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The Special Session on “Blake’s Concept of Self” is scheduled for the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association in New York this December. Prof. Anne Mellor of Stanford University will be heading the session. An abstract of each paper to be presented follows:

Robert N. Essick, “William Blake: The Printmaker as Poet”

The paper will consider some of the ways in which Blake’s profession influences his poetry. Eighteenth-century etching and engraving involved procedures, both mental and physical, that shaped the imagery of the Illuminated Books. In Milton and Jerusalem, Blake’s struggles as a printmaker became part of the biographical material he transformed into universal myth. A study of these influences and references offers insights into Blake’s habits of mind as a poet and into his conception of himself as an artist.

Christine Gallant, “Blake’s Presence as First-Person Voice in Jerusalem

Blake is concerned with the unification of the Self—a Self that includes the unconscious, or Chaos—and he explores the unconscious throughout his poetry. He strongly desires his reader to understand this hidden part of the Self as well, as he leads the reader of Jerusalem through day-by-day experiences of “the Chaos of Satan.” We can see this in Blake’s use of the first-person voice, an unusual tense for him (save in Milton). Jung helps to understand the use of this tense as he analyzes the authoritative voice appearing in dreams, a voice seeming to come from outside the dream’s context. He says that such a voice may be either a spokesman of the unconscious for the dreamer or (very rarely) a messenger from “the supraordinate Self.” The first-person voice functions in Jerusalem as does this dream-voice. Blake’s use of this tense reveals that in these passages he saw himself as such a spokesman, both for the unconscious and for the unified center of the total personality which is the Self.

John H. Sutherland, “Some Blake Self-Images in Milton and Jerusalem

The term “self-images” is used to refer to pictures in which Blake reveals fairly directly something of his own inward state. Five plates from Milton (M 10, 32, 37, 40, 47) and three plates from Jerusalem (J 1, 6, 100) are discussed (plates numbered here as in The Illuminated Blake). It is argued that some of these are pictures connected with peak experiences in Blake’s life. A pattern of spiritual auto-biography is suggested, and the question is raised as to whether this pattern directly reflects Blake’s perception of his own life, or whether the pattern is a partial fiction designed to enhance the structures of his two works. Particular attention is given to J 100, which is taken as an interesting vision, by Blake, of his own spiritual state late in life.

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