Abstract

Unlocking Language: Self-Similarity in Blake’s Jerusalem

In the first part of the essay, Yoder outlines John Locke's theory of language as it is presented in Book III of the Essay concerning Human Understanding. Locke identifies the flaws in language as obscurity and instability, and he offers a five-point plan to repair these flaws primarily by eliminating figurative language and limiting the meaning of words to what they have meant in the past. In the second part of the essay, focusing primarily on William Blake's Jerusalem, Yoder argues that Blake offers a theory of language contrary to Locke's theory, one in which language might be described as fractal, a term borrowed from chaos theory. In Blake's system, signfication expands and contracts across a sliding scale of analogous linguistic structures; the standard of these fractal iterations is the human form. Yoder also argues that this understanding of language helps to explain the problem of narrative in Blake's poem.