Аннотация: Фрагмент дипломной работы "The Art of Dying - Refractions of Death in Modernism"
The Death of the Author: Thanaticity of Textuality and Textuality of Thanaticity in Edgar Poe.
The laughter of Death is Homeric
The tears of Death are childish
The taste of Death is purple
The meaning of Death is violet.
Are you prepared to fight Admetes?
Are you ready to take Alkeste?
She's a woman, you know.
God's Death has not yet been articulated, Marlow has not embarked upon his journey and what was addressed by Langer as the Age of Atrocity has not started its course, when the sacred begins to lose its significance and the vision of death becomes subject to unclear metamorphoses. One's grave, destined to symbolize the tranquil continuity of memory and incarnate the ultimate repose of the body, is removed "from local churchyards to more remote public cemeteries" [Kennedy, 8], and the sense of finality it used to provide is unlocked by an indifferent custodian who "adopted the habit of exhuming partially decomposed bodies to create new grave sites" [Kennedy, 37], which evokes a horrified indignation at such a blasphemous violation of the perennial sepulchral serenity:
Among us, in a moral and Christian society the abode of the dead is openly violated - its deposits are sacrilegiously disturbed, and ejected - the tender solicitudes of survivors, are cruelly sported with, and the identity of relationships is destroyed ... time is not even allowed for the gradual dissipation of decaying human putrescence... [Stone, 249]
Thus, the image of the disturbed corpse functions as a projective metonymy for the disturbed living mind, haunted by the growing anxiety at dying amidst the anonymous black cavities laid open by the sacrilegious spades. The fact of the opened coffin resonates with the increasing awareness of open-endedness hidden in Death that permeates the "pre-modern" mind.
In Foucault's terms, Death ceases to signify the absolute end and this shifting of limits results in an immense fear of the infinite accompanied by a puzzled fascination with yet unknown horizons of existence. In Birth of the Clinic, Foucault addresses the revolutionary transformation undergone by medical science, as a result of attaching new meaning to the fact of death, after the coffin opens to the curious scalpel:
In the medical thinking of the 18th century, death represented both an absolute fact and the most coherent of phenomena. It was a limit of life and, at the same time, a disease if its nature was fatal, beginning from it, the limit was reached, the truth completed and thereby crossed... An ability ...to dissect corpses... gave an opportunity ... to coordinate the last moment of pathology with the first moment of death... Death is but a vertical and absolutely attenuated line that separates but, at the same time, allows correlating between a series of symptoms and a series of afflictions... 
In a sense, the event of death converts into a certain progression of life and thus kindles a spirit of inquiry concerning the meaning hidden in this progression. The mind is interested in "afterlife" in terms of its physicality rather than its religious implications, and yet, the interest in plain biology amalgamates with the absorption in transformations of the spiritual. According to Kennedy's view, even the serene melancholy of mourning, "excited curiosity about the physical sensations of death, introduced fantasies about dead spirits, and conferred upon the tomb and the cemetery an irresistible fascination". Death converts into a source of horror blended with enchantment. Such a "fascination by the abomination", in Conrad's terms, manifests itself in the paradoxical view of Death as both estrangement from the domain of the secularized existence and an integral continuation of life, its limitless "beyond" that gives identity to life by its infinitude - "Life, disease and death now create a technical and conceptual trinity. The ancient permanence of millennial compulsive ideas ... is disrupted; instead, a triangular image is articulated, whose summit is defined by death" [Foucault, 220].
A dead body becomes a scientific instrument for unraveling the biological riddles of life and, at the same time, in-corporates a decomposing reminder of the inability to experience death. Death defines life by imposing the sense of finality and simultaneously unfolds its meaning as a singular and indivisible event into a series of relative and in interdependent meanings that combine together to defer the occurrence of the final event and yet designate its irrevocable coming. The transcendent spiritual Unity, by which Western imagination confronted the physical Disintegration seems to collapse and the disintegration of the corpse transforms into a non-fictitious metaphor for the disintegration of the concept:
Bichat made the notion of death relative, forcing it to lose the absoluteness in which it used to appear as an indivisible, ultimate and unequalled phenomenon; he banished it and diffused it within life shaped as separate deaths, partial deaths that escalate and are so slowly completed beyond the death itself [Foucault, 221].
The face of Thanatos multiplies and dissolves in a legion of little visages, each one possessing a different expression. The deaths of consciousness, heart, breathing, motion, and sanity become separate events with their own meanings. This new knowledge positions the fact of death within a time continuum and deprives Death of its absoluteness, turning it into an ongoing process of deferral:
... death is multiple and disseminated in time. It is not an absolute and privileged point...it... has multiple presence that the analysis can position in time and space... for a long time after one's death, tiny and partial deaths will be arriving, in their turn, to dissolve the unyielding flows of life [Foucault, 218].
In these terms, Poe's thanatic aesthetics might epitomize a beautiful condensation, a reductio ad horrendum of the pre- modern awareness of relativity and enchantment by the infinity of the end, of the desire to peep beyond the putrescent eyelids and imagine the cramping of a decaying heart:
Here we find a writer whose entire oeuvre is marked by a compulsive interest in the dimensionality of death: its physical signs, the phenomenology of dying, the deathbed scene, the appearance of the corpse, the effects of decomposition, the details of burial... the perverse desire to seek one's own death... [Kennedy, 3]
Bronfen views Poe's aestheticized death as an expression of "an uncanny contradictory relation to death"  that is, "translation of anxiety into desire" [62}. In other words, she seems to argue that desire i.e. "pathological fascination", a "death-wish", represent a secondary product of repression concealing the universal fear of death. In my view, this contradictory relation of anxiety and desire designates a striking case of an indivisible compound in which "a compulsive interest" of a thanatic explorer, the horror at the yawning abyss of nothingness, the pleasure of its approach through a repetition of its creation, the fear of decomposition and the savoring of its symptoms enigmatically become the aporetic components of a new unity. In other words, Poe's thanatic writing is an integrity (however inappropriate this term might seem while addressing his texts) of pleasure leading to death and death leading to pleasure and an obsessive attempt to probe the nature of this paradoxical confluence.
An "eccentric outsider" [Bronfen, 61], Poe seems willingly to succumb to those dark drives which would take him outside the boundaries of repression - "In his probing of the human soul and the roots of moral dysfunction, Poe anticipated Nietzsche's transvaluation of values, and many Poe stories can be read as speculations on how this transvaluation would influence human behavior" [Hirsch, 421]. In this sense, the meditations of The Imp of thePerverse could be read as a fictional forerunner of Beyond the PleasurePrinciple, that is, an aestheticized analysis of what Freud would later address as "instinctuality" that does not know of death but constantly strives to self-destruction i.e. to the achievement of pleasure. And at times, Poe's rhetoric bears an uncannily close resemblance to the presumably scientific discourse of Beyond:
In the consideration of the faculties and impulses - of the prima mobilia of the human soul, the phrenologists have failed to make room for a propensity which, although obviously existing as a radical, primitive, irreducible sentiment, has been equally overlooked by all the moralists who have preceded them [The Imp, 637, italics added]
Enough is left unexplained to justify the hypothesis of a compulsion to repeat - something that seems more primitive, more elementary, more instinctual than the pleasure principle which it over-rides [Beyond, 17, italics added];
...but in the case of that something which I term perverseness, the desire to be well is not only not aroused, but a strongly antagonistical sentiment exists [The Imp, 638]
None of these things can have produced pleasure in the past, and it might be supposed that they would cause less unpleasure today if they emerged as memories... instead of taking the form of fresh experiences. They are of course the activities of instincts intended to lead to satisfaction' but no lesson has been learnt from the old experience of these activities having led instead only to unpleasure. In spite of that, they are repeated, under pressure of a compulsion [Beyond, 15].
This enigmatic resemblance presents a problem of interpretative indeterminacy. Does Beyond the Pleasure Principle function as an analytic authority that invites us to read The Imp of the Perverse through the prism of its insights? Does The Imp of the Perverse exemplify one of those cases that inform Freudian investigation and conclusions?.. I would tend to consider this similarity a manifestation of the "thanatic paradigm", which has resulted in this instance of diachronic cultural intertextuality in which similar motives are articulated. Thus, in my view, Poe should not be read as an obsessive psychotic case readily yielding to a psychoanalytic conceptual framework but rather, as a prophetic herald whose gloomy observations have to a large extent inspired and anticipated the emergence of psychoanalysis. Poe's thanatology might be interpreted in terms of an irresistible quest for thanatic meanings whose marks express themselves in a variety of modalities: from figuring the death of the other (Ligeia, Berenice and Morella) via dwelling on multifaceted death and the destiny of the spirit (MesmericRevelation, The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar and Loss of Breath) to imagining the death of the Self and narrating it as an event of the other (William Wilson and The Masque ofthe Red Death).
Having made his famous statement that "the death... of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetic topic in the world - and equally is it beyond doubt that the lips best suited for such topic are those of a bereaved lover" [The Philosophy ofComposition, 26], Poe formulates his principles of thanatic aesthetics, i.e. of artistic creation whose meaning is defined by Death. He claims that "the usual mode of constructing a story" , i.e. the linear description of the event in its consequential development, "is a radical error" and proposes that a good storybeconstructed "from the end" - "I prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect" .
This rejection of the conventional mode of narration seems to foresee the modernist break with progressive continuity of narrative: "Modernist fictional death, ... became unpredictable, incoherent, often initiatory and pervasive. The death of Ivan Illich, The Man WhoDied, As I lay Dying... begin after the protagonist's death, an event to which they keep returning in search of lost meaning" [Friedman, 24]. Auguring the modernist view of Death, Poe's rhetoric still operates within the discursive Absolutes, though their meanings are constantly subverted. Having "designat[ed] Beauty as the province of the poem" , Poe differentiates between Beauty and Truth/Passion and renders the latter completely antonymous to the former:
... the object ,Truth, or the satisfaction of the intellect ,and the object Passion, or the excitement of the heart, are, although attainable, to a certain extent, in poetry, far more readily attainable in prose. Truth, in fact, demands a precision, and Passion a homeliness... which are absolutely antagonistic to that Beauty which, I maintain, is the excitement, or pleasurable elevation, of the soul [The Philosophy ofComposition, 24].
In this reflection, the notion of Beauty is removed from and juxtaposed to the realm of the precise and the homely [cf. Freudian heimlich] and rendered incompatible with "the satisfaction of the intellect" and "the excitement of the heart. In other words, Poe displaces the Beauty of the artistic creation from the domain of rationality and familiarity and converts it into an ir-rational and uncanny thanatic metaphor:
Regarding, then, Beauty, as my province, my next question referred to the tone of its highest manifestation - and all experience has shown that his tone is one of sadness. Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears. Melancholy is thus the most legitimate of all the poetical tones... Now, never losing sight of the object supremeness, or perfection... I asked myself - "Of all melancholy topics, what, according to the universal understanding of mankind, is the most melancholy?" Death - was the obvious reply [The Philosophy ofComposition, 24-26].
This equation of Beauty and Death - an "insistent figuring of the death of beauty - and the beauty of death" [Kennedy, 63] - both reflects and subverts the conventional Romantic attitude and the paradigm of what AriХs identifies as "the Age of the Beautiful Death". On the one hand, in Praz's terms,
To such an extent were Beauty and Death looked upon as sisters by the Romantics that they became fused into a sort of two-faced herm, filled with corruption and melancholy and fatal in its beauty - a beauty of which the more bitter the taste, the more abundant the enjoyment .
The very confluence of "the bitterest taste" and "the most abundant enjoyment" in itself implies a pacified consolation, a finalized object of sublime meditation or, so to speak, the "death of the beautiful is a beautiful death, for it inspires a spiritual elevation":
As the dead body became an icon, the proliferation of mourning art in nineteenth-century America - with its iconography of urns, plinths, mourners, and weeping willows - helped to feed a melancholy preoccupation with death. This impulse found its consummation in the death of young women, especially unmarried women, whose departures form this life, seemed to epitomize the beauty of innocent faith .
Thus, in terms of "the Age of the Beautiful Death", the death of a beautiful woman bears the marks of immortality, for
if any discussion of death involves masking the inevitability of human decomposition, it does so by having recourse to beauty. We invest in images of wholeness, purity and the immaculate owing to our fear of dissolution and decay... The idea of beauty's perfection is so compelling because it disproves the idea of disintegration, fragmentation and insufficiency... [Bronfen, 62].
Poe's thanatology, however, seems to unravel the repressive veil of the immortal beauty and probe the simultaneity of wholeness and disintegration, thereby conflating the repressed and its reverse transformation, Thus, a death of a beautiful woman becomes a topic for the most poetical "perverseness", inspired by "the human thirst for self-torture" [The Philosophy ofComposition, 31]. Poe's version of Beauty yet again bears a conceptual resemblance to the postmodern notion of Desire, a never-ending deferral of Death: "The pleasure is deduced solely form the sense of identity - of repetition" , thus Poe explicates his choice of "Nevermore" and echoes Freud's bewilderment: "How then does his repetition of this distressing experience as a game fit in with the pleasure principle? "[Beyond, 9]. The Philosophy of Composition elucidates the essence of Poe's thanatology, usually denoted as "obsession", when he confesses of willing "indulgence, to the extreme, of this self-torture" [31}. His rhetoric is conscious of both the repressed material and its masks of defense, when he probes the nature of "culturally prevalent aporic attitude to death" [Bronfen, 62]:
In Poe's tales... fated women seem invariably to grow more beautiful as they approach their last hour. Poe implies that through his insidious transformation, temporal loveliness approaches the perfection of eternal beauty... But because death also entails physiological decay, the beauty of the just departed contains an element of terror, since the passage of time implies a subsequent and inevitable mutation to loathsomeness. Death discloses its cruel paradoxality, being both the source of ideal beauty and its destroyer [Kennedy, 68].
In Berenice, Morella and Ligeia, the Gothic tales on deaths of beautiful women, the "perverse" aspects of Poe's thanatic investigation reveal themselves most saliently. These tales manifest his constant desire to explore that "undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveler returns" and, logically enough, the exploration is articulated through the body of Woman - a "phallocentric" Other, metaphorically associated with the issues of life-death ("womb-tomb"). Figuring a dying woman in each tale, the texts reenact over and over again "the pleasure of repetition" whereas through this repetition the putative narrator poses the same questions of identity - "the notion of that identity which at death is or is not lost forever was to me at all times a consideration of intense interest..." [Morella, 226] - and metempsychosis - "But it is mere idleness to say that I had not lived before - that the soul has no previous existence" [Berenice, 209]. Thus, "the most poetical topic" converts into a recurrent interrogation of the thanatic meaning in which the figure of Woman becomes a synecdoche, a replacement of the Absolute Other - "...I had seen her - not as the living and breathing Berenice, but as the Berenice of a dream; not as a thing to admire, but to analyze; not as an object of love, but as the theme of the most abstruse although desultory speculation" [Berenice, 214].
"Recognized today as a Faulknerian "memory" narrative unmatched in its time" [Carlson, 169], Berenice is an unreliable narrative of ruptures between the real death of its protagonist and its imagined occurrences:
God of heaven! Was it possible? Was it my brain that reeled or was it indeed the finger of the enshrouded dead that stirred in the white cerements that bond it? Frozen with unutterable awe I slowly raised my eyes to the countenance of the corpse. There had been a band around the jaws, but I know not how, it was broken asunder. The livid lips were wreathed into a species of smile, and through the enveloping gloom, once again there glared upon me in too palpable reality, the white and glistening, and ghastly teeth of Berenice [Berenice, 217].
The repulsive mystery of Berenice's teeth is interpreted by Kennedy as a mark of mortality and sign of disintegration , as a transference object that incorporates Egaeus's dread of mortality:
Egaeus can do nothing about the disease of Berenice, and her hideous transformation confronts him with a reminder of his own impotence and vulnerability. In particular the woman's teeth signify the problem of death; the narrator wants to possess them to control the reality which they represent .
However, Kennedy's remark that "Egaeus somehow associates [teeth] with ideas' , in which he leaves this connection in the margins of an insignificant relative clause, seems to signal that he overlooks the philosophical, metaphysical aspects of Egaeus's obsession. That is to say, the association of teeth and ideas refers precisely to an attempt to overcome mortality by visioning an object that is capable of surviving the body:
...Egaeus becomes obsessed with her teeth, which he linkens to idИe, so called after Plato's ideas - the absolutely True, Good and Beautiful essences or forms beyond all change, time and sense perception [Carlson, 171].
Egaeus's insanity reduces metaphysical transcendence into an abominable matter and yet articulates itself within the discursive framework of Reason and Absolute. Death becomes an unknown process of frightening metamorphoses and transmutates into something new, different, not identical to itself. A dead body becomes subject to misrecognition, loses its identity and familiarity. Its name seems to persist in memory but the referent no longer is. The "homeliness of Passion" when its object still is turns into the uncanniness of Beauty whose features are erased by invisible fingers of physical decay, the ghastly teeth standing out as the only mark of identity. Berenice is still alive but she already discloses her altered features to the insane foreboding imagination overwhelmed by "a sense of insufferable anxiety" and "a consuming curiosity" :
The forehead was high, and very pale, and singularly placid; and the once jetty hair fell partially over it, and overshadowed the hollow temples with innumerable ringlets now black as the raven's wing and jarring discordantly, in their fantastic character, with the reigning melancholy of the countenance. The eyes were lifeless, and lustreless, and seemingly pupilless... and in a smile of peculiar meaning, the teeth of the changed Berenice disclosed themselves slowly to my view [Berenice, 215].
In the context of "the changed Berenice", the teeth embody the only possibility to impose identity upon her evanescent essence and substantiate her not is -" ... there rolled out some instruments of dental surgery, intermingled with thirty two small, white, and ivory-looking substances that were scattered to and fro about the floor [Berenice, 219, italics added].
In Morella, the story of the intellect and consciousness which are destined to perish , thereby permitting to explore the possibility of reincarnation, the narrator announces in the very first lines his being possessed by the passion of the "perverse", or, in other terms, by the desire for a repetition of the "unpleasure":
"...my soul...burned with fires it had never known. But the fires were not of Eros - and bitter and tormenting to eager spirit was the gradual conviction that I could in no manner define their unusual meaning, or regulate their vague intensity [Morella, 225, italics added].
This is precisely this passion which forces him to meditate upon the meaning of finality, and metamorphoses of the beautiful and pleasant, and mutability of concepts and perceptions:
And then - then when poring over forbidden pages I felt the consuming thirst for the unknown, would Morella place her cold hand upon mine, and rake up from the ashes of a dead philosophy words whose singular import burned themselves in upon my memory: and then hour after hour would I linger by her side, and listen to the music of her thrilling voice, until at length its melody was tinged with terror, and I grew pale, and shuddered inwardly at those too unearthly tones - and thus, suddenly, Joy faded into Horror and the most beautiful became the most hideous... [Morella, 226]
This description represents both a reflection and a subversion of the traditional Western association of Woman with Forbidden Knowledge. For Poe, Woman metonymies Death, but not Death in its absolute finality. Rather, the "consuming thirst of the unknown" immerses itself in an ongoing process of indeterminacy whereby Joy is already pregnant with Horror whereas "the most beautiful" converts into "the most hideous". This perpetual metamorphosis is directed to the open finality of Nothing rather than to the "finalized" solemnity of the End. As the narrative-toward -death progresses, the consciousness, "which makes every one to be that which he calls `himself' - thereby ... giving him his personal identity" [Morella. 226], embarks upon the path toward the erasure of identity and the annihilation of body, and the narrator must reach a stoically mournful conclusion about temporality -
Yet she was woman, and pined away daily. In time the crimson spot settled steadily upon the cheek, and the blue veins upon the pale forehead became prominent... I met the glance of her melancholy eyes, and my soul sickened and became giddy with the giddiness of one who gazes downwards into some dreary and fathomless abyss [Morella, 227],
and , at the same time, he becomes impatiently eager to confront "the moment of truth":
Shall I then say that I longed with an earnest and consuming desire for the moment of Morella's decease?.. I grew furious with delay... .
Before her awaited decease, Morella bequeaths the serene consolation of continuity - "And when my spirit departs shall the child live - thy child and mine, Morella's"  and immediately undoes this promise of immortality:
"But thy days shall be days of sorrow - sorrow, which is the most lasting of impressions ", her bequest thus converting into an unanswered riddle: "How knowest thou this?" - I demanded eagerly - `how knowest thou all this, Morella?" But she turned away her face upon the pillow and a slight tremor coming over her limbs, she thus died, and I heard her voice no more "
Interestingly enough, the first version of Morella ends with the circle of life re-assuring itself - "Yet, as she had predicted, the child - to which in dying she had given life, and which breathed not till the mother breathed no more - the child, a daughter, lived ", while the second version yet again enters a frightening tunnel of thanatic repetition:
Bur, ere long, the heaven of this pure affection became darkened, and gloom, and horror, and grief, swept over it in clouds 
The daughter of Morella subjectifies the narrator's horror of obliterating identity implied in the death of the original Morella. At the same time, she articulates a no less powerful dread of reincarnation which, along with the perpetuation of life, signifies the return of the dead and the paralyzing anxiety at the "unfinalizedness" of the fact of death:
...my daughter remained nameless upon the earth. "My child" and "my love" were the designations usually prompted by a father's affection... Morella's name died with her at her death. Of the mother I had never spoken to the daughter; - it was impossible to speak [Morella, 235].
That the daughter lacks identity since one's name dies together with one's body, converts her into the dead imitation of the "Real" corpse - Morella the mother:
And, hourly, grew darker these shadows of similitude, and more full, and more definite, and more perplexing, and more hideously terrible in their aspect... and in the sad musical tones of her speech, and above all... in the phrases and expressions of the dead on the lips of the loved and the living, I found food for consuming thought and horror - for a worm that would not die .
This oxymoronic reference to the deathless mortality might condense in itself the whole riddle of the undying soul that is nevertheless doomed to die over and over again: " But she died; and with my own hands I bore her to the tomb; and I laughed with a long and bitter laugh as I found no traces of the first, in the charnel where I laid the second - Morella ". In a sense, Poe's "worm that would not die" inverts the belief in immortality turning it into a perpetual return of Thanatos, the Ultimate Death being constantly deferred by the roaming mortal spirit without identity.
Ligeia elaborates the thanatic pattern of metempsychosis and obliteration of the Self and yet again undermines the notions of Absolute Death and Transcendental Immortality, for, when Ligeia exclaims "O God! O Divine Father! - shall these things be undeviatingly so? - shall this Conqueror be not once conquered? Are we not part and parcel in Thee? Who - who knoweth the mysteries of the will with its vigor? Man doth not yield him to the angels, nor unto death utterly...[319, italics added], she, in fact, foreshadows her own inability to die "utterly" and anticipates her own return but not as a manifestation of Conqueror, conquered by the will of the Divine Father. Instead, she resurrects to the demented eyes of the narrator as an uncanny "worm that would not die", a reincarnation of the spirit of mortality, "for which the language of mortality has no sufficiently energetic explanation" [Ligeia, 327]. The return of Ligeia reveals an attempt to re-locate the identity that disappears with dying - Rowena's features seemed effaced and misrecognized, for she is not herself any longer (in one of the versions of Ligeia, Rowena is addressed as "she who had been dead" . In other words, she is perceived as a nameless estranged subject to frightening metamorphosis, to a "wild change in the personal appearance of the corpse" , the change which renders the corpse im-personal (de-humanized, in the language of Langer's Age of Atrocity), susceptible to personifying fantasies of the mind that refuses to see Nothingness.
In terms of this discussion, I should argue that the "death of the beautiful woman" proceeds beyond the framework of "misogyny" and the exploration of femininity and represents one of the ramifications of Poe's thanatology, in which Woman is a metonymied Absolute Other:
If the death of a beautiful woman is "the most poetical topic in the world", its aesthetic value derives neither from female beauty as such nor from death as an ontological event, but from the unstable relation between the two, from the shifting intermediacy of a phenomenon which has no proper place or form or intelligibility [Kennedy, 85].
The inarticulate essence of Death is articulated through the contemplation of the corpse of the Other and its ultimate difference is uttered through the incomprehensible metamorphoses of the dead and the loss of identity.
The female body is apparently not the only vehicle to communicate the thanatic polymorphousness. In MesmericRevelation and The Facts in the Case of M.Valdemar, Poe continues to explore the unclear relations between being and non-being, consciousness and dying, the transcendental capacity of the spirit and its eventual susceptibility to the Conqueror Worm. These relations seem to be articulated in terms of a transition from the Aristotelian "frozen" understanding of the soul's immortality to a figuring of the place of the spiritual in the materialistically uninhabited universe:
I need not tell you how skeptical I have hitherto been on the topic of the soul's immortality. I cannot deny that there has always existed, as if in that very soul which I have been denying, a vague half-sentiment of its own existence. But this half-sentiment at no time amounted to conviction [Mesmeric Revelation, 544].
The self-sufficient skepticism, informed by what Zweig calls the "Age of the Rational Optimism", becomes replaced with the curious uncertainty of the bewildered deist. In these terms, Mesmer himself represents the mystified quest for different meanings of the universe:
In such an immodest, impious epoch that eulogized solely its own self-sufficient reason, suddenly arrived a man claiming that our universe is by no means an empty, soulless space, nor an indifferent dead nothingness surrounding men, but that it is incessantly galvanized by invisible, intangible and only internally perceptible waves, mysterious flows and tensions which, through a long-term transmission, touch upon each other and revivify each other, just as one soul does to another, one thought to another [Zweig, 34].
Poe is interested in mesmerism since the hypnotic state resembles death and thus might shed some light upon his perpetual thanatic investigation and elucidate (or, perhaps, darken) that indeterminacy of rupture featuring his thanatic visions:
There can be no more absolute waste of time than the attempt to prove... that man, by mere exercise of will, can so impress his fellow as to cast him into an abnormal condition, of which the phenomena resemble very closely those of death, or, at least, resemble them more nearly that they do the phenomena of any other normal condition within our cognizance; that while in this state, the person so impressed employs only with effort... the external organs of sense, yet perceives, with keenly refined perception, and through channels supposed unknown, matters beyond the scope of the physical organs... [Mesmeric Revelation, 543].
Mesmerism offers to Poe's fantasy an amazing opportunity to enact a direct dialogue with Death, to interview the consciousness positioned beyond life and thereby probe the meanings of God, materiality and immortality in their postmortem refraction - "Had the sleep-waker, indeed, during the latter portion of his discourse, been addressing me from out the regions of the shadows?" [Mesmeric Revelation, 550]. During their conversation, the sleep-waker and the narrator meditate upon the conceptions of the matter and the ultimate meaning identified as God. Their metaphysical discussion is subverted from the very beginning:
V. You must begin at the beginning.
P. The beginning! But where is the beginning?
V. You know that the beginning is God...
P. What, then, is God?
V. (Hesitating for many minutes.) I cannot tell.
P. Is not God spirit?
V. While I was awake I knew what you meant by "spirit", but now it seems only a word - such, for instance, as truth, beauty - a quality, I mean.
P. Is not God immaterial?
V. There is no immateriality - it is a mere word. That which is not matter, is not at all - unless qualities are things .
Immediately afterwards, the Voice-beyond-life announces God's existence: "He is not spirit, for he exists. Nor is he matter, as youunderstand it ". This statement becomes a prey for deconstruction but, at the same time, turns the mesmerized man into a pre-Derridean deconstructionist - after death, any abstraction becomes a "mere word" ("While I was awake, I knew what you meant by "spirit") and dies that moment the enunciating voice grows silent. The notion of Death becomes a failing signifier confined to the metonymic repetition within the boundaries of discourse of life.
P. You have often said that the mesmeric state very nearly resembles death. How is this?
V. When I say that it resembles death, I mean that it resembles the ultimate life [548, italics added]
In his irresistible desire to hear the voice beyond Thanatos, Poe returns to the mesmerized mind in The Facts in the case of M.Valdemar, still refusing to admit or comprehend the entirety of Death:
At the expiration of this period, there issued from the distended and motionless jaws a voice - such as it would be madness in me to attempt describing. There are, indeed, two or three epithets which might be considered as applicable to it in part; I might say, for example, that the sound was harsh, and broken, and hollow; but the hideous whole is indescribable, for the simple reason that no similar sounds have ever jarred upon the ear of humanity [M.Valdemar, 661].
Imagining and endeavoring to articulate the voice of the unspeakable parallel visioning the unsignifiable Death - "For God's sake!- quick- quick!- put me to sleep - or, quick! - waken me! - quick! - I say to you that I am dead! . Similarly, the inability to die that torments the speaking corpse doubles the inability of consciousness to hear the silence of nothingness. The torment of the two ends when, at length, the Conqueror Worm asserts the horrible "canniness" of the only accessible manifestation of Thanatos ("of the worm's metamorphosis we are palpably cognizant [MesmericRevelation, 548]. This only comprehensible manifestation is the disgust of putrefaction:
As I rapidly made the mesmeric passes, amid ejaculations of "dead! dead!" absolutely bursting from the tongue and not from the lips of the sufferer, his whole frame at one - within the space of a single minute, or even less, shrunk - crumbled, absolutely rotted away beneath my hands. Upon the bed... there lay a nearly liquid mass of loathsome - of detestable putridity .
The inability to incorporate the fact of entire death into the limits of signification finds its expression in the aporetic horror of the voice of the dead, the imaginary anguish of consciousness that is propelled outside itself - "a journey into a deeper state of consciousness or of a horrific in-between state artificially suspended by scientific intervention" [Sloane & Pettengell, 267].
Mesmeric thanatology is paralleled by the Gothic fantasies of The Tell-Tale Heart and The Black Cat, which yet again communicate Poe's interest in thanatic metamorphoses and their indeterminacy and illustrate the problematic relations between the multiple deaths of the human subject, wherein the ultimate death is never certain and the fact of resurrection transforms into a horrifying return of "unorganized matter", as Poe's sleep-waker addresses the "ultimate life" in Mesmeric Revelation . These tales, referred to by Joswick as the "tales of crime and punishment" , or, rather, tales of confession, venture an insight into "the most obscure and inaccessible region of the mind", in Freudian terms, and scrutinize the gloomy inconsistency and dark incoherence of human motives - "the confessional form becomes primarily an anguished register for forces (psychological, social, moral) over which they can no longer exercise authority and into which they can no longer attain insight" [Joswick, 246]. In other words, they are tales of psychic disintegration expressed in the dismal conflicts between the "perverse" and the "discontents of civilization". In thanatic terms, they are tales of the violated notion of the wholeness, dismembered unity and crumbled absoluteness. The oneness and unequivocal certainty of death become dissected into separate units, each one representing resistance to and deferral of the Ultimate Event. The tormenting question becomes: "what is to survive after death has taken place?" and the pendulum of signification swings from surviving conscience pertaining to the undying heart (The Tell-Tale Heart) to the uncanny Evil Spirit of the perverse embodied by the undying nocturnal creature (TheBlack Cat).
In Loss of Breath, a breathless body - a metonymy for a corpse - is rendered an ironic inner voice meditating upon the meaning of the dead body, the finality yet again becoming suspended and postponed:
I may just mention, however, that die I did not. My body was, but I had no breath to be suspended, and but for the knot under my left ear ...I dare say that I should have experienced very little inconvenience [Loss of Breath, 69].
Death is not perceived as a singular termination but rather as an incoherent succession of vivisections:
After half an hour's performance... I became motionless, and shortly afterwards, being cut down, was delivered to a practicing physician...He commenced operations immediately. Having deprived me of both my ears, he discovered signs of animation... in case of my proving to be alive, he first made an incision into my stomach and ... removed several of my viscera for private examination... [A Decided Loss (a second version of Loss of Breath), 59].
This ironizing description - "What order may lie beyond the horizon of the narrator's consciousness may be communicated only indirectly through the irony of the narrative situation" [Joswick, 246] - reveals how the meaning of negation or absence implied in "- less" of whatever might signify a sign of vitality is ridiculed and suspected. Negation pertaining to the "- less" seems to lose its absolute value, for the absence of the negated is not complete - "I found... that the powers of utterance which... I then concluded to be totally destroyed, were in fact only partially impeded" [Loss ofBreath, 63]. Nor does the total absence metonymied by the partiality of "breathless" "and motionless" refer to itself, for the author seems only partially dead. Thus, the disintegrated mind protecting itself by ironic distancing represents a metonymic substitute for the disintegrated vision of death as unity whereas the disintegration disguises itself in the aporetic farce of the premature burial and partial resurrections of the dissected matter.
In these terms, William Wilson constitutes the most radical instance of disintegrating Death, articulated through the archetypal mystery of the Double and the ridiculed logic of arche and telos. The narrative delays the fact of death and Thanatos's ultimate irrevocability and absoluteness are suspended, refuted, overturned and eviscerated, for the end of the tale (and the presumable end of the narrator) evokes but a bewildered desire to return to the beginning of the narrative and, in essence, to repeat the circle of reading, the circle that refuses to arrive at its own closure. In this tale, Poe remains loyal to his conception of beginning from the end, developed the Philosophy of Composition- "I prefer commencing with the consideration of the effect" :
...I could have fancied that I myself was speaking while he said:
"You have conquered, and I yield. Yet, hence forward art thou also dead - dead to the World, to Heaven, and to Hope! In me didst thou exist - and, in my death, see by this image, which is thine own, how utterly thou hast murdered thyself"[William Wilson, 60]
This annunciation of the end, in fact, opens the never-ending interrogation concerning the retrospective beginning from the end:
Let me call myself, for the present, William Wilson... To the uttermost regions of the globe have no the indignant winds bruited its unparalleled infamy? Oh, outcast of all outcasts most abandoned! - to the earth art thou no for ever dead? To its honors, to its flowers, to its golden aspirations? - and a cloud, dense, dismal, and limitless does it not hang eternally between thy hopes and heaven? [William Wilson, 39].
On the one hand, the death of William Wilson might be envisaged as a metaphor for the end of the possibility for redemption, for the spiritual and moral failure that has denied the access to Hope and Heaven, whereas on the other hand, or, rather, at a more implicit stratum of signification, the "unfinalized" death of the beginning - endcircle implies the death of the spiritual presence of Hope and Heaven, wherein the phrase "how utterly thou hast murdered thyself" comes to signal its opposite, to signify the inability of the concept of "utterness" to refer to the entirety outside itself.
In a sense, the Death of the Double represents " the Double of the Death", whereby the boundaries between I and Thou become obliterated and so do the linearity of time, the distinction between reality and fancy and the metaphysical presence of Heaven and Hope. The search for and escape from one's double articulates the tantalizing flight from and pursuit of ungraspable reflections of the dying subject in the mirror of consciousness, reflections which flicker, disperse and evade any finite beholding and which, instead of leading to a recognition, establish an ultimate misrecognition:
A large mirror, - so at first it seemed to me in my confusion - now stood where none had been perceptible before; and as I stepped up to it n extremity of terror, mine own image, but with features all pale and dabbled in blood, advanced to meet me with a feeble and tottering gait [William Wilson, 60].
In The Masque of the Red Death, Poe yet again dwells on the epistemological and ontological understanding of Thanatos and introduces a vision of what I would refer to as "dissected totality". In other words, Prince Prospero's venture and its failure communicate the perceptual tension between death as an externalized Other lying in wait for its prey from without and death as an inevitable event of the Self seizing from within. Death is viewed both as an outward threat that can be avoided by fleeing into hedonistic seclusion and as an intruder to one's own blood that turns out to signify the inseparable part of the subject:
And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped he revelers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall... And Darkness and Decay and The Red Death held illimitable dominion over all .
In these terms, Death comes aporetically to signify the incompatible simultaneity of there and here, of thinking the absence in the absence of the object, of the disguised stranger that comes "like a thief in the night" and the familiar "acknowledged presence" of "illimitable dominion". Kennedy formulates this tension of perception and signification as a paradox:
Paradoxically, Poe's portrayal of pure absence signifies "the presence of the Red Death"... Death itself has no essence; it cannot be seized, known, destroyed, or avoided. It is a presence-as-absence whose meaning is forever denied to presence and already accomplished in absence .
The vision of Death as a mummer, a misrecognized guest at the thanatic masquerade of the euphoric denial seems to in-carnate the irresolute co-existence of all and nothing. The mask is a substitute for absence - for the face of the returning dead who otherwise would be faceless. Kennedy views masks as "signs without a proper referent; they mark a semiotic impasse in which writing has begun to locate its own activity"
...a throng of the revelers at once threw themselves into the black apartment, and, seizing the mummer, whose tall figure stood erect and motionless within the shadow of the ebony clock, gasped in unutterable horror at finding the grave-cerements and corpse-like mask which they handled with so violent a rudeness, untenanted by any tangible form [The Masque, 130].
Probably, the deconstructionist impasse of nothingness referred to by Kennedy might be opened, if one envisages this nihil as an infinite begetter of semiotic search, an inspiration for "seizing the mummer", a desire for the return to the nothing in order to grasp the meaning of the whole. In these terms, Death is an eyeless Venetian mask signifying nothing precisely because it hides everything, the mask in whose empty pupils there reflects the eternity of the infinite interrogation.
The mysterious indeterminacy of Death as multifaceted absence has overshadowed the destiny of the Author himself. Poe's own death has converted into an unresolved enigma and, in a sense, become similar to his textual deaths - to the paradox of the ultimate nothingness that constantly defies its own absoluteness, invites countless attempts at its deciphering and engenders infinite meanings. The multidimensionality of Thanatos in Poe's works has become paralleled by the multidimensionality of interpretative responses to both his factual decease and self-destructive being-toward-death.
The reports on how the Artist died seem to subvert the very notion of reportingas an objective and hence reliable reflection of what really happened. Dr. Joseph E. Snodgrass describes rescuing Poe "from a disreputable bar; the poet, who was "utterly stupefied with liquor, too drunk to speak" "mere mutterings were all that were heard", and he had to be carried out "as if a corpse", "muttering some scarcely intelligible oaths, and other forms of imprecation upon those who were trying to rescue him from destitution and disgrace"[quoted in Walker, 23].
Edgar Allan Poe is dead. Thousands will hear of it but none will regret it. He died in an unknown, out-of-the-way hospital in the city of Baltimore, in a fit of delirium tremens [quoted in Moran 12],
announces the magazine of those days (Harper's Monthly Magazine), thereby figuring the Artist as a self-destructive outcast whose tragic end is a finite and logical conclusion of the miserable life. In his attempt to vindicate Poe, as well as the reputation of his own clinic referred to as "out-of-the-way-hospital", Dr. John Moran asserts that "Edgar Allan Poe did not die under the influence of any kind of intoxicating drink", though earlier he wrote to Mrs. Clemm, "telling what he knew of Poe's last hours; the poet was admitted in a state of delirium; when he briefly returned to consciousness, Moran questioned him - "But his answers were incoherent and unsatisfactory" [Walker, 24]. Much later, though, Moran feels obliged to create what Walker calls an invention of "an elaborate deathbed drama in which Poe rather gloomily affirmed his belief in the afterlife and upheld the temperance ideal". Moran's Poe is a stoic martyr of the Age of the Beautiful Death:
"Doctor", said he, "Death's dark angel has done his work. Language cannot express the terrific tempest that sweeps over me, and signals the alarm of death [Moran, 68],
who undergoes a passage into an eternal life:
"O God! Is there no ransom for the deathless spirit?"
I said, "Yes, look to your Saviour; there is mercy for your and all mankind... The dying man then said impressively, "He who arched the heavens and upholds the universe, has His decrees legibly written upon the frontlet of every human being, and upon demons incarnate" .
The circumstances of the Author's death are as mysteriously unknown as those of the destruction of his characters and a yet additional version emerges portraying Poe as "a victim of political violence, seized by lawless agents of a political club, imprisoned in a cellar... and next day in a state bordering on frenzy made to vote in eleven different wards" [quoted in Walker, 24]. Walker believes that "the attraction of this story for Poe's apologists is that it transfers responsibility for his wretched end to an external source and establishes him as a victim rather than a culprit".
I would add to this that the dark haze of indeterminacy enveloping the Artist's death is precisely the source for this constant interpretative necessity to write and then re-read him over and over again, to depict the indefinite Masque hiding the real countenance, inaccessible to depiction:
A poor creature of this description [drunk],... in a condition of sad, wretched imbecility, bearing in his feeble body the evidences of evil living, and betraying by his talk, such radical obliquity of sense, that every spark of harsh feeling towards him was extinguished, and we could ever entertain a feeling of contempt for one who was evidently committing a suicide upon his body [Moss, 70]
- this description is but one of the expressions of this forever mutating Masque:
The appearance of the dead poet had not materially changed; his face was calm and placid; a smile seemed to play around his mouth, and all who gazed upon him remarked how natural he looked; so much so, indeed, that it seemed as though he only slept [Moran, 82].
That Poe apparently died in silence, without bequeathing a Word that could have imposed meaning and "finalized" his death, evokes an irresistible desire to return to his deathbed, whether it is with a magnifying looking glass of psychoanalysis, an eradicating scalpel of deconstruction, a fanciful romantic fountain pen of poete maudite. Edgar Allan Poe is unable to die entirely just like his mesmerized M.Valdemar, imploring anyone to put him asleep because he is dead.
Farewell, farewell, thou somber and solitary spirit: a genius tethered to the hack-work of the press, a gentleman among canaille, a poet among poetasters, dowered with a scholar's training, embittered by his sensitive scorn, and all unsupported by his consolations,
exclaims Andrew Lang in his Letters to Dead Authors, addressing Poe, whose undying soul "buried alive" continues to inform, intimidate and bewilder, requiring that the Author be analyzed in his presence. His deathless thanatic spirit and texts express the transmigrating restlessness of the ongoing refusal to reveal a final answer.
Works Cited and Consulted
AriХs, Philippe. Western Attitudes Towards Death: From the Middle Ages to the Present (1974). Trans. Patricia M. Ranum. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976.
Bakhtin, Mikhail. Avtor I Geroi: K Filosofskim Osnovam Gumanitarnikh Nauk. Sankt-Peterburg: Azbuka, 2000.
Bronfen, Elizabeth. Over Her Dead Body: Death, Femininity and the Aesthetic. Manchester University Press, 1992.
Carlson, W. Eric. Tales of Psychal Conflict: Berenice, Morella, Ligeia. A Companionto Poe studies. Edited by Eric W. Carlson, Westpot, Connecticut, London: Greenwood Press, 1996.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Penguin Books, 1994.
Eliade, Mircea. Myth of the Eternal Return. Sankt-Peterburg: Aletheia, 1998
Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. With an introd. By Richard Hughes. Penguin in Association with Chatto and Windus, 1964.
Foucault, Michel. The Birth of the Clinic. Moscow: Smisl, 1998.
Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Trans. and ed. By James Strachey. London: The Hogarth Press, 1971.
_____________. The Uncanny. Art and Literature. The Penguin Freud Library, Vol. 14. Eds. James Strachey and Albert Dickson, Penguin Books, 1990.
_______________. The Ego and the Id. Trans. by Joan Riviere. Revised and Newly Edited by James Strachey, London: the Hogarth Press, 1962.
______________. Thoughts for the times of War and Death. Freud: On War, Sex andNeurosis. New York: Art & Science Press, 1947.
Friedman, Allan Warren. Fictional Death and the Modernist Enterprise. Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Fromm, Erich. The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness. New York, Chicago, San-Francisco: Holt, Rinchart and Winston, 1973.
Heidegger, Martin. Existence and Being. Chicago, Illinois: Henry Regnery Company, 1949.
Hirsh, David H. Poe and Postmodernism. A Companionto Poe studies. Edited by Eric W. Carlson, Westpot, Connecticut, London: Greenwood Press, 1996.
Joswick, Thomas. Moods of Mind: The Tales of Detection, Crime and Punishment. A Companionto Poe studies. Edited by Eric W. Carlson, Westpot, Connecticut, London: Greenwood Press, 1996.
Kennedy, Gerald J. Poe, Death and the Life of Writing. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1987.
Lang, Andrew. Letters to Dead Authors. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1886.
Langer, Lawrence L. The Age of Atrocity. Death in Modern Literature. Boston: Beacon Press, 1978.
Moran, John J. M.D. A Defense of Edgar Allan Poe. Life, Character and Dying Declarations of the Poet. William F. Boogher, Publisher, 1331 F.Street, Washington D.C. 1885. New York: Ams Press, Inc., 1966.
Moss, Sidney P. Poe's Major Crisis. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1970.
Poe, Edgar Allan. The Complete Poems and Stories of Edgar Allan Poe. Editors: Arthur Hobson Quinn & Edward H. O'Neill, Vol. 2, New York, Alfred & Knopf, 1964.
______________. Selected Prose and Poetry. Revised Edition. Edited with an introduction by W.H.Auden. New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Toronto, London, 1964.
______________. Tales & Sketches. Volume 1:1831-1842. Ed. by Thomas Ollive Mabbott. University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 2000.
Praz, Mario. The Romantic Agony. Trans. Angus Davidson. London: Oxford University Press, 1970.
Sloane David E.E. & Pettengelll Michael J. The Science Fiction and the Landscape Sketches. A Companionto Poe studies. Edited by Eric W. Carlson, Westpot, Connecticut, London: Greenwood Press, 1996.
Staten, Henry. Eros in Mourning. The John Hopkins University Press, 1995.
Stone, Lawrence. The Family, Sex and Marriage in England, 1500-1800. New York: Harper and Row, 1977.
Toynbee, Arnold. Man's Concern with Death. St. Louis: McGraw -Hill, 1969.
Tolstoy, Lev. Smert' Ivana Illicha. Leningrad: Khudozhestvennaia Literatura, 1982.
Walker, Ian. The Poe Legend. A Companionto Poe studies. Edited by Eric W. Carlson, Westpot, Connecticut, London: Greenwood Press , 1996.