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Wednesday
Dec162009

Great Poe Debate II

You'd think Boston and Baltimore had enough of me last January when I trounced them in the first Great Poe Debate.  Well, here we go again.  I'm bringing the Philly Poe gospel on the road as I travel to Boston for the Great Poe Debate II. 

To help kick off a new exhibit at the Boston Public Library, "The Raven in the Frog Pond," the Philly Poe Guy will once again take on that cranky guy from Baltimore, Jeff Jerome, and that upstart from Boston, Paul Lewis.  The Debate will be tomorrow, Thursday Dec 17 at 7PM and moderated by Charles Pierce.  More info here.

Lewis gazing up at my Poe scholarly statureBoston College Prof Lewis, has been getting lots of press lately (in the Beantown papers) with his shameless jump onto my coat tails.  Let's set the record straight, my call for Poe's literary legacy to reside in Philadelphia is a matter of correcting literary history (as well as a call to acknowledge the literary tradition of Philadelphia Gothic).  That Poe had a relationship with Boston (he was born there) and feuds with Boston writers (he hated the transcendentalists) is not nearly enough to claim any kind of literary legacy.  I won't even bother with Baltimore's sham claims. 

Poe was a Philadelphia writer during the most productive years of his writing career, not just because he lived in Philly, but because the literary traditions and cultural environment of the city at the time had a PROFOUND effect on his works. 

So, I'll have to make my case again in Boston.  But don't worry, the Philly Poe Guy can not be intimidated (well, at least not by other Poe scholars).  In Philly we had over four hundred people show up to hear us slug it out (you can listen to it here or check out the photos from Reuters).  I wonder how many Frogpondians will care enough about Poe to show up and support their cause. 

For more on Paul Lewis and Boston's Poe claim (snigger, snigger), check out Lewis himself in the Boston Globe.  There was also a piece in the Boston College Chronicle and the Boston Herald

My entrance at the Great Poe Debate in Philadelphia:

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Reader Comments (5)

Ha ha, you should sell those robes.

No, this is very cool and I wish I lived at least in the same region so I could go.

Good luck, and most of all, have fun!
December 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterS.J. Chambers
The Great Poe debate II was a fun.
Many thanks
December 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCaroline Christian
I had hoped that this debate would be conducted at a more civilized level than the first one, that Mr. Pettit in particular would find a way to be more thoughtful and less snarky. But I see that his anger-management problem is still out of control, undoubtedly because curing a flawed argument is beyond the reach of psychopharmacology.

Take Poe out of the so-called "Philadelphia Gothic," and you've no longer got a Philadelphia Gothic. Note that in the preface to Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1839) Poe insisted that the terror in his fiction was "not of Germany, but of the soul." Since when did "the soul" get to mean "Philadelphia"? (Just so the Curator of the Baltimore Poe House will feel included, note that if you take Poe out of Baltimore's literary tradition [ha!], there would be nothing left in it.)

No wonder my opponents cling desperately to the legacy of a writer who was treated poorly during his time in their cities and whose critical theory and literary practice evolved out of his engagement with Boston, the only place in the US that had a 200-year old and vital literary tradition by the time Poe's career began. No wonder that his most important critical ideas (art for art's sake; anti-didacticism) evolved out of his engagement with Boston writers and editors.

The story of Poe's relation to the place where he was born is complex, fascinating: full of high drama and hilarious putdowns. It begins with a mother's wish that her son would love Boston, and it includes exchanges between Poe and Boston writers that were enlivened by wit and deeply important in the development of US literature and culture. ...
December 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Lewis
Thanks so much,guys, and Professor Lewis, for making these debates happen. The Great Poe Debate points up how wide-ranging Poe was. I could see researchers even arguing for a London Poe---he hated the British press almost as much as he hated the Boston one--or a Paris Poe, or even a St.Petersburg Poe, Baudelaire, Dumas, Dostoevsky, anyone? And yes, there was a Philadelphia Renaissance in the 1840s.

One quibble I have with the debaters in Boston: their unanimous insistence that Poe would have been a citizen of the Confederacy had he survived into the 1860s. Gentlemen, how can you argue for Philadelphia Poe and Boston Poe and have a deep understanding and appreciation of Poe, and argue that he would have fought under the banner of slavery and a divided United States? Why do you think Poe hated the frog-pondians? This must be confronted. The didactic is also of the soul, and not of Boston. It wasn't the didactic that Poe detested in Boston so much as radicial abolitionism, which threatened to destroy the country Poe loved. Being against radical abolition at that time did not equal a red-neck, pro-slavery position, and certainly not, for Poe, whose writings always steered clear of pro-slavery or racist positions. (I don't believe he was the author of the Southern Literary Messenger piece.)

Professor Lewis deserves high praise for what he has done for Poe's reputation, but in the BPL debate the BC maven used the word "repugnant" to describe Poe's slavery views. How so? There's no hard evidence that Poe held especially "repugnant" views, and yet one famous Frog-ponder, RW Emerson, published repugnant views for all the world to see, in "English Traits." (1856)

Again, the true content of Poe's war with certain New England writers, who he saw as surrogates for British interests, must be confronted, the mists blown away, so we can see Poe was 'the good guy' even in this realm, where Poe is usually treated as a leper, with "repugnant" ideas.
December 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterScarriet
First, Poe did hate the didactic in New England - but, yes, also the abolitionists or, more accurately, reformers in general.

Poe's response to Longfellow's "Poems on Slavery" (1842) is enough to indicate where he stood on the slavery question, Scarriet, don't you think? He refers to "the negrophilic old ladies of the North" and how "we" Southerners shouldn't have to give up our lifestyle just because the "comfortable" Northerners say so. Poe was raised in a southern lifestyle that included slaves. Why should we assume he would ever have disagreed with slavery? Because we want to be optimistic? We don't want him to be one of the "bad guys"?

Further, many people were perfectly happy with the North and South breaking into two different countries - including Nathaniel Hawthorne, James Russell Lowell, and the wife of Henry Longfellow. Ultimately, siding with the Confederacy (for Poe) would have supported the idea that the government cannot dictate our "lifestyle" - even if Poe did not approve of slavery, would it be far-fetched to think he supported that concept? Nothing "repugnant" there.
December 31, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRob V

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