BY NANCY BROKAW
With her kind permission, I’ve reposted this piece written by Nancy Brokaw, senior lecturer in photography at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and an independent arts writer. Brokaw served as a senior contributing editor on The Photo Review, has written for a variety of other arts publications, and currently blogs at nbrokaw.blogspot.com. This Great Misfortune first appeared September 3rd on her blog, where she writes regularly about visual art.
Back when I was young, I didn’t get Edgar Allan Poe. My first inkling of appreciation came with The Man of the Crowd, the story that Walter Benjamin called an X-ray of a detective story that gives us only the pursuer and pursued, with no crime in sight.
Reading the story, I began to see that virtually all of Poe’s short pieces are less fright fests than fever dreams, with no crime, no grand moral, no neat redemptive ending—just the endless pursuit after the guilty mystery of oneself. The urban setting notwithstanding Man of the Crowd is every bit as claustrophobic as Poe’s explicitly interior dramas like The Black Cat and The Tell-Tale Heart. And all of these hallucinatory tales lead their protagonist into an underworld where Poe’s central character comes face to face with his own fouled soul.
Frank Rodick’s I live there now brought Poe to mind. Taken as he was closing down his parents’ home after his father’s death, the images in this triptych depict the inevitable decay of the soul. In the first image, the darkened room signifies loss: the end of the life of the mind. With each successive image, though, the scene collapses, and the abandoned desk, the mildewed walls, the decaying books and pictures combine to create the perfect image of rot. That these objects—the writer’s desk, the scholar’s library—have for centuries signified civilization underscore the tell-tale corruption at the heart of the human enterprise. In another setting the light that shines dimly on the desktop might promise illumination, might be read as the light shining in the darkness, but here it is swamped by a scene that seems entirely underwater. Continue Reading…