Poe's Literary Battles: The Critic in the Context of His Literary Milieu

Poe's Literary Battles: The Critic in the Context of His Literary Milieu

Poe's Literary Battles: The Critic in the Context of His Literary Milieu

Poe's Literary Battles: The Critic in the Context of His Literary Milieu

Excerpt

Poe's literary battles had a singleness of purpose: to prepare the ground for writers of genuine talent and, in consequence, for a respectable American literature. At a time when America had nothing that could be called a significant native criticism, Poe formulated the highest critical standards and provided models of criticism in his own essays and reviews. At a time when American authors imitated English writers, he had the boldness to denounce this "colonial sin" and charge that imitation was a certain sign of mediocrity. At a time when the divine afflatus represented an explanation of the creative process, he insisted upon conscious art, even exaggerating the consciousness of the process in "The Philosophy of Composition." At a time when American critics, as well as American writers, confused a moralistic intent with literary value, Poe condemned didacticism both as a critical principle and as an aesthetic purpose, and insisted upon Beauty--a cant term, it is true, but one that becomes clear in such contexts as "The Poetic Principle." At a time when critics judged by provincial and ephemeral standards, Poe proclaimed that standards needed to be universal and eternal. And at a time when criticism was subjective at best and logrolling at worst, Poe insisted upon an analytic and impartial criticism. Moreover, and scarcely the least of his accomplishments, Poe concerned himself with exposing and censuring those conditions of publishing, reviewing, and merchandising that militated against talented writers in favor of mediocre ones--those forces whose position has since been usurped by book clubs, culled prepublication blurbs, large-scale advertising, and TV puffs, though the cliques and the claquers are still with us.

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