Percy Shelley’s touch, or, lyric depersonalization

Freer, AW 

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Can a lyric touch? And if so, who does the touching? These questions put pressure on some persistent debates over lyric, which turn on a series of separations: between poet and fictional speaker; between ritual events and imagined worlds; and between transhistorical forms and historical reading practices. The prospect of touch in lyric suggests an intimate, personal and embodied form of contact between speaker and addressee, while at the same time potentially extending that contact to any receptive reader or listener. The reflexive nature of touch, as Didier Anzieu showed in his writing on the skin, forecloses any hard distinction between subject and object; to be touched is also to make contact. And yet lyrics invariably promise more than they can literally fulfil, whether they proffer the numinous familiarity of a lover’s body or “a paradoxical intimacy between strangers who cannot be said to truly come into contact with one another but between whom something might nevertheless be understood to have been communicated.” If lyric aspires to be a kind of contact, its representations of touching are nevertheless indistinguishable from imaginative fantasy. In short, touch captures the indeterminacy of lyric address, at once personal and impersonal, an abstracted metaphor and a claim on the material and historical particularity of individual bodies. Touch cuts across the either/or debates regarding the definition and function of lyric by insisting on its tense both/and structure.

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43 History, Heritage and Archaeology, 47 Language, Communication and Culture, 4303 Historical Studies, 4705 Literary Studies
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Modern Philology: critical and historical studies in postclassical literature
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University of Chicago Press