College of Liberal Arts

Department of English


Adam Frank

"The Letter of the Laugh"

This essay approaches the facial dynamics in Poe's "Purloined Letter" to address questions of analysis and identification in that tale. The analytic method in this story consists of Dupin's identification with the Minister, and this identification is effected by a matching of faces. The essay uses affect theorist Silvan Tomkins's writing to locate contempt and the enjoyment of contempt on the face of Dupin, in order to suggest how these specific affects constitute "analysis" as ridiculous in an environment of mass culture. One implication of this reading is that some affective moments (especially shame, contempt, and disgust) are also potentially theoretical ones.




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