“Weird Dominions of the Infinite”

Penumbra – No. 1 has several interesting critical articles I was tempted to review. One argued for the influence of William Hope Hodson’s The Ghost Pirates on Jean Ray’s “Le Psautier de Mayence.” However, since I have’t read that work by Ray, there’s probably no insight I can offer.

I have, though, read my Poe.

Review: “’Weird Dominions of the Infinite’: Edgar Allan Poe and the Scientific Gothic”, Sorina Higgins, 2020. 

Cover by George Cotronis

This is an interesting, insightful, and largely convincing look at two Poe stories Higgins argues should be read together: “Mesmeric Revelation” from August 1844 and “The Facts of M. Valdemar’s Case” from December 1845. The latter story was retitled as “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” and slightly revised – three sentences were added to the ending – when it was republished. 

“Revelation” is presented as a philosophical dialogue with the hynotized Vankirk presenting revelations from beyond the veil of death since, at story’s end, he is revealed to have died. “Valdemar” has a very similar plot, depicted in more gruesome terms, with the final revelation that hypnotism has kept decay of Valdemar’s body at bay. 

The dialogue in “Revelation” is about “the nature of matter, spirit, soul, and God” with the final revelation that there is no such thing as spirit, only matter. Higgins claims that the story

postulates a monism whereby mind is God at rest, thought is God in motion, and death is ‘the ultimate life’. 

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