15 February 2013
The Jingle-Man Is Us
Emerson is known to have derided Poe as "the jingle-man."
Emerson contains all of us...that is, his work makes space for all comers. This is its strength as literature, but its great weakness as "instruction." You read your preconceptions into Emerson very easily. Of course, like that other very slippery book of instruction, the Bible, one detached quotation will do very well to countermand any other.
I've come to believe that Emerson is not our "founder" as so many claim but rather an extremely useful tool for the makers.
Poe, rather, seems something more like our truest nature.
We all have a bit of the religious Puritan slinking about in our noggins and occasionally rising up with fists...but it is the machinist of the soul, Edgar Poe who is our always-wrong-seeker. He knows he's messed up, knows his love is messed up, knows he will maim, bury, eat what he loves...knows it is very very wrong...but maybe next time...no, really, maybe if I just look here and tweak this and put pepper on it...
The chapter on Poe in Lawrence's Studies brings this to crystallization. There are many kinds of folks, and many of us are not "like Poe," but it seems to me that more of us are, and that further, the very social and economic and governing engines of America offer us something like the vampire-raven who exposes our tell-tale heart, only to eat it and regurgitate it and call it some other name.
Read Poe to know your CEO, your President, your CIA Chief, your Senator, your Minister. And probably, to know yourself.
"Nevermore!" Well, maybe just one more, right?
Lawrence takes this a bit farther in the "Dana" chapter ending it this way:
And then what? - Why, nothing. The old vulgar humdrum. That's the worst of knowledge. It leaves one only the more lifeless. Dana lived his bit in two years, and knew, and drummed out the rest. Dreary lawyer's years, afterwards.
We know enough. We know too much. We know nothing.
Let us smash something. Ourselves included. But the machine above all.
Dana's small book is a very great book: contains a great extreme of knowledge, knowledge of the great element.
And after all, we have to know all before we can know that knowing is nothing.
Imaginatively, we have to know all: even the elemental waters. And know and know on, until knowledge suddenly shrivels and we know that forever we don't know.
Then there is a sort of peace, and we can start afresh, knowing we don't know.
Posted by Douglas Storm