Abstract

Abstract:

In "The Black Cat" Poe's narrator discovers an odd pictorial representation of a crime he just committed. An "impression" of the cat he killed appears with astonishing accuracy—even the rope around the animal's neck—on his bedroom wall. This portrait resembles a daguerreotype in its placement, its durability, its verisimilitude, and its effect on viewers. The narrator's explanation for how it was produced alludes, moreover, to Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre's pioneering technique for developing images on photosensitive plates that have been exposed in a camera obscura. Indeed, "The Black Cat" grotesquely parodies each step in Daguerre's procedure, as Poe himself depicted it in his initial essay on "The Daguerreotype" The proliferating forms, figures, and facsimiles of the black cat—including how the story's second half recapitulates the first—recall other aspects of daguerreotypes, such as their print reproduction and their use in postmortem portraiture. Although the processes described in this story clearly suggest daguerreotypy they produce different results. "The Black Cat" reflects not only Poe's familiarity with early photography but also his awareness of techniques for resisting or assisting decomposition, as explained by chemists like Humphry Davy, Justus von Liebig, and Alexander Petzholdt. Whereas early photography provided a means to preserve optical reflections—including those of family members who have died—Poe's narrator attempts to abolish such traces of the past. By modeling the macabre processes that the narrator describes on Daguerre's technique for developing latent photographic images, Poe's horror story transforms the very nature of the daguerreotype portrait to emphasize not preservation, but decay.

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Additional Information

ISSN
2166-2932
Print ISSN
2150-0428
Pages
pp. 206-232
Launched on MUSE
2018-11-14
Open Access
No
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