College of Liberal Arts

Department of English


Leland S. Person
"Poe's Poetics of Desire: 'Th' Expanding Eye to the Loved Object'"

Intensely self-reflexive, Poe's love poems seem situated on the frontier of desire, at the border between self and other where desire leaves the gravity of the self and enters the orbit of the other. The projection of desire, however, poses a reflexive danger for the self; the disassociation of desire threatens a dissociation of identity. This essay explores object relations in Poe's poetry--the reflexive power of a "loved object" to create a subject, to "expand" a male "eye," through the medium of the gaze, as well as the desiring subject's vexed relation to its love objects. Two lines of inquiry come together in this analysis: the deconstructive insights into Poe's writing that have accumulated in recent years and the gender studies that have focused on his representation of women. Understanding the textuality, or "writerliness," of Poe's poetry offers another way of recognizing Poe's narcissism and thereby the essential absence of the women who seem to be the subjects and the objects of his writings. If a gendered identity derives from desire--is reflexive or mirrored--then how can a gendered self be constructed in the absence of an "other"? The essay discusses poems from the beginning to the end of Poe's career--from the early "Tamerlane" (1827) to "For Annie" (1849), and including "Fanny," "To Helen," "A Paean," "The Sleeper," "Ulalume," "To Marie Louise," and "Annabel Lee." After years of "mourning and never-ending remembrance" for absent or deceased women, Poe transgenders himself in several later poems, so that he can desire and be desired at the same time. He becomes the subject of desire by impersonating an object. In effect he becomes one of his own female characters, returned from the dead by the desiring gaze of another--an other that is actually himself.












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