Yes, you read that right—William Blake, a poet, was trapped in a box—in the middle of nowhere—and he wanted out. Yes, I know it sounds all too like the Prince Albert tobacco joke. Do you remember that prank? Little did I know then about the course my life would take over the next two years in trying to understand Mr. When Caged to Kill is released on April 2, , you will come to know the story behind the book. I think you will find it facinating reading. By clicking here, you can order the ebook for Caged to Kill for only 99 cents.
Advretisement: A good website for free and discounted books is Just Kindle Books. Tom Swyers Follow. Please check out this important book by my colleague and fellow advocate. HALTsolitary now! And come out to our rallies across New York State on Oct. Click image. Post From Facebook Unable to display Facebook posts. Show error. Join the Readers Group and you'll get emails about breaking news, exlusive content, and special offers only available to members. First Name. Poet William Blake. Retweet on Twitter Tom Swyers Retweeted. Martin A.
Gromulat, Esq. Reply on Twitter Retweet on Twitter 1 Like on Twitter 1 Twitter Reply on Twitter Retweet on Twitter 3 Like on Twitter 2 Twitter Reply on Twitter Retweet on Twitter 7 Like on Twitter 13 Twitter Blake proves nearly impossible to edit beyond the choice of a facsimile text, and The William Blake Archive has to some extent negated such decisions. Second, there is no possible recourse for correction. I have to this point omitted discussion of text transcriptions in standardized typography.
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I defer again to Bentley on this point 3 :. But we do have to ask, in light of this expanded sense of intention and authority, a host of new questions that will guide our discussion: what elements of his work in both process and product are essential to meaning? Which elements of his work attempt relatively codified acts of signification, and which elements relate more generally to the sensation or experience of the work?
How do we relate the text to the image, or how can we separate the text from the image? And how do we go about interpreting this work? These questions follow from two more fundamental queries, of immediate concern: how did Blake make Milton? Why did he make it that way? Illuminated Printing 5. The technical details and aesthetic logic of illuminated printing have become central to Blake scholarship over the past thirty years, beginning with Robert N.
William Blake spent much of his life as a commercial engraver, and this practice powerfully influenced his work in illuminated printing. Engraved reproductions of popular images could be printed in large quantities, and the form was financially lucrative. However, engraving was viewed as a derivative craft, one best employed in the reproduction of drawn or painted originals, and was thus widely seen as artistically inferior to drawing and painting.
Blake believed strongly in the aesthetic viability of etching and printmaking as independent and creative artistic practices, and his work in illuminated printing affirms this position. Relief etching, the plate production technique Blake essentially invented, differs in both method and effect from contemporary engraving techniques, many of which sought to produce subtle tonal differences.
Relief etching instead creates heavy, distinct lines see fig. The contrast is clear in these examples from Blake and the great satirist-engraver William Hogarth. Intaglio etching begins with the application of an acid-resistant ground to a copper plate. The engraver then lays a sheet of paper containing the design onto the plate, and cuts through both the design and the ground with an array of sharp tools, exposing the metal. Tonal effects can be produced by varying the proximity and density of parallel lines or introducing cross-hatching.
The plate then soaks in acid, and the incisions that result are filled with ink that transfers the design onto paper when run through a press. First, he would cut the copper plate to a regular but not exact size. He would then apply the design directly to the plate in acid-resistant ink with pen or brush.
While in intaglio etching, knives and needles are used to recreate the effect of brush strokes, relief etching allowed Blake to simply paint or draw on the plate. Because the printed image mirrors the plate design, any text would be inscribed backwards. If he wanted sharp, thin lines, he could paint over a larger section and then manipulate the ink with a needle in a manner similar to the intaglio technique. Next the plate was ready to soak in acid, and after a period, the design would be reapplied in order to protect it and prepare for a second, longer soak.
The result left the design standing in relief, rather than incised into the plate. And the relief surface would be a solid plane, rather than a series of minute lines with subtle differences in width and depth. Accordingly, at the printing stage, the relief plate required far less pressure than an intaglio plate to transfer ink to a sheet of paper.
Registration between the plate and the paper was not always accurate, but as with plate size, Blake did not expect or demand uniformity. The printed impression was then ready to be finished in watercolor and pen — that is, illuminated — and upon its completion, the book would be tied together with string and sold, presumably to be professionally bound like most books of the era. This meant that he could compose the image on the plate, specifically for the plate, responding to its particularities and his own spontaneity.
The Poems and the Books: Reading and Rereading Blake's Songs
This union of invention and execution means that creative imagining and thinking occur simultaneously inside and outside the body. Blake and the Idea of the Book While Blake probably had the text in hand prior to designing a given plate, its composition could follow from direct and spontaneous creation, in response to the medium, maintaining a unity of sense and intellect, body and soul. More practically, the flexibility of the process allowed Blake to compose a few plates at a time, without knowing how he was going to plot each plate or how many plates the book would require.
There is an essential curiosity in the idea of using a mass production technology, like a rolling press, to make single copies of politically radical, aesthetically and philosophically complex works. From this perspective, Blake reappropriates the printing press in service of a critical, subversive project that constitutes an ideological rejection of mainstream print culture at large and the homogenizing tendencies of mass reproduction in particular.
This possibility is supported by the array of differences that exist between different copies of the same work. Stephen Leo Carr develops this variation into the basis of an influential interpretation, proposing that. Viscomi 7 and Essick 8 , however, have convincingly argued that the variable nature of illuminated printing was itself pragmatic and even commercially viable, particularly in an era in which spontaneous, autographic images were increasingly popular. In this view, Blake conceived of illuminated printing as an efficient and fairly inexpensive way to develop his projects, which he knew were unlikely to supplant his professional work.
This is true if taken with the caveats that, first, his intentions may have been quite vague prior to execution, and second, the medium itself is characterized by intensive variability at every stage of the process. Every medium, the body included, resists our intentions to some extent, and no medium or object is a passive transmitter or receptacle of will and meaning.
When we write or draw with a pencil, the object in our hands imposes itself on the inscription that results: the pencil determines the kinds of marks we can make, and the idiosyncrasy of the particular tool inevitably shapes the outcome to some irreducible degree, even if the difference between one pencil and another appears limited.
In the case of illuminated printing, idiosyncrasy and variability are defining features of the practice and of the images it produces. Any mediating effects of the translation from ink to brush to plate, through acid, through press to paper, and finally to watercolor, should not be viewed as flaws of method, as they in fact represent an essential aspect of its logic. As noted above, Blake did not cut his copper plates precisely, nor did he insist on exact registration of image to paper when it came time to print.
Further, an acid bath is not exactly a predictable process, and its results inevitably varied. The actual printing would always produce a slightly different impression in response to each inking of the plate and each run through the press, and meanwhile, the plates themselves inevitably altered with use.
Finally, as Catherine assisted Blake at every point along the way, most of his work is also, in part, hers. Nor can we say that every particular visual element signifies something specific or anything in general. However, as Erdman suggests,. In other words, intention resides partially in the method of production itself, authorized by the artist to operate variably.
Blake may have maintained some notion of how a given image should look, accepting prints that vary within tolerable limits, or he may have simply decided whether or not he liked whatever came out of the press without any well-defined expectation of what he would find. In this schema, intention diffuses throughout the process, negating the possibility of any entirely purposeful outcome.
Yet intention always returns to the artist in the form of a purposeful choice of method. Thus the word intention misleads insofar as it implies that Blake wanted the printed image to look exactly like the plate only reversed, and on paper rather than copper. At the same time, intention is absolutely accurate insofar as it suggests that the only human beings responsible in any direct sense for the shape of the work were the Blakes.
This discussion of variation qualifies my earlier claim that William Blake maintains greater textual authority over his work than a writer dependent on a publication network. That claim remains viable at the level of the book as a whole, but becomes problematic when it encounters questions about the meaning or purpose of specific details. Each of the illuminated books exists in multiple copies, and each copy differs in various ways — most noticeably, in color scheme, which shifts radically from performance to performance.
These differences raise several issues with regard to interpretation — perhaps foremost, we might ask: does a particular difference arise from variation inherent in the process, or through intentional revision? I doubt that Essick would begrudge anyone a speculative interpretation of any detail, but he might view that interpretation with skepticism in the absence of any evidence of direct intention. There is certainly value in understanding which elements of a given image are directly authorial and which are more generally processual. Such distinctions cannot be unearthed by critics in most cases, but would prove quite valuable to intentionalist interpretations.
However, we risk losing the aim of the process, and may in fact subvert the intention and purpose of the work, by insisting on this differentiation between authorial and medial cause. In other words, we might also begin at a different level of analysis, one in which we would try to articulate what Blake meant to accomplish through the creation of the book.
By way of analogy, an author attempting to produce a radically polysemous work intends unforeseen interpretations, which then exist both as indirectly authorial meanings and as readerly projections. Whereas Essick and Viscomi might insist on a distinction between affect and meaning, this kind of art challenges those distinctions; its intentions are more experiential than linguistically specific.
From this point of departure, I propose that Blake intends, in and through Milton , a multi-sensual experience in which the reader must imaginatively reconcile disparate or even conflicting elements into meaningful cohesion. Along these lines, a fundamental connection exists at the intersection of text and image, in Milton and throughout the illuminated books; this intersection acts as a central juncture in the process of holistic, literal, and conceptual interpretation.
The pictorialized text resists any reduction to a separable allographic module that could be extracted in transcription. The presence of illustration, however, should not imply that the visual elements of the work uniformly support or enhance the meaning of its linguistic dimension. If this were the case, a transcription might differ from a facsimile only in medium of signification, while maintaining the same general meaning. Instead, the Blakean text-image is far more problematic. This is, of course, true — the text does not depend on the illustrations in order to achieve meaning, because the illustrations in fact, as Nicholas M.
The illustrations do not uniformly assist interpretation, but rather they challenge and complicate the meaning of the text. This reading, made available by the materiality of the text, provides a thematic background for the conventional left-to-right reading. I refer specifically to the tendency of text to become perceptually transparent or peripheral to the linguistic sense it carries, a tendency that appears strongest in standardized typography. In the process, the text of the illuminated books comes closer to visual imagery, presenting language in a form that must be experienced first in material and sensual terms before it can become the referential language of reading.
The notion of a material context — a form of presentation external to the work itself that influences meaning — fundamentally assumes that the text is directly influenced by non-authorial agents. Context is by definition marginal to text, and we might risk elaboration: context is sometimes considered non-authoritative, inessential, peripheral to meaning.
The material book, then, cannot be interpreted as a context for his work because it is identical to his work. A conventional text contains elements incidental to meaning, residing in its material periphery. However, we can, and we inevitably do, make distinctions between elements we assume Blake intended to be relatively codified and determinate in meaning his words, and in a different mode, his illustrations , and elements he intended to produce a more general affect layout, certain marginal designs, color.
Such distinctions are essential to analysis, and they structure this very paper. This discussion seems to rest upon a central paradox: Milton expands textual authority and aesthetic experience to new material and sensory dimensions, but the book also insists on an expanded ideational role for the reader. By assuming sole control over the production of Milton , Blake has at the same time charged the reader with heightened responsibility. This paradox may be ultimately illusory, if framed slightly differently: because Milton unfolds in multiple sensory dimensions, it requires that we conceptualize, interpret, and reconcile elements that lack any obvious significance or clear path to coherence.
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We have already encountered some of these issues and the debates they engender: what is the significance of illuminated printing, as a practice and in affect? Of variation between copies? Of the text-image intersection? I have suggested throughout that the form of Milton , material and lexical, must be forcefully unified in the reading process. In one sense, these difficult transitions simply highlight the generalized structure of any reading experience, through which a fragmentary lexical string becomes meaningful.
Narratives always fail to accurately represent events, because they leave nearly everything to be inferred. Blanks indicate that the different segments and patterns of the text are to be connected even though the text itself does not say so. Ronald L. Blake intends the reader to take ownership of her experience rather than attribute sensation to the object from which it derives. My argument here follows from the structure of Milton , as well as from the conception of imagination that Blake develops throughout his published writings, letters, and marginalia.
I will outline that understanding of imagination here, and then examine how it might be put to interpretive work in the following section. In this art, true experience becomes possible through a revelation: separation, in all of its forms, deludes us, masking the ontological unity of our ever-present Edenic state. Our separation from each other and from the world in which we exist is an illusion. All experience partakes in reality, but moreso, all experience creates its reality. Truth thus lies in the idiosyncrasies that exceed the commonalities of our perception, that is, in those elements of perception that make the world ours in particular.
It is an art of creative obscurity because its obscurity repels generalized conceptions. The poetry carries meaning only along the grammars of individual assent. The variety of Blake scholarship affirms the depth and breadth of his body of work, and it also suggests the elusive quality of his art. This actualization follows from a renewed understanding of creation, or more specifically the relationship between creations and their creator. The text of Milton unifies around the theme and problem of the separation of oneself from oneself, a process inherent in creation, production, and generation.
Creation can synthesize or divide, it can return us to Eden or reenact the Fall. Imagination performs both the productive work of inspired perception and the reductive work of vivisecting ontological unity into a discrete, rationalized series of phenomena.
Milton begins in a fallen, fractured present. This unity becomes an autographic and unique form of communication that conveys meaning above and beyond linguistic sense. The reality of Milton is at once material, linguistic, and spiritual, and the separation of these terms denotes emptiness and even sin. The third plate of Milton , which appears only in the two most complete copies of the book C and D , features Los forging or giving birth first to Urizen, and then to his male spectre and female emanation.
This act demonstrates the relationship between creation, perception, and imagination that underlies the entirety of the Milton. The difference between suffering towards artistic redemption and suffering in the terror of sin remains thin, and it turns on the power and responsibility of active ideation, which comes from the revelation of fundamental eternal unity. Creation reenacts the Fall when it entails separation from the Creator. This issue occupies Blake throughout his body of work and proves central to the trajectory of Milton. Selfhood derives from the idea of possession and always gives way to jealousy.
Possession only becomes thinkable if the subject of experience separates that experience and its objects from himself.
This separation depends upon a fragmented world, and for Blake, fragmentation signifies delusion. This does not suggest an end to identity, but rather an end to individuation, which separates identity from phenomena. True identity lies in our ultimate inseparability from the world, consisting of the deep interconnection through which self and world reciprocally come into being. In the imaginative world everything is one in essence, but infinitely varied in identity.
The relationship between the self and its creations which include perceptions , then, turns on the idea that when we create, we reincarnate ourselves. That reality is not outside the subject, it is the subject. And this logic guides our approach to reading Milton. However, I reject the notion that the illustrations require some particular art-historical expertise to be cogently evaluated and I particularly doubt that Bloom, in his formidable cultural fluency, lacks whatever expertise that might be.
The preceding account enumerates and organizes the challenges Milton poses: material form and production, textual variation, text-image interaction, narrative, the imagination. In the aesthetic encounter with Milton , however, these various elements exist in simultaneous unity or tension, rather than in a clearly distinguishable series. I propose, then, to stage an encounter that demonstrates how multiple strata of the book interact in the process of reading, continuing with analysis of the third plate of Milton.
The logic of active imagination, outlined above, imposes order on the narrative of the plate, but must expand further in order to organize the interaction of t his text with its visual form. Interdimensional tension lies at the heart of the experience here. They seem, in fact, to represent the same figure in three contorted positions.
The images particularly the third suggest a female form, but all three appear incomplete, as if the body had yet to fully differentiate its parts and segments. So our first assumption — which is indeed an assumption — is that the figures depict the narrative in some manner. But is this body actually developing in these illustrations?
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The figures might be read to depict several possibilities, including sequential growth, sequential deformation, or multiple perspectives on a single moment-state. The visual dimension of the plate also complicates its text in a more general sense: while the narrative is horrific and hellish, the images suggest an entirely different if difficult to define tone or mood.
Blue and green background shades give a sense of earth and sky, and the bodies seem either frightfully disturbing or eerily serene. If the curvature of their forms implies contortion, it does not seem particularly violent to me, but rather smooth and fluent, possibly even graceful. Is the Bard — a stand in for Blake, prior to his redemption through John Milton — channeling the horror of Los, or giving words to his own sense of horror?
Perhaps we should direct our attention to the alternate version of this plate, found in copy C see figs. In the context of my reading, the variations seem significant, but all we can say with certainty is that this image provides a completely different experience. The background shading seems more purposeful, from the deeper blue surrounding the first figure to the lighter shades underlying the third, contrasted with the red background of the second half of the plate.
The black ink of this text reads nothing like the red ink of the D version. Here, the second figure leans against a discernible rock-like object.