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Blake's Agitation

, 416 pages

37 b&w illus.

March 2013



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Blake's Agitation

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.

Steven Goldsmith is an associate professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, and is the author of Unbuilding Jerusalem: Apocalypse and Romantic Representation.

"A fresh and bracing assessment of the role of affect in some of the most important cultural criticism of the last century, by no means limited to the field of affect studies. I found myself productively provoked by the book’s arguments about the power we critics habitually attribute to critical reading and to literature’s appeal to a non-rational dimension of experience."

"Goldsmith's subtle, complicated and counterintuitive study, flows out of what he calls a 'sustained interdisciplinary "surge" in the theoretical, historical and cognitive study of emotion.'"

"An imaginative, deeply learned, and passionately argued book. The thinking and writing are sustained throughout at exceptionally high levels... The book makes an original and important contribution to Blake studies."

"A major reading of Blake, a significant contribution to affect studies, and a provocative meditation on the state of the profession... Seeing critical reading s the interaction of agitation with slow time could offer a healing message for a divided profession, but there will always be those who are impatient to make a positive difference. Thanks to Steven Goldsmith's outstanding book, both sides can now find sustenance in the work of William Blake."

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