william wilson and how to use it for deconstruction assignment

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i have an assignment upon deconstruction or otherwise post structuralism and i would liki some tips upon how to use poes william wilson for this project thank you

-- Anonymous, June 08, 2001



The following is merely a few suggestions as to how you might consider going about your project. I am assuming that you have a basic working knowledge of post-structural thought, otherwise what I am saying will not make much sense.

Starting with the opening two lines, it is clear that the tale draws attention to its textual nature. Not only is there a reference to the 'fair page' but the 'appellation' is, of course, also the title of the text itself. It is also worth noting that the narrator claims the name 'William Wilson' will be used 'for the present' which introduces the concept of deferred revelation.

It has been argued that the school is a mise en abyme, its rambling structure mirroring the plot of the tale. "[The] lateral branches were innumerable -- inconceivable -- and so returning in upon themselves, that our most exact ideas in regard to the whole mansion were not very far different from those with which we pondered upon infinity."

If you accept, then, that the text is folded in on itself, it follows that the doubling of the narrator with his (er...) double is yet another example of textual self-reference. Given the autobiographical clues which Poe sprinkles throughout the text, the narrator, his double and the author become intertwined in convoluted branches 'returning in upon themselves'.

The death of the double, which we are explicitly told is the death of the narrator, can thus be linked with the death of the author (cf. Barthes and Foucault). The deferred truth which is announced in the opening line is, therefore, the absence of an authentic authorial voice: the text announces its own detachment from the possibility of truth. The act of naming, whether of an individual or of a text, is seen as an arbitary act subject to whim rather than any correlation between signifier and referent.

'William Wilson' (the text) seems to be denying that it contains meaning, or that any meaning could be intended since the author cannot control how the reader might use the text.

Now, I should admit that I am hostile to post-structural readings of Poe, preferring an historical approach. The above, therefore, has to be qualified by noting that I don't feel that it is a useful way of understanding a story. Nonetheless, poststructuralism has been an important methodology for reading Poe since the 1970s (although less so today), and you should consult Muller & Richardson's The Purloined Poe (1988) for detailed deconstructive readings of 'The Purloined Letter'.

Hope this helps.

-- Anonymous, June 08, 2001

Out of my depth here, except to say any new way of looking at a text at least shakes up stale interpretations. The first person narration is in effect a one-character monologue that creates special difficulties if a) it is claimed to be also a written text and b)the narrator dies at the end("Ms. Found in a Bottle"). Poe wants a story to stand on its own, traditional fashion, so that the intriguing issue of the perspective or truthfulness of the narrator sometimes enters into competition. Popular surface readings concentrate on the plot when the power of emotional impact Poe is trying to create is in the progress of reactive thoughts in the mind of the narrator- with whom he intends to join the reader on a more itimate level. Sometimes we won't even admit the trick working, since the narrator(unlike us?) is more than crazed in an extreme situation. The interesting choice may underlie Poe's approach to art as interior monologue(or internal dialogue) groping in the dark with things neither explainable or surviveable, groping often with an unseen or threatening other. Poe showed enough variety of literary approach to look at this from several angles("The Colloquy of Monos and Una" "The Tell-Tale Heart" "The Pit and the Pendulum". It might be too narrow to base too much speculation of one Gothic tale and more interesting to guess at what Poe's response to modern critical theory might have been had it been presented to him for he himself was striving for theories of literature as well. Are there things in his essays that speak to this?

-- Anonymous, June 08, 2001

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