Early Modern Poetics


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"Engel establishes his basis for textual echoes and thematic reduplications which he unravels in convincing complexity, exploring not only images and literary devices, but also sound echoes and interlingual puns." --Modern Language Review, 109, Part 2, April 2014

"Engel treats formal and conceptual echoes of the seventeenth-century baroque in an exceptionally thoroughgoing and suggestive way. ¦ Though Engel uses a highly technical vocabulary drawn from the classical rhetoric of the Early Modern period, he defines his rhetorical terms clearly and concisely, and thus makes his account surprisingly readable. ¦ He is particularly useful in showing how Melville's writing reflects the baroque allegorical tradition of representing memory and loss analyzed by Walter Benjamin. ¦ Engel thus supplements some of the most important work done by Melville scholars in the last two decades. ¦ Displaying a command of early modern thought that few other Americanists could match, Engel's virtuoso analysis of "The Raven" shows how it masterfully incorporates visual, aural, and conceptual chiasmus in a Pythagorean numerological pattern. ¦ Engel thus uncovers fascinating and evocative connections between the Pythagorean theory of numbers and Poe's cosmology. ¦Rather than taking American nationalism as the key to American literature, Engel's treatment of both Melville and Poe suggests what can be learned from considering the larger history of literature on which Poe and Melville drew. By showing how much Poe and Melville absorbed from the literature of seventeenth-century England, Engel advances our understanding of how these two major nineteenth-century writers fit together, as well as of how they re-created the literature that came before them." --New Books on Literature 19 (2012)

"It is the route”through a nuanced introduction to the early modern emblematic tradition, the allusions to it in Melville and Poe, and the extended close reading of two short works as the primary evidence”that distinguishes Engel's book and provides a unique outside perspective on what Melville and Poe look like as inheritors of and participants in a specific strand of the early modern tradition." --Poe Studies: History, Theory, Interpretation 46 (2013), 124-130

 "Engel brings an outstanding scholarly reputation in English Renaissance literature to his task, and it is just what the study of American literature needs at present: explorations of its ties to the literature of the past, its debt to it and its use of it to transform American literary culture. [...] "The critical power of the great writers of the American Renaissance remains strong, and Engel, with this fairly short book, has made a solid and provocative contribution to the investigation of this strange romance between the American and Baroque." --Bainard Cowan, Univ of Dallas

"Engel's study of Melville, Poe, and 17th-century writing on memory and rhetoric is learned, eloquent, and eminently suited to literary study at the present time. Against the trend toward specialization and exotic theses, Engel returns to general and deeply human themes of memory, mourning, and anonymity. Against the trend toward relating American literary works forward in time to present concerns, Engel moves backward two centuries to restore a proper context for Melville's and Poe's writing. The allusions are vast, yet precise, the interpretations at once specific and far-reaching. It is altogether satisfying to watch familiar texts placed alongside those unfamiliar ones of Spenser, Francis Quarles, Burton, and others (unfamiliar, at least, to Americanists). This is just the kind of scholarship that graduate students in literary studies need today”more erudition, more of the distant past, and more focus on themes with genuine human interest and real stakes. When they come to teach Melville and Poe, Engel's work will provide dozens of helpful readings and information, everything from the significance of Poe's pseudonym as author of 'The Raven' to the grand Miltonic meaning of Moby-Dick." -- Mark Bauerlein, Emory University

"The deeply strange stylistic projects of Poe and Melville call for explanations that accept their untimeliness. A scholar of early modern literature, Engel makes the "baroque qualities of Poe and Melville's writing newly dense and detailed. This book will jump-start conversations about the significance for Poe and Melville of such topics as allegory, pseudonymy, emblem, and allusion." --Jonathan Elmer, Indiana University

"In this unusual and provocative study, Professor Engel has brought into view an inventive new way to measure the important influence of the baroque, in both rhetorical and visual terms, on Melville and Poe." --Eric J. Sundquist, Johns Hopkins University

Bringing to bear his expertise in the early modern emblem tradition, William E. Engel traces a series of self-reflective organizational schemes associated with baroque artifice in the work of Herman Melville and Edgar Alan Poe. While other scholars have remarked on the influence of seventeenth-century literature on Melville and Poe, this is the first book to explore how their close readings of early modern texts influenced their decisions about compositional practice, especially as it relates to public performance and the exigencies of publication. Engel's discussion of the narrative structure and emblematic aspects of Melville's Piazza Tales and Poe's "The Raven serve as case studies that demonstrate the authors' debt to the past. Focusing principally on the overlapping rhetorical and iconic assumptions of the Art of Memory and its relation to chiasmus, Engel avoids engaging in a simple account of what these authors read and incorporated into their own writings. Instead, through an examination of their predisposition toward an earlier model of pattern recognition, he offers fresh insight into the writers' understandings of mourning and loss, their use of allegory, and what they gained from their use of pseudonyms.