[Milton-L] Passing this along... -Carl

James Rovira jamesrovira at gmail.com
Fri Jan 3 00:43:25 EST 2014


Thanks much to Carl and to Alan Horn for their responses to this thread.

Milton's personification of Death as a being of indefinite or undefined
form significantly influenced Blake. We might even say it inspired his
presentation of negative forces (Spectres, etc.) from at least The [First]
Book of Urizen onward, particularly through The Four Zoas, Milton, and
Jerusalem.

So negative activities or characters apply pressure toward indefinite form
--

"Refusing all Definite Form, the Abstract Horror roofd. stony hard.
And a first Age passed over & a State of dismal woe" (Milton plate 3).

and especially here --

"Where dwells the Spectre of Albion: destroyer of Definite Form" (Jerusalem
plate 56).

While redeeming activities or characters affirm or create definite form --

"And not in generalizing Demonstrations of the Rational Power.
The Infinite alone resides in Definite & Determinate Identity
Establishment of Truth depends on destruction of Falshood continually"
(Jerusalem plate 55).

It's all part of Blake's rejection of generalizing tendencies in art
(famously about Reynolds -- To generalize is to be an idiot -- not about
verbal generalities, but visual ones), so that you could say Blake's
philosophy and theology are preceded by or perhaps even determined by his
aesthetic. If God is a visionary or poetic genius, or an artist of some
sort, we get to know Him by paying attention to His artistic principles,
and this God seems to have created a bunch of very highly detailed
individual things that we need only to properly look at.

Blake associates Enlightenment reason and Reynolds's aesthetic with
generalizing tendencies (movement toward the indefinite), which are
destructive of the individual thing or person, and valorizes perception of
the specific thing, which is fully realized in art by an emphasis on line.
He disliked Locke and oil painting for the same reason.

So I think that Blake, by lending Milton's Death a definite form, started
what he believed was a work of redemption for that character. Perhaps even
for Milton himself, so long as we understand that this redemption takes
place phenomenologically, in the minds of Blake and his readers -- the
English imagination.

Jim R


On Fri, Jan 3, 2014 at 12:19 AM, JCarl Bellinger <dionhalic at gmail.com>wrote:

> Thanks, Jim R.!
>
> You wrote:
> "...compared to Milton's descriptions. Blake's biggest change is not to
> the character of Sin, but to the character of Death, who in Milton is a
> formless mass but who in Blake is -- quite deliberately -- given definite
> form." So it seems perhaps Mr. Machesek and Mr. Blake occupy th'obverse
> sides of the same anti-Miltonic coin: we must either reform the beast into
> some decently definite narrative shape or expunge it altogether.
>   Cheers to all,  -Carl
> On Dec 28, 2013 1:00 PM, "James Rovira" <jamesrovira at gmail.com> wrote:
>
>> Thanks for sharing, Carl. It's a decent enough article with a thoroughly
>> annoying headline. As the article observes, Blake's illustrations are, if
>> anything, tame compared to Milton's descriptions. Blake's biggest change is
>> not to the character of Sin, but to the character of Death, who in Milton
>> is a formless mass but who in Blake is -- quite deliberately -- given
>> definite form.
>>
>> . . . The other shape,
>> If shape it might be call'd that shape had none
>> Distinguishable in member, joynt, or limb,
>> Or substance might be call'd that shadow seem'd,
>> For each seem'd either; black it stood as Night, [ 670 ]
>> Fierce as ten Furies, terrible as Hell,
>> And shook a dreadful Dart; what seem'd his head
>> The likeness of a Kingly Crown had on.
>>
>> Blake gives his version of Death a crown and a Dart, but also form. I
>> think that he means to define the embodiment of Death for his readers,
>> which in the Thomas set (second image on the webpage) is definitely
>> Urizenic, so associated with Britain's church/state complex, while in the
>> Butts set (first image on the webpage) is beardless. The beardless version
>> of Death reminds me of Orc, so may be associated with the forces of
>> revolution. Death appears three or four times in Blake's illustrations but
>> is only beardless in this one relatively early image.
>>
>> Jim R
>>
>>
>> On Sat, Dec 28, 2013 at 12:32 PM, JCarl Bellinger <dionhalic at gmail.com>wrote:
>>
>>>
>>> http://www.openculture.com/2013/12/william-blakes-many-hallucinatory-illustrations-of-john-miltons-paradise-lost.html
>>>
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>>
>>
>>
>> --
>> Dr. James Rovira
>> Associate Professor of English
>> Tiffin University
>> http://www.jamesrovira.com
>> Blake and Kierkegaard: Creation and Anxiety
>> Continuum 2010
>> http://jamesrovira.com/blake-and-kierkegaard-creation-and-anxiety/
>> Text, Identity, Subjectivity
>> http://scalar.usc.edu/works/text-identity-subjectivity/index
>>
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-- 
Dr. James Rovira
Associate Professor of English
Tiffin University
http://www.jamesrovira.com
Blake and Kierkegaard: Creation and Anxiety
Continuum 2010
http://jamesrovira.com/blake-and-kierkegaard-creation-and-anxiety/
Text, Identity, Subjectivity
http://scalar.usc.edu/works/text-identity-subjectivity/index
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