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Blake

Overview

  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 6
  • Convenor: Luisa Calè
  • Assessment: a 1000-word unassessed essay and two essays of 2500 words (50% each)

Module description

William Blake (1757-1827), a self-employed London engraver and artisan artist, author of the anthem known as 'Jerusalem', invented a 'method of Printing which combines the Painter and Poet'. His relief-etched Illuminated Books emulate medieval illuminated manuscripts, but use printing to subvert the homogeneity of the book as a commercial object.

Blake's work as an engraver challenged the division of labour that governed the hierarchies of art and the economics of book publishing. Going against the separation of the mind from the hand, the ideal from the mechanical, Blake showed how execution is inseparable from invention and identified prophetic vision in minute particulars.

'Melting apparent surfaces away, and revealing the infinite which was hid', Blake's revolutionary 'Printing house in hell' claimed to 'cleanse the doors of perception': 'to see a world in a grain of sand,/and Heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,/and eternity in an hour'. His powerful works combine poetry, painting, radical politics and religious prophecy.

During the course of the year, we will read Blake's works in their aesthetic and revolutionary contexts, exploring his place in the artisanal and millenarian public spheres, and in the debating culture of radical London circles, where 'without contraries is no progression'.

It is essential that you experience Blake's works as Illuminated Books, which you can do through the digital facsimiles available at the Blake Archive.

Texts for special attention are:

  • 'There is no Natural Relig­ion'
  • 'All Religions are One'
  • Songs of Innocence and of Experience
  • The Marriage of Heaven and Hell;
  • The Book of Thel
  • Visions of the Daughters of Albion
  • America a Prophecy
  • Europe a Prophecy
  • The Book of Urizen
  • Vala or the Four Zoas
  • The epic poems Milton and Jerusalem
  • The Book of Job

Learning objectives

By the end of the module, you will have:

  • mastered the corpus of a unique artisan artist and poet in the context of Romantic period writing and art genres
  • situated Blake's illuminated books in the revolutionary debates of the 1790s
  • analysed Blake's Bibles of Hell in the context of eighteenth-century practices of reading and editing the Bible
  • an understanding of Blake's prophetic works within a tradition of apocalyptic writings
  • analysed Blake's poetics of composition, situating his work within a Romance culture of books and book making
  • developed close reading skills suited to the analysis of a poetic form produced in a visual medium.