Edgar Allan Poe and the Masses: The Political Economy of Literature in Antebellum America

By Terence Whalen | Go to book overview

Chapter Nine
THE INVESTIGATING ANGEL
POE, BABBAGE, AND “THE POWER OF WORDS”

To those, nevertheless, cunning in the stars, it was not unknown that the heavens wore an aspect of ill. … The peculiar spirit of the skies, if I mistake not greatly, made itself manifest, not only in the physical orb of the earth, but in the souls, imaginations, and meditations of mankind. (Poe, “Shadow—A Parable”)

I explained that in terms of services available to the ordinary man in 1830, England at least had achieved Communism. … When travel and information and education services are available to the ordinary person, that is Communism. It happened long before Karl Marx. Such service environments are invisible to accountants and actuaries and bankers who deal in double entries and political arithmetic which conceal technological and environmental realities completely. Today, with the multi-billion dollar service environments available to everybody, almost for free, (these include the massive educational and information worlds of advertising) it means that we have plunged very deeply into tribal communism on a scale unknown in human history. (Marshall McLuhan to Prince Bernhard of The Netherlands, May 14, 1969) 1

NEAR THE beginning of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” Dupin demonstrates his analytical power by completing a thought that had been silently evolving inside the narrator's brain. By studying the sequence of facial expressions made by his American friend, Dupin has been able to reconstruct a wondrous chain of associations and to trace these associations back to a chance mishap with a Parisian fruit vender. Dupin's achievement is all the more remarkable in light of the seemingly haphazard nature of the narrator's musings, which flit from paving-stones to Epicurean atoms to the stars of Orion, coming to rest at length upon a poor actor named Chantilly. Amazed that his ostensibly secret meditations should be so transparent, the narrator begs Dupin to explain “the method—if method there is—by which you have been enabled to fathom my soul in this matter.” As it turns out, of

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