I argue that Poe challenges and critiques the intellectual integrity and structure of late eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century rationalists: moralists, phrenologists, and psychologist. They all relied on pure reason, empiricism, instrumental reason, and causal principle. Of contemporary Poe scholars, none see a socially critical aspect in these five tales. And they often fail, I suspect, due to themselves unwittingly occupying positions similar to those under attack in Poe's tales, hence with few exceptions they see Poe's heroes as losers and self-defeating, and don't penetrate to the deeper meaning of the tales beneath the outcome for characters in the stories. Following this line of thought through the five tales, starting with the imp of the perverse, through the fear of symbolic death, and on to the mesmeric exaltation, a structure has emerged for me for seeing how, for understanding the relation between human nature and social values, these five tales fit together in three levels: perverse, repressive, and transformative. The three levels in brief are the three stages of the further movement away from the social reasoning being critiqued and towards the new reality that the critique enables. Each stage deepens the awareness of the new reality coming to be perceived. In short, the first stage, the imp of the perverse, offers an essential facet of human existence that cannot be comprehended by rational psychology. The second, that of the fear of symbolic death characterizing "The Premature Burial," involves the further movement of a direct perception of something beyond the instrumentally rational world, but only in the form of a substitute fear of being buried alive. In the third and final stage, the world beyond differentiation of subject and object is directly intuited in the mesmeric state at the verge of death.
|Commitee:||DeSpain, Jessica, Ruckh, Eric|
|School:||Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville|
|School Location:||United States -- Illinois|
|Source:||MAI 54/03M(E), Masters Abstracts International|
|Subjects:||American history, American literature|
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