Tag Archives: society

Adorno, Shelley, and Universality

Both Adorno and Shelley play with the concept of there being a universality in poetry where a poet is able to represent these sort of opposing forces without explicitly defending one force or the other. However in Adorno’s case, he argues that it is possible for lyric poetry to be more compelling for one side even when its inverse is being spoken for or supported. He uses examples from Baudelaire’s works, such as a poem about a servant woman, to show how works of literature can speak more profoundly or truer to its unintended audience than to the actual subject of the work. To reiterate this, Adorno writes that “when individual expression. . . seems shaken to its very core in the crisis of the individual, the collective undercurrent in the lyric surfaces in the most diverse places” (46). While it may appear that a poet is emphasizing one particular part of life, he is actually  inviting the reader to absorb his words more deeply to see that he is trying to communicate a larger social statement. It isn’t what’s in the lyric poems, it’s what has been purposefully left out. In Shelley’s explanation, “[poet’s] exertions are of the highest value so long as they confine their administration of the concerns of the inferior powers of our nature within the limits due to the superior ones” (358). Due to the restrictions of the “superior” forces at work, a great poet structures his writing so that the “inferior concerns” are implicitly addressed. Although it may not be obviously stated or although it may seem as though he is appealing only to the superior, the poet has the unique ability to subscribe to both.




Adorno, Theodor W. “On Lyric Poetry and Society.” Notes to Literature. Ed. Rolf Tiedemann. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991. 46. Print.

Shelley, Percy Bysshe. “A Defence of Poetry” The Critical Tradition. Ed. David Richter. New York: Bedford/St. Martin, 2007. 358. Print.

Adorno & Brooks

Adorno discusses the individualism of poetry, especially lyric poetry and how its effect is changed with its context to the reader. He says, “The lyric work hopes to attain universality through unrestrained individuation” (38). Adorno’s stance on the individual reading a poem is what makes it universal. This relates perfectly back to Brooks who discusses the truth of a work not by the reader’s response, but by its intent. (I can’t find the quote, I wanted)  He says that there is an ideal reader whose reading matters to a poem, but the individuals’ experiences or emotional responses to work aren’t what effects it. Adorno although agrees that the universal element of a poem is necessary to its importance, he makes the point to say that the universality of a poem is  altered by a social aspect. Adorno says that the way society conceives a work can manifest its meaning and transcend it.