REVISITING EDGAR ALLAN POE ‘S “THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER”
A collaborative project with UCA students
The Fear of a Pandemic
During the whole of a frenetic, bright and busy day in the upcoming spring of the year, when the temperature started to rise, I had been walking back home from University as the academic year was prematurely ending. How strange it was to think that schools were closing for safety reasons, and that bars, restaurants, and theaters would be shut down a few hours later until further notice. As I halted to contemplate the bustling street, nothing suggested that a major health crisis was arising: couples were quarrelling on the terrace of a fancy coffee shop, businessmen wearing black suits were trying to make themselves heard while rushing through the crowd, and shopaholics were maxing out their credit cards at the mall to the greatest delight of sales assistants. Yet as I walked down the traffic artery, it seemed as though the closer I would get to the seaside, the darker the sky would become. It was a feeling that I still cannot describe today: an ounce of disquietude was intermingled with a general calmness that could only foreshadow a tempest to come. As I arrived on the Promenade, the usual tranquil waters of the Mediterranean Sea had made way for apoplectic waves hitting the pebbles like I had never seen before. It was as if the Earth had repressed her anger for so many years that she could not hold it back anymore. A strong wind started to blow through the grayish concrete buildings and the aligned palm trees, whistling some unknown strains that were both soothing yet alarming at the same time. Was this another meteorological disaster, similar to the previous ones we had had that winter? No, it certainly was not. As I paused to contemplate the apocalyptic view, the rain suddenly poured down— It was not a torrential rain, but rather warning drops, each one gradually encouraging the bystanders to either go home or seek shelter.
The unprecedented measure effective at midnight was similar to a gigantic social blackout, and before long, everybody was staying home as they were told to.
We were all now going to spend several days —which soon turned into weeks— locked inside our lonely houses. For the fortunate ones, their gilded cage consisted in a modern villa with acres of land, while others would have to settle for an outrageously small room on the 6th floor of an old Haussmann building.
As I observed the street from my picture window on the very next day, I could already perceive some changes. Previously crowded with students walking up and down the boulevard, the entire area was now deserted, reminiscent of these midsummer afternoons so hot that no one would venture to go out. No noise was to be heard, not even the humming of car engines. While it could have appeared as pleasant at first, the eerie quietness soon turned into something else. They say silence screams the truth, and that is exactly what it did on that specific weekend. The countryside had its birds tweeting some harmonious melodies. The seaside had its waves crashing on the shore. But what could the city have, when deprived of its mechanic hustle and bustle? Nothing. Some void. A deafening silence. It was as if the clock was still ticking, yet life itself had been indefinitely paused. And the tick-tock would sinisterly remind us that time was still going by no matter what, and there was nothing one could do to stop that. If life were a play, we would not be the actors, but rather anonymous members of the audience, helplessly watching it being performed.
When after a week I finally dared to step outside and face the gloomy circumstances, I found myself in a foreign place that used to be my neighborhood. Even though the buildings and the shops were still the same, something in the atmosphere was altered: fewer people would venture outside and had their faces covered by a white piece of cloth. Voicelessness was dominating and social interactions were annihilated: people would look at you without so much of a hello, as if all of a sudden talking meant potentially exposing oneself to contamination. Their way of looking at somebody else was not the same either. A glimmer of fear could be perceived in their shifty eyes, when those were not protected by a Plexiglas visor. They would not stay long either: the quicker they walk, the faster they would go back to the safe space called home. These ghostly souls would aimlessly wander through the streets for an hour or so, often going grocery shopping or exercising, and then back to where they came from. Living was not an option anymore: it was all about surviving, physically but also psychologically, through this unprecedented catastrophe.
Our Crumbling House
During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the winter of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been thinking alone, in my room, about the melancholy that has taken over the world, I know not how it was—but, with the first glimpse of the TV, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. Anywhere and everywhere it’s all the same, I couldn’t help but reckon that this new threat on humanity could be our demise.
Every day seems like the previous one, mainly because of the toxic atmosphere pervaded by the media, a feeling of collective asphyxiation that even the most resilient person is subjected to. I stopped and asked myself “what was it that so unnerved me about what I saw on T.V” It was an insoluble riddle , something that nor I, you, nor anybody has control over, the fear of the unknown, the fear of what we cannot see nor fight, the fear of what could be seen as none other than the sword of Damocles. there are combinations of things which have the power of affecting us, still the analysis of this power lies among considerations beyond our depth.
Nevertheless, the world is our house or mansion and in this mansion of gloom, its proprietors, presidents, big corporations’ officials by extension world leaders are not lifting a finger to help us breathe, we cannot breathe.
It all feels like a dream, a threat that cannot be seen nor fought really does exist? it sure does seem to be the case.
Shaking off from my spirit what must have been a dream, I scanned more narrowly the real aspect of the building. Its principal feature seemed to be that of an excessive antiquity, governments are indeed outdated in their way of handling things. Minute fungi overspread the whole exterior, hanging in a fine tangled web-work from the eaves, yes, this virus has taken over the world as the fungi would do with a house. Yet all this was apart from any extraordinary dilapidation. No portion of the masonry had fallen; and there appeared to be a wild inconsistency between its still perfect adaptation of parts, and the crumbling condition of the individual stones, living during an epidemic really does seem to be this way metaphorically, we know it is falling apart but we still hope it will not but is it the answer?
This mansion of ours, is it really one that will shelter us from the fungi that is this epidemic, does it have pillars to withstand injustice? those questions are some we need to ask ourselves and to me it seems obvious with our current mansion’s state, that this is not something it can provide us with.
What if it did the complete opposite? this mansion of ours that is supposed to protect us , is it not the blade that sheathes corruption away from the eyes of the people, but ready to be used to slay any glimpse of wellbeing in our world? to me this seems more than likely to be the case.
Now whether the virus is real is not up for debate, it is, but what did the governments do to help us? Somebody would say that they took safety measures and instigated lockdowns around the world to keep from doing more damage than they already done, but isn’t it a bit late? Why would our house not shelter us from the raindrops when needed and rather expose us to it until the disease takes over our bodies and then come to the rescue?
To go on over more heart wrenching events, George Floyd a black man was murdered by a police offer because he had used a fake 20 dollar bill, when he himself could have not known himself that it was fake, and what if it was fake? Is it a reason to use the blade of corruption to take away a man’s life?
And in the words of the great Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius “you can also commit injustice by doing nothing” which three other police offers did do, standing there and watching a man die in an attempt of breathing while calling for his long-deceased mother.
Now the image starts to become clearer our house is not only threatened by an outside virus but also from an infection from the inside, racism.
Just like the many cracks and the many clashes the pieces would endure over the years our world has indeed had some fissures here and there and in our present day those fissures and stains maybe go beyond the typical meaning they would have normally, and as with time things wear off maybe our world needs to do the same, but not by accepting its demise but rather changing the pillars on which it relied on for the longest time.
As we can see all over different media outlets protesters are taking the streets by storm and this is not an isolated phenomena strictly happening in the United states of America, France, Russia, Italy, Spain, rioters all over the world are demanding their rightful liberties are shouting in unison in a hopeful charge towards their freedom.
Police brutality has been an issue since the dawn of time and the abuse of the power law enforcement officers take part in, seems almost inhumane and maybe this is a taste of what the people governing us really want to do to us, subject people to authority and obedience. While this could seem like a totally fair and understandable ethos, recent examples like George Floyd may he rest in peace in the US or Adama Traoré in France divert our attention to the real problem, racism which again has to be dealt with but in order to do that maybe we should have a conversation with the proprietors of our mansion, presidents and world leaders.
The decay of nobility is an interesting theme of the novel The Fall of the House of Usher, this short story, now more than ever seems to be of the utmost relevancy, the incestuous relationship that binds the two main protagonists Roderick Usher and his sister Madeline and the previous members of the family has led to their depression and demise.
These two characters represent world leaders and the everlasting archaic policies respectively, ideas that they endorse that bind people to obedience and submission.
One important notion in the short story is the ever-present nature of gloom and sadness which we are in nowadays. For the last three to four months we have and are still subject to a worldwide epidemic, making us depressed and sad just like the characters in the short story, another point in common is that we were and are for some still in our homes not being able to go see our loved ones, families and friends. Just like Roderick and Madeline we are left alone which just like in the short story emphasizes even more this feeling and atmosphere of gloom and sadness.
But not everything is sadness and tears, during this epidemic a lot of people have developed ways of coping either through meditation, reading, writing, or calling family members on the phone and this works sort of like a way to rebuild our mansion to rebuild our world to be a better one, slowly brick by brick people are becoming better and better but our main focus now and the key element that needs to do the same are world leaders, and those people are dealing with this climate of anxiety as would a person turning a blind eye one a child getting bullied by some of his classmates, nor in France nor in the US or any other country, have they come out and took responsibility for the actions of their subordinates, when a president says “when the looting starts the shooting starts” then you know the proprietor of the mansion does not have any concerns nor remorse to endangering people’s lives .
The proprietor in the short story is afraid of the crumbling of the mansion and one more specific element reminds him of his impendent doom, the gas this element looming around the house, and our equivalent for this are the cries and screams of the millions of people demanding justice for the whole of humanity, and both proprietors know what is coming and that their fall is inevitable.
Racism is a fissure in our society that shatters our mansion from the roof to the pillars and is another virus infecting the minds and bodies of people. I think that both this pandemic and this disease could be tackled at the same time and thus manage in killing two birds with one stone, we are in a paradigm shift I believe and both George Floyd’s death and The coronavirus act as a wakeup call for the nation to take matters to their own hands and go against its masters.
Martin Luther King once said, “In the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard” and this could be interpreted in two ways either that the people have never been heard or that rioting does not make our message heard by the leaders. Now some might say that being heard is nothing new and that is what happened to poor M. Floyd, but maybe rioting is the only way for us to be taken seriously because it might be time for the expression “A government of the people, by the people, for the people” to have some meaning and relevancy .
We used to be and to the eyes of the proprietors are stills nothing but mere pawns, expendables, but during this pandemic we proved that we are much more than that, just like the narrator in The Fall of the House of Usher we decided to walk away from this mansion that was no longer sheltering nor protecting us before it all fell apart because when a government is not capable of providing the basic rights and liberties to the people, the best solution is revolution.
Both this epidemic and the virus strike fear in the minds of people and fear is no small thing, when people are afraid they resort to particular measures, they might act and do something in a particular way that does not at all match their beliefs nor their ideals, and this is what we see during the riots, people breaking stores, looting and stealing things, which seems to not at all be the way things should be handled. Fear is even more present when law enforcement officers break store windows in order to make it seem like rioters did or when they start shooting rubber bullets and blinding innocent bystanders like the lady who just wanted to go and buy groceries.
Fear is a dangerous thing and this from whatever angle we look at it, it is dangerous because it might destroy the little trust there is between government and citizens, it is dangerous because it might lead to crime, and dangerous because it is not a healthy emotion to experience .
I would like to end this essay with a particular paragraph of The Fall of The House of Usher that describes metaphorically the situation that we are in and which translates what we experience in our real world:
From that chamber, and from that mansion, I fled aghast. The storm was still abroad in all its wrath as I found myself crossing the old causeway. Suddenly there shot along the path a wild light, and I turned to see whence a gleam so unusual could have issued; for the vast house and its shadows were alone behind me. The radiance was that of the full, setting, and blood-red moon, which now shone vividly through that once barely discernible fissure, of which I have before spoken as extending from the roof of the building, in a zigzag direction, to the base. While I gazed, this fissure rapidly widened—there came a fierce breath of the whirlwind—the entire orb of the satellite burst at once upon my sight—my brain reeled as I saw the mighty walls rushing asunder—there was a long tumultuous shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters—and the deep and dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the “House of Usher.”
We are the narrator, we ran away from our mansion, we do not see the light that he saw bursting through the house, but we will soon, at least for now let’s say that we managed to escape before the mansion fell apart.
The Fall of The Empty Mall
Son cœur est une lutte suspendue;
Sitôt qu’on lui sert la main, il la nettoie.
During the whole of a sunny, bright, and uproarious day in the spring of the year, when the clouds hung clemently high above the heavens, I had been passing alone, afoot and masked, through an usual dreary tract of town; and at length found myself, as no shades drew for the herefor day was warm, within the unusual discomfort of the Mall. I know not how it was- but with the first glimpse of this glorified town-market, a sense of insufferable resentment pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for I felt dirty already as an unmasked fellow coughed not in his elbow; but in the near air in my vicinity. I looked upon the scene before me- upon this mere mall, its unimpressive industrious landscape features and these walls of which are too familiar- of at least they seemed so before two months ago – with an utter fear of uncleanliness which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than the after-dream of a germophobe in an uncleaned public pool. There was a sultriness, a gasp for hair and an itching of my unkempt beard – for my mask was as uncomfortable – and an unredeemed; yet expected, agony as the mere sight of people exchanging shakes of hands and not socially descanting, which no inflaming of the imagination could torture in aught of the barrier gestures. What was it – I paused to use some of my hydroalcoholic gel- that so unnerved me in the contemplation of this Mall? It was everything but insoluble in all honesty, I did not spur these thoughts extensively, for I knew exactly what was plaguing me. The crowd as possible carrier of a malady not respecting higher orderlies. I was forced to fall back upon the unsatisfactory conclusion, that some people were mere gits, not beyond doubt as it seemed simple and clear. It was possible, I reflected, that a mere arrangement of disposable ignorance and handpicked self-righteousness would be sufficient to modify and annihilate the infection’s diagnostic in the mind of the unsanitary; crafted by a lost of sense of justice to those most exposed.
Acting upon this thought, I walked towards the precipitous brink of those automatic doors; and a guardian of safety – staff as it was written- adorned a similar mask to mine, and ushered me to wash my hands with yet another a salubrious gel, similar to the one I had used a minute ago. Hands now sticky, albeit twice scour’d; I plunged further into the restrained mall and smooth aisles –but with a shudder even more thrilling than before— gazing down stressfully upon the letter given by my partner in crime.
Nevertheless, in this torrid mall I proposed to myself a quick errand. Or rather was obligated; and the letter be its testimony. A letter from him, which felt wildly like a conspiracy – or rather interpreted as a burden – for he had to work at home and for I was now unemployed thanks to what seemed like a Chinese ploy. My senses were already altered, this last thought was a result of a trickery of the fearful setting, ne’er had I thought such things before. Ashamed but not discouraged, I had taken another glance at the evident rapid writing, for he was e was in a meeting with his workmates. It spoke of some lavvy paper – for a natural need that could be deemed cleaned without its juncture. I did not initially answer positively to this undertaking, but amidst all this, it was the apparent urge that went with this request- which allowed no room for hesitation; His bowel and mine gnawed of a painful burn and the light of the inside could do me no harm – He inquired.
Although we had been intimate associates, I knew little of this hasty habit of urge. But I quickly reserved this thought for a later scold and pressed my way further inside the store. I have said that the sole effect of this errand felt somewhat prissy; and that going outside and writing a derogatory attestation had only deepened this queer impression. But I also felt that expanding such an innate creation of the mind in the fancy of writer, could be felt as imperious, for after all it was nothing but a modest mall. I had known better sensibility of temperament but in such out of coiled times, I exercised no further reflexions upon those mind-maps. Rather I spawned of a different thought one of when outside and closed to potential porters of bacterium, where those microscopic assailants could hide. Of bacterium I knew naught; But everyone around me seemed suddenly so apt in their studies while the rest of the herd seemed as brain livid as to not fully cover their nose.
I had worked upon my imagination, as to convince my own spirit that the virus could be beneath my feet; drudged by the retail workers or be airborne ‘round me. I swathed these thoughts deep into my unconscious even if this public domain there hung a shuddersome atmosphere. As it collected my items from the store – one could surely not only buy lavatory papers – a feeling hued by disgust and of a hypochondriacal scourging that this pestilence might have climbed upon me, as if it had trespassed my mask – and mind.
Shaking off from my spirit what must have been a dream, I scanned more narrowly the real aspect of the mall (and of my hands, for I disinfected them again). I had walked towards my goal, the isle of which I had to get to. The aisle in which I found myself was intricate and unobtrusive. The shelves we empty, devoured and ghastly, and at so vast a distance from the sticky lino floor as to feel as if they would never be filled again. Perhaps the eye of a scrutinising store clerk might discover some. I queried the workers, but the masks muffled my requests; and I feared that frail sparkles of unwanted spits would escape despite my white veil. Though all this considered, He answered to my inquired were primed and quick; Lavvy papers were gone!
Interchanged looks of misery were shared with vendors and clients alike for I could not possibly come back empty handed! It was later explained how many bought too much of the same products, feared for their lives but forgetting their next of kin. One could wonder what thought traced these people’s minds as to buy so much one single item in one singular instance; ‘Tis but foolery I thought.
At the request of my partner, I could not make the arrangements. I looked upon the letter again and leaned on the empty isle- forgetting the sanitary precautions- and I felt as dirty as one could get. I made up my mind as to quickly disinfect my hands once more, Alas! It was empty. I gasped and put my right hand in exhaust on my visage- once more forgetting it was dirty. I gasped again and I fancied once again the pestilence crawling upon my skin. I thought of my Amour and how I could plague him if I had not been cleaned which with the lack of proper air due to my mask, oppressed me. Anxieties invaded in my heart and pervaded my soul. To add to my despair, a fellow worker pressed his way during my mental discouragements and made contacts with I, he was unmasked and coughed close to me- The madman! No sooner than this thought ended, I felt irremediably appealed to leave and clean myself. Having thought of my fancies as defective I started to usher for the door and my stomach pressed further gnaws.
From that aisle, and from that mall, I fled annoyed. The sun still shining bright all its wrath, in times where barely anyone could go out. As I fled there was a sudden uproar and suddenly an upheaval in the Mall. I turned to check and behold; crowds of hurried and worried folks assailed the aisles. My noble abode call’d me once more. While I gazed at the picturesque scene it only furthered this calling, and the herd pressed once more hurryingly, and I felt my brain evading. All of this was complemented tumultuous reels and as I silently left, I watched over the fragments of the “EMPTY MALL “