UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

"Success will write apocalypse across the sky" : William Blake and the eschatological performative Thomas, Alexander


  Writing in an era of apocalyptic speculations and millenarian hopes, the Romantic poet and visionary William Blake made frequent and idiosyncratic use of eschatological themes and imagery throughout his poetry and art. While critics have long recognized the centrality of apocalyptic themes to Blake’s work, opinion has been largely divided as to the precise nature of Blakean apocalypticism. Critical attempts to address the complexities of Blakean apocalypticism have frequently been unable to reconcile Blake's celebration of the polysemous, indeterminate nature of reality with his triumphant vision of divine unity. In this essay, I argue that Blake's eschatological aspirations are realized precisely through his embrace of multiplicity and his resistance to totalizing systems of normative authority. Drawing on the work of Blake critic Angela Esterhammer, I contend that Blake’s apocalyptic writing is performative, in that it attempts to linguistically create the eschatological state it ostensibly describes. The goal of this Blakean eschatological performative is to radically transform the state of epistemological, social, and political closure which Blake characterizes as the post-lapsarian condition. Blake’s apocalyptic writing deconstructs the tendency of eschatological speech to calcify into a reinforcement of conventional social structures, while modelling a speech-community in which the fundamental legitimacy of all other subjects is a foundational and inalienable principle. This community, called by Blake “Jersualem,” is based on an embrace of the Other in which their ineluctable alterity paradoxically forms the basis of a more expansive personal identity. Following Judith Butler’s work on the insurrectionary potential of performatives, I argue that this Jerusalem community has potent political ramifications, as it enables disempowered, marginalized voices to resist hegemonic power-structures and lay claim to an agency denied to them by society-at-large.

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