Official blog space for spring 2012 PhD seminar on “William Blake and Religious Counter-cultures.’
Course Description: As one of the most iconic figures associated with Anglo-Romanticism, William Blake offers a rich opportunity for theorizing the relationship between religion, art and literature. This seminar proposes reading Blake “theologically,” looking at how his major poems and images were catalyzed by his encounters with heterodox Protestant traditions (such as Swedenborgianism) and various religious cultures outside the pale of Romantic Britain (Hinduism and forms of African spirituality). Blake’s religious syncretism will let us explore how he transformed theological tropes—such as prophecy and apocalypse—into radical experimentations with word and image.
The course is designed to be an exercise in “slow reading”—long, sustained attention to the pleasures and complexities of Blake’s poetry, art and prose, with occasional forays into relevant theory and criticism. We will cover the majority of Blake’s illuminated books in a roughly chronological fashion, beginning with the Songs and concluding with the singular epic Jerusalem. Significant time will also be spent exploring Blake’s sustained (and potentially theological) engagements with Milton (Paradise Lost) and Dante (the Inferno). Along the way, we will glance at more modern and contemporary contexts to consider the ways that Blake has significantly impacted a number of artists and writers associated with 20th century “counter-cultures,” from Allen Ginsberg’s Beat poetics to the punk aesthetics of Patti Smith.