Text: Roger Forclaz, “Poe in Europe: Recent German Criticism,” Poe Studies, December 1978, Vol. XI, No. 2, 11:49-55


[page p, column c:]

Poe in Europe
Recent German Criticism

Bern, Switzerland

Edgar Allan Poe is undoubtedly one of the best-liked of American writers in Germany. It is noteworthy that he has elicited popular as well as elitist attention, attracting the interest of writers as different as Rainer Maria Rilke, Walter Benjamin, and Ernst Junger. Having been translated into German as early as 1853, Poe may be more appreciated by German readers than by his countrymen (1). Be that as it may, the popularity he enjoys in Germany is as great as in France. But there are two significant differences between the German and the French reception of Poe: first, no single German writer of repute can be said to have been influenced by him — only a few definitely minor writers, such as Gustav Meyrink and H. H. Ewers, have been so marked (2) (It is interesting to note, however, that Poe was a source of inspiration for German-speaking artists; two Austrian engravers, Alfred Kubin and Hans Fronius, particularly deserve mention, Kubin having done three hundred engravings of Poe’s works, perhaps a record among Poe illustrators (3). The second difference between the French and German reception is that, as a whole, German criticism of Poe is far more perceptive than is the French. The two chief German contributions to Poe scholarship so far are, first, Franz Link’s 1968 critical study, which was considered in a review in American Literature an “absolute must” for the Poe scholar, and second, Kuno Schuhmann’s recent edition, the most important critical edition of Poe’s works in translation to date (4). The German image of Poe has been on the whole neither warped by Baudelaire’s “legend” nor biased by such pseudo-scientific theories as Lauvriere’s and Marie Bonaparte’s (5); it is thus characterized by a greater objectivity than the French image, though the Poe legend is also alive in Germany. Unfortunately, there is no full-length study of his reception in Germany; the only studies which have been undertaken are those of Fritz Hippe (6), which is devoted to the poetry alone and was written almost seventy years ago, an article by H. H. Kuhnelt (7), and a few pages in a book on the reception of American literature in Germany after 1945 (8).

Without going so far as Kuhnelt’s claim in the latter work that German criticism of Poe is superior to American criticism, one cannot but be impressed by the bulk of German criticism. The attraction Poe holds for German readers and critics can be accounted for, to a large extent at least, by his affinities with German Romantics, by the similarities between his work and character and those of Fouque, Tieck, Arnim, and especially Novalis and E. T. A. Hoffmann. Another cause is his kinship with Kafka, for Poe has been seen as both an epigone of German Romantics and a forerunner of Kafka. Numerous scholars, especially in the first quarter of this century, considered him a German Romantic [column 2:] born by accident in America, particularly because they thought his works originated in German Romanticism and lacked American traits. One of the chief dangers of this attitude is the narrow approach it fosters of seeking Poe’s sources in German Romanticism at all costs (9). Such source-hunting has already been condemned by Gustav Gruener, who censured “Motivenjagerei — which only too often degenerates into a veritable Hexenjagd, with its oversubtlety and forced analogies” (10). Fortunately, most scholars today no longer try to prove Poe’s indebtedness to German Romantics but only stress his affinities with them (11). Above all, instead of viewing him as a belated Romanticist, contemporary critics hail Poe as a herald of our age and a forerunner of the absurd, as Rilke pointed out more than half a century ago in a famous passage of Letters to a Young Poet, in which he speaks of “that dangerous uncertainty . . . which impels the prisoners in Poe’s stories to feel the contours of their terrible prisons and not to remain strangers to the inexpressible terrors of their confinement’’ (12). To Ernst Junger, for example, Poe’s images are apocalyptic symbols and hieroglyphs of truth; in his book Strahlungen, he even casts Poe in the role of Charon (13). In Gunter Blocker’s words, Poe heralds “new realities’’ (14).

In line with this emphasis on Poe’s modernity, some contemporary German critics find the theoretician in Poe to be more important than the poet or short-story writer. As Gunter Blocker puts it, the true fascination is produced, not by Poe’s poetical work, but by his theories, a modern characteristic in his opinion (15). In this context, Poe is considered not only the creator of the short story but also the father of modern poetry, at least insofar as he is the advocate of a “poetical technology” and of the application of technology to poetics (16). Thus for Hugo Friedrich and Hans Magnus Enzensberger, he is a key figure in the history of modern poetry because poetry becomes a technical phenomenon with him; Poe’s is for them the most important contribution made by America to modern poetics (17). This insistence on the theoretical side of Poe might seem at variance with the traditional view of his “Romanticism,” but the two can be reconciled: Poe has been called “the most perfect of Romanticists” because of his insistence on conscious art — he follows in the wake of Novalis in this respect (18). Yet in an overall view, as the following survey will suggest, Poe’s theoretical writings have been comparatively neglected in Germany (19), with the poetry and especially the fiction claiming the foreground of scholarly attention, although this essay will end with a consideration of a recent dissertation devoted solely to Poe’s poetical theories.


Kuno Schuhmann’s Die erzahlende Prosa Edgar Allan Poes (Heidelberg, 1958) marks the beginning of contemporary German criticism; purporting to study Poe’s contribution to the short story, it surveys the whole body of his fiction chronologically, stressing the evolution of the tale-writer and his attempt to synthesize imagination and reality. But Schuhmann’s approach is chiefly thematic, to the neglect of Poe’s art; so fine a tale as “The Cask of Amontillado,” for example, is not discussed. Klaus Lubbers’ Die Todesszene und ibre Funktion im Kurzgeschichtenwerk von Edgar Allan Poe (Muncher, 1961) represents a definite step forward in this context: in studying the way death is represented [page 50:] in Poe’s stories, Lubbers shows that all elements tend towards a climactic confrontation of the protagonist with death. Thus the study of the theme leads to that of structure.

Poe’s craftsmanship is the main concern of Armin Staats’ Edgar Allan Poes symbolistische Erzahlunst, supplement to Jahrbuch fur Amerikastudien, 20 (Heidelberg, 1967), which marks a turning point as the first critical study focusing on Poe’s art in the context of his literary theories. Staats believes that the concept of “unity of effect” is the cornerstone of Poe’s theory of literature. He studies the way the symbol creates a bridge between the reader’s naive understanding and the intention of the artist. Only through naive understanding, the only legitimate aesthetic approach, can the reader experience unity of effect. Staats rightly criticizes the allegorical interpretations of “Ligeia,” for instance, because they are not based on the reader’s naive understanding and are thus at variance with Poe’s theory. For Staats, Poe’s art consists in the fusion, realized with an increasingly consummate skill, between objective and subjective reality by means of the symbol. The symbol is a way of overcoming Cartesian dualism, the dichotomy of subject and object, but it has no metaphysical or epistemological value. The subject of a work of art, Staats believes, has little or no importance for Poe; unity of effect is foremost, and the writer is concerned solely with the aesthetic experience, without trying to interpret reality or to give it a form. Poe’s conceptions are the logical development of the aesthetics of his time and especially of “faculty psychology,” which accounts for the increasing subjectivism of aesthetic categories under the influence of Romanticism. But the Romantic conception of art undergoes a radical change with Poe, whose aesthetics cannot be understood in terms of Platonic idealism, a change leading to an unprecedented claim for the absolute value of the poetical imagination.

Unlike Victor Cousin, the source of Poe’s theory of “supernal beauty” according to Staats, Poe postulates the complete autonomy of the artist. The symbol is no longer a representation of the absolute but rather a means of reconciling speculation and reality: its function should be understood in light of the artist’s autonomy, its constitution in light of a dialectical process which leads to the fusion between the subjective and the objective. “Unity of effect” is achieved through the creation of an imaginary reality. Grounding the speculative in reality, legitimatizing the imaginary, is Poe’s central aesthetic problem. The tension involved in the creation of an ideal reality has to be overcome in order to convince the reader of its claim to actuality. Verisimilitude plays an important part toward this end: the reader identifies himself with the narrator, and a synthesis of the two worlds, mind and matter, is realized. Verisimilitude is thus of paramount importance for the production of effect; it is the chief means of bestowing reality upon the imaginary, and it can best be realized, in Poe’s own words, by establishing “a relation of matter to spirit and spirit to matter” (Complete Works, XII, 4).

The above aesthetic, according to Staats, accounts for Poe’s interest in Swedenborg’s theory of correspondences, an interest apparent in “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Poe’s [column 2:] concern with overcoming Cartesian dualism appears, among other places, in his treatment of the theme of identity, which Staats sees involving the problem of alienation of self-consciousness in such works as “MS. Found in a Bottle,” “Morella,” and “The Pit and the Pendulum”; Eureka, which represents “the pseudo-scientific legitimation of self-consciousness in the sense of German idealism,”20 is the ultimate outcome of Poe’s concern with this problem. Staats also analyzes half a dozen stories which illustrate other aspects of Poe’s theories; his interpretations of the role of symbols in “Ligeia,” of the function of terror in “Usher,” and of the role of verisimilitude in “The Black Cat” are particularly good. He concludes with an allegorical interpretation of “The Domain of Arnheim,” which epitomizes for him Poe’s theory of art: Ellison’s “object of unceasing pursuit” is equivalent to the Sehsucht of German Romanticism. An outstanding study of Poe’s art and use of symbols, Staats’ book nevertheless leans too much on the side of subjectivism; it is impossible to agree when he claims that Poe had no philosophy. But Staats convincingly demonstrates Poe’s indebtedness to eighteenth-century aesthetics as well as to Swedenborg, to Cousin, and to the theory of the “sublime,” thus showing that the writer did not live in vitro and that his theories did not originate ex nihilo.

The year after the appearance of Staats’ study saw the publication of Franz Link’s Edgar Allan Poe: Ein Dichter zwischen Romantik und Moderne (Frankfurt am Main 1968). In the words of George P. Clark, it was “the first study of Poe’s complete work ever to appear in Germany, and the most comprehensive book on the art and philosophy of Poe to appear anywhere since Edward Davidson’s Poe: A Critical Study.” Clark’s useful and extensive review of Link’s work [see Poe Studies, 4 (December 1971), 52-53] which provides a detailed assessment of the critic’s efforts to locate Poe’s “place between Romantic and Modern,” requires no supplement here. Instead this essay will examine a selection of later studies, most dealing with specific aspects of Poe’s art, to indicate the range and quality of critical attention that Poe has received in Germany in the years following Link’s book.


The importance of the “sublime” for Poe has been investigated by Klaus Poenicke, whose 1972 dissertation Dark Sublime is a study of the role of setting in American Romanticism (21). For Poenicke, the confrontation between the self and the infinite which characterizes the sublime is largely unsuccessful in the Gothic novel; not so in nineteenth-century American fiction, in which the setting plays a dominant part. Instead of being a mere stage property, the landscape becomes a part of the action and plays the role of man’s opponent. It can do so because of the traditions of the “American dream,” of the contrast between the garden and the wilderness, and of the consciousness of a menace to the garden that constitute basic elements of the American experience. For Poenicke, the conflict of the self and the infinite is not yet apparent in Charles Brockden Brown’s works (except, to some extent, in his last two novels). Poe, who follows in the wake of Brown’s efforts to represent the power of the daemonic, goes much farther than his predecessor. The fragmentation of the self in Poe is at the core of [page 51:] his characters’ being rather than the result of external incidents, and this fragmentation is connected with a radical treatment of the sense of space. Landscapes in Poe, as in Hawthorne and Melville, are characterized by an increasing ambiguity that casts the individual back upon himself: the result is a “dark intermediary world” in which terror is part and parcel of existence and intimately connected with individuality. Poenicke illustrates these points with a study of “Usher,” stressing at the same time the influence of contemporary aesthetics and of the Gothic novel on the tale (22). Poe’s narrator has the same experience that Melville deals with in “The Piazza” (which embodies for Poenicke the quintessence of the American attitude toward the sublime): if the sublime is experienced without a sufficient distance, it turns out to be destructive.

Contradicting the spatial experience of the tales in Poenicke’s opinion are the idyllic visions of Eureka and “The Domain of Arnheim,” where Poe attempts to harmonize the self with the world; Poe’s Weltanschauung is thus characterized by a radical dualism. Some qualifications concerning this study are in order. The idyllic vision also appears in “The Journal of Julius Rodman” and “Eleonora,” among others, and Poenicke is wrong when he claims that Dr. Johnson’s conception of the “happy valley” in Rasselas — which he conclusively demonstrates influenced Melville’s Typee — did not influence Poe: Rasselas is certainly one of the sources of “Eleonora,” as T. O. Mabbott has pointed out (23). Poenicke also errs in neglecting “A Descent into the Maelstrom,” in which the confrontation between man and the infinite reaches a climax. Finally, Poenicke’s approach to setting should be compared with Gerhard Hoffmann’s 1971 article “Raum und Symbol in den Kurzgeschichten Edgar Allan Poes” (24), which analyzes Poe’s use of setting as a spatial symbol (an abstract and translation of Hoffmann’s article will be published in the June 1979 issue of Poe Studies) .

No less than his treatment of space, Poe’s conception of time is of great importance for a knowledge of his world. Herbert Rauter’s article “Zen’, Zeitmessung und Bewusstsein bei E. A. Poe” (25) is the best study of the subject published so far. Rauter examines what the role of time contributes to the interpretation of Poe’s tales and finds it essential to their meaning. As Marie Bonaparte and Jean-Paul Weber had already pointed out, Poe was obsessed by watches and by the image of time, but whereas they directed attention to the man only, Rauter studies the image of time in the work. In almost all the stories, he says, the representation of the lapse of time plays an important part; watches and clocks have a symbolical value in several stories, not only in “The Masque of the Red Death” and in “The Tell-Tale Heart,” but also in “The Devil in the Belfry,” the central theme of which is the attempt to overcome time by measuring it. Critics usually consider this story minor and relegate it to the so-called “grotesques,” but Rauter points out that it shares the same conception of time as Poe’s masterpieces: time, which cannot be stopped, brings about a deterioration, so that the end of everything is ruin and destruction. Rauter finds this image of time (“tempus edax”) predominant in Poe’s work, from which the conception of time as a subjective reality or as a cyclical phenomenon is conspicuously absent (a conclusion open to [column 2:] question). Rauter rightly considers Eureka, with its “progressive collapse of the universe,” congruent with Poe’s view of time and a key for the interpretation of the tales, as he brilliantly demonstrates in an article on “The Man of the Crowd” (26) — a story which, incidentally, has always been particularly appreciated in Germany (27). Rauter points out that Poe’s images for the collapse of the universe — vortex, abyss, and whirlpool — are always associated with danger. The metaphor of the fall likewise appears in stories in which the lapse of time is represented, and Rauter stresses the connection between time and consciousness, with the loss of the sense of time foreshadowing an impending catastrophe. The lapse of time thus becomes relevant for the action because it represents a growing consciousness of the inevitability of catastrophe.

Rauter distinguishes three different attitudes toward time in those tales which present a fall as a symbol of destructive time: the surrender to falling in the stories dealing with what Poe called “perversity”; the attempt to stop time and destruction, an attempt doomed, of course, to failure, as in “Red Death” and “Valdemar”; and the victory over time achieved by using the laws of falling as a means of salvation, as in “Maelstrom” and “The Pit and the Pendulum,” a victory which can only be temporary. Thus, Rauter concludes, Poe was truly obsessed by the thought of destructive time, and the knowledge of the final destruction is always present, even when the hero is saved through recognizing the laws underlying the destructiveness of time. The same image of time appears in “The Island of the Fay,” in which its destructiveness is presented in a pure state, as it were. But here Rauter oversimplifies Poe’s attitude toward time, which is also represented in this sketch as a cyclical phenomenon, providing the serenity that sets this work in sharp contrast with the other stories. Rauter is also on shaky ground in not finding the image of time as a subjective reality in the tales: it appears in “The Tell-Tale Heart” and, to some extent, in “The Pit and the Pendulum.”

Rauter’s position leads him to judge Poe as opposed to any belief in progress or human perfectibility. Poe’s hostility to such beliefs is exemplified by such stories as “The Colloquy of Monos and Una” and “Some Words with a Mummy,” but others lead to different conclusions. The detective stories, for instance, present a positive view of progress and perfectibility. Paul Buchloh and Jens Becker argue this point in their book about the detective novel (28), in which they place Poe in the tradition of the eighteenth-century belief in the perfectibility of the human mind. The authors believe that “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” possesses a structure similar to that of a sermon, the effect of which is to demonstrate this idea. According to them, Poe thus used the detective story as a vehicle for propagating the idea of progress.

In his dissertation Die Funition des analytischen Verstandes in Edgar Allan Poes Kurzprosa (Kiel, 1971), Walter Reimers explores the role of the analytical mind in Poe’s fiction. Reimers finds the polarity between analytical mind and object fundamental for understanding the tales; the object of the hero’s curiosity can be an enigma or problem, but also death, beauty, another person, or the hero’s own conscience. Reimers purports to examine how far this [page 52:] polarity determines the subject matter as well as the form of the stories. Unfortunately, he does not really answer the question. In his study of the detective stories, he stresses the weaknesses of Dupin’s argumentation and points out that, contrary to Poe’s claim in the review of Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales, the discovery of truth in the metaphysical sense is not the object of these tales: the writer’s aim is merely to produce an effect. But Reimers confines himself to the defects and does not try to analyze the springs of Dupin’s reasoning; neither does he discuss the influence of eighteenth-century thought on it. Reimers studies various other categories of tales featuring the polarity of analytical mind and object. In the science-fiction stories, the imaginative element plays a more important part than in the detective stories; the attempt to overcome intellectual barriers takes a fictional form here. A second category comprises stories having existential fear and death as their subject, such as “A Descent into the Maelstrom” and “The Pit and the Pendulum.” The role of imagination increases with the growing irrationality of the problem confronting the protagonist. It is still more apparent in the stories of the third group, such as “Usher,” “The Man of the Crowd,” and “Berenice,” in which another person is the object of the narrator’s analytical mind. In the last group, comprising stories dealing with “perversity,” the analytical mind and the object are united in the same person. Imagination and analysis are thus the two components of the analytical mind; both work together, in Dupin as well as in other Poe heroes. Reimers concludes that the analytical mind is a structural element determining the content as well as the form of the stories; it is, however, absent from the humorous tales, which accounts for their inferior quality. In an appendix, Reimers studies Poe’s relationship to his milieu, to which, he argues, Poe is not so alien as has often been represented: the scientific mind, spirit of the pioneers, individualism, and belief in progress are typical of America and of Poe himself, and the latter’s reliance on the “analytical mind” is an adaptation of Emerson’s “self-reliance.”

Another study investigating a leitmotif in Poe’s creative work is Bernd Gunter’s dissertation Das Groteske und seine Gestaltung in den Geschichten Edgar Allan Poes (Freiburg i. Br., 1974). Curiously enough, the subject has hardly been investigated apart from a few doctoral dissertations and comments made in passing in more broadly focused studies (29) nor have scholars successfully ascertained what Poe meant in the preface of Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (Philadelphia, 1840) when he said, “The epithets ‘Grotesque’ and ‘Arabesque’ will be found to indicate with sufficient precision the prevalent tenor of the tales here published.” Gunter takes issue with the view commonly held since A. H. Quinn that the “arabesques” are meant to be serious whereas the “grotesques” have a burlesque or satirical quality (30). He rightly underlines the inconsistency of scholars who hold this view and simultaneously consider Poe’s source for the terms to be Walter Scott’s essay on E. T. A. Hoffmann (where the two words are used as synonyms) (31). A further inconsistency, Gunter maintains, arises because Scott does not take “grotesque” as the equivalent of “ironical” or “humorous”; for Scott, “the grotesque . . . has a natural alliance with the horrible” (32). Finally, the grotesque is generally associated with the terrible and the [column 2:] daemonic; it is illogical, Gunter argues, to link the “grotesque” only with the “humorous” or “burlesque” in Poe’s case and at the same time to associate it with the absurd in reference to writers like Faulkner or Sherwood Anderson.

Before undertaking a study of the grotesque in Poe’s work, Gunter first examines the phenomenon itself and tries to define it independently from all historical context. He points out the confusion existing in the colloquial usage as well as in the scientific discussion owing to the lack of a precise definition of what he calls an “open-ended term.” He then distinguishes four main streams of the grotesque: the ridiculous and burlesque, the terrible and daemonic, the union of both these meanings, and, lastly, the paradoxical and absurd. Gunter next studies the historical evolution of the concept, which goes back to fifteenth-century Italy and to painting. The grotesque becomes an aesthetic category with Romantics who use it with two different meanings, the burlesque and the terrifying. Later the two are merged into one, and the combination of ludicrous and fearsome qualities becomes characteristic of the grotesque. This conception of the grotesque appears in Scott’s article, in a review of Disraeli’s Vivian Grey in the New Monthly Magazine, and in another of Hood’s works in the Westminster Review (33) ( both of the latter are possible sources for Poe). Twentieth-century discussion of the concept similarly identifies it with the burlesque as well as the terrible and with the fusion of the two. Gunter takes issue with Wolfgang Kayser’s views, which have been widely accepted by scholars: in Gunter’s opinion, by identifying the grotesque with the absurd and the daemonic, Kayser overemphasizes the terrible and neglects the comic and burlesque aspects. His own definition unites both aspects: the peculiarity of the grotesque lies in both the merging and the contrast of two heterogeneous domains. The product of the free play of fancy, the grotesque is marked by a clash between content and presentation. Its constituent element is a tension between two opposite tendencies, an ambivalence between laughter and terror. This tension must be maintained with a comparative equilibrium; when the balance is broken, the grotesque ceases to exist. Thus in the grotesque, comic illusion and terrible disillusion exist side by side.

Having thus defined the grotesque and placed it in its historical context, Gunter proceeds to examine the part it plays in Poe’s work. He finds little evidence in the preface of Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque that Poe wanted to distinguish two different groups among his tales; Poe merely speaks of the “prevalence of the ‘arabesque’ in [his] serious tales.” It is incorrect, therefore, to identify “Arabesque” with “seriousness,” “gloom,” “Germanism,” and “terror” or to conclude as a consequence that the humorous tales are “grotesque.” Furthermore, the tales themselves resist such classification. Because of this error, and of the inferior value attributed to the so-called “grotesques,” Poe scholars have neglected the study of the grotesque as a stylistical and structural element in his work, with only a handful of dissertations focused directly on this problem (34). Gunter finds the approaches proposed in these dissertations unsatisfactory because they are based on subjective interpretation of the grotesque and do not define it as an aesthetic phenomenon. On the problem of Poe’s source, Gunter takes [page 53:] issue with the common view of his indebtedness to Scott’s article; more probable sources are contemporary magazine articles such as the reviews of Vivian Grey and Hood’s works mentioned above. He also points out that the concepts of “grotesque” and “arabesque” were part of the stock-in-trade of Romantic writers and suggests that there is no single source for Poe’s association of the two. Further support for denying the simple equivalence of the “grotesque” and the “humorous” is drawn from the appearance of the term in Poe’s creative work: while the word “arabesque” is used generally in its original meaning, as a kind of ornament, “grotesque” is used mostly figuratively, but with widely different meanings, both as a heightened form of the ridiculous and as synonymous with “terrible.” In the critical writings, the word is also used in relation to Poe’s theory of the creative imagination. These variations in the uses of the word make it impossible to determine precisely its value and its place in Poe’s critical theory. Gunter therefore draws upon the definition proposed in the first part of his study: the grotesque is the product of the poetical imagination resulting from the fusion of heterogeneous, opposite domains.

In light of this definition, Gunter argues that Poe did not intend to distinguish two fundamentally different categories in the preface of the 1840 volume — if he had wanted to, there would have been no better opportunity to do it. Poe obviously considered all his tales as constituting a unity, having a common nature: he speaks of “prevalent tenor,” of “general character,” and of “unity of design.” Thus “grotesque” and “arabesque” are complementary terms designating different aspects of the same thing; they characterize in common the principle underlying Poe’s tales, the free play of fancy. According to Gunter, the “prevalent tenor” of the tales involves the imagination in the process of transcending a reality that can be grasped rationally, as evidenced by the title of the projected volume Phantasy Pieces and by the description of the Tales of The Folio Club as intended to “illustrate a large work ‘On the Imaginative Faculties’” (Letters, I, 103). The fact that in the 1840 preface Poe admitted a prevalence of the “arabesque” in his serious tales does not warrant its identification with “Germanism” and “gloom,” Gunter argues, and many misinterpretations would have been avoided if Poe had spoken of “grotesque and arabesque” instead of “arabesque” only. This argument is, of course, rather flimsy: why would Poe have used two words if they were synonymous? Besides, the table of contents of the Phantasy Pieces shows a deliberate alternation between the serious and the humorous tales (35).

Gunter’s study of the grotesque in particular tales tends to confirm the traditional view: of the eight tales he analyzes, four (“The Masque of the Red Death,” “The Premature Burial,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “Hop-Frog”) are so-called “arabesques,” and four (“King Pest,” “The Devil in the Belfry,” “The Man That Was Used Up,” and “The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether”) so-called “grotesques.” Gunter recognizes that these tales can be separated into two groups which produce fundamentally different impressions, but, he says, the characteristics of the grotesque, especially its ambivalent effect, are to be found in both. In his conclusion, Gunter somewhat shifts his point [column 2:] of view, no longer trying to maintain his theory that “grotesque” and “arabesque” are synonymous. He does continue to maintain, however, that the grotesque plays an important part as a stylistic and structural element in a range of Poe’s stories, not simply those traditionally labelled “grotesque.” If Gunter does not always succeed in reconciling his theories with Poe’s assertions (especially in the preface of the 1840 volume), and if he fails in his attempt to propose a unified and coherent theory, his dissertation is nevertheless valuable because it is the first full-length study of one of the chief aspects of Poe’s creative work.

A last doctoral dissertation, Ulrich Horstmann’s Ansatze zu einer technomorphen Theorie der Dichtung bei Edgar Allan Poe ( Bern and Frankfurt am Main, 1975), deals specifically with Poe’s poetics. According to Horstmann, Poe’s poetical theory is not a belated American variant of Romantic aesthetics, but rather the consistent attempt to translate this aesthetics into technological terms. His conception of poetry is the forerunner of a tendency culminating in modern generative poetics; in the words of Max Bense, technology takes the place of ideology in Poe (36). Poe is not the American prototype of Romanticism, Horstmann holds, nor is he alien to his time (a view in strong contrast with that of such a critic as Fritz Hippe, who finds Poe “a stranger to the world,” living in and being destroyed by a culture that did not understand him) (37). Taking issue with cliches claiming that Poe’s work lacks contemporaneity and that historical and sociological factors are irrelevant to understanding it, Horstmann contends that Poe’s poetics forms a coherent system only if its historical relations are restored. The influence of the eighteenth century is seen in the importance Poe attributes to psychology and emotion as well as in his conception of the rationality of the creative process. He was in agreement with his time in his critical attitude toward the Romantic conception of art: whereas the Romantics attributed a cognitive value to art, he was skeptical about the aesthetic transparency of the world and lacked their Platonism. Horstmann finds in Poe what he terms a “skeptical loss of transcendence”; as with Melville, Poe’s belief in the idealistic and imaginative transparency of the world broke down.

Horstmann’s view of Poe’s response to this disillusionment may be summarized as follows. Poetry is an answer, but the poet in this case merely creates illusion, and poetry becomes the falsification, as perfect and as subtle as possible, of ecstatic visions. Art is reduced to the mere suggestion of a meaning and to the manipulation of emotion instead of being the expression of visions. Technology replaces metaphysics; “transcendental illusionism” takes the place of Romantic idealism — Novalis’ “magical idealism” is superseded by a “magical symbolism” (38). The logical consequence of this “autonomous constructivism” is the affirmation of the autonomy of poetry; Poe was the advocate of a radical dissociation of truth, beauty, and morality (a very questionable assertion, I must add). The object of poetry is an alienation from reality rather than a reflection of it. Ontology is transformed into psychology: the ontological conception of beauty is replaced by a catalogue of reactions, and the intensity of psychical effects becomes the supreme standard. Poe’s “technomorphical” conception defines art as a relationship between means and end and between stimulus [page 54:] and reaction. His poetical technology is “post-idealistic”; he is in the tradition of Scottish “common sense” philosophy, not of Romanticism. He aims at the “technologization” of art: poetry becomes a mathematical calculation and the poet an illusionist. A. W. Schlegel’s and Coleridge’s organic unity is absent from Poe’s aesthetics, and the aesthetic emotion is deprived of all intellectual content. Poe’s first object is the intensity of the impression, and his conception of effect is very restrictive. Ruin and destruction are his only themes, an emphasis Horstmann speaks of as a “popularization” of Romanticism. Poe’s poetics is grounded on an artificial myth in Eureka, a work that does not bear testimony to the writer’s conversion to Transcendentalism but rather represents the “manifesto” of a pre-existentialist interpretation of the world. Finally, a chief difference between Poe and the Romantics lies in his radical “professionalization” of art, which also leads to a poetical technology.

This technology, according to Horstmann, is the key to Poe’s influence on modern poetics: recognized as the father of modern theories of poetry, Poe is also a theoretician of popular literature (39). A characteristic of Poe’s poetics is that it requires a comparatively passive reader, subject to external influence; such an art is on the verge of banality, Horstmann holds — a highly questionable judgment. The same can be said for the opinion that the loss of transcendence accounts for Poe’s conception of art as manipulation and as predetermination of means to achieve an end. But if, like Staats, he somewhat misrepresents Poe’s conception of art, and if he goes too far when he disclaims any relationship between Poe and Romanticism, especially with Novalis (as a matter of fact, the two poets are often named together among the forerunners of modern theories) (40), Horstmann nevertheless succeeds in replacing the writer in his tradition, which extends from eighteenth-century rationalism to twentieth-century poetical technology and “computer art,” and in showing the influence of milieu on Poe’s rationalistic conception of art.

Horstmann’s book thus shows that German criticism of Poe has come a long way since the poet was considered a German Romantic born by accident in America. It is noteworthy that in a country in which he has exerted no significant influence on writers, Poe is nevertheless recognized as one of the great innovative forces, a precursor of modern pure poetry and of contemporary theoreticians of literature.



(1) See Claude Pichois, “De Poe a Dada,” Revue d’Histoire Litteraire de la France, 48 (1967), 450 95., as well as Klaus Lubbers’ statement, in “Zur Rezeption der amerikanischen Kurzgeschichte in Deutschland nach 1945,” Nordamerikanische Literatur im deutschen Sprachraum seit 1945, ed. by Horst Frenz and Hans-Joachim Lang (Muncher, 1973), p. 52 — “Er ist bei uns stets hoher geschatzt worden als bei seinen Landsleuten.”

(2) See H. H. Kuhnelt, “Deutsche Erzahler im Gefolge von Edgar Allan Poe,” Rivista di Letterature moderne, 2 (1951), 457-465.

(3) See H. H. Kuhnelt, “Die Aufoahme der nordamerikanischen Literatur in Oesterreich,” Nordamerikanische Literatur, p. 205. For a study of the affinity between Poe and Kubin — who is the author of a fantastic novel, The Other Side — see Kuhnelt, “E. A. Poe und Alfred Kubin — zwei kunstlerische Gestalter des Grauens,” Wiener Beitrage zur englischen Philologie, 65 (1957), 121-141.

(4) Link’s study is reviewed in American Literature, 42 (1970-1971), [column 2:] 52-53; for a review of Schuhmann’s edition, see my article “A German Edition of Poe,” Poe Studies, 9 (1976) , 24-26.

(5) A recent essay does take a psychoanalytical approach to several of Poe’s tales — Horst Breuer’s “Wahnsinn im Werk Edgar Allan Poes — Literarkritisch-psychoanalytischer Versuch,” Deutsche Vierteliahresschrift fur Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte, 50 (1976), 14-43 — but the author, unlike Marie Bonaparte, does not attempt to interpret the tales in light of Poe’s biography, as the following abstract indicates: “Topography, characters and action of Poe’s major tales (especially “The Masque of the Red Death” and “The Fall of the House of Usher”) are read in terms of the psychoanalytical conception of the psychic apparatus, agencies, and processes. The tales are shown to embody the symbolic struggle of a narcissistic ego against a destructive unconscious, ending in psychosis.”

(6) Die Lyrik Edgar Allan Poes in Dentschland (Leipzig, 1913).

(7) “Die Aufnahme und Verbreitung von E. A. Poes Werken im Deutschen,” in Festschrift fur Walter Fischer, ed. by Horst Oppel (Heidelberg, 1959), pp. 195-224.

(8) See Nordamerikanische Literatur, pp. 52-53, 132, 144-148.

(9) See for instance Paul Wachtler, Edgar Allan Poe und die deutsche Romantik (Leipzig, 1911) and Heinz Caspari, Edgar Allan Poes Verhaltnis zum Okis~ltismvs — eine literaturhistorische Studie ( Hanover, 1923) .

(10) “Notes on the Influence of E. T. A. Hoffmann upon Edgar Allan Poe,” PMLA, 19 (1904), 5-6.

(11) See for instance K. H. Goller’s article on “Ligeia,” in Die amerikanische Kurzgeschichte, ed. by Karl Heinz Goller and Gerhard Hoffmann (Dusseldorf, 1972), pp. 69-81, for a parallel with Novalis.

(12) Briefe an einen jungen Dichter (Leipzig, 1940), p. 47 — “Und doch ist jene gefahrvolle Unsicherheit so viel menschlicher, welche die Gefangenen in den Geschichten Poes drangt, die Formen ihrer furchterlichen Kerker abzutasten und den unsaglichen Schrecken ihres Aufenthaltes nicht fremd zu sein.’

(13) See H. F. Peters, “Ernst Junger’s Concern with E. A. Poe,” Comparative Literature, 10 (1958), 144-149, and Nordamerikanische Literatur, pp. 53, 144.

(14) Die neuen Wirklichkeiten — Linien und Profile der modernen Literatur ( Berlin, 1957), pp. 124-132.

(15) “Die eigentliche Faszination geht heute nicht von Poes dichterischem Werk aus . . ., sondern von seiner Theorie. Auch das ist ein hochst moderner Zug” — Blocker, p. 128.

(16) See Nordamerikanische Literatur, pp. 126, 130, 132, 146-147, as well as Manfred Durzak’s article “Die kunsttheoretische Ausgangsposition Stefan Georges: Zur Wirkung Edgar Allan Poes,” Arcadia, 4 (1969), 164-178.

(17) Friedrich, Die Struktur der modernen Lyrik von Baudelaire his zur Gegenwart (Hamburg, 1956), pp. 26, 30, 37-38; Enzensberger, Einzelheiten (Frankfurt, 1962), p. 268, and “Wie entsteht ein Gedicht?” in Gedichte (Frankfurt am Main, 1962), see also Nordamerikanische Literatur, pp. 75-76, 130-131.

(18) Wachtler, pp. 19-20; Friedrich, p. 38, and Emil Lucka, “Poe und die romantische Kunst,” Oesterreichische Rundschau 18 (1909), 110-116.

(19) An exception is Robert Petsch’s article “Die Kunsttheorie von Edgar Allan Poe,” Die Neueren Sprachen, 39 (1931), 488-497.

(20) “Die pseudo-wissenschaftliche Legitimation eines Selbstverstandnisses im Sinne des deutschen Idealismus” — Staats, p. 148.

(21) “Im Zwischenreich: Die Raumwelt Edgar Allan Poes” in Dark Sublime: Raum und Selbst in der amerikanischen Romantik, supplement to Jahrbuch fur Amerikastudien, 36 (Heidelberg, 1972), 118-141. For earlier investigations of the subject, see Arnolds Grava, L’Aspect metaphysique du mal dans l’oeuvre litteraire de Charles Baudelaire et d’Edgar Allan Poe ( Lincoln, Nebraska, 1956), pp. 45-61, and Lubbers, pp. 154-157, 172-173.

(22) Poenicke, pp. 120-121, suggests as possible sources several works belonging to that genre, such as Ann Radcliffe’s The Romance of [page 55:] the Forest, John and Anna Letitia Aikin’s Sir Bertrand (1775), as well as the essay “On the Pleasure Derived from Objects of Terror” prefacing the latter work.

(23) Selected Poetry and Prose of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. T. O. Mabbott (New York, 1951), p. 421.

(24) Jahrbuch fur Amerikastudien, 16 (1971), 102-127. See also Hoffmann’s article on “Usher” in Die amerikanische Kurzgeschichte, pp. 82-93.

(25) Anglia, 85 (1967), 363-389.

(26) “Edgar Allan Poes ‘The Man of the Crowd’: Interpretation und Einordnung ins Gesamtwerk,” Die Neueren Sprachen, 11 (1962), 497-509; reprinted in Franz H. Link, ea., Amerika — Vision und Wirklichkeit — Beitrage deutscher Porschung zur amerikanischen Literaturgeschichte (Frankfurt am Main & Bonn, 1968), pp. 115127.

(27) See for instance Arthur Moeller-Bruck’s comments in Edgar Poes Werke, trans. by Hedda Moeller-Bruck and Hedwig Lachmann (Minden i. Westf., 1914), vol. I (see Nordamerikanische Literatur, p. 145), and those of Walter Benjamin, “Ueber einige Motive bei Baudelaire,” in Schriften (Frankfure, 1955), 1, 440 ff.

(28) Der Detektivroman — Studien zur Geschichte und Form der englischen Detectivliteratur (Darmstadt, 1973): “E. A. Poe und die Detektivgeschichte,” pp. 34-46. See also Buchloh’s article on “Murders in the Rue Morgue” in Die amerikanische Kurzgeschichte, pp. 94-102.

(29) See note 34 below; for other investigations of the subject, see Wolfgang Kayser, Das Groteske — Seine Gestaltung in Malerei und Dichts~ng (Oldenburg & Hamburg, 1957), pp. 81-86; Lubbers, Die Todesszene, pp. 136-137, 151-154; and Roger Forclaz, Le Monde d’Edgar Poe (Berne & Francfort, 1974), pp. 311-313.

(30) “Generally speaking, the Arabesques are the produce of powerful imagination and the Grotesques have a burlesque or satirical quality” — Quinn, Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (New York, 1941), p. 289.

(31) “In fact, the grotesque in his compositions partly resembles the arabesque in painting, in which is introduced the most strange and complicated monsters” — “On the Supernatural in Fictitious Composition,” Foreign Quarterly Review, 1 (July 1827), 81. The theory of Poe’s indebtedness to Scott’s essay was first propounded by Gustav Gruener, p. 15.

(32) Score, p. 93.

(33) “The Continuation of Vivian Grey,” New Monthly Magazine, 19 (April 1827), 297-304; C. H., review-essay on Thomas Hood, Westminster Review, 31 (April 1838), 119-145.

(34) Edward F. Foster, “A Study of Grim Humor in the Works of Poe, Melville, and Twain” (Vanderbilt Univ., 1957); Dewayne A. Peterson, “Poe’s Grotesque Humor: A Study of the Grotesque Effects in his Humorous Tales” (Duke Univ., 1962); David G. Halliburton, “The Grotesque in American Literature” (Univ. of California, 1967); and Joel Salzberg, “The Grotesque as Moral Aesthetic: A Study of the Tales of Edgar Allan Poe” (Univ. of Oklahoma, 1967).

(35) See Quinn, p. 337, for the table of contents of the Phantasy Pieces.

(36) Literaturmetaphysik — Der Schriftsteller in der technischen Welt (Stuttgart, 1950).

(37) “Allein auf sich angewiesen stand der weltfremde Dichter inmieeen einer fur ihn verstandnislosen, ihn allmahlich zermalmenden Alltagswirklichkeit” — Die Lyrik Edgar Allan Poes, p. 5.

(38) The formula is Frank Lentricchia’s from “Four Types of Nineteenth-Century Poetic,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Theory, 26 (1968), 361 95., quoted in Horstmann, p. 59.

(39) See Manfred Smuda, “Variation und Innovation: Modelle literarischer Moglichkeiten in der Nachfolge Edgar Allan Poes,” Poetica, 3 (1970), 165-187.

(40) See for instance Friedrich, p. 30, and Helmut Kreuzer’s introduceion to Mathematik und Dichtung, ed. by Kreuzer and Rul Gunzenhauser (Muncher, 1965), p. 9.


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