Rudrum, David (2005) What did Cavell want of Poe? Angelaki, 10 (3). pp. 91-98. ISSN 0969-725X

In a lecture given at Stanford some years ago,
Stanley Cavell added his name to the list of
thinkers who have endeavoured to read Poe
philosophically, an impressive list that already
included Derrida, Lacan, and Barbara Johnson.1
Yet Cavell’s engagement with Poe does not
amount to a ‘‘reading’’ in any straightforward,
positivistic sense of the term. Focusing largely on
one of Poe’s lesser known stories, ‘‘The Imp of the
Perverse,’’2 he gives three ‘‘directions for reading’’
the story, followed by three questions which,
Cavell says, the text invites.3 However, none of the
questions meets with an apparent answer, nor are
the suggestions he makes as ‘‘directions for reading’’
followed up. ‘‘What did Cavell want of Poe?’’
is, then, a genuine question. But it is also a
citation. In a more recent piece, entitled ‘‘What
Did Derrida Want of Austin?,’’ Cavell’s reading of
Austin’s How To Do Things With Words contains
an insight that, applied to ‘‘The Imp of the
Perverse,’’ opens up new dimensions to his
engagement with Poe.4

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