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Emron Esplin

Anthologizing Poe: Editions, Translations, and (Trans)National Canons

Anthologizing Poe: Editions, Translations, and (Trans)National Canons

Lehigh University Press, 2020

This collection explores how anthologizers and editors of Edgar Allan Poe play an integral role in shaping our conceptions of Poe as the author we have come to recognize, revere, and critique today. In the spheres of literature and popular culture, Poe wields more global influence than any other U.S. author. This influence, however, cannot be attributed solely to the quality of Poe’s texts or to his compellingly tragic biography. Rather, his continued prominence as a writer owes much to the ways that Poe has been interpreted, portrayed, and packaged by an extensive group of mediators ranging from anthologizers, editors, translators, and fellow writers to literary critics, filmmakers, musicians, and illustrators. In this volume, the work of presenting Poe’s texts for public consumption becomes a fascinating object of study in its own right, one that highlights the powerful and often overlooked influence of those who have edited, anthologized, translated, and adapted the author’s writing over the past 170 years.

Review by Frank Christianson at Faculty Book Lunch

First, I want to comment on the scope of Emron’s work. A number of us have done this kind of volume—and many more of us have contributed to them. As a scholarly enterprise, they are conventionally viewed as high-risk, low reward. They have an inherent cart-before-the-horse quality—you’re orchestrating scholarship with the double layer of uncertainty about its prospects for publication. That impression has been compounded in recent years as some university presses abandon the edited volume market. When Emron first told me about this project several years ago, my immediate instinct was to commiserate, having just completed two such projects myself. And I found Emron was annoyingly unself-pitying. In fact, he thought it had gone so well the first time that he was eager to jump into it again. I was caught off guard—even more so when I learned he estimated around 400 pages for both projects and had close to 20 contributors lined up. These are not for the faint of heart—and the sheer logics of Emron’s books left me faint-hearted.

That said, every one of us can point to an edited collection that has played a key role in launching or redefining a field as well as shaping the direction of our own work. For me, Martha Woodmansee and Mark Osteen’s The New Economic Criticism and Susan Manning and Andy Taylor’s Transatlantic Literary Studies were early formative works. There is something profoundly civic-minded about these projects (I say, even as I vow never to do it again). And they do require a high degree of intellectual commitment and discretion, as well as social energy, and, yes, risk tolerance. Especially if you hope to come through it without seeking commiseration.

So my initial inclination is to say, by way of advice to younger faculty, don’t do them—unless, that is, you’re Emron. And if you’re like me, be sure you have a co-editor.

I mentioned the earlier volume: Translated Poe also co-edited with M. Vale de Gato, 2014. It seems appropriate to treat this as a companion study and as an extension of Emron’s oeuvre, including his monograph. The two collections share an investment in tracing influence, legacy, institutionalization, and cultural transmission more broadly, with some figures making key appearances in both—most notably Baudelaire’s translations serve as an inflection point, providing a kind of multiplier effect for various kinds of dissemination across languages, cultures, and nations.

When Emron first told me about the second project though, I confess I was a little skeptical. It seemed narrow—the intersection of Poe Studies and anthology studies—a sub sub specialization. But I was wrong. It is actually broader than the first project because here translation becomes one of several kinds of anthological practice involving the acts of fabrication and assembly, of organizing, ordering, framing, and annotating a malleable corpus, facilitated and complicated by the fact that Poe was himself a professional intermediary, singularly concerned with reputation and legacy.

The axis of Poe and anthology studies organizes the work but also amplifies it. They refer to that potential in their opening salvo, stating “Edgar Allen Poe wields more influence in the spheres of literature and popular culture on a world scale than any other US author.” They are simultaneously arguing that Poe is singular AND that this study is a kind of template for exploring the larger systems it questions. In other words, Poe’s work provides seemingly limitless case studies for understanding generic systems —for understanding the history of the frame building work done by what they term “mediators”—literary intermediaries—editors, translators, and anthologizers (who are also advocates)—the nature and degree of their mediation.

Essays in the collection range from studies of the early publishing history of Poe’s work to accounts of the ways it was recontextualized for a transatlantic Anglophone market. They also address the role of programmatic, genre, and theme anthologies that emphasize the many faces of Poe while defining traditions such as horror and detective fiction. The collection culminates with a section of works to fulfill the promise of the original claim for Poe’s legacy with a focus on anthologies in translation. This is where the co-editors’ individual chapters appear and, you get the sense, this is the subject that inspired the project in the first place. The logic of the collection is inductive: Trying to account for the place Poe holds—working their way back to Poe himself—and forward through Griswold and on to Baudelaire and Borges, the Heath and the Norton.

This kind of study is inherently reflexive. Partly what I like about Emron’s and Margarida’s individual contributions to the volume is the level of self-awareness they bring to their own work, thanks, I’m sure, to their dual perches as editors and contributors.

The best kind of scholarship is generative in the sense that it is conceptually rich enough to give you things to think about, borrow, redeploy. Anthologizing Poe is generative in the ways it models the use of key concepts. It is both about building a corpus and defining a readership. How communities organize around pieces of culture. This brings me back to another self-reflexive scene.

I observed Emron while we both attended the Kyoto Conference. Apart from the fact that we were both presenting at the conference, our experiences otherwise could not have been more different. I was on the periphery and Emron was at the center. Emron was responsible for two sessions, both on anthologizing Poe, one in which he presented and the other he chaired. Between sessions, he was a blur of meeting, greeting, and planning—making and soliciting commitments, building and maintaining a professional network. The formation of community around certain cultural forms. The study of how Emron built a community around the study of building a community around the writings of Edgar Allen Poe.