(Original Review, 1992-12-16)
Can a reader in this and age fully appreciate Poe? Maybe the age of the reader is significant - I first encountered Poe over forty decades ago [2018 EDIT: ThemisAthena, an attentive reader pointed out to me: "40 years"? In 1992 it couldn't be forty years! I'm not that old...should be "ten years"; because I don't do corrections on the stuff I wrote many eons ago, I'll leave it as it is] - in the sense that time on the planet, life lived, experiences felt and understood, are part of the maturing process essential to entering Poe's visions and dream-states. Some of the comments I’ve read elsewhere suggest a fidgety class of pre-adolescents who have lost - if ever they had - what might be called attention spans. Then again, maybe Poe is uniquely American and the Europeans cannot fully grasp him.
And still again, here's another giveaway (from a comment):
"I might also see if I can watch a film adaptation of a story" which implies the commenter in question has never seen any of the Poe adaptations or any of the many, many movies inspired, through the years, by his stories; in fact my jaw dropped when I read that deathless line with its implicit admission - "I might also see if I can watch a film adaptation of a story". Wow. Expecting "scares" and "thrills"... my god, does Poe ever deserve better readers than that? OK dear commenter, I suggest forgetting Poe and taking yourself off to see “The Conjuring”, which boasts some excellent jumps, jolts and scares, plus a lovely performance by Lili Taylor. I think you'll find what you're expecting.
And by the way, Poe was also a sly satirist.
I think writing about the social is important, but a good deal easier than writing about the self. Society is sick and twisted indeed, and always has been, likely always will be. Why? It is because we, as selves, are what make society, and we as selves are rather like blind moles, or more on point, the creature from Kafka's Burrow. Poe peers relentlessly at the self, his "I" is almost always the "eye" (most vividly perhaps in the “Tell-Tale Heart”), and it is looking right inside ourselves. Poe ferociously anticipates the world to come, the psychoanalytic, the alienated, and the murderous. His tales foreground the serial killers, drug addicts, pedophiles, neurotics and psychotics, and the like which have become the commonplaces of our modern artistic and social environment. It is people, selves that create, and maintain, society. We can all point out what is wrong with society, but it's much harder to find the wrongs in our beloved selves.
Raskolnikov seems to me as much a petty, arrogant person with the utmost contempt for all things not himself, as a victim of society. Of course, it's a vicious circle, what we are specifically is engendered and perpetuated by specific societies. But in the end it is always the same. All that redemption in Dostoevsky seems rather naive. Going after Poe, is like going after Freud. Of course, individual human pathology is disagreeable, but it is there, and it is what we are. There is nothing we can do perhaps, but we are all responsible for what we all are.
If Poe had had the idea tools of psychoanalysis, complexes, repression, displacement, and so on, all of which would become literary commonplaces in the 20th century, he might not have been taken to task for his style. T. S. Eliot was outraged that Poe said "my most IMMEMORIAL year" (in “Ulalume”), but Poe in that poem, and in stories like “Ligeia”, “Black Cat”, and “Tell-Tale Heart” was inventing memory repression and he didn't have the Freudian term 'repression' to call on.
He is certainly not schlock compared to ANYONE.