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156 LETTERS IN CANADA 1991 phenomenology of the process of reading Blake - especially reading those bluntly challenging passages that promise extraordinary significance to the precise extent that they frustrate the understanding: the 'Vortex' passage in Milton is perhaps the most obvious case in point. Despite a politely marked antipathy to current critical models, De Luca's book is complexly informed by theoretical discussions ranging from Derrida's meditations on the infinitely regressive nature of origins to Heidegger's essays on poetry. Indeed, it is a sign of the critical power of De Luca's work that it has real implications for recent literary theory, not least for reminding us that describing language in terms of 'abyss structures' and characterizing reading in terms of cognitive crises are hardly theoretical moves confined to the twentieth century. In De Luca's able hands, Blake proves useful not only to reflect critically upon the nature of the nineteenth-century sublime, but also to reconsider how we understand the contemporaneity of our 'theories.' Does Blake's work embryonically anticipate certain concerns of contemporary critical thought? Or does recent theory in fact represent an uncanny return to the deeply Romantic question of the sublime? (DAVID L. CLARK) James King. William Blake, His Life St Martin's Press. 224. $24.95 Since 1947, when Northrop Frye, in Fearful Symmetry, first argued for the coherence of Blake's aesthetics and his visionary universe, and since 1954, when David Erdman first showed the extent to which William Blake's art and poetry draw on the political debates of his time, we have been in need of a new biography of Blake. Since then, there have been hints that such a biography was about to appear. For a long while, after writing his magisterial The Making ofthe English Working Class (1963), E.P. Thompson was at work on a project that promised to elucidate Blake's debts to radical working-class traditions of dissent, an interest that has been revitalized over the 1980s by the impact of Christopher Hill's work on seventeenth-century literary studies. Readers hoping for this kind of biography, one that would provide a synthesis of the sophisticated understanding of Blake's political, social, intellectual, theological, and aesthetic views, ushered in by Frye and carried forward by many important studies over the last forty years, are likely to come away from James King's biography somewhat disappointed - not for what King has to say about Blake's life, for he offers much in the way of information about Blake's daily dealings with the world of artists, engravers, and publishers, but for his reticence to explore these areas of concern and their impact on the poet. HUMANmES 157 King has relatively little to say about Blake's political life or about the traditions shaping his political vision. The Blake who appears in this biography is primarily a nonpolitical being, at best a 'conservative revolutionary' who 'involuntarily participated' in the Gordon Riots. Little is said about the powerful link, forged between religious dissent and politics, which shaped Blake's adoption of a prophetic voice in the poetry of the early 1790s. Nothing is said about the sedition trials of 1794 or the suspension of habeus corpus, and their impact upon Blake as a writer. With the exception of a weakly developed interpretation of Blake as a person motivated by an unresolved Oedipal conflict, King also says little about Blake's intense inner imaginative life. For example, when he discusses Blake's letter to Reverend John Trusler, on 23 August 1799, one of Blake's most important aesthetic statements, one would have thought that he would not miss the opportunity to comment on the extraordinary epistemological claims made in the letter. 'I know that This World Is a World of Imagination & Vision. I see Every thing I paint In This World, but Every body does not see alike. To the Eyes of a Miser a Guinea is more beautiful than the Sun & a bag worn with the use of Money has more beautiful proportions than a Vine filled with Grapes ... As a man is So he Sees. As the Eye is formed such are its Powers.' It is odd that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 156-158
Launched on MUSE
2017-05-25
Open Access
No
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