EAP--Best Discovered Young--Cherished for Life

Edgar Allan Poe and childhood nightmares

I remember going to the library at a very young age--perhaps fourth or fifth grade and the librarian reading to us. . . "The Tell-Tale Heart."  In fact, while writing this, I put on the first of the Alan Parson's Project's albums "Tales of Mystery and the Imagination."  But I have not forgotten the cold blue eye that so haunted the protagonist.

Harold Bloom despises Poe, balks at his entry into the canon, rails at both his prose and poetry--and I suppose it would be like coming late to the party for H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert Howard, Richard Wagner, or an number of less-than-salutary habits often acquired in one's teen years.  All I can say is that if you have failed to acquire the taste, you have truly missed out on some of the great delights available in literature; however, there is a Golden Age for nearly every writer, and sometimes that age has passed or not yet come for an individual.  I'm still waiting for Don DeLillo's golden age in my life.

Comments

  1. I don't know whether that's the cause, but I also came early to EAP. I can't remember which one it was though--perhaps "The Cask of Amontillado."

    I also enjoy Lovecraft, Algernon Blackwood, and MR James.

    As for Bloom, every time I read something by him, which isn't often, I'm reminded once again that intellect and knowledge do not always produce wisdom.

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  2. Bloom is hard on Poe, especially with respect to the short stories (which I think Bloom with a waggish tone argued were at least improved by translation), but I think Bloom goes on to admire Poe's aesthetic theories and criticism, and he offers some supportable reasons for his assessments, and so--just to be ornery--I tend to agree with his indictment.

    Fred, you are hard on Bloom, but--just to continue in the vein of being ornery--I cannot agree with your indictment of an important American critic. You may not agree with his critique of Poe, and I think we can agree to disagree on that one, but I think Bloom's work (especially his early work) on Romantics (especially Blake), Biblical criticism, and Shakespeare are consistently commendable.

    We are, perhaps, on different sides of the courtroom for this argument. Unfortunately, no judge sits (other than the passage of time) who can arbitrate the differences of opinion. The verdict will come in another four or five generations when people are either reading or rejecting Poe and Bloom.

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  3. Dear R.T.,

    I find Bloom on Poe rather snobbily obnoxious as are many of his off-the-cuff judgments. I do agree that there is a solid sensibility that is often knocked off-kilter by personal prejudices that he's simply unable to overcome.

    Poe happens to be one of those--if in terms of influence alone. I argue that it is understandable because a taste for Poe is not something that I consider adult onset--you miss something in trying to approach Poe without the early emotional access. All you witness is cumbersome language and contrivances and obsessions that one is overwhelmed by. That does not make Poe a lesser writer.

    I tend not to take critics too seriously--they go in and out of fashion. The Aesthetes and Baudelaire's school thought Poe the apotheosis of American Literature--Bloom is cool toward him. That does not impugn the remainder of his critical judgment, but it does show the Achilles heel and causes one to exercise considerable caution when approaching some of Bloom's summary judgments and his occasional blind spots.

    Personally, as a critic I prefer more rather than less expansive--Dirda is of greater appeal is possibly less intellectual rigor than either Bloom or Wood. Their constrained and restricted views of what comprises the world of literature are too anoxic for me. Although as you point out--where they are strong, they are very strong, very interesting, and highly informative.

    shalom,

    Steven

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  4. Dear Fred,

    I like those you mention and all sorts of others perhaps more obnoxious and less readable--witness our discussion re: William Hope Hodgson--add to that Richard Marsh, M.P. Shiel, Arthur Machen, C.J. Cutliffe-Hyne, Theophile Gautier, Ambrose Bierce, and even real horrors like Thomas Peckett Prest and James Malcolm Rymer.

    In other words, I've got really expansive taste and attempt to enjoy any writer on his or her own terms. It's one of the reasons I'm reluctant to put out a bad review because, more often than not, a bad review results not necessarily from a bad book, but from a book that I have been, for whatever reason, unable to connect to. So, my assumption in a failed read is that the failure is on my own part--not a failure on the part of the author.

    shalom,

    Steven

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  5. Steven, what you find obnoxious, I find entertaining. Perhaps that says something about my flippant outlook toward literary criticism; I enjoy the sharp vinegar of Bloom more than the heavy, mirky concoctions offered by many other contemporary critics.

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  6. Dear R.T.,

    I only find it obnoxious when it stems from an underlying prejudice and restriction. In fact, one of the few significant places where I part company is on the question of Poe, and I still find what he has to say on the matter so over-the-top vitriolic and nearly uncontrolled that it is amusing. Obnoxious and amusing are not necessarily contradictory, for if it gets too obnoxious, I always have the option of closing the book and turning it off.

    So, I would concur overall with your evaluation and with your proper valuation of critics as possible sources of insight (light) but more probable sources of heat.

    shalom,

    Steven

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  7. Well, in the spirit of being ornery, I maintain my evaluation of Bloom, the later Bloom anyway. I know little of his earliest works.

    My money is on EAP.

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  8. R. T.,

    I have only a few negative reviews, mostly of films actually, and they tend to be of one kind: my disappointment over the treatment given the material. It's usually the case of tired cliches buried beneath a sparkling sea of special effects.

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  9. Dear Fred,

    I hope I made it clear that while I do have great respect and even admiration for Bloom as a critique, I strongly believe that he trips over his own personal prejudices when it comes to Poe. I, like you, think that Poe has already proven his durability and despite what some will continue to say against him, will certainly outlast a great many others more beloved of the Critics.

    shalom,

    Steven

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  10. Steven,

    No problem. You were very clear on that point.

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