Blakean Textuality as Pedagogical Method
While many Blake scholars across several generations have drawn attention to the varied processes at play in the illuminated books, prophecy—the particular aspects of those unique textual objects designed to provide “instruction” by operating on readers—has never been fully brought into a unified framework. This essay seeks to do so. Gathering aspects of scholarship focused on textuality, readings grounded in reception dynamics, and psychoanalytic critical theories, the essay examines the Blakean work as pedagogical instrumentation, pursuing these concerns through The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790) and Milton (comp. ca. 1804-1811)—two enriched textual environments for tracing and unveiling such operations.
Blakean Textuality as Pedagogical Method
Arizona State University
Mirrored Method/Reflective Modes
1. This essay contemplates Blakean textual practices as a method to induce intellectual activities often associated with pedagogy, beginning with the ontological moment when the printing technique (acid corrosion of copper to create the script and lines of illuminated printing) first appears as a leitmotif in the canon and concluding with the teleological moment when mirrored printing disappears from textual presence, closing Blake’s deployment/employment of the techniques associated with mise en abyme. Two visual moments frame my meditation on textual method as pedagogical technique and are well-known scenes of instruction in the illuminated books—although situated at different yet related incipient points of culminating textual tactics deployed for transformational strategies (one early and one late). The analysis opens with a consideration of the curiously complex half-plate design at the bottom of the tenth plate of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790), where William Blake offers a visual “key” for unlocking the verbal “code” (i.e., how to read) a textual operation (whether verbal or visual) critically categorized as one form of mise en abyme (“mirror in the text”), a presence that tends to work towards meta-textual ends.  The “end,” in this case, is the inculcation of certain hermeneutic practices with the capacity to develop and sustain what Alain Badiou terms “infinite thought” as a sought outcome of all pedagogical activities. 
2. The analysis takes thereafter something of a quantum leap to the last of the illuminated works, Jerusalem (comp. ca. 1804-1820), to examine the fluid flow of mirrored language on Plate 81 (line 15), which is the last occurrence of mirrored writing in the canonical illuminated prophecies:
In Heaven the only Art of Living
Is Forgetting & Forgiving
Especially to the Female
But if you on Earth Forgive
You shall not find where to Live[.] (Erdman 238) 
3. These textual spots of imaginary time at the opening and closing of the illuminated canon themselves depend on meta-textual operations to achieve different textual effects and ends, and the discrete scenes, while performing local functions for individual works, nonetheless manifest symbolic mirroring properties that connect them across the temporal/textual semiotic sea of the illuminated works. The use of mise en abyme as intra/intertextual vehicle in an experimental printing method embodies a rather sophisticated vision of textual operations (given its inherent function as “a kind of reflexion” [Dällenbach 8]) and shadows the physical manifestation of the long-recognized psychoanalytic structuration encoded into the illuminated works. When tracking the vehicle that moves the inert work into activity, the unveiled textual trajectory traces the development of a fledgling meta-textual technique (the pronouncement in a 1790s fiery coda of a new type of printing—with its corrosive mirrored method) to the last illuminated appearance of a piece of mirrored writing in the horizon of textual operations (concluding the practice of occasionally leaving lines reversed in certain areas of Milton and Jerusalem).
4. Blake’s use of the full spectrum of functions associated with the mise en abyme element of production from The Marriage to Jerusalem (a passage from mirrors in the text to texts operating as mirrors) brings to fruition across this span the promise of the former in the operations of the latter, with this movement creating a vehicle of complexity, fluidity, illumination, instability, lucidity, opaqueness, and speculation—an instrument of instruction incorporating the means to unveil and then shatter the mirror from which its symbolic characters and its textual body arose. In essence, the illuminated works in any number of ways force readers to encounter and experience “what psychoanalysis calls the mirror stage” (Culler and Abrams 150), the incipient point of entry into a conceptual structure of the subject articulated by Jacques Lacan, resulting in “an identification” by which the adoption “of the imago . . . establishes a relation between the organism and its reality” through an experience transacted within “the intraorganic mirror” (Écrits 2, 4). The adoption of the imago stabilizes the subject, rendering the psyche “dependent on the perception of the self as other” yet coming at the cost of “the complex specular play of identification and alienation” (Culler and Abrams 150-151). Of course, this process in Blake’s sublime allegory gives rise to the “Spectre,” which must be “cast . . . into the Lake” of mind (Erdman 184)—the reflective pool from which it emerges—to allow an awakening into humanity. This antidote to the malady of alienation and fragmentation, the overt symptoms of reflexive processes of subject formation, is the lesson taught through perhaps the best known instance of mirrored writing, which occurs in Jerusalem  (Blake, Vol. 1, Plate 41).  As the imp on the scroll ex/presses, and as Diane Piccitto has recently argued, “This mirrored writing is in itself an alienation from a process that should be familiar, reading, and forces the audience to grapple with the work” in unusually energetic ways (Piccitto 78). This forced grappling, I argue, operates as a meta-textual pedagogical zone, with the reversed writing forcing a mirror-stage encounter wherein one either seeks or becomes a mirror. Through mirrored writing, then, Blake’s textual design pragmatically prompts particular acts of reception to open the doors of perception (think of the gates of Golgonooza initiating passage into virtually infinite paths and worlds), which would be a necessary boundary condition (particularized acts of reception) for an aspiring transactional and transformational textual condition.
5. The same textual condition (a fusion of the psychological and textual within the meta-textual zone of the pedagogical in the service of cultivating salvific forms of self-annihilation capable of ending the psychic domination of one’s spectre and deconstructing the tendency from which it emerges, the collective state of consciousness known as selfhood) is a quite skillful vehicle in light of its ability “to draw the antidote of self-consciousness from consciousness itself” (Hartman 48). The annihilation of the spectre, which counters ceaseless circulation in the speculum of secondary narcissism and which is predicated upon enthrallment via identification with an imaginary self (an imago), since the emergent stability of subjectivity created during “the mirror stage also installs a rival other” (Nobus 113), thereby establishes alienation as one cornerstone of consciousness and requires acts of “anti-self-consciousness” (Hartman 46) to overcome its deleterious effects. This periodic practice of self-annihilation generates “an ethics of alterity . . . focused less on the individual as the locus of ethical scrutiny . . . than on relationships” (Moskal 5).
6. Blake’s development of different uses of mise en abyme coincides with the punctuated appearance of an ethos of otherness that slowly replaces the earlier emphasis on an ethos of energy, and the vehicle and its outcome are intimately bound together. This complicated commitment intermittently surges into presence with ever-greater insistence after the Lambeth works and as the last epics struggle to realize systemic synthesis. And so, the mirrored textuality migrates from evocation in a text so designed (i.e., by the “new” mirrored writing as mode of production) to its final unveiling within textual operations and technologies (i.e., by literal inclusion of reversed lines to unveil [and thereby unleash] meta-textual effects experienced as psychological affects)—with the revolutionary furor of the former underwriting the evolutionary flavor of the latter. As Dällenbach suggests following his masterful typological analysis of the varied modes of mise en abyme: “ . . . the constitution of the mise en abyme as an ‘organ’ of the text is synonymous with its function” (55). Under Blake’s direction, the sought function created a text that gazes back, that challenges in its very graphic composition, that frustrates and stymies in its willed opacity, and that is operative on numerous semiotic plateaus—whether an interlinear design flourish or a full-plate illustration. And what is taught—to act, to commit, and to engage—is transferable to any activity and capable of replication in any new textual form of representation. Blake’s textual approach craftily captures “the functions of production, reception and their interactions” while providing the “structure, function, [and] communication” needed to shape a “phenomenological reader” (Holub 108, 109, 85).
Phenomenological Readers and the Burden of Reception
7. Intermingling reception dynamics and psychoanalytic theory within textual operations provides an extremely powerful yet subtle hermeneutic path (a skillful means) to a pedagogical end (awakened awareness of one’s own similar entanglements), and in the view of some psychoanalytic critics, their coupling is a natural partnership, since “reader-response criticism is, in the world of literary criticism, the most practical embodiment of the basic psychoanalytic insight that all knowledge is personal knowledge” (Holland 58). However, from the reception side of the event-horizon, contact in the free-flowing zone cannot be reduced to “an arbitrary series of merely subjective impressions, but rather the carrying out of specific instructions in a process of directed perception” (Jauss 23). Blake’s particular fusion of these strains—the illuminated book as pedagogical tool and anagogical instrument—requires a deeply enriched semiotic field that functions as preliminary scene of instruction (for both Blake the author and Blake the industry), and the shifting application of watercolors and re-inscription of individual plates across time exhibit a willingness to alter and transform the vehicle of illumination and to adapt and perfect its textual operations for particular effects and ends. The inaugural moment is evocation of method in The Marriage, and the work positions readers “on the abyss of the five senses” to contemplate “a mighty Devil [who] . . . on the sides of the rock, with corroding fires” (Erdman 35)—the post-inscriptive chemical process at the base of the method—etches a proverb that encourages identification as affective reception dynamic, the particular process at the foundation of the Lacanian structure of subjectivity (i.e., the mirror-stage). However, the mirrored operations situated in the very constitution of the physical body of The Marriage is verbalized on the sixth plate but initially felt visually when “looking awry” at its title plate design (with its anamorphic features) (Žižek 15-19; Lacan, Four Fundamental Concepts 79-90). Both establish on two entangled planes the theme of the transformational text and its corrosive origins and institute its textual operations as sequential mirror-stage encounters serving as “structuring situation[s]” (Green 166), with the final flowering of these early semiotic seeds emerging within the vibrant pages of Milton and Jerusalem, works which confront readers with “[infinite] zone[s] of indeterminacy” yet “provide tools of . . . ideological analysis” (Rothenberg 89, 134).
8. The extraordinary design at the foot of the tenth plate of The Marriage (Blake, Vol. 3, Plate 10), which appears immediately following passage through the “Proverbs of Hell,” ostensibly illustrates the event described in the work’s first “Memorable Fancy,” where the I-persona, while collecting proverbs from hell, sees a “mighty Devil” writing on the face of a cliff “with corroding fires” the primary proverb in the work: “How do you know but ev’ry Bird that cuts the airy way, / Is an immense world of delight, clos’d by your senses five” (Erdman 35). The design immediately follows the conclusion of the “Proverbs of Hell,” and in their facsimile edition, Morris Eaves, Robert Essick, and Joseph Viscomi offer this description of the activities unfolding at this crucial scene of instruction:
9. The context for the illustration is its capture of a narrative moment of transmission (of teaching) in the first memorable fancy for the work, which follows a frontal parodic and satiric assault on the construction of knowledge and (in the case of memorable fancies) even those past influences who impacted Blake’s thinking (i.e., Emanuel Swedenborg).  The opening seven plates preceding this textual tutorial representation cultivate unlearning as the necessary preparatory process for the awakening of wisdom, with the visionary founder of the Church of the New Jerusalem (Swedenborg) reduced to “sitting at the tomb” with “All Bibles or sacred codes” found rife with “Errors” and become catalysts of strife, and with the pietistic poet John Milton seen in league with the devils’ party (Erdman 34). The master technique of inversion becomes the tool to dismantle pre-conceived notions, scraping the encrustations of constraint from the core of the self to unleash unrestrained creativity, which certainly describes the “Proverbs of Hell” and which provides transitional functions for the passage from unlearning and the release of stifled creativity that occurs in its wake. Additionally, the opening movement of the work from the title plate to the “Proverbs” functions as a structural form of the mise en abyme trope (reflecting subsequent textual organization).
10. Verbal and visual analytics give way to creative impulses and imaginative production, and the section of The Marriage from Plate 11 through Plate 24 manifests this same structural organization (i.e., the interplay of philosophical declamation and memorable fancy) four times—perhaps embracing those proverbs with fourfold structuration as the schema by which to reassemble what had been dismantled or unlearned:
The pride of the peacock is the glory of God.
The lust of the goat is the bounty of God.
The wrath of the lion is the wisdom of God.
The nakedness of woman is the work of God.
The roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the raging of the stormy sea, and the destructive sword. are portions of eternity too great for the eye of man.
Think in the morning, Act in the noon, Eat in the evening, Sleep in the Night.
The head Sublime, the heart Pathos, the genitals Beauty, the hands & feet Proportion. (Erdman 36-37)
11. Turning directly to the actual configuration or organization of figuration of the half-page design (Blake, Vol. 3, Plate 10), the center of the visual field is occupied by the devil with a scroll draped across his lap, although I believe the figures in this group actually lack sufficient specificity to make clear-cut assignations of gender and should remain undetermined (which widens the pedagogical impact of the design).  The devil leans to his right/our left and, with pointed finger and extended body, dictates to the I-persona, capable of identification as such through his capacity as recorder and textual editor who “collected some of their Proverbs” and observed the corrosive compositional activities of the “mighty Devil” (Erdman 35). Under these hermeneutic conditions, the figure on the right side of the design can only be an (ideal/idealized) reader, and this reading is reinforced by following the direction of this figure’s gaze. S/he resides on the heavenly side of the plate and looks horizontally through the devil’s wings towards the hellish side of the plate, with the spatial distribution replicating the geographic orientation established on the title plate—although this visual association, not surprisingly (given the theme of the work) periodically vacillates to create shifting emphases for variable ends. The figure does not read the scroll (as Eaves, Essick, and Viscomi suggest) but seeks identification with the I-persona as momentary imago that can function as the vehicle of transportation, with the narrative (verbal) operations of the work here unveiled within the dimension of (visual) design as technique for transformation. The design images a phenomenological act of participatory reading that when combined with the literally mirrored body of the text establishes a textual gaze that seeks to convert its intensity “into an energy finer than intellect” (Hartman 48) to cultivate in its receptive wake the awakening of a phenomenological reader. 
12. Generally, in The Marriage the bridge across the abyss (an aspect of the literal translation of mise en abyme) between reader and text is mediated through the I-persona, who only appears in memorable fancies (dining with prophets and wrestling with angels), who vacillates between active and passive modes of apprehension (engagement versus observation), and who, through reception dynamics, takes up temporary residence in consciousness as an imaginative agent conceived to work (refinement of organs of perception within the meta-textual zone of pedagogical engagement). This narrative method unfolds in interiority and is unveiled via the reading experience—crafting a revolutionary mode of printing indeed through the process—but in a sense different than its literal tracks left in the verbal field. The method translates interior psychic experience into dialectically disposed modes of symbolic communication (the verbal and visual) and transfers that experience into a material body (the copper plate), courting in its construction and operations countertransference during the act of reading.
13. The problem, however, arrayed in advance of such a method, which seeks to utilize instructional instrumentation grounded in the text for transformational outcomes located in the reader, remains the seemingly logical (but actually mistaken) assumption made by Wolfgang Iser that “a text cannot adapt itself to each reader it comes into contact with” (109). However, the temporary yet atemporal identification through a first-person narrator is a functional neurocognitive element of perception and reception, which would vary by degree but remain present in all acts of reading. Blake’s use of the I-persona in this early work creates an activated textual field designed to exploit the neurocognitive dimensions of narratological engagement. Given the reflective dynamics of textual operation manifest in its dialogical tendencies (angels and devils, prolific and devourer) and deployed across numerous dialectical dimensions (verbal and visual, poetic and prosaic), the work has maximized its opportunities for conversionary ends, which then gains the final impetus to liberate readers by unveiling visually what it exploits verbally. Analyzing the images brings one to an act of “anti-self-consciousness” experienced as the recognition of the presence of the imago as vehicle of transport. The re/cognition of this realization reveals one’s position in an extremely potent pedagogical zone of engagement registered within the meta-textual, as Georges Poulet noted long ago:
Reflective Mechanics in Mirrored Textuality
14. In the view of some psychoanalytic critics, this fusion of reception dynamics and psychoanalytic techniques in textual operations brings natural into mutual illumination, since—as noted earlier—“reader-response criticism is, in the world of literary criticism, the most practical embodiment of the basic psychoanalytic insight that all knowledge is personal knowledge” (Holland 58). The mirrored text provides structure; turbulent dynamics function to intermingle the energies brought into play by writer and reader in creative interchange at the event-horizon of the textual event, and the screen of textuality, at the very level of form, pursues transformative reception dynamics in an attempt to create a communitarian model capable of addressing all readers without tyrannizing any of them. Thus, complementary textual alliances (between word and design, form and function, reception and inception, projection and introjection, etc.) shape the final state of Blake’s illuminated printing method, and this allegiance creates an opportunity to intervene on both sides of the event (in Badiou’s sense of the term) by constructing a screen upon which projections from either pole of textuality are cast and on which those projections counter-impose and interact.  The resultant intermingling at the incipient point of contact depends upon “the ontological inseparability or entanglement of the object and the agencies of observation” that occur on the event-horizon termed “reading,” at least in its diabolic or internal sense (Barad 309).
15. The textual crescendo of these imaginative impulses occurs in Jerusalem (Blake, Vol. 1, Plate 41): a critical judgment made relative to its didactically yet pithily expressed antidote, casting the spectre into the lake of mind from which the imago emerged, for the dis/ease of the selfhood (which becomes the first step along an imaginary path of countertransference capable of ending the delusive dominion of the spectre). However, the denouement of the mirrored method occurs much later (Blake, Vol. 1, Plate 81): the immediate context for the illustration on this plate is Gwendolen’s elaboration (to her fellow eleven daughters of Albion) of a discourse on demented love expressive of a desire for dominion (“For Men are caught by Love: Woman is caught by Pride / That Love may only be obtained in the passages of Death”) (Erdman 238). As Minna Doskow suggests, Gwendolen “uses false affection to dominate man” and notes the degree to which this discourse connects to similar ideological assertions of authority by Vala and Enitharmon (145). However, the image is demonstrative of a peculiar Blakean tendency of registering irony within the visual field—with Gwendolen’s “affective error . . . appear[ing] in mirror writing [within] the looking-glass” of the mirrored text at the culmination of its pedagogical mission (Doskow 145, 146).
16. Even as she urges her sisters to greater mechanism of control, pointing to the mirrored writing as support for her promulgation of “self interest & selfish natural virtue” (Erdman 237), she has nonetheless consciously evoked and embraced the principle capable of creating transformations in the realm of the real (i.e., forgiveness). Her hope to use it as a mechanism of control finally fails, since the seeds of selfless forms of love are actually planted in the fertile ground of imagination by and through the unconscious and blossom across the last plates of the work. Dramatic irony is defined as the audience (outscape) knowing what the participants in the drama (inscape) know not, and only the reader can break through the vegetative glass that captures the gaze in its own to uncover, via textual techniques “using and combining textual strategies like a consummate deconstructionist,” a window onto eternity beyond its panes (Hilton 100).
17. The argument for the illuminated book as pedagogical tool designed to act upon its readers and therein stimulate passivity into activity as the necessary receptive reaction to the mirrored dynamics embedded at its foundation rests upon the knowledge that “no writer has ever controlled so much of the process himself, nor has any writer been so self-conscious about the process of making books” (Jones 25). Such imaginative and productive textual practices, which provide access to plateaus of the dialogic, require more research, since “the role of dialogue, in Blake’s poetic universe and in his relationship with the reader, warrants special attention” (Esterhammer 82). For example, my analysis has only touched upon the broader play of mise en abyme across illustrative and narrative planes of the Blakean textual universe in all its manifestations—such as the mirroring of several plates of Milton, where the inversely mirrored postures of the full-plate designs are echoed in advance in a small interlinear flourish (Blake, Vol. 5, Plate 14). And this design, when read left to right, displays features equally present two plates earlier (Blake, Vol. 5, Plate 12). This overt play in the abyss through the agency of textual mirrors will require additional labor to position criticism in the places where textuality and pedagogy converge—with the jouissance attainable within the fields of force flowing from this event-horizon in which readers participate in its affective stylistics.
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Badiou, Alain. Infinite Thought: Truth and the Return to Philosophy. Trans. and ed. Oliver Feltham and Justin Clemens. London: Continuum, 2003. Print.
Barad, Karan. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham: Duke UP, 2007. Print.
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---. Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion. Ed. Morton D. Paley. Princeton: Princeton UP and The William Blake Trust, 1991. Vol. 1. The Illuminated Books of William Blake. Gen. ed. David Bindman. 6 vols. 1991-1995. Print.
---. 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.
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 The most influential elaboration of the aesthetic, dramatic, and narratological dimensions of this textual component occurred with the publication of Lucien Dällenbach’s Le récit spéculaire: Essai sur la mise en abyme (1977), later published as The Mirror in the Text (1989), which had “a double outcome: it confirmed our working hypothesis, namely that the mise en abyme is a structured reality, despite the apparent variety and randomness of its actual manifestation; and it gave us an adequately rigorous method to enable us to trace its diachronic evolution” (Dällenbach 165). BACK
 Such a pedagogy should cultivate skills transferable as needed to all events and situations, since “the language of the situation is the medium of knowledge” (Badiou 133). BACK
 All parenthetical page citations for William Blake quotes refer to David Erdman’s edition of The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake (1988). BACK
 As a transcription of the mirrored writing suggests, the move towards self-annihilation corrects both individual enchantment of secondary narcissism—the self-victimization that comes with subjectivity constructed via the imaginary from the outside inside—that identifies with another “self” (but one anchored in the real and not reducible to self-as-other): “Each man is in / His Spectre’s power / Untill the arrival / Of that Hour, / When his Humanity / awake / And cast his Spectre / Into the Lake” (Erdman 184). BACK
 Unless otherwise noted, in this essay references to Blake’s plates (by volume and plate number) refer to The William Blake Trust/Princeton University Press’s The Illuminated Books of William Blake, gen. ed. David Bindman (6 vols., 1991-1995). BACK
 Thus, one semiotic strain to be confronted (through active reception) must be the work’s intertextual engagements, and an inert and unenterprising reader will have crafted her or his own impoverished experience of reception. BACK
 This argumentative line is informed by Magnus Ankarsjö: “Thus, it is my contention that Blake can be no misogynist, since he embraces a humanitarian utopian position which eliminates or, rather, transcends, all corrupt sexuality in a future utopia, male as well as female” (37). BACK
 For a related account of the phenomenology of reading, see Maurice Mearleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception (226). BACK