Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Professor David L. Clark
This dissertation is the first full-length study to examine William Blake's poetry and designs in light of the eighteenth-century concept of "nature's economy," a view of nature that prefigures twentieth-century ecological discourse by describing all earthly entities as integral parts of a dynamic, interactive system or whole. On the one hand, Blake celebrates the positive ethical potential of this model of existence, for "nature's economy" emphasizes the communal interdependence of all things. On the other hand, Blake is often highly suspicious of this paradigm of nature, for its logic tends reductively to consider individual entities in terms of the functions they perform within larger systemic wholes. In Blake's view, I argue, such instrumentalism raises the problem of interpretive practice, since the scientific or religious "Priesthoods" claiming special knowledge of "whole" systems may invoke holistic views of nature in ways that naturalize culturally constructed modes of political authority. By clarifying Blake's imaginative critique of the relationship between nature (as a cultural concept) and particular modes of governmental ideology, this dissertation challenges the common argument that Blake was unequivocally hostile toward material existence. Chapter One contextualizs Blake's general views of nature in light of his response to the politics of Enlightenment Deism, English industrialism, antinomian and Miltonic theories of creation, and contemporary debates on animal rights. Building on this historical context, Chapter Two examines the relationship between Blake's anthropomorphic symbolism and the instrumentalist politics of pastoralism and gender in The Book of Thel. By shifting focus to the epic poetry and designs of Milton. Chapter Three argues that Blake's famous critique of Newtonian science involves not a rejection of materiality per se, but Blake's antinomian opposition to a physical "legalism" that enslaves both nature and humanity. Chapter Four synthesizes the major concerns of the preceding chapters by analyzing the relationship between the fall of humanity and the fall of nature in Jerusalem's radical Christian mythology, emphasizing the adverse social and environmental implications of anthropomorphism. "Patriarchal Religion," and primitivist modes of identification with nature.
Hutchings, Kevin D., "Imagining Nature: Blake's Vision of Materiality" (1998). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 2170.