Academic journal article CLIO

Blake, Bataille, and the Accidental Processes of Material History in 'Milton.' (William Blake, Georges Bataille)

Academic journal article CLIO

Blake, Bataille, and the Accidental Processes of Material History in 'Milton.' (William Blake, Georges Bataille)

Article excerpt

In his essay "Dangerous Blake," W. J. T. Mitchell gestures toward a reading of radical dissonance in Blake's texts when he calls for a "defamifiarization" and "recognition of his [Blake's] involvement in contingencies which may erode the truth (by whatever standard) of his art."(1) Mitchell's evocation of such "contingencies" also suggests an implicit critique of Hegel's "dialectic," since, in Mitchell's view, Blake scholarship has all but occluded the recovery or re-discovery of the "dangerous Blake" through the critical practice of assuming that "`every word and every letter' (and every graphic mark) `is in its fit place,'" (410); that is, much of recent Blake scholarship--what Mitchell calls "the third phase" of Blake criticism inaugurated by Northrop Frye (410)--produces its insights based on the assumption that Blake maintains a rigorous control over the meaning(s) his texts provide--that no meaning effects or affects escape the author's inherent powers of control over the protentive and retentive narrative teleology his texts may take. Despite this critique, Mitchell closes his essay with an unproblematized recapitulation of Blake's mastery over meaning in both his own texts and those which, in the future, would be used to read, to contextualize--and thus, to form--Blake: "wherever critical theory goes, Blake will be out there waiting for it to catch up with his imagination" (416). Mitchell dispels the tension between an indecipherable, "strange" Blake and a Blake that, in his ability to preconstitute meaning, precludes the anxiety surrounding the reader's production of meaning--which Mitchell evokes explicitly as a necessary step in the revision of Blake studies. In fact, the relationship between Blake's texts and the production of "Blake" as an object of study can itself serve as a locus for a number of epistemological and ontological anxieties that cross disciplinary practices of establishing knowledge. Foremost among other works canonized in the discipline of English, Blake's texts seem to require "Hegel," or some version of "dialectics," in order to "complete" them, just as historical analysis seems, or is often figured as, complete or incomplete according to its relation to Hegelian (teleological) projection. In the interest of brevity, I will focus my remarks on Blake's Milton and the scholarship that attempts to re-construct that text, as well as the relatively recent attempts of selected critics to circumvent Hegel's teleological historical process. This triangulation of meaning effects, taken together, can serve as an apt illustration--an allegory, even--of the difficulty a movement beyond "Hegel" presents; but such a reading can also suggest possible critical practices that gesture toward a "beyond Hegel," if those critical practices do not thereby propose a more authentic theory of referentiality.

In pursuit of extricating traces of Hegelian reading practices, and in light of Mitchell's call for a "dangerous" Blake, perhaps the most productive question that can be posed in Blake studies today is not "What do Blake's texts mean?" but "Do Blake's texts mean?" Shifting to the second question brings to the foreground the sheer difficulty of establishing any referential ground in the process of reading Blake's texts; similarly, such a shift allows the recalcitrant elements of Blake's texts--for example, the profusion and interpenetration of names, identities, and material bodies--a less restrictive "free play,"(2) since Blake himself may not be in control of the collapse of identity that this interpenetration suggests. In order to explore aspects of this "dangerous" Blake, I will place Milton--specifically, the profusion, in Milton, of shattered bodies, and the form of the text as itself a fragmented body--into contiguous relationship with Georges Bataille's attempts to disrupt Hegelian dialectics through his re-theorizing of materiality and his consequent preoccupation with the "sacred." Before moving directly to the seemingly violent collocation and collusion of the texts of Bataille and Blake, however, it is necessary to provide some context within and against which Bataille theorizes his break with, or as Derrida calls it, his "trembling" of, Hegelian dialectics. …

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