A Tale of Conscience


Byam Shaw’s illustration for Poe’s William Wilson in “Selected Tales of Mystery” (London : Sidgwick & Jackson, 1909) on the frontispiece with caption “A masquerade in the palazzo of the Neapolitan Duke Di Broglio.” (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Edgar Allan Poe’s haunting story of “William Wilson” (published in 1839 in Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine) is a semi-autobiographical tale of conscience worth invoking in the midst of our present political struggles. It is a ghostly story of conquering one’s alter ego, of the demoralizing consequence of slaying the second, better self. It is told as a cautionary tale, the redemptive purport of which comes from reflecting on the consequences of one’s own avarice rather than projecting blame outward.

The bane of unacknowledged greed, lust, and ambition, which is at the heart of Poe’s tale, can be extended beyond the individual to implicate a nation. Indeed, William Wilson’s struggle with his doppelgänger might serve well as a parable for collective contemplation. Understanding his moral demise should prompt us to reclaim the spirit of the nation. (more…)

Everyday Devil Talk

"Lady Liberty Cracked" (2001). Oil on canvas by Julio Aguilera.

“Lady Liberty Cracked” (2001). Oil on canvas by Julio Aguilera.

An eye-catching headline about dueling public figures got me thinking about how everyday language reflects and rehearses the attitudes on which the war state thrives.  Our domestic habits of communication, including talk by and about political opponents, carry over into our perception of foreign enemies. The headlined dispute between Charles Koch and Harry Reid illustrates how we engage in devil talk to make antinomies.

Antinomy defined:    “a fundamental and apparently unresolvable conflict or contradiction (antimonies of beauty and evil, freedom and slavery—Steven Holden).”  Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10 ed.

This definition alludes to antinomy as a problem of language related to the construction of social and political realities, or what Joshua Gunn calls a “productive mistake” (Modern Occult Rhetoric, p. 49).  The perception of irresolvable conflicts is produced and sustained by rhetorical rituals. (more…)