This website is the fourth chapter in a study on queer poetics in Romantic verse, “Formal Perversions: Queer Poetics and the Turn in Romantic Verse.” The first three chapters, and the introduction, for this study have primarily been written in traditional chapter format: linear works in a word processor that are intended to be read from beginning (top) to end (bottom). This format affords a number of types of engagement: readers know and understand how they are intended to engage with the material based on exposure to innumerable linearly-formatted scholarly articles; readers often annotate, print out, and write on these documents; the linearity allows for a sort of logical accretion over time, wherein points can build up and support one another as the writer and reader progress; and, perhaps due to all of these factors, a kind of textual and definitional density is both welcome and expected.

“Percy Shelley: Androgynous Sound,” of course, departs from this structure, and the reasons are simultaneously methodological and personal in nature. I say simultaneously because my entire study, including my earlier chapters, is based on the ways I read and is developing a methodology for reading poetry queerly—and reading queerness in poetry. My embodiment and my lived experiences as a queer transgender person affect how I read; moreover, my study asks, and invites, my readers to read and see texts the way that I do. As Stacey Waite argues, her monograph Teaching Queer (Composition, Literacy, and Culture) (2017) refuses “like my body…linear formations…the category of discipline…I do not believe the story of my scholarship is separate from the story of my life or the body I live” (15). Such a refusal of discipline and linearity echoes Jack Halberstam’s critique of progress and success in the academy in The Queer Art of Failure (2011):

Disciplinarity, as defined by Foucault (1995), is a technique of modern power: it depends upon and deploys normalization, routines, convention, tradition, and regularity…[Illegibility] also points to an argument for antidisciplinarity in the sense that knowledge practices that refuse both the form and content of traditional canons may lead to unbounded forms of speculation, modes of thinking that ally not with rigor and order but with inspiration and unpredictability.

-pp. 7 and 10

I am not necessarily offering an argument on disciplinarity itself at the moment, but exploring here, in this webtext, how a less linear, less conventional, and less disciplined approach might afford new ways of reading and thinking about Romantic scholarship. I believe that it is ethically important, and that I am in some ways ethically obligated, to enact the kind of writing and poetics I am interested in studying, visibilizing, and valuing. I have sought to demonstrate the ways poetic forms have been overlooked, marginalized, and/or devalued due to their queerness. Many of these forms have enacted non-linearity, whether through narrative (as in Leigh Hunt’s The Story of Rimini) or the crossing of lines and lineages (as in Charlotte Smith’s sonnets or Coleridge’s Christabel), and a queer non-linearity, as I have argued elsewhere. It seems crucial, then, that my own writing enact non-linearity and queerness in its form and content. A digital platform that engages in multiple modes simultaneously—audio, visual, and linguistic—seems an exemplary location for enacting non-linear composing methods. As Kara Poe Alexander, Beth Powell, and Sonya C. Green have argued, “multimodality affords a less linear, more implicit argument that encourages different ways of making meaning, including reader interactivity and engagement not often afforded by print texts” (Alexander et al.).

Much of the larger study in “Formal Perversions” is interested in what is unproductive (perhaps even counterproductive), illegible, unfinished; the ways bodies of texts have perverted or turned away from normative expectations of particular forms. Less of my study has addressed human bodies. However, one of the central premises of my study is that we encounter, regulate, and contend with textual bodies as we do human bodies—that the forms of society, of our bodies, and of texts are not distinct and, moreover, that textual and poetic bodies have a materiality not only in the sense that we touch the pages they are on, but also in their shapes, structures, and turns. Those turns and shapes are embodied.

There are many ways in which my own body, and my set of experiences with it, are considered illegible to various social perceptions, to state bureaucracies, and to linguistic conventions. Rather than making my body legible, it is perhaps my goal, and the goal of transgender scholars such as Halberstam, to make its illegibility itself legible, to find value and use in its illegibility, new ways of thinking, being, and meaning-making. It is therefore my goal to enact such value and meaning-making through a non-traditional, digital chapter, one that invites my reader into my processes, sounds, and embodiments through a semi-interactive platform for meaning-making.

While queerness certainly is that which is unproductive, illegible, failing (see Halberstam, Queer Art of Failure), my reasons for examining texts that were, and in some cases are, at the margins of acceptability have not been to simply explore texts’ failures or disfigurations, but to argue for a revaluing of their perceived failures, to imagine a more expansive poetic reading practice that accounts for and examines queer turnings at the level of form and letter—as Carla Freccero has described, “the subversion that occurs at the level of the letter is more unsettling, ghostly, queer” (25). We might think of this revaluing as a refiguration.

This webtext is itself embodied; its legibility will be measured, unavoidably, against convention. In order to ensure my readers understand what I offer, I must engage a certain level of convention and explication. It is common, for example, for webtexts to include an introduction section and for different sections to lead directly to one another. This portion serves as an introduction, although the rest of the pages are what Kairos’s assessment of webtexts refers to as “multilinear” and “non-guided navigational choices.”

Throughout these pages, passages of poetry from Shelley will appear on the margins with readings of their repetitious sounds and how they convey, and deform, form throughout. The poems are not always necessarily directly related to what’s being discussed in each passage; however, their juxtaposition might offer new ways of making meaning, ones that are unpredictable and perhaps less disciplined. This webtext is consequently best viewed in a web browser on a laptop or computer.

Every time there is a poem, different colors and bolding will signal different sounds I am tracking in the piece. Click the bolded areas for a pop-up analysis to appear; each poem will have multiple analyses embedded in it. These analyses will not necessarily relate to the text immediately around the poem; rather, they serve as dispersed, yet hyper-local, moments of interest focusing on form and sound. [See the end of the video on AntConc and sound for more on dispersal and locality.]

Then by strange art she kneaded fire and snow
Together, tempering the repugnant mass
With liquid love—all things together grow
Through which the harmony of love can pass;
And a fair Shape out of her hands did flow—
A living Image, which did far surpass
In beauty that bright shape of vital stone
Which drew the heart out of Pygmalion.

-Witch of Atlas, Stanza XXXV

Click below for audio recording.

Main Arguments

I have several, interlocking arguments in constructing this webtext on Shelley, sound, and androgyny:

1. As is one of my main arguments throughout “Formal Perversions” as a whole, when we read poetry, we also, unknowingly or not, are reading gender because we read poetic forms as embodied, and we read gender inherently onto bodies. (See the introduction to the study as a whole for further discussion.)

2. Taking this premise, I argue that Shelley’s poetry invites us to read across histories, forms, and, consequently, gender. Although Shelley, like many of his contemporary peers, had a dual and sometimes hypocritical opinion of sexual difference (he both did not believe in it yet simultaneously took it as a given, as I explore in other sections of this text), his poetry nonetheless enacts an embodied androgyny of both time and gender.

3. I argue that Shelley’s formal use of sound is androgynous due sound’s ability to both draw our attention to historical difference and to cross it, and consequently gender and sex. Further, such movement across difference, textual or human, is queer.

Ultimately, all of these arguments are examining what kinds of bodies, textual or human, are valuable or have or have not been valued in the past, and to what extent we might refigure or recast the illegibility, the ghostliness, of different bodies not to force them into legibility, but to value and draw our attention to the illegibility itself.

I feel it is necessary, and ethical, then, to also ask these questions about the kinds of texts we as scholars produce and engage with, and to myself enact an illegibility and androgyny consistently present both when others read my body and when others read my work.

Other portions of this study have primarily sought to argue that particular forms are queer in different Romantic contexts. While this webtext does explore queer sound in Shelley, it calls attention more specifically to the reading and scholarly methods needed to recognize queer form. The purpose of this webtext is primarily to model and materialize the queer reading practices that have underlay other portions of this study.

The following sections offer deeper investigations of topics I have briefly overviewed above:

Shelley and Disfiguring Form: A discussion of how Shelley did not perceive a distinction between textual form and human form, and how such an approach invites us to reach across history.

Shelley, de Man, and Disfiguration: A discussion of de Man’s “Shelley Disfigured” to explore why and how I use the term “disfigured" and how we might begin to think about "refiguring."

Reviewing Shelley: A selected archive of reviews and responses to Shelley throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, focusing on queer mirroring and sexual morality.

Defining Sound: A discussion of why I am focusing on the repetition of individual letter sounds in Shelley’s poetry and the difficulties in attempting to categorize sound in poetry.

Methods and Aims: A discussion of my methods and reasons for composing this webtext and how I use digital tools to explore Shelley’s work, and a further explication of why I am interested in sound and incorporate sound throughout.

From here, please return to either the top of this page (there is an arrow in the bottom-right for quick navigation to the beginning) or the bulleted list of sections above to explore Shelley, and perhaps make new meanings with the passages of poems scattered throughout.