Hélène Ibata
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Against and beyond Burke
Blake’s ‘sublime Labours’
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Chapter 8 contends that Blake’s theory and practice of art define, against Burke, an original conception of the sublime as a dynamic process located within creative activity itself rather than an empirical experience founded on passive psychological and physiological responses to external sources of terror. It argues that this shift allows Blake to give a new significance to visual representation, which is no longer cut off from the sublime, but becomes a necessary process towards it. Blake’s prophetic cycle is read as a dramatisation of the incommensurability of Vision and sensible form, which articulates the predicament of the artist, caught between the necessity to present forms, and the awareness that material representation is the first step toward a fall from Vision. The necessity of artistic production prevails because, according to Blake, it is the energetic endeavour to produce forms which demonstrates the imaginative power of the artist, which in fact is sublime in itself. This is made manisfest by the artist’s emphasis on line, and the high degree of medium reflexivity in his illuminated books.

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The challenge of the sublime

From Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry to British Romantic art

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