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I was going to post this as another comment on "Talking of Horses," but after reading Jessie's last comment on “Prospecti,� it seems also relevant there, so I thought I’d just make it a new entry. In my paper (for the gothic conference in June) on Poe's implicit racism and its connection to the developments of photography and cinema, I argued against one critic's view that Poe equates "reason" and "whiteness." Agreeing with other critics (such as Maurice Lee), I think that Poe's philosophy and politics do not claim to be "rational," exactly, but, rather, "speculative." The word speculate, or speculation, is interesting to me for its various meanings (see OED), having to do with vision, observation, viewing, spectacle, entertainment, theorizing, conjecture, gambling, risking, and profiting (note that horse-racing encapsulates all of these). "Speculation" brings together the interests and claims of racism, science, cinema, and capitalism, but with a different approach than what Tom Gunning has called Euro-Americans' "gnostic impulse," which I understand as the belief that it's possible to know reality, to find truth, and to recognize and identify objects as familiar. To connect to Jessie's project, maybe ethnic selves at the turn and in the early part of the 20th c are produced out of a philosophy and/or politics of speculation in which Poe and the cinema are also engaged.


Your question on how non-white readers have reacted to Poe is really interesting. Critics have written on Poe's influence on Richard Wright's stories, or Wright's reaction to Poe. Ellison begins Invisible Man with his narrator saying he is NOT like one of those "ectoplasms" in Hollywood horror films or Poe's stories. However, I haven't looked into 19th-c African-American readers' or writers' ideas on Poe. In the chapter I'm working on, on Poe, I use Barthes' point in "The Photographic Message" that reconstituting "the code of connotation of a mode of communication" allows one to find "the forms our society uses to ensure its peace of mind and to grasp thereby the magnitude, the detours and the underlying function of that activity." I'm not sure what my use of this idea will mean for the methodology of my dissertation overall, but I think I'm looking at the ways in which writers and filmmakers reassure or challenge-- and, in the process, reflect-- their audiences' belief systems. I guess, then, I'm working under the assumption that dominant belief systems exist and are discernible, and I'm neglecting alternative, or resistant, reading and viewing practices.

I think this pulling-apart of the word ‘speculation’ is really fascinating. Imagining the future seems crucial here. I wonder what the future might have to do with imagining difference—perhaps fears about a future in which differences are blurred, or when hierarchies are not clearly defined? I am interested in the relations, particularly power relations, between artist and audience, and both Lauren and Jessie—maybe Maddy as well?—also seem to be grappling with this issue, in examining spectacle, reading practices, etc. I am looking specifically at artists who straddle two separate worlds—for example, Jews who are assimilated but retain family ties to the immigrant working class, women who are accepted as semi-serious but always marginal members of primarily male art communities. Because these artists are still in the process of ‘moving up’ the canon, I am looking in part at how the process of canonization/assimilation ‘happens.’ I’m working to define my position on this, and I’m curious to hear more about everyone’s methodologies—are you working with texts from the perspective of the audience, or the artist, or both, or neither, or something else, and why? I’m also wondering if there any accounts of how members of non-white communities reacted to Poe, or to early 20th c. ethnic narratives.