The Uncertain Archive: Jim Cory's Facts in the Case of E. A. P.
Facts in the Case of E. A. P. (or) Low Road to El Dorado.|
Mooncalf Press, 2003.
12 pages, $3.17 (paperback).
Presenting his short study of Poe as a collection of fragmentary poems and supposedly archival material, Cory produces a Rashomon-like biographical portrait of the nineteenth-century American writer. Given Poe's archetypal and occult position in American letters, the ploy of the possibly fictive archive produces the useful biographical effect of leaving Poe hidden behind the surfaces and gestures in which his character is realized.
But there is more here than biography. Cory's work appears to reference the 1979 fictional biography of Poe entitled The Facts in the Case of E. A. Poe by the Scottish historian and social critic Andrew Sinclair. Sinclair's piece similarly pretends to be a case study—Sinclair presents himself as the editor of the manuscripts of a fictive biographer named Ernest Albert Pons who believes himself to be Poe—and thus one wonders, reading Cory's piece, if one has not stumbled over the traces of a long-running literary joke.
If so, it is a complicated joke, since a joke about identity in the American context questions the idealization of the heroic manly writer—Whitman, London, Hemingway—as the epitome of the American artist. The bitter, sweet, blasted Poe that Cory sketches is at least as familiar—at least to artists and writers—and reminds us that competition and envy are the reverse face of the coin of American individualism. That said, Cory permits Whitman—or at least his avatar—the final word, where he has the poet refer to Poe as "a little jaded." This undermines the nuanced balance Cory establishes elsewhere in his economical evocation of the pros and cons of his subject.