Reading Shelley's Defence of Poetry in the context of the financial crisis in our own day which has manifested itself in a jarring shift in research priorities towards applied knowledges, this essay argues that the case that Shelley was making, and which it has become crucial to make again, if in slightly different terms, is that poetry - or, today, the humanities - must be understood, not as the opposite but at the limit of Enlightenment thought. The epistemological and political imperatives which Shelley attributes to poetry emerge, not as a counter-enlightenment capable of negating reason's impact or transcending the demystifying effects of critical inquiry, but rather as a kind of higher-level Enlightenment, a second-order form of knowledge about knowledge. The creative faculty enables us 'to imagine that which we know', in part by highlighting the 'unapprehended relations' within which particular innovations must be situated. It offers a potential for insight into the nature and limits of applied knowledge capable of extending the transformative power of reason (its 'impact') by setting reason against itself in a self-reflexive turn which, for Shelley, belongs to the province of the imagination. Few arguments could be more timely in our own day.

Additional Metadata
Keywords Defence, Poetry, Reform, Romanticism, Shelley, Utilitarianism
Persistent URL dx.doi.org/10.1179/0952414212Z.00000000013
Journal Keats-Shelley Review
Citation
Keen, P. (2012). Shelley on the assembly line: A defence of the humanities. Keats-Shelley Review (Vol. 26, pp. 136–146). doi:10.1179/0952414212Z.00000000013