Digital Designs on Blake
Blake designed his work to do more than sit on a page. The performative quality of Milton is examined and then enacted in a digital environment. The MOO provides an interactive space for re-creating Blake's space and relationship among characters. The digital project serves as a heuristic for reading the transformative quality of Blake's visions. Ultimately, the reader is not able to maintain an "objective" distance from the visionary work.
This essay explores what MOO space can tell us about Blake's Milton and, conversely, what Blake's Milton can tell us abut MOO space. Specifically, this essay maintains that the performative potential of the immersive textuality of MOO space opens new possibilities for critical approaches to one of Blake's most challenging poems. By eliminating the distance between the fictional character within a text and its reader/player, MOO space arguably allows for a sense of the aesthetic experience as an intersubjective event. In this way, Blake's Milton in MOO space allows for the experiential realization of the non-linearity of Blake's text in ways that are inaccessible for traditional modes of scholarly practice.
William Blake and Martin Heidegger both drew on a fourfold conception of being. For Blake, the Four Zoas (Luvah, Tharmas, Urizen, and Urthona) represent at once a cosmology of the universe and of the human soul. For Heidegger, the fourfold of "Earth, Sky, Gods, and Mortals" provide a schema for understanding authentic being. In an attempt to synthesize these conceptions, this essay performs a visual mapping of both fourfolds onto an image from Blake's Milton: A Poem. The goal of this exercise is not just to compare Blake and Heidegger, however, but to demonstrate how Blake's visual/mythological schema might be used to generate innovative methodologies in humanities research.
Exemplifing an interpretation of Blake's invented name "Golgonooza" as from the Greek 'logon zooa,' or "living word," "animated text," this piece demonstrates several ways that, by means of digital processing, Blake's work might be made more physically dynamic. Macromedia's Flash program is used to create dissolves through an aligned sequence of different copies of the same plate ("The Voice of the Ancient Bard"), so that the text and image are at once the same in outline but continually "glowing with varying colours immortal, heart-piercing / And lovely" (Milton, pl. 11, ll. 32-33). A format for simultaneous presentation of the differently sequenced 'unique copies' of The Book of Urizen is suggested, as is an interactive format for The Four Zoas. The piece includes some incidental reflections on the curiosity of public-domain text and copyright image, the organization of the Blake Archive, and the need for the ability to deep-link to its resources.
The essay reads William Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience as kind of game, showing how it shares qualities of modern computer and video games such as virtual immersion, multimedia, interaction, and agency. Accompanying the essay is a digital, upgraded, interactive version of Blake's original game called "Contraries 2.0," which can be played by scholars in ways similar to McGann and Drucker's IVANHOE game.
In a three-part interview, a group of Blakeans and digital artists discuss their endeavors to represent Blake's thought in virtual environments. They explore the practical and theoretical ramifications of Adam Komisaruk and Fred Yee's The Blake Model, and of Steve Guynup's Crystal Cabinet. Issues on the agenda include: the genesis of the projects; the problems of mediation and systematization; spatiality and temporality; identity and difference; determinacy and indeterminacy; multimedia and interdisciplinarity; creativity and the body; praxis and theory; the business of art and the work of the spirit; esoteric and exoteric traditions; the virtual frontier and the future of video gaming.
In re-envisioning virtual reality, we look beyond the simplistic recreation of the physical world and grow to understand it in a Mallarinéan-Blakean fashion, as a program that executes orders upon the senses. From this vantage point, the work of William Blake is a uniquely powerful departure point for the exploration of virtual space. Compared with the conventional works that seek to mirror reality or employ the virtual in support of video game narratives, his work forms a beachhead of compelling insight for a new and undiscovered medium. Within the Virtual Crystal Cabinet, Blakean textuality engages our new computer-driven reality. Poetic text, images, and architectural elements are blended through graphic design techniques, filmic conventions and theories of human computer interaction.