Sociopolitical (i.e., Romantic) Difficulty in Modern Poetry and Aesthetics

This essay traces the ways that Romantic poetics and aesthetics bequeath certain problems of difficulty that emerge full-blown in Modernism proper. The essay identifies and reconsiders a number of issues around the question of "difficulty" that are simultaneously poetic, theoretical, and sociopolitical. The essay's discussions range from Kant and the Romantic poets, through the Frankfurt School and its afterlives in contemporary critical-theoretical writings, to recent poetry and cinema. Among the questions the essay pursues (from a perspective at once aesthetic and sociopolitical) is whether Romantic notions of difficulty taken up by modern art can help us evaluate whether the apparent difficulties of a given piece of contemporary critical or theoretical writing is necessary or justified or whether, on the other hand, it is simply obscure, over-complicated, and/or poorly written (and hence impedes, or renders itself irrelevant to, attempts to put literary-aesthetic materials and experiences into engagement with social, historical, and political reality).