In 1790, the visual artist, poet, and printer William Blake wrote: “What is now proved, was once only imagined.” The idea that imagination extends the bounds of known reality was a defining assumption of the literary period known today as Romanticism. In an era of momentous social, political and economic transformation, Romantic writers designated imagination as the site of, and possibly the most potent means of bringing about, social and political change. To write (and to read) was to be part of a world-making enterprise – as potentially efficacious in changing the world as the contemporary events to which their writing responded.
The artists at the center of this seminar are two visionary Romantic poets, Blake and Percy Shelley. Both were figures of radicalism and rebellion, and both were committed to imagination as a vehicle of sociopolitical world-making. We will read these poets alongside other Romantic texts by radicals, philosophers, and visionaries, including Anna Barbauld, S.T. Coleridge, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Mary Shelley’s immortal tale of the miscreative imagination, Frankenstein. Taking Romanticism not as an isolated moment of literary history but as a creative energy that reverberates through subsequent forms of radical literary and political writing, our seminar will encounter the works of this period as tools to think, contend, and create with today.