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Title page for ETD etd-07272010-132612

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author August, Emily Maude
URN etd-07272010-132612
Title Against a "System of Soothing": Poe's Deviance
Degree Master of Arts
Department English
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Professor Colin Dayan Committee Chair
  • Edgar Allan Poe
  • taxonomy
  • deviance
  • criminality
  • space
Date of Defense 2010-08-29
Availability unrestricted
Much recent historically-focused scholarship has revealed the ways in which the deviant criminality in the work of Edgar Allan Poe can be read as ideologically conservative. This criticism is understandably concerned with whether the violence Poe renders against marginalized American bodies reinforces a social order dependent upon subjugation. But Poe’s tales can also be read as attacks upon the norms of civil and social life in the nineteenth century. The veneer of conservativism on the surface of his prose reveals, upon scrutiny, characters who are deeply disturbed by the social order. Poe’s textual corpus is insistently concerned about orders, spaces, and structures, and the movements a subject must enact within them to avoid their taxonomic identifications. Through the reading of the critically-neglected tale “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether,” this paper joins a body of criticism that argues for Poe’s work as providing a challenge to normativity. The inmates of “Tarr and Fether” do not dismantle the system; they change their (spatial) relationship to it, forcing the disciplinary gaze to chase them in its effort to fix and identify. Inside the confining space of the asylum, Poe’s inmates confuse the discrete conferral of criminality, and everyone must deviate in order to dissolve the paradigms that structure social subjects. Poe’s stories argue for the total reorganization of the social structure through deviant criminality.
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