Saturday, June 13, 2015

Lecture on a Lecture | Barbara Cantalupo on Edgar Allan Poe's EUREKA

To the few who love me and whom I love -- to those who feel rather than to those who think -- to the dreamers and those who put faith in dreams as in the only realities -- I offer this Book of Truths, not in its character of Truth-Teller, but for the Beauty that abounds in its Truth; constituting it true. To these I present the composition as an Art-Product alone:- let us say as a Romance; or, if I be not urging too lofty a claim, as a Poem.What I here propound is true:- * therefore it cannot die:- or if by any means it be now trodden down so that it die, it will "rise again to the Life Everlasting."Nevertheless it is as a Poem only that I wish this work to be judged after I am dead.
E. A. P.



preface to EurekaEdgar Allan Poe, 1848
The fascinating and inspiring lecture delivered by Dr. Barbara Cantalupo at Pace Gallery explored a different side of Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), mainly known for his macabre tales or "The Raven". 
Cantalupo introduced EUREKA with quotes from a letter of Poe to his aunt Maria Clemm, where he communicated how this text was his most important work. "I have no desire to live since I have done Eureka. I could accomplish nothing more."

The work EUREKA began with the lecture "On The Cosmography of the Universe", presented by Poe presented on February 3, 1848,at the Society Library in New York, and was followed by a publication in March of the same year. The work, exploring the nature of the universe, was defined by Poe as a prose poem and dedicated to the German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859). The year 1848 marked the anniversary of the death of Poe’s wife Virginia, and also precedes of one year his own death. Neuroscience, studying the biological nature of creativity, can perhaps explain the uncanny link between this work and the tragic events of Poe's life.

In EUREKA Poe present his cosmological interpretation as "I design to speak of the Physical, Metaphysical and Mathematical – of the Material and Spiritual Universe: of its Essence, its Origin, its Creation, its Present Condition and its Destiny". He states "that space and duration are one" and that "matter and spirit are made of the same essence. Poe suggests a "wholistic" and organic understanding of reality, where esoteric spiritual beliefs merge with scientific principles. In his view the universe is constantly expanding and collapsing. I was completely fascinated of how Poe anticipated —although without a scientific methodology— concepts found one hundred year later in the 1948 Big Bang Theory and the subsequent Big Crunch theory. He also "poetically" anticipated 1917 Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, where space, time, gravitational forces, light and matter are expression of a continuum.

Cantalupo emphasized the presence of the notion of sublime and sublimity, which reminded me of the Kant’s mathematical and dynamical sublime. A mystical sense of relationship with cosmos permeates the Poe’s text: the origin of the universe is expressed as involution, spiraling inward, like in shell. Matter exists as attraction and repulsion in descriptions echoing theories of the atom. She also introduced the relevance of the zoetrope, a viewing device capable of multiple of views similarly to the universe as space expanse.

EUREKA had a completely negatively response at the time of publication: yet it is almost a manifesto stating how the search of meaning merges with the quest of understanding of reality when questions asked by science are answered by art.
Broadway at 84 Street: a plaque commemorating the site of the Brennan Farm
where Poe was said to have composed "The Raven"

The lecture space was also unusual and compelling: the audience sat in front of the mirrored structure of Lucas Samaras installation Album 2, whichtakes place concurrently with the Eureka exhibition. Perhaps unintentionally, yet uncannily, the presence of mirrors stages the audience perceptions of an inside-out: our listening and viewing ourselves at the same time —an experience metaphorical of inside-outside unity of the cosmological-spiritual principles of EUREKA.

Dr. Barbara Cantalupo
Lucas Samaras mirrored installation from "Album 2" 
The lecture was presented on June 11, in conjunction with the exhibition Eureka . Dr. Barbara Cantalupo is the Editor of The Edgar Allan Poe Review and Professor of English, at the Pennsylvania State University.
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“ ’Tis some visiter,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door —
Only this, and nothing more.”
Edgar Allen Poe, The Raven, 1845