MLA BLAKE SEMINAR, DECEMBER 1972
A distinguished interpreter of Blake has observed that “Blake studies have, until recently, been hampered by a lack of scholarly interaction that leads to a progressive growth of understanding.” The Blake Seminar, instituted five years ago through the efforts of David Erdman, is one of many contributions to the scholarly interaction and cooperation that have come to mark Blake studies in recent years. The Seminar has consistently provided a forum for new ideas on Blake and has attracted a wide range of students—graduates and some undergraduates, seasoned scholars and new ones, most of them writing about Blake, but some of them art historians and literary scholars whose interests extend far beyond Blake. With an audience so diverse in its interests and commitments, it has seemed desirable to change the format of the Seminar in order to achieve an even greater exchange of ideas among those attending it. This year, instead of listening and responding to a single paper, those attending the Seminar were asked to read and to come prepared to discuss four essays presented under the rubric of “Blake and Tradition” and published in the Fall 1972 issue of Blake Studies: Florence Sandler’s “The Iconoclastic Enterprise: Blake’s Critique of Milton’s Religion”; Robert N. Essick’s “Blake and the Tradition of Reproductive Engraving”; Thomas H. Helmstadter’s “Blake and the Age of Reason: Spectres in the Night Thoughts”; and Leslie Tannenbaum’s “Blake’s Art of Crypsis: The Book of Urizen and Genesis.”
The scheduled time for the Seminar was less than ideal: the last hour of the last day of the convention. Even so, attendance was impressive—fifty-five people, according to the official MLA representative assigned to the meeting. Discussion was not as lively as one may have wished, partly because of the hour and partly because of the topic which, however engaging, prevented sharply focused discussion. It may be, too, that at least two of the papers required an awareness of the Bible and its traditions that Blake assuredly had but that few of us possess.
Next year’s seminar, following essentially this same format, will focus on a more restricted topic, “Perspectives on Blake’s Milton.” The discussion leader will be Professor Karl Kroeber, Department of English, Columbia University; and the papers chosen by him to provide a point of departure for next year’s discussion will, once again, appear in the Fall issue of Blake Studies. Its editors, Professors Kay and Roger Easson, merit special notice for their cooperation and for their generosity which have made it possible to continue this year’s “experiment”—an experiment that provides for maximum participation of those attending the Seminar and that invites the “scholarly interaction” that will further our understanding of Blake.