The horror of Rahab
Towards an aesthetic context for William Blake's 'Gothic' form
in William Blake's Gothic imagination
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Kiel Shaub traces Rahab through Blake’s oeuvre, focusing especially on Night the Eighth of The Four Zoas, in order to ‘reveal how Blake’s depiction of Rahab is at least in part a critique of…conservative aspirations of the gothic revival’. Echoing Baulch’s reading of ‘Living Form,’ Shaub argues that Blake’s innovation—which is fundamentally a political innovation—has to do with his ‘understanding of “form” as a relational rather than an absolute distinction’. Indeed, it is Urizen, whose sense of order is ‘bondage’, who would impose absolute distinctions and in so doing transform the passionate Vala into the deadly Rahab: a figure—to recall Radcliffe’s terms mentioned above—of condensed horror born, reactively, from Urizen’s terror in the face of uncertainty. As Shaub argues, terror is the affective correlate of uncertainty and systemic, subjective, or ideological instability whereas horror is the affective form of paralysing determinateness. Rahab, he illustrates, physically embodies a process of ideological ratcheting-up that tends toward conservation in the name of safety, one that uses the threat of disorder as an alibi for total control.

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