Poetical and Philosophical Reticence in the Major Poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley
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This thesis explores how Shelley’s poetic reticence characteristically produces hermeneutical and ethical aporias within received ways of thinking. These aporias elicit critiques of the philosophical and social discourses that support them. Shelley’s poetry employs narratological ambiguity, omission and above all communicative reserve to make the reader more aware of his or her interpretative responsibility to engage with or resolve these strategic gaps. His reticence also allows his reader to conceptualise an enlarged constitution of the Subject. I develop a phenomenological approach to reading Shelley’s major verse inspired by Wolfgang Iser’s work on the productive functioning of textual gaps and blanks. I show how Shelley’s poems, by destabilising their own processes, produce dynamic intersubjective experience. As in Sartre’s phenomenological aesthetics, (upon which Iser’s work is based) where the world is productively re-constituted through an act of imagination, Shelley’s reticence makes visible the dialectical relations between world and consciousness. To some extent each uses the other to supply its content. But whereas textual self-reflexivity is normally seen as resulting in intellectualised meta-phenomena (such as irony), the self-critique generated by Shelley’s reticence paradoxically results in a positive hermeneutic that challenges influential deconstructive readings of Shelley’s aporias as figuring moments of philosophical limitation. Reticence, therefore, has a double function in Shelley’s work: it marks areas of uncertainty, scepticism and psychological anguish; it also provides ways of choosing to become knowingly seduced by temporary self-representations that satisfy nostalgia for a more essentialist conception of identity or meaning. This doubleness creates a dialectic that is never resolved, and which continually drives the hermeneutic tensions in Shelley’s texts and thought. Shelley’s reader is left with the possibility of choosing nostalgia in a generous spirit of self-parody; but nevertheless, reticence also keeps such illusions of fixity, however satisfying, feeling illusory.
AuthorsRoberts, Merrilees Fay
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