Shelley amid the Age of Separations: Romantic Sociology and Romantic Media Theory

In an effort to square today’s findings that Romantic poets are early media theorists with Raymond Williams’s older claim that Romantic poets were “poets or sociologists,” the essay reframes Percy Shelley’s writing—and even his sometimes obscure poetic style—as engaged in a cultural sociology alert to the aesthetics of imaginative media. Grounded in sociological thought from Romantic-era sciences of society to Émile Durkheim, “Shelley amid the Age of Separations” suggests that the problem of “Romantic media” does not ultimately involve greater or better connectedness but rather the feeling of social dissolution amid heightened infrastructural concentration. The essay concludes by reading Epipsychidion (1821) and some of Shelley’s other works as inquiries into how poetry might model a form of relationality fit for modern societies, an interaction that is neither principally commercial nor amatory.