- Transatlantic Poe: Eliot, Williams, and Huxley, Readers of the French Poe by Maria Filippakopoulou
“This is one of the ‘others’—a suggestive book,” noted Poe in 1844 about L’An 2440 by Sebastien Mercier, an early science fiction work that has since been quite forgotten; the same may be said enthusiastically about Maria Filippakopoulou’s Transatlantic Poe, whose afterlife in scholarship deserves to be more enduring. This is a remarkable book in Poe studies that eschews a reflection on Poe’s life and on the content value of his work. Instead, it foregrounds Poe as a model of what Pascale Casanova in The World Republic of Letters (2004) has called littérarisation: translation (broadly interpreted by Filippakopoulou in a book that challenges the notion of linguistic nativity) as negotiation of literary prestige both of the object’s symbolic value and of its receiving agents. Transatlantic Poe, while examining the extent to which Poe became a “spectral original” (27) when adopted by the French and “an adulterated version of Poe” (128) when reassessed in the English-speaking world, rewards the reader with several insights on the poetics and ideologies of important literary figures who had to negotiate the significance of Poe across the Atlantic: Baudelaire, Williams, Eliot, and Huxley.
This is also a relevant book for translation studies that does not address any single translation of Poe. Instead, it dedicates three chapters to the metadiscourses that consubstantiate what the author chooses to call “Baudelaire’s project,” a critical enterprise that led to the realignment of the value of Poe in his source culture and made him pivotal for an inexhaustible stream of metadiscourses. The study of these “rewritings” was defended early on the turn toward translation in comparative studies, by Susan Bassnett and André Lefevere, as an alternative paradigm to the interpretation monograph in literary studies. This is, finally, a courageous book in reception studies, which supersedes the traditional comparative approach of the dual frameworks of original and receiving authors. Instead, it opts for a “polyprismatic or stereoscopic account” (230) that radicalizes the volatile space of the original and foregrounds value exchanges exploding bilateral considerations of source and target.
In respect to the singular recognition of Poe by Baudelaire, who posited him as a transatlantic older brother, Filippakopoulou’s book shares a rather understated insight of Patrick F. Quinn’s The French Face of Edgar Poe (1957): that the [End Page 199] facile criticism of American democracy by the French poet was a populist bait to enforce the more radical and modern(ist) idea of the alienation of the literary author from any nationalist generalization. Transatlantic Poe also honors a long line of research dating back to Léon Lemonnier’s Les Traducteurs d’Edgar Poe in 1928 and extending to the ever-rising interest in Poe’s reception and translation attested by the edited collections Poe Abroad (1999), Poe’s Pervasive Influence (2012), and Translated Poe (2014).
As the very title of Filippakopoulou’s book indicates, however, the novelty it brings to Poe’s reception scholarship is the outlook of the relatively recent field of Transatlantic studies, spurred in the cusp of the twenty-first century by academics such as Paul Giles, Will Kaufman, or the late Susan Manning (to whom this study is dedicated), to question place-based identities and monocultural visions, and to subject them to a “critical relativism” (20) mindful of the “reflective operations” (21) of the increasingly intense cross-Atlantic exchanges modeling (at least) the Western worldview. Giles’s definition of transatlantic comparativism is given as a “strategy to fracture the boundaries of established institutions and scholarly disciplines” (16), and the resistance to reductively disentangle threads is procured by the author through “a conflation” between “the method and the content value” (227). How such concurrence is to be achieved is never clearly explained, but one of the keywords advanced is “argumentative development” (24), from which we may infer that the preferred method—itself a blend of methodologies from critical linguistics, close reading grounded in New Historicism, translation...