Hi all, below I’ve posted a description of my final paper, which doubles as my 250-word abstract submission for the International Conference on Romanticism. If you happen to read this before Monday, please let me know if there are any improvements I can make. This project is my first attempt to bring a media archeological approach to the study of Romantic poetry. So far my fellow Romanticists have told me that they don’t know what I mean by “media;” in the context of this paper, I think I’m trying to align it with poetic form, genre conventions, and publishing practices. Do you think those things count as media? Anyway, here you go:
“4000 lines of one bare circumstance:” Endymion’s Mediated Poetics
From its conception, John Keats’s Endymion (1818) was shaped by the formal constraints of its poetic medium. When publishers Taylor and Hessey contacted Keats about producing a work of epic length and scope, the poet reflected that it would be “a trial of my Powers of Imagination and chiefly of my invention which is a rare thing indeed – by which I must make 4000 lines of one bare circumstance and fill them with Poetry.” Keats envisioned Endymion’s formal medium as preceding and existing independent of its poetic content. Taking its cue from Keats’s reflections on the poem, my paper reads Endymion as enacting a critique of Romantic media by drawing attention to its own poetic medium through its subversion of both the heroic couplet and the epic genre. In the same way that media theorist Friedrich Kittler reads Goethe’s “Wandering Nightsong” as a discourse on the constraints of German discourse networks, I argue that Endymion comments on the constraints of poetic media precisely by pushing those formal constraints to their limits, a claim that can be confirmed both by analyzing the poem’s form and by examining the critical response in journals such as The British Critic. The poem’s clunky couplets, off-kilter rhymes, and other formal elements that critics tend to chalk up to Keats’s youth and inexperience in fact perform a sophisticated critique of the rules they break. At the same time, the poem’s frequent code switching from epic to “poetic romance” – in the proem of Book II, for example – disorders the conventions of these genres and readers’ expectations for them. In what is often read simply as “bad” poetry, Endymion disrupts communication channels and exposes the mediated reality of Romantic discourse.