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“Belated Mythography in Keats and Hegel”

“Belated Mythography in Keats and Hegel” 

This paper reads John Keats’s Hyperion in counterpoint to the dialectical accounts of myth and Enlightenment engendered by German Idealism.  While criticism has long highlighted Hyperion’s engagement with euhemerist accounts of myth and the problems the poem confronts in giving its overthrown gods a voice, my paper sheds light on these complexities as signs of a larger pattern: the project of writing a myth of myth’s demise at the hands of Enlightenment critique.

Keats’s treatment of myth in Hyperion foregrounds a double context for the mythical imagination, keeping in view both the natural world, from which myth presumably arises, and the fetishized culture into which it decays.  In one such passage, Keats visualizes Hyperion as Memnon, an ancient fetish-god believed to sing when the light of the setting sun struck him.  A contrast with Hegel’s treatment of Memnon in both the Aestheticsand the Phenomenology bears out differences between the two writers’ perspectives on modern art’s relation to philosophy.  While for Hegel Memnon marks one stage of a transition between the externalized self of myth and the reflective subjectivity characteristic of Enlightenment reason, Keats’s poem ironizes this distinction.  In so doing, Hyperion acknowledges the “fetish-character” of post-Enlightenment poetry, anticipating Theodor Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory.

Presenter: Dr. William Coker

Date: Thursday, 08 November 2012 from 16.45 to 17.45 in the G-160 Seminar Room.

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8 November 2012

“The true field and subject of imposture are things not known…. Whence it happens that nothing is more firmly believed than what we know the least….”

Montaigne, Essays, Book I, chapter 32.