Blake, Ethics, and Forgiveness

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9780817306786: Blake, Ethics, and Forgiveness
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For the last two decades, scholars who specialize in the poetry and art of William Blake have stressed the formal and historical dimensions of his aesthetic theories and practices. Such an emphasis neglects the ethical commitments that inform his work. Primary among these ethical commitments is Blake’s passionate advocacy of forgiveness between human beings as a means to solve the problem of human evil, an advocacy that seems to contradict Blake’s assertions that ethical laws create the illusion of human evil and employ the concept of “forgiveness” solely to reinforce the terms of the original oppression.            Blake, Ethics, and Forgiveness focuses on an important and pervasive issue found in the work of the English Romantic visionary poet, engraver, and mystic William Blake. It treats the moral and literary problem of representing ethical or human forgiveness, as distinct from the divine forgiveness of human beings.

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Blake, Ethics, and Forgiveness is the first book systematically to examine the ethical commitments and contradictions in William Blake's pervasive concern with human forgiveness. Primary among these ethical commitments is Blake's passionate advocacy of forgiveness between human beings as a means to solve the problem of human evil. Such an advocacy seems to contradict Blake's assertions that ethical laws merely create the illusion of human evil and employ the concept of "forgiveness" solely to reinforce the terms of the original oppression. Blake, Ethics, and Forgiveness clarifies the relation between these two seemingly contradictory ethical impulses in Blake by employing a distinction increasingly important among contemporary ethicists, a distinction between an ethics of obligation and an ethics of character. It demonstrates that Blake's protests are directed to laws based on obligation, which assume that all human persons are essentially alike, while Blake's advocacy of forgiveness among human beings assumes an ethics of character based on the cultivation of virtues. The book goes on to argue that in some contexts Blake uses the vocabulary of forgiveness to solve not the problem of human evil but the problem of human otherness, the intractable differences between and among human beings, and to suggest that Blake's vocabulary does not meet the demands of this second task. Thus, Blake, Ethics, and Forgiveness offers a consideration of ethics, an unjustly neglected topic, for inclusion into the study of the British Romantic period. Moreover, its analysis of the limits of Blake's uses of forgiveness contributes to current thinking that questions the sufficiency of the Romantic poets'self-representations.

About the Author:

Jeanne Moskal is Associate Professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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