Revising Theory: Poe's Legacy in Short Story Criticism

By Van Achter, Erik | DQR Studies in Literature, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Revising Theory: Poe's Legacy in Short Story Criticism


Van Achter, Erik, DQR Studies in Literature


The "Splintering Frame"

In his essay in Short Story Theory at a Crossroads, Norman Friedman calls for a critical consensus to ensure the future of short story theory:

In discussing short story theory, we have a tendency to talk at crosspurposes. I do not mean simply a tendency to disagree; I mean, rather, an apparent difficulty in agreeing on what it is we are disagreeing about.1

For better or for worse, Friedman's plea appeared at a time when literary theory, particularly in the United States, was undergoing a process of fragmentation along the fault lines of modern identity politics, in which the identity categories and identifications of the writer, reader and theorist came to serve as categories that were not only political but also theoretical.2 The ascendancy of identity politics in the wake of the rise of post-structuralist and post-modern theories increasingly demanded what might be called a poetics of identity: it was as though political identity categories necessitated the formulation of corresponding critical theories. Literary scholars were thus compelled to take part in the politics of identity3 and to constitute increasingly circumscribed, politically charged sub-fields of literary research, at the very moment that Friedman was advocating the inverse of this fragmentation - for consensus, agreement and cooperation - in the field of short story theory.

In the face of this "splintering frame" of literary studies, short story theory was forced to abandon or at least call into question the unifying, universalizing critical framework defined by the tripartite "author, text, reader" structure that had been introduced and reinforced by short story theorists of the preceding era, beginning with Edgar Allan Poe and his disciple Brander Matthews. The very idea of a determinate textual form that could be defined in terms of intratextual, immanent characteristics and relations had itself become untenable with the decline of formalistic literary methods in the period we now call post-modern, and the rise of methods that admit and refer to the extra-textual (post-structuralism, post-colonialism) or emphasize textual autonomy and indeterminacy (deconstruction). The splintering frame4 of post-modern literary studies questioned whether the "short story as form" was merely an illusion produced by a particular, historical cognitive frame that no longer had any real existence. The historical and literary evidence suggests an affirmative answer to this question, for the differences between the short story and the novel, like the former's purported affinities with the poem, were rather numinous and indefinable. For example, an article by John Gerlach explicitly addressed the indeterminacy of the short story's relationships with poetry and longer prose forms.5 Yet even without having been rigorously and exclusively defined before the advent of post-modernism, the short story had already achieved acceptance as a specific genre of prose fiction. The relationships between the short story, the poem and the novel had proved, to a degree, both ineffable and enduring. The dependence upon these comparisons (as well as the indisputable critical presence of the reader) in the articulation of the short story genre has resulted in a degree of critical stasis: even in the wake of post-modernism, short story theory continues to be defined in relation to these other genres; the genre of the short story continues to resist or elude definition as an independently defined, closed and unique literary form. In other words, the fundamental problematic of short story criticism - that of genre definition - continues to be posed in the same or similar terms to what it has been since Poe. The present article will trace this critical problematic in reverse by demonstrating the continuing endurance and pervasive influence of Poe's seminal contributions to short story theory.

The sterile position in Poe's Legacy

Even after the processes of fragmentation had run their course in postmodernism, the skeletal framework of a unified genre still remained for the short story: it was still accepted that the short story was neither novel nor poem and that it somehow produced an effect in the reader. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Revising Theory: Poe's Legacy in Short Story Criticism
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.