issue 27 > nonfiction > hoffman > cantalupo
Dan's Poe: In Appreciationby Barbara Cantalupo
As I write this short tribute to Daniel Hoffman as Poe scholar, next to me is his picture on the back dust jacket of his 1972 Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe, and I can't help but see an uncanny resemblance to Poe, especially from the eyes up—the high forehead; the wavy, thick, side-parted hair and the seriousness of the eyes! Is there, perhaps, an undercurrent of meaning in this resemblance?
Unlike many other scholarly books on Poe, Dan's Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe gives us a portrait that lasts, even as one academic fad replaces the next. Dan gives us his Poe, a "wild, eccentric, audacious, tortured, horror-haunted, sorrowing, beauty-loving Edgar Allan Poe" (xii) whose work holds "a complexity of implication, a plumbing of the abyss of human nature, and a strange webwork of consistency among the poems and tales" (xii). Dan shows us that "Poe really was a haunted man, and as a poet, in verse or prose, he had the power to haunt his readers" (33).
Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe gives us Dan's interpretations of Poe's life through his work. I admire Dan's forthright rejection of "investigations" of Poe's intimate life that have to remain nothing but conjecture: "there's something rather tasteless in hypothesizing about the sexual relations of a man who died over a century ago. None of our business, that. What is our business, though, is not what Poe did or couldn't do in the dark womb of his conjugal bed, but what he wrote" (27). That is precisely the point. And Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe gives us just that. But it also gives us more: a glimpse at the Daniel Hoffman whose youthful response to Poe's work was "I hate Poe" and who later became obsessed with trying to discover how and why Poe's work has such a profound effect on its readers. I identify with that youthful response; in my case, such strong hatred went to Moby-Dick, a work that I now know I would take to that proverbial desert island.
An honest, intuitive, and personal obsession with Poe's work is what Daniel Hoffman has given to the community of Poe scholars and continues to give. His book is an invitation to others to become obsessed with Poe. We can read Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe over and over and find pleasure not only in what it says but in the way that it's written. There's a seductive quality to Hoffman's writing, a modesty that engages the reader, an entangling of the threads of Poe's various works into a complex but cohesive whole. Halfway through the book, Hoffman acknowledges the intensity of his pursuit:
Well, I'm calmer now about my discoveries. I see I took care not to make them very specific, and so my hints may not entrap me. But I'll come clean and say: the voyage toward 'exciting knowledge,' that 'never-to-be-imparted secret, whose attainment is destruction,' is the journey of the 'soul' remembering back, back, back, to its very beginnings. Back to the vortex of birth….For indeed the womb is the well-fount of our unconsciousness before we emerge into the pains of consciousness, and in the womb we are imbued with that instinctual knowledge of our own past, our own beginnings, the state of unity toward which we ever after yearn. (149)
Even while acknowledging that Poe was a "haunted man," Dan reminds us that Poe was able to turn "painful knowledge into the pleasure of Art" (153) and that he never stopped "praising indefiniteness as the handmaiden of beauty, whether in poetry, in music, or in thought" (98). Such indefiniteness allows us not only to enjoy Dan Hoffman's Poe but to read him ourselves and to discover for ourselves "the Truth…embodied, rather than stated, in his tales and poems. Embodied as that undercurrent which never interferes with the manifest level of the narrative" (151).
Dan Hoffman's passion for Poe is infectious. Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe is a gift, a personal encounter with Edgar A. Poe, an author who continues to challenge us. Poe's work outlives the scandalous treatment of Griswold's diatribe, and as Dan poignantly points out, Griswold's "poisonous pen" may have been necessary for Poe's work "to have won its present high regard" (16). No poisonous pen, however, is needed to assure that Daniel Hoffman's work on Poe will continue to claim high regard. It challenges us to be passionate about the work we do as literary scholars and assures us that literary interpretation can be all absorbing and still give pleasure. I'm sure I speak for the whole Poe community when I say thank you, Dan, for a book that gives us insight into Poe's mind through his work as well as the pleasure of reading yours.