Elihu's Spiritual Sensation: William Blake's <i>Illustrations of the Book of Job</i>

Emma Mason

in The Oxford Handbook of the Reception History of the Bible

Published in print January 2011 | ISBN: 9780199204540
Published online May 2011 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Religion and Theology

 Elihu's Spiritual Sensation: William Blake's Illustrations of the Book of Job

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This article explores Blake's reading of the Book of Job as a transformative text that shifts and changes meaning through its affective reception by readers. While the Enlightenment attempted to shame not only religious believers but those who approached their society through any form of intense feeling (rather than more polite forms of sensibility), Blake sought to re-emotionalize readers by teaching them how to read the Bible, and thus how to read their world. Blake's Elihu shows that religious experience is affective, but further implies that its cognitive significance has material effects: emotional perception informs the imagination while the imagination allows the individual to see the world as human. Feeling is then ultimately responsible for compassionate acts engendered by an affectively fuelled capacity for invention and vision. This aspect of Blake's poetry is sometimes buried by historical readings because they are more interested in the letter of Blake's work than in its spirit, regarding his texts and images as receptacles of ideas rather than guides to feeling. The article considers Blake's own implicit resistance to historical decodings of his work. First, through a discussion of his understanding of ‘opposites’ and ‘contraries’. Second, in a reading of the Illustrations, which argues that the imagination, or ‘spiritual sensation’, offers the reader a way into Brennan's ‘living attention’ as an artistic as well as ethical way of relating.

Keywords: Book of Job; historical decodings; Illustrations; reception; William Blake

Article.  6176 words. 

Subjects: Religion ; Religious Studies ; Christianity ; Religious Subjects in Art

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