William Blake and the Apocalypse, by Christopher Rowland

Political Revelation and Working Class Prophecy

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William Blake (1757–1827) was a British artist, engraver, poet, and writer on theological themes. His illuminated books were the product of his technological inventiveness, and are characterized by the juxtaposition of texts and images in which a dialectic between two different media is a means of stimulating the imagination of the viewer and reader.

“his technological inventiveness, characterized by the juxtaposition of texts and images”: Blake’s very method was dialectical, engraving the text in reverse and then using acid to burn away the surface image – he links this method to the process of revelation itself; “the notion that man has a body distinct from his soul, is to be expunged; this I shall do by printing in the infernal method, by corrosives, which in Hell are salutary and medicinal, melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the infinite which was hid”

Influences on Blake are often hard to trace, though he explicitly cites and criticizes Milton and Swedenborg, as well as the contemporary artist Joshua Reynolds. Such influences, which might help explain Blake’s ideas, seem less important than the extraordinary inventiveness which one finds in his words and images and their production, which have analogies to earlier themes, but without offering the evidence that demonstrates direct dependence. Blake’s emphasis is on the importance of “inspiration” rather than “memory,” and as such he set great store on the creativity of the poetic genius and its reception by the engaged reader or viewer.

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Through a Glass Darkly: Cleansing the Doors of Religion, by Christopher Rowland

                                    Seeing the Bible through Blake’s Eyes

 

 

A decade ago I was invited by one of my graduate students to share in a complete reading of William Blake’s Jerusalem. A group of 12 of us attended the event, among them Philip Pullman, a Blake admirer. Each member of the group was asked to share in turn their experience of Blake and his work.

Reading Blake’s Jerusalem: (left to right) Tim Heath (the Spectre), Philip Pullman (Albion), and Val Doulton (the Daughters of Albion)

I found myself blurting out the words, ‘Blake has taught me to read the Bible.’ I had never articulated it like that before, but since then I have often recollected that off-the-cuff comment. I had never thought in that way before. I have reflected on the truth of that statement and come to see that Blake (as in much else in my intellectual endeavour) has been an important catalyst for my thoughts and understanding (Rowland, Blake and the Bible).

In trying to articulate what it is that Blake has taught me, I have started with this because the words ‘Blake taught me’ suggest a direct impact rather than a detached engagement with someone’s words. There’s always a sense when engaging with any of Blake’s works that more is going on than a mere encounter with words or images. It is what is constitutive of what is ‘more’ that is one of the most important aspects of Blake’s works, indeed, is the way he relates to pedagogy.

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