PART I: THE TEMPLE OF RATIONALISM
CHAPTER ONE: LOCKE’S SCIENCE AND ITS LANGUAGE
CHAPTER TWO: LOCKE’S RELIGION/MORALITY AND ITS LANGUAGE
PART II: DESTROYING THE TEMPLE—RENDING THE VEIL
CHAPTER THREE: BLAKE’S REJOINDER TO LOCKE’S SCIENCE AND ITS LANGUAGE
CHAPTER FOUR: BLAKE’S REJOINDER TO LOCKE’S RELIGION/MORALITY AND ITS LANGUAGE
CHAPTER FIVE: “SATAN”: BLAKE ON LOCKE’S THREE BRANCHES OF SCIENCE
PART III: REBUILDING THE TEMPLE
CHAPTER SIX: BEYOND LOCKE
EPILOGUE: JERUSALEM—THE POET’S WORK
But He Talked of the Temple of Man’s Body: Blake’s Revelation Un-Locked is a reading of William Blake’s thought through an analysis of his linguistic practice(s), in particular the idiom of his prophetic writings. The impetus to write this book was to come to terms with how Blake uses language, mainly to answer the questions why he twists common words out of their ordinary significations, creates his own ones, and associates his neologisms with a variety of referents. These are aspects of his poetry which discourage many readers, while those who are not discouraged still tend to treat Blake’s linguistic idiosyncrasies as an obstacle which must be overcome (or overlooked) if one wants to access Blake’s thought. The regular critical practice is to build a response to Blake’s ideas as if despite the form in which he communicated them. Blake’s Revelation Un-Locked, filling a significant gap in Blake studies, goes in the opposite direction, enquiring why Blake says what he says (about man, his potential, the world he lives in, the values he lives by, the God he believes in) the way he does.
The starting point for such an analysis of Blake’s poetry in this book is the philosophy of John Locke, whose name appears in a number of largely negative contexts of Blake’s prophecies. Especially since Northrop Frye’s Fearful Symmetry, Locke has been constantly referenced by Blake critics, but nearly always as an empiricist, while the Locke presented in Blake’s Revelation Un-Locked is in the first place a philosopher of language. In Book III of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding—which is notoriously neglected by Blake scholars (including Wayne Glausser, the author of multiangled Locke and Blake: A Conversation across the Eighteenth Century)—Locke proposes a linguistic reform whose purpose is to make language a more efficient tool of communication. Roughly, the reform should take the form of imposing on language users very definite terms of the propriety of speech (including not making things unnecessarily complicated by calling one thing by several names, or by using one name to denote different referents, or by creating new names to refer to old things/ideas). The precepts the philosopher proposes seem commonsensical and well-meant—and it is exactly these same precepts that are constantly violated by Blake, which confuses his readers, challenges his critics, and frustrates his publishers, editors, and translators. WHY? and WHAT FOR? Blake’s Revelation Un-Locked seeks an answer to these questions.
This interdisciplinary monograph—located at the crossroads where literature meets with philosophy, religion, and art—is propelled by the assumption that Locke’s thought on language is not an abstract philosophical proposition on an abstract subject, but carries wide practical implications. Consequently, Blake’s refusal to abide by the philosopher’s standards of propriety is in fact a refusal to accept these implications, and an attempt to open language up so that it starts being an adequate tool to describe a reality alternative to Locke’s objective, materialistic, mechanistic paradigm (“the same dull round over again”).
The composition of the monograph is governed by two structural principles. The first is the metaphoric principle, which dictates the logic of its PARTS (I: THE TEMPLE OF RATIONALISM, II: DESTROYING THE TEMPLE—RENDERING THE VEIL, III: REBUILDING THE TEMPLE) and relates to the structure of Blake’s prophetic writings, turning Blake’s Revelation Un-Locked itself into a narrative which tells of an effort to build, an attempt to destroy, and then rebuild/build anew. On the other hand, there is a much more systematic and schematic dimension, reflected in the logic of the book’s CHAPTERS, derived from Locke’s division of science into natural philosophy, morality, and the science of words.
The first Part of the monograph deals with Locke’s reformed language and shows that his word, as an external mark of a mental concept, becomes a word-brick which the philosopher uses to build a system of science and morality, which I call the Temple of Rationalism. Calling this system a “temple” is accurate for two reasons. More obviously, the picture of an external objective reality which emerges from Locke’s consideration of the names of substances (the subject of Chapter One, Locke’s Science and Its Language), possesses a suggestive resemblance to a stable structure: so stable and concrete that someone who enters it may forget that the material it is built of is words. Less obviously, the purpose of this construction is suggestive of a temple. As stressed in Chapter Two (Locke’s Religion/Morality and Its Language), this scientific-moral system seems to be built in order to glorify God, like a temple; apparently, it gives man an opportunity to meet God—again, like a temple.
Viewed against this background, Blake’s “abuse” of Locke’s principles of the propriety of speech can be seen (as I argue in Part II) as an attempt to shake the stability of Locke’s word and thereby to undermine, with words, the fundament on which Locke’s temple is built. Through his linguistic “misbehavior” Blake puts man at a critical distance to the oppressive paradigm of Locke. He reveals that the irresistible impression of the objectivity of the temple built by Locke is a delusion (Chapter Three, Blake’s Answer to Locke’s Science and Its Language), that the morality wherewith man thought he could see God and interpret his own duty is a veil (Chapter Four, Blake’s Rejoinder to Locke’s Morality and Its Language), and that the temple, the edifice which man wrongly interpreted as the House of God, is, as Blake calls it, “a Synagogue of Satan” (Chapter Five, "Satan": Blake on Locke’s Three Branches of Science).
After this negative, deconstructive middle Part of the book comes Part III, which demonstrates that reading Blake through deconstructive theories does not allow to relate to the ultimate sense (and essence) of his poetry. Blake does not rend the veil of delusion in order to open the eyes of the dwellers of Locke’s temple onto an unspecified void, but onto an alternative Temple which he constructs/reveals in his poetry. The last Chapter (Beyond Locke) demonstrates that, first, Blake did what he proposed, namely he “built his own system” (so as not to be enslaved by other people’s systems). Second, he managed to build that system—his own Temple—with the words which functioned as word-bricks in Locke’s temple. Third, he was able to do so owing to the fact that he had disentangled the English language from Locke’s system. Blake opened Locke’s words onto a new range of meanings and made them capable of carrying non-Lockean significations. This is the most visible in the transformation/metamorphosis of the key-word that appears in the main title of the book and in the titles of its Parts: though the word “temple” remains intact, there is a huge semantic, conceptual and ontological distance that separates Locke’s “temple” of Part I and Blake’s “Temple” of Part III.