The Post-Kantian Poe

From the Guest Editors 

“Theory Mad Beyond Redemption”: The Post-Kantian Poe 

Sean Moreland, Jonathan Murphy and Devin Zane Shaw

Early in “The Poetic Principle” (1850), Poe warns his readers that, despite his attempt to articulate the principle of poetry, he has no “design to be either thorough or profound.”  He mocks both those who overestimate the power of epic poetry (that “epic mania” cherished by German Romanticism) and those Bostonian didacts who would confuse “Poetic dignity and force” with the severity of Truth, writing that one “must be theory-mad beyond redemption who […] shall still persist in attempting to reconcile the obstinate oils and waters of Poetry and Truth.”  Yet, as the essays in this collection attest, Poe himself was, in his various engagements with Kantian and post-Kantian philosophy, as “theory-mad ” as those writers he sought to distance himself from.

This special issue of the Edgar Allan Poe Review is primarily intended to address these multifaceted engagements. A secondary impetus behind this collection has been to reconcile two competing tendencies in Poe scholarship:  the antagonism between materially- and theoretically-oriented approaches to the author and his work.  While the pitfalls of historically disengaged theoretical criticism are widely acknowledged, the dangers of totally abandoning a philosophically informed approach are as great, especially in the case of a writer as metaphysically invested as Edgar Allan Poe.

As guest editors, we have sought to gather together a collection of essays that bridge the disciplinary divide between historiography and philosophy with the underlying belief that informed Poe criticism needs to address the author and his works in their entirety.  Our aim in this volume is, therefore, not so much to pit “The Purloined Poe” against his “American Face” as it is to emphasize the transatlantic influences that indelibly shaped Poe’s writing and to do so in a manner that responds to the rich body of historicist scholarship that has dominated the field as of late.    The organization of the essays in this issue roughly reflects the chronology of the texts they treat, providing for the reader a historical cross-section of Poe’s adoptions and perversions of Kantian and post-Kantian thought throughout his career.

In “The American Dream Elucidated by Edgar Allan Poe,” Jonathan Murphy addresses the author’s contentious relations with the nationalist politics of his day.  By offering an overview of the evolution of Poe’s career and by drawing a historical link between the political thought of Kant, Coleridge, Lacan, Derrida, and Žižek, Murphy demonstrates that Poe’s metaphysics amount to a romantic profession of faith in America grounded in a universalist poetics of desire.

Stephanie Sommerfeld’s contribution, “Post-Kantian Sublimity and Mediacy in Poe’s Blackwood Tales,” explores the ways in which Poe’s investment in the discourse of the sublime, particularly in its Kantian conception, is played out in his parodic Blackwood tales of the 1830s.  She argues that Poe’s narratives undermine the Emersonian appropriation of Kant, which remained largely silent on the negative moments of the Kantian sublime.

In “‘As Urged by Schelling’: Coleridge, Poe, and the Schellingian Refrain,” Sean Moreland and Devin Zane Shaw consider Poe’s adaptation of Schelling’s philosophy of art and his interpretation of mythology, which Poe assimilated primarily by way of Coleridge.  Shaw and Moreland show that Poe, in his critical and literary practice, adapted Schelling’s and Coleridge’s critiques of allegory while deflating what he considered to be their metaphysical pretensions. They conclude with a brief consideration of the role these critiques play in both Poe’s critical writings and his composition of “The Raven” (1845).

Sean Kelly, in “Penning Perversion in Poe’s ‘The Black Cat’,” offers a Kantian analysis of Poe’s theory of perversion as it is evidenced in his late fiction and especially in “The Black Cat” (1843).  He contends that the narrator of this story is representative of the onanistic madman that was the subject of much medical controversy in mid-nineteenth century discourses on the etiological linkage between masculinity, masturbation, and madness.

Courtney Fugate brings our special issue to a close with his contribution of “From the German Cosmological Tradition to Poe’s Eureka.”  He argues for the importance of Poe’s Eureka (1848) not merely as a literary hoax or aesthetic manifesto but as a vital contribution to the genre of cosmological speculation.  Fugate provides a useful introduction to this fascinating intellectual tradition, in which Kant and Schelling were also deeply invested.

We owe Barbara Cantalupo a debt of gratitude for inviting us to guest-edit this special issue of her journal and for continuing to make The Edgar Allan Poe Review a welcome home for historically-grounded and theoretically-engaged scholarship.  We would also like to thank our contributors for their hard work and cooperation in meeting our pressing deadlines.  To all of those scholars who submitted abstracts for our consideration, please know that the plenitude and interest of your submissions made our editorial decisions difficult.  Finally, we are very grateful to the editorial board of this journal for their insightful comments and selection suggestions.

Table of Contents 

Jonathan Murphy, “The American Dream Elucidated by Edgar Allan Poe” 

Stephanie Sommerfeld, “Post-Kantian Sublimity and Mediacy in Poe’s Blackwood Tales”

Sean Moreland and Devin Zane Shaw, “‘As Urged by Schelling’: Coleridge, Poe, and the Schellingian Refrain” 

Sean Kelly, “Penning Perversion in Poe’s ‘The Black Cat’”  

Courtney Fugate, From the German Cosmological Tradition to Poe’s Eureka

The original call for papers is available here.