On William Blake

Hello all,

Has anyone here more than a passing familiarity with William Blake’s work? I am currently undertaking intense research into his oeuvre, in particular how his images speak to and complement his texts, and would love to converse with anyone with some knowledge of/ideas about Blake and his work. I’m thinking it might eventually be a good Cafe topic, once I have had a chance to finish my current effort which I will be presenting to a conference in mid June.

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Hi Geoffrey,

I am not an expert on Blake in any way, nor do I know very much specifically about the relationship between text and image in his work. Having said that, the literary and religious critic Harold Bloom, who is a personal hero of mine, has written quite extensively about Blake (you probably already know this), in Visionary Company. Bloom as a young man, as he has written about, was ferociously obsessed with another book about Blake, Fearful Symmetry, by Northrop Frye - I’m sure you are familiar with this book as a Blake scholar. My understanding is that it was the first attempt to view Blake as a systematic and rigorous thinker (and not just a madman with certain visionary gleams). Bloom claims he read the book I think hundreds of times. I would like to learn more about Blake, and so I look forward to following this thread. Thank you for posting.

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I am using Frye’s book along with one by June K. Singer, the reknowned Jungian scholar, called The Unholy Bible, as my primary commentary texts. Frye’s book is brilliant, and is indeed, as far as I can make out, still one of the best texts for viewing Blake’s work within a global perspective, which is necessary to understand him. Singer’s book is also excellent, within the frame of an unabashedly « psychological interpretation » - what I particularly like about it is its detailed study of Blake’s « The Marriage of Heaven and Hell ». But nothing quite beats the adventure of diving in and reading Blake as written, along with the illustrations. I find Frye tends to neglect the images, which is a shame as these are an integral part of Blake’s message - Singer does a better job of this. I am not familiar with Bloom and will look up his work with gusto! Thanks for posting!

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I’ve had a really nicely put together Norton edition of Blake for a long time, which has beautiful printed out color images of his visual art. (I just looked into the book, and in the back there is an essay about the visual and textual elements of Blake called “The ‘Third Text’ of Blake’s Illuminated Books” - hopefully could be helpful for the paper!) You are inspiring me to really dive into Blake in a new way. In regards to Bloom, there is a lot to discover, and I don’t want to get in your way - but, in the context of Blake, he has written about the concept of the “Covering Cherub,” which Bloom uses in one of his most famous books, The Anxiety of Influence, to talk about a kind of blocking agent for poets wrestling with their dead precursors/influences. Bloom is a self-proclaimed Gnostic Jew; he has some very fascinating ruminations in many of his books on spirituality, Gnosticism, literature, and even what he calls the “American Religion.” He started as an academic writing about the Romantics and Yeats, and later became a best-selling writer for what he called “the common reader,” with books on many topics, including Shakespeare, the Western Canon, Jesus and Yahweh (as literary characters!), Wallace Stevens, angelology, and more. Best of luck with the project - sounds really fascinating!

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whoops - “Third Text” is by Stephen C. Behrendt

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I read that book years ago and enjoyed it immensely. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell could be interesting project along with Savirtri. There may be some odd overlaps as they are both in a grand style. I don’t know the study by Frye but I am eager to delve into it.

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