"It was open-wide, wide open" : optics and visual perception in the tales of Edgar Allan Poe /

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Dasgupta, Satwik
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Middle Tennessee State University
Reception of Edgar Allan Poe's work in the past few decades has been either overtly critical or grudgingly appreciative, mainly due to the author's peculiarly dark, unfathomable, and unreal world view. This reception has been guided primarily by readings of Poe' s famous tales and poems, such as "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Black Cat," "The Raven," and "Ulalume, " works that have been frequently read, taught, critiqued, serialized, and even filmed around the world. Recent scholarly efforts have also ventured to position Poe's socio-political, philosophical, and psychological preoccupations with regard to the marketplace of contemporary periodicals and journals in which he struggled to fashion a career. This re-contextualization of Poe in nineteenth-century American literary history has been quite informative and insightful, but has done little to reveal the full potential of those lesser-known tales in Poe's armory that share a common denominator with his more popular works.
This dissertation adopts an interdisciplinary approach interpreting various works of Edgar Allan Poe against the backdrop of other cognitive and aesthetic discourses dealing with the topoi of sight and perception. Both in and out of his time, Poe produced works that locate him in his immediate environs as well as transcend nineteenth-century sensibilities to embrace and anticipate visual mechanisms of a later era. This project aims to fill a two-fold gap in Poe scholarship; it focuses on those tales that have been accorded little attention in the past fifteen years, and presents a book-length study on elements of ocularity and perception in Poe's oeuvre that have been explored only in isolated articles and not through a holistic treatment spanning the author's works. Through application of the working principles of the microscope, panorama, phenakitoscope, panopticon, surveillance cameras and other visual disciplines to Poe's works, this study reveals Poe as a timeless cultural signifier, an author who explored diverse nuances of vision and perception in ways that transcend immediate historical and geographical limitations to apprehend certain universal conditions of human existence.
Adviser: Carl Ostrowski.