William Blake's dialogic poetics: "Inspired" discourse and the annihilation of authorial selfhood

John H Jones, Fordham University


This dissertation examines Blake's attack on the monologic discourses of the Enlightenment--such as those founded on reason and Lockean psychology--and the development throughout his work of an alternative dialogic discourse based on what he calls "self-annihilation" and "inspiration." Figures imbrued with Enlightenment reason--such as Urizen in The (First) Book of Urizen and Satan in Milton--become "self-closed" when they withdraw from a community of discourse, present their own limited views as univocal truth, and coerce others into accepting these truths. Blake attempts to combat "self-closure" by annihilating the Urizenic authorial "Selfhood" and inviting others to participate in the creative process. Blake's search for a dialogic alternative to "self-closed" discourse begins early in his career and culminates in his concepts of "self-annihilation" and "inspired" discourse. The annihilation of "Selfhood" allows individual speakers to acknowledge the validity of differing viewpoints in both previous utterances and future responses. This acknowledgement leads to a radical interchange between the contraries of addresser and addressee that transcends the boundaries of finite "Selfhood" as it invests the speaker's discourse with "inspiration" from a variety of perspectives. To avoid "self-closure," Blake represents in each work an argument or battle between the forces of "self-closed" and "inspired" discourse, employing what Bakhtin calls "multi-voiced" genres--forms that set aside the central, authoritative voice of the author or narrator in favor of a multiplicity of voices that "collaborate" in the creation of the poem. In his early works, Blake uses a plurality of speakers in the lyrics that make up the Songs; and in the Marriage, he uses the Menippean satire, a medley of genres and perspectives, to question orthodox interpretations of Biblical history. In later works--such as Urizen, Milton, and Jerusalem--Blake increasingly relies on invocations to muses to annihilate authorial "Selfhood." By "externalizing" the source of the poem in a rhetorically produced dialogue, the speakers of these poems abdicate univocal authority over the creative process in order to situate their utterances within a community of discourse and invest the poems with the ideational balance inherent in dialogue.

Subject Area

British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Jones, John H, "William Blake's dialogic poetics: "Inspired" discourse and the annihilation of authorial selfhood" (1995). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9530030.