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Bachelard's Subversive Hermeneutics: A Reading of "Lightning "in Shelley's Prometheus Unbound

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image of Religion and the Arts

The purpose of this piece is to probe the nature of Bachelard's subversive hermeneutics by focusing on his predilection for those often unsettling poetic intuitions which emerge with the force of a summons in the experience of reading. My wager is that the hermeneutics of literary texts proposed by Gaston Bachelard in The Poetics of Space (1957) has its antecedents in his polemical theory of "discontinuous time" and the accompanying "pedagogy of discontinuity" set forth in his early work L'Intuition de l'instant: essai sur la Siloé de Gaston Roupnel (1932). The task of this hermeneutics, epitomized by Bachelard's own reading of Siloé, is to detect the ruptures, burning questions, or surprising insights that spark and (re)orient the movement of our life projects, with a view to unfolding the ethical implications of the "call of an instant" upon our sense of intimate duration and history. In the second half of this essay I proceed to set this hermeneutics into motion through a reading of Shelley's Prometheus Unbound that focuses on "lightning" as an image of Bachelardian "instants" in this drama—critical moments charged with contradictions that ultimately seem to steer the poet's course in directions, or towards ethical possibilities, other than his controlling artistic will could have charted out in advance.


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