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Blake's Agitation

Criticism and the Emotions

Steven Goldsmith

Publication Year: 2013

Blake’s Agitation is a thorough and engaging reflection on the dynamic, forward-moving, and active nature of critical thought. Steven Goldsmith investigates the modern notion that there’s a fiery feeling in critical thought, a form of emotion that gives authentic criticism the potential to go beyond interpreting the world. By arousing this critical excitement in readers and practitioners, theoretical writing has the power to alter the course of history, even when the only evidence of its impact is the emotion it arouses. Goldsmith identifies William Blake as a paradigmatic example of a socially critical writer who is moved by enthusiasm and whose work, in turn, inspires enthusiasm in his readers. He traces the particular feeling of engaged, dynamic urgency that characterizes criticism as a mode of action in Blake’s own work, in Blake scholarship, and in recent theoretical writings that identify the heightened affect of critical thought with the potential for genuine historical change. Within each of these horizons, the critical thinker’s enthusiasm serves to substantiate his or her agency in the world, supplying immediate, embodied evidence that criticism is not one thought-form among many but an action of consequence, accessing or even enabling the conditions of new possibility necessary for historical transformation to occur. The resulting picture of the emotional agency of criticism opens up a new angle on Blake’s literary and visual legacy and offers a vivid interrogation of the practical potential of theoretical discourse.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Cover, Title Page

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pp. 1-7


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pp. vii-11

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Introduction: The Future of Enthusiasm

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pp. 1-40

This book begins with an assumption not every reader will share: that it is exciting, even viscerally exciting, to read William Blake. My premise does not deny Blake’s difficulty, a quality obvious to anyone who has ventured beyond his initial songs. Reading Blake is more often agitating than simply pleasurable, but it is an exhilarating experience nonetheless...

Part One: Devil’s Party

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pp. 41-168

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1. Blake’s Agitation

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pp. 43-78

“Agitation” is a word always moving to and fro among its at least doubled meanings: on one side, an interior, affective state (“to feel agitated”); on the other, a political intervention, often connoting activism, sometimes even criminality (“to agitate”).1 How these paired aspects of “agitation” (active and passive...

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2. Blake’s Virtue

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pp. 79-168

“I am really sorry to see my Countrymen trouble themselves about Politics . . . Princes appear to me to be Fools Houses of Commons & Houses of Lords appear to me to be fools they seem to me to be something Else besides Human Life.” On the evidence of this notebook passage, one might reasonably agree...

Part Two: A Passion for Blake

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pp. 169-181

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Introduction: Critique of Emotional Intelligence

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pp. 171-187

“Cogmotion”: a neologism so awkward one would wish to avoid it, were it not irresistible to place it alongside Blake’s image of cogs in motion, and force applied in one direction to move a wheel in another. Invented words are meant to signal the rusty inadequacy of an established lexicon, and “cogmotion” is no exception...

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3. “On Anothers Sorrow”

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pp. 188-218

Anyone who has known distress knows the relationship between need and speed. “If you’re gonna help me, help me now,” sang pop star Joan Armatrading; “Another ten minutes will be too late.” Whenever it can, relief must answer grief immediately, for delay adds to suffering by prolonging it. Eighteenth-century ideas of sympathy...

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Toward an Auditory Imagination: Interlude on Kenzaburo Oe’s Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age

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pp. 219-225

When the young men of the new age arrive, what will their imaginations sound like? Taking his novel’s title from the Preface to Milton and including, among many citations of Blake, an important reference to “On Anothers Sorrow,” Kenzaburo Oe teaches us to ask precisely this improbable question and thus to prepare...

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4. Strange Pulse

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pp. 226-261

Even among eighteenth-century advocates of sensibility, the danger of self-indulgence was a common theme. The sorrows of others, they complained, were too often an excuse for “[n]ursing” the pleasures of sympathy “in some delicious solitude,” as Coleridge remarked.1 Blake also had little patience for negligent self-absorption, but his...

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Wordsworth’s Pulsation Machine, or the Half-Life of Mary Hutchinson: Interlude on “She was a Phantom of delight”

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pp. 262-267

Any machine moving in rhythm has a pulse. Take Mary Hutchinson. Composed in honor of his “dear wife,” as Wordsworth told Isabella Fenwick, “She was a Phantom of delight” is a lyric so sentimental one might wish he had written it from any organ but the heart.1 The poem describes Mary as the manifest ideal of natural supernaturalism...

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5. Criticism and the Work of Emotion

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pp. 268-316

Distant from one another by more than a century, Matthew Arnold and Susan Wolfson both conclude a defense of criticism by appealing to the self-evidence of vitality. This turn to life-feeling places them in a shared history, a history of criticism at once formalist and humanist—and justifying itself in terms of an intellectual agency...

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pp. 317-318

A book as long in the making as this one accrues significant debt. Many people have contributed to its development—some by generously reading early drafts, others by the gift of their own critical writing, still others by their friendship. Indeed, many have contributed in all of these ways. I thank the following colleagues...


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pp. 319-320


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pp. 321-392


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pp. 393-406

E-ISBN-13: 9781421409061
E-ISBN-10: 1421409062
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421408064
Print-ISBN-10: 1421408066

Page Count: 416
Illustrations: 37 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 834604137
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Blake's Agitation

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Subject Headings

  • Blake, William, -- 1757-1827 -- Criticism and interpretation
  • Emotions in literature.
  • Emotions (Philosophy).
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