Thursday, May 14, 2009

Lepore on Poe

I'm an admirer of Jill Lepore's stuff in the New Yorker. Her new piece on Poe is a tour de force of the postmodernist punning style, which works beautifully here because (1) she's writing about Poe, who was obsessed with riddles and puns, and (2) the prose is smooth enough that you can skate right past some of the puns. This bit, for example [my emphases]:

Jupiter tells a spooky story: Legrand has discovered a strange beetle and, ever since, has been puzzling “a syphon wid de figgurs on de slate—de queerest figgurs I ebber did see. Ise gitting to be skeered.” (Poe’s racism ran very deep.) Jupiter is the gothic tale-teller inside “The Gold-Bug,” not unlike Juniper, the gothic-tale-writing baboon of “How to Write a Blackwood Article.” In both stories, Poe divested himself of what he considered to be the darker side of his own authorship.

“The Gold-Bug” is a tangle of puns, many of them, as the literary scholar Marc Shell has pointed out, having to do with currency. Legrand has found a bug the color of gold. “De bug is a goole bug,” Jupiter says. In other words, a ghoul bug. It looks as if it were made of gold. It is not. “Dey aint no tin in him, Massa,” Jupiter says. There’s nothing in him—no tin, and no gold, either. Legrand has also found a parchment, made of goatskin, kidskin. It contains a map showing where a treasure was buried on the island by the pirate Captain Kidd. This pun Legrand himself has to figure out, in order to find the buried treasure. (Kidd’s map, in this sense, is itself a guide to Poe’s tales. Is Poe kidding or not?)


zbs said...

Not seeing it.

Nice article, though a little pat.

Zed said...

I feel like pat is what Poe deserves. I was just amused by the presence of at least two recognizable puns on "black" -- one admittedly dug out of obscurity by Philip Roth in The Human Stain -- immediately before a passage on Poe's puns.