- From the Editor:Reading Poe (and Poe Studies) Now
Eight brief months ago, a group of international Poe scholars gathered in Almería, Spain for a wonderful conference on Poe—Beyond Childhood and Adolescence. . . Growing with Edgar Allan Poe—sponsored by the Edgar Allan Poe Spanish Association. The presentations at the conference covered a wide variety of contemporary and historical topics in Poe studies from his international influence to his continued presence in Spain, from psychoanalysis to disability studies, from Poe anthologies to Poe translations, and from visual art to popular culture. In one of the keynote addresses, J. Gerald Kennedy spoke to us about "Reading Poe in a Dark Time," but I do not think that any of us there knew how much darker times were about to become. The conference was "normal" in all of the ways that now seem foreign. Colleagues gathered together throughout the event. We sat close to one another to listen to speakers, we ate and drank together at venues that may or may not still exist, we socialized (no need for distancing), and the only mask in sight was Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death." With the exceptions of our hosts, we all travelled to Almería via plane, bus, or train without fearing that our methods of transportation might seriously threaten our health or the health of our fellow passengers.
Reality has certainly changed since February, but Poe remains as important as ever. The internet, newspapers, magazines, and academic venues have all been abuzz with commentary on and analysis of Poe's fictional portrayals of pandemics, especially the aforementioned "Masque." Poe's theorizing of effect and his thoughts on terror—specifically the overwhelming power of the fear of the unknown as depicted in pieces like "The Pit and the Pendulum"—are painfully relevant in our current moment of magnified uncertainty.
Poe once claimed in a letter to Thomas W. White that "[t]o be appreciated you must be read" (Letters, 1:85). By this marker, Poe has been appreciated for well over a century, but why do we read and re-read Poe today? We continue to read, to study, and to write about Poe now, in uncertain times, because his works seem prescient in their engagement with the pressing issues of our current world. From race relations to climate change and from populism to [End Page v] pandemics, Poe—for better and for worse—has a lot to say. This strange timeliness brings us back to Poe for beauty, for fear, for obsession, for critique, and for resilience.
In our current volume, Poe Studies (re)turns to Poe in innovative ways. First, the special feature on Poe and the Middle East sheds new light on Poe's representations of the Holy Land, his continual burial of Arabic source material, the appropriation of his persona and his works by disparate Hebrew intellectuals and politicians, his "haunting" of Ottoman-Turkish literature, and the juxtaposition of his horror with the horror of Iranian cinema. The articles in this feature, as Karen Grumberg notes in her introduction, take the study of Poe and the Middle East "beyond Orientalism." Second, the renowned French scholar and Poe translator, Henri Justin, gives Poe's "X-ing a Paragrab" perhaps the most sustained attention it has ever received and requires us to take this tale more seriously (dead seriously, in fact) than most Poe readers ever have. And third, the inaugural iteration of our new feature—"Newly Translated Poe Scholarship"—offers Sergio Waisman's eloquent translations of Jorge Luis Borges's two main articles on Poe. Looking to the future, our next volume will contain a special feature on Poe, islands, and archipelagoes that both reiterates his timeliness and reveals some of his limits by placing his works in conversation with the contemporary field of archipelagic American studies. [End Page vi]