Manual Blake and the Methodists

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Exploring the work of William Blake within the context of Methodism – the largest ' dissenting' religious group during his lifetime – this book.
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FAQ Policy. About this book Exploring the work of William Blake within the context of Methodism — the largest 'dissenting' religious group during his lifetime — this book contributes to ongoing critical debates surrounding Blake's religious affinities by suggesting that, contrary to previous thinking, Blake held sympathies with certain aspects of Methodism.


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Believers were encouraged to share with others the spiritual illumination from their communion with God. Thus it was normal for Blake to have a certain zeal in his art to draw people toward God. This has always been our personal assumption about our artistic mission as well. For us the spiritual revivals over the long span from the 15th through the 20th centuries have been passed to us directly through family, culture and the Church.

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William Blake depicts God as an architect, reflecting the dualism of Reason and Faith. A New Book On Blake!

Methodists

In terms of Blake's 'works', Piccitto is most interested in the illuminated books because their particular format emphasizes the interplay between the verbal and visual thus possessing the 'ability to transform the senses' 1. For Piccitto, the unique combination of image and text constitutes a dramatic performance in form, content, and reception. In her first chapter, Piccitto grounds her claim that the illuminated books should be considered as 'dramatic theatre' 35 by situating Blake in the historical context of debates about popular theatre during the Romantic period.

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These debates centre on two types of dramatic performance and their corresponding effects on the audience: the anti-theatricals advocated 'the private reading of a text' that, following Lessing, privileges word above image to feed the individual reader's imagination, and the theatricalists who championed the 'communal experience of seeing a text physically manifested' 25 as a vehicle for self knowledge. Despite Blake's frequent lauding of the imagination, Piccitto situates him on the side of the theatricalists because the illuminated books actualize the imagination via text while the images 'offer interpretative potential' that does not 'restrain the text' Connecting Blake with his contemporary, the playwright Joanne Baillie, Piccitto also argues that Blake's conception of the role of the prophet as a social figure and prophecy as a public function is analogous to Baillie's socially-inflected view of the dramatist.


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  6. The chapter closes with a detailed and often compelling reading of America a Prophecy that draws on the textual and pictorial variances between copies to argue that as specimens of dramatic theatre, the illuminated books construct a 'Blakean spectatorship' In the second and third chapters, Piccitto explores this idea of spectatorship through the critical lens of Brechtian alienation and the 'medieval experience of spectacle' to argue that in his illuminated books Blake 'manipulates the tension between alienation and immersion in order to provoke a transformative experience in his spectator' To distinguish her claim from similar arguments, Piccitto also draws on the artistic principles Blake sets out in his description of A Vision of the Last Judgment to posit the idea that engagement with the illuminated books prompts 'an actual recreation of the world the text presents' Deploying a liberal dose of Althusser, Piccitto uses The [First] Book of Urizen as a case study for a discussion of identity formation and the genre of melodrama.

    In her final chapter, she fruitfully analyzes how Blakean identity is bound up with performativity in Milton. While many of Piccitto's arguments are presented with nuanced close readings there are some curious claims, such as when she stresses that the differences between copies of illuminated books are part of their theatricality, although such a reading necessitates Blake's 'audience' both then and now having access to more than one copy.

    Piccitto also likens theatrical performances to the trade of engraving because they share the same qualities of being 'unique, evanescent, experiential, and unrepeatable' 42 , which seems to misunderstand the not unimportant reproductive feature of engraving.