By Paul Hurh
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Additional resources for American Terror: The Feeling of Thinking in Edwards, Poe, and Melville
Thoughts are actions in American literature,” Andrea Knutson writes, a conflation that necessitates “the articulation of a habit of thinking in order to guide that movement which results in cultural revision” (12). Whether moving toward cultural revision, getting “to possibilities of personal or cultural renewal” (Poirier 11), or performing a ministerial function “requisite to keeping a community together” (Richardson 3), these studies return a renewed appreciation for the complex communitarian and progressive strategies associated with an optimistic strain of American literature.
The two chapters together read Poe’s tales as not, or at least not only, critiques of the limits of reason but rather as experiments through which he imagined a literature modeled upon objective method. That these tales are frequently terrifying, however, should not be taken as a sign of their shortcomings but, as in Edwards’s terror of conviction, as a display of their truth. 29 Ultimately, what endorses such a critical methodology cannot be any local or political action that issues from it but rather, at heart, the feeling of reason’s implacable demands of objectivity.
Most accounts of the “darker” tone of American literature sense a connection between that tone and the centrality of the fear of hell in the Puritan culture of early New England. By comparing the hellfire sermons of earlier generations of Puritan ministers with those of the Great Awakening, my first chapter shows how the significance of terror in the religious and communal life of New England turns from being a cautionary and practical rhetoric of avoiding evil external influences to, in later generations, being an immanent and ideal rhetoric of confronting the evil in oneself.