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The Corporeal City in Blake's Milton and Jerusalem JENNIFER DAVIS MICHAEL I behold London; a Human awful wonder of God! he says: Return, Albion, return! I give myself for thee: My Streets are my, Ideas of Imagination. Awake Albion, awake! and let us awake up together. My Houses are Thoughts: my Inhabitants; Affections, The children of my thoughts, walking within my blood-vessels, Shut from my nervous form which sleeps upon the verge of Beulah In dreams of darkness, while my vegetating blood in veiny pipes, Rolls dreadful thro' the Furnaces of Los, and the Mills of Satan. For Albions sake, and for Jerusalem thy Emanation I give myself, and these my brethren give themselves for Albion. So spoke London, immortal Guardian! I heard in Lambeths shades: In Felpham I heard and saw the Visions of Albion I write in South Molton Street, what I both see and hear In regions of Humanity, in Londons opening streets.1 To speak of the city as a human body, as William Blake does in the lines above, is to obscure the traditional boundary between nature and art. On the one hand, the most intricate and ambitious manmade artifact, the city, is described in organic terms, as though it were part of nature. On the other hand, the construction of a community to resemble a human body, 105 106 / MICHAEL even to function as a human body, suggests that human beings themselves are to some extent self-created. This contradiction was a recurring theme in the eighteenth century, as shown by this passage from Adam Ferguson's Essay on the History of Civil Society: We speak of art as distinguished from nature; but art itself is natural to man. He is in some measure the artificer of his own frame, as well as his fortune, and is destined, from the first age of his being, to invent and contrive... He would be always improving on his subject, and he carries this intention where-ever he moves, through the streets of the populous city, or the wilds of the forest.2 Ferguson's argument treats both the forest and the city, even man's own body, as raw materials for human invention and contrivance. It is no surprise , therefore, that the manmade "frame" of society takes on the shape of the organic "frame" of the body. At the same time, while the organic metaphor grants great power to humanity in creating its own environment, it also gives that environment a mysterious life and validity of its own. Blake was far from the first writer to use bodily metaphors to describe the city; in fact, his use of this trope places him firmly in a long tradition that had reached both a peak and a crisis in the late eighteenth century. His specific adaptation of those metaphors, however, was original, arising both from the social milieu in which he wrote and from his own belief in the humanity of the visible world. In this essay, I argue that Blake adopted the bodily metaphor at a crucial point in the city's development and attempted to reverse its course from degeneration toward regeneration: not, however, by arguing for the city's "naturalness," but by redefining even its organic qualities as products and processes of art. 1. The Organic Metaphor The analogy of the body politic had been well known since medieval times, but for many centuries it was simply that: an analogy. In John of Salisbury's Policraticus, for example, the prince represented the head, the Senate the heart, soldiers the hands, and so on. Often, as in Shakespeare's Coriolanus, the comparison cast the city as the center of state power. Its didactic function was to justify class divisions and to exhort each "member " to do its part, submitting to the governance of the head or the stomach, as the case might be. Early English metaphors of the body politic thus tended to emphasize hierarchy and power, order and division, rather than cooperation or a shared condition among the members. With the growth of capitalism, however, the secularized body politic came to represent less a hierarchy than a great system constantly in mo- Corporeal...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1938-6133
Print ISSN
0360-2370
Pages
pp. 105-122
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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