Postmetaphysics and the Psychosexual
Dynamics of Elegy in Shelley’s Adonais
PERCY SHELLEY`S ADONAIS (l821), AS BOTH ARTWORK AND HISTORIcal document, may be profitably examined by those interested in understanding the social complex of masculine subjectivity and its component sexuality in early nineteenth-century England. But this exquisitely accomplished pastoral elegy is not necessarily representative of the cultural experience and norms of masculine subjectivity during the period in which it was written. Because of its idiosyncrasy and particularity, it instructively testifies to reconfigurations and contestations of masculinity occurring contemporaneously, as well as to the concerns and cultural anxieties framing such phenomena. This essay is, among other things, a demonstration of that thesis.1
In methodology, I proceed along queer theoretical lines for a variety of reasons. Preeminent among these is my belief that the pastoral elegy is a queer kind; a hybrid, syncretic form, the pastoral elegy anticipates queer theoretical analyses through its own deconstructive dynamics, allegorical plurality, and (often subversive) critical capacity and tradition. Moreover, the homoeroticism of the elegy tradition (latent or otherwise) and my focus on the experience/representation of masculine sexuality encourage such an approach. Finally, I am influenced by the poem itself: in Adonais, the widespread characterization of Shelley as a poetical, philosophical, and political radical suggests that the choice of pastoral for Keats’s eulogy serves a purpose other than the traditional obsequy. The conventional form of the pastoral elegy affords Shelley—a writer intimate with its history and critical capability—the ideal venue for articulating a new theory of language, revising Platonic metaphysics, and reanimating a model of masculinity and same-sex relations that was increasingly under attack.