Friday, November 30, 2018

Edgar Allan Poe

I'd wanted to read the stories of Edgar Allan Poe for some time. But now, having finished a portion of those contained in the Oxford collection, I'm not certain they were worth the wait. 

For one, Poe's writing doesn't hold up well: certainly, he has a style; but his syntax is complex to the point of extremity. There are no simple sentences here; each paragraph reads as a rhetorical maze. For me, this distracted from the stories themselves: it was as if, having navigated Poe's prose, I found myself without sufficient energy to enjoy his stories. 

About those stories: there's a real element of the perverse here. Each of the tales I read made reference -- whether obliquely or otherwise -- to death, pain, and violence. I don't know enough to say whether those themes punctuated Poe's own life, but it's clear that he found them central to his fictional pursuits. 

For me, the stories stressed the power embedded in pain: indeed, each act of violence, each moment of darkness seemed to hint at an alternate universe, one through which Poe's characters must pass before returning to the familiar. But that return -- that longing to prove sanity -- is so often frustrated: violence cannot be overcome, because the world, Poe seems to argue, is bound by a perpetual state of conflict. 

Sometimes, that conflict manifests in the external world as violence between men. But more often, judging from these stories, it surfaces internally: characters cannot control themselves in the face of their demons. They wrestle with internal conflict to the point of perversion. In some sense, then, the violence here knows no bounds...

...Save in Poe's own writing, which, in its complication, limits the full expression of that violence. This was a dark, but ultimately impenetrable collection of stories.    

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