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No Human Hand? The Ourang-Outang In Poes The Murders In The Rue Morgue

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Chapter Summary

Endlessly functional, on its own or via the extensions of itself it uses to expand the range of its action upon the world, the human hand has been regarded since antiquity as a decisive marker in the differentiation of the human from all other animal species. In the nineteenth century the proximity of ape and human anatomies, particularly those of the hands, threatened to undermine the notion of human exceptionality at its very core in assumptions regarding self-awareness and intentionality. Preservation of that exceptionalism, using scientific rather than metaphysical criteria, forced an awkward, and uncanny, question: when is a hand not a hand? The mystery in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1841) revolves decisively around this question: the killer is an orangutan finally identified as such by the amateur detective C.

Keywords: animal species; Edgar Allan Poe; human hand; orangutan; The Murders in the Rue Morgue



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