Edgar Allan Poe & His Afterlives
Museums & Society/English, 389.343
Instructor: Dr. Gabrielle Dean, gnodean [at] jhu [dot] edu
“I can think of no other American writer, down to this moment, at once so inescapable and so dubious… Poe is central to the American canon, both for us and for the rest of the world.”
—Harold Bloom, New York Review of Books, 1984
We all know Edgar Allan Poe. Tales and poems like “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “The Raven” are read, reprinted, adapted, critiqued, and parodied to an extent that applies to few other works of literature. Poe himself has become a kind of literary character ripped from his own pages; google his name and you will encounter hundreds of images based on his portraits. Poe has become what we might call “super canonical”: he is an almost mythological figure, but he is no mere celebrity—because his works are actually read and reread by people all over the world.
In this class, we will examine the meaning of Poe’s work in his own time and in ours. While our immediate goal is to get to know some of the many facets of Poe’s writing and posthumous legacy, our questions are transferable to other literary domains. How do writers take advantage of the publication platforms and audiences available to them? How do they write “into” and “against” the social and political preoccupations of their own time? Why are later readers drawn to texts produced in an earlier historical period, and how do their approaches differ from those of their predecessors? What do we gain and what do we lose when we reinterpret and reinvent that work for our own time, using new technologies?
First, we’ll read Poe intensively: his own fiction, verse, and criticism as it was published in his lifetime, with frequent reference to actual nineteenth-century periodicals, books, and other publications from special collections.
Then, we’ll examine various “Poe constructions” created by his later readers: scrapbooks of “Poeana,” fiction, film, music, graphic novels, and digital projects that imaginatively extend Poe’s work and legacy. These reinventions and responses to Poe will form the basis for our final project, a collaboratively curated digital exhibition—which will itself constitute a new representation of Poe with implications for his future readers.