Masks of An-Archy: Shelley, Rancière, and the Anarchist Turn

This essay reads Percy Bysshe Shelley's The Mask of Anarchy in the context of the resurgence of critical interest in anarchist theory. The essay meditates on how recent developments in anarchist-related critical theory, specifically the work of Jacques Rancière, make visible an aesthetics of anarchism. Using Rancière's re-contextualization of the Romantic aesthetic philosophies of Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Schiller, the essay argues that Shelley's protest poem can be read as an anarchism not only in terms of its political content, but, perhaps more radically, with respect to its form. In so doing, the essay attempts to think beyond the critical impasse in which The Mask is understood as sacrificing aesthetics for politics, or politics for aesthetics, by asking how The Mask might be read as expressing an anarchic politics, in Rancière's words, "simply by being literature."