Academic journal article Romanian Journal of Artistic Creativity

Shaping Many into One

Academic journal article Romanian Journal of Artistic Creativity

Shaping Many into One

Article excerpt

The power of reasoning

Poe's lifetime spanned across a very turbulent period in American history, a time when the nation was just beginning to develop; at Poe's birth, the United States of America had a population of seven million people and by the time of his death the number of inhabitants had more than tripled to twenty-two million. This rapid expansion and the accelerated growth of cities were the result of immigration. The development was in great part western oriented while the rising population fuelled the gain of new territories through acquiring and conquest. Among the most prominent territorial acquisitions was the annexation of Texas in 1845 while the Mexican War, between 1846 and 1848, also helped with the increase of the existing land by adding more than a million square miles to the existing region. The American author lived in a period of both demographic and geographic boost, improved by railroad transportation that enabled the connection of the country, at least economically, if not ideologically too (in 1849, there were ten thousand miles of track running across America). The "Age of Jackson" or the "Jacksonian Democracy," as the period of Poe's literary apprenticeship was named by historians, was conducted by a populist movement that asserted the rights of the common white men and strove to restore the morals of the Old Republic, such as independence, simplicity, economy and hard work. The age of Jackson provided Poe with the formula for success (appeal to the masses) and the context for his protests against a pervasive democratic rhetoric.

Raised by his foster-father, John Allan, a Scottish tobacco exporter and dry-goods merchant, in an environment that taught him the language of commerce, young Edgar soon understood the value of information and realized that literature was a commodity produced by sale in the capitalist marketplace. Information facilitated economic development and with it the rise of the publishing industry, enabling the propagation of a large variety of texts. Poe was a fine observer of this revolution in communication, which offered, besides entertainment, useful information about trade regulations, patent laws, prices, manufacturing techniques, innovations in agriculture and industrial production, etc.

This formative atmosphere left Poe in a state of uncertainty about the future of American literature and mass culture--which sometimes meant adapting literary themes to the materialistic predilections of the American mass audience and the tastes of a capitalist culture and a desire to exploit or control the public through his great innovations in literary form, namely the tale of ratiocination. In Poe's view, the communication revolution was the cause for the metamorphosis of human consciousness itself, explaining how the developments in the literary market influenced the American mind and economy: "The increase, within a few years, of the magazine literature, is ... but a sign of the times, an indication of an era in which men are forced upon the curt, the condensed, the well-digested in the place of the voluminous--in a word, upon journalism in lieu of dissertation... I will not be sure that men at present think more profoundly than half a century ago, beyond question they think with more rapidity, with more skill, with more tact, with more of method and less of excrescence in the thought. Besides all this, they have a vast increase in the thinking material; they have more facts, more to think about. For this reason, they are disposed to put the greatest amount of thought in the smallest compass and disperse it with the utmost attainable rapidity. Hence the journalism of the age; hence, in especial, magazines." (Whalen 1999: 107)

Poe's preference for short literary works, such as the tale, the scientific hoax and the critical polemic is obvious as he did not "gamble," like the rest of the writers of his time, on the new literary trend--the novel--but, instead, he followed a line that proved to be of no lesser importance in his later recognition and notoriety as a writer. …

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