The Dark Side of the Light: The Triumph of Love in Shelley’s The Triumph of Life

This essay challenges Paul de Man’s famous reading of figurality in Percy Shelley’s The Triumph of Life to show how the poem thinks love as a figural-material quantum entanglement between two people that models a new materialist politics. I argue that for Shelley the “shape all light” and its interaction with the rainbow evince one instance of this figural-material phenomenon. This interaction I read as a form of what Karen Barad calls “quantum entanglement,” when the subject and object—as in physics’ double-slit quantum light experiment—emerges as a new entity that brings a novel spacetime into being. As Shelley theorizes it in the poem, this merger of subject and object, or lover and lover, allows him to finally conceive a love that serves as a cornerstone for a radical politics. While we tend to see the poem as breaking off into irresolution, Shelley’s poem, on my reading, instead envisions how two-person spacetimes are a triumph of love over the nihilistic autocratic politics of anarchy that the poem depicts running wild in the pageantry of life.