The exhibition William Blake and the Age of Aquarius will open at the Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University in a few months. I recently had the chance to ask some questions of Corinne Granof, the museum’s curator of academic programs. The conversation has been edited very slightly.Continue reading
While still working through the S-Z wordlist of potential misspellings in Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly, I have found myself amidst a list of “Un-” vocabulary. Almost exactly a year ago, I reflected on the isolation of “self” and its implications as I remediated words that required a hyphen, separating “self” from terms like “alienation,” “complicating,” “defeating,” and “deluding” by adding a hyphen that the OCR had mistakenly removed. And now that I’ve reached the end of my list, I reflect again on what this work teaches me about William Blake scholarship, and about language more generally.
My “Un-” meanderings have unfortunately called a particular fiction to mind: George Orwell’s 1984. The dystopia has received popular attention following the recent presidential election, especially with the introduction of terms like “alternative facts” and “fake news” to contemporary political discourse. The New York Times has touted 1984 as the must-read novel of 2017, especially after it sold out on Amazon in late January. So perhaps it is not surprising that the “Un-” words in Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly seemed to echo some of “The Principles of Newspeak” designed to reform the vocabulary of the people of Orwell’s Oceania:
“In addition, any word — this again applied in principle to every word in the language — could be negatived by adding the affix un-, or could be strengthened by the affix plus-, or, for still greater emphasis, doubleplus-. Thus, for example, uncold meant ‘warm’, while pluscold and doublepluscold meant, respectively, ‘very cold’ and ‘superlatively cold’[…] By such methods it was found possible to bring about an enormous diminution of vocabulary. Given, for instance, the word good, there was no need for such a word as bad, since the required meaning was equally well — indeed, better — expressed by ungood. All that was necessary, in any case where two words formed a natural pair of opposites, was to decide which of them to suppress. Dark, for example, could be replaced by unlight, or light by undark, according to preference.”
Fortunately, the stripping away of plethora is not the trend I observe in this “Un-” list. As a project assistant working through wordlists for Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly, I am by no means a member of the Ministry of Truth, “eliminating undesirable words and […] stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings.” Instead I see a celebration of proliferating terms as I make my small adjustments. These “Un-” words do not bring about “an enormous diminution of vocabulary,” but instead illustrate the variety of language both in criticism and in literature. Take, for example, W. J. T. Mitchell’s humorous acknowledgment of an “Unaccustomed” role as he embraces his mortal ignorance and delineates the limited scope of his scholarly inquiry:
Other words have brought me to more sobering dystopian shores as reminders of human failure. “Unpurified” lead me William Cowper’s lovely reprise of Paradise Lost in “Yardley Oak,” where he imagines Milton’s postlapsarian Adam, who longs to cower in shadow, alone with his guilt:
But most fortunately, I have not spent fruitless hours as I worked through the unique words of BIQ. I have found many grateful digressions while wandering the wordlists. Even when the path has veered toward dystopia, overall I see an abundance of words as scholars and poets seek truth. What more could I ask for while spell checking?Continue reading
This week was my first week back in The William Blake Archive offices in over a month having taken a hiatus from work in order to study and take my PhD qualifying exams. This was the longest break I have had away from the archive since starting graduate school, and the first day back in the office helped me appreciate the healthy difference between my archive work and my research work.
During my exam month, I became in all practical sense a hermit. I significantly reduced my non-exam related work load, isolated myself from my social circles, and hunkered down in stacks of books and notes. I found this experience of intense and isolated study both exhilarating and disorienting. Because I had quieted the busy hum of my everyday life, my thoughts seemed clearer, and I began to make real and abstract connections between authors, ideas, historical periods, and genres. More than ever before I entered into and dwelt in a world of ideas.
While I found this exciting, by the end of the month, I had to remind myself that I am not just a brain but also a body. I found myself realizing that there is danger in a particular kind of learning that fends off rather than engages the world. There is a kind of education that people can receive which somehow ironically enables them to hold onto ideas about life, society, social problems, and other intellectual things in such a way that those ideas actually cut them off from life rather than help them make contact with reality. In other words, I recognized my dangerous attraction to a kind of thought-life that would keep me locked inside my own head. This recognition framed, in a new way, the importance, for me, of consistently engaging in academic work that forces me to navigate the messy space connecting the abstract to the actual.
I realized that this is what my work on The William Blake Archive is to me. Be it transcribing Blake’s letters, wrestling with questions about marginalia, struggling to represent a line in XML, and engaging in conversations about editorial practice with my colleagues, I am able to see where abstract ideas can meet actual implementation and am pulled out of my mental isolation into a collaborative learning community. My suspicion, and hope, is that this is a healthy and relieving mental experience that digital humanities projects bring to undergraduate and graduate students on a weekly basis.
I could have told you that Ruthven Todd was a Blake scholar (here are his credits in early issues of Blake). I could even have told you that he lived in Spain (among other places), conducted printmaking experiments with Joan Miró, and that his papers are now at the University of Leeds. What I didn’t know until today is that he was also a children’s book author.Continue reading
The Oxford Comma and the Rogue Apostrophe: Editorial Principles and Punctuation in the Blake Archive
The Oxford comma is having its moment in the spotlight in recent news, after it was used to clinch a legal case in favor of the five drivers in O’Connor v. Oakhurst Dairy who, according to the interpretation of policy in the absence of the comma, were therefore found to be eligible for overtime pay. And grammar geeks on the side of the Oxford comma have been rejoicing.Continue reading
“What if God was one of us?” asks singer-songwriter Joan Osborne. It’s actually not that hard to imagine God as a person. Many are familiar with the image of God as the deity appears in Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam: an old, imperious man with flowing hair and beard. For many raised in Judeo-Christian traditions, the portrayal of Alanis Morissette as God in the movie Dogma is as far from that image as the imagination strays. Beyond this narrow anthropomorphism, however, lie countless aniconic representations of divinity.Continue reading
My colleagues have been updating this blog fairly regularly with details of our progress with the marginalia — there’s nothing really much to add there. But with (hopefully) most of the encoding work behind us, there’s still quite a few hurdles ahead, e.g. display. With the Archive being such a collaborative, multi-university effort, we don’t have that much control over the final display of objects, or actually, much knowledge of how this is going to come about.Continue reading
Always interested in the intersections of language and visual representation, in this post I examine the variety of bodies—and range of bodily contortions—encompassed under the single search term “lunging” as a continuation of my series on WBA text tags (see my earlier posts about textual tagging broadly and “streams of gore”).Continue reading
Bentley reads William Blake’s letter to Thomas Butts dated September, 23, 1800 as “22 September 1800” and makes a footnote explaining the same (1541). Similarly, another letter written to Butts dated January 10, 1802 is a matter of dispute and disagreement among scholars and editors. While the object (image— lt10jan1802.1.2.LT.300.jpg) itself says “January 10. 1802”, Erdman suggests it is 1803 and not 1802, and Keynes mentions both. When we were discussing this in our BAND meeting, Sarah recommended me a copy of “Blake/ An Illustrated Quarterly 51 Volume 13 Number 3 Winter 79-80”; I did find a brief note about this discrepancy in this issue (page 148). Then the concern was how and where should we address this in the XML file.Continue reading