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  • Introduction:Beyond Orientalism—Edgar Allan Poe and the Middle East
  • Karen Grumberg (bio)

Edgar Allan Poe's writing travels well. Through Charles Baudelaire's French translations, Poe's works enthralled Parisian readers and proceeded to make their way across Europe and beyond.1 Poe's transformation into "world author" was taking place at almost the same time as his establishment as a US author. Evocative analyses of Poe's translation into Icelandic, Japanese, Arabic, Spanish, and many more languages complement the exposés of his influence on authors around the globe. Poe has been translated and retranslated, read and reread, adapted and imitated, offering a particularly rich illustration of the transnational and translinguistic circulation that David Damrosch emphasizes in his characterization of world literature.2 The scholarly interest in Poe as a participant in a global literary network is readily evident in the proliferation of recent studies such as Poe Abroad, "Cosmopolitan Poe," Poe's Pervasive Influence, Translated Poe, and "Poe and his Global Advocates. "3 While scholars have long been concerned with Poe's influence on specific authors and literary traditions—for example, on French literature via Baudelaire, Stéphane Mallarmé, or Paul Valéry; on Argentine literature via Horacio Quiroga, Jorge Luis Borges, or Julio Cortázar; or on Japanese literature via Edogawa Rampo or Ryūnosuke Akutagawa—the studies cited above indicate a shift in approach, reframing individual cases collectively as the basis of Poe's status as a world author. There is by now no doubt of Poe's foresight when he expressed in a letter to John Allan on December 22, 1828: "the world shall be my theatre" (Letters, 1:17). The global stagings of Poe's works tell their own distinctive stories, which, taken together, link Poe to the discourse on world literature.

Another body of scholarship that considers Poe's interaction with the wider world focuses on his Orientalism. Poe's representation of themes and aesthetics associated with Central Asia and the Middle East has been read [End Page 3] alongside those of his contemporaries in the United States and Europe.4 Like them, Poe drew from widespread stereotypes, not to engage meaningfully with the region as a home to people with distinctive, complex cultures, but rather to infuse his poetry and prose with an exotic, mysterious atmosphere. Decades before Edward Said published his seminal study on the subject, critics had already commented on the Orientalism of Poe's works (with some earlier critics betraying their own Orientalizing tendencies). There is no question that Poe's perception of "the East" furnished a treasure trove of objects and behaviors that would help stylize stories like "Ligeia" and poems like "Al Aaraaf." The question of Poe's Orientalism continues to provoke compelling avenues of inquiry and analysis that occasionally produce incompatible interpretations. Schueller, for instance, reads Poe's works, and specifically "Ligeia," as offering "a parodied Orientalist discourse [that] intersects with discourses on Southern nationalism and sexuality. "5 This reading of Poe's Orientalism as a politically strategic appropriation and revision contrasts with others that consider it political only by virtue of the disengagement from the real it seems to afford Poe. For example, Gruesser's reading of "Ligeia" critiques what it sees as Poe's unproblematized use of Orientalist tropes by applying Said's core ideas to the story: "'Ligeia,' like Orientalism, portrays the intellectual, if not the political, dangers of allowing a paper construct to take the place of that which actually exists. "6 In the critical imagination, Poe's employment of Orientalist tropes has been interpreted both in keeping with conventional Western Orientalism and as its subtle subversion.

Poe's Orientalist representation of the Middle East, while significant, speaks to a single facet of his works' engagement with the region. What of the region's engagement with Poe? How did (and how do) readers, authors, and other producers and consumers of culture in the Middle East understand his poems and stories? What are the challenges and rewards of bringing Poe's works into contact with new linguistic spheres and diverse cultural contexts? How might such interactions affect our reading of Poe? These questions underpin this special feature on "Poe and the Middle...


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