On the Currency of Images: Percy Shelley’s Minor Event

This is an essay about a minor event in a major poem. I hope to demonstrate how the minor event of a detached poetic image offers us a way of understanding what is in back of or behind the proto-cinematic energies on display in The Triumph of Life (1822). And I am also interested in exploring the inverse proposition: can the “minor” lyricism of our own contemporary cinema open a means of beholding the image-event in Shelley’s poem? If this second possibility is realized, perhaps it is possible to discern in these past poetic and present cinematic images a form of historical “circuitry” that reveals something about the agency or “currency” of images. I want to propose that the currency of the poetic image is best understood by what Roland Barthes identified as the obtus or “third meaning,” a glimmering residue of the stilled cinematic image that offers the point of contact for the current that circulates between the literary and cinematic modes of image production.