Publication details [#1362]

Fasbaugh, Martin. 2013. Creating "An Infinite World All Its Own": The Poetics of Resentment in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Epipsychidion. Anthropoetics 19 (1).
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Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Epipsychidion (1821) provides us with an allegorical, meta-poetic depiction of the romantic poet’s earnest yet failed attempt at creating a new, postromantic consciousness—one that is not even slightly reliant on the "scenic dimensions" of his own experiences. With such a consciousness, the poet would be unbounded by the empirical, and it would allow for him to return imaginatively to the originary scene of language and cultural creation. However, the poem ultimately shows us how resentment, which is what created the originary scene in the first place, makes impossible the return to this scene. The poem therefore ends up foretelling the future lie of postromantic poetics, which is that de-personalized allusions to the originary scene are possible. Of course, the poem is romantic in that it does not refrain from exploring the "scenic dimensions" of the poet’s personal experience, but Shelley’s speaker is in the midst of what becomes a futile effort to evolve from a romantic to a postromantic condition—in which his poetic visions become purely originary and, therefore, separate from his everyday life. Conceptualizing the speaker as attempting to transition from a romantic to a post-romantic esthetic consciousness helps explain why, for instance, he provides us with an account of his love history while also attempting to forget it. In doing so, he ends up drawing attention to the endeavor to turn away from personal resentment—"the dark side of desire." The speaker’s inability to meet this objective essentially foreshadows the insurmountable problem of postromantic esthetics. Shelley’s poem anticipates the modernist-esthetic turn, which Gans describes as the movement away from recreating "the origin of the scene of representation" to exploring "the scenic operation of its esthetic itself" (Originary Thinking 193). The modernist esthetic is made not from ignoring the temporal scene but, rather, from estheticizing it. For the remainder of this essay, I will be first arguing that Epipsychidion anticipates the evolution of the nineteenth-century esthetic as Gans describes it—from the romantic privatization of the originary scene, to the effort to preserve the scene from the empirical, and, finally, to the realization of this endeavor’s impossibility due to the fact that desire is derived from mimetic rivalry. By the end of the poem, we are to conclude that intimations of the originary are accessible only through the intercessory of temporal desire. Secondly, I am arguing that Epipsychidion, while famously an allegory of Shelley’s love history, also addresses what Shelley anticipates as the devaluation of poetry in the literary marketplace due to the proliferation of prosaic literature. Shelley not only shows how the idealization of love inevitably stems from resentment over a beloved’s unobtainability, but he also reveals that the act of exploring this connection relates to his professional resentment, which arises from the awareness that the emerging literary market was beginning to devalue the poetic occupation and, consequently, exclude the poet from its center. In Epipsychidion, the idyllic world the speaker wants to create is one where the poet stands at the center of a mimetic scene, and the speaker’s awareness of language’s inability to realize his vision meta-poetically represents Shelley’s sense of being overwhelmed by determinist social forces. Therefore, personal resentment creates the need to escape from his temporal mimetic scenes and to journey to the originary scene, but his inability to suppress his personal resentment prevents him from meeting this objective; his lyrical discourse can only be romantic rather than postromantic in nature, emerging from "the scenic dimensions of [his] personal experience." This failure, which Shelley makes obvious by situating the attempt of lyrical excurses within a narrative context, suggests that the postromantic symbolists’ suppression of narrative helped to conceal the fact that their supposed return to the "originary root" was, in fact, a return to the temporal and empirical. (Abstract provided by the author)