Knight of the Living Dead: William Blake and the Problem of Ontology

Knight of the Living Dead: William Blake and the Problem of Ontology

Knight of the Living Dead: William Blake and the Problem of Ontology

Knight of the Living Dead: William Blake and the Problem of Ontology

Synopsis

"In Knight of the Living Dead, Kathleen Lundeen investigates Blake's work in the context of his spiritualistic practices, and shows how he attempts to create a discourse that circumvents the binary of natural and arbitrary signs. Her examination of his word-image art demonstrates that, in Blake's view, what we recognize as word or image depends upon our epistemological orientation, just as what we term "matter" or "spirit" is determined by our state of perception. It further shows how Blake critiques textual theory in both his songs and prophecies by stabilizing the two sets of parameters that are used to define and classify signs: the general and particular, and the literal and figurative. Moreover, she argues, Blake provides an epistemological alternative to empiricism and rationalism in his poetry and art. Through verbal and visual experiments he defies the logic that is rooted in sense perception and reason, and he attempts through those experiments to return textuality to a divinely literal condition. By treating spiritualism as an aesthetic practice and art as an otherworldly communication, he undermines the institutionalized boundaries in art and life, and presents a formidable challenge to the whole matter/spirit dualism upon which Western culture is based." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

William Blake's agility as an intermedia artist is indisputable. Though his individual works have often been classified according to the dominant medium in which they have been executed, his unrestricted movements among the arts of sketching, watercolor, printmaking, and poetry demonstrate his disregard of the conventional aesthetic parameters that are thought to separate one medium from another. Though Blake is just as unapologetic in trespassing the boundaries between here and the hereafter, most who celebrate the principle of free play in his art squirm at his professed practice of the same principle in his life. His alleged sightings of spirits have by and large embarrassed his admirers, many of whom have chosen to look the other way. Blake's liberal experiments in mediumship, nevertheless, raise an intriguing question: is there a correlation between his textual and his spiritualistic practices? This study offers an answer.

Often, artistic expression that produces initial dissonance in a culture is in time accommodated by the public imagination and situated on an aesthetic continuum. With the exception of Songs of Innocence and of Experience, most of Blake's works have eluded this cultural process, however, and proven to be remarkably resistant to assimilation. To most readers, his prophecies are as anomalous today as they were when he created them nearly two centuries ago. Like his irrepressible tyger, Blake appears to be rare and exotic, ever eliciting from his critics the question, Where did he come from? Though to many readers his intellectual and artistic origins seem as elusive as the tyger's creator, scholars have discovered various traditions for Blake's idiosyncratic works and have shown that London in his day was not as [charter'd] as he would have us believe.

In Witness to the Beast, E. P. Thompson portrays late eighteenth century London as crowded with philosophies. His picture of England's center as a variegated mental landscape provides a rationale . . .

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