Early Modern Poetics in Melville and Poe: Memory, Melancholy, and the Emblematic Tradition
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Bringing to bear his expertise in the early modern emblem tradition, William E. Engel traces a series of self-reflective organizational schemes associated with baroque artifice in the work of Herman Melville and Edgar Allan Poe. While other scholars have remarked on the influence of seventeenth-century literature on Melville and Poe, this is the first book to explore how their close readings of early modern texts influenced their decisions about compositional practice, especially as it relates to public performance and the exigencies of publication. Engel's discussion of the narrative structure and emblematic aspects of Melville's Piazza Tales and Poe's "The Raven" serve as case studies that demonstrate the authors' debt to the past. Focusing principally on the overlapping rhetorical and iconic assumptions of the Art of Memory and its relation to chiasmus, Engel avoids engaging in a simple account of what these authors read and incorporated into their own writings. Instead, through an examination of their predisposition toward an earlier model of pattern recognition, he offers fresh insight into the writers' understandings of mourning and loss, their use of allegory, and what they gained from their use of pseudonyms.
again. In this sense, then, Melville’s playful double use of this trope of phonetic reduplication for his pseudonyms is true to the sense of the echoic “re” marking his two known uses of a nom de plume. Harry the Reefer and Salvator R. Tarnmoor thus have more in common than both just having followed the call of adventure, gone to sea, and written moodily about it. The patronymic “Tarnmoor” calls to mind both a “tarn,” a glacial lake left atop a mountain as the ice recedes, and a “moor,” a
concentric circles”) and “Descent into the Maelstrom” (for example, “do you know I can scarcely look over this little cliff without getting giddy?”). Although making use of typical tropes of the romantic sublime, in cases such as these, when confronted with the question of from what place exactly the speaker’s narrative is originating and at the same time being made aware of the framing technique used to convey it, the reader is left staring not so much into the abyss as into a hall of mirrors.
animating it from within in ways that until now largely have gone undetected. Although a close reading of the poem along these lines makes such connections clear, this argument is buttressed further by the fact that Poe published a review of Francis Fauvel-Gouraud’s Phreno-Mnemotechny; or The Art of Memory just three months before “The Raven” was printed. As Gouraud’s book is 700 pages long, it is likely Poe was thumbing through it at about the same time he was putting the finishing touches on
of literature that self-reflexively rely on these same symbolic forms to communicate their meanings about the social and moral implications of the cycle of desire and loss. This often takes the form of lamenting what is acknowledged as being dead or gone and then imaginatively recuperating the sensation of the melancholy beauty attending its passing which, thereby, keeps it alive in a different guise—as that which is ever just out of reach and irredeemable. Such an approach aptly suits a study
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