Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Recent feminist critics of William Blake have drawn attention to the marginalization of a split metaphor of the female in his work as either passively good or actively evil. Not only does this metaphor constitute a stereotypically negative view of femininity, but Blake goes on to resolve its conflictedness by absorbing the female into a male collective of psychic faculties or Zoas known as the Human Form Divine. The work of Julia Kristeva, when placed within a specifically feminist revision of psychoanalysis, can help us to understand the implicit misogyny of Blake's gender-coded myth as symptomatic of broader cultural tensions. The dominant discourse assigning "male" and "female" designations to elements within Western thought can also be understood as the dominance of a paternal symbolic order over a maternal semiotic. Blake's valorization of a masculine Human Form Divine at the expense of a conflicted female metaphor thus encodes a repression, by the superego, of preoedipal conflicts activated by the mother-child dyad.;Blake is not totally assimilated by the symbolic but employs metaphors of a preoedipal incestuous dynamic as part of a major revolutionary tendency in his work. This overt liberating aspect, however, is compromised by Blake's Human Form Divine as a sexist metaphor for a supposedly utopian psycho-social condition. Nevertheless, the semiotic rhythms initially mobilized by Blake continue to function and erupt in ways which rescue him from a regressive masculinist appropriation. Finally, the theoretical formations developed in this thesis, through an engagement with Kristeva, are specifically suited to a study of Blake. Kristeva makes it possible to combine psychoanalysis with cultural criticism insofar as the semiotic not only disrupts language and subjectivity through the agency of poetry, but also destabilizes the patriarchal conceptual hierarchies which underwrite capitalism. Hence both Blake and Kristeva view poetry as being inherently subversive.;This thesis examines Blake's aesthetic theory and his epic The Four Zoas as texts in which he affirms the Human Form Divine as either a delineated masculine figure or the integrated psychic body of the Zoas. Blake's aesthetic privileges a firm bounding outline while simultaneously rejecting practices which blur this line as if they were excremental substances dangerous to the body. For Kristeva, such violent expulsion rejects the mother in a movement known as abjection Blake's epic also affirms the masculine form by narrating the chronology of its psycho-social development into a "regenerate Man" who subordinates the female Emanation Vala and her capacity to represent semiotic conflicts associated with the mother. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)



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