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Poe, Rampo, Emo
by Albena Todorova| Sofia, Bulgaria
Wednesday, 13 October 2010
tags: culture, europe, global vectors, global/local
This is about academic work in progress on the style- and genre-defining cultural significance of Edgar Allan Poe, inventor of horror and detective fiction, great-great-godfather of the global Goth and Emo subcultures, doyen of teenage hypersensitivity, psychological vulnerability and self-harming.
Poe, as perceived from his own time through to today, is not only the author of acclaimed uncanny stories and poems but a highly charged cultural signifier in his own right (think, by analogy, Andy Warhol in an earlier cultural context but with massive authentic talent & creativity and without the tedious postmodernity) – focal point for myth, symbols and affiliations that stretch from influence on other writers, artists and musicians to intense, often cult-like, identification on the part of Poe enthusiasts.
The first layer of cultural lore concerns biographical and ancdotal associations of a life no less macabre than the literary output: the infant Poe and his sister found keeping company with the body of their deceased mother; estrangement from step-parents; marriage to his 13 year old cousin Virginia Clemm; the premature deaths of Virginia and other loved ones; gambling, heavy drinking, laudanum addiction, increasingly unstable behaviour, bouts of delirium; death at 40 attributed variously to TB, syphilis, brain disease, suicide or political assassination. This is a case where identification with the author himself has resonated powerfully with the continuing impact of potently liminal and dreamlike stories such as ‘Masque of the Red Death’ and ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ or poems like ‘The Raven’.
My research into Poe originated with personal interest starting in late childhood when I came across an edition of Tales of Mystery and Imagination in Russian. It went on to become become an obsession during my teenage years. The idea of Poe’s pain and sadness can still move me deeply. In my fascination with his personality and work I came across numerous blogs and online interest groups. My feeling at the time was one of not being alone – of sharing a connection with something bigger and more important. But also of a sense that this personal connection was violated by the cultism and commercialisation behind products such as, for example, the ‘living dead dolls’ of Poe and Annabel Lee. Poe is a strong symbolic point of reference for people in adolescence who are experiencing ennui and personal turmoil. The niche business opportunities growing globally around this phenomenon can help articulate these feelings but also, in these more obviously exploitative expressions, heighten young people’s transitional sense of alienation from mainstream culture and society.
My PhD research involves tracking some of the main movements historically that channel Poe’s influence into global popular culture and specific national cultural expressions today:
• Baudelaire’s infatuation with Poe, playing into the work of later nineteenth-century French poets and fin de siècle Decadence.
• Horror fiction and movies inspired by Poe narratives, the legacy of Poe recyclers such as H.P. Lovecraft and Vincent Price
• Poe’s influence on lyrics and music from Bob Dylan (where American Poe reconnects with the French poets), Lou Reed’s 2003 album The Raven and a host of other examples – from Iron Maiden to Antony and the Johnsons. Follow the YouTube links at the end of this post for some current examples, with comments from viewers that illustrate the semiotics and psychopathology of the online Poe discourse.
• The influence of Edogawa Rampo (see main illustration) – the Japanese mystery and detective story writer (active from the 1920s to the 1960s) who took Poe’s name and exerts a huge influence on popular manga and gaming culture in Japan today. Rampo is, if anything, more disturbing and macabre than Poe. If you are European, American or Antipodean tell any Japanese person that you are a big fan of Edogawa Rampo then step back to note the spontaneous expression of shock, cultural empathy and mild concern for your emotional wellbeing.
• The proliferating cross-cultural engagement online (creative groups, blogs, discussions) around Poe today. The challenge here is to draw the line around what may be defined as directly influenced by Poe versus continuations of broader cultural trends he was, perhaps, the first to sense and articulate.
A methodological challenge is to create a conceptual structure that can facilitate the kind of participation, feedback and co-creation from which a piece of subcultural research like this could benefit enormously. Other Poe scholars, enthusiasts (or obsessives) please get in touch!
© Albena Todorova 2010
If your neocortex and amygdala are still interconnected don’t miss this second one.