Saturday, November 29, 2014

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 250: Edgar Allan Poe, The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether (#250) (Catching up)

Edgar Allan Poe, "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether" (1845) from Edgar Allan Poe: Poetry & Tales:

And so, following 12 solid weeks of learning web development, where I fell off my schedule, here I am hoping to catch up with the last four weeks of LoA stories. Luckily, my first story, back on the horse, is my good friend Poe.

Which reminds me of a story about Kafka: we tend to think of Kafka as very existential and dark and brooding. As--dare I say it?--Kafkaesque. But back in his day, Kafka would sometimes read his work to friends and have them rolling on the floor.

Poe tends to get a somewhat similar treatment: he's a Halloween author, whose stories of mad killers get brushed off once a year. Or, for those in grad school, he's one of the canon, who is constantly commenting on the American condition.

And so, the LoA headnote informs us that this story--about a lunatic asylum run by the lunatics--might be "a satire on democracy, an invective against abolitionism, or a parody of writing by Dickens and Willis—or, as seems quite possible, all of these."

Yes, OK, sure. (Though let's be clear about that Abolition reading and its problems: the asylum here is in the South (of France), so check; but all the weirdness of the house's inhabitants is explained away--incorrectly, but plausibly--as having to do with their Southernness and oldness. It's less a satire on a failed slave revolution than it might be a comment about how underclass people tend to mimic the upperclass.)

I'm not saying that there's nothing to be read into here. Only that we shouldn't miss the layers of humor: not just that the lunatics run the asylum, but that the observer--even when this is pointed out to him--still thinks that they might have a point.

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