Though the words impasse and impassive come to English from two different etymological sources—impasse from the French, meaning without a pass; impassive from the Latin, meaning without suffering or without feeling—English invites confusion. In part because one cannot write directly about an impasse without making it less of one, this essay takes up the question of the impasse through the available pun: that is, with attention to impassivity. It begins with the origin of impasse in Voltaire and then, following the Oxford English Dictionary, turns to uses of impassive in Milton’s Paradise Lost and Shelley’s Hellas to explore the interplay between feeling (the feeling of being blocked, for instance) and feeling’s absence.

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