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John Murray III's Notes on the Early Quarterly Review - Features

February, 2005

Section: 

Shelley, Adorno, and the Scandal of Committed Art

Kipperman explores the notion that poetry is politically useless, using as an example Shelley's Mask of Anarchy. He uses T. Adorno's attack on "committed art" to argue that a genuinely "political" work must be judged historically, by the standards of its era; the explicitly "political" statement may have less political "import" than, for example, Shelley's implicit faith in the power and moral goodness of the masses. Such an appeal to universal Promethean virtue, shared by proletarian and stormtrooper, may indeed strike us, at the very close of the twentieth century, as so naive as to warp the very real commitment of Shelley’s art. Shelley’s poem, as a sophisticated ballad, may scandalize in its appeal to an unlikely pacifist remedy, which exposes the work’s origin in a paralyzed and distant intellectual’s hope to lead a nationalist moral apocalypse. As a ballad and a subversive “masque,” however, it is a scandal to literary form and decorum in its analysis of oppression and its attribution of Promethean virtue to the hungry, the homeless, and the despised. Shelley’s allowing the poor to define freedom as bread even anticipates Adorno’s Marxist dictum that all culture begins “in the radical separation of mental and physical work” (“Cultural Criticism” 26). Its utopianism is not a sign of political irrelevance.
May 2001

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Intervention & Commitment Forever! Shelley in 1819, Shelley in Brecht, Shelley in Adorno, Shelley in Benjamin

For Romantic and Modernist studies, as well as for the history of critical theory, Kaufman uncovers and analyses the significance of Left Modernist and Frankfurt School rediscoveries of Shelley. The essay also considers the crucial role that Shelley's work plays vis-a-vis the new directions taken in the work of these Modernist artists and critics precisely during the periods often seen as having laid the foundations for the subsequent Modern/Postmodern divide, as well as for our own understandings of the Romantic legacy.
May 2001

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