When Is Now?
When Is Now?
Poe’s Aesthetics of Temporality
This chapter presents a close reading of Edgar Allan Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym that combines narrative theory, history of science, and Poe's racial politics. It begins by identifying the uses to which time in Pym is put and then reads those uses in a dialectic relation with “wider” contexts. First, the analysis foregrounds and theorizes Pym's colliding tenses through the vocabulary provided by Gerard Genette, specifically the temporal “anachronies” of prolepsis and analepsis. The temporal chaos of the narrative—its shifting dates, unknowable o'clocks, and warping sentences—is both caused by and reflected in the text, which fails to keep track of its time-keeping devices, in particular the run-down watch and the lost chronometer. The missing chronometer leads to the reading's second framework, which is the history of science, particularly John Harrison's 1735 discovery of the chronometer and the measurement of longitude. Longitude, which is the conversion of time into space, gave explorers a sure sense of where they were and consequently made exploration safer and more profitable. Calculating longitude, however, depends upon keeping track of time, which is a dicey proposition in Pym. The third step in the reading is an examination of Poe's perturbations of time in relation to his representations of race. It is argued that Pym's quick descent into a temporal freefall works against Poe's notion of time as a reliable demarcation of the differences between civilization and savagery, present and past, white and black. The text attempts to recover, but not wholly successfully, its sense of now by locating its then in the alleged clarity of racial difference with which Pym concludes.
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