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Essence, Gender, Race: William Blake's Visions of the Daughters of Albion (Critical Essay)

Studies in Romanticism 2010, Spring, 49, 1

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1 ORIGINALLY PRODUCED IN 1793, VISIONS OF THE DAUGHTERS OF ALBION has become one of Blake's most widely read and interpreted prophecies. Critical interpretations range from the historical to the rhetorical and figurative, the psycho-sexual, the feminist, and the philosophical. (1) In general, most interpretations try to resolve whether the heroine of Visions (Oothoon) complies with, or succeeds in overcoming, various forms of oppression. The critical debate usually boils down to the contrast between Oothoon's character as a female slave and the perspectives of various male figures (Bromion, Theotormon, and Urizen), who oppress her. In other words, the controversy boils down to the contrast between essence (i.e., Oothoon's identity or that which is most irreducible, unchanging, and constitutive of her) and the constructed male world she occupies (i.e., the attitudes, behaviors, and impositions of those who oppress and try to define her). Interestingly, in The Making of the Modern Self Dror Wahrman argues that toward the end of the eighteenth century there was a "swift reanchoring of notions of personal identity in what may be seen as ... essentializing foundations." (2) But the debate over Visions, a text that Wahrman does not discuss, is not quite so simple or binary as essentialism versus social constructions of the self, which he links to what he calls "ancient-regime" perspectives. Indeed, patriarchy, which Blake associated symbolically with Urizen and Wahrman historically with the ancien regime, achieves much of its domination precisely by misusing essentialist language and thereby falsely categorizing and diminishing the Other. According to Helen Bruder, Bromion's treatment of Oothoon as an "enslaved sexual possession ... enables the imprinting of notions of essential sexual and racial character" ("Blake and Gender Studies" 142). This apparently causal relationship between his treatment of Oothoon and his false (as well as unfair) essentializing of her is more complicated, however. For not only does his cruel treatment enable his categorical essentializing but that essentializing also enables his cruelty.

Essence, Gender, Race: William Blake's Visions of the Daughters of Albion (Critical Essay)
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  • Category: Language Arts & Disciplines
  • Published: 22 March 2010
  • Publisher: Boston University
  • Print Length: 51 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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