By Paul Hurh
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Additional info for American Terror: The Feeling of Thinking in Edwards, Poe, and Melville
Yet, to say that this book is useless to others would be perverse, soul crushing. The commonsense answer would be that this book does not itself belong to the works of terror that it analyzes; it relates a chapter of American literary history in which a set of influential authors, driven by historical circumstance and philosophically informed aesthetic conviction, sought to reframe thought through terror as an artistic device. The book shows how literary tone can be philosophical and provides an instance of how an aesthetic effect explains thought and is not wholly explained by it.
In any human assertion that has no place in the ultimate context of self-preservation” (29). 18 We hear in the terror of that which cannot be explained through the “context of self-preservation” the secret of Kant’s sublime or Nussbaum’s flourishing, for their inversions of the aesthetic of terror from bewildering fear to confident delight are informed by just such an impulse for self-preservation. But what exactly is reason itself, if we are to regard it as a faculty capable of having a tone?
The traditional reading of this terror would say that terror is of the past, a holdover from the hellfire and humiliation sermons of a more orthodox tradition. But even if, or especially if, Davenport’s unorthodox conduct presages the democratic revolution, the conventions and modes by which he operates, the inciting and championing of terror, may be subject to revaluation. How can we read Davenport as both liberal—as champion of the individual popular voice—and at the same time radically conservative—inciting the fears of hell that would seem to belong to an older, more archaic tradition?