The Ideology of Imagination: Subject and Society in the Discourse of Romanticism

By Forest Pyle | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
SHELLEY The Ends of Imagination, the "Triumph" of Ideology From the "Education of Error" to an "Epistemological Break"

When Shelley turns to the imagination, it is not as "another name for absolute strength of Mind" or as a "repetition in the finite mind of the infinite I AM" but rather, in Epipsychidion for instance, as a "reverberated lightning" that "As from a thousand prisms and mirrors, fills / The Universe with glorious beams, and kills / Error." 1 The Wordsworthian strain in Shelley's poetry is important and well-chronicled, but one aspect of the inheritance that Shelley resists from the outset is the religiosity present in the elder poet's sense of the imagination as a reverential "enshrining." The imagination in Shelley is best understood as the agent of a radical historical "legislation." He conceives of the imagination as the source of an explosive illumination that liberates us from the imposed darkness of theological and political ideology, releases us from "false consciousness" to the process of historical truthmaking. 2 The Shelleyan imagination thus works in the interest not of enshrining what Wordsworth would call the singular "Mighty scheme of Truth" but of legislating what Shelley in Epipsychidion identifies as the plurality of "many truths." The corrosive and performative power of the poetic imagination is enlisted to inform "an education of error,"

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