Art of Poe (pt 2) by Gregory K. H. Bryant: The Oblong Box
We featured a stunning bit of illustration by Gregory K. H. Bryant a while back. This is another wonderful piece based on a work of Poe. We asked Gregory K. H. Bryant for his thoughts on the story and the piece. This is what he had to say:
The Falling Man is a theme in art that is ancient as the myth of Icarus and Daedalus, and very likely even more ancient than that.
I have touched upon it a few times in painting, drawing and paper cut, and here embraced the opportunity that Poe’s tale, “The Oblong Box”, gave me to explore it once again.
Poe’s potent short tale is fraught with many powerful images – most particularly a moment of supreme soul-searing awkwardness.
This comes when the narrator of the tale gives his old college friend, Cornelius Wyatt, now a newlywed, a smiling wink and a nudge, assuming he has shrewdly deduced the contents of a large, unmarked wooden crate Wyatt has taken aboard ship on his honeymoon journey. Instead of replying as the narrator had expected, Wyatt only bursts out with a peal of strangely incongruous, hysterical and agonized laughter.
That moment is the emotional crux of the tale, I think.
It is vividly recalled by the narrator, and it is a moment with which we all can sympathize – for who among hasn’t once made a good-natured remark, that proved to be tragically out of place, and to see it go horribly, horribly wrong, cutting someone through the heart, someone we never once intended to hurt?
Poe depicted that gut-wrenching faux pas masterfully.
But, though that moment is the heart of the tale, it was that moment when Cornelius Wyatt lashed himself to the mysterious oblong box, hurling himself into oblivion I chose to illustrate.
This moment allowed me to work with the Falling Man theme once again, and to tease out an nuance I hadn’t previously explored.
For the Falling Man is usually associated with the folly of human pride, and the folly of human aspiration. Daedalus, ignoring the warnings of his father, Icarus, flew too exuberantly close to the Sun, and in so doing, melted the wax that held his wings together, and fell to Earth.
So much for human aspiration.
And Gravity, if I understand it correctly, started its career in Western Philosophy as a moral force, a counterpoint to the force of Levity, which drew us toward Heaven – Gravity being the force that drew us back to the mud of the Earth from which our bodies arose, being the inevitable, because necessary, consequence of taking ourselves too seriously.
“Satan fell by force of gravity,” G. K. Chesterton remarked, “By taking himself too gravely.”
But in Poe’s tale, we see yet another nuance to the Falling Man theme. It is neither pride nor folly that brings about the fall of Cornelius Wyatt, but uttermost and unutterable despair – unutterable, because even when approached by his friend, the narrator of the tale, Wyatt cannot bring himself to take the solace offered him by the closeness of an old friend to unburden his soul of his misery. Instead, he rejects that comfort and responds to his old intimate as if they were strangers.
All human ties sundered, and beyond the succor of any human friendship, Cornelius Wyatt lashes himself to the oblong box, and hurls himself with it into oblivion. His fall is neither prideful nor the consequence of folly, but an act of absolute despair.
Thanks to Gregory K. H. Bryant!