Producers of creative works, may they be literary, visual, theatrical, musical, or any other artistic forms, are all open to interpretation. There are no disclaimers on their product such as those printed on food labels containing peanuts: “this product may cause allergic reactions”. Rather, the work is completed and delivered like an artist stepping out of the shower nude; for without any coverings or explanations the receiver simply accepts or rejects what is presented to them.
The hurried visitor at a museum may scan the walls as one may scan the shelves of the grocery store looking for just the right item that will satisfy their gastronomical craving. The patron of the book store may glance at the illustrations on the book covers searching for just the right image that catches their eye, and the driver in the car may select a song to listen to at the same pace they are driving. Yet regardless of how the selection was chosen, the hours spent during preparation by the artist may never be known nor revealed. For works of art often take on the persona of “a grown up” even though they were nurtured and developed like “someone’s baby”.
For those who create the element of time to arrive at the end product is the “art”. The ponderings, the self-musings, the formal course of action, the step by step workings; all these intimate processes are embedded into the work. And though not noticeable to the eye, or audible to the ear, they are invisibly woven into the piece like a soul.
Today’s post invites you to join a most esteemed thinker: Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849 b. Boston, Massachusetts) American short story writer, poet, and critic; a most remarkable author whose individual name alone sets our very own minds reeling with wonderment. A man who claims so much interest to readers that many of the tales about his life often rival in fascination the stories he has written. Poe earned the title of “father of detective stories,” when in late 1830s, he published “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque”, a collection of stories containing several of his most sensational and macabre tales, one of which was “The Fall of the House of Usher”. In 1841 with the publication of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” a new genre of detective story was discovered inviting the solving of crimes with the help of codes and ciphers. Poe became a literary sensation in 1845 with the publication of the poem “The Raven,” considered one of the great American literary works.
I now give you a portion of his essay snipped from his piece “The Philosophy of Composition”; a work that will neither tingle your spine nor keep you up at night, but rather tempts you to look at his ‘critical’ side. I present to you Mr. Poe, not the story teller, but rather the observer and examiner of the art he understood and created so perfectly… writing.
“…I have often thought how interesting a magazine paper might be written by any author who would—that is to say, who could—detail, step by step, the processes by which any one of his compositions attained its ultimate point of completion. Why such a paper has never been given to the world, I am much at a loss to say—but, perhaps, the autorial vanity has had more to do with the omission than any one other cause. Most writers—poets in especial—prefer having it understood that they compose by a species of fine frenzy—an ecstatic intuition—and would positively shudder at letting the public take a peep behind the scenes, at the elaborate and vacillating crudities of thought—at the true purposes seized only at the last moment—at the innumerable glimpses of idea that arrived not at the maturity of full view—at the fully matured fancies discarded in despair as unmanageable—at the cautious selections and rejections—at the painful erasures and interpolations—in a word, at the wheels and pinions—the tackle for scene-shifting—the step-ladders and demon-traps—the cock’s feathers, the red paint and the black patches, which, in ninety-nine cases out of the hundred, constitute the properties of the literary histrio…
I am aware, on the other hand, that the case is by no means common, in which an author is at all in condition to retrace the steps by which his conclusions have been attained. In general, suggestions, having arisen pell-mell, are pursued and forgotten in a similar manner.
For my own part, I have neither sympathy with the repugnance alluded to, nor, at any time, the least difficulty in recalling to mind the progressive steps of any of my compositions; and, since the interest of an analysis, or reconstruction, such as I have considered a desideratum, is quite independent of any real or fancied interest in the thing analyzed, it will not be regarded as a breach of decorum on my part to show the modus operandi by which some one of my own works was put together…”
First image: U.S. Lithograph Co., c1908.
Second image: 1896, Edgar Allan Poe, head-and-shoulders portrait by William Sartain, mezzotint