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Title: Broken worlds : Shelley's fractured materiality
Author: Coffey, Bysshe Inigo
ISNI:       0000 0004 7653 3460
Awarding Body: University of Exeter
Current Institution: University of Exeter
Date of Award: 2018
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Percy Bysshe Shelley is often seen to exhibit a linear intellectual development. He moves, allegedly, from a thoroughgoing materialism in his early years to embrace, with varying levels of enthusiasm, a diametrically opposed idealism. Yet, if we are attentive to even an early, supposedly naïvely ‘materialist’ work like Alastor (1816), we discover a much more complex reality. Here, Shelley’s materialism concerns not only the sonorous and physiological elements of existence, but also the gaps, vacancies, silences and interstices of thought. These too, after all, comprise part of our lived experience, and deserve to be designated material. But materialism has struggled, by definition, to explain the real but not-manifest phenomena of human experience. Shelley’s poetry actuates diverse kinds of intermittence and disjunction, and engages with philosophical contexts not previously associated with the poet. He did not seek to resolve the relation between the material and immaterial world of the soul (a quite impossible task anyway), but enact the dynamic between sensuous reality and the gaps and pauses that punctuate it. We see this not only through the incidents that his verse describes; importantly, Shelley also enacts this through performance: through the way in which we recite his poetry into existence, through the pauses and ‘fainting periods’ that our own voice describes. The need to take into account this vocal, performative element of Shelley’s verse belies the notion that he was ever a simple, unreconstructed idealist. Where the recent turn toward materialism has hitherto been somewhat narrowly conceived as a return to objects, things and their thing-ness, Shelley’s sensuousness permits us to ask further: to ask into the nature of the relations between objects, and the ways in which they come into being. His ‘intermitted song’, a poetry of radical pauses, is not only a resonant example of how prosody intersects with, and achieves, philosophically significant thinking, it is also a stinging critique of any account of life or matter that is offered solely in terms of motion, fullness, functionality, and continuity. His achievement is not only of relevance to the Romantic Period and the history of philosophy, or an answer to vital materialism, Shelley’s poetry and prose offer a remarkable reassessment of the notion of a continuing life.
Supervisor: Wagner, Corinna Sponsor: University of Exeter
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Literature ; Romanticism ; Shelley ; Philosophy