Saturday, October 18, 2014

Appendix 4

My own serious interest in Blake began in 1977 when my wife brought Blake a psychological study by W. P. Witcutt home from the library. I had been on the point of a commitment to the study of Jung's voluminous writings, which at that time seemed the most creative intellectual work at hand. Witcutt diverted my commitment to  Blake, which we have now. 

In the late forties Blake scholarship came of age with Northrup Frye's Fearful Symmetry. Blake's students have overwhelmingly acclaimed this work as the most authoritative and brilliant interpretation of Blake that we have. The most prominent teachers of the succeeding decades paid tribute to Frye. David Erdman called him our most Blakean critic, and Harold Bloom said that Frye had taught him to read Blake.

Fearful Symmetry is a difficult book, but its difficulty stems from the depth of the ideas it contains. Frye's style is delightful, learned and debonair. Most serious students of Blake could profit from several readings of Fearful Symmetry. Both Frye and Percival, who wrote Circle of Destiny spent ten years with their Blake projects. Lovers of Blake have every reason to appreciate the arduous labors of these two men, and of others who have brought so much of Blake's obscurity out into the light of the 20th Century. 
No work equivalent to that of Percival or of Frye has appeared since. 

Later works have tended to focus upon some aspect of Blake studies rather than upon his work as a whole. In the fifties David Erdman published his comprehensive study of the political analogy, entitled Prophet Against Empire. He related Blake's art almost exclusively to the political events through which Blake lived.


Erdman has by no means a Blakean mind, but his historical approach provides a valuable supplement to our knowledge of Blake and his day. For a really close reading of the political dimension of Blake's work there is no substitute for Prophet Against Empire. Erdman built his literary career upon Blake more extensively than any other scholar except perhaps KeynesLike Keynes he has edited the complete works, not once but several times. 

The last of the major places in Blake scholarship, in my opinion, belongs to Kathleen Raine. Like Percival and Frye she spent a full decade studying Blake. Then she produced her superlative two volume work, Blake and Tradition. In her study, as specialized as Erdman's, she explored at great length what she called the 'heterodox'.


Jacob Bronowski wrote two shorter works in the same vein, Man Without a Mask and William Blake and the Age of Revolution.  


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Kathleen Raine related Blake explicitly and in depth to the GnosticsNeoplatonists, Cabbalists, and alchemists.' Profusely illustrated, Raines's delightful book is almost guaranteed to give pleasure to any Blakean and to heighten his or her enthusiamn for the great poet. 

Raine, a Neoplatonist, deplored what she called Blake's 'Christianizing' of his myth. In this respect Christian readers simply have to suffer her kindly. In her autobiography she described her own unsuccessful attempt to accept the Christian faith. 

The last of the secularly oriented Blake writers to be discussed here is the Jungian analyst, June Singer. It goes without saying that her volume, The Unholy Bible, is specialized in nature. Singer deals almost exclusively with MHH. She treats Blake, not as an artist or spiritual seer, but as an interesting psychological exhibit. She saw Blake as a primitive, unconscious precursor of Jung. One could debate whether the lack of consciousness belonged to Blake or to Singer. 

2 comments:

Susan J. said...

Hi Larry - we've been watching a DVD series from the library, "The Ascent of Man" - it features Jacob Bronowski as the narrator; he also wrote a companion book with the same title; both are from the early 1970s. Wow! what a worthwhile story! Anyway, I was searching the library catalogue for more stuff by Bronowski, and came up with "A Man Without A Mask" but not the other one you mention - I'm looking forward to dipping into it -- about all I can hope for these days.

I'm so happy to have found this post of yours, which gives me some context!

Happy New Year, dear friends!

Larry said...

Good job Susan. 'William Blake and the Age of Revolution' has been in our personal library for lo! these many years but only one of so many.
I'll take a look at it.

Bronowski had an amazing life as recited by wikipedia. Actually wikipedia has about everything written by Blake.