Front Page Titles (by Subject) Blake's America: Liberation & Art - Literature of Liberty, Spring 1980, vol. 3, No. 1
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Blake’s America: Liberation & Art - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Spring 1980, vol. 3, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Blake’s America: Liberation & Art
“Angels out of the Sun: Art, Religion, and Politics in Blake’s America.” Studies in Romanticism 18 (Summer 1979):235–252.
In the early 1790s the English artist, seer, and radical poet, William Blake (1757–1827), wrote two poems about the revolutions of his day, The French Revolution and America. America is Blake’s “most vehement political statement” in looking forward to a revolutionary renewal of English society. Though a difficult, symbolic poem, America is intended to perform a moral and social function in its art. In common with the romantic poet Shelley, Blake believed that “radical social transformation can be produced by the visionary renovation of consciousness.” Some critics, however, criticize the manner in which Blake’s mystical and literary flights make social and historical allusions in America difficult to identify and write off Blake’s mannerisms as a “retreat from realism” or “fear of persecution.” But this prosaic criticism “assumes that Blake saw history in the way that we do, and consequently, it presents Blake’s choice between making art and writing history as an absolute one.”
Blake’s view of history, however, differs from the prosaic mind which follows an ontological dualism that separates spirit from matter. Blake, living in a culture that discussed history and politics in moralistic and Biblical terms inherited from the English Civil War, “viewed the American Revolution as a sort of mass resurrection or secular apocalypse that would overthrow poverty and cruelty and establish a New Eden.” Blake’s holistic vision of reality did not distinguish between spiritual (artistic) truth and events in political history. In fact Blake’s America reveals that he was “literal” in seeing the American Revolution in terms of Biblical apocalypse and in viewing “political history as the outward sign of the impending Millenium.” Blakes’ chiliastic expectations were awakened by the crises in morals, religion, and government that derived from the seventeenth century millenarian tradition of radical English Puritan dissent which hoped to realize politically “the kingdom without” based religiously on “the kingdom within.” For Blake this tradition rejected any bifurcation of human experience into soul (good) and body (evil) or into spiritual and political revolution. In America, Blake identifies the conventionally separate realms of religion and politics and sees institutionalized religion as related to political tyranny.
Resembling The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Blake’s America identifies political liberation in eschatological terms and treats several levels of liberation from tyranny: “legal (the slave will be freed); personal (the ‘inchained soul’ will rise); and international (‘Empire is no more’).” In America, Blake’s holistic vision sees political, social, and psychological events as arising from a spiritual reality. Thus by absorbing material history into his spiritual perspective, America’s historical character George Washington and the metaphorical Orc co-exist as ontological equals.
Blake has transformed his source (Joel Barlow’s 1787 edition of The Vision of Columbus) because his intention in America is not to write material history but “metaphysical history.” “Blake sacrifices fidelity to details of the military and diplomatic maneuvers” of the American Revolution to achieve a deeper analysis of tyranny and liberation on all levels, including mental, physical, religious, and sexual. In America, Blake outwardly expressed his belief in the coincidence of spiritual and material realities by joining his intellectual and manual activity in the production of his poem since he illustrated the poem with pictures of his own design.