Blake, Bataille, and the accidental processes of material history in 'Milton.' (William Blake, Georges Bataille)
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.(3)
Since Hegel, there have been numerous attempts to forestall or re-negativize the synthesizing logic of Hegelian dialectics. In Jacques Derrida's texts, for example, the movement of synthesis is constantly deferred, and the element of irresolvable contradiction, conflict, or "crisis" is identified as a perpetual movement that serves both always to constitute and perpetually to threaten the integrity of a univocal meaning for any given text. Theorists as diverse in focus as Paul de Man, Maurice Blanchot, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jacques Lacan, Julia Kristeva, Judith Butler and a number of other feminist scholars, and, in a less explicit manner, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, to name just a few, have attempted to subvert Hegelian closure--for example, the supersession of art by philosophy through a perfection of the relation of content to form, which Hegel presents as the attainment of the "absolute Idea."(4) For Hegel, the absolute Idea cures any conflict, crisis, or "pathology" of history in its inexorable movement toward unity; the movement of this "logic," this dream of historical progression naturalized into "material" rationality, is clear in recent Blake criticism: Blake's texts forego their own propensity to fragment beyond meaning, and the divisive or re-negativizing motility of such fissures is resumed, and subsumed, in Blake's apposite marriage of grapheme and meaning, unruly material and binding form.
Much of the theoretical activity of subverting Hegelian dialectics has taken place through a contestation of the term "body," and of the concepts of "the material"--specifically, the Cartesian-based relationship between the material body and the soul--that support Cartesian notions of the body. As Judith Butler writes in Bodies That Matter, "bodies tend to indicate a world beyond themselves . . . this movement beyond their own boundaries, a movement of boundary itself, appeared to be quite central to what bodies `are.'"(5) Perhaps the most concerted attack on the Cartesian relegation of the body to an epiphenomenon in the perception of the ideal is Merleau-Ponty's The Structure of Behaviour.(6) In "The Relations of the Soul and the Body and the Problem of Perceptual Consciousness," Merleau-Ponty probes Cartesian formulations of the body/soul relationship. Citing Descartes' attempt to separate the material component which perceives from the ideal component perceived--"It is the soul that sees and not the eyes" (192)--Merleau-Ponty writes that "this expression must be taken absolutely literally and turned back against Descartes himself . . . the universe of consciousness revealed by the cogito and in the unity of which even perception itself seemed to be necessarily enclosed was only a universe of thought in the restricted sense: it accounts for the thought of seeing, but the fact of vision and the ensemble of existential knowledges remain outside of it" (192, 197). The Cartesian "cure" for the problem of perception "permits abandoning the action of the body" and allows it to be defined as the "indubitable" object of a consciousness (197).
For Merleau-Ponty, the thought of the body, indistinguishable from the thought that is the body, becomes a "logical necessity" rather than a reflection of a pre- or extra-materially constituted, pre-linguistic truth (200). In subsequent texts, Merleau-Ponty would present a more wide-ranging re-theorization of the body's position in Hegelian and Cartesian thought. In Phenomenology of Perception, for example, Merleau-Ponty theorizes the body as a "third genre or gender" in its forcing of a dehiscence between the subjective and objective world: "At the same time that the body withdraws from the objective world, and forms between the pure subject and the object a third genre or gender of being, the subject loses its purity and transparence."(7) Similarly, in The Visible and the Invisible, Merleau-Ponty moves from "body"--a term integral to the metaphysical tradition's movement toward ideality--to "flesh": "What we are calling flesh, this interiorly worked-over mass, has no name in any philosophy. As the formative milieu of the object and the subject, it is not an atom of being, the hard in-itself that resides in a unique place and moment: one can indeed say of my body that it is not elsewhere, but one cannot say that it is here or now."(8) In Altarity, Mark Taylor identifies the significance, for subsequent theorists such as Julia Kristeva, Luce Irigaray, and Judith Butler, of Merleau-Ponty's critique. After Merleau-Ponty's critique of the Cartesian body, existence is irreducibly carnal, and thought cannot identify the limits between the ideal and the material components of its own perception; thus, a cleavage that "faults self-consciousness" is created by "the body." As Taylor, quoting Merleau-Ponty, acknowledges, "Rather than a self-contained entity, the body is a I gaping wound' that always remains `incomplete' . . . while the reflective subject attempts to close in on itself by incorporating every other and assimilating all difference, the living body resists closure and necessarily remains open to what is other than, and different from, itself."(9) If we take Taylor's statement to its logical conclusion, we must say that not only is the body open to that which it is not, but also that the body must literally be its "own" other, since the philosophical foundations or justification by which the body appears either enclosed upon itself or open to its other--that is, not open to or constitutive of the ideal, the en-soi--are rendered invalid in Merleau-Ponty's critique. The body becomes the conflicted territory in which not only interiority and exteriority, subjectivity and objectivity, intersect, but also the site at which the ideality of the binary logic that produces these oppositions is disclosed; hence, to state that the body is open to its other, to that which is different from itself, is to re-inscribe implicitly the very boundary that is critiqued explicitly. Butler identifies the linguistic effects of this problem in "Bodies that Matter": "The body posited as prior to the sign, is always posited or signified as prior. This signification produces as an effect of its own procedure the very body that it nevertheless and simultaneously claims to discover as that which precedes its own action" (30). Butler dislodges the claim that the body is pre-linguistic; however, she follows this critique with an insupportable claim. For Butler, the act of signifying the body is exclusively productive rather than, at least partly, mimetic, since, in her words, language first "contours the body" and subsequently "claims to find [that body] prior to any and all signification" (30). As is the case with Taylor's demarcation of a difference between the closed body and the body "open" to that which is its other, Butler's location of a difference between "productive" and "mimetic" acts of signification is invalid in the absence of the epistemological ground, the a priori assertion, she has discredited. That is, in order to identify a clear demarcation between a mimetic and a productive thinking of the body, Butler must appropriate(10) the very foundation she has revealed as invalid, since the ground that supports the claim that language is "productive" appears only negatively in Butler's analysis, as the absence of a valid claim for language as mimesis. This epistemological lack makes of writing an interminable process, neither a cure for, in Blake's words, the "Striving to Create a Heaven in which all shall be pure and holy,"(11) nor a cure for the "pathology"--in Sartre's words, the "inexpressible materiality"--that "infects" the pure space/time of undifferentiation in the metaphysical tradition (that is, that infects a specifically Hegelian understanding of historical progression, that produces an irreversible corruption of the Idea).
Writing at the same time, in the same intellectual and cultural milieu as Merleau-Ponty and Sartre--at times explicitly claiming his distance from them--Georges Bataille, from his earliest work, attempts to interrogate "materialism." As he states in "Materialism," "most materialists, even though they may have wanted to do away with all spiritual entities, ended up positing an order of things whose hierarchical relations mark it as specifically idealist."(12) For Bataille, "dead matter, the pure idea, and God ... answer a question in the same way," a question that can be posed only by "philosophers, the question of the essence of things, precisely of the idea by which things become intelligible" (15). Like Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, and Jacques Lacan, Bataille was profoundly influenced by Kojeve's Marxist re-reading of Hegel's master/slave dialectic. In a dialectical/historical process of becoming, the slavish consciousness overcomes the atrophied consciousness of the master. If, in Kojeve's reading, the master is the "catalyst of the historical, anthropogenetic process," the work that the master demands from the slave creates the "real objective World."(13) "In transforming the World by this work, the Slave transforms himself, too, and thus creates the new objective conditions" of the World by which the slave recognizes and exercises his humanity (29). For Kojeve, "all slavish work realizes not the Master's will, but the will--at first unconscious--of the Slave, who--finally--succeeds where the Master--necessarily--fails" (30).
Initially, Bataille attempts to bring about this revolution in consciousness and the "objective World" by re-reading "materialism" through Freud, thereby constructing a notion of material praxis "based on psychological or social facts" ("Materialism," 15). In this way, Bataille attempts to subvert the idealism in his contemporaries' notions of the "material" (though never explicitly identifying these contemporaries). Thus, for Bataille, "materialism" will "designate the direct interpretation, excluding all idealism, of raw phenomena, and not a system founded on the fragmentary elements of an ideological analysis, elaborated under the sign of religious relations" (16). Increasingly in his writing from the late-1920s and early-1930s, Bataille questions the Hegelian and Cartesian underpinnings of his own articulations of Marxist emancipatory strategies, and the body--or fragmentation of the unity of the human body, and concomitant fissuring of self-consciousness--becomes a key element in this critique. In fact, Bataille will link death with the drive toward an undifferentiated ideal, which he designates as the "homogenous" body. As he writes in Hegel, Death and Sacrifice, "nothing is less animal than the fiction, more or less removed from reality, of death."(14) Bataille opposes a "practical heterology" to homogeneity; yet, as in Butler's assertion of the "produced" rather than the "mimetic" identification of the body, Bataille's "heterogeneous element . . . remains indefinable and can only be determined through negation" ("Use Value of D.A.F. De Sade," 97-98). The attempt to displace--for Bataille, to "cure"--the drive of Hegelian and Cartesian (homogenous) thought toward the sublimation of the negating propensity of "heterogenous" matter is complicated by Bataille's refusal to designate "matter" positively. To circumvent this threat to revolutionary praxis, Bataille attempts to theorize a social space of heterogeneity--the "sacred." In this effort, Bataille's texts and Blake's Milton approach one another as radical revisions of the social world and the subjective processes that produce or re-produce it. Before moving directly to an exploration of "the sacred," however, it will be helpful to situate common themes and writing strategies of Blake's Milton and Bataille's social heterology--specifically, the interpenetration, in their texts, of debased "matter" and the ideal, as well as the body and the written text.
Bataille's writing practice, which he considered a discipline of "practical heterology," led him, by 1936, to refuse self-reflectivity before his "own" texts. In "The Sacred Conspiracy," for example, he is "no longer able to doubt that the lot and the infinite tumult of life were open to those who could no longer exist as empty eyesockets, but as seers swept away by an overwhelming dream they could not own" (181). Bataille could be said to speak of both his own and Blake's production of texts. Bataille's appreciation of Blake appears in Literature and Evil, in which Bataille notes "the excessive violence" of Blake's work, a measureless force that lends to his texts "a form of purity."(15) To begin reading Bataille's work, and Blake's Milton, is to begin abruptly, with a certain violence--is to attempt to find oneself "in the infinite tumult of life" in which the texts aim to place and thereby misplace our selves, in the interest of displacing the self-centering vision of the Cartesian cogito or the Hegelian Aufhebung. Thematic and figural repetitions--phantasms, specters, the blood of sacrificial slaughters, disjointed body parts, the body itself as a rift of life-force in the form of a cadaver or specter: all are exempla of an obsession to reveal the ideal as a form of violence and to restore the violence of "matter" to the ideal. "Violence" here signifies a productive capacity that exceeds utility, that exceeds attempts to appropriate it within useful endeavor, and that, therefore, links utility to waste, to an expenditure that gains nothing in its volant energy--a monstrous "production," a text/body that knows no limits between text and body.(16) Both Blake and Bataille attempt to produce a negativity that is not simply "the underside and accomplice of positivity," a negativity that "cannot be inscribed in discourse" since it is "neither positive nor negative" ("From Restricted to General Economy" 259). This obsession yet retains a seductive fascination in that, hovering within it as a specter is a language that speaks of an excess that is beyond, and that, perhaps, erupts within, the utility of idealized forms and languages. For Blake and Bataille, this excess speaks, in an allegorical way, in order to "cure" the inexorable movement of both reader and text toward idealization. The specific form of discursive activity that is Bataille's writing attempts to "treat" the reader's impetus to remain within a strictly productive utility that gathers the widely diverse elements or disseminatory seeds of the text under a regulatory necessity. Thus, the seductive fascination at the heart of such a cure is a repetition of the very death-production that the text has been called into existence expressly to "cure." The drive to "cure" this ubiquitous movement toward idealization is itself inextricable from a drive toward "truth." At or as the secret heart of such a cure, then, is a cadaver.
We can begin to explore this notion of excess in Milton when Blake invokes the "Muses who inspire the Poet's Song" in order to re-read "The Eternal Great Humanity Divine"; however, his invocation to the daughters of Beulah is a call for the guidance of those who have sanctioned the production of the previous illusion his text would disillusion or seek to repel:
... Come into my hand
By your mild power; ...
From out the Portals of my Brain, where by your ministry
The Eternal Great Humanity Divine, planted his Paradise,
And in it caus'd the Specters of the Dead to take sweet forms
In likeness of himself...
(96, ll. 6-10)
Blake's repeated invocation of the potential treachery, dissembling, and misguidance of the muses' inhabitation of the brain and body--specifically, in the case of Leutha's part in Satan's "sin" (105, ll. 4-5; 106, ll. 36, 41), but also in the Specter's inhabitation of "Human lineaments" where "The sons of Ozoth" occupy the "Optic Nerve" in order to harden the physical world's disseminating materiality into a "bone/Opake" (126, ll. 34-35)--signals the need for an impossibly stringent self-reflexivity toward the inhabitations of his own brain and body. In fact, it seems that the body must depose the "head," the drive toward self-reflexivity, in order to write itself as a more authentic body.
In such works as "The Solar Anus," Bataille's writing itself becomes a cure for the accidental violence--the violence without object--of Bataille's mind. By 1927, the year in which Bataille wrote "The Solar Anus" as part of a psychoanalytic treatment directed by Dr. Adrien Borel, Bataille felt that the "cure" had controlled sufficiently violent episodes that threatened to erupt into the social sphere. And yet, the unrelenting obsessions of Bataille's later writings seem to give a more emphatic voice to that "earlier" socio-pathology. In a similar application of the text as cure and completion of a fragmented subjectivity, Paul Youngquist sees Blake's Milton as "the fruits of a pathological distortion of consciousness" that yet reveals "elements of this world, hitherto closed from sight and mind."(17) But in the case of Blake as in the case of Bataille, it is difficult to support the claim that the writing of Milton cured Blake in the predominant psychoanalytic sense of that word. For example, Youngquist claims that "myth in Milton enacts a healing as through it Blake masters the distortion of human experience that is vision and re-establishes a living relationship with the world ... It is Blake's myth, and not self-mastery, that allows him to stand at the end of Milton unmolested by his own pathological experience, eagerly awaiting apocalypse" (569). Similarly, Andrew M. Cooper writes that Milton is "a potential barrier to fife which succeeds, paradoxically, through the poet's attaining enough inspiration to surmount it"; consequently, through writing Milton, Blake is "progressively becoming himself ... the course of Milton, then, is a progressive compression of form leading to the internalization of form as vision, thus liberating the poet from his work."(18) For both Youngquist and Cooper, the form of Milton and the identity of Blake are unified, and Blake "appears in his `mortal state' (42:26)" by passing beyond the poem "into the daily realities awaiting him just outside the last line, `To go forth to the Great Harvest & Vintage of the Nations' (43:1)" (Cooper 73). Curiously, Youngquist and Cooper's "cure" of the need to write is writing itself; similarly, such a cure does not explain the need to write Jerusalem--in which Blake's identity is fraught with fissures, and the form of the poem continually repels schemes of unification.
Youngquist and Cooper's hermeneutic interpretation of textual causality (in which the text produces "Blake" as an effect) and psychic completion, their construction of writing as the supplement to fragmented being that, paradoxically, produces subjective wholeness, can serve as a synecdoche in a more "encompassing" reading practice -- that is, a more abstract, meta-theoretical figuring of a movement from "discontinuity" to "completion" as the organization of Blake's corpus. In Words of Eternity: Blake and the Poetics of the Sublime, Vincent Arthur DeLuca argues that William Blake's texts, like Burke's Philosophical Discourse on the Sublime and Beautiful, "provide a structure that includes a moment of discontinuity."(19) For DeLuca, Blake's texts differ from Burke's in that Blake provides a "more thorough discontinuity" and a "more radical division" of the faculties (42). In DeLuca's terminology, Blake's withholding of "concessions to referentiality" creates a reading experience in which "his words, letters, and lines take on a distinct intensity" that does not sacrifice the "intrinsic clarity of their form" (43). Like DeLuca, many other Blake scholars have attempted to read Blake's "moments of discontinuity" as a formal element within his texts; thus, in such critics' readings, significant textual discontinuities do not disrupt the organic whole that is the form of the text, and Blake's works can continue to be read as "successful" revisions of earlier poets and poetic forms across a diversity of traditions. Similarly, in Blake scholarship, Blake remains an author who maintains a rigorous control over the multiple fissures of referentiality that his texts enact--whether these breaks in meaning occur at the level of the grapheme, the signifier/signified relationship, or the formal pattern(s). Nelson Hilton's Literal Imagination: Blake's Vision of Words, Lorraine Clark's Blake, Kierkegaard, and the Specter of Dialectic, and Susan Fox's Poetic Form in Blake's Milton are characterized by what Stephen D. Cox, in "Methods and Limitations," calls the "a prior" assumption "no less influential in the older than in the newer interpretations of Blake . . . that [he] is a pervasively dialectical poet."(20)
All three critics recognize significant discontinuities that yet become subsumed in relatively stable "meaning" of the texts, although Hilton, Clark, and Fox locate that meaning differently. In "In Words Into the Worlds of Thought," Hilton writes of the referent underlying all of Blake's texts: "Seeing and hearing the word is meeting it alive in its force-field of sound, etymology, graphic shape, contemporary applications, and varied associations. This kind of attention ... reveals that the keys to the gates of that text he in its language" (7). The being of language asserts its continuity with human being: "Every word is a parable about linguistic structure as incarnate human imagination" (7). Curiously, this intensification and proliferation of association does not disrupt the drive that is meaning: the controlling logic of the text is the figure, and figurality, of imagination. For Lorraine Clark, "the structure of Milton illustrates Blake's reversal of Hegelian dialectic with remarkable clarity"; yet, she sees no contradiction between her claim that Blake overturns Hegelian dialectics and the thesis/antithesis/synthesis structure she projects as Milton, which moves "from an initial state of `mediation' or unity to an exposure of this state as false or illusory, then to a decisive differentiation or casting-off of this state, and finally to a state of true unity and poetic vision" (29). Finally, Susan Fox sees in Milton a "dramatic dialectic of partial truths" which is "progressive conflict" that "controls ... the poetic design ... in its minutest as well as its most comprehensive features" (20-21).
For Cox, such readings lead to an impasse in Blake criticism "because few, if any, limitations are imposed on the possible meanings of the term, dialectics are easily located virtually everywhere in his writings--in every kind of duality, parallel, contrast, and apparent contradiction" (26). What does seem clear in the majority of Blake scholars' enactment of the term "dialectics"--whether or not they feel that Blake is attempting to displace a specifically Hegelian dialectic--is the eventual resolve of contradiction. As such, many Blake scholars assert an affinity with Hegelian historical (dialectical) progression; as Derrida notes in Positions, Hegel, "in the greater Logic, determines difference as contradiction only in order to resolve it" (44). Cox's remarks signal a significant limitation imposed on Blake criticism by the assumption that Blake is "dialectical": the a priori assumption of Blake's explicitly dialectical formation and production of his texts enacts, ensures, and inures either an overestimation of Blake's control over the signifying processes of his texts, or the subsumption of dissonant elements in the unity of the form of the text. Armed with the assumption that Blake's text is dialectical, the critic's problem then shifts from the marginalized possibility that Blake's texts mean only in the act of reading against some other text or context--that is, the meaning of Blake's text appears solely because of the context in which the critic places Blake's work. As David L. Clark notes, "in the boundary region of the circumference, `All things' are necessarily exposed to the contextualizing presence of `all [other] things.'"(21) If Blake remains a dialectical poet (in whatever form of Coxian dialectics the critic chooses), the problem of the relationship between "context" and the production (as opposed to the reception) of knowledge is largely displaced; the critic's task becomes a much simpler matter of selecting a critical apparatus that will translate Blake's signifying authority into its proper referent across and through the fissures, the dangerous gaps of meaning, in his texts; thus, the form of the poem or Blake's "control" over the signifying chain(s) of the text cure significant gaps or disjunctions in the texts. In other words, the assumption that Blake is dialectical disallows the possibility that the multiplicity of fissures in his texts may not be resolved through recourse to the authority of the author's message or to the author's control over the form his texts take--or even, in the case of Youngquist and Cooper's respective readings of Milton, to the form of identity that the author produces as psychological historiography in the process of writing: the cure, completion, or closure, through language. of the writer's gaps in subjectivity.
In the cases of both Bataille and Blake, the cure undertaken by and in writing is precisely that of effecting or exposing a radical pathology in the ideal itself. Writing, in its search for identity, is "a copula of terms ... no less irritating than the copulation of bodies" since "the verb to be is the vehicle of amorous frenzy" ("The Solar Anus" 4). For Bataille, religions sanction a forgetting of this interpolation of body and spirit, "the work" and "text," by bringing about "a profound separation within the sacred domain, dividing it into a superior world (celestial and divine) and an inferior world (demoniacal, a world of decomposition)" ("Use Value" 96). Such a division leads "to a progressive homogeneity of the entire superior domain (only the inferior domain resists all efforts at appropriation)" (96). Bataille's effort is to return this divine matter to its original division as a specifically human process, for which an affective or emotive value becomes an allegory that conflates the most debased and the most exalted forms of matter (or experience): excrement, blood, violent wounds, sacred sacrifices as wasteful or non-appropriative and therefore excremental expenditure, body cavities and effluvia of the body, moral debauchery all circulate in and among the sun, God, love, ecstasy, self-sacrifice, and ethics.
Similarly, Blake's Milton takes the reader through the howlings, jealousies, blood, gore, cannibalism, fear, and terror at the heart of the production of the world. Like Bataille's texts, Blake's Milton restores to the Christian ideal of God (the creator and regulator of the world) a visceral violence, division, jealousy, partially formed beings--creation as a painful dehiscence. The text, and the "curative vision" as text, is itself inexorably linked to processes of the body. Contrary to David Riede's claim that Blake "fully internalizes the muses," Blake's text/body conflates internal and external spatial designations.(22) The vision that is the text "descends down the Nerves" of Blake's "right arm" (96, 1. 6); the Specters "take refuge in Human lineaments" (126, 1. 28). Blake himself, in his role as poet, seems to inhabit a space/time of an ecstatic involution of body processes, a synchronic node of time that yet lasts six thousand years: a "Moment equals a pulsation of the artery" (126, 1. 47) and
Every Time less than a pulsation of the artery
Is equal in its period & value to Six Thousand Years.
(127, 11. 62-63)
For in this period the Poets Work is Done: and all the Great
Events of Time start forth & are conceived in such a Period
Within a Moment: a Pulsation of the artery
(127, 11. 1-3)
In this infinite and infinitesimal pulse, the process of writing, the "final" form that is the text, the individual body, the social body, and the ideal converge without hope of extrication; thus, throughout Milton are writings and re-writings of the violent or excessive processes of the body. In book two, Ulro becomes a body within a divine body, that opens onto vision in the "Four States of Humanity in its Repose":
The First State is in the Head, the Second is in the Heart:
The Third in the Loins & Seminal Vessels & the Fourth
In the Stomach & Intestines terrible, deadly, unutterable
And he whose gates are opend in those Regions of his Body
Can from those Gates view all these wondrous Imaginations
(134; 11. 8, 14-18)
The fourth state, "the Stomach and Intestines terrible," is both "Law" and the "Stomach in every individual man" (120, 1. 47; 121, 1. 67). "View'd from Miltons Track" Ulro seems "a vast Polypus / Of living fibres down into the Sea of Time & Space growing / A self-devouring monstrous Human Death ..." (134, 11. 24-26) linked to excretory processes. Commerce--"Allamanda" in the limited perspective afforded by earthly life--is linked to both vegetative and cultural appropriation: it is "the Cultivated land / Around the City of Golgonooza" (Golgonooza: land of "Art and Manufacture") (120, 1. 50). In Blake's Milton, appropriation/consumption and excretion seem to be, as Bataille calls them in "The Use Value of D.A.F. de Sade," a provisional demarcation of "the two polarized human impulses" (94), since, of the four arts of eternity, in "Time and Space . . . only / Science remains," and "Science is divided into Bowlahoola & Allamanda" (125, 11. 57-58, 63). This perspective of the humanized social body is limited because Golgonooza is visible only by passing through "the Polypus," an impossible vision "not passable by Immortal feet, & none / But the Divine Saviour can pass it without annihilation" (135, 11. 19-20). This impossible boundary marks the limit of human endeavor since, as Nietzsche states in The Birth of Tragedy, "the periphery of the circle of science has an infinite number of points" which "noble and gifted men" reach only to "see to their horror how logic coils up at these boundaries and finally bites its own tail--suddenly the new form of insight breaks through, tragic insight, which, merely to be endured, needs art as a protection and remedy." At this "limit," science, and art as science, folds back upon itself, and the cure consumes itself in order to regenerate itself. The text-any text--becomes a final attempted evasion of a terror it reproduces in the very attempt of expulsion.
In Milton, this process seems to be the heart of the production of both the world and the text as world. In the opening sections, Blake represents the process of the creation of the world as a tormented production of the body. Los and Enitharmon, in human terms Time and Space (121, 1. 68), work together to weave life. At the site of the world they create, a nebulous body that both is and is not Los's body circulates painfully in the abyss:
Down sunk with fright a red round Globe hot burning, deep
Deep down into the Abyss, panting: conglobing: trembling
And a second Age passed over & a State of dismal woe.
(97, 11. 11-13)
Throughout this section of Milton, Los's terror is the painful splitting of his body--paradoxically, as it takes form. Yet, this terror holds a peculiar fascination: becoming what he beholds, Los "wept over it" (97, 1. 32); curiously, he also "cherish'd it / In deadly sickening pain" (97, 11. 32-33). Thus, Los's body undergoes an ecstatic fissuring that produces the text that is Milton:
all the while from his Back
A blue fluid exuded in Sinews hardening in the Abyss
Till it separated into a Male Form howling in Jealousy
(97, 11. 34-37)
Los's creation, painful and tortured in its own right, also includes the "Wine-press ... call'd War on Earth" which is the "Printing-Press" where Los "lays his words in order above the mortal brain" (124, 11. 8-9). This is the site of a festering material and linguistic energy, where the most material of creatures gather: the "Earth-worm ... .. gold Beetle," "Centipede," "ground Spider with many eyes," "ambitious Spider in his sullen web; the lucky golden Spinner, / The Earwig armd; the tender Maggot ... The Flea: Louse: Bug: the Tape-Worm: all the Armies of Disease," the scorpion, Gnat, wasp, hornet, honey bee, toad, venomous newt, serpent (124, 11. 12-23). In this press--this technology for producing what Foucault, in Discipline and Punish, calls "docile bodies"(24)--the human bodies are "grapes" that "howl & writhe in shoals of torment," and the description of the proliferating bodies of creatures folds into a catalogue of machinery whose express production is the proliferation of a limitless death
in fierce flames consuming,
In chains of iron & in dungeons circled with ceaseless fires.
In pits & dens & shades of death: in shapes of torment and woe.
(124-25, 11. 31-33)
"The plates & screws & wracks & saws & cords & fires & cisterns" which constitute the techne of death are accompanied with a lugubrious celebration by a monstrous, "celestial" body that exceeds and thus, conflates the auditory and gustatory senses of the human body:
The cruel joys of Luvahs Daughters lacerating with knives
And whips their Victims & the deadly sport of Luvahs Sons.
They dance around the dying, & they drink the howl & groan
They catch the shrieks in cups of gold, they hand them to one another:
These are the sports of love, & these the sweet delights of amorous play
(125, ll. 35-39)
In book two, the discreteness of Blake's body--and thus, of the "right arm" that produces the text--becomes questionable as his body takes on the body of Los, assimilated or amalgamated "in his firy whirlwind" (137, l. 21) so that the now monstrous body of Blake "might write all these Visions / To display Natures cruel holiness: the deceits of Natural Religion[.]" (137, ll. 24-25). Like Bataille's writing, Blake's text conflates the exalted and the debased, the holy and the cruel, innocence and crime. As Blake inhabits Los, and Los assumes Blake, the monstrous vision attempts to write its own tortured, de-idealized body in offering the text as a catalogue of aural and visual ejaculations: screams, howls, groans, emanations, deaths, and lugubrious body parts proliferate a seemingly endless topography of ecstatic suffering.(25) In this body/text, Blake critiques Milton's production of ideality early in book two, when Milton and Lucifer converse:
And Milton oft sat up on the Couch of Death & oft conversed
In vision & dream beatific with the Seven Angels of the Presence
I have turned my back upon these Heavens builded on cruelty
My Specter still wandering thro' them follows my Emanation
(131, ll. 1-4)
Surrounded by the fissures, the painful productions in the celestial sphere, Milton remains willfully ignorant of the means by which life surges into an idealized Being. When Milton turns toward Ololon (142), he expresses the wish "to cleanse the Face of my Spirit by Self-examination ... to wash off the Not Human I come in Self-annihilation" (142, l. 37, ll. 1-2). Clearly, Milton's description of his own processes of cleansing, of purifying "his" textual body of the nonhuman, is a making visible of an invisible process of forgetting, for it is not self-annihilation to cure one's body of a filth that is a priori exterior to it. Blake suggests that Milton excises part of his own spiritual body--a specific part, however, the "unclean," pathological part--in order to speak "truthfully" the spirit. Opposed to and yet assimilating Milton's text is the production of Blake's body/text, in which Ololon reveals Milton's continuity with that he seeks to redress:
In Self annihilation giving thy life to thy enemies
Are those who contemn Religion & seek to annihilate it
Become in their Femin[in]e portions the causes & promoters
Of these Religions, how is this thing?
(141, ll. 8-11)
Through this painful, pathological process of questioning--the questioning that presumably has produced the text Milton--the Virgin Ololon replies "in clouds of despair," and herself fissures "six-fold" (143, l. 3). The despair that produces the fissured body of the Virgin Ololon, in turn, brings forth "Jesus the Saviour" "In clouds of blood, in streams of gore, with dreadful thunderings / Into the Fires of the Intellect" (143, ll. 8-9). The appearance of Jesus, too, is inextricable from the broken life-force of the body or bodies that the figure would save. The creation of Jesus appears another symptom of a more general pathology. Significantly, when Jesus is taken in the "Column of Fire," the shock, signified as "Terror" in the text, registers on the body of Blake, implicitly recapitulating the inseparability of the body and the ideal: Blake writes, simply, "My bones trembled" (143, l. 25). Similarly, the ending of Milton offers no escape from the excretory and consumptive violence that precedes it:
Los listens to the Cry of the Poor Man: his Cloud
Over London in volume terrific, low bended in anger.
Rintrah & Palamabron view the Human Harvest beneath
Their Wine-presses & Barns stand open; the Ovens are prepar'd
The Waggons ready: terrific Lions and Tygers sport and play
All Animals upon the Earth, are prepared in all their strength
To go forth to the Great Harvest & Vintage of the Nations
(144, ll. 34-40)
By the end of Milton, the human world stands poised to be consumed by the monstrous drives or pulsations that produce it; despite Youngquist and Cooper's claims for a unified, progressive structure in both the text and Blake's subjectivity, the text/Blake folds back into its own processes of creation/destruction. Thus, contrary to the great number of critics who read the ending of Milton redemptively,(26) the repetition of an apocalypse--traditionally, an end to time and a "beginning" of eternity--in Milton suggests that the apocalypse with which the text closes, the liminal site between time and eternity, is no more than a production, and re-production of a desire for historical and textual closure that the text of Milton has already foreclosed. Clearly, the creative process that produces and sustains Milton remains intrinsic to the excretory and appropriative world that produces and re-produces itself in this very process.
The apocalypse is one example of monstrous excess of which Bataille speaks; however, if Blake's explosive end of history seems outside the apocalypse of organized religion (since there seem to be no "Elect" included in the Consummation, and, paradoxically, no radical "history" external to the material processes that produce the text), it is not quite identical to the social site of excess--the "sacred"--in Bataille's mid-thirties texts. In book one of Milton, Los "puts all into the Press, the Opressor & the Opressed / Together, ripe for the Harvest and Vintage & ready for the Loom" (121, ll. 6-7), despite the "Souls" who
howl round the porches of Golgonooza
Crying O God deliver us to the Heavens or to the Earths,
That we may preach righteousness & punish the sinner with death
(121, ll. 12-14)
Los refuses this request, and "all the Vintage of Earth was gatherd in" (121, l. 15). And yet, the apocalypse is a conflicted site of "cure" for social ills, since all of Los's three classes of beings survive the "Great Vintage & Harvest" (121, l. 17). Similarly, Los's thundering pronouncement of the end of the world itself does not escape dissention: after his speech "lightnings of discontent broke out on all sides round" (122, l. 63), and the excess into which the apocalypse releases life-energy becomes a resumed production of text. To speak of "cure," then, in the context of Blake's and Bataille's texts requires a seemingly limitless series of qualifications. "Cure" provides nothing like a repose in a comfortable if static homogeneity of emotional, mental and social routine; the cure reveals that homogeneity as a constitutive symptom of disease. Analogously, such a cure does not sublimate the violence that seems a necessary constituent of pathology; rather, this cure--for Blake and Bataille this writing that is the text--offers only a re-figuration of the economy of that pathology, and thus, little control over, let alone an eradication of, the "ideal" or the " material." In Blake and Bataille's texts, pathology is no longer located in and locatable as an individual aberration from the norm--a. norm formed by and forming a collectivity of individuals; rather, pathology extends itself into the very formation of the world, the productivity of the normal, the separation of one body from another, and the impetus to define the closure of the text--including the "text" of history. In the case of these two writers, the text--far from curing the need to write--makes of writing the need for a cure. Such a cure appears to extend that pathology across the pure substantiation that is God, the representation of the ideal, and the happy consciousness that the sleep of mason--the naturalization of a restricted or pre-eminently productive economy--produces. The idealized form is no longer inexplicably exterior to the violence of repression and oppression; rather, the ideal is produced by oppression and repression and, thus, must itself reflect and remain a constituent of that violence.
For Bataille, the distinction between the sacred and the transcendental returns the transcendental/divine to its originary violence: "... a disjunction between the sacred and transcendental substance (consequently impossible to create) suddenly opens a new field--a field perhaps of violence, perhaps of death, but a field which may be entered--to the agitation that has taken hold of the living human spirit" ("The Sacred" 242). Clearly, the task of writing a "cure," and writing as cure, moves such texts across the boundary that separates propriety from impropriety in order to mark--as Judith Butler suggests--the impossibility of the boundary itself. Once the violence of the ideal becomes naturalized--that is, when violence adopts the face of propriety--an outrageous, deviant propriety is necessary to attempt to free life into itself again--or at the very least, to open propriety to its (non)separable other, impropriety. For both writers, this makes of war a necessity, and the rhetoric of revolution against "the proper" frames both texts as injunctions to pathology. In Milton, Blake suggests that aesthetic production can be mobilized for a social revolution:
Rouze up O Young Men of the New Age! set your foreheads against the
ignorant Hirelings! For we have Hirelings in the Camp, the Court, & the
University: who would if they could, for ever depress Mental & prolong
Corporeal War. Painters! on you I call! Sculptors! Architects! Suffer not
the fash[i]onable Fools to depress your powers by the prices they pretend to
give for contemptible works or the expensive advertising boasts that they
make of such works. (95)
Similarly, in "The Sacred," Bataille refuses to surrender "what possesses" him
to the standards of salesmen, to which art has conformed ... God
represented the only obstacle to the human will, and freed from God this
will surrenders, nude, to the passion of giving the world an intoxicating
meaning. Whoever paints or writes, can no longer concede any limitations
on painting or writing; alone, he suddenly has at his disposal all possible
human convulsions, and he cannot flee from this heritage of divine
power--which belongs to him. (245)
In this situation, for Bataille as for Blake, pathology is itself the cure for which it seeks. Both writers construe the violent gesticulations of the material body as a mode of intervention in the systematizing of thought and social institutions. Thus, for both writers, this cure does not construct a historical progression of teleological unfolding: in Milton, for example, history is generated in a "Period / Within a Moment" (127, ll. 2-3). Temporal progression becomes a synecdoche of simultaneity, which is itself an absence of the ability to measure time since the body's processes, too, are merely a metonymic series of allegories of measurement. The synchronic mode of creation appears the recovered unthought of a diachronic experience of time; in turn, the diachronic simultaneously precedes and completes the content of the synchronic. Similarly, the texts do not ensure and regulate a madness contained and controlled by reason; rather, reason and madness, violence and freedom, remain curiously interpenetrated in their texts.
Despite this similarity, Blake differs from Bataille in creating mythological figures, and a mythological world that forms an impossible boundary between the human and extra-human worlds. Blake's "sacred" space in Milton is bounded by the mythological figure Los who gathers "Every scattered Atom" for the final harvest (121, l. 18). Whereas the origins of Blake's figures are indefinite--they can come from the operations of the human physiognomy or from an extra-human source--Bataille's extra-human figures (the acephalic being, the "pineal eye" that is blinded in the moment it achieves its purpose and opens toward the energy of the sun, and therefore is burned up and sees nothing) have far less of an autonomous life-world from the human. In fact, these creatures are human, all too human:
The bald summit of the anus has become the center, blackened with bushes,
of the narrow ravine cleaving the buttocks. The spectral image of this
change of sign is represented by a strange human nudity--now
obscene--that is substituted for the hairy body of animals, and in
particular by the pubescent hairs that appear exactly where the ape was
glabrous; surrounded by a halo of death, a creature who is too pale and too large
stands up, a creature who, under a sick sun, is nothing other than the
celestial eye it lacks. ("The Pineal Eye" 90)
This parody of the upright posture of the rational human body--one of the most significant differences between human and animal bodies--is the scandal of a divine link between a human world of proliferating, indefinable materiality and its rational God. Bataille's critique moves beyond even the Gnostic mistrust of the body, a belief with which Blake has been affiliated. As Michael A. Williams states in "Divine Image--Prison of Flesh: Perceptions of the Body in Ancient Gnosticism," "[t]he characteristic upright stance was a feature of physical human bodies in which even the Gnostics, who gained reputations as `haters of the body,' saw something extraordinary, a sign of divine power."(27) Despite this difference in their figures of revolt against the metaphysical systematization of subjectivity and history, both writers construe their texts as movements that sustain, if they radically transfigure, religious purity. For Bataille, reason becomes the shadow of a violence that directs itself toward a formless, nameless freedom that he will call "the sacred." Essentially a religious activity, the experience of the sacred is directed not toward "a personal and transcendent being (or beings), but toward an impersonal reality" ("The Sacred" 242). The sacred is "perhaps the most ungraspable thing that has been produced between men" and, having been produced and not received by human beings from a source beyond the human, the sacred is, then, "only a privileged moment of communal unity" (242). Yet, the same could be said for the human experience of Los's mythologized body, whose fracturing, fissuring presence is the whole of human understanding. In the apocalyptic, prophetic tone of "The Sacred Conspiracy," Bataille speaks of human life enervated "from serving as the head of, or the reason for, the universe" (180).
How does the head that is human reason function in the economy of the body that is life? For Bataille, the production of God, the spirit, as reason (means-ends rationality), and reason as distinct from emotion (and from materiality) constitutes the proclamation of a discontinuity where only continuity exists. Blake, too, critiques the construction of such a division in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell when he calls into question the Cartesian doctrine "That Man has two real existing principles Viz: a Body & a Soul" (34). By constructing such a discontinuity, the head then sanctions the mutilation of matter in separating matter from "itself." But this mutilation is, finally, auto-mutilation. Reason, divorced from a transcendent source that is itself a restricted form of a more generalized pathology, is no more than a diseased life-actualization that, in its position of governance over a body that it must continually cease to acknowledge as part of itself, must accept servitude as its condition of possibility. The head severs itself from the rest of the body and can then cannibalize or appropriate that which, through an operation of Nietzschean forgetting, it is not. But this movement raises the specter of a rational body that, as the ending of Milton also suggests, unwittingly but unerringly consumes its own flesh. In the gesture of self-definition, the abject-ed body and text cannibalizes itself in order to perpetuate the illusion of completion, of sovereignty, of closure.
The sacred, an interpersonal but impersonal space--in other words, a space that is generated by human beings but refuses a distinctly human form--seems to allow Bataille to theorize the stultifying violence of ration or reason without himself becoming enslaved to it. Beyond the servitude of a means/ends organization of life-activity, beyond the constriction implicit in the designation "human," and beyond the prohibition that, for Bataille, is synonymous with the Christian figure God, is a being "unaware of prohibition":
Beyond what I am, I meet a being who makes me laugh because he is
headless; this fills me with dread because he is made of innocence and
crime ... He reunites in the same eruption Birth and Death. He is not a
man. He is not a god either. He is not me but he is more than me: his
stomach is the labyrinth in which he has lost himself, loses me with him,
and in which I discover myself as him, in other words as a monster. (181)
One discovers oneself as other, and humanity as inhuman, in the belly of this acephalic beast. Lacking direction in the bounding coils of the organic and linguistic labyrinth, lacking a point of origin that can answer the call of reason that is itself an ecstatic whimpering of Cartesiographical longing, this impossible figure must make itself, and figure itself, as a provisional articulation of identity--a parody of that which it cannot even call its host body, since this identification of two separate entities (host and parasite) must itself be a parody of separation, an impossible bifurcation of an inalienable human cry. And yet, this cry that is the Blakean/Bataillan text is somehow less than a cure for the terror that produces an ideal reason, since it too cannot relinquish a longing for a spare that refuses human utility--the very "utility" of a revised "materiality"--as its completion. As Jacques Derrida notes, "Like general economy, it [sovereignty, the sacred] is not the loss of meaning, but ... `the relation to this loss of meaning'. It opens the question of meaning. It does not describe unknowledge, for this is impossible, but only the effect of unknowledge. [As Bataille notes,] `In sum, it would be impossible to speak of unknowledge, while we can speak of its effects'" (Writing and Difference 270). Like Bataille's texts, far from constituting itself as an escape to completion, Blake's body/text strives to remain between, entre-deux, the unified and the dispersed knowledge that would constitute the body of the world. In such a space of production, history becomes Blake's body, a text that simultaneously refuses the materiality of its own enabling conditions and consumes that materiality at the very moment it produces itself For both writers, history's pathology, its perpetual apocalypse, is to remain within this body/text in the very gesture of time's reconstitution. (1.) W. J. T. Mitchell, "Dangerous Blake," in Studies in Romanticism 21 (1982):415.
(2.) Mitchell's "Dangerous Blake" attempts to use Blake as a safeguard against the free play--what Mitchell calls "the threat of doubt and nothingness"--of deconstructive criticism; thus, Blake will "prevail over" deconstruction because Blake "anticipates so many of its sceptical and nihilistic tendencies" (416).
(3.) Jacques Derrida, "From Restricted to General Economy: A Hegelianism Without Reserve" in Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1978), 253; originally published as L'ecriture et la difference (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1967). As Derrida remarks in the essay on Bataille and elsewhere, the attempt to displace Hegelian thought is by no means foreclosed: "Hegelian self-evidence seems lighter than ever at the moment when it finally bears down with its full weight" (251); in Positions Derrida notes, "it is still a question of elucidating the relationship to Hegel--a difficult labor, which for the most part remains before us . . . " (Positions, trans. Alan Bass [Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1981], 43; originally published as Positions [Paris: Minuit, 1972]).
(4.) G. W. F. Hegel, On Art, Religion, Philosophy: Introductory Lectures to the Realm of Absolute Spirit, ed. J. Glenn Gray (New York: Harper & Row, 1970), 103.
(5.) Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex (New York: Routledge, 1993), ix.
(6.) Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Structure of Behaviour, trans. Alden L. Fisher (London: Methuen, 1965).
(7.) Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Cathy Smith (New York: Routledge, 1978), 350. (8.) Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Evanston: Northwestern UP, 1968), 147.
(9.) Mark Taylor, Altarity (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1987), 69.
(10.) In using "appropriation" here I am thinking of Jean-Paul Satire's discussion of "the slimy" in Being and Nothingness (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972). Like Butler, Sartre interrogates the limits of the human body in Being and Nothingness, albeit with a different focus and results. Satire writes that "the project of appropriation ... compels the slimy [in its relation to the human body] to reveal its being" but this being is at once clear and opaque: "It is clear inasmuch [as] ... the slimy lets itself be apprehended as that which I lack; it lets itself be examined by an appropriative inquiry ... Yet it is opaque ..." because the slimy, in all its "inexpressible materiality," disrupts the borders drawn by the consumptive process of appropriation--it refuses to be constituted as an object distinct from the human body or thought. "What comes back to us then as an objective quality is a new nature which is neither material (and physical) nor psychic, but which transcends the opposition of the psychic and the physical" (773). Much to Sartre's horror (and fascination), both the human body and thought are drawn into this nondescript space/time, this continual disruption of borders, that is the "slimy."
(11.) William Blake, Jerusalem in The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, ed. David V. Erdman (Toronto: Doubleday, 1988), 198. All subsequent references to Blake's texts are from this edition.
(12.) Georges Bataille, Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-1939, trans. Allan Stoekl (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1991), 15. All subsequent references to Bataille's texts can be found in this text unless otherwise noted.
(13.) Alexandre Kojeve, Introduction to Me Reading of Hegel Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. James H. Nichols, Jr. (New York: Basic Books, 1969), 25-26.
(14.) As quoted in Jacques Derrida, "From Restricted to General Economy," 258.
(15.) Georges Bataille, Literature and Evil, trans. Alastair Hamilton (New York: Marion Boyars, 1985), 79; originally published as La literature et le mal (Paris: Gallimard, 1957).
(16.) This excess of Blake's text over even his own imagination differentiates my reading of Blake's Milton from that of Ross Woodman, who recognizes the extent to which Milton is "bound to physiological processes," but who feels that Blake comes to "know at a conscious level the responses of his own body (nerve-stimuli) which presented themselves as metaphors." Thus, implicit in Woodman's understanding of Milton is the assumption that the text lends itself to a tropological reading in which the body functions like a textual figure or network of figures, but which is not thereby disrupted as a text itself--as a communicable entity made present in and through figurality. Ross Woodman, "Nietzsche, Blake, Keats and Shelley: The Making of a Metaphorical Body," Studies in Romanticism 29 (1990):131.
(17.) Paul Youngquist, "Criticism and the Experience of Blake's Milton," Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 30 (1990):557.
(18.) Andrew M. Cooper, "Blake's Escape from Mythology: Self-Mastery in Milton," Studies in Romanticism 20 (1981):71, 61. (19.) Vincent Arthur DeLuca, Words of Eternity: Blake and the Poetics of the Sublime (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1991), 42.
(20.) Nelson Hilton, Literal Imagination: Blake's Vision of Words (Los Angeles: U of California P, 1983); Lorraine Clark, Blake, Kierkegaard, and the Specter of Dialectic (New York: Cambridge UP, 1991); Susan Fox, Poetic Form in Blake's Milton (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1976); Stephen D. Cox, "Methods and Limitations," in Critical Paths: Blake and the Argument of Method, ed. Dan Miller, Mark Bracher, Donald Ault (Durham: Duke UP, 1987), 26.
(21.) David L. Clark, "Against Theological Technology: Blake's `Equivocal Worlds,'" in New Romanticism: Theory and Cultural Practice, ed. David L. Clark and Donald C. Goellnicht (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1994), 176.
(22.) David Riede, "Blake's Milton," in Re-Membering Milton. Essays on the Texts and Traditions, ed. Man, Nyquist and Margaret Ferguson (New York: Methuen. 1987), 264.
(23.) Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy and The Genealogy of Morals, trans. Francis Golffing (Toronto: Doubleday, 1956), 115.
(24.) Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Pantheon, 1977).
(25.) In "The Book of Urizen and the Horizon of the Book," Paul Mann asserts that Milton is "a revisionary reading of Paradise Lost" in which "Poetic genius explicates or unfolds dark visions of torment in such a way that physical bodies are reconceived as spiritual bodies" so that Blake can "break through the chaotic, eclipsing shadows of absence into the lost light of presence that they obscure" (60). I am arguing that Blake's text is less a movement from "physical" to "spiritual" (and therefore, to metaphysical insight) than an interpellation and interpenetration of this binary opposition; thus, if the physical body can be understood as the spiritual body, as Mann claims, then the spiritual body must also be understood as the material body--with all of the associations of the "material" that the metaphysical tradition seeks to exclude. Paul Mann, "The Book of Urizen and the Horizon of the Book" in Unnam'd Forms: Blake and Textuality, ed. Nelson Hilton and Thomas A. Vogler (Berkeley: U of California P, 1986).
(26.) In addition to Youngquist and Cooper see, for example, Fox, 15, 21, 221; Northrop Frye. Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1969), esp. 323, 355: W. J. T. Mitchell, Blake's Composite Art: A Study of the Illuminated Poetry (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1978); Mark Bracher, Being Form'd: Thinking Through Blake's Milton (New York: Clinamen Studies, 1985), 2; Robert N. Essick, "The Return to Logos" in Critical Essays on William Blake, ed. Hazard Adams (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1991); Jeanne Moska, Blake, Ethics, and Forgiveness (Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 1994), 49, 170. Such readings tend to produce a teleological reading of Blake's chronological development, in which the later "prophetic" works--Milton and Jerusalem in particular--represent a movement from the incompletion that plagues Blake's earlier works. These critics discount or defer in Milton the survival of fragmentary qualities prominent in such earlier works as Europe, whose lack of closure prefigures. I would argue, Blake's thematic concerns in, and ending of, Milton. As David Ayers argues, Europe leaves "no prefigurations of the regenerate society" ("Representations of Revolution: From The French Revolution to The Four Zoas" in Critical Paths: Blake and the Argument of Method, ed. Dan Miller, Mark Bracher, Donald Ault, [Durham: Duke UP, 1987], 257). In a slightly different temporal schematization of Blake's texts, Peter Otto, in Constructive Vision and Visionary Deconstruction: Los, Eternity, and the Production of Time in the Later Poetry of William Blake (Oxford, Clarendon P, 1991), discusses only the later works and reads a teleological narrative of textual maturity in the movement from Milton to Jerusalem. Thus, Milton is a "visionary deconstruction of the Bard"--a negative pole or instance in a dialectic reminiscent of de Luca's moment of "discontinuity"--which is followed by the "visionary construction of Jerusalem" (97). However, if Otto approaches a reading of discontinuities in Milton, he does not treat the relationship of the textual violence throughout Milton to "visionary deconstruction," an issue crucial not only for an understanding of Milton but also in eradicating barriers to the ethical dialogism integral to Otto's isolation of the predominant theme of Milton, which, he argues, urges upon us the "power of responding to a non-violent appeal" (97).
(27.) Michael A. Williams, "Divine Image--Prison of Flesh: Perceptions of the Body in Ancient Gnosticism," in Fragments for a History of the Human Body, Part 1, ed. Michel Feher et al. (New York: Zone, 1989), 140.
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|Date:||Jun 22, 1997|
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