Criticism and the Emotions
Blake’s Agitation is a thorough and engaging reflection on the dynamic, forward-moving, and active nature of critical thought. Steven Goldsmith investigates the modern notion that there’s a fiery feeling in critical thought, a form of emotion that gives authentic criticism the potential to go beyond interpreting the world. By arousing this critical excitement in readers and practitioners, theoretical writing has the power to alter the course of history, even when the only evidence of its impact is the emotion it arouses. Goldsmith identifies William Blake as a paradigmatic example of a socially critical writer who is moved by enthusiasm and whose work, in turn, inspires enthusiasm in his readers. He traces the particular feeling of engaged, dynamic urgency that characterizes criticism as a mode of action in Blake’s own work, in Blake scholarship, and in recent theoretical writings that identify the heightened affect of critical thought with the potential for genuine historical change. Within each of these horizons, the critical thinker’s enthusiasm serves to substantiate his or her agency in the world, supplying immediate, embodied evidence that criticism is not one thought-form among many but an action of consequence, accessing or even enabling the conditions of new possibility necessary for historical transformation to occur. The resulting picture of the emotional agency of criticism opens up a new angle on Blake’s literary and visual legacy and offers a vivid interrogation of the practical potential of theoretical discourse.