Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Tilottama Rajan


In contrast to the Greek concept of prophecy as a form of prediction, Romantic prophecy rehabilitates a version of Hebrew prophecy that involves a more ambivalent relationship to history and time. That is, while the rise of prophecy in Romanticism might—like the rise of historiography more broadly—seem to organize and contain political and epistemological revolution, closer examination reveals that, in fact, this very attempt at hyper-organization becomes necessary only because of a deep and pervasive sense of historical discontinuity. Hence, while prophecy might aim to ameliorate disorder, in fact it draws attention to and exacerbates this same disorder. This uncertainty stems from a new sense of time as a detotalizing and structurally ironic phenomenon. Hence, chapter one looks at Immanuel Kant’s ironic, non-predictive form of prophecy— what he calls the Sign of History—as an example of how prophecy becomes the infinite absolute negativity of history or the counter-science that displaces natural history through a history of nature. Chapter two considers William Wordsworth’s claims to special poetic election and his attempt to absorb trauma into historical and subjective Bildung. It turns out that while Wordsworth seems to invite what Georges Bataille calls a general economy of expenditure, in fact he restricts this energy in an effort to profit from prophecy. Chapter three looks at Percy Shelley’s play, Hellas, for how the synthesizing figures of prophecy—metaphor, memory, and history itself—are inverted and displaced by the Wandering Jew. Chapter four, on William Blake’s Milton, re-conceptualizes the preface as a mode of ambivalent prophecy and reads Milton’s ostensibly totalizing form in light of the absolute preface’s workelessness. Finally, chapter five uses Ernst Bloch’s concept of exodus to organize readings of Caroline Lamb’s Glenarvon and Mary

Shelley’s Valperga and The Last Man in terms of how female prophecy, specifically, displaces forms of history that remain disabling for marginalized subjects. These works all do this through some version of double negation that inaugurates a negative dialectic, negating the present in an effort to open the future to a new concept of the future.



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