Hilton, "Golgonooza Text"

Digital Designs on Blake

Golgonooza Text

Nelson Hilton, University of Georgia

Exemplifing an interpretation of Blake's invented name 'Golgonooza' as 'living word' or 'animated text,' this piece demonstrates several ways that, by means of digital processing, Blake's work might be made more physically dynamic. This essay appears in _Digital Designs on Blake_, a volume of _Romantic Circles Praxis Series_, prepared exclusively for Romantic Circles (http://www.rc.umd.edu/), University of Maryland.

". . . optimism for tomorrow's electronic projects . . . raises warning flags."

Editors, The William Blake Archive[1]
  1. The parodic graphic in this pop-up box, by way of beginning, is the work of two undergraduate students in a Blake class three years ago who created it to serve as the jacket copy for their recording of several poems from Songs of Innocence and of Experience. It reflects nicely the relief some students find in Blake's energetic questioning of conventional pieties and platitudes. Having opened his Blake (we read white where he reads Blake [cf. 'The Everlasting Gospel' [e], 13-14]), Dad is inspired and empowered to foreswear his fresh supply of false perception to the gratitude of weary Mom, the innocent pride of Daughter, and the utter indifference of the most interesting figure she holds. Such, then, may prove the power of Blakeomancy:

       Guide thou my hand which trembles exceedingly upon the rock of ages,   While I write of the building of Golgonooza, & of the terrors of Entuthon(Jerusalem 5.23-24).
  2. 'Golgonooza' names the "Great City" whose building is largely co-extensive with the Blakean epic endeavor. Like many of Blake's myth-mashed names, it has attracted speculation as to its construction. One ever-fruitful manner of such speculating draws on the printed concordance to Blake's work to study other uses of the term. Having depended on that mainframe-generated resource for over two decades, a personal, desk-top version seemed a desideratum from my first acquaintance with programming. The generous agreement of David and Virginia Erdman to waive any copyright claims concerning a freely available electronic concordance to The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake made the realization of such a project imperative, and the advent of the world-wide web meant that a program written in Perl to search the text could take input from and deliver a response to anyone with a browser.

  3. A search on the term 'Golgonooza' using the online concordance (www.english.uga.edu/~nhilton/ee/home.html) discovers that it sometimes occurs with the name "Enthuthon Benython," which strongly suggests a transliteration of the Greek ενθυθον—'from hence'— βενθος—'the depths' (words Blake could have picked up from study of Homer and perhaps related to his "[Lake of] Udan Adan"—'‘Αδην,' Hades). These associations can support the suggestion that 'Golgonooza' incorporates an anagram of λογον ζω[=οο]ης ('logon zooas'), the "living word" (as in Phillipians 2.16).[2] "Golgonooza text" then, as a tissue of living words or word-creatures, invites animation, a possibility now realizable with relative ease through Macromedia's Flash™ software.

  4. We appreciate increasingly the 'activity' of Blake's text, assisted in good measure by digital technology. The Songs of Innocence and of Experience, for instance, was long known almost entirely from the order of the final copies, so that most readers thought of "The Voice of the Ancient Bard" as the concluding poem (before the frequent editorial inclusion of "A Divine Image," only posthumously included in Songs). With the Blake Digital Text Project's hypertext version, the links at the top corners (< and >) disclose the great variety of poems that come before or after in over thirty years of various copies (the conventional order of the six last copies is represented by '@'). Links to annotations open from clicking on the text, and streaming audio of some versions generously provided by the artists are available. Obviously the low-resolution graphic image serves mostly as an aide-mémoire.

  5. As with the site linked above, the Blake Archive also makes the varying order of Songs of Innocence and Songs of Innocence and of Experience dramatically evident to the viewer who considers the various copies it offers. Still more wonderful is the fact of its letting viewers see those copies in living color and, if desired, at a high resolution. The epitome of Blake industry for our time,[3] the Archive succeeds gloriously as an indispensable resource without which this presentation—for one example—could not exist. In thinking about the Archive, it is useful to recall the history of technological innovations and the way in which at first new innovations extend or "remediate" the status quo ante—the first railway coaches, for example, being coaches on rails. The question that might be asked is whether or how the nature of the new medium (bits) enabling such a super collection might also alter or at least supplement its presentation, especially when the editors of the Archive hope to see its material "organized, interlinked, and searchable in ways that only hypermedia systems will allow" (139) and write of making its work "freely accessible and usable in new ways" (136). The intersection of possibilities for Living Form made available by the Archive are what interest this piece-work aficionado, at any rate.

  6. For one new way in which holdings in the Archive might be used, consider the comparisons of different copies of "The Voice of the Ancient Bard." As it was first published in Songs of Innocence, one can go to that section of the Archive and use the comparison feature it supplies to see in parallel the two copies it offers. To see versions of the same plate that appeared in Songs of Innocence and of Experience, one goes to that section and uses its comparison. Wishing to see copies from both sets together and in closer proximity, I have made for my own use a program with a somewhat different approach. This combination of frames and cgi scripts enables easy comparison of various versions and texts. Using this application, a comparison of "The Voice of the Ancient Bard" might look like this screenshot. Each image is linked to the Archive's enlargment, so that it is easy to summon up detailed comparisons.

  7. To avoid the copyright concerns in offering public access to the Archive's images which have been copied for personal research, another version of the application draws on the power of deep-linking to take the viewer directly to the Archive's own displays, circumventing its "Welcome page" and intermediate clicks (unfortunately, its enlargements—in "Image & Text Options"—open in new windows [the Archive asks that "any links to individual items within the Archive be accompanied by a link to {its} welcome page"]).[4] Extensive use of deep-linking to the Archive—which could certainly become a mainstay of electronic writing about Blake—should probably await the promised transition of the Archive to XML, as that will break any current—and, in any event, unpermanent—links (evident in the changed reference of some of the deep-links since the example was created [September 2003]). Students of the future age must hope that the Archive's Editors will in that revision facilitate enduring deep-linking, so that the Archive can serve also as a repository of images for the coming, truly networked generation of digital scholarship.

  8. Side-by-side comparisons are one way of appreciating the different editions of "The Voice of the Ancient Bard." The bit-mapped existence of the images enables another, which, if never physically seen by Blake, perhaps suggests nonetheless one aspect of his living text ("glowing with varying colours immortal, heart-piercing / And lovely" [Milton, 11.32-33]). Achieving this effect entails a new form of editing, as the images from various editions, reflecting the vagaries of paper shrinkage, do not line up exactly. To make the transition more seamless and legible, the various copies can be brought as layers into an image-processing program like Photoshop and tweaked in small ways. One can use the negative of a black and white edition as the base, and work with different images against that.

  9. While the Flash file offers an exercise in presentation rather than the scholarly research to which the Blake Archive is dedicated, it might prove attractive to more dynamic multi-media sensitivities of our age and so serve the common goal of expanding an attentive and interested audience for Blake. Such manipulations and adaptations bring issues of copyright and "fair use" to the fore, however, as there is no way to present them without a copy to hand. In this instance the pertinent permissions have been obtained, at a cost of about $100. These costs are interesting to consider in themselves. All the images were copied effortlessly from the Blake Archive. Most institutions gave permission for use of their images without charge. The Library of Congress images, though in the public domain, proved to be the most expensive for this presentation, given the Archive's charge of $15 per image for permission to use its bits here and for its "image-accessing instructions."

  10. That those instructions turn out to be exactly what one does to copy the image in the first place adds to the oddity of being able to copy and reuse without restriction Blake's words but not their material images, which are owned by the individuals or institutions who happen to have come into possession of the originals. Explaining their copyright position, the Editors of the Archive posit a hypothetical, totalizing critic who feels that "museums and libraries whose existence is predicated on the uniqueness of their collections should give everyone everything for free" (141-42). But distinctions might be made between the sale of original intellectual property, the free provision of a copy that costs nothing to supply, and the taxation of new representations of material available at no direct cost. There is, to be sure, an infrastructure behind the images, but to imply that the alternative to charging some "users" (the Editors' term) some fee for some images is that "the Archive's technical staff and graduate assistants should work without pay" (141) seems a red herring. If the Editors are going to going "to regard [their] copyright policy as a key part of [their] editorial policy" (142), the possibilities of Copyleft or "Open Content License" might be considered, at least with regard to images of materials donated to the public. The admirable labor to bring talents before "users" without facilitating the use of those resources serves more to reify than activate "Great Golgonooza" (Milton, 29.48-49).[5]

  11. For the dilettante, Flash opens all kinds of possibilities for presenting Blake's text, including ones that might attempt to condense argument into moving image. The suggestion that the demon of Fuseli's "The Nightmare" watches over the frontispiece of VISIONS of the Daughters of Albion, for example, may more effectively be made graphically than verbally (may take some seconds to load). The effect of Urizen's "unique copies" can be staged dynamically using the simple effects of frames and the "refresh" tag (here again, these could be done as non-refreshing deep links to the Archive to offer another means of comparing the copies). The last example for this show-and-tell returns to the initial site of "Golgonooza," VALA, or The Four Zoas (opens new window), with some frames whose only interactivity comes in links and scrolling. In my for-personal-research version each page links to its scanned, descreened reproduction from the Erdman-Magno edition of the manuscript, but these are not linked here owing to copyright considerations.



1 Morris Eaves, Robert N. Essick, Joseph Viscomi, Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, "Standards, Methods, and Objectives in the William Blake Archive: A Response" (The Wordsworth Circle 30,3 [Spring 1999], 135-44, p. 144, fn. 8). The complete sentence reads: "While we are on the subject of finances, Mary Lynn Johnson's optimism for tomorrow's electronic projects also raises warning flags."


2 As I suggested twenty years back in Literal Imagination: Blake's Vision of Words (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Universitiy of California Press, 1983), p. 236. Greek vowels being literally—quantitatively, in time—short and long, Blake would have understood that "The Greekes therefore haue wmikron standing for a short o: and wmega for this double or long o, oo" (OED, s.v. "omega," which quotes John Baret's An alvearie or triple (quadruple) dictionarie, 1573, 1580).


3 The editors note their "list of funders, sponsors, and project staff," their "all kinds of other expenses that are not directly tech-related, such as transparencies, travel, salaries, paperclips (technologies of a different sort), etc.," to support their moralizing conclusion that "humanists do themselves and their institutions no favors by cultivating frugal homespun virtue" ("Standards, Methods, and Objectives. . . ," p. 144, fn. 8).


4 As Stuart Curran notes, the Archive's "design is strongly hierarchical, so the user must descend four levels to get to the texts of the individual illuminated works. For the novice this involves a surprising number of false starts the editors might not have anticipated. This notion of penetrating to an inner sanctum is, of course, antithetical to Blake, as would be the paragraphs of hectoring admonition about copyright law on what is unfacetiously called the 'Welcome Page'" ("The William Blake Archive").


5 On the one hand, while editor Robert Essick hopes that "the ability to manipulate images on one's home computer" will stimulate "new ways to teach, research,and think about" Blake, and editor Morris Eaves finds it "unimaginable that the availability of so much matter for thought won't alter the scholarship of the next generation," editor Joe Viscomi warns that "Teachers and researchers, of course, will need to keep in mind the 'Fair Use' clause of copyright law." The concerns are to them, evidently, not entirely serious—unaware of a more than decade-old IBM software product, one jokes: "Editing in new media I think of as Xediting (I've copyrighted that). . . ." "Once Only Imagined" (section 1; section 12; section 11; section 13)


6 For assistance with Flash, I am grateful to John Lucas (John Lucas Interactive) and to Shannon Wilder, Office of Instructional Support and Development, University of Georgia.