Friday, June 21, 2013
Thursday, June 20, 2013
I recall being about 16 when I heard on the radio about the outbreak of an unknown pathogen affecting gay men in New York and San Francisco, spreading and killing quickly. Early on, I recall the term 'gay cancer', before it assumed its now universally known moniker. I was a virgin until I was 19, and although I had not even had heterosexual sex yet (give me a few years and an obliging girl), I remember pausing and thinking in the back of my mind, "Uh oh! This is a complication I don't need." My first sexual experiences were with girls. I grew up in the countryside where the sophistication of a limp wrist was exceedingly rare. I didn't come out until I was in my middle 20s and by that time AIDS was raging and peaking, a death sentence wrapped in four capital letters.
I have always loved Edgar Allan Poe, but it wasn't until university that I really devoted my attention to his short stories. My literary education began with my sister, who passed a slightly dog-eared copy of Animal Farm to me when I was thirteen. After that reading in politics and deceit I never read children's literature again. I tumbled through 1984, then Brave New World, Day of the Locust and more. In university I studied the Victorians, triple-deckers and a smattering of the English greats (with a lilt to the plight of females, those hothouse flowers, so protected and exploited in the 19th century). My favourite professor was a radical feminist who was as sharp as a razor. So, we tended toward George Meredith, George Eliot & Aphra Behn. But.. I had always had an abiding passion for Poe.
Poe can compose an antique, musty phrase, full of oblique & angular nouns and adjectives, and make it sing like no other. It is as if he goes out of his way to choose the one word you weren't expecting, but he so craftily fits it together with the others, that they are like those Peruvian blocks at Machu Picchu, solid and immovable.
If there was one man who lived what he wrote it was poor Poe. Stumbling through alcoholism, failure, death and disappointment, it's no wonder he was a master. Being an absolute original, I also appreciate the fact that he (almost) single-handedly fashioned detective fiction. He was certainly not the only one, though. Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone further refined the genre to include all the classic ingredients. But of course, Poe had C. Auguste Dupin, the first independent sleuth 'on the case'.
There are so many brilliant, jewel-like works in his prolific catalogue that it is hard to choose a favourite among them. It is The Masque of the Red Death though, that dark meditation on mortality, that very much stands out for me. And herein lies the allegory. Disease, fear, and abandon all stake a claim in this rumination on the human exit. Sic transit gloria mundi !
"The Red Death had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal or so hideous. Blood was its avatar and its seal, the redness and horror of blood..."
You can download the audio here: Masque
(Be sure to use Chrome or Mozilla to download, IE doesn't work)
PS. Here is a link to the first post about Poe that I entered, way back in the virtual year 2008: