Thursday, October 15, 2009

Is the "Mysterious Star" Fading?

Edgar Allan Poe Mysterious StarThis blog post by Allen Barra , "Poe's Fading Star," is one of the stranger hit-pieces on Edgar Allan Poe I've seen lately. It is also a textbook example of petitio principii. Thoughout his lengthy (too lengthy) screed, Barra explicitly assumes propositions he never proves--namely, that Poe was a terrible writer who is now little read and has no influence upon any writers other than the likes of Stephen King. If Mr. Barra does not have it in him to understand or appreciate Poe's writings, that is his privilege--or loss, rather. But he has no right to project his disdain for Poe upon everyone else.

This tortured attempt at trivializing Poe does nothing to substantiate Barra's claims that we, the people, do not read Poe. I suppose all those people who went to Baltimore last Sunday to bury and praise Poe--or who film movies about him, stage acclaimed one-man shows focusing on his life and work, hold well-attended Poe-related library and museum exhibits, publish and buy numberless books by or about him, assemble annual conferences to discuss the man and his writings--or even post on blogs about him!--simply don't count. Barra's essay could be summed up as his saying, "I don't understand Poe, so no one else does, either." Why did he waste his energies on such a trivial complaint?

Poe was not, as Barra would have us believe, a mere genre horror writer. He was a great thinker, whose "Eureka" anticipated quantum theory, and whose fictional stories, such as "The Domain of Arnheim," and "Landor's Cottage," give great spiritual truths to those who take the time to plumb their hidden meanings. His writings were complex, enlightened, and more multi-faceted than a kaleidoscope. I'd hardly call that "atrocious" writing.

And as for his statement that Poe fails to influence or inspire any modern writers--he undercuts his own theory by mentioning the recent book, "On a Raven's Wing," a collection of stories paying homage to Poe. He failed to mention an even more significant new volume, "In the Shadow of the Master," which consists of various modern writers offering essays explaining Poe's unique significance in the world of literature.

Please, Mr. Barra, stick to writing about baseball players and suchlike, and leave aside topics you are obviously incapable of comprehending. Even Rufus Griswold had to concede that Poe was a genius.

(Image courtesy New York Public Library)

1 comment:

  1. Barra's essay is a piece of shit. Ironically, Barra is a worshipful disciple of Pauline Kael, one of those Kael fans who thinks Kael could think and do no wrong. He even claimed in a Kael puff piece that Kael was the only film critic who ever mattered. That in itself is a contradiction, because Kael's most noteworthy characteristic was her defense of "genre," her belief that genre pictures could be great works of art and it was sheer snobbery to assume they couldn't be. Just look at her championing of Sam Peckinpah or Brian De Palma. That Barra can dismiss Poe merely because his fiction was genre fiction, while simultaneously elevating Kael to the pantheon of supreme arts critics, proves beyond doubt that his thinking about aesthetics is incoherent and self-contradictory.