Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Tell Tale Heart

Yesterday, I went to the Edgar Allan Poe exhibit at the Harry Ransom Center at UT (which will continue through the end of year and is completely free). This year would have been the author's 200th birthday and cities all over the nation have been holding festivals, exhibitions and parties throughout this year to celebrate.

While this exhibit was nothing compared to some of the macabre graveyard parties I had hear rumors about in Baltimore, it was still cool to say that I did something to participate in what I consider an iconic year for literary hipsters.

I found out that Poe wrote a lot more than I realized. Certainly the giant tome of his complete works I saw one of my friends toting around in eighth grade led me to believe he wrote quite a bit, but I was unaware that he wrote a novel or so many poems (and even a few sonnets). It also became obvious by the many paintings, sketches, letters and reviews created by Frenchmen, that the French must have been crazier about Poe than modern-day hipsters.

Eventually, I figured out that after Poe's demeaning death (brought on by Rufus Griswold's slanderous obituary), Charles Baudelaire essentially fell in love with Poe's works. And, like you do when you're in love with something, fought tirelessly to give Poe the reputation he deserved. Cue the explosion of Poe translations, artwork and man love in mid-nineteenth century France.

For one, I found this exciting for the opportunity to read Baudelaire and Poe at the same time. However, the cooler thing about this connection is what it means for those of us who are on a passionate, albeit halfhearted, adventure to uncover the hidden meaning to Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Most older readers (or those who grew old while the series progressed) can easily identify the man in charge of the Baudelaire childrens' affairs, Mr. Poe, as named after Edgar Allan Poe and Mr. Poe's eternal coughing as a throwback to one of the many ailments that led to Poe's death. Until now, I've always thought his namesake was simply due to Lemony Snicket's own gothic interests and style. However, I have finally made the connection!....and desperately wish there was someone I could tell other than my partner in literary pursuits who would care. Alas, no one at the exhibit yesterday was particularly intrigued by my discovery.

As I slowly glided through the display boxes and many portraits of Poe, it was difficult to remember that this was the man who had once written such genial poems as "Annabel Lee" and "The Bells." Reading on through the disturbing artifacts of his life, I could only recall his terrifying stories such as "The Fall of the House of Usher" and "The Cask of Amontillado."

I was in a dark room set aside from the main exhibit viewing the more grotesque images that have been created of his stories when I noticed you could hear the loud bass of music coming from next door. This is something I've been wondering about Austin recently. A lot of the venues where full-blown concerts happen are directly adjacent to other buildings and apartments. Surely there's got to a pretty expensive noise license to get for that. But what venue was next to the Ransom center? Weren't we in the middle of campus? And no red light lasts that long. It couldn't simply be coming from a car.

I mentioned the sound to my friend who was viewing the paintings with me. He paused to listen. I continued studying Arthur Rackham's watercolor of "The Pit and the Pendulum."

I was staring into the empty eyes of the demons in the background when my friend commented that the bass  was too inconsistent to be coming from music. I listened, not taking my eyes off the watercolor painting. The sound was a bit odd. Not something you would hear in music and, come to think of it, I couldn't hear any background noise that would be the music to go with the bass. It was a very clean beating sound, almost like a...


Had the museum done that on purpose? In the creepiest, most poorly lit portion of the exhibit did they have a recording of a heartbeat playing all day?

Or were we going crazy? Usually if two people can hear something, you can be assurred you're not going mad....but wasn't the sound of the heart beating supposed to be a sign of a guilty conscience? If that was the case, than anyone who had done something wrong could hear the heart. Or perhaps Poe is a distressed spirit, upset with the way the nation is putting his most personal items, failures and humiliations out on display, and anywhere people go to see celebrations of his birthday this year, you will hear his own heart beating. A sad, unfinished heart beating.

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