The Betrayal of Romantic Utopia
thesisposted on 27.11.2018, 00:00 by Sein Oh
The Betrayal of Romantic Utopia argues that the vulnerability of the Romantic form of utopia originates from the complicity between the vision of unity and the social contradictions it seeks to critique and overcome. On the one hand, I demonstrate the ways in which some apparently positive notions of organic unity betray their own promises of a better world by inherently siding with their opposites. Against the anticipation of unity that also respects and accommodates multiplicities and differences, the politically appropriated organic unity begins to expose its political limits and impossibilities to turn into a more absolute form of unity that defies the dynamic role of the many. The Romantic utopia’s act of betrayal strikes not only itself, but also the readers of the text and even the authors who genuinely hope for the coming of the utopia they propose. On the other hand, however, such betrayal leads to a possibly more productive mode of betrayal—the revelation of the political conditions of possibility and impossibility. The Romantic texts that I analyze—William Blake’s Jerusalem, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound, Charlotte Smith’s The Young Philosopher and Beachy Head, and Lord Byron’s The Two Foscari and The Island—resist utopian desires and challenge our critical habits of producing teleological meanings of a literary text.