Saturday, December 3, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 37 (Edgar Allan Poe)

The Collected Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe
Poe, Edgar Allan
The Collected Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe

Purchase at Talking Leaves Books, I am pretty sure I bought this for a course with Susan Howe called, "Preface: Or Seen Again for the First Time." As I recall, we read "The Imp of the Perverse." I seem to also remember having read "The Gold Bug" around the same time, but that may have been for something else. A vague memory of talking about that story with my then-girlfriend, who may have written a paper on it, trembles at the edge of consciousness.

It's missing the dust-jacket because I generally like trying to read books with dust-jackets on them. I used to remove them immediately and throw them away. Later, I graduated to taking them off and putting them on the bookshelf until I'd finished reading the book, at which time I would replace it. Now, I can't really be bothered, I just suffer through the annoyance of having the dust-jacket slip and slide in my fingers as I attempt to hold the book steady enough to read.

from The Imp of the Perverse


IN THE consideration of the faculties and impulses-of the prima mobilia of the human soul, the phrenologists have failed to make room for a propensity which, although obviously existing as a radical, primitive, irreducible sentiment, has been equally overlooked by all the moralists who have preceded them. In the pure arrogance of the reason, we have all overlooked it. We have suffered its existence to escape our senses, solely through want of belief-of faith;-whether it be faith in Revelation, or faith in the Kabbala. The idea of it has never occurred to us, simply because of its supererogation. We saw no need of the impulse-for the propensity. We could not perceive its necessity. We could not understand, that is to say, we could not have understood, had the notion of this primum mobile ever obtruded itself;-we could not have understood in what manner it might be made to further the objects of humanity, either temporal or eternal. It cannot be denied that phrenology and, in great measure, all metaphysicianism have been concocted a priori. The intellectual or logical man, rather than the understanding or observant man, set himself to imagine designs-to dictate purposes to God. Having thus fathomed, to his satisfaction, the intentions of Jehovah, out of these intentions he built his innumerable systems of mind. In the matter of phrenology, for example, we first determined, naturally enough, that it was the design of the Deity that man should eat. We then assigned to man an organ of alimentiveness, and this organ is the scourge with which the Deity compels man, will-I nill-I, into eating. Secondly, having settled it to be God's will that man should continue his species, we discovered an organ of amativeness, forthwith. And so with combativeness, with ideality, with causality, with constructiveness,-so, in short, with every organ, whether representing a propensity, a moral sentiment, or a faculty of the pure intellect. And in these arrangements of the Principia of human action, the Spurzheimites, whether right or wrong, in part, or upon the whole, have but followed, in principle, the footsteps of their predecessors: deducing and establishing every thing from the preconceived destiny of man, and upon the ground of the objects of his Creator.


It would have been wiser, it would have been safer, to classify (if classify we must) upon the basis of what man usually or occasionally did, and was always occasionally doing, rather than upon the basis of what we took it for granted the Deity intended him to do. If we cannot comprehend God in his visible works, how then in his inconceivable thoughts, that call the works into being? If we cannot understand him in his objective creatures, how then in his substantive moods and phases of creation?

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