"If the acts have been perform'd let the Bard himself witness": William Blake's Milton and MOO space

Printer-friendly versionSend by email

Digital Designs on Blake

"If the acts have been perform'd let the Bard himself witness": William Blake's Milton and MOO space

David M. Baulch, University of West Florida

This essay explores what MOO space can tell us about Blake's Milton and, conversely, what Blake's Milton can tell us about MOO space. 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. This essay appears in _Digital Designs on Blake_, a volume of _Romantic Circles Praxis Series_, prepared exclusively for Romantic Circles (http://www.rc.umd.edu/), University of Maryland.

  1. In exploring the new media and what Ron Broglio calls its "performative" possibilities for the study and teaching of literature, literary scholarship finds itself in the apparent position of being without a tradition, without standards, and without the confidence of a methodological approach to a critical object for which it is still—literally—coming to terms. What the performativity of new media demands is, of course, new ways not only of thinking about scholarship, but new ways of doing it, a challenge that professional academics should welcome. Still, the problem of placing, let alone embracing, scholarly or pedagogical work that is unique to new media presents some significant challenges. When Broglio asks, "How can we use the performativity of new media in humanities scholarship?" he is redefining the terms of the dismissive half question, "So what is it good for?" (see Broglio essay Paragraph 1).

  2. This paper focuses on the performative potential of new media with regard to my participation in developing, with Chris Hunt, Ravi Varma, and Ron Broglio, a MOOspace modeled upon William Blake's Milton: a poem in 2 books. Initially it was my belief that this project was to explore what MOOspace could reveal about Blake's Milton. However, as the project developed, I came to realize that Blake's Milton has the capacity to offer its own kind of answer to what exactly the immersive textuality of MOOspace might be good for. That Milton can function as a guide for the exploration of new media should hardly be surprising, considering the close association of medium and message, inspiration and execution that Blake forges there. Milton is obsessive in revisiting the moment of inspiration. These moments, scattered throughout the text, are realizable as hypertextual features of Blake's book, features which, through their non-linear connections, create alternate discursive fields. As I shall argue, Milton is a text that links the instant of inspiration with forms of artistic execution and aesthetic experience, creating, in turn, the potential for a kind of critical agency in its characters and by its readers. As the performativity of Blake's Milton becomes manifest in the immersive textuality of MOOspace, the critical potential of the aesthetic becomes apparent in ways that escape much of contemporary criticism's emphasis on a linear model of materialist history.

  3. Recently, Morton Paley has written about Blake's Milton in a way that foregrounds the problem that historicist/materialist scholarship often has with Milton. Paley observes that while Milton seems to suggest some kind of significant, revelatory experience for the individual, it fails to realize its notion of apocalypse as a prelude to a millennial era that is a moment of historical change. Paley concludes that "[t]hese difficulties suggest Blake's realization that in Milton he had promised apocalypse and millennium in history but had delivered them only within the self" (90). In drawing this conclusion, Paley's reading of Milton offers a contemporary addition to a tradition of Blake scholarship that sees Blake's three, later long poems—The Four Zoas, Milton, and Jerusalem—as marking a retreat from political concerns into a self-involved Christian mysticism. From such a perspective, the ontological character of the text's performativity, what Broglio calls its "textual folding," is overwritten by criticism's recourse to a linear model of material history (see Broglio essay Paragraph 7). By contrast, I wish to suggest that Blake's later texts, and particularly Milton, can be read as sites of engagement with the issues attendant upon the theorization and representation of the interrelations of ideology, aesthetics, and critical consciousness. Based upon this, I also want to suggest some ways in which precisely these aspects of Blake's Milton are ideal sites for critical exploration of the poem in its incarnation in MOOspace and for the promise of the new media.

  4. Paley's reading of Milton locates the primary problem for understanding the text in its author's inability to successfully negotiate the connection between history and psyche. Indeed, Paley's view of Milton is emblematic of one of the difficulties presented by Blake's later poetry. By comparison, some of Blake's earlier efforts such as "London," "The Little Black Boy," "The Sick Rose," and Visions of the Daughters of Albion are justly celebrated for their astute engagement with both the state and the ideological repressive apparatuses of late eighteenth century. Similarly, texts like The French Revolution, America a Prophecy, and Europe a Prophecy have found a receptive contemporary critical audience for their visionary treatment of revolutionary politics. Milton, however, does not consistently appear to provide such a clear and satisfying engagement with political and social concerns, thus earning its reputation as a text that retreats into a Christian escapism. In both cases, aesthetic experience is effectively misrecognized and thereby opposed to political engagement.

  5. My own view is quite different. Taking Blake's Milton as an example, I argue that while the content of Blake's post-1800 writings may be less obviously focused on a social/ideological critique and do less to espouse the revolutionary political themes of the 1790's, Blake's Milton develops a construction of the aesthetic which, seen in relation to Kantian aesthetics, lays the groundwork for what Robert Kaufman has recently called "protocritical consciousness" (141).[1] To put it another way, while the direct level of political engagement recedes in Blake's post-1800 work, it does so in a way that foregrounds the aesthetic experience of what the "Preface" of Milton calls "the Sublime of the Bible," and it figures this form of aesthetic experience as a prerequisite to critical thought. In this way, Blake's Milton can be understood to explore a construction of the aesthetic experience which, while not a political act in itself, nevertheless discloses the formal capacity of thought distinct from the content of a given discourse. What the Milton MOOspace allows for is a MOO player's participation in the kind of aesthetic experience that confronts the characters in the poem. This experience of immersive textuality is the truly radical face of MOOspace as a scholarly or pedagogical use of new media because it collapses the traditional criticism's posture of maintaining an objective distance from the experience of characters within the text. In the moment of inspiration, the rules of the environment change and alternate possibilities emerge in the control of the character. For the characters in Blake's poem, this change is in the realization of the purely formal nature of time and space as constructs not necessarily coincident with a single ideological reality. For the Milton MOOspace, these changes are mediated by technology and they demand a player's active critical engagement with the different electronic environments that emerge.

  6. Book One of Milton engages the discourse of Biblical eschatology, revising time and space into radically open forms, and thus exposing the bounds of their ideological content in the privileged space of the inspired moment. The revelation announced when the Bard/Milton/Blake combines with Los is a sublime apprehension of Biblical time and space. The speaker announces:

    I am that Shadowy Prophet who Six thousand Years ago Fell from my station in the Eternal bosom. Six Thousand Years Are finishd. I return! Both Time & Space obey my will I in Six Thousand Years walk up and down: for not one Moment Of Time is lost, not one Event of Space unpermanent (22 [24]: 15-19 E 117)

    This announcement is complex and yet characteristic of the poem in the way it combines its claims for the significance of the poet/prophet with the conclusion of the six-thousand year period assigned to Biblical history and the apprehension of the total forms of the time and space as an instant present to thought. The importance of artistic activity and the instant of aesthetic judgment are thus realized as the Biblical Last Judgment, which itself stands as an aesthetic judgment of the sublime.[2] Rather than situating the Last Judgment as the point where material history simply ends, Milton can be seen to position the moment of aesthetic experience as the site from which a critique of the empirical forms of time and space and the ideology of Biblical eschatology can begin. Significantly, in Book One of Milton, the realization of the eschatological destination in the discovery of poetic purpose also coincides with the entry into Los's "supreme abode," Golgonooza (22 [24]: 26 E 117). It is as if aesthetic experience is not only necessary for realizing the destination of Biblical history, but rather that aesthetic experience actually is the destination of Biblical history. The "Preface" to Milton suggests as much by arguing that "if we are but just & true to our own Imaginations, those Worlds of Eternity," we will be able to experience "the Sublime of the Bible" (1[i] E 95). Apocalypse and aesthetic experience merge in Milton in such a way as to critique their conjunction in the ideological legacy of John Milton's poetry.

  7. What is thus at stake in Milton's "Sublime of the Bible" and the poem's concern with the ideological implications of Biblical eschatology and aesthetics becomes clearer in the context of a construction of the sublime that shares some surprising territory with Immanuel Kant's interest in aesthetics. The protocritical character of "the Sublime of the Bible" identifies the way that Milton constructs aesthetic experience as simultaneously the form and content of poetic activity. In relation to Kantian aesthetics, the issue that emerges when reading the performative and descriptive implications of Milton is not so much that of a subject's response to an object (as is the case with Edmund Burke's empirical view of aesthetics), as it is that of a strictly delimited subjectivity that defines what Kaufman has identified in Kant as the "processive form" "necessary to effectuate, specific content-engaging acts of critical agency" (141, 147). The emphasis in Milton is thus focused on a character's experience of the moment of aesthetic judgment. This moment, one which the text tropes as the moment of inspiration, presents itself as an experience that is the necessary prerequisite for critical agency.

  8. Perhaps, then, Paley's view that Blake's Milton fails to realize the promise of apocalypse and millennium as moments of sweeping historical change is to miss the truly radical potential of Milton's critique of subjectivity, time and space as forms inextricable from their ideological content. The protocritical character of aesthetic experience in Milton lays the groundwork for a critique of the ideological implications of time and space by presenting aesthetic experience as an inspired apprehension of the principle of form itself, and thus form, as a principle momentarily distinct from the reified ideological inscription of meaning in the moment of aesthetic experience, is what Blake's poem poses as a condition contrary to the "fall." The Milton MOOspace provides an electronic environment that presents a player with the experience of character, time and space as being radically contingent concepts that are, in part, open to the control of the player. Milton's critique of subjectivity is realized in the way that a MOO player "possesses," as Hunt and Varma term it, the identity of a character within the poem. In the same way that the non-linear implications of the moment of inspiration in Milton is more like a single moment obsessively re-presented in its different aspects, all of the complex threads of the MOO map are connected. In other words, any one moment in MOOspace potentially opens into any other moment within the Milton MOO. As apocalyptic moment, the Milton MOO also provides a kind of technological experience of the sublime which, while it does not change the world beyond one's computer, does suggest the same difference between representation and presentation central to the Kantian sublime in an electronic environment (see Milton MOO apocalypse).

  9. Insofar as the realization and exploration of various constructions of time and space are a central theme in Milton, electronic environments hold the potential for exploring the critical potential of Los's claim that "Both Time & Space obey my will" (22 [24]:17, E 117). As designers of the MOOspace, Hunt and Varma identify the fundamental applicability of the MOO to Blake's Milton in the way that it allows for the expression of what they call "the dynamic existence of [Blake's] objects and the strange relationships between them" (Hunt). Indeed, objects in Milton exist in relationships that are radically contingent. Character, time and space are equally objects and actors; they are the conditions of their own possibility and meaning. These relationships often identify a state of being as determining what an object appears to mean. The paradigmatic expression of this kind of dynamic relationship in Milton is called a "Vortex." In the poem, Milton's descent from a heaven that is the ideological legacy of his Christian epics, is followed by the narrator's explanation:

    The nature of infinity is this: That every thing has its Own Vortex; and when once a traveller thro Eternity. Has passd that Vortex, he perceives it roll backward behind His path, into a globe itself infolding; like a sun: Or like a moon, or like a universe of starry majesty, While he keeps onwards on his wondrous journey on the earth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Thus is the earth one infinite plane, and not as apparent To the weak traveler confin'd beneath the moony shade. Thus is the heaven a vortex passd already, and the earth A vortex not yet pass'd by the traveler thro' Eternity (15[17]: 21-26, 32-35)

    In this passage, states of being such as Milton's Christian eternity of infinite temporal extension, the "moony shade" of radical relativism the poem later calls the state of "Beulah," and the physicality of earth itself, are equally realizable as discrete objects that exist within the infinite possibilities for the imaginative potential of form itself. The radically contingent relationship between time, space and character as objects in the text is realized in the moment of aesthetic experience. Here, the boundaries traditionally assigned to these concepts are folded back upon themselves by the text's use of language and visual image to create a non-linear textual logic. In adapting Milton to MOOspace, the text's use of the moment of aesthetic response and experience as the preeminent site of this process of folding becomes foregrounded, because one enters the MOOspace as a character actively immersed in the events of the text. To enter the Milton MOO space, one currently enters as Milton as shown below.

  10. The way that Blake designed Milton as a text invites the very kind of participation in an immersive experience of the text as the character Milton that the Milton MOOspace demands. Entering the Milton MOOspace is to perform the process implied by the title page of Milton. The title page of Milton visually/verbally sets out the text's task of disrupting habitual conventions of reading/viewing to suggest that the reader/viewer needs to encounter the book, not as a spectator, but as the character Milton and to undergo the aesthetic experience of the moment of inspiration and its potential for critical agency. (Please see the Blake Archive "Welcome Page" before continuing on to Milton title page).[3] The title page suggests that in order to read, to "enter," the poem one must inhabit the gap in the spatially destabilized identity/name/title "MIL / TON". [4] In MOOspace, the user enters the poem through the gap in the character and the title of its subject. On the title page, the first syllable "MIL" defines a horizontal plane and "TON" defines a descending vertical plane. The naked man whose extended arm and spread fingers seemingly reach toward the upper right corner of the page create the break in the lexical indicator of identity. Thus Milton's name and the poem's title indicate both the human subject and literary text the reader is about to enter. Perhaps it is also worth reiterating Broglio's observation (See Broglio essay Paragraph 12) that the image/text of this disruption of the term "MIL / TON" is also the action the reader's hand must perform to turn the page, and thus potentially experience the aesthetic response stated in "[A Vision of the Last Judgment]": "If the Spectator could Enter into these Images in his Imagination approaching them on the Fiery Chariot of his Contemplative thought [. . .] then he would meet the Lord in the Air & then he would be happy" (E 560). To enter the text of Milton is to enter not only with the naked figure—Milton in the inspired moment of his descent—but as that figure and through that broken identity/name/title. Entering the Milton MOOspace literalizes and thereby renders the player self-conscious of this process. A MOO player enters the space by "possessing" the identity of Milton, and thus the player becomes immersed in the processes of the text.

  11. Because the MOO is a multiple user environment, the player is also immersed in a text where the identity of characters becomes a kind of combined consciousness in the moment of inspiration. For Blake's Milton, the moment of inspiration, Milton's aesthetic experience within the book, involves the transfer of inspiration from one figure to another and, simultaneously, the movement from one construction of space and time to another in the poem. These moments of mental experience are treated as actions within the book. Actions reveal time, space, and character as fundamentally ideological forms and they provide the basis for the realization of form-in-its-possibility as for a critique of ideology. The question central to the poem is, what will inspire Milton to take action, what can create the necessary critical agency in Milton? Initially, John Milton is described as "Unhappy tho in heav'n" (2: 18 E 96). Milton's dissatisfaction with his lot in eternity and the ideological legacy he has left is embodied in "his Sixfold Emanation scattere'd thro' the deep" (2: 19 E 96).[5] Milton seems to be both aware of and to regret this situation, but he somehow lacks the necessary motivation to reunite with Ololon. In the poem, it is precisely his aesthetic experience of a strange poem uttered by a nameless Bard that inspires him to take action. To put it more accurately, Milton's aesthetic experience is the action he takes, because in Blake's poem the potential for critical agency depends upon realizing the ideological nature of time, space, and ultimately one's own condition as a character; aesthetic experience alone makes this possible. Crucially, as Milton's experience of the Bard's song shows, the strictly delimited subjectivity defined by the experience also identifies the possibilities for radical constructions of intersubjective relationships within the protocritical space of the aesthetic.

  12. If the question is, what will create the necessary conditions for critical agency in Milton, then the answer is provided in the appearance of a nameless Bard who suddenly commands the attention of those assembled in "the heavens of Albion" by relating a long and complex "Song" (14[15]: 10 E 108). The Bard's song introduces the performative nature of inspiration as a trope in the text. The Bard's heavenly audience wants proof that the actions described in his song are statements of fact referring to events that have taken place.[6] The heavenly audience demands in unison, "If it is true! if the acts have been perform'd / Let the Bard himself witness" (13[14]: 49-50, E 107). Thus the key criterion imposed on the poetic value of the Bard's song is the witnessing of the performance of the actions described, but the text reveals that they are asking the wrong question. The Bard is bearing witness to the critical potential of inspired vision—his poem performs the inspiration it describes. What the Bard claims has been performed; what the Bard bears witness to, is inspiration: "I am Inspired! I know it is Truth!" (13[14]:51, E 107). According to the Bard, experience—here specifically aesthetic experience—is defined as inspired vision. This aesthetic experience is, at the same time, the disruption of habitual patterns of meaning, and as such it holds the potential for critical agency. While such inspiration may be simply a series of contra-factual statements, at least as far as his audience is concerned, it nonetheless unmasks the ideological limitations of the empirical premises of his audience's rejection of his song.

  13. Perhaps more importantly, the Bard's song is the first of a number of scenes of inspiration that ultimately are revealed as the moment of inspiration that enables Blake to create Milton. In this sense, the whole poem is about the inspiration necessary for its own making. Insofar as Milton is about its own generation, the Bard's song is both a biographical retelling of William Blake's struggle to find inspiration while in the employ of William Hayley between the years 1800 and 1803 in Felpham, and it is also a prelude to the moment of inspiration for the William Blake figure within the poem. The Bard is thus a figure representing the protocritical character of the aesthetic experience of inspired poetry. His concept of inspiration is what the poem realizes within itself. The transfer of the Bard's inspiration to Milton is achieved by the literal incorporation of his character into that of Milton: "The loud voic'd Bard terrify'd took refuge in Miltons bosom" (14[15]: 9 E 108). Here, aesthetic experience simultaneously becomes the performance and the dissemination of the act of inspiration. Milton, inspired by the Bard's song and the Bard's presence within him, resolves to "go to Eternal Death!" (14[15]: 14 E 108); leaving the Christian heaven of infinite temporal extension, Milton moves outside of its particular ideological reality, and returns to the generative world. Milton's aesthetic experience of the Bard's song, the inspiration Milton receives from the song is simultaneously the potential for critical agency within the character Milton. As I shall argue, Blake's Milton can be read as, in part, a complex series of repetitions of the moment of inspiration and its implications for the possibility for critical thought. Because of its centrality in Milton and its impact on the character's within the text, the Milton MOO takes this moment where aesthetic experience and the potential for critical agency are simultaneously realized as the point of entry where a MOO-er experiences the immersive textuality of Milton. As a player entering the Milton MOO possesses a character, that player enacts a performative recovery of the sense of the word "inspiration" as a breathing-of-life-into the character and text.

  14. The Bard's entry into and inspiration of Milton has a number of visual components throughout the book that complicate Milton's textuality in ways that render it ideal for an electronic environment. Operating by means of the possession of a character, the Milton MOOspace opens the possible connections between character, time and space as expanded possibilities for the MOO player. These visual components of Blake's Milton develop the possibilities of the text in both a linear and non-linear or hypertextual fashion. There is a visual counterpart to the conclusion of the Bard's entry into Milton on the plate immediately following its verbal description, but, as a book, Milton also presents non-linear connections where the actions described earlier in the text are give alternative visual representations later. The full page image on plate 15 (in copy C), that follows the Bard's resolution presents what appears to be a frontal view of the figure from the title page. Here, the action of going to "eternal death" is shown as the taking "off" of "the robe of promise," an ungirdling of "himself from the oath of God" (14[15]: 13, E 108) (see Milton plate 15) . The moment of Milton's inspiration is the move to a position critical of Christian ideology: this moment is his journey. Crucially, Milton's inspiration is also a potentially self-critical moment insofar as it is a rejection of the ossified remains of his poetic revisioning of the Bible in Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. Milton's move outside of his own construction of a Christian ideology of eternal life after death as a descent to "eternal death" is not simply a point from which the linear development of the "plot" proceeds; it is a moment that is compulsively repeated in various forms and in various places in the verbal and visual texts of the book. On plate 34 of copy C of Book Two, Milton's journey to eternal death is visually mapped as a one that is at once cosmic, spiritual, and mental. Here, the visual image has no adjacent verbal description as is the case with the verbal text of plate 14 and the visual text of plate 15 (see Milton plate 34) . These two visual representations of Milton's resolution fold the linear narrative development of the text back upon itself. Rather than progression, a reader of Blake's text or player in the Milton MOOspace is presented with an instance of repetitions that creates alternate discursive fields based upon alternate organizations of the image/text relationship.

  15. Rather than unfolding in time, the differences or variations in the trope of inspiration/descent tend to make the linear progress of the text fold back upon itself, producing the impression that the whole poem is an exhaustive, multi-perspectival elaboration of one moment. This aesthetic experience opens the possibility for critical thought through the disruption of identity and reality as it is naturalized in ideology, both for Milton as a character within the poem and potentially for a reader of the poem. The transfer of inspiration from the Bard to Milton thematizes the dissemination of a kind of transformative aesthetic experience as the means by which the ideological nature of time and space are exposed in a kind of sublime mental experience of poetry. In what follows in Milton, this transformative aesthetic experience is disseminated to the first-person Blake narrator and to Los the poet/blacksmith figure within Blake's personal mythology. Through the moment of inspiration the identities of characters become seamlessly linked in an instant outside of the linear flow of time and space.

  16. In the Milton MOO, Milton's descent to eternal death is a Flash sequence that provides Milton's point of view as he enters Blake to produce the moment of inspiration. This sequence presents the first-person view of Milton's fall through parting banks of fluffy cumulous clouds, down to Blake's Felpham cottage, through a window and into the room, and up to a table where the player-as-Milton sees what Blake is writing from Blake's point of view (See MOO Flash sequence). Thus, this sequence seamlessly moves a MOO-er from Milton's point of view to Blake's. While the change from Milton's point of view to Blake's is seamless, the Flash sequence represents it as a move from a relatively realistic depiction of a fall to Earth into a cartoon-like realization of Blake's Felpham cottage. Falling from "the heavens of Albion," now realizable as an ideologically reified, fantasmatic, space in the sky outside of the flow of time, "into the Sea of Time & Space" (15[17]: 46 E 110), an ideologically reified space dominated by materiality and temporal progression, Milton appears to the Blake narrator of the poem: "Then I saw him in the Zenith as a falling star,/Descending perpendicular, swift as the swallow or swift/And on my left foot falling on the tarsus, enterd there" (15[17]: 47-49 E 110) (see Milton plate 16 and MOO Flash sequence). Just as the Bard takes refuge in Milton's bosom, Milton enters or possesses the Blake narrator by way of his foot, itself a critical comment on the Bible's depiction of the conversion of Saul into Paul on the road to Tarsus. The inspired Milton becomes, in turn, the inspiration of Blake and a part of his identity, a moment which the Milton MOO's descent Flash sequence depicts as both a movement through space and the inspiration to write from the point of view of the MOO player.

  17. The value of thinking of Milton through the trope of the possession of identities that define the inspired moment in MOOspace is that it allows for the player to be immersed in an aesthetic experience of a potentially apocalyptic moment, but the apocalypse of Milton conceived of this way is not so much about the end of the world as it is about the potential for a kind of agency that can produce a critique of ideology. This critique of ideology allows for a MOO player to experience an apocalyptic end of the ideological single-mindedness of Milton's perspective. The remainder of the first book of Milton describes the visionary, geographical, biological, creative domain of Los, referred to within the poem as Golgonooza. It is as if the movement of Book One, in Milton's descent, has been a moment increasingly focused upon the internal works of Blake's mythopoetic machinery, a moment which when fully entered into is realized as an apocalyptic moment. With the Bard/Milton/Blake/Los character reaching Golgonooza, Los announces the moment that Christian ideology posits as the apocalypse, when the six thousand years of time assigned to Biblical eschatology "Are finishd" (22[24]: 17 E 117). But rather than resulting in the end of the material world, this moment reveals that the six thousand years are contained within "a pulsation of the artery" and "a red Globule of Mans blood" (29[31]: 3 and 29[31]: 21 E 127). What ends in this apocalyptic moment is the abstract measurement of time as temporal extension and space as material distance, and its inverse, the heavenly form of a Hegelian bad infinity without material existence, concepts that the book has programmatically tried to break down through its various foldings. In Golgonoza, the kind of temporal and spatial constructions within which the Bard/Milton/Blake/Los has existed are recognized as fundamentally ideological domains. Here, inspired moments of aesthetic response allow for a critical, disruptive remapping of a world that has become intellectually codified by empirical science and ideologically reified by Christian doctrine.

  18. One of the myriad difficulties in coming to some understanding of Blake's Milton is that while the first-person speaker in Book One of the poem seems to announce nothing less than apocalypse and millennium, Book Two ends by clearly indicating that all of the actions taking place in the poem are somehow only preparatory to change actually taking place in the world. Rather than extending the action from the Bard/Milton/Blake/Los's vision of time and space, Book Two shifts its focus to the figure Ololon, "the Six-fold Miltonic Female" (41[48]: 30 E 143), and her descent into Blake's garden at the Felpham cottage he inhabited between 1800 and 1803 (see Milton plate 39). The appearance of Ololon in his garden momentarily overwhelms the Blake/the speaker of the poem, and Book Two quickly ends with the preparations for the apocalypse apparently having been completed, but there is no real indication why this has not taken place or when it will. The Milton MOOspace suggests that aesthetic experience that provides the possibility of critical agency is apocalyptic insofar as it is a sweeping reorganization of the concepts of character, time and space. The political/historical dimension of this experience is a question of the dissemination of the experience.

  19. Rather than presenting some narrative fulfillment in a drawing out of the apocalyptic implications of the events of Book One, Book Two seems to present what may well be an equivalent moment from a different perspective. Instead of hearing the Bard/Milton/Blake/Los's claims about the end of Biblical time, the poem presents the Blake narrator's account of his physiological reaction to his visionary experience as the experience of resurrection and judgment: "My bones trembled. I fell outstretchd upon the path/A moment, & my Soul returnd into its mortal state/To Ressurrection & Judgment in the Vegetable Body" (42[49]: 25-26 E 143). This is an example of what Broglio calls the folding of a textual character's body. If the entry into Golgonooza in Book One is somehow equivalent to Blake's reentry into consciousness in Book Two, it is pertinent to ask what this event has accomplished and how it has prepared "All Animals upon the Earth […]/To go forth to the Great Harvest & Vintage of the Nations" as the end of Book two claims (42[49]: 39-43[50]:1 E 144). I would venture to answer that the events of the text are ultimately contained in this moment, a moment which disrupts the ideological forms of time, space, and character.

  20. As I have indicated earlier, Paley sees this oddity of the linear unfolding of the structure of Milton as the book's shortcoming. The point I wish to emphasize is that Milton's retreat from a historical/material realization of apocalypse and millennium suggests the text's emphasis on the aesthetic experience of the inspired moment, a moment that in Milton is always bound up with the response to a text or the techniques of its production, as a prerequisite for a critical agency that is capable of articulating a critique of the ideological implications of form. While Milton does not deliver the sweeping ideological change of apocalypse, it does deliver what might be necessary for such a change as an individual praxis. Milton's emphasis on aesthetic experience and its relationship to a critique of the ideological nature of reality is what ideally suits the poem for the immersive textuality of MOOspace.

  21. As Broglio, Hunt, and Varma have begun to theorize Milton for the MOO, they have thus foregrounded the relationship between "systems" and non-system objects that exist, to a certain extent, independently within those systems. I'm reminded of Los's claim in Blake's Jerusalem, "I must Create a System, or be enslav'd by another Mans" (10: 20 E 153). This strikes me as an ideal and utterly Blakean approach to the complexities of character, time, and space in Milton insofar as non-system objects such as an individual characters within the MOO environment can experience time and space as constructed along different parameters as defined in different systems. In this way, a MOO environment can realize what Blake's Milton describes as the various "States" of existence that are available to an individual. Milton claims that one must "Distinguish therefore States from Individuals in those States" (32[35]: 22 E 132). The MOO, like Blake's Milton, can offer the realization of the very constructedness of time and space as grounded in the formal capacity of the imagination. The MOO offers our contemporary exploration of Milton an immersive, dynamic, non-linear medium as a mode of experience and expression. By setting out the non-linearity of the relationship between the two books of Blake's Milton, a MOO environment can emphasize the contra-finality and simultaneous existence of the multiple states of its "Sublime of the Bible." Perhaps most importantly, the multiple user capabilities of the MOO offer the potential to realize the kind of aesthetic experience through which Milton attempts to produce protocritical consciousness as communal activity.

 

Works Cited

Blake, William. Milton a Poem in 2 Books. The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake. Ed. David V. Erdman. New York: Anchor-Doubleday, 1988.

---. Milton a Poem in 2 Books, copy C, pl. 1 The William Blake Archive. Eds. Morris Eaves, Robert Essick, and Joseph Viscomi. 17 November 2003. http://www.blakearchive.org.

---. Milton a Poem in 2 Books, copy C, pl. 15 The William Blake Archive. Eds. Morris Eaves, Robert Essick, and Joseph Viscomi. 17 November 2003. http://www.blakearchive.org.

---. Milton a Poem in 2 Books, copy C, pl. 16 The William Blake Archive. Eds. Morris Eaves, Robert Essick, and Joseph Viscomi. 17 November 2003. http://www.blakearchive.org.

---. Milton a Poem in 2 Books, copy C, pl. 34 The William Blake Archive. Eds. Morris Eaves, Robert Essick, and Joseph Viscomi. 17 November 2003. http://www.blakearchive.org.

---. Milton a Poem in 2 Books, copy C, pl. 39 The William Blake Archive. Eds. Morris Eaves, Robert Essick, and Joseph Viscomi. 17 November 2003. http://www.blakearchive.org.

---. Jerusalem : The Emanation of the Giant Albion. The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake. Ed. David V. Erdman. New York: Anchor-Doubleday, 1988.

---. "[A Vision of the Last Judgment]." The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake. Ed. David V. Erdman. New York: Anchor-Doubleday, 1988.

Broglio, Ron. "Living Inside the Poem: MOOs & Blake's Milton." Romantic Circles Praxis Series. Designs on Blake. http://www.rc.umd.edu/praxis/designsonblake/broglio/broglio.html

Damon, S. Foster. “Ololon.” A Blake Dictionary: The Ideas and Symbols of William Blake. Boulder, CO: Shambala, 1979. 307-308.

Essick, Robert and Joseph Viscomi. Introduction. Milton a Poem and the Final Illuminated Works. By William Blake. Eds.Robert Essick and Joseph Viscomi. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1993. 9-41.

Hunt, Chris. "Blake MOO Project: Milton." E-mail to the author. 30 October 2002.

Paley, Morton D. Apocalypse and Millennium in English Romantic Poetry. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999.

Vogler, Thomas. A. "Re: Naming MIL/TON." Unnam’d Forms: Blake and Textuality. Eds. Nelson Hilton and Thomas Vogler. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1986. 141-176.

Notes

1 See Robert Kaufman's "Everybody Hates Kant: Blakean Formalism and the Symmetries of Laura Moriarty" in Modern Language Quarterly, 61:1 (March 2000) 131-155.

Back

2 Blake's notebook description of the now-lost painting "[A Vision of The Last Judgment]," probably written near the time of the completion and printing of three of the four extant copies of Milton, suggest precisely this view of the Last Judgment. In this description, "The Last Judgment is an Overwhelming of Bad Art & Science," thus figuring the last Judgment as an aesthetic experience occasioned by what the description refers to as "True Art" in opposition to an objective historical finality that is guaranteed by a theological principle (E 565).

Back

3 If your browser does not support Java, you will need to select the "non-Java" option for the pages on the Blake Archive to which this article is linked in order to view the plate.

Back

4 See Thomas Volger's excellent article "RE: Naming MIL/TON" for an extended analysis of this aspect of Milton.

Back

5 Sixfold, this emanative portion of Milton, called, enigmatically enough, Ololon, represents Milton's three wives and three daughters according to S. Foster Damon (307). As Blake's concept of emanation is developed in The Four Zoas, Milton, and Jerusalem, the term generally refers to a separate female part of a character that appears or emanates in the state of existence often referred to as generation, a state defined, in part, by sexual division and generative reproduction. Ololon is, however, much more complex than a biographical conflation of identities, of the legacy of Milton's treatment of his wives and daughters, or the repetition in Blake's personal mythology of the emanation in its conflation of the Christian mythos of the creation of man and of sexual awareness as coincident with the expulsion from the Edenic state. When Ololon appears it is as both a place located "in Eden [as] a sweet River, of mild & liquid pearl," and a voice, referring to itself as plural, of "those who Milton drove / Down into Ulro" (21 [23]: 15-17, E 115).

Back

6 Much of what the Bard's song describes are generally understood as a recapitulation, through the mythic machinery of Blake’s The Four Zoas, of Blake’s own struggles to produce his work while employed by William Hayley between 1800 and 1803 at Felpham.

Back

Author

Published @ RC

January 2005

City

Continent