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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.63, No.4, 709 ~ 728, 2017
From God as Gift to the Giving Subject: William Blake and God-Talk
Son-moo Ryu
The return of religion to the center of scholarly attention, also termed as the ‘religious turn’, helps us rethink the relationship between the divine and human in Blake in ways that transform how we view religion, human affect, and human agency. The seeming contradiction between Blake’s destruction of personal identity (self-annihilation) and his consistent critique of external authority prompts us to ask who or what enables the conditions for a genuine historical change that this critical activity inevitably provokes. This essay argues that Blake quarried the conceptual resources of Christianity for a viable solution to the ethical and political predicament of his times. For Blake, God, with his overflowing generosity, saturates and exceeds the present horizon of possibility, including the very identity of the subject. In other words, God’s appearance as a phenomenal event, His excessive givenness, locates fulfillment not only in the development and achievement of the willful subject but also in the graceful acceptance of the free gift of God’s love. In Blake, the call from the Christian God is the paradigmatic example of a call that precedes the subject as a kind of a claim on the subject that he or she cannot anticipate or comprehend. The heteronomous determination of the subject, however, leaves room for human action and produces new, unexpected forms of agency. The affective interruption that occurs when God appears as excessive givenness mobilizes the capacity to give and act. God’s supernatural self-gift suggests the self-denying gift character of being itself, binding God more intimately to our horizontal love in time and space than we might have dared to suppose from a more vertically oriented and traditionally ontotheological perspective.
Key Words
Religious Turn, God as Gift, Givenness, William Blake, Jerusalem
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