Affective Textualities: Restructuring Subjectivity in Blake’s Marriage

William Blake’s perpetually protean Marriage of Heaven and Hell has proven somewhat elusive for those seeking to articulate “what” the work means. Given its unusual form/s (organized along both verbal and visual axes), its visionary commitments (evoked through its apocalyptic imagery), and its intertextual engagements (from Aristotle and Jesus through Milton to Swedenborg [Blake’s primary focus]), one cannot arrive at a singular textual meaning. However, when one asks a different question—“How does the text make its meaning?”—the dynamic aims of the work do emerge. The fusion of these and other elements creates an art object with an overt gaze woven through affective textualities, and this dynamic and interactive presence strives to transform the very subjectivities of those readers who enter its entangled zones of semiotic operations. Thus, affect forms the boundary conception of such a textual condition, and its apprehension transforms them into subjective effects.

Affective Textualities: Restructuring Subjectivity in Blake’s Marriage

The utterance of this kind of larger I makes an individual participate in a specific form of subjectivity. Literary texts transmit rhythms, i.e. dynamic subjective forms. (Pascal Michon, “A Short History of Rhythm Theory”)

By directly modifying the intrinsic neurodynamics of the SELF, emotional circuits establish the condition by which the essential neural conditions for affective consciousness are created. (Jaak Panksepp, Affective Neuroscience)

I. Textual Transmission and Historical Reception

1.        William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1793) has long held a special place in Blake Studies, following from those “under late Victorian sponsorship” who undertook the textual recovery and secured, via critical extension, both Blake’s work and the place occupied by The Marriage (Eaves et al. 116). [1]  Dante Gabriel and William Michael Rossetti figure prominently in the recovery, and Algernon Charles Swinburne, who published the first book-length interpretation of Blake’s prophetic works, dedicated his critical essay to the latter. Swinburne, a friend of the family, was intimately familiar with the first Blake biography by Alexander Gilchrist and had direct access to the illuminated works. Swinburne pronounced The Marriage “the greatest of all his books” and the work that best brought into view “the high water mark of his intellect” (204). By the end of the century, Edwin Ellis and William Butler Yeats published their famous “three-volume annotated edition, with lithographic reproductions of a fair number of illustrations,” which, in Edward Larrissy’s view, offered “The greatest tribute paid to Blake at the end of the nineteenth century” (69). The volume provided the Blake transmitted to modernity and taken up by some of its strongest advocates and exemplars (e.g., Yeats, as well as James Joyce and André Gide).

2.        The visionary painter, poet, and printer who emerged across the twentieth century (a complicated cultural process of approbation and appropriation thoroughly traced in the edited volumes Blake, Modernity, and Popular Culture [2007] and Blake 2.0 [2012]) seems to have become insinuated in almost every arena of modernity and postmodernity alike. [2]  Blake’s “brilliantly experimental work” (Wittreich 198) was, from the beginning, perceived to capture an unusually acute and intense convergence of aesthetical, authorial, cultural, historical, material, philosophical, political, psychological, and theological concerns and strategies. [3]  The Marriage powerfully delivers—through a fusion of the verbal and visual fields (the illuminated book)—“a strange work, a kind of philosophical manifesto” (Nurmi 59) that immediately became the measure of Blake’s genius—and often even of genius itself—as it plunged readers “into a vigorous Beethovenish coda [which was] big with portents of the movement[s] to follow [in perpetuity]” (Frye, “Thief” 35).

3.         The reception accorded the transmission, which periodically assumes material bodies that are quantifiable, can be seen in recent research by Roger Whitson and Jason Whittaker, who mapped the flow of Blake citations (versus those of the other “big five” poets) in the narrowed discursive arena of Twitter citations. Within this eddy of the digital environment, Blake quotations far outstrip the other authors (17,970 quotations in a 27-week span). Of these citations, The Marriage provides the majority, with the collision of the heavenly and hellish accounting for almost 40% of those evocations (4,523 citations). Of course, given the constant unfolding into potential fields of representational force, the amount of “Blakespotting” one could now undertake is almost infinite, even though it has only been less than a decade since the publication of Mike Goode’s splendid and influential PMLA essay. The evidence seems to confirm that Blake, furthered when harnessed to those mechanical horses of instruction—the computational engines of digital knowledge and the machinic mills within the worldwide web—seemingly captures the spirit of every age, but one measured by the rhythms of the body in relation to the pulsation of social process, providing an individuated experience of the event of being for eternity and cultivating via transference an incident of incipient identity. Steven Goldsmith speaks best in current criticism to this undercurrent, the strange pulse writhing beneath the surface of the work in the depths of its textuality, a substratum “mimicking in sound and meaning the cardiac rhythms that expands and contracts an artery” and predicated on “activity and passivity [being] a shared rhythm” (228, 245).

4.        During this project, I have periodically returned to contemplate Frye’s analogy to the animating energies of Beethoven, since the phrase provided early recognition of the affective functions embedded in work and since the material underlying the analogy—a revolutionary rhythmic presence that moves successive generations—can be measured by new methods to assess how this poetic presence was caught as “a condition of daily labor for Blake” (Goldsmith 38). Consider, quickly, one level of textual operation analyzed below at greater detail, the function of the I-persona and its reinforcement in the entangled fields of the verbal and visual. The first-person persona speaks only in memorable fancies, with the first leading into the proverbs of hell. After the proverbs, on plate ten, the design decodes the narrative process just conveyed to and negotiated by a reader: the devil dictates, the I-persona captures those dictates, and a reader accesses the operation of the work by passing through the devilish wings. In this way, one plane of rhythmic manifestation must be the sequential assessment of what we do when entering though this narrative function to participate in the work of the text, which is a material operation of rhythm, since the “I” vacillates between active and passive modes and reaches a peak on plate twenty-four with the formation of prophetic character. The periodicity of this presence is a material textuality function, providing only one way that Blake brings this rhythmic presence into experience, since the verbal evocation of recording that leads into the proverbs concludes with visual analysis of the textual operation itself.

5.        The techniques that embody this ethereal presence pulsate beneath the composite text, like blood in arteries, and methodologies associated with current affect theory and rhythmic studies provide strategies for recovering this rhythmic aspect, which seemingly occurs on every plateau of possibility within the work as the spirit beneath Blake’s embrace of the bounding line. The evidence suggests that the perennial popularity of The Marriage is grounded in this elusive yet material presence, since the work encodes a “certain rhythm or order” (Shelley 512) that transfers its pulsations through an assemblage of affective devices (e.g., the narrative functions of the I), whose analytic plateaus provide vectors (or in current parlance de/territorializing and re/territorializing lines of flight) capable of moving the mind into motion (as Kant proposed in the third critique). The text conveys the rhythm of Blake’s thought in a work packed with projections from both the current time and the long traditions that inform it. Literally, the rhythm of the work captures the spirit of its own age (something only perceived across its literal and symbolic reconstruction from obscurity), but, more importantly, The Marriage continues to catch like a corresponding breeze the rhythms of almost every age, including our own (e.g., through Patti Smith). The work evinces something perennial and important arising from the harnessed energies undergirding the dialogic superstructure of the work, which forms the “aspect of poetic form” (i.e., products of poetic genius in poetry and prose) “that escape the conventions of meaning” (Aviram 83). Rhythm defines the technique, provides the theme, and delineates its textuality in ways with profound implications for those who read this work.

6.        Perhaps another specific example can help gesture at the play of pulsations, providing a local example of rhythmic emergence in a more traditional place, the shortest proverb which occupies the measured center of The Proverbs of Hell: “One thought, fills immensity.” A dimension of rhythm resides in its elusive metrics (made more complicated by the insertion of the comma), since no matter where one places emphasis, the prior monosyllabic terms (either dactyl or anapest) are swept away by the closing polysyllabic double-accented solitary term. The metrics of the poetic line model the sentiments expressed by the proverb, yet the second pulse of this rhythm occurs with the passage of the eye from the term “immensity” to the micro-visualization that follows to complete the line, where a ship, wind filling its sails, sweeps towards the horizon at the edge of the page. Like the metric of the poetic line, the visual tableau also enacts or embodies what the proverb proposes through the image.

7.        The Marriage propagates this rhythm within a work seemingly packed with meaning and through analytic and visionary “utterance designed in such a way as to draw attention simultaneously to its dimensions of pure sound and to that of meaning, creating a sustained tension between the two forces; and which achieves that effect of tension by means of structuring its language according to rhythm” (Aviram 37). The scopic-driven operations of the text create yet another layer of potential for affective interactions, which proceeding along lines defined by textual tracks open to participation, with the resulting spectrum of the self (an individual pattern of interference and reception, a discrete perception of the work) varying according to the hidden variables brought to bear by its readers and spectators in these phenomenological acts of perception and reception. Thus, the inscriptive process (image and word inscribed inversely on copper plates) embodies this rhythm, the order (sequence of plates) and organizational decisions (plate subsets) contain this rhythm, the pace of narrative (vacillation across varied forms) enfolds this rhythm, and the reader embodies, through suspension in narrative techniques, a transmission of energies that moves from alterity to interiority.

II. Personal Polarities of Reception

8.         Blake’s perennially protean proem exerted an immediate impact on my views, especially in light of its emanation from my cultural and social environment, with first contact coming through snippets from other authors and writers (e.g., Huxley or Ginsberg), musical devotees (e.g., The Doors or Emerson, Lake, and Palmer), and even book covers for classes (e.g., World Religions or A History of Prophecy in Israel). The Marriage also arrived at a moment of personal crisis where the confluence of external and internal forces necessitated radical changes in my life, and, following this engagement, a quantum shift in my thinking took hold in relation to the repetitive daily pursuits of studying the classically oriented curriculum at the University of St. Thomas and performing the nightly work in the county trauma center in Houston. Blake’s Marriage literally served “as equipment for living” (Burke 645) through the dark and often tragic occurrences that arrived to the late-night emergency room (between 11:00 PM and 7:00 AM), which was cast into relief by juxtaposition with the tranquil beauty of the campus and its deliberate pace through knowledge—a passage often only separated by thirty minutes. Several years later, when the time came to write my MA thesis, I predictably turned to The Marriage and its multi-dimensional analysis and evocation of the prophetic tradition, which even in this relatively early text (c. 1790–03) seemed to enfold fable, folklore, and myth (plate 11); the history of printing and its relationship to the transmission of “knowledge” (plate 15); the con/fusion of the poetic and prophetic (throughout but especially plates 12 and 13); and the re/cognition of the triangulated interplay of desire projected onto “Vegetable Glass of Nature” (E 555) and the ways drives and ideologies assume material bodies (plates 25-7).

9.        Even after writing the thesis (“‘Rintrah Roars’: Anti-structural Prophetics in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”), I felt my assessment missed as much as it struck, but the impact of its textual gaze during reception and interpretation stuck. The work continued to hail or interpellate from the inside out, no surprise given that “such interpellation [resides] in all acts of reading” (Bracher 177), and figured prominently in my dissertation. [4]  As Mark Bracher has observed, the function of interpellation takes on added intensity within the entangled fields of the work and its ability by “textual codes” (170) to rouse the faculties of those who encounter it, literally by the genesis of affect. Blake builds a work with textual features that both recognizes the presence of appellation (and its ideological functions) and re/cognizes its ability to achieve through the marshalling of literary and textual techniques a transformation of readers by its “gaze.” [5] 

10.        The impulse to use material operations and narrative techniques for transformational ends finds the perfect textual platform within the rapidly evolving interactive semiotic field of the verbal and visual specifically designed to engage readers and court the “capacity to produce significant transformations in a reader’s psychic economy” (183). [6]  According to most of my students (at all levels), the work continues to “hail” them well after our studies concluded, whether they took delight, became enraged, and/or felt provoked, but they all agreed that the work evinced the ability to engage them where they live (the dynamic conditions of the real), while manifesting a trans-temporal textual plasticity of great power that emanates from complex and dynamic operations in the method best termed an “affective mechanics” (“Mirrored Text” 16).

11.        Having taught Blake’s Marriage at all levels of instruction for about thirty-five years, I still marvel at the ability of the work to stimulate receptive activities across a broad spectrum of cultural/social belief and concerns through its activated semiotic textual environment, and the analysis of this matter (the material base for the textual generation of this stimulation) requires a shift from “what” the work means to a question seemingly long resolved: “How does the text make its meaning?’’ Such a question of praxis “turns on [Blake’s] manifold involvement with the many modes of the sign’s operation, the ways of setting alight a signifier . . . and the various ways readers have of making sense of that involvement” (Hilton [2006] 86). Blake fuses from these interactive sign systems “a new art form,” a dynamic textual object that eliminates “the key division between conception and execution” (Jones 32), and thereby offers the opportunity to traverse a plentitude of hermeneutic plateaus in route to the closing “Song of Liberty.” Perhaps the most overt line of flight, the “affective stylistics” built into the material of the text, announces its operational function as “kinetic art [that] forces you to be aware of ‘it’ as a changing object—and therefore no ‘object’ at all—and also to be aware of yourself as correspondingly changing” (Fish 82-3).

12.        My extended examination, then, takes up an inquiry into the affective functionalities at work within The Marriage, beginning with those dialogic and dynamic exchanges (even the plateaus have polarities implanted in content and form) for which the work is well-known and through the energized interchanges between the “I” active within its memorable fancies and the eye reading the “event” of the work. This direct narrative node operates both linguistically and psychologically through identification at the preliminary point of exchange and becomes the vehicle for the emergence of a “larger I individual participate in a specific form of subjectivity” posited by Michon in the epigraph to this essay. The technique opens a receptive path for forms of transference and counter-transference at the event-horizon of reception (an effect enhanced through repeated reading). Through such methodic techniques, the gaze of the work functions as generator of an affect (thus an affect machine), which renders it an early experiment in and continuing exemplar of what is best termed “affective textuality.”

13.        Strangely enough, it has now been “thirty-three years since [the] advent” (E 34) of the thesis and its defense, and I feel methodologically better informed to explore precisely how a physical textual object implants itself in consciousness like a reoccurring infection that leaps out to inflect and reflect across the spectrum of the real, symbolic, and imaginary registers of the subject and its projections techniques onto the screen of alterity. Although initially undertaken with typical critical instrumentation (in succession, the rhetorical thrust of the prophetic [MA] and the incorporation of post-structural psychoanalytic methodologies into textual operations [PhD]), the excavation and exploration of such an intricate object eventually extended to spatial/temporal planes of reception/response (the space-time of critical analysis in which the affective aspects of the work’s activated textuality operate), which extends the hermeneutic possibilities to infinite planes and therein establishes what Alain Badiou termed “a new idiom” by which the subject is newly positioned, speaking existentially, as “being-for-the-infinite” (in contradistinction to “being for death” [137]).

III. Aspects of the Textual Assemblage

14.        Blake’s Marriage announces a formal opening to an ever-evolving pursuit of a new type of textuality, where (in this case) narrative and generic play, through the guise of parody and satire, are transformed into operational instrumentation directed towards analytic, pedagogical, and spiritual ends (something previously analyzed in two prior essays). While illuminated works precede The Marriage, the work synthesized those earlier efforts into a form where intellectual and technological dimensions achieve a refined unity reflected “in a Part as in the Whole” (E 269) transmitted to the Lambeth (balanced between historical and psychological concerns) and Felpham periods (the last effort to synthesize all concerns into illuminated prophetic form). This essay, then, represents the third of four analyses designed to bring into view the operational elements of what is best described as Blake’s highly successful “experiment in affective textuality” (Knudson and Stage 2–5). [7] 

15.        The Marriage of Heaven and Hell opens the most creative and productive decade of Blake’s life and provides an assemblage of forms, sources, and voices filtered through a scathing satiric imagination guided by an impulse akin to Heideggerian Destruktion, a “de-structuring of the history of ontology,” to gain purchase on the “onto-theological” embedded in metaphysics as a necessary prelude for any state of dwelling capable of abiding, aspiring, surviving, and thriving (Heidegger 20; Economides 17). Blake the “bricoleur” (Mee 3) functions as artist, engraver, painter, philosopher, poet, printer, and publisher—a rather audacious stance relative to the sophisticated semiotic seas in which he swam—and pursues an imaginary exploration of desires and drives, constructs symbolic repetitions of these conflicts of varied layers of representation and signification, deconstructs the foundational binaries beneath them, renders the mythic and psychologic dynamic and interactive, and traces them through history, myth, and other bearers of tradition into the realm of the real.

16.        Blake’s multi-formulaic approach is informed by a dizzying array of intertextual references primarily focused on the Old and New Testaments and its secondary “interpreters” John Milton and Emmanuel Swedenborg, with everyone from Aristotle and Jesus through Ezekiel and Isaiah to Dante and Shakespeare mentioned in its twenty-seven pages. However, this typical referential apparatus is supplemented by an incipient intratextual dimension established with the earlier tracts Songs of Innocence (1789) and the later Songs of Experience (1794) (i.e., their combination), as well as the Lambeth prophecies (especially America, A Prophecy [1793] and The Book of Urizen [1794]), creating a work of great plasticity capable of incorporating retrospectively an evolving mythology placed within an entangled field of verbal and visual representation, where even interlinear flourishes serve to support larger hermeneutic and ideological interpellations within their micro-narratives and where insistent apocalyptic and visionary language is capable of a sustained frontal assault on all forms of what Lacan would term the symbolic order. [8]  The complications are legion, occur at many levels of the work, and are quite well known, given its unusual textual features (organized along both verbal and visual axes, each entangled with the other amidst supplemental interlinear flourishes) and its transhistorical and prophetic commitments (evoked through its apocalyptic and visionary imagery yet grounded in historical specificity).

17.        This assemblage of collective concerns confronted upon encountering the creative aspects of characters and their contexts suspends readers in an affective textuality and its operational modalities, which provide the method of propagation to those “future generations” to which his “sublime allegory” seems to be addressed (E 730). Each layer of intricacy has a quasi-fractal nature of iteration and re/iteration, manipulating the reader through discretely constructed sets: argument, demonstration, vocalization, and visualization. Thus, rather than having little or no structure, the work deploys a hyper-structuration designed “to restore difference in thought [in order] to untie this first knot, which consists of representing difference through the identity of the concept and the thinking subject,” a process unfolding continually in The Marriage and reflecting its commitment to an “affirmation of differences,” which throughout the work provides “a primary” impulse assuming “material and bare” forms that are reflected in all encounters with “every . . . variant, a difference, a disguise or a displacement” (Deleuze, Repetition 266, 267, 271).

18.        The Marriage mostly seems to inspire, to ignite aspirations, yet in almost any class at least one student experiences the work as psychologically disturbing (and perhaps even dangerous), seemingly offering substantiation to Bracher’s argument across that spectrum of response that reception of this work often creates subjective alterations, tends to unveil mental instabilities in the process, and often produces existential/spiritual shifts as one alters one’s opinion in relation to the textual gaze. The event of reading/reception unfolds relative to endless variables woven into the cultural information comprising the content with which the work and its spectator is concerned (within), and every reader must engage textual conditions governed by principles of uncertainty (without) that “activate[] the [spectators’] participation” (while “destabilizing . . . singular identities”), thereby positioning its consumers within a constantly shifting hyper-activated event horizon (Badiou, Being 304–05; Piccitto 80, 149). These dynamic aspects of creation and reception “co-exist and co-function” (as contraries) and depend on “discrete perceptions/cognitions” within this event-horizon, which is shaped by the shared energies of author and reader and provide a path through “productive interference” (mutual imposition) to an infinity of “potential forms/configurations” (those “Unnam’d forms” contained within the fifth chamber of the printing house of hell [E 40: 15]) response to “discrete perceptions/cognitions” (Massumi 197).

19.        The lines of hermeneutic flight track something somewhat elusive (but hopefully not illusive)—the ways Blake finds to capture and communicate the rhythm of thought in the material operations of The Marriage (the first full-bore illuminated book of prophecy) and to engineer paths of perpetuation within the work’s textual conditions—and serve as routes to transferences and counter-transferences as the primary sought outcome of its textuality. In this and other ways, Blake’s Marriage operates “as a machine conceived in order to elicit interpretation” (Eco 85). This affect-generating machine encloses a plenitude of dimensions, providing paths for intellectual interventions into the cultural processes of subject formation and runs along governing dynamics capable “of directly modifying the neurodynamics of the SELF” (see second epigram) during acts of reading and reception. The textual condition Blake establishes places semiotic complementarity at the foundation of textual functions, with the verbal and visual languages positively writhing within the framing engraved rectangle of representation whose energies depend upon fields of semiotic force manifesting principles of complementarity, which serves as the steady state of the illuminated books generally. The textual field of The Marriage deploys what can only be described as a “gaze” in the full affect/effect given that term in current critical discourse, although manifest at the individual level of aesthetic object is significant for an affect-oriented approach to Blakean textuality. Through at least two layers of its material operations (one visual and one verbal), the work modulates its figural and linguistic languages to effect a shift or transference of perception “from the point of view of the object [to see] . . . from the subject’s point of view” (Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology 226) and must maneuver within the knowledge of what W. J. T. Mitchell termed the “composite” dimension of the text (Otto 42–44). Blake’s textuality form evinces an overt gaze woven through affective textualities, and this dynamic and interactive presence strives to transform the very subjectivities of those readers who enter its entangled zones of semiotic operations. Thus, affect forms the boundary condition for this new textual state, and its apprehension undertakes forms of transforms designed to create subjective effects.

IV. Re/Structuring Subjectivity through Textual Affectivity

20.        As Shirley Dent and Jason Whittaker suggest, the verbal and visual images enter the subject of contemplation like “viruses, worms and memes” that infect the reader/viewer locally but that equally establish a wider host when they “circulate through cyberspace” (Dent and Whittaker 174), where textual virtuality provides the precise threads for the shaping of affective outcomes through effective techniques continually communicated within and without the work. Obviously, the hidden variables at play cannot be definitively mapped; however, the textual operations can be observed. Blake’s activated mode of mimetic representation produces significant local (and often immediate) affects, not a surprising outcome in light of Anna Gibb’s description of such textual operations quite relevant to the case of the illuminated books (although in periodic manifestation and so with unequal measure):

At the heart of mimesis is affect contagion, the bioneurological means by which particular affects are transmitted from body to body. The discrete innate affects of which Silvan Tomkins speaks are powerful purveyors of affect contagion, since they are communicated rapidly and automatically via the face, as well as the voice. (“After Affect” 91)
The face of The Marriage is clearly the title plate, and, as Leo Damrosch notes, the bounding lines of the design yield “the shape of a human head” (102), which, in light of the plateaus of experience reflective of polarities, offers (for the experienced reader) a visual x-ray of the dynamic symmetries in existential play erupting within all individuals. The design also assumes the function of a mirror, providing a mimetic representation of a visionary head wherein all textual dynamics operate to create a mirror-stage encounter, escalating affective intensities with every encounter (one can only once be innocent in the face of this gaze textual) through identification. The design provides a view of interior process of a human head, and with this mirror in the text (i.e., another form of the mise en abyme trope) proffered as aesthetic antidote to the maladies of selfhood (a concern taken up in later works but here in incipient form). Since the “contraries battle” in all (poet and audience alike), the title page presents an archetypal, universal man (an ur-form of Albion), and the mirrored aspects of the construct operate in opposition to “the mundane world, the world built by nature and memory, a crazy house of false mirrors” (Adams 188, 196).

21.         The varied “voice[s] of the Devil[s],” forged within the complex interplay of parole and écriture (in real, symbolic and imaginary spaces), help structure the work and provide the alluring discourse of contrariness that powers the work’s ability to impact readers within varied spatiotemporal situations and, when transmitted, across varied cultural processes of signification. In the first “Memorable Fancy” (a narrative device borrowed from Emmanuel Swedenborg), “a mighty Devil” not only serves as a front to un/veil Blake’s corrosive inverse printing method but also articulates the governing query by which to contemplate improvement through multiversical forms of affective experience:

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? (E 35)
This interrogative mode recurs throughout The Marriage, and, as Nelson Hilton long ago perceived, it (and other forms of enigmatic wisdom [i.e., parables, proverbs and prophecies]) functions in ways similar to Zen koan (197–200) by “rouzing the faculties” (E 560) as a method for intellectual development in the constant conversion of knowledge into wisdom. While the devil writes corrosively to inscribe this couple, the I-persona records it, providing the other voice while functioning as the vehicle for incorporation and, thereafter, participation. Given my contention that the work functions as an affect-generating machine by design, the relevance of this quote should be obvious; Blake’s theory of the text uses material elements to unravel ideological manacles and, in the process, rewrite the process of subject formation, which comes equipped with affective aspirations and promises to open “the door of perception” (E 39).

22.        The Marriage takes up residence in the psyche as a symptom of reception (probably at all three topological layers of Freudian psychoanalytic experience); as in the literary, philosophical, and theological layers of the book, the psychological layers also pursue the unveiling cultural elements and operations (i.e., ideological production) in order to redirect those energies as a vehicle to alter the reader/spectator/subject through implication and participation. The work crafts “an intraorganic mirror” (Lacan, Ecrits 79)—to adopt the well-known operation at the foundation of Lacan’s mirror stage—which generates through identification an imago (Blake’s term is “spectre”), thus initially stabilizing subjectivity by an imaginary sense of totality (i.e., constructed from the outside in). [9]  Blake directed the mirrored textual dynamics towards dismantling the initial imago (of ideology), allowing a new form of subjectivity to assert itself by embracing the contrary aspects of “the body and the soul” to achieve a visionary outlook more contestatory in commitment. More specifically, Blake fashions his mirror through interactive semiotic fields (i.e., the “head” of the title page and the “I” of the narrative) dedicated to “the formation of [] prophetic character” (Wittreich 216) as the sought outcome for any passage through a dynamic process of subject formation predicated on participation (a path of development related to that mapped by Lacan’s Schema L). [10]  The successful venture, from the other side of the screen (i.e., locus of the author), ideally results in the formation and emergence of an altered state of consciousness, the opening place from which to begin the long struggle with the imago embraced, in Lacan’s view, as early as eighteen months. Yet, as André Green suggests, the process, once internalized, must be recognized not as a singular “pinpoint chronologically as a stage than to designate [it] as a structuring situation” (166), the point of entry for affective textual techniques.

23.         Generally, all illuminated books—when performing at the peak of their potential—operate in similar ways, but the techniques deployed by The Marriage provide a baseline of affective operations, beginning with mimetic representation predicated upon “the presence of others.” Those “others” are interpellated in the process of reception through Blake’s version of “the larger I” posited by Michon (above), the I-persona, which supplements the imagistic mirror of the title page with a linguistic mirror upon which the contraries of material reality (within and without) are projected. This two-fold mode opens the possibility of a counter-identification that would have some chance of neutralizing the freeplay of the imago or Blake’s spectre, although that task awaits Milton in Milton, a work driven by reception dynamics. Reception, then, always occurs within an event-horizon involving the intersection of linguistic and scopic properties that always alters neurological conditions, therein creating a corresponding shift from object relations (author/work or reader/book) to a “subject to subject” relationship that defines, in part, its “gaze” (Lacan, Fundamentals 84). These techniques work somewhat covertly in The Marriage; after all, only educated or experienced readers would know that the “corrosive” process that concludes the first “Memorable Fancy” or the “thirty-three years” (on plate three) are both self-referential and hence meta-textual. However, the affective textual functions become increasingly overt in the vibrant semiotic fields of Milton (1804) and Jerusalem (1820): both include direct addresses to readers, and both periodically unveil the mirrored textual dynamics at the foundation of the illuminated form itself. [11] 

24.        The techniques for the performance of such textual operations—which achieve their full fruition within the final illuminated epics and which are forged within the properties of The Marriage—are distributed across several layers of mimetic representation to assure the widest semiotic propagation, something especially acute for Blake’s passage beyond postmodernism and posthumanism alike. Through the transmission of viral strains of verbal, visual, and interlinear forms of representation, textual functionalities infect the reader during reception and therein inflect the neurological conditions to create an intensified mental environment within which affective modulations can take hold.

25.        Given its collision of ideas and traditions, the content of The Marriage was often seen as “‘a scrapbook of Blake’s philosophy’” held in stasis within a “‘structureless structure’,” a state that seemingly impeded, rather than facilitated, understanding for “readers who want to know what they are reading” (Eaves et al. 117). However, in my experience, Blake’s Marriage has perhaps the most trackable structure in the canon, unfolding as a fourfold structure constructed in relation to the affective dimension informing subject formation earlier established:

  • A) Unlearning Subjectivity (plates 1–7.5)
  • B) Experiencing Unfettered Creativity (plates 7.5–10 [“The Proverbs of Hell”])
  • C) Re/Forming the Subject (plates 10–24)
  • D) Asserting the New State of Subjectivity (plates 25–27 [“Song of Liberty”])
The opening section (“Unlearning Subjectivity”) creates a structural unit that is replicated four times in the third section (“Re/Forming the Subject”), which unveils a rare structural use of the technical trope termed “mise en abyme,” which Lucien Dällenbach argues represents “a structured reality, despite [its] apparent variety and randomness,” yet in such a manifestation actually provides a way “to trace its diachronic evolution” (165). [12]  The section begins with a visual thesis that equally reflects the current state of subjectivity (an energized eternal now of dynamic events occurring at every topology of the psyche and every sense of the body), follows with a poetic “Argument” (organized temporally from “Once” through “Then” and “Till” to “Now”—the time of the prior title design), and proceeds into a zone of negative dialectics (which strives to occupy an intellective position “that is historical and critical but not dogmatic” [Stanford February 2017]). [13]  The last component of this subset, already briefly discussed, is the inaugural “Memorable Fancy,” which introduces the I-persona, unveils the printing method, and propels the work into the unruly and wild “Proverbs of Hell.”

26.         In the opening seven plates of the work, Blake stages energetic exchanges of “contraries” (plate three) to test intellectual and spiritual systems, seeking to unveil inconsistences and inconstancies while advancing “unlearning” as the sought pedagogical outcome. These collisions (which occur across numerous plateaus of activity) shape the epistemological framework of The Marriage, providing the reiterative set of elements that reflects the use of mise en abyme helping to create a force field woven, in part, from dialogic imperatives. [14]  The work proceeds through the fourfold structure by beginning in unlearning (plates 1–7), unleashing a burst of unfettered creativity (plates 7–10) through which any reader must travel (akin to Satan’s swimming across chaos in Paradise Lost [1667]), with Blake positioning immediately after the “Proverbs of Hell” the key to decode the process that follows—the visual design that mediates the passage from the tumultuous imaginary realm of proverbial wisdom and his effort to restructure the way the subject is shaped.

27.         The third section, which begins a rather deliberative process to reconstruct the subject (a realignment to effect a shift from passive to active reading habits and then to extend this into the structure of everyday life), unfolds in a fourfold movement established through the function of the I-persona and predicated on the phenomenological encounter with the textual gaze which it bears (plates 11–24). The manifestation of this new state of subjectivity is found in the voice that sings “The Song of Liberty” concluding the work (plates 25–27), and the numbered biblical verses (the culminating form of utterance) perform visionary work conveying Blake’s reinterpretation of prophetic discourse (a shift from the predictive to the psychoanalytic). The “Song” sung presents the preliminary mytheme of Blake’s evolving mythopoetic map of mental processes (the interactions of the nuclear family: “The Eternal Female,” “The newborn terror,” and “the starry king” [E 44: 25–26]) and announces the vehicle (the illuminated book of prophecy) designed to serve as method itself and to exploit lines of de- and re-territorializing lines of flight forged in reception, leading directly to the assumption of a deliberately crafted visionary perspective yet crafted through difference and repetition rather than solidified mimetic representation and symbolic similitude.

28.         Blake reinforced these broad structural elements though an act of repetition with a difference, since the third section of the work (plates 11–24) manifests its own four-part organization (including the elements of the set comprising the first section) and thereby transforms the deployment of an occasional use of a mise en abyme structure within its surface examination of tradition into a treatment in the form of an active textuality, recommending treatment for the condition (within the narrative) and narrative operation and textual techniques and technologies as the prescription for the inherent divisions at play in all areas of the work (Dällenbach 43–53) into both a narrative operation and a textual technique. The Marriage undertakes nothing less than simultaneously diagnosing the maladies of subject formation (based upon known means of reception) and articulating an antidote to the dis/ease resident in the process of subject formation, embracing the semiotic as the cure for the symbolic (in contemporary critical language). The modes of correction assume a fractal-like façade founded in repetition and reiteration that charts the trajectory of method, the evolutionary and revolutionary aspects of the physical body through which Blake staged these often carnivalesque exchanges (i.e., the memorable fancies), where the illuminated book itself provides a dynamic textual environment within which to transfix any reader’s attention and entangle affective operations within these semiotic layers through the rhythmic elements distributed throughout the plateaus of Blake’s formative multiverse. [15] 

29.         Jerome McGann associated Blake’s illuminated books with the emergence of a quantum textuality, since the work in hand really does open onto “infinity” within and without: “Holding the book you hold ‘Infinity in the palm of your hand,’ as Blake precisely remarked” (163). The interplay of these dialogic and dynamic elements within any given illuminated book encodes forms of uncertainty at several levels (including form itself) and operates through principles of complementarity (throughout the enriched semiotic environment shaped by the entangled energies of intersecting verbal and visual fields). The affective textual forms and techniques analyzed here—which were uniquely designed to shift “the scene of instruction” into any reader’s mind—does so by discrete textual operations that take hold during acts of reception and response and are shaped with sound psychoanalytic principles in mind (a point already addressed elsewhere). The interplay of these textual forces are supplemented by other aspects of the work, creating an assemblage of interactive generic forms produced from interwoven poetic philosophical argument, prosaic analysis, parodic yet pointed memorable fancy, proverbial wisdom, and numbered biblical verse bound together to articulate patterns that trace, but do not and cannot represent, affect: “The rhythm of poetry [in all its permutations and vacillations] compels affect, which can then be put into words; rhythm does not represent affect”:

Physical rhythm can be said to have meaning only in a very limited way, insofar as it alludes to well-known rhythms that are in turn attached to certain ideas, conventions, and moods, and therefore to words and images. . . . Physical rhythm is quite different in kind from either words or images, which are fundamental to the economy, codes, and values of ordinary social life. The ideas and images of poetry are historical; they construct the immediate physical reality of the rhythm that their words simultaneously embody. (Aviram 226–28)
Blake’s textual strategies aspire to unveil this presence through an assemblage that places affect at the foundation of textuality itself, since such a move “is that the specific joys and pleasures of poetry are preserved” (Aviram 244) but would also operate unveil “writing itself is an affect-laden process: driven by interest and desire, subject to frustration and misery as well as productive of joy and excitement” (Gibbs 223).

30.         Blake’s Marriage exploits “the stability of print as a platform and the linearity of text in the codex form,” therein extending “speech beyond the body of the writer [and] producing the effect of an inner voice and with a psychodynamics of interiority” (Gibbs, Affective Materialities 228). Blake’s experimental text and the textual theory behind its strategies operate relative to the unseen while hailing those who come into its gaze, a peculiar tactic again aligned with scopic drives and one that acknowledges the specular nature of subjectivity itself:

What we have to circumscribe, by means of the path [Blake] indicates for us, is the pre-existence of the gaze—I see only from one point, but in my existence I am looked at from all sides. . . . The eye and the gaze—this is for us the split in which the drive is manifested at the level of the scopic field (Lacan, Four 72–73)
Within the accumulation of The Marriage as assemblage, from its opening titular mirror and its dedicated exploitation of the “I” as our narrative guide through both heaven and hell, readers both transfer (via internalization) the subject-function and thereby continuously pronounce themselves the “I” of the text, which operates through countertransference. Returning this reflection into the textual field of Blake’s Marriage, affective techniques provide a mechanism for a transference of consciousness within the dynamics described by Georges Poulet (I-persona as a vehicle of interiorization and subsequent ex/pression) and evoked by Lacan in his discussion of the gap between the “eye and the gaze.” For both Blake and Lacan, “this split constitutes the characteristic dimension of analytic discovery and experience” (Lacan, Four 69), and it clearly informs Blake’s attempt to provide an experience and ex/pression of rhythm through effects and techniques that deploy affect as the vehicle of subjective transformation.

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[1] Citations will be to Erdman’s standard edition, The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, unless otherwise indicated. BACK

[2] See Clark and Whittaker, 1–11; and Clark, Connolly, and Whittaker, 1–12. I am honored to have had essays included in both volumes. BACK

[3] Blake’s affective textual strategies align well with those proposed by Knudson and Stage: “The inventive experiment creat[es] either a) artificial environments (e.g., a laboratory) in which tests of various sorts are conducted to develop, falsify/verify or discuss hypotheses, or b) natural everyday environments (e.g., peoples’ homes, classrooms or the street) that the researcher, designer, artist or social activist influences or modifies in order to investigate participants’ emotional and affective responses to a particular stimulation [Marres, 2012]” (Affective Materialities 12). Blake’s Marriage falls in the latter group. BACK

[4] The work has continued to exert a fascination on/to me, and if books were banned and burned, as in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 or, potentially, the current political situation, I would select Blake’s Marriage to memorize—both designs and words. BACK

[5] The gaze in its Lacanian and Blakean permutations will accompany more detailed reading (below). Blake’s experimental textual methods (its gaze and its elements) do reflect current thinking on artistic intervention “in social life by [creating and deploying] certain forms of controlled sensual stimulation” through dramatizing “particular epistemic and aesthetic events in order” to render visible “affective liveliness” capable of extending “current understandings” (Knudson and Stage 11). BACK

[6] The term “appellation” is primarily borrowed from Louis Althusser: “all ideology hails or interpellates concrete individuals as concrete subjects, by the functioning of the category of the subject” (173). My dissertation confirms the continued call of The Marriage, since it dedicates a chapter to the Lacanian echoes and essences embedded in the work and its deployment of “mirror stage” apparatus like identification and projection, and the following analysis owes much to Mark Bracher’s work (see below). BACK

[7] My interest extends backward to an early essay, “‘Vortext’ as Philosopher’s Stone: Blake’s Textual Mirrors and the Transmutation of Audience” (1986), but has returned and a concern in three other essays: 1) “Blakean Textuality as Pedagogical Method” (2016); 2) “The Horrors of Subjectivity/The Jouissance of Immanence” (forthcoming 2017); and 3) “Matter, Meter, Mind: Neo-Formalism and the Rhythmic Operations of Consciousness” (forthcoming 2017). BACK

[8] Lacan clearly establishes, given its function as the repository or “register [of] signifiers, in the sense developed by Saussure and Jakobson, extended into a generalized definition; differential elements, in themselves without meaning, which acquire value only in their mutual relations, and forming a closed order” (Four 279). BACK

[9] In essence, Blake’s textuality operates through similar dynamics as Lacan’s famous mirror-stage, although the textual mirror Blake presents is a screened window upon which both writer and reader project from different spots in the spacetime continuum, while transmitting the physical and psychological mechanics needed to annihilate the imago, a process that reaches its best expression in Milton. Of course, in the mirror stage described by Lacan, the subject assumes an illusory identity; in the textual mirror of Blake, the specter is unveiled through a process of mimetic representation, thereafter deconstructed, and then restructured through techniques of transformation piloted in The Marriage (although precede by the tractates). The mirror, for Blake, must shatter to reveal the work as a window, since one should look through a text and not with it (like one should look through the eye and not with it). BACK

[10] Lacan discusses this map of “intersubjective dialectics [and dialogics]” in his seminar of Poe’s “The Purloined Letter” (Écrits 6–48) and in a brief closing commentary to the compilation to establish why “the quaternary [structure] is fundamental” to the functions “of the unconscious” in order to map “a subjective ordering” (Écrits 904). BACK

[11] Jane Bennett’s description of “vibrant matter” works well with the dynamics built into the illuminated books: “I am looking for a materialism in which matter is figured as a vitality at work both inside and outside of selves, and is a force to be reckoned with without being purposive in any strong sense” (42). BACK

[12] Lucien Dällenbach’s Le récit spéculaire: Essai sur la mise en abyme (1977), later published as The Mirror in the Text, translated by Jeremy Whiteley. (Chicago UP, 1989), remains the most influential elaboration of the aesthetic, dramatic, and narratological dimensions of this complicated trope, and Blake’s enhanced semiotic field creates new possibilities for its incorporation as a technique used at different plateaus within a single “structured reality.” Diane Piccitto has discussed the dramatic dimension of the trope in Blake’s illuminated canon and shares my observations for the potential for this trope (74-81). BACK

[13] “I am not exactly my metamorphic brain; I am at most a product, a product that coincides neither with the plasticity of neuronal matter nor with its action itself—I am a product that exceeds up to the limit of the mental. . . . The intellective hypothesis allows us to recognize the constraints that are brought by the genetic, physical, and chemical structure of our brain, its synaptic functions and its plasticity, and its acquired system of connections” (29). BACK

[14] The form of dialogism pursued through The Marriage is not a tame “give-and-take” seeking the acknowledgement of difference as “unresolvable but is nonetheless reconciled” but rather the strident “condition of fierce social struggle outlined by Bakhtin . . . in which dialogical forces of language actively contest the social and political centralization of their culture” (Hirschkop 74). My sole revision would be to replace “language” with “semiotics” as the deeper and wider system of signs open to Blake given the verbal and visual fields of the illuminated books. BACK

[15] “It is this rhythm that gives a temporary form to these diverse elements, holds them together for so long as it lasts, . . . creating a writing that resonates with it, simultaneously describing and performing it. Rhythm, I think is a critical key to thinking writing as an affective methodology” (Anna Gibbs 227). BACK