Chapter

The Contingent Limits of Romantic Myth-Making

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Abstract

In the previous chapter, I claimed that by the time of the “Triumph of Life” Shelley had come to a post-romantic recognition that there is no position of pure aesthetic autonomy and of world-transcendence, acquiescing to the historicity and contingency of human experience. Following Shelley’s logic, I sought to describe this new position in terms of the knowledge of non-knowing. In this chapter I gather together the different strands of discussion and conclude with a two-part argument about English romantic discourse. In the first two sections, I argue that Wordsworth and Coleridge set up a distinct romantic discourse that we can read in retrospect as illuminating some of the inherent tensions in romantic metaphysics. This particular discourse, as I have argued throughout, is inherent in the struggle towards an aesthetic recognition as understood as part of the personal and critical conversation between Wordsworth and Coleridge. I also use a phenomenological perspective to postulate that the work of both poets is based upon their relative sense of embodiment. In the third section, I argue that the literalisation of this discourse — a process in part due to its gaining common acceptance and currency as a recognisable romantic discourse — enables Shelley to produce a second-order discourse that affirms non-knowing. Shelley is able to usher in a new shape of romantic experience that acknowledges the ironic, embodied, historicist, perspectival and contingent nature of experience.

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