Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Fall of the House of Usher (excerpt)

Okay, enough ranting. Not only have I been taking flak for Grand Theft Auto, but my beloved digital home away from home, Talking About Games, is experiencing a minor crisis and the emotions are running hot. I need to clear my head and Edgar Allan Poe is one of the best ways to do that. Enjoy.

During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was - but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible. I looked upon the scene before me - upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain - upon the bleak walls - upon the vacant eye-like windows - upon a few rank sedges - and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees - with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium - the bitter lapse into every-day life - the hideous dropping off of the veil. There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart - an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime. What was it - I paused to think - what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher? It was a mystery all insoluble; nor could I grapple with the shadowy fancies that crowded upon me as I pondered. I was forced to fall back upon the unsatisfactory conclusion, what while, beyond doubt, there are combinations of very simple natural objects which have the power of thus affecting us, still the analysis of this power lies among considerations beyond our depth. It was possible, I reflected, that a mere different arrangement of the particulars of the scene, of the details of the picture, would be sufficient to modify, or perhaps to annihilate its capacity for sorrowful impression; and, acting upon this idea, I reined my horse to the precipitous brink of a black and lurid tarn that lay in unruffled lustre by the dwelling, and gazed down - but with a shudder even more thrilling than before - upon the remodelled and inverted images of the gray sedge, and the ghastly tree-stems, and the vacant and eye-like windows.

Poe, Edgar Allan. "The Fall of the House of Usher." Edgar Allan Poe: Selected Tales. Ed. Julian Symons. Oxford, 1980. 62-78.


Daniel Terner said...

...though personally, I think I'd have gone with "The Masque of the Red Death"... :-)

- Brillig

dcornelius said...

Hmm... yes, "Masque" is a great story. I actually just read it this morning. I'm on a Poe kick. Call me excessively operatic or desperately metaphoric, but I liked how "Usher" related, however inappropriately, with the seeming, and hopefully only temporary, collapse on the TAG forums. This is me dealing with it.

Daniel Terner said...

I know - I see the parallels and immediately understood why you chose it. My mind moved to "Masque" for the same reasons, and principally because of this passage:

"And the revel went whirlingly on, until at length there commenced the sounding of midnight upon the clock. And then the music ceased, as I have told; and the evolutions of the waltzers were quieted; and there was an uneasy cessation of all things as before. But now there were twelve strokes to be sounded by the bell of the clock; and thus it happened, perhaps, that more of thought crept, with more of time, into the meditations of the thoughtful among those who revelled. And thus, too, it happened, perhaps, that before the last echoes of the last chime had utterly sunk into silence, there were many individuals in the crowd who had found leisure to become aware of the presence of a masked figure which had arrested the attention of no single individual before. And the rumor of this new presence having spread itself whisperingly around, there arose at length from the whole company a buzz, or murmur, expressive of disapprobation and surprise -- then, finally, of terror, of horror, and of disgust."

Hopefully, neither Usher nor Masque will wind up being apt metaphors for our thread: I remain hopeful that our visitor's name will prove metaphoric and that the thread will yet rise from the ashes, reborn.

Speaking of EA Poe, have you had the occasion to listen to Alan Parsons Project's "Tales of Mystery and Imagination" ? http://www.amazon.com/Tales-Mystery-Imagination-Parsons-Project/dp/B000001FN3

dcornelius said...

That's such an amazing passage. I love the way that Poe uses the clock throughout the story.

I have not listened to that album. In fact, I've never listen to any APP. Perhaps I should?

Since you like Poe, you should check out Italian filmmaker Mario Bava, especially his films "Black Sunday," Black Sabbath" and "Kill, Baby... Kill!" He was an early gothic horror innovator, a bit like what you would expect if Alfred Hitchcock and Poe collaborated on a film together. Good stuff.

Daniel Terner said...

You've probably heard them without realizing it. Their biggest pop crossover hit was "Eye In The Sky," which still gets quite a bit of airplay on radio stations even today. They generally do concept albums (and the artists aren't always the same from album to album). The EA Poe concept album was one of their more impressive efforts. Orson Welles does some narration on it. Some of the songs are catchy, others more forgettable, but the overall effort is entertaining. It was remastered and reissued in 2007, so it should be pretty readily available. The amazon link has audio snippets, and I'm sure it's probably on itunes, as well.

I hadn't heard of Bava but will definitely check out his work.

Nevis said...

Nice post!