a dual perspective to reconcile extremes paradoxically. Behind Poe’s comic masks he sees the expression of contradictions between appearance and reality. This Janus figure impersonated both the clown and the genial transgressor who challenge dogma and induce a cheerful nihilism.
In the present paper I will try, slightly modifying and combining the above-described various trends/approaches in Poe criticism, on the one hand, to demonstrate that the Gothic “entourage” in Poe’s tales is only facade and as such becomes a target of the author’s subtle ridicule and irony. There is ample proof of Poe’s antipathy for the tricks and excesses of Gothic novelists. On the other hand, I’ll try to make it clear that most of Poe’s “Gothic” tales are examples of his extraordinary versatility in combining amusing and horrifying elements with seemingly matter-of-fact detail.
2. “More on Poe’s ‘Oh, Tempora! Oh, Mores!’” Richard Kopley, Pennsylvania State University, DuBois
In the second edition of his The Complete Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (1917), J. H. Whitty writes in a note to Poe’s poem “Oh, Tempora! Oh, Mores!” “A copy reading like the above verses is still preserved by a stepdaughter of Mr. Mackenzie, with an account of how it came to be written by Poe in the year 1826” (171). That stepdaughter was Flora Lapham Mack, whose stepfather John H. Mackenzie had been Poe’s best friend. Ms. Mack sought information from her stepfather about Poe and years later wrote to William Lanier Washington with what she had learned, anticipating that Washington would write a biography of Poe. But he never did. Letters from Ms. Mack to Mr. Washington of February 29, 1908, and March 31, 1908, offer the account to which Whitty referred. Evidently, Poe resented...