By Paul Hurh
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Extra resources for American Terror: The Feeling of Thinking in Edwards, Poe, and Melville
As tone, then, terror belongs not just to a certain figure in the text (as in objective accounts of gothic horror’s taxonomy of conventions), but neither is it found only in the reader’s experience (as in the case of the sublime, in which the subject regains superiority over the world of the objects of sense). Instead, terror disrupts categorization by being an aesthetic orientation, an effect, of the very categories of subject and object. That which experiences “tone,” in Ngai’s sense, cannot be either just subject or object itself—our affective capacities come to open a new mode of apprehension, one in which the experience of aesthetic effect dislodges the subject/object binary.
Whereas this book begins with the terrors of objectivity, of the bitter yet irresistible fruit of reason’s authority, it ends with a portrait of the terror of subjectivity, perfectly idealized in the figure of the inhuman automaton. The depth of the textual and historical analysis of these authors’ changing engagement with matters of mind and terror enriches an often-felt, but not yet narrated, thread of influence between American literature and the development of poststructuralism. If, to combine at once the claims of Matthiessen and Cavell, the thesis of American literature is its commitment to democracy and the prelude to pragmatism, the antithesis of American literature, as I argue here, is its commitment to the aesthetics of paradox and the prelude to poststructuralÂ�ism.
A pragmatic idealist, such as Emerson, would see Melville’s alternative—the framing of philosophy’s mission as radical agon—as a commitment to despair, as a deliberate madness, or at best, as a pathological residue of fossilized religious doctrine. 27 INTRODUCTION 23 But even Ishmael and Starbuck can feel the tug of Ahab’s madness. And Cavell’s essays on Poe’s skepticism as well as Grimstad’s recognition of pragmatic practices in Poe and Melville make apparent the proximity of the skeptical tradition to the pragmatist one.