This essay examines Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1793) in light of William Blake's poetic critique of contemporary imperialism. Its argument turns on the contention that Blake's protagonist, Oothoon, represents in Visions both an enslaved woman and the expropriated natural landscapes of the New World. Thus, Oothoon's brutal rape at the hands of the slave-master Bromion is understood to signify a simultaneous figural rape of her environmental aspect. Analyzing the major critical implications of this double-edged violence, the essay investigates Vision's implicit thesis (based in part on Blake's poetic response to John Gabriel Stedman's contemporary writings) that the colonization of indigenous peoples and the exploitation of indigenous homelands were ideologically interrelated aspects of eighteenth-century imperialism. By drawing upon insights garnered from such fields of inquiry as ecofeminism, postcolonial theory, and the history of science, the essay also considers the theoretical and practical assumptions informing Oothoon's activist response to her doubly-colonized condition.
My article considers a late poem by Wordsworth—"The Haunted Tree" —in the context of recent critical debates about the politics of nature in the Romantic period. I argue that Wordsworth writes landscape in symbolic terms so as to define the kind of Britishness—and British poetry—that he considers proper. That Britishness is defined against commercial capitalism, as we might expect, but also against Oriental models of government, and against the Byronic poetry that, as Wordsworth saw it, pandered to Orientalist models. Wordsworth, in short, redefines Burkean discourse in an updated natural sublime intended as a corrective to the dangerous sexual and gender roles glamorized by Byron. As such, his poem, far from being a flight from politics into nature (the "retreat" that New Historicism has found to be characteristic of Wordsworth), is a politicization of nature in terms that are both traditional and innovative. They are also conservative.
"Sweet Influences": Human/Animal Difference and Social Cohesion in Wordsworth and Coleridge, 1794-1806
In George Stubbs's portrait of Captain Pocklington and family, the foundational relationship of husband and wife is symbolically triangulated by an animal (their horse), to whom Mrs. Pocklington gives her hand and beside which the captain stands, legs poised like and yet unlike the animal's own. Romantic-era artists' depictions of animals represent alternative, local, generally noneconomic means of social connection. Such human/animal social formations are especially prominent in the poetry of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. These poets' sociological project leads them to represent communities articulated by mysterious human-animal linkages, as in Wordsworth's "Lines Written in Early Spring," in which animals, although sentient and pleasure-loving like the speaker himself, serve as a "measure" of his difference from them. "What man has made" of animals, and what animals in turn make of man, becomes the basis for community. Coleridge's "The Nightingale" is a poem of limits and transgressions, in which social conversion is based upon linguistic and other forms of discord, violence, and desire. These and other animal depictions realize alternative turn-of-the-century forms of community founded upon a kind of ritual observance: a working-through of what remains deeply troubling in human beings' relationships with animals. Animals at no time before or since have been as central to Western conceptions of social interconnection and subjectivity. Romantic (and more recent) representations of animals may still retain a "preeminent utility," providing visions of identity, difference, and community—even for a post-Romantic age.
William Blake and Martin Heidegger both drew on a fourfold conception of being. For Blake, the Four Zoas (Luvah, Tharmas, Urizen, and Urthona) represent at once a cosmology of the universe and of the human soul. For Heidegger, the fourfold of "Earth, Sky, Gods, and Mortals" provide a schema for understanding authentic being. In an attempt to synthesize these conceptions, this essay performs a visual mapping of both fourfolds onto an image from Blake's Milton: A Poem. The goal of this exercise is not just to compare Blake and Heidegger, however, but to demonstrate how Blake's visual/mythological schema might be used to generate innovative methodologies in humanities research.
In a three-part interview, a group of Blakeans and digital artists discuss their endeavors to represent Blake's thought in virtual environments. They explore the practical and theoretical ramifications of Adam Komisaruk and Fred Yee's The Blake Model, and of Steve Guynup's Crystal Cabinet. Issues on the agenda include: the genesis of the projects; the problems of mediation and systematization; spatiality and temporality; identity and difference; determinacy and indeterminacy; multimedia and interdisciplinarity; creativity and the body; praxis and theory; the business of art and the work of the spirit; esoteric and exoteric traditions; the virtual frontier and the future of video gaming.
Exemplifing an interpretation of Blake's invented name "Golgonooza" as from the Greek 'logon zooa,' or "living word," "animated text," this piece demonstrates several ways that, by means of digital processing, Blake's work might be made more physically dynamic. Macromedia's Flash program is used to create dissolves through an aligned sequence of different copies of the same plate ("The Voice of the Ancient Bard"), so that the text and image are at once the same in outline but continually "glowing with varying colours immortal, heart-piercing / And lovely" (Milton, pl. 11, ll. 32-33). A format for simultaneous presentation of the differently sequenced 'unique copies' of The Book of Urizen is suggested, as is an interactive format for The Four Zoas. The piece includes some incidental reflections on the curiosity of public-domain text and copyright image, the organization of the Blake Archive, and the need for the ability to deep-link to its resources.