Made Future: The Political Ecology of William Blake's 'Milton'
James, John Patrick
Hensley, Nathan K
This study investigates William Blake’s Milton (1811), both as a poem and as an illuminated book, to understand what, drawing on contemporary environmental thought, I have come to call Blake’s “ecology”: his portrayal of complex political and economic systems, their relation to the natural world, and his opposition to empiricist philosophy and scientificity, especially to Bacon, Newton, and Locke. But ecology, for Blake, is intimately tied to an Edenic vision of the future, one he casts in pastoral terms by noting the “green” and “pleasant” aspects of that vision. He does so in “Jerusalem,” the lyric preface to Milton, as well as in the accompanying images—and, I argue, in the material aspects of his illuminated printing. Blake’s pastoral futurism offers an alternative to the pessimistic view presented by many contemporary environmental thinkers, who at best urge a mourning of “Nature,” and at worst, advocate the embrace of our own perversion and toxicity, as Timothy Morton exhorts. Contrastingly (and usefully, for ecologists), Blake offers a theory of artistic creation that in his view instantiates a greener and more righteous future, and—despite its practical inadequacies—models a subjective connectivity that transcends the Cartesian dualism restraining networked thought in the Anthropocene.
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