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224 LETTERS IN CANADA 1998 Maistre's message here is rather quickly absorbed, so not everyone will be .inclined to read his book straight through without some independent project in mind. Nonetheless, there are unexpected delights along the way - for example, a discussion of the importance of glass to modern science, or the rather Popperian arguments against the possibility of a logic of discovery that Maistre spells outin terms ofan analysis ofgenius construed as grace. (THOMAS M. LENNON) John B. Pierce. Flexible Design: Revisionary Poetics in Blake's 'Vala,' or 'The Four Zoas' McGill-Queen's University Press. xxviii, 206. $55.00 In some ways, John B. Pierce's Flexible Design does for Blake's poem Vala, or The Four Zoas what Joseph Viscomi's monumental Blake and the Idea afthe Book has done for the study of Blake's printed works. Which is to say that this is an important book - indeed, an indispensable one for any future critics of Vala, and for anyone who wants to understand the complexities of Blake's poetic development. Pierce's study is more engaged with theoretical issues and interpretive cruxes than Viscomi's book is, but the two share a commitment to studying the material aspects of Blake's written work. Pierce undertakes a kind of manuscript archaeology, examining the incredibly intricate patterns of Blake's erasures and additions to the manuscript of Vala, and using this material as the basis for an argument about Blake's compositional practices, his development as a poet, and the nature of his mythological system(s). He also gives several readings of the poem's characters and incidents in the light of his bibliographical research. By isolating several of Blake's inserted 'micronarratives/ and by deducing from manuscript evidence the earliest transcribed draft of Vala, Pierce unveils the layered temporal scheme of the poem's construction. Many of his assignments ofcompositional order are conjectural, since none of Blake's changes to the manuscript are dated, and there are often several possible orders in which one could place them. This does remain a weakness of his approach, though I think it is one that is inevitable in a study of this sort, and one that Pierce is well aware of. He does a very good job of supporting his conjectures with reference to the physical state of the manuscript, showing how certain passages must predate others because of their placement on the page and/or the kind of manuscript hand they are written in. When he uses internal textual evidence, such as the presence or absence of particular characters, to suggest the compositional ordering of passages, his argument is somewhat less convincing. However, despite these problems, the main premise of Pierce's argument is sound. He shows the accreted evidence in the Vala manuscript that Blake wrote the earliest sections ofthepoemin a relatively straightforward narrative mode, but that HUMANITIES 225 as he continued the process of revision he changed his approach, engaging a poetics of discontinuity} synchrony, and typology which will be familiar to readers of Milton and Jerusalem. It is not unusual to consider Vala a transitional work in the Blakean canon, but Pierce provides a great deal of new evidence to support such an opinion, and perhaps more important, he re-examines the meaning of this transitional status. He does not propose a teleological reading of Vala as an attempt to reach toward the 'mature' or 'completed' style of the later epics; instead, he focuses on the contingent and provisional nature of Blake's process of composition, and he uses this approach to make a strong case for 'the fluidity of Blake's myth.' This book is an important antidote to the structural mythopoeic readings of Blake's canon which tend to impose the system of the later epics onto the poet's earlier works. Certain Blake critics influenced by deconstruction have made similar arguments in the last decade, but no one has done this with the kind of attention to the physical text that Pierce displays here. The most surprising aspect of Pierce's argument is his position on the 'incestuous intertextuality' between Vala and Blake's other epics. Most critics have assumed that...


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pp. 224-225
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