NASSR Abstract: William Blake’s “Enoch” Lithograph

William Blake, חניך/(”Enoch”), 1806-1807. Lithograph, 8.50 x 12.17 in. (21.59 x 30.91 cm.), Private Collection

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is: infinite.”

William Blake’s 1806-1807 lithograph Enoch, the artist’s only known experiment with that medium, illustrates the enigmatic Genesis 5:24 fragment “Enoch walked with God; then was no more, because God took him away” and represents a critical zone of artistic engagement relative to the way in which Blake develops and modifies the idea of self-annihilation across the arc of his career as an artist-poet.  Blake explores how the individual self might be expanded through self-annihilation leading counterintuitively to a corresponding expansion of one’s perceptions.  As early as the 1793 illuminated book The Marriage of Heaven and Hell one sees the proverbial turn of phrase appear, “The most sublime act is to set another before you.” [1] Some eighteen years later, in the illuminated book Milton: A Poem in Two Books (1811) the following lines appear, which further develop the self-expansive theme treated by Blake in the earlier Marriage poetic text: “I come in Self-Annihilation & the grandeur of Inspiration.” [2] Given that the two texts express similar concerns, and that Blake was engrossed with the idea of transcending a restricted and disconnected conception of self, Blake as an artist-poet thinks through concepts both visually and verbally, sculpting the concept of self-annihilation throughout his career.  Blake’s Enoch image grapples with a passage in the Bible that represents an intertextual precedent for the idea of self-annihilation that, in the Marriage, takes the form of a movement beyond the self and the later Blake sees as closely allied with imaginative inspiration, figured literally in the textual field of the Milton text and pictured visually in the form of the allegorical figures that iconographically signify different forms of artistic media in the Enoch image.  The project takes its theoretical framework from the notion of Blakean syncopation of word and image, originally developed by Northrop Frye and subsequently expanded by W.J.T. Mitchell in Blake’s Composite Art, whereby the Blakean comingling of verbal and visual forms of representation generate meaning through the resonance of related texts and images located in different places within a specific illuminated work.  My project expands such a theorized notion, by demonstrating that thematic syncopation emerges not just within a discrete illuminated book, like Milton or Jerusalem, but also can be seen as emerging from the range of Blake’s artistic production on which Blake works while creating his better known works of illuminated poetry.  To this end, one can see the lithograph as one mode Blake uses to think through the idea of self-annihilation specifically relative to the artist-poet’s concern with the concepts of individuality and forms of inspiration, which becomes demonstrated by the play of signification, both visual and verbal, that connect the Enoch lithograph, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and Milton illuminated books, and the Genesis 5:24 biblical text.

[1] William Blake. “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” in The Complete Poetry & Prose of William Blake, edited by David V. Erdman (New York: Anchor Books, 1988), 36.

[2] Ibid., 142. Emphasis mine.