Rethinking Teachability through the Esoteric Blake
In this essay, I reflect on how my experience of teaching William Blake’s Milton (comp. ca. 1804-1811) to graduate students was retrospectively transformed by reading Silvan Tomkins and Baruch Spinoza’s Ethics (1677) in a seminar that I subsequently taught on affect theory. Engaging with Spinoza’s and Tomkins’s respective writings on negative affects (such as shame and fear) and positive affects (such as joy) allowed me to discover in what I had been thinking of as a pedagogical failure an exciting pedagogical opportunity to rethink my unreflected assumptions about teaching and what constitutes teaching success. The key breakthrough came when, through a shift of perspective, I began to see that the shame and fear of not understanding Milton that my students (and on occasion, I) experienced was a version of the affective dramas, or “Mental Fight,” in Blake’s works and thus an essential aspect of the reading process rather than an obstacle to it.
Rethinking Teachability through the Esoteric Blake
1. Chances are that anyone who has ever taught William Blake’s prophecies has at one time or another wondered if this Blake is teachable. The answer depends in part on what we mean by “teachable.” The word is often assumed to mean “masterable,” first by the instructor and then by the students, to whom the instructor has transferred his or her mastery. A pedagogy based on this assumption is driven by the desire to be correct, to “get it right,” but does not ask what the “it” to be got is, what “getting it” means, or if seeking mastery is the way to learn. Such a pedagogy also takes for granted that we as readers—teachers and students alike—are positioned outside the text, remain at a distance from it, and contemplate it from afar. This approach is questionable in general, but, in the case of Blake, it is particularly problematic because he profoundly and energetically rejects all the assumptions behind this concept of teaching—and nowhere more so than in the prophecies. An approach more in tune with Blake would ask not whether he is teachable but how he redefines teachability. How does he teach us to teach? This essay focuses on the ways that I have discovered to transform my reading and teaching habits by teaching Blake.
2. I write from the perspective of a Romanticist who is not a Blake scholar and whose graduate training, for various reasons, barely touched on him (my doctoral program was in Comparative Literature rather than English, was not driven by a coverage model, and took William Wordsworth as the paradigmatic Romantic poet).  As a result, I had to teach myself Blake in order to teach his work in my courses, and I frankly admit that the task was extremely intimidating. All of these things would normally be hindrances to contributing to a volume on teaching Blake, but I have found that they can be turned to advantage in developing a pedagogy of non-mastery that allows for more engaged reading (instead of being an excuse for not reading). In essence, I use my limitations as the basis of a pedagogical methodology rather than seeing them as something simply to be overcome. What has allowed me to reconceive personal limitations as the basis of a pedagogy is the affective turn in the recent critical landscape.  The particular affect theories that I draw on come from Silvan Tomkins and Baruch Spinoza’s Ethics (1677). 
3. Tomkins is especially helpful on the subject of motivation; he calls “the affect system” “the primary motivational system in human beings” (34). We all know experientially that the teaching, learning, and reading processes are affectively driven, but it has taken a new theoretical development to tell us that affect has a legitimate place, one worth discussing in teaching, learning, and scholarship.  Blake is in many ways an ideal candidate for such an approach, since affect, especially extreme affect, is writ large in his works. For example, the word “terror” and its related forms, such as “terrors,” “terrible,” “terrifying,” “terrified,” as well as “fear” and “fright” appear frequently in Blake’s poetry in general. The “search” function in The William Blake Archive reveals well over 200 combined occurrences of the “terror” series and over 140 of “fear” and “fright,” and the frequency is especially high in Jerusalem (comp. ca. 1804-1820) and The Four Zoas (comp. ca. 1796-1797), with Milton (comp. ca. 1804-1811) making a respectable showing as well, especially considering that it is about half as long as Jerusalem.  Since Blake’s oeuvre is so fear filled, is it any wonder that reading Blake frequently makes readers fearful? Once one begins thinking of Blake in these terms, it becomes obvious that readerly affect and textual affect in his works are related, but making that relation a matter for reflection and the motivating impulse of a teaching practice is another thing entirely. Such a teaching practice is precisely what I shall aim to adopt when I teach Blake in the future.
4. As a result of having long struggled with Blake myself, I am in a good position to empathize with students’ distress at not understanding his work. Perhaps more important, my experience brings home to me the importance of empathizing with them. I can use myself as an example to help my students see that struggling with his prophecies is not a sign of failure but a potentially productive reading practice. Most fundamentally, my difficult engagement with the esoteric Blake has taught me to shift my relationship to his poetry, and my top priority is to enable my students to do the same. Achieving such a fundamental transformation of one’s orientation to texts involves a kind of psychotherapy for readers, which most closely resembles the desensitization techniques used to treat phobias; yet, it is a desensitization that allows for developing a sensitivity of a qualitatively different kind, one that gives the reader an alternative to closing herself or himself off from the work in self-defense. On the contrary, such a desensitization process allows the reader to open up to the work so that it can open up to her or him. It is perhaps an exaggeration to say that Blake’s prophetic works were phobic objects for me or that they are phobic objects for my students, but in the context of a classroom, they come pretty close. Certainly, they can raise a lot of fear or anxiety of being wrong or stupid and shame at not understanding.
5. I have arrived at this view and practice of teaching as the result of a long, incremental process, which has not been without detours or serendipity. I tell the longer narrative below; here I would like to note three relatively recent events that suddenly reshaped the way I think of my history with Blake. First, in the Spring Semester of 2013, I taught Milton in a graduate seminar on Romantic natures. Then, in Spring 2014, I assigned readings in the Silvan Tomkins anthology edited by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Adam Frank and the three chapters on affect in Spinoza’s Ethics in a graduate seminar on affect theory, an area in which I had become interested through the work of a doctoral student on whose dissertation committee I was serving. Finally, the combined impact of these factors motivated me to attend Karen Swann’s workshop on teaching Jerusalem (“Learning to Teach by Teaching Jerusalem”) at the 2013 conference of the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism.  Teaching the affect theory class between the two Blake-related events turned out to be transformative. By the strange temporality of mental processes, it retroactively prepared the groundwork for an “aha” moment that I had during the Jerusalem workshop, in which I suddenly saw that affect had been a barrier to reading Blake for me, and affect was my best chance of finding a different—and happier—way of reading him. The reason I single out Tomkins and Spinoza from all the readings in that Spring 2013 seminar is that, in very different ways, they both emphasize that affects can become toxic but do not have to remain so; we can transform them by working on them. For Tomkins, when one particular affect comes to monopolize a person’s affective life, that person has developed a strong theory of that affect, such that s/he will find opportunities for experiencing it in a wide range of encounters that would be unlikely to activate it in a different type of person. Tomkins had a powerful impact on me because he paints vivid pictures of the soul-killing suffering that strong theories of negative affects inflict on those who hold them.  I responded to him on a gut level, as one cannot help responding to Blake, although in a very different register and on a different scale. In short, Tomkins resonated with Blake for me in that they both pack an affective punch. However, when it comes to weakening the hold of negative affects, Spinoza’s analysis is the one I found more effective in helping me shift my relation to Blake.
6. The hyper-rationalist Spinoza and the anti-rationalist Blake might seem like strange bedfellows,  and, to be sure, they disagree fundamentally on many fronts. Nonetheless, they both vehemently reject a vision of humanity that rests on the categories of sin and transgression. In the preface to the third part of the Ethics, “Of the Origin and Nature of the Affects,” Spinoza states his opposition to those who “attribute the cause of human impotence and inconstancy . . . to I know not what vice of human nature, which they therefore bewail, or laugh at, or disdain, or (as usually happens) curse.” Rather than “curse or laugh at the affects and actions of men,” he proposes to “understand them” and by a method he acknowledges to be paradoxical: “I should wish to demonstrate by certain reasoning things which are contrary to reason, and which they [those who laugh and curse] proclaim to be empty, absurd, and horrible” (68-69).  To me, Spinoza holds promise for readers of Blake in that he bases his ethics on affects and does so in a non-moralistic manner. He aims not to set out rules to be obeyed but rather to show how the mind may pass “to a greater perfection,” where perfection is a state in which the mind does things rather than undergoes them; it becomes active rather than passive, where passivity means being dominated by passions (77). This active state Spinoza calls “joy” (77). In a rare pathos-filled sentence, he describes the plight of those who are at the mercy of their passions and thereby suffer many and frequent “vacillations of mind”: “We are driven about in many ways by external causes, and . . . like waves on the sea, driven by contrary winds, we toss about, not knowing our outcome and fate” (103). Hence he calls “man’s lack of power to moderate and restrain the affects” “bondage,” and the fourth part of the Ethics is accordingly called “Of Human Bondage, or the Power of the Affects” (113). The entire Ethics tends toward a demonstration of how the mind can escape this plight and find “the means, or way, leading to freedom,” which depends on “the power of reason” to counteract the affects (160). At this point, Spinoza states that the only and best way of becoming as free as possible is to gain “a true knowledge” of the affects: “Each of us has—in part, at least, if not absolutely—the power to understand himself and his affects, and consequently the power to bring it about that he is less acted on by them” (164). What appeals to me in Spinoza is that he takes affects not as something to be eliminated but as something to be worked on and through. Furthermore, he does not oppose reason to affects or hold that reason negates affects. Rather, affects can arise from or be aroused by reason, and over time such affects can grow to be more powerful than passions (165). In short, through reason, affects counteract affects.
7. If ever Spinoza’s definition of “sadness” as “that passion by which it [the mind] passes to a lesser perfection” needed proof (77), it would find it in the classroom, where varieties of sadness (in Spinoza’s sense) such as fear, shame, and anxiety have the capacity effectively to shut down the mind and produce a painful silence. To avoid this result, it is crucial to keep students from feeling so lost that they simply disengage.  I use as teaching tools works such as “All Religions Are One” (comp. ca. 1788), “There Is No Natural Religion” (comp. ca. 1788) and especially The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790), an historically popular point of entry into Blake.  These are texts that challenge conventional reading habits while also remaining relatively accessible. I then seize on moments in such texts that can serve as entrées to an altogether different type of reading; drawing on the language of The Marriage, I call this method reading through “an improvement of sensual enjoyment” (Erdman 39; object 14 in all copies).  My primary resource for increasing the “sensual enjoyment” of reading Blake is the user-friendly Blake Archive, which has revolutionized the study and teaching of his works by making the illuminated texts easily available online and free of charge. For those students and professors of literature who by habit and/or training are primarily text-based—especially those whose Blake-habits were formed in the pre-digital age—it is a revelation to see how different and how much richer Blake’s plates are from the conventionally typeset versions in printed books.
8. As Morris Eaves notes in his introduction to The Cambridge Companion to William Blake (2003), those print editions served an important historical purpose when they first appeared in the Victorian age, and they continue to do so now, although not in the same way. Deleting the images and regularizing the idiosyncratic aspects of the text were then part of a mission to rescue Blake from the decades of neglect he had already suffered. These simplifications made “his poetry friendlier and more legible,” thereby “prepar[ing] the way for serious study and reflection on a scale previously unthinkable” (Eaves 7).  The difficulty of parsing Blake’s script is considerable, and perhaps no one has gauged it more aptly than Vincent De Luca, who holds that it poses as much of a challenge to the reader as does Blake’s hermeticism (89-90). My myopic, astigmatic, and presbyopic eyes would be able to sustain the reading effort only as long as I could tolerate the whopping headache it would be sure to bring on, which is to say not very long at all. However, today the availability of conventionally printed editions of Blake and the technological enhancements of the online Blake Archive, including the textual transcriptions it provides, allow us to experience the difficult legibility of Blake as something more and other than a daunting physical obstacle. In particular, the magnification function makes it much more practical to read the facsimiles while also preserving a sense of the resistance they offer to legibility. Slowly tracing out the strokes of Blake’s lettering with our eyes, we can get some idea of the resistance that the physical substrate offers to the engraver; our reading activity approaches to the artisanal character of his production methods. To a certain degree and extent, then, we work along with Blake as we read, and this is one way our relation to his works shifts; we are no longer fully detached readers positioned over and against them.
9. Most importantly, the Blake Archive offers a viewing pleasure that one completely misses when reading only a verbal transcription, and this pleasure can help defuse the anxiety that any new (and I suspect many a veteran) reader of Blake experiences when confronted with his prophecies. The reader is then more likely to relax enough to begin to relinquish the desire for mastery and assume a less defensive, more open disposition toward the text. This is where affect comes in. I encourage my students to cultivate and reflect on their affective relationship to Blake. Through this process, I strive to help them do two related things: (1) to see their reading experience not as outside the text but rather as part of the drama of intellectual warfare at the center of so many of Blake’s works; and (2) to perform a kind of inner recalibration that allows them to re-experience their fear of not understanding him as joyful exhilaration and wild exuberance. This transformation can perhaps be thought of as turning intellectual terror into an experience of the sublime. One can facilitate this process for students by directing them to places in Blake’s oeuvre where it is thematized. A prime example is the speaker’s vow to wage “Mental Fight” in the famous poem included in some copies of Milton (Erdman 95; see copies A and B, object 2, l. 38). Once students come to think of their struggles with the esoteric Blake as a “mental fight” they are obliged to wage in their own right, they can also come to see that many aspects of the works that bewilder them are those that dramatize or enact this “fight.” There Blake does what in the prefatory poem he says he will do. Coming this far can prepare students to rethink their acts of reading precisely as acts in the strong sense of the word, or, even better, experience their reading activity as dramas on the order of Blake’s poems and/or of Blake’s visionary dramas as unrolling within them. Thus, they become, as it were, dramatic characters, the “Visionary forms dramatic,” in the poems (Erdman 257; Jerusalem copy E, plate 98, l. 29).
10. My story begins with the first time that I taught a course on Romanticism. As an overly conscientious new assistant professor, I felt obliged to include some of the esoteric Blake in my syllabus despite my discomfort with him. I was worried about my authority in the classroom in general, but that worry was nowhere more intense than with this Blake. My response at the time was to shore up my authority by developing as much expertise as I could in the short time available, and to do so, I set out to read Geoffrey Keynes’s The Complete Writings of William Blake (1966) from cover to cover along with a good chunk of the extant criticism. Any reasonable person would have realized from the outset that this was an impossible task, and, sure enough, it wasn’t long before I was forced to rethink my strategy. I hit a wall once I embarked on longer, more complex, and more daunting works, which, I stress, I was reading for the first time. I can best illustrate why by recurring to one day when I spent ten hours reading such works. By early evening, I was in a mental state that was akin to tripping—or to what I imagined tripping was like. I felt as if I was having a drug-free psychedelic experience. The feeling was so intense and overwhelming that I remember it vividly decades later. Since my reading was in the service of teaching, which then meant mastery to me, the experience felt profoundly disabling. However, when I managed to bracket the approaching semester and immerse myself in the reading experience itself, I felt exhilarated. In fact, I was laughing, and I made everyone I met that evening laugh by saying that if the illegal drug trade knew about the cheap and perfectly legal high that Blake provided, they would burn every copy, because he could put them out of business. For me, the big difference between now and then is that at the time it did not occur to me that I could use this response in my teaching, and if back then someone had suggested that I try to do so, I would have told that person in no uncertain terms that he or she was insane.
11. Only by virtue of reading, rereading, and teaching Blake year after year and semester after semester did I slowly grow to feel that my personal enjoyment did not have to remain separate from what I did in the classroom. In the course of repeatedly engaging with a number of his texts (at this time I was dealing only with the texts, not the illuminations), I found myself positively warming to some, namely, the manifesto-like ones that I have mentioned above: “There Is No Natural Religion,” “All Religions Are One,” and The Marriage. Over time, I came to discern that these works could be read precisely as Blakean lessons in reading, most obviously through their insistence on other modes of perception beyond those available through the five physical, “bounded” senses. For the purposes of this essay, in the next section I focus on The Marriage to exemplify the pedagogy of non-mastery that teaches with, rather than despite, the instructor’s (i.e., my) limitations. However, before I go any further, let me hasten to add that none of this is to say that I think knowing Blake well is a hindrance to teaching him or that ignorance is the great desideratum of teaching or scholarship. Not only does Blake scholarship, which is particularly vibrant at this moment, disprove any such absurd claim, it also includes voices that speak in a spirit similar to the one that I advocate here.  What I am saying is that those who are less comfortable with Blake can take heart and, as an added bonus, plug into the excitement of that scholarship all the more deeply.
12. For reasons of economy, I choose from the many passages of The Marriage that can be read as lessons for reading three of the “Memorable Fancies”: the narrator’s dinner with Isaiah and Ezekiel (plate 12), the one where the speaker and an angel set out to show each other their eternal lots (plates 17-20), and the one where the Devil and the Angel contend (plates 22-24). In plate 12 where the speaker questions the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel, I suggest that modes of perception align with interpretive approaches:
The Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel dined with me, and I asked them how they dared so roundly to assert. that God spake to them; and whether they did not think at the time, that they would be misunderstood, & so be the cause of imposition.
Isaiah answer’d. “I saw no God, nor heard any, in a finite organical perception; but my senses discover’d the infinite in every thing, and as I was then perswaded. & remain confirm’d; that the voice of honest indignation is the voice of God, I cared not for consequences but wrote. (Erdman 38)
13. Infinite perception is associated with daring: “I cared not for consequences,” Isaiah says. I suggest that perhaps we can become the type of reader who rises to Isaiah’s challenge by being daring as well, and for a model, I point to the young man who contends with the moralizing angel on plate 17. The angel, who would frighten him with a vision of his eternal damnation, demands security. His approach is to show the young man the abyss while they both remain outside it: they “held by the roots of trees and hung over this immensity,” as a frightful apocalyptic scene unrolls below them (Erdman 41). In contrast, the young man proposes that they throw caution to the winds and plunge in: “if you please we will commit ourselves to this void, and see whether providence is here also, if you will not I will?” (Erdman 41). When the speaker finally acts on this impulse, he finds that the Angel’s fear is what generated the fearsome sight. When the angel is gone, the young man is rewarded for his fearlessness with an idyllic pastoral vision: “I found myself sitting on a pleasant bank beside a river by moon light hearing a harper who sung to the harp” (Erdman 41-42).
14. Once we reach this point, I suggest that as readers we might think of the positions that the angel and the devil take to this vision as indicating the available relations that we as readers can assume to the text. These come down to the alternative between reading at a remote distance from the text and immersing oneself in it, where we understand the immersion as our own implication in the text. It seems to me that we, professors and students alike, habitually read as angels. Eager and sometimes desperate to find a firm interpretive foothold, we place ourselves outside the text without considering whether or not there are other possible stances. But just as Isaiah showed us an alternative to assuming that the default mode of interpretation is literal, the final “Memorable Fancy” shows us that we can choose an alternative position, and it does so by showing that by the end of the work, the angel becomes a devil and reads like one. This section has particular pedagogical value, for, if the angel, who embodies conventional authority, can make the leap, can’t anyone, including us? Finally, the wild humor of the entire scene aids the process of transformation because the silent or outright laughter it provokes is a form of “sensual enjoyment,” and if we give ourselves over to it, it can cleanse “the doors of perception” (Erdman 39), as Blake says.
15. To turn now to the Angel’s transformation: it occurs through contention, illustrating Blake’s axiom that “Opposition is true Friendship” (Erdman 42). The context is that the Angel and a Devil argue about the nature of God. The Devil pronounces the heterodox conviction that “The worship of God is. Honouring his gifts in other men each according to his genius. and loving the greatest men best . . . for there is no other God”:
16. The Angel holds his ground in the first round of his argument with the Devil, but he meets his match when the Devil counterattacks him, asserting: “no virtue can exist without breaking these ten commandments: Jesus was all virtue, and acted from impulse: not from rules” (Erdman 43). Here the Angel, up to now so cautious, becomes as daring as the young man and Isaiah. Apparently no longer caring for consequences or physical danger, he “stretched out his arms embracing the flame of fire & he was consumed and arose as Elijah” (Erdman 43). This self-immolation effects his transformation, and he becomes the young man’s reading buddy:
Note. This Angel, who is now become a Devil, is my particular friend: we often read the Bible together in its infernal or diabolical sense which the world shall have if they behave well
I have also: The Bible of Hell: which the world shall have whether they will or no. (Erdman 44)
17. I have taught The Marriage to undergraduate and graduate students alike. Now I would like to turn to the challenge of teaching the most daunting of Blake’s works to graduate students, and here I draw on my recent experience of teaching Milton. I must admit that we did not get very far with the poem in this class, and I did not find it a particularly satisfying pedagogical experience. Truth to tell, by any usual definition, it was largely a failure, and for that reason, it haunted me, but not in a completely negative way. What I could not forget was the intensity of the work and of the classroom atmosphere, and, besides, I love a challenge. I am convinced that I learned more about teaching the esoteric Blake from this teaching failure than I would have if this experience had been what generally passes for successful. The fact that I had a graduate student audience defined this pedagogical situation to a great extent. The advantages of teaching a difficult text to graduate students rather than undergraduates are obvious, but there are particular challenges too. Since graduate students are far more invested in achieving mastery, they feel the imperative to understand much more intensely than undergraduates do and consequently are more terrified at the prospect of not “getting it.” It is as if non-understanding were specifically disallowed by the implicit contract they signed on entering graduate school. Other defining factors were two decisions that I made because of time limitations: I reluctantly decided not to assign The Marriage, despite my conviction of its great pedagogical value, and I dedicated only two, three-hour seminar meetings to Milton, which was not nearly enough time. Both of these decisions exacerbated the inherent difficulty of the work for my students, and they understandably panicked. Since they experienced their panic as failure, their distress threatened to prevent us from doing any work at all on the poem. So I had to come up on the spot with some ways of averting that outcome.
18. First, I suggested that one reason they were so unnerved was that they were each assuming they were the only ones who were struggling, and I assured them that this was not the case; Blake’s late prophecies bewilder everyone who approaches them for the first time. Stating this explicitly may seem trivial, but the students reported that it helped a great deal, and the atmosphere in the room became palpably more relaxed. Second, since I found myself tactically quoting The Marriage to illuminate Milton, I reversed course and made it available to them. Working through these various difficulties made us bond as a group and allowed us to continue with a sense of shared purpose. Finally, I took advantage of the fact that Milton is one of Blake’s most spectacular illuminated books and displayed the various copies of some of the most stunning illustrations side by side, using the invaluable “compare” function on the Blake Archive. Seeing these versions raised some fundamental questions, including ones concerning the definition of what constitutes a “work” by Blake. Is it all the copies? Since the various copies do not all contain the same plates or order the plates in the same way, are they the same work or not? Are they all copies of an original? Are they all originals? Is each one a different work? Is the metal plate the original from which all the copies derive? Is it part of the work, or is the work limited to one or all the printed versions? Is the “real” Milton for Blake and for us perhaps best thought of as mental—that is, the simultaneous totality of all the copies, which we can see only in imagination?  Does the language of original and copy that, as Walter Benjamin has taught us, works well with mechanical reproduction  apply to Blake’s very different mode of production? Exactly what are we referring to when we refer to Milton?
19. We did not come to any absolute conclusions about these questions, and there may be no definitive answers to them. These questions can, however, make us aware that our default ways of thinking about them are not neutral but rather have been formed by what has been, until recently, the dominant mode of production of our time. Perhaps we need a different conceptual language to talk about Blake’s copies of the illuminated texts. Among all these unanswered questions, one thing became clear: now that, thanks to the Blake Archive, the illuminated works are readily available and at no cost, we are not really talking about Milton or any other of Blake’s illuminated works if we talk only about the words. In fact, it may be wrongheaded to see the designs as secondary or supplementary to the written text, and we misrecognize the text also if we take a verbal transcription in conventional print as equivalent to Blake’s lettering. As De Luca has pointed out, Blake pushes the lettering of the illuminated books as close to the visual as possible, with strokes of letters curling off into vine-like structures (89-90). More specifically, we talked about how the different colorings on versions of the same plate created radically different moods or atmospheres, and I suggested that one might think about them in relation to the references to atmosphere in the verbal text or “States of the Human Soul,” which are in this work more numerous (or more multi-dimensional) than the contraries of “innocence” and “experience.” Perhaps most fundamentally, the power and vividness of the illuminations can draw students in even when they feel that they have not been able to understand much. My ultimate hope is that the attraction that the illuminations hold will help students eventually come to question understanding, or at least the kind of understanding that rests on “Single vision & Newton’s sleep” (Erdman 722) as the goal of reading Blake. I shall say more about this below.
20. This is where I stood with Blake when I attended the Jerusalem workshop. Participants offered a number of innovative suggestions for teaching Jerusalem, which apply as well to all of Blake’s most challenging works.  However, my own experience with Blake suddenly crystallized when Swann led the discussion to the subject of forgiveness and the refusal to forgive in Jerusalem. Her example was Albion’s refusal to forgive Jerusalem, and one could also add the spectre of Los’s refusal to forgive Albion. As Swann pointed out, the refusers harden themselves and stand on the rock of the law. When the “Saviour” calls to Albion, “we are One; forgiving all Evil” (Erdman 146), Albion brutally rebuffs him: “here will I build my Laws of Moral Virtue!” (Erdman 147). All of a sudden it occurred to me that we do the same thing when we search for an authoritative interpretation, when we want to be sure we understand, when we seek to stand on solid interpretive ground. In the context of Milton, we act like Satan (who here is not “of the Devils party” and therefore not a “true Poet” [Erdman 35]) when he imposes his code of sin and punishment and declares himself the only God:
He created Seven deadly Sins drawing out his infernal scroll,
Of Moral laws and cruel punishments upon the clouds of Jehovah
. . . Saying I am God alone
There is no other! let all obey my principles of moral individuality[.] (Erdman 103)
I in my Selfhood am that Satan: I am that Evil One!
He is my Spectre! in my obedience to loose him from my Hells
To claim the Hells, my Furnaces, I go to Eternal Death. (Erdman 108; copy B, object 12, ll. 30-32)
21. Milton is the ideal work for such teaching because it pushes the issue of understanding to the crisis point with the refrain that punctuates the Bard’s song: “Mark well my words! they are of your eternal salvation” (Erdman 96; copy B, objects 3, 5 [twice], 7 and 9). When “eternal salvation” is the stakes of “mark[ing] well,” could they possibly be any higher? They are certainly higher than feeling or looking stupid, the typical readerly fear with Blake. Eaves wittily remarks that “such ultimate claims on ‘your’ devotion can leave you feeling hung out to dry, with only yourself to blame for your failures” (6). For what does it mean to mark the Bard’s words, and how do we know if we are marking them well? We see one consequence of not marking his words well through those who dwelt on the “mild banks” of the river Ololon in Eden (Erdman 115; copy B, object 19). Blake writes:
. . . they lamented that they had in wrath & fury & fire
Driven Milton into the Ulro; for now they knew too late
That it was Milton the Awakener: they had not heard the Bard,
Whose song calld [sic] Milton to the attempt[.] (Erdman 116) 
22. It is possible to puzzle indefinitely over the meaning of the urgent imperative “Mark well my words! they are of your eternal salvation.” Perhaps our “eternal salvation” is to keep reading and rereading. At any rate, the imperative to “[m]ark” is another way that Milton implicates the reader in the text; it makes us actors in the drama that Milton relates. Perhaps marking can also be taken as the engraving and printing process, in which case, as suggested above, the reader participates with Blake in producing and printing the words of the poem. He calls us to be not only readers but also his co-writers. Talking in general about the reader as participant and implicated in the work is easy; the hard part is to take up the mind-bending work of seeing how this works specifically in any one Blake text. It is a labor that we as readers must perform anew with every reading of a Blake work. On one level, they are all the stories of our reading/textual production.
23. I close with some remarks on how, building on what I learned between the Spring Semester of 2013 and now, I would teach Milton differently in the future. To sum up what I have already stated: I would prepare the ground by using the works mentioned above as providing a relatively user-friendly introduction to Blake’s prophecies, and I would build flexibility into the syllabus so as to be able to adjust the class time according to the needs of the students in any particular group; this is the change that makes all others possible. For all assignments and class discussions, I would integrate attention to the two things I have emphasized in this essay—the affective and visual aspects of the works—into considerations of the verbal texts. I would encourage students to look at all of the plates from first to last before reading. Going from “There Is No Natural Religion” and “All Religions Are One” to The Marriage and then Milton will have the added benefit of providing some sense of Blake’s evolution as a writer and artist. To take full advantage of the Blake Archive, I would devote one class (or as much of it as necessary) to taking the interactive tour of the website (available from the site’s homepage) with my students; now that most of them have laptops and/or tablets, they could play along instead of just watching me do it. I have found the “search” function on the homepage and the “show me” and “compare” buttons for individual plates especially useful. By allowing the user to enlarge the image, see a visual description of it, and read a textual transcription, the “show me” button helps educate the reader’s eye in how to view the plates and in some cases how to make viewing and reading work together. A few dry runs with colleagues, who have all responded with amazement and rapt delight, have convinced me that exploring its capabilities stands a good chance of hooking the viewer on Blake. I would frame our discussion of The Marriage by asking how we get from the various couples on the title page to the “marriage” between the young man and the angel at the end of the work. The illustration description of the title plate with some uncertainty identifies the two large figures at the bottom of the plate as a woman (on the left) and a man (on the right). Yet the figure on the right looks more like another woman to me. Does that figure’s gender make a significant difference? How might we think about going from a marriage between a man and woman or between two women to a marriage between two men? These questions can set up a discussion of the pronounced homo  eroticism that many viewers perceive in the illustrations of Milton, about which I shall say more below. One could also ask about the spatial organization of the title plate of The Marriage. If, as the illustration description suggests, the bottom left of the image is hell and the right heaven, what do we make of the horizontal division about a third of the way down the page? We would normally expect heaven to be above and hell below. This complication of direction and dimension, which participates in satirizing conventional views of good and evil in the work, can set the stage for the more thoroughgoing dislocations of Milton.
24. For both The Marriage and Milton, using the “compare” feature allows students to see for themselves that, when colored differently, copies of the same plate can produce startlingly different impressions. It is also important for them to see that not all copies of Milton contain the same plates; for example, the preface on the “Daughters of Inspiration” and the “Daughters of Memory” and the poem “And did those feet,” the best known lines in the poem, appear only in copies A and B (Erdman 95). For Milton, in addition to using the Blake Archive, I would also assign the volume in the Princeton edition of The Illuminated Books of William Blake (1993) for two reasons: the scholarly apparatus of each includes things that the other does not, and the reader/viewer enters the book format and the website in different ways. This is all the more the case given that digital technology advances rapidly and thus also rapidly becomes obsolete. A case in point is the Milton MOO formerly supported by the Romantic Circles website. “Changing servers and configurations and the by-now advanced age of the MOO platform” have made site managers at Romantic Circles unable “to keep up support for it.”  When the MOO was up and running, one could turn the pages of the “book” form of Milton with one’s hand in virtual reality, and this possibility had profound implications for the reader’s relation to the work. As Broglio writes:
25. To offer concrete examples of how the Blake Archive and the Princeton Illuminated Books edition of Milton can facilitate a teaching and reading practice that brings the verbal and visual aspects of the work together, I focus on the title plate and the plate where Milton contends with and sculpts Urizen (object 17 in the Blake Archive; plate 15 in the Princeton edition). Under the illustration appears the caption: “To Annihilate the Selfhood of Deceit and False Forgiveness.” Both the “illustration description” of this plate on the Blake Archive and the editorial apparatus of the Princeton Milton point out that Milton’s right foot, which—I add—is associated with poetic inspiration at key moments in the work, visually enacts the annihilation of the Selfhood by splitting the very word into its two constituent syllables.  The commentary in the Princeton edition explicitly links this plate to the title plate, where Milton’s “right hand and arm also cut his name in two” (20);  an action suggesting that the route to apocalypse (and perhaps, to us, of an understanding of the book) is blocked by a ‘selfhood’ that must be self-annihilated. Compare this moment of annihilation to Milton’s foot breaking his ‘Self-hood’ on plate 15 or object 17 in the Blake Archive. Here again, word and image together enact an annihilation of the selfhood. Could this annihilation be related, I would ask, to the homoeroticism suggested by the poem’s numerous illustrations of muscular naked men, frequently with prominent buttocks? To entertain the question, I would display via the Blake Archive some of the most striking examples as a group.  The “light box” feature on the Blake Archive, which allows the user to group different objects on the same screen (but, alas, not save the grouping), would be ideal for this exercise. 
26. As a theoretical support for this queer reading of Blake, I would introduce Leo Bersani’s notion of “shattering” into the discussion, for it is specifically a “shattering” of the “structured self” through sexual acts. In a reading of Civilization and Its Discontents (1930), Bersani argues that for Freud the shattering power of sexual enjoyment can be traced back to the species’ atavistic memory of “the experience, or rather the smell of sex before we adopted an erect posture,” and Bersani characterizes this Freudian speculation as “the fantasy of a mythic, prehistoric convulsing of our physical being in the passionate sniffing of a male on all fours” (17).  The scene of anal intercourse between men that Bersani finds in Freud and its disruptive effect on the integrity of the self seem uncannily congruent with the homoeroticism of Milton’s annihilation of his own selfhood in his intimate contention with Urizen. In any case, the point is not for the commentary to do the work of seeing for the students but to give them examples of how they might proceed on their own. In allowing the user to see as many copies side by side as s/he chooses, the “compare” button exponentially increases the “sensual enjoyment” one experiences by looking at any one copy alone, while also facilitating the all-important but never finally accomplished discipline of cleansing “the doors of perception.”
27. As valuable as the bibliography and the introduction to (or initiation in) the critical literature that the digital and book editions provide are the indications of scholarly disagreement, sometimes on the most basic things. The Princeton Illuminated Books edition of Milton is particularly instructive on this score. For example, its annotations often note that different scholars identify figures in some designs differently. Perhaps the most telling case is that of the three nude figures in plate 8 of the Princeton edition, for whom the editors Robert Essick and Joseph Viscomi find eight extant interpretations in the secondary literature, in which even the gender can vary” (22). Awareness of the disagreements can helpfully lead students to think of the annotations not as certain knowledge but as possible interpretations, which as such do not have absolute or sole authority. Or better, they might come to ask whether any one set of identifications is sufficient, since much of the action in Milton and the other prophecies is driven by the dissolution, multiplication, and reforming of unstable identities. Blake’s manifold vision might demand multiplicitous, simultaneous identifications.
28. In conclusion, for me the Blake of the prophecies is a poet of radical excess, and the most fruitful place to begin in teaching such works is with the thoroughgoing confusion that any reader experiences. Our default ways of reading are based on the kind of analytic demonstration that is precisely the mindset that Blake is trying to disrupt. Feeling lost beyond any possibility of being found again shakes us out of our rational reading habits. Confusion is thus not only lack of understanding—nor is it the beginning of understanding in the sense of the cliché—it is the beginning of a different path that is not the path of understanding at all and does not have what we usually conceive of as understanding as its goal. The type of non-understanding I am talking about is not a negative but a contrary, in Blake’s sense of those words. It is something positive. When I spend a long time at a stretch with any of Blake’s late prophecies, a funny thing happens not only with the plates but also with the scholarly apparatus, whose ostensible function is to orient us. In tracing much of Blake’s mythological world to numerous esoteric traditions, it eventually devolves itself into an unmanageable excess of annotations, glosses, and cross-references. There is always a point where I want to scream at Blake and his editors: “Stop! Stop, it’s already too much; I can’t take anymore.” This is all the more the case when the apparatus is particularly full and rich, as in the Princeton Illuminated Books editions. But if, going by the Blakean Proverbs of Hell that it is never “Enough” until it is “Too much” and “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom,” I persevere and keep coming back, I finally arrive at the point where I no longer experience being overwhelmed and unable to find my bearings as defeat (Erdman 38, 35). I finally say: yes, yes, more, more, keep it coming.
Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Illuminations. Ed. Hannah Arendt. Trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken, 1968. 217-251. Print.
Bersani, Leo. The Freudian Body: Psychoanalysis and Art. New York: Columbia UP, 1986. Print.
Blake, William. Milton a Poem and the Final Illuminated Works: The Ghost of Abel, On Homers Poetry [and] On Virgil, Laocoön. Ed. Robert N. Essick and Joseph Viscomi. Princeton: Princeton UP and The William Blake Trust, 1993. Vol. 5. The Illuminated Books of William Blake. Gen. ed. David Bindman. 6 vols. 1991-1995. Print.
Broglio, Ron. “Living Inside the Poem: MOOs and Blake’s Milton.” 17 paragraphs. Romantic Circles Praxis Series: Digital Designs on Blake. Ed. Ron Broglio. Series Editor Orrin N. C. Wang. Jan. 2005. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.
Clough, Patricia, ed. The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social. Durham: Duke UP, 2007. Print.
De Luca, Vincent Arthur. Words of Eternity: Blake and the Poetics of the Sublime. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1991. Print.
Deleuze, Gilles. Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza. Trans. Martin Joughin. New York: Zone Books, 1992. Print.
---. Spinoza: Practical Philosophy. Trans. Robert Hurley. San Francisco: City Lights Publishers, 2001. Print.
Eaves, Morris. “To Paradise the Hard Way.” The Cambridge Companion to William Blake. Ed. Morris Eaves. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003. 1-16. Print.
Erdman, David V., ed. The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake. New York: Random House, 1988. Print.
Faflak, Joel and Richard C. Sha. “Introduction: Feeling Romanticism.” Romanticism and the Emotions. Ed. Joel Faflak and Richard C. Sha. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2014. 1-18. Print.
---, eds. Romanticism and the Emotions. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2014. Print.
Fox, Susan. Poetic Form in Blake’s Milton. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1976. Print.
Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents. Ed. and Trans. James Strachey. New York: Norton, 1961. Print.
Hobson, Christopher Z. Blake and Homosexuality. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2000. Print.
Johnson, Mary Lynn. “Milton and Its Contexts.” The Cambridge Companion to William Blake. Ed. Morris Eaves. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003. 231-250. Print.
Love, Heather. Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2007. Print.
Massumi, Brian. “The Autonomy of Affect.” Cultural Critique 31 (1995): 83-109. Print.
Miller, Andrew H. “Implicative Criticism, or the Display of Thinking.” New Literary History 44.3 (2013): 323-344. Print.
Ngai, Sianne. Ugly Feelings. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2005. Print.
Robertson, Lisa Ann. “The Enactive Imagination: William Wordsworth’s Embodied Mind.” The 22 Annual Conference of The North American Society for the Study of Romanticism: “Romantic Organizations.” Bethesda, MD. 12 Jul. 2014. Conference Presentation.
Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky and Adam Frank. “Shame in the Cybernetic Fold: Reading Silvan Tomkins.” Shame and Its Sisters: A Silvan Tomkins Reader. Ed. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Adam Frank. Durham: Duke UP, 1995. 1-28. Print.
Spinoza, Baruch. Ethics. Ed. and Trans. Edwin Curley. London: Penguin, 1996. Print.
Swann, Karen. “Learning to Teach by Teaching Jerusalem.” The 21 Annual Conference of The North American Society for the Study of Romanticism: “Romantic Movements.” Boston, MA. 9 Aug. 2013. Conference Presentation.
---. “Teaching Jerusalem.” European Romantic Review 25.3 (2014): 397-402. Print.
Terada, Rei. Feeling in Theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2001. Print.
Tomkins, Silvan. Shame and Its Sisters: A Silvan Tomkins Reader. Ed. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Adam Frank. Durham: Duke UP, 1995. Print.
The William Blake Archive. Ed. Morris Eaves, Robert N. Essick, and Joseph Viscomi. 1996. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.
 I add that I have never taught a class devoted entirely to William Blake; rather, on the undergraduate level, I have included him in large-scale historical surveys (from the Romantics to the Moderns) and introductory classes on poetry, and on the graduate level in broader-based classes on Romanticism and thematically focused seminars in the period. BACK
 The year 1995, which saw the publication of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Adam Frank’s “Shame in the Cybernetic Fold” and Brian Massumi’s “The Autonomy of Affect” is often cited as a watershed moment in affect theory. Other commonly cited works include Rei Terada’s Feeling in Theory (2001); The Affective Turn, edited by Patricia Clough (2007); Sianne Ngai’s Ugly Feelings (2005); Heather Love’s Feeling Backward (2007); and Romanticism and the Emotions, edited by Joel Faflak and Richard C. Sha (2014). The type of teaching that I advocate in this essay is close to what Andrew H. Miller explores as “implicative criticism” in “Implicative Criticism, or the Display of Thinking.” In their “Introduction: Feeling Romanticism” (in Romanticism and the Emotions), Faflak and Sha state: “Once a toxic chemical, emotion now fuels the affective turn in humanities and social science research” (1). BACK
 Silvan Tomkins has come into literary studies through queer theory and more specifically under Sedgwick’s influence. The current visibility of Baruch Spinoza in literary studies owes a great deal to the influence of Gilles Deleuze. Deleuze’s two books on Spinoza are Spinoza: Practical Philosophy (2001) and Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza (1992). BACK
 Lisa Ann Robertson made this point in “The Enactive Imagination: William Wordsworth’s Embodied Mind.” BACK
 Karen Swann’s pedagogical essay on Jerusalem begins with a brilliant treatment of readerly affect—her own and that of her students. I attempt to get at some of the same issues in the thread of the present essay on affect. BACK
 Tomkins’s most poignant examples involve shame and fear. For his account of “how a total affect-shame bind can be produced,” see Shame and Its Sisters (163-165, 172-174). For his account of how a person can develop a strong theory of fear, see (165-168). BACK
 Reading Blake after Spinoza, I cannot help but think of Blake’s method in the treatises “All Religions Are One” and “There Is No Natural Religion” as akin to the “geometric style” that Spinoza adopts in the Ethics (1677): “I shall consider human actions and appetites just as if it were a question of lines, planes, and bodies” (69). BACK
 In line with this eschewing of moral prescription, Spinoza radically redefines “good” and “evil” (in the scholium to proposition 39 of part 3 [IIIP39S]): “By good here I understand every kind of joy, and whatever leads to it, and especially what satisfies any kind of longing, whatever that may be. And by evil [I understand here] every kind of sadness, and especially what frustrates longing. For we have shown above (in P9S) that we desire nothing because we judge it to be good, but on the contrary, we call it good because we desire it. Consequently, what we are averse to we call evil” (91). In his introduction to the Penguin edition of the Ethics, Stuart Hampshire notes that the brackets contain either variant texts or possibly the translator’s errors or license (xix). BACK
 In her essay on which her Jerusalem workshop was based, Swann speaks to the desirability of providing students with the means to keep from feeling totally at sea. BACK
 Morris Eaves makes this point in “To Paradise the Hard Way” in his introduction to The Cambridge Companion to William Blake (2003). BACK
 Unless otherwise noted, all parenthetical page citations for Blake quotations refer to David Erdman’s edition of The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake (1988). When I refer to or quote from an illuminated plate in a work that is available on the Blake Archive website, I also specify the copy I use and provide object numbers (which correspond to plate numbers in printed versions). Where appropriate, I supply line numbers as well. BACK
 On this point Eaves quotes W. M. Rossetti, who “wrote in reaction to a nineteenth-century facsimile of Jerusalem (1877), ‘the publication in ordinary book-form, without designs . . . of the Jerusalem and the other Prophetic Books, is highly to be desired. Difficult under any circumstances, it would be a good deal less difficult to read these works in an edition of that kind, with clear print, reasonable division of lines, and the like aids to business-like perusal’” (Eaves 7). It’s hard not to imagine Blake turning over in his grave at the word “business-like,” and for this reason it is important to stress that such a reading is only an early step along a path that makes a very different kind of reading possible. BACK
 For examples, Eaves uses the metaphors of exploration and extreme sports for reading Blake (14-15). In a similar spirit, Mary Lynn Johnson declares: “The best way into the time-twisting, identity-scrambling otherworld of Blake’s Milton: A Poem (c. 1804-18) is to set aside guidebooks, including this one, take a deep breath, and follow the hero as he breaks through the surface of the title page—alone, without a ‘companion’ . . . to brave the swirling abyss of the unknown” (231). She goes on to liken the process as “a wilderness-survival test” (231). The example of Blake scholarship that to my knowledge goes farthest in this direction is Ron Broglio’s “Living Inside the Poem: MOOs and Blake’s Milton.” BACK
 The final lines of the poem go on to “threefold” and “fourfold vision,” which contrast with “Single vision & Newton’s sleep” (Erdman 722; l. 88), but since they introduce “Beulah,” and with it Blake’s mythological geography, at this point they are liable to be as confusing as they are to be helpful. BACK
 Seeing the side-by-side plates on the Blake Archive is not exactly the same thing, but it can be a step toward that impossible total feat. BACK
 For example, Swann suggested having students write their own Proverbs of Hell and/or create their own mythological character. Drawing on the popularity of video games, Peter Otto said that asking students to think of reading Jerusalem as moving through a virtual space could connect Blake to the world of popular culture they know well. For Milton as itself a virtual space, see Broglio, who offers the Milton MOO as an example of how new media can be performative in the context of literary studies. After detailing the “rich literary elements” that make Blake’s poetry an apt test case for pushing the immersive possibilities of MOOs, he adds: “Blake had already thought through the problem of creating immersive environments. His characters are continually creating windows and doors into new worlds or falling through space and time in such a way that the fall creates both space and time. Through their immersive interaction with one another and their surroundings, Blake’s characters forge the world upon which the narrative is staged. In like manner, Blake wants the reader to immerse him/herself in the poem such that ‘doors of perception’ open for the reader, creating new worlds and new possibilities” (par. 7). BACK
 See also a similar passage that appears approximately twenty lines earlier:
There is in Eden a sweet River, of mild & liquid pearl,
Namd Ololon; on whose mild banks dwelt those who Milton drove
Down into Ulro: and they wept in long resounding song (Erdman 115; object 19, ll. 15-17)
 See, for example, Susan Fox’s Poetic Form in Blake’s Milton (1976) and Christopher Z. Hobson’s Blake and Homosexuality (2000). BACK
 David Rettenmaier, Site Manager, Romantic Circles, personal communication (17 Mar. 2015). BACK
 For drawing on students' facilities with immersive digital environments, I again acknowledge Otto’s suggestion during Swann’s 2013 workshop on Jerusalem. See note 18 above. I came upon Broglio’s essay more than a year after attending the workshop. BACK
 The illustration description on the Blake Archive reads: “His right foot and its tarsus are prominent as it breaks the word “Self- -hood” in the brief text below” [“To Annihilate the Selfhood of Deceit and False Forgiveness”]. The annotation in the Princeton edition makes a similar point: “With his right foot Milton quite literally breaks the ‘Self- -hood’ in the text while clutching the projected embodiment of that selfhood (compare Milton dividing his name on the title page)” (24). BACK
 The full sentence in the annotation reads: “His [Milton’s] right hand and arm also cut his name in two, an action suggesting that the route to apocalypse (and perhaps, to us, of an understanding of the book) is blocked by a ‘selfhood’ that must be self-annihilated (compare Milton’s foot breaking his ‘Self- -hood’ on plate 15)” (20). This plate corresponds to object 17 on the Blake Archive. BACK
 In addition to object 17, they include the title page (copy B, object 1, which shows a rear view of Milton leaving eternity), object 9 (where two arguably male bodies stand to the left of a male figure in flames), and illustrations where a man “enters” another man: object 31 (where Milton in the form of a star enters the foot of William Blake), object 36 (the mirror image of 31), where Robert Blake takes the place of William, and object 46 (where Los enters the speaker). BACK
 However, the light box is the one feature on the Blake Archive with which I have had the most trouble. The problem seems to be with security settings, which I cannot change on my university’s computer network. My hope is that a technological solution will be found for this issue in the not-too-distant future. BACK