- Locating Poe on New Maps
In our age of Google Maps, smartphone mapping applications, and global positioning systems (GPS), we have ready access to maps. And we expect these maps to be easily customized to our individual needs, preferences, and interests and to give us multiple perspectives and options (street view vs. satellite; best routes for walking, cycling, or driving; most direct route vs. fastest, and so on). Long gone are the days when a AAA travel agent dictated our route, marked with a highlighter, and we dared not stray from the prescribed path. Kennedy and McGann’s impressive collection of new essays on Poe, which grew out of a 2009 symposium at the University of Virginia, throws out the long-used map of antebellum literary culture, one in which a handful of male writers in the northeastern United States dominated the production and reception of literature and a marginalized Poe lacked both access and influence. Like the new maps made possible by recent technological innovations, the ten essays in this collection provide various maps of their landscape, the vibrantly diverse print culture of the antebellum period in which Poe was an active participant, and offer readers multiple paths to their destination, an understanding of how Poe was positioned within this culture—eschewing the notion that any of these is the map that will definitively reveal to us Poe’s location.
The volume explicitly redraws the period-naming and canon-defining map provided by F. O. Matthiessen’s American Renaissance (1941), which defined Poe as an outsider in American literary and political thought, and builds on the numerous scholarly remappings of Poe and his culture that have appeared in recent decades, including Meredith McGill’s American Literature and the Culture of Reprinting: 1834–1853 [Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 2003]; Eliza Richards’s Gender and the Poetics of Reception in Poe’s Circle [Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004]; Terence Whalen’s Edgar Allan Poe and the Masses: The Political Economy of Literature in Antebellum America [Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1999]; Jonathan Elmer’s Reading at the Social Limit: Affect, Mass Culture, and Edgar Allan Poe [Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1995]; and the essays in The American Face of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Shawn Rosenheim and Stephen Rachman [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1995]. As it does [End Page 104] so, the volume intends, according to Kennedy, “to remap literary America not by focusing on a cluster of luminaries in the Northeast but rather by reconstructing the network of relationships, authorial and institutional, within a decentralized system of distribution” by “confront[ing] the messiness, complexity, and volatility of the antebellum literary world” .
An immediately interesting aspect of this project is that, according to several of the contributors, Poe himself engaged in a project of remapping antebellum literary culture that parallels in significant ways the agenda of this collection. For example, Kennedy’s contribution to the volume, the essay “Inventing the Literati: Poe’s Remapping of Antebellum Print Culture,” convincingly tracks Poe’s efforts to broaden his readers’ understanding of the complex composition of American letters in the 1830s and 1840s. By examining Poe’s “Autography” pieces, “The Literati of New York City,” the prospectuses for his planned magazines, and the manuscript of “The Living Writers of America” (1846–47), Kennedy demonstrates Poe’s depiction of the nation’s literary culture as diverse in geography (including writers in the West and South), inclusive of women writers, and alert to the significant role of editors of newspapers and magazines. Kennedy argues that Poe as a cultural cartographer perceived himself to be playing a crucial role on a far-flung literary map: “he worked to reify a national republic of letters, diverse yet unified, whose center Poe imagined to be himself or an editorial cabal of influential writers . . . who would unite secretly to produce ‘a Magazine of high character’” . Kennedy’s essay ends by placing Poe’s efforts in the context of both anthologists and visual artists engaged in similar...