Looking at the stars forever

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Author: Rei Terada
Date: Summer 2011
From: Studies in Romanticism(Vol. 50, Issue 2)
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 15,190 words
Lexile Measure: 1410L

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IN KEATS'S HYPERION (1818), THERE IS ONE PASSAGE IN WHICH LOOKING AT a scene is portrayed in a curiously neutral way, remarked upon but seemingly to no end:

Hyperion arose, and on the stars Lifted his curved lids, and kept them wide Until it ceas'd; and still he kept them wide: And still they were the same bright, patient stars. (1)

Part of the sense of neutrality comes from Keats's avoidance of the word "eyes": verbally, there is no commitment to what's under Hyperion's eyelids. By implying that Hyperion's main action is to open his eyelids, Keats seems to reduce looking to opening up. The scene is also introduced, but not quite flamed, by "the voice / Of Coelus, from the universal space" (1:306-7), which begins to sound before Hyperion arises and goes on "until it ceas[es]" and Hyperion continues to look in silence. Hyperion cannot quite be said to be looking at what he is listening to, since even though Coelus is the sky god and the stars are part of the sky, it is not the stars that are speaking. The voice is "from" rather than "of" even "the universal space" that is itself not quite the same as the stars (the difference between the sky god and the sky does not close). By his own description Coelus is "but a voice" (1:340)--a voice alone. It is as though Hyperion were "listening" to an aural hallucination, a sound unconnected to any physical support. (2) So, why does he stand and look at the stars as though in response to the voice? If we assume he does this just because looking at something associated with Coelus is as close as he can come to seeing Coelus--as we might look at an album cover while listening to a song--then why does he continue gazing at the stars even after the voice stops? And when we are told that the stars "were the same," why is this supposed to be news? Does it imply that Hyperion was watching for change?

If he was, it does not occur. What happens seems to be nothing. Hyperion looks and the poem continues, by means of the minimal transition of a "then," with his "plung[ing] all noiseless into the deep night" (1:357). No causal connection is either suggested or ruled out between his looking and his departing; so when nothing happens after the voice ceases, we might seem to be offered a representation of transparent time--time unmeasured by movement in space, if such a thing could be possible. Stars have properties that make them especially fitting for the experience of this kind of neutrality. They can only be looked at, and it is rare to see change in them; usually, we see only crinkles in the weather conditions between us and them.

Hyperion and Deleuze's film theory have something to say to one another, for reasons that that this scene may already enable you to guess. Before going into their relation, however, I'd like to...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A269775362