Destructive Transendence: an Intrepretation of Edgar Allan Poe

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Imagine growing up in a world for decades, only to find out that reality has all been a lie. The foundation of any individuals’ existence on the planet Earth has been for no specific purpose and it has become necessary to destroy the very fabric of the physical and spiritual realms in order to return to genuine tranquility. Edgar Allan Poe, a very popular American author, believes in a unique philosophy that advocates these principles mentioned called Destructive Transcendence. Destructive Transcendence is the belief that in order to return to original unity, the physical world and the spiritual world must both be destroyed. Poe used this concept in many of his writings and its evident the influence it had on his stories due to the contextual clues and obvious characteristics illustrated. Poe’s writings occurred during the Romantic Movement and greatly influenced the literary spectrum by developing a new genre of writing (detective fiction) as well as motivating modern day writers such as the famous Arthur Doyle and his Sherlock Holmes series. Edgar Allan Poe’s use of Destructive Transcendence in “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “Ligeia” conveys the idea of the physical world and the spiritual world conflicting on the outskirts of reality to unite as one through the use of insanity, symbolism, imagery, and diction.

To begin with, the use of insanity in Poe’s works is a prominent indication of the disintegrating reality experienced by the characters. Consequently, this characteristic of insanity foreshadows the emergence of original unity by destroying the psychological state of the character as well as his or her physical surroundings. To clarify, in “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Roderick is the individual that experiences insanity in the highest degree throughout the story and the concept of Destructive Transcendence materializes. Edgar Allan Poe created Roderick to be incapable of distinguishing between imagination and reality which illustrates his mental state of mind; Madeline’s death allowed the fantasy side of Roderick’s mind to dominant, initially showing the signs of insanity (900). The narrator was observing Roderick’s behavior, hinting that the fragile borderline of insanity has successfully taken over and this gradual process represent the destruction of the spiritual world in essence (Poe 904). In addition, the short story, “Ligeia” shows some of the same qualities of Destructive Transcendence, specifically the use of insanity to foreshadow the destruction of a realm of separation. The narrator’s psychological world of insanity begins after his first wife, Ligeia, dies and he remarries. In their bridal chamber, the narrator begins doing opium and progressively loses the outskirts of reality as insanity takes over and finally reaches the peak when he sees his first wife revived (Poe 921). As a result, his mental state collapses and embodies the destruction of the spiritual world. Thus, Poe’s short stories utilize the idea of insanity as a way of signaling the inevitable destruction of the physical and spiritual in order to regain unity as expressed in the idea of Destructive Transcendence.

Subsequently, Edgar Allan Poe utilizes symbolism as an efficient literary device to represent the concept of Destructive Transcendence: the destruction of the spiritual and physical. In “Ligeia,” Poe uses many signs of symbolism, the most prominent and obvious being the bridal chamber after his first wife dies. The bridal chamber is described as having living qualities and is associated with many abnormalities such as guilt, institutionalized craziness, grief, paranoia, and many more signs of instability in addition to the architecture representing the narrator’s conscious (Mucke par 32). Additionally, Ligeia’s “luminous orbs” that are referenced so much in the story symbolize knowledge and their destruction eliminates the narrator’s connection to the physical world and sends him into an abyss of imagination,...
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