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Poe's Longing for a Bicameral Mind

Merrill Maguire Skaggs
The Southern Quarterly: A Journal of the Arts in the South, Winter 1981, 19 (2).


One distinguishing quality of Poe's fiction is its receptivity to interpretation by virtually all the schemes literary criticism has developed in the twentieth century. Whether we approach his stories through their historical context, or by performing formalist dissections, locating monomythic narratives lines, Freudian symbols, or Jungian personae, the stories seem to be illuminated and changed, "made sensible." Obviously all these critical approaches work well for fiction in general, but their usefulness in reading Poe is unusual because of the degree to which any eternal system helps us to feel his stories have become more familiar, and therefore more understandable. According to Julian Jaynes, "the feeling of familiarity isthe feeling of understanding." Any system will give us some familiar road signs by which we can find our way into Poe's haunted landscapes. ...

... Julian Jaynes provides in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind yet another systematically developed metaphor or scheme for understanding human nature, hence understanding literature. ...