E. A. Poe on the Fall of Reason

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I am having some trouble putting together my research paper. I've chosen to research Poe and his introduction of the Fall of Reason in response to the Enlightenment period.

Where should I start? My main idea was designed around "The Raven," where the raven sitting on Pallas (reason) above the doorway (entrance to the mind).

Please feel free to comment on this idea, or *try* to point me in the right direction, perhaps critical analysis of the above idea, or even counterpoints.

Thanks in advance. :)

-- Anonymous, December 02, 2002



Nice idea, but I'm not sure that it really works. Firstly, Pallas Athena is not the goddess of reason, but of wisdom, which is rather different. Secondly, if you associate the door with the entrance to the mind, where are you locating this mind? Outside in the darkness, or inside with the depressed narrator? Either way, it looks dubious.

Traditionally, the best Poe to use for the 'fall of reason' is Usher, since the narrator starts off rational, but increasingly comes under the influence of his friend. The tale is often described in terms of the impossibility of the rational mind making sense of chaos.

If you are determined to stick with The Raven, then you should focus less on symbols than on the narrative and trace the changing nature of the narrators questions.

Good luck.

-- Anonymous, December 03, 2002

It might be interesting to visit Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" who portrays the kind of Romantic that maintains a foothold in the Enlightnement, and in so doing her fantasy creation is more science fiction than Gothic. Poe, too, eschewed the overt use of fantasy elements for vagueness, metaphysical symbolism and scientific explanation. Exploration, "The Balloon Hoax", the use of ciphers are clear examples of Poe's interest in science. When reason is overthrown in some of his tales(The Black Cat, The Tell Tale Heart)reality comes back to trick the conscience of their misperceptions. Poe will bring you to the land of dreams darkly, and nature as a gateway of mist or the line that divides sea from shore, but he knows that is where his limits are. Poe decries the incursions of urban expansion upon nature and its beauty as much as the tyranny of science in modern times to destroy the mysterious(Sonnet-To Science). Learn of the British Romantics, the French and see where on the spectrum of progressive science and the pursuit of wild, intense consciousness he lies. The steady clockwork cohesion of the Enlightenment, the method and categorization of knowledge soon gave way to breakouts in changes such knowledge wrought and reactions to disillusionment, chaos and soulless replacement of all myth along the path of social upheavaland modern construction. Romantics were either rebels or merely trying to grasp a social and mental upheaval well under way under the facade of a past century's moderate and easy faith. Poe as an American was in a sense more easily liberated and in the flow of the new times without as much baggage. His essays taunting writers who imitate Europe or brag about their separateness as if that were praiseworthy in itself gives another indication that he stood for the new synthesis.

In his stories, by Gothic convention careening around the brink of the extraodinary and the mad, he creates a new order and many victories of reason. In "The Pit and the Pendulum" the pendulum an obscene symbol of time the destroyer and the pit the abyss of total death and fear, the prsioner experiences all, is affected and tortured- but overcomes by victory of his reason which needs but one element- will("Ligeia").

Not enough the presencve of knowledge. There must be a defiant, godlike act of will, greater as the intelligence of poet and rationalist combined is greater than all other minds(Dupin stories). The Byronic hero thus becomes the rationalist champion and out of the Gothic is spawned the light illuminating the weirdest darkness and puzzles, the detective story.

Some of the theist reason has fallen. A man alone with his wits, will and skill must match himself against an awesome not friendly, not neutral, not always controllable Nature. His poetry lacks most common religious affirmation and ritual consolation. His life and mind often teeters where he stands between a lost past and a dark future.

Read widely at www.eapoe.org to get a better idea of Poe's stand. His use of science is eclectic and ennthusiastic, and scattered in whim as was the philosophy and learning of other Romantics like Coleridge and Shelley. Read his essays about some of his peers and his critiques of their excessess or failings. It is not an easy topic because Poe rarely gives any easy answers from the shadow. "Eureka" is a must and an excited synthesis of the poetic and the new sciences, perhaps more reputable thatn Yeats' historical mysticism in "Vision". One senses that Poe sought for and did not get popular support for this creation and that sufficed to weaken his faith in his discovery.

Just a few ideas.

-- Anonymous, December 03, 2002

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