Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe by Daniel Hoffman (1998-10-06) Paperback – January 1, 1821
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- ASIN : B01HC9OPCA
- Publisher : Louisiana State University Press (January 1, 1821)
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In mostly clear prose, Hoffman points out reoccurring motifs and plot elements in Poe's work, makes you want to go back and re-read certain stories to find things you missed. For instance, what exactly is the relation of the old man in "The Tell-Tale Heart" to his murderer?
He finds, appropriately enough for a writer so famously concerned with unity of effect in his work, that there is a common theme and philosophy in Poe's works.
As I understand his argument, and greatly simplifying a 335 page book, Hoffman contends Poe was most obsessed with Beauty as symbolized most often by the death of a beautiful woman, "the most poetical topic in the world" according to Poe. That Beauty, which to Poe was the same as Truth, passes into another realm, a realm that we can access upon death when we are re-unified with the universe. There our powers of "ratiocination", Poe's phrase applied to the powers of Auguste Dupin, the ur-private detective of world literature, can be used unhindered by the tribulations of our flesh in this world.
This great metaphysical idea, argues Hoffman, is there in Poe's earliest poems. (Hoffman, as a poet, in not very impressed by Poe's poetry.) He thinks the idea was much better worked out in his stories and in what Hoffman claims is Poe's masterpiece: Eureka: A Prose Poem .
Hoffman has done a good job explaining what's really going on in Poe's odd -- and rather boring -- Eureka. He has convinced me it is not a piece of crank science, but, as Poe said, an "Art-Product". A literary work that tries to explain the natural world, but is not science itself, is not without precedence. Most famous is Lucretius De Rerum Naturia, which examined the idea of an atomistic universe. But there were others, less known: The Enneads by Plotinos, Sir John Davies' Orchestra, and W. B. Yeats' later A Vision. (None of which I'm familiar with.)
Reunifying with the universe is what's at the end of "Ms. Found in a Bottle" and Pym as their heroes hurtle toward mysterious dooms that also promise revelation of the universe's mysteries. It's what the revelation from beyond death's veil is at the end of "The Colloquy of Monos and Una".
The book is, in the end, a look at Poe's metaphysics and just how obsessive Poe was about expressing them in many poems and stories, but there are enlightening side trips as Hoffman breaks down his examination of Poe's stories into groups.
There are the "disentanglements", Poe's stories of detection and ratiocination. Hoffman credits Poe with the brilliant innovation of creating a sidekick for Dupin, a character that both allows the detective to explain his deduction and whose relative stupidity we can relate to.
Somebody going somewhere and reporting back is, as Hoffman points out, a typical Poe device, and he looks at Poe's "Voyages".
In the "Dull Realities" section, we look at Poe's not always successful satires and hoaxes and japes of American life and the often underlying seriousness and disenchantment with his lot as an impoverished man barely making a living while trying to better American letters.
Stories with doppelgangers, madness, murder, and Poe's famous "imp of the perverse" get their own section as do stories of peculiar marriages.
Hoffman seems a devotee of W. H. Auden's New Criticism school, so he often feels the need to find some sort of allegory in Poe's stories. I'm somewhat skeptical. Sometimes stories are just stories, but he also does point out that Poe didn't swear off allegory, just bad allegory that didn't work in the context of a story.
While he frequently resorts to Freudian analysis, he's not prepared to go as far as Marie Bonaparte's The life and works of Edgar Allan Poe,: A psycho-analytic interpretation; , and he mocks her at points. However, he goes off the rails with an unconvincing analysis of "The Fall of the House of Usher".
Hoffman's prose is sometimes idiosyncratic. We get references to "Idgar Poe" and "Hoaxiepoe". The book is also something of a dual biography: Hoffman's lifelong study of Poe and the writer's life.
The book concludes with a nice chapter on why Poe the man has so many legends of madness and intoxication about him. I agree with Hoffman that, because Poe so frequently wrote about our dark desires to harm ourselves, his "imp of the perverse", Freud's "death wish", we can not accept that, in the end, his was a gentleman who contended with poverty and, perhaps, alcoholism
Hoffman uses a lot of ink focusing on works that are not the typical Poe works most often read. In lieu of extensive discussions on "The Tell-Tale Heart" or "The Black Cat," he writes about Poe's only complete novel "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket" as well as "Eureka," Poe's nonfiction essay on the origins of the universe. It's fascinating to try to figure out if Hoffman really is a Poe fan, or if his occasionally-caustic assessment qualifies him as another Griswold who can only reluctantly admit there are some gems hidden somewhere in Poe's body of works.