Title of Oral/Poster Presentation

The Perverse Philosophy of Edgar Allen Poe

Presenter Information

Alex TarbetFollow

Class

Article

Department

Languages, Philosophy and Communication Studies

Faculty Mentor

Frances Titchener

Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Abstract

Several of Edgar Allen Poe's short tales mislead the reader into believing perversity to be a sort of horrifying primordial impulse, or the self-justification of insane men who have committed atrocities. In The Black Cat and The Tell-Tale Heart, the narrators attempt to vindicate themselves from guilt by invoking the force of an elemental thought and its determinative compulsion to evil. They rationalize their behavior to evade the charge of madness. This philosophical presentation focuses on The Imp of the Perverse, Poe's boldest drama of a murderer's rationalization. The narrator directly defends himself, not necessarily from the crime but from the charge of mental illness, and he appeals to phrenology and Enlightenment science to make his case. Poe's readers, ourselves members of the "you" or the jury, are led on startled and disgusted by a mysterious and dangerously evil force to view perversity as an anomaly in an otherwise judicious moral system. I think, however, that this is something of a trick. I argue that Poe renders the judgment of Enlightenment law - and so the judgment of the reader himself - truly perverse. Human wisdom postures toward control, whereas perversity as the events of the story show is the tool of a transcendent moral cycle.

Start Date

4-9-2015 3:00 PM

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Apr 9th, 3:00 PM

The Perverse Philosophy of Edgar Allen Poe

Several of Edgar Allen Poe's short tales mislead the reader into believing perversity to be a sort of horrifying primordial impulse, or the self-justification of insane men who have committed atrocities. In The Black Cat and The Tell-Tale Heart, the narrators attempt to vindicate themselves from guilt by invoking the force of an elemental thought and its determinative compulsion to evil. They rationalize their behavior to evade the charge of madness. This philosophical presentation focuses on The Imp of the Perverse, Poe's boldest drama of a murderer's rationalization. The narrator directly defends himself, not necessarily from the crime but from the charge of mental illness, and he appeals to phrenology and Enlightenment science to make his case. Poe's readers, ourselves members of the "you" or the jury, are led on startled and disgusted by a mysterious and dangerously evil force to view perversity as an anomaly in an otherwise judicious moral system. I think, however, that this is something of a trick. I argue that Poe renders the judgment of Enlightenment law - and so the judgment of the reader himself - truly perverse. Human wisdom postures toward control, whereas perversity as the events of the story show is the tool of a transcendent moral cycle.