Review: “The Reason for the Darkness of Night” Illuminates Edgar Allan Poe’s Insane Science

As Emerson plunged into nature to become a transparent eyeball, forging the new American philosophy of transcendentalism, Poe gathered a myriad of sources into a wild patchwork. We can see why Eureka failed as a project, then and now, and why, when Poe’s biographer, Arthur Hobson Quinn, asked Albert Einstein about it in 1940, Einstein replied that he had “a striking resemblance to the crank scientific letters. that I receive every day ”.

Therefore, Eureka aimed at contemporary science, with what Tresch calls “a scorched earth attack on the narrowness of professional” scientists. ” At the same time as professional scientists formed the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Poe lambasted the professionals for splendid amateurism and personal reasoning. Poe’s Eureka has been, naturally, “precisely the kind of public-oriented, free, generalizing, idiosyncratic and unlicensed speculation that AAAS was created to exclude.”

Still dissatisfied with standard conceptions of reality, Poe kept looking. He was, writes Tresch, “convinced that the universe escapes our attempts to frame it.” Nevertheless, he continued to build models. The result, a shifting, semi-sensitive view of the cosmos, informed Poe’s worldview as it fueled his fiction: including Usher’s House, a building that responds to the deaths of its inhabitants by s’ spontaneously collapsing in the swamp. Throughout Tresch’s biography, it becomes clear just how much of Poe’s confusing but eerie hodgepodge could leave his philosophical reflections in abeyance, even if his fiction leaves readers wanting more.


Poe’s interest in science influenced not only the subjects of his writing, but his ideas about writing itself. A tenuous freelance life and the relentless work of pirating magazines disoriented him from any mythology of art. Writing, too, was ultimately a science. As he explained in “The Philosophy of Composition”, the writing was not done by magic, but rather according to formulas. The essay breaks down his historic poem “The Raven” into an almost brutal, emotionless anatomy of how to make a bestseller. The poem should be no longer than 100 lines, it should focus on “beauty” (and, according to Poe, “the death … of a beautiful woman is, without a doubt, the most poetic subject in the world”), and include a resonant and adaptable chorus. . He ruthlessly strips his own masterpiece of any possible sense of inspiration, instead insisting that he tinkered with it as the only possible solution to a predetermined set of rules. “By emphasizing the mechanical and rule-related aspects of his creation,” notes Tresch, “Poe denied the romantic definition of poetry, advanced by Wordsworth and Coleridge and defended by [James Russell] Lowell and [Margaret] More complete, like “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”. Poe regarded writing less as the work of a sudden genius and more as the work of a careful and stubborn scientist. The new ideas did not come magically from inspiration, but rather were developed from pre-existing ideas, in new combinations and in the slow build-up of existing materials that sometimes burst into something new and new. striking.


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