MLA BLAKE 1978
Each year the MLA awards the William Riley Parker prize to the author of an outstanding article published in PMLA during the year. This year the Prize went to Morris Eaves, University of New Mexico, for “Blake & the Artistic Machine: An Essay in Decorum & Technology,” which appeared in the October 1977 issue. At the general meeting Eaves accepted the cash prize of $500 and a citation which reads as follows: “This essay not only illuminates William Blake’s esthetic and his stance as an artist and a critic of society but also casts new light on the relationship between art and technology. Morris E. Eaves sets his lucid exposition of Blake’s attitudes toward technological change within the broad contexts of conceptual analysis, cultural history from the Renaissance to the present, and the influence of the machine on the human condition.”
At the Special Session on “Editing the Romantics” (discussion leader E. B. Murray, University of Missouri, St. Louis), G. E. Bentley, Jr., presented an illustrated lecture on the special editorial problems faced by an editor of Blake.
An overflow audience of more than 100 attended the 1978 MLA Special Session on Blake’s Concept of Self. Since abstracts of the first three papers read by John H. Sutherland, Christine Gallant, and Robert N. Essick appeared in the fall 1978 issue of Blake, I shall summarize them only briefly here. The discussion focused primarily upon points raised in the last paper on Blake’s Spectre by Morton Paley, which I shall therefore report in more detail.
In “Some Blake Self-Images in Milton and Jerusalem: The Blake-Los Relationship,” John Sutherland traced Blake’s move from self-division to self-integration (defined as a union with Los) in Milton 10 and Milton 47. In Jerusalem, Los and Blake seem “close to full identification” with each other: both are engaged in the same “great task” and both are visually fused in the frontispiece. In Jerusalem 6, Los/Blake has gained control over his Spectre, his own self-defeating “pride and self-righteousness” which had appeared as separate entities in Milton 10. And on Jerusalem 100, Los/Blake compels his Spectre (his rational powers) and his Emanation (his now acknowledged “unconsious realms of imagination”) to work “harmoniously for the integrated individual” and at the same time to create the world of space and time in which that individual can exist. Here, Sutherland concluded, Los “represents Blake’s integrated self” and this plate therefore is “Blake’s most convincing demonstration of his own hard-won inner harmony.”
Christine Gallant then argued, in “Blake’s Presence as First-Person Voice in Jerusalem,” that the first-person voice operates much as does the authoritative dream-voice that Jung said emerged from the center of the total personality or what he called “the supraordinate Self.” The message of this dream-voice “is a final summing-up of a long process of unconscious deliberation and weighing of arguments.” In Jerusalem, Blake acts “as spokesman begin page 219 | ↑ back to top for the unconscious as he encouragingly speaks to the reader who has not yet dared to descend into it.” Blake also claims to speak the “Testimony of Jesus” and “God’s words,” thus utilizing the archetypes of Christ and God to preserve his conscious ego in the face of an overwhelming unconsciousness. Blake thereby identifies his first-person voice with that Self that includes both the conscious and the unconscious. Gallant then discussed the nine first-person passages in Jerusalem. The first six (1:1-5, 5:16-26, 15:4-35, 36:58-9, 34:27-48, 74:14-75:27) tell of Blake’s life in an Ulro that grows closer and closer and in which he is increasingly separated from Jesus; the last three (97:5, 98:40-41, 99:5) define Blake’s hardwon conviction that he has guided us through Ulro to the divine vision. By using the first-person voice in the last line of the poem, Gallant concluded, Blake emphasizes that this is a journey that we must each undergo, again and again.
Robert N. Essick’s “William Blake: The Printmaker as Poet” traced Blake’s use of imagery drawn from his etching and engraving techniques. The minute particulars of his discussion are too rich to be crudely summarized; readers should go to his forthcoming book on Blake as a printmaker (Princeton University Press, 1979) for a full exposition of this imagery. But his concluding argument can be described. Blake had a love-hate relationship with his commercial profession. He deliberately identified many of his printmaking activities with Urizen, thus suggesting that “commercial copy engraving could become a trap, a degradation of the artist’s vision, and an aesthetic-economic system antithetical to Blake’s highest aspirations.” On the other hand, print-making can be “a medium for the expression of imagination and the transcendence of this world”; hence Blake reverses Urizen’s unintelligible forms in the process of printing. As Essick emphasizes, “Urizen does not print his books. The reversal inherent in the printing process makes all the difference, just as it does in various forms—turning around, converting a state into its contrary, transforming finite into infinite—at key points in the journey towards apocalypse in Blake’s poetry.” Through Milton, The Four Zoas and Jerusalem, Blake struggled to define the proper relationship of craft to art, of his potentially destructive Spectre to the imagination of Los. As Essick concluded, “the drama of Los and his Spectre in Jerusalem is in part a mythic portrayal of the subordination of copy work to original composition presented in the Public Address and a vast metaphor for the redemption of traditional techniques underlying the maturation of Blake’s graphic style from 1804 to the end of his life.” Finally, Essick suggested that the physical labor and disciplined energy required of the engraver acted as a necessary counter-balance to Blake’s “speculative and digressive mind,” enabling him to combine in his best poems “his mental adventures and his keen sense of physical reality.”
Morton Paley’s essay on “Blake’s Spectre” emphasized the personal aspect of the Spectre, i.e., Blake’s Spectre as the embodiment of what Blake didn’t like about himself, namely his fearful anxiety, his hostility (both passive and active), his envy, pride, and black melancholy, and his extreme sexual jealousy. Paley stressed Blake’s use of the Spectre to reveal his “deep ambivalence about sexual feeling” in “My Spectre around me”; Blake characteristically separated sexual desire (which he associated with the Spectre) from a healthy love, and thus, Paley concluded, Blake is far from being “the exemplum of sexual harmony that some readers may wish to make him.”
Paley then analyzed the strategies that Blake used to dominate and control his own evil “spectrous” feelings. He first had to recognize them, as Los does when he divides the Spectre from his Emanation (J 86:54); he then attempted to dominate and control them. But rather than merely casting them out, which Blake knew well could not be easily or permanently done, Blake offered an alternative solution. In Night VIIa of The Four Zoas and on plate 100 of Jerusalem, Blake envisioned a triumphant resolution in which his healthy imagination embraced the Spectre, acknowledging that the Spectre too has his place in the story. Only by coming to terms with his own jealousies, pride and vindictiveness could Blake attain his ultimate vision of imaginative unity: “Therefore the Sons of Eden praise Urthonas Spectre in songs / Because he kept the Divine Vision in time of trouble.”
The questioning centered on the degree of success Blake achieved in his acceptance of and control over his Spectre, and especially on whether he liberated himself from a possessive, sexist attitude toward women (let me say, parenthetically, that I happen to think he did not). Even if Blake’s self is imaged in his poetry as finally integrated, does that integration lead to productive relationships with other people, and especially with women? It was suggested that these questions could be fruitfully explored in another MLA Special Session on Blake and sexuality. ANNE K. MELLOR, STANFORD UNIVERSITY.