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Sweet ScienceRomantic Materialism and the New Logics of Life$
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Amanda Jo Goldstein

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780226458441

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226458588.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 27 May 2022

A Natural History of Violence: Allegory and Atomism in Shelley’s The Mask of Anarchy

A Natural History of Violence: Allegory and Atomism in Shelley’s The Mask of Anarchy

(p.166) Chapter 5 A Natural History of Violence: Allegory and Atomism in Shelley’s The Mask of Anarchy
Sweet Science

Amanda Jo Goldstein

University of Chicago Press

This chapter puts the book’s valorization of “sweet” and “tender” poetic science to the test of state violence of material exploitation. It asks why Shelley’s “wholly political” poem, The Mask of Anarchy – a lightening rod for critical debates about politics and aesthetics in lyric poetry – treats the Peterloo Massacre as an event of natural history. Yet from “naturalizing” the damage, the chapter argues, natural historical discourse enables The Mask to navigate between affective communication and structural analysis. Sketching a history of related moments in eighteenth-century neo-Lucretian poetry, the chapter tracks the proto-Marxian and proto-Foucauldian features of Shelley’s poem as affordances of its genre. For the notoriously “lyrical” Mask needs to be repositioned in a didactic tradition that speaks polemically for long-traveled, bloodstained materials as they enter the material recombinatory of the earth’s cycles of water and weather. As didactic, moreover, the poem’s attempted politics are those of radical pedagogy, rather than lyric performance. Such didactic materialist passions, neither subjective nor divine, motivated significant blowback in early nineteenth-century poetic theory (Mill, De Quincey). Shelley, however, puts this tradition to use in a call to assembly that capitalizes on the difference between embodied power and parliamentary freedoms of speech.

Keywords:   didactic poetry, ecology, Lucretius, lyric poetry, Marxism, natural history, pedagogy, Percy Shelley, The Mask of Anarchy, violence

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