New Ofili show at Tate Britain

The Chris Ofili retrospective at Tate Britain opened on January 27 and runs at Tate until 16 May, 2010.

Ofili, an artist who has been influenced by Blake since the 1980s, has brought together more than 45 paintings as well as drawings and watercolours for the exhibition.

As well as an opportunity to see many of his most famous works, such as No Woman, No Cry (1998), Ofili’s response to the Stephen Lawrence case, and the remarkable Upper Room collection, the new show includes some of his latest paintings that demonstrate the effect of his new surroundings in Trinidad and Tobago.

Many art critics have noted the continuing importance of Blake as one of several influences on Ofili. Tom Lubbock saw the show as one of the strangest examples of Blake’s enduring appeal, while Charlotte Higgins noted the strong connections between Blake’s works and Ofili’s new images of a character he calls “The Healer”. 

The Chris Ofili exhibition runs from 27 January to 16 May, 2010. Entry: £10, concessions £8.50. More details at http://www.tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/chrisofili/default.shtm.

Related links: Review of Chris Ofili and Richard Wright.

Studies on Blake’s reception

As this is the main focus of my own research, the following is an introduction to the main publications that have appeared dealing with the reception of Blake’s work. The top-10 format is simply to make this manageable, and most of the following are books although Mike Goode’s Blakespotting is a superb article. Published in chronological order, they demonstrate that this is a relatively new field in Blake studies (with a few honourable precursors). Anyone interested is also recommended to refer to Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly which frequently includes articles on Blake’s influence.

1. Dorfman, D. Blake in the Nineteenth Century (Yale UP: 1969). Still the best guide to Blake’s reception in the immediate period after his death. While the theory of reception has moved on considerably since publication of this book, it is a comprehensive study of literary and artistic influences.

2. Bertholf, R. and Levitt, A. Blake and the Moderns (SUNY: 1982). A collection of essays including ones by Hazard Adams on Blake and Yeats and Robert Gleckner on Joyce, this concentrates on the literature and has largely been superseded by Larrissy (see below) but still worth reading.

3. Dent, S. and Whittaker, J. Radical Blake: Influence and Afterlife from 1827 (Palgrave: 2002) A polemic and wide-ranging survey organised thematically rather than chronologically. This is the first to try and extend studies of reception beyond literature and the fine arts and, because of this, is inevitably full of gaps.

4. Tambling, J. Blake’s Night Thoughts (Palgrave: 2005) Although not devoted to reception of Blake alone (dealing more generally with Blake as a poet and artist of the night), there is some very useful material here on his influence on figures such as Blanchot and Mann.

5. Larrissy, E. William Blake and Modern Literature (Palgrave: 2006) The best survey of Blake’s influence on literature since the very end of the nineteenth until the late twentieth centuries. Focuses on high rather than popular formats, but more coherent because of this.

6. Clark, S., and Suzuki, M. The Reception of Blake in the Orient (Continuum: 2006) Blake’s printmaking ironically brought him wider acceptance at an early stage in Japan, at least as an artist, than in western Europe and America, and this collection of essays deals with Blake’s relation to orientalism as well as how he was used by figures such as Yanagi Soetsu.

7. Goode, Mike, Blakespotting (PMLA, 121.3: 2006). An excellent and witty survey of the uses of Blake in popular culture, beginning with Donald Trump’s use of the Proverbs of Heaven and Hell.

8. Clark, S., and Whittaker, J. Blake, Modernity and Popular Culture (Palgrave: 2007). With two essays on Blake’s contemporary circles, most essays in this collection deal with reception during the Victorian period through to the beginning of the twenty-first century.

9. Ault, D. and Whitson, R. William Blake and Visual Culture (ImageTexT, 3.2: 2007) ImageTexT is devoted to interdisciplinary comics studies, and there is some material here on Blake’s influence on graphic novels as well as other visual forms.

10. Trodd, C. Visions of Blake: William Blake in the Art World, 1830-1930 (Liverpool UP: 2010) Forthcoming. Will offer the most comprehensive view yet of Blake’s artistic influence in the century after his death.

Chris Ofili and Richard Wright

Two recent exhibitions at Tate Britain have demonstrated the continuing importance of Blake as an influence on contemporary art. The Chris Ofili retrospective opened on January 27 and runs until May 16, 2010, while the winner of the 2009 Turner Prize, Richard Wright, attracted a great deal of admiration with his impressive contribution, a beautiful gold-leaf fresco.

Ofili, also a Turner Prize winner in 1998, has long been interested in Blake, most clearly in two paintings from 1995, Satan (inspired by Blake’s Satan in his Original Glory, c.1805) and Seven Bitches Tossing their Pussies before the Divine Dung (after Four and Twenty Elders Casting their Crowns before the Divine Throne). Neither of these works are present in the current exhibition, which brings together more than 45 paintings as well as pencil drawings and watercolours, but, as a number of critics have noted, Blake’s influence continues to play a role in the development of Ofili’s art.

The most obvious example of this is a print, Siesta of the Soul, produced by Ofili as a limited edition for Tate Britain. With branching tendrils and vines surrounding elegant, handwritten text, this particular work is especially evocative of a page from one of Blake’s illuminated books, comprising a song of innocence or of experience that ends with the lines “shaded but not shrouded, summoning his dancing demons”. As a marriage of image and text, heavenly but with a hint of Blake’s playful diabolism, Ofili’s print is also reminiscent of the Romantic artist in terms of the spray-painted colours that remind me of the colour washes in Blake’s illuminated prophecies. Tom Lubbock has spoken of the works in this retrospective as “an art of luminous colour… of wild imagination”, and this is certainly true of the best of Ofili’s paintings.

To concentrate on Blake is, of course, to do a disservice to Ofili. His new surroundings in Trinidad and Tobago (the artist left London in 2005) inspire the latest paintings with a rich and luscious beauty, but Charlotte Higgins is certainly correct to see something of Blake in another of his recent works, The Healer, in which an uncanny figure devours vivid, yellow blooms. Personally, the highlight of the show for me was an opportunity to see The Upper Room, a recreation of his deservedly famous exhibition which ran at Tate throughout 2006, thirteen rhesus macaque monkeys depicted in gloriously competing colours.

Richard Wright has been creating site-specific art works for many years, often intricate paintings that are then erased. Sometimes those installations are discreet and delicate, such as the alcove shown as part of an exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in 2008, but his major untitled piece for the 2009 Turner Prize was spectacular, an exquisite gold-leaf fresco that dominated the room in which it was displayed at Tate Britain.

The painstaking methods used by Wright to transfer the fresco to the wall, as well as the subtlety of effects achieved, has won him acclaim from usually sceptical commentators who regard the Turner Prize as little more than a freak show. Similarly, the transience of the work, now whitewashed over (so that, ironically, it remains as an archeological layer somewhere beneath the current Ofili exhibits), draws attention to what Wright has identified as the fragility of experience in his paintings.

Wright has frequently mentioned his admiration for Blake, telling interviewers that he often travelled down from his home in Glasgow to see the Blakes and Turners housed at Tate Britain, an experience that often left him both exhausted and elated. The influence of Blake, as well as Turner’s voluminous light and colour, is evident in the fresco (which, even though it no longer exists, I cannot help but think of in the present tense). The initial experience is overwhelming, a balanced chaos, but the painting it brought to mind most for me was Blake’s 1808 A Vision of the Last Judgement, that imposing mandala of the end of days in which damned and saved fall and rise around a central pillar of heavenly and infernal judgement, eternally circulating between paradise and earth. Wright’s work brings with it none of the overt Christian morality attached to Blake’s subject; rather, formal motifs repeat and circulate, creating a vision of the secular sublime.

The Chris Ofili exhibition runs from 27 January to 16 May, 2010. Entry: £10, concessions £8.50. More details at http://www.tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/chrisofili/default.shtm.

Zoapod 1: Test Dept and Jerusalem (transcript)

Transcript of Zoamorphosis podcast. To listen to the full podcast click here.

1. Welcome to the first in a series of podcasts that will appear on Zoamorphosis.com. The aim of these podcasts is to present short introductions to the various ways in which Blake has been used by artists, writers and musicians since his death in 1827, sometimes drawing on research I am doing, at other times reflections on aspects of Blake’s reception that have attracted my attention.

2. This first podcast will focus on one particular version of Blake’s most famous poem, the stanzas beginning “And did those feet” which is more commonly known as the hymn “Jerusalem”. Blake wrote his verses as part of the epic poem Milton sometime between 1804 and 1811, those words being set to music by Hubert Parry in 1916. Since that time, the hymn has often been invoked for political purposes, both by left and right, but one of the most extraordinary versions was issued by the industrial group Test Dept in 1990.

3. Pax Britannica, the album on which “Jerusalem” appears, was the seventh studio album released by Test Dept and is subtitled “An Oratorio in five movements”. Having formed in London in 1981, Test Dept quickly became part of an experimental industrial music scene that included groups across Britain and Europe such as Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, Einstürzende Neubauten and Laibach.

4. Test Dept were overtly committed to music as political event, playing benefit gigs during the miners’ strike of 1984 as well as anti-nuclear events and demonstrations opposing the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. On Pax Britannica Test Dept was accompanied by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the Schola Cantorum, Edinburgh Orchestra, with a score provided by John Eacott and conducted by James Macmillan. Part of the soundtrack was performed as a live event at the “Second Coming” show in the St Rollox Railway Works in Glasgow, and live recordings were released the following year on the album Proven in Action.

[music clip]

5. “Jerusalem”, as part of Movement I, is one of the most astonishing versions of the Parry-Blake hymn for a very simple reason. While the opening two verses appear little more than a particularly bombastic rendition of the Elgar arrangement, a crescendo after the line “Among these dark Satanic mills?” announces a radical break in the music. Now the heavy percussion becomes more dominant, and Blake’s words are replaced by the voice of Margaret Thatcher, lines from a speech delivered to the Conservative Party Conference in October 1989.

[music clip]

6. Delivered at the Winter Gardens, Blackpool, on October 13, the theme of Thatcher’s speech as recorded in the archive of the Margaret Thatcher Foundation was “The Triumph of Freedom”. Dealing with the failure of eastern bloc socialism that was becoming evident everywhere in 1989, Margaret Thatcher contrasted those flaws with a decade of Conservative triumphs in the economy, healthcare, choice and the environment. With the Berlin Wall about to crumble and the tenth anniversary of her election as Prime Minister, it appeared self-evident to Thatcher that the triumph of freedom was synonymous with the victories of the Conservatives, the election of whom in 1979, she declared, was one of the immediate causes of the decline of communism.

7. The transformations across Europe which led to the fall of the Soviet bloc appeared in many ways an endorsement of the policies pursued by Thatcher and other western leaders. In truth, its rapid collapse was also immensely destabilising and the Prime Minister herself was running into difficulties, central to these being the Community Charge: against evident unpopularity facing its introduction into England and Wales in April 1990, Thatcher decided to champion it personally, leading to the formation of a number of Anti Poll Tax Unions which organised protests and demonstrations, the largest of which took place in London on March 31 where more than 200,000 protestors attended and violent rioting and clashes with the police occurred.

[music clip]

8. The threat of widespread unrest was only dispersed by the resignation of Thatcher after a leadership contest in November 1990. Although the Conservatives actually increased their vote in Scotland in 1992, the implementation of the Charge there a year earlier as an experiment had consolidated the view of the party as more interested in England than the rest of the Union, making mainstream demands for devolution inevitable and a mockery of the Prime Minister’s remarks that “Britain needs us”.

9. This is the background to the version of “Jerusalem” included on Pax Britannica. The album had actually been in planning for some time, but when recording began at the Cava Sound Workshops in Glasgow in the winter of 1989-90, the political situation in Britain and Europe had become much more volatile. The decision to record with Scottish orchestras itself became more significant as opposition to the Poll Tax had begun with its introduction in Scotland, adding emphasis to the album’s critique of Tory imperialism within Britain.

10. This was not the only use of the Blake-Parry hymn in such circumstances: in May 1990, Billy Bragg released his album The Internationale which included a version of “Jerusalem” as one of several songs attacking the government of the day. The comparison between the Bragg and Test Dept versions is revealing: Bragg’s is one of the simplest ever to have been recorded, consisting of his voice accompanied by a piano and perhaps the closest to Parry’s original arrangement.

[music clip]

11. The version of “Jerusalem” by Test Dept, by contrast, is an overblown and bombastic treatment of the Elgar arrangement that is most familiar to listeners from Last Night of the Proms, allowing no restraint whatsoever in its deployment of orchestral and choral effects. Without the sample of Margaret Thatcher’s speech, it would be no more than a particularly aggressive rendition of English patriotism. Yet of, course, that single intervention is what transforms the Blake-Parry hymn into a grotesque and particularly fascinating spectacle. Test Dept break the back of “Jerusalem”, split it into two parts so that the embedded nationalism of that hymn, accumulated over decades and intensified in many quarters of British society during the 1980s, is parodied by Thatcher’s triumphalism.

12. Billy Bragg’s aim had been (and continues to be) to recuperate “Jerusalem” as a song of the left. Test Dept’s ambition, by contrast, was to exacerbate the hymn’s totalitarian qualities, committing an act of violence to make explicit the repressive tendencies of the authorities. The combination of the first two verses of “Jerusalem” and the extracts of the Prime Minister’s speech may be read in several ways: it is possible that Blake’s text serves as an implicit contradiction of Margaret Thatcher’s words, a rebuke to her singular vision of post-imperial glory; alternatively, both work in parallel, buttressed by the swagger of Elgar’s arrangement so that the jingoism implicit in “Jerusalem” is made explicit by the Thatcher speech.

13. As the Prime Minister became increasingly unpopular, her moment of triumph a high-point of hubris before the coming fall, so any lingering beauty in the hymn becomes unbearable, splintered by an interruption that for the typical audience of Test Dept at the time would have provoked intensely forceful reactions. In their version of the hymn, the rhetoric of power of the state is symbolically assumed and extravagantly celebrated – taken at face value so that it cannot be ignored and, through ironic deprecation, be allowed to continue. By recasting “Jerusalem” as a nationalist hymn, there is no saving grace in hoping for salvation via an alternative (national) socialism. The atrocity is made manifest, defined as error the more clearly to be accepted or rejected.

New titles on Blake for 2010

New books on Blake due out in the first half of 2010.

A new reprint of the two volume edition of Gilchrist’s Life of William Blake will appear as part of the Cambridge Library Collection in April, and another reissue is Bill Gillham’s Blake’s Contrary States: The ‘Songs of Innocence and Experience’ as Dramatic Poems, first published in 1966 but now available in paperback from February. In Contrary States, Gillham argues that the apparent contradictions of Songs of Innocence and of Experience are due to the fallacy of reading them as Blake’s opinions, rather than projections of dramatic states.

One possible oddity released in January of this year is the somewhat bizarrely titled And did Those Feet in Ancient Time: Poetry, William Blake, Hymn, Apocrypha, Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea, Glastonbury, Book of Revelation, Second … Heaven, Industrial Revolution, Old Testament,  by Frederic Miller et al which offers yet another reading of the Glastonbury myth of Christ’s visit to Britain in the light of Blake’s famous lyric from Milton.

More substantial scholarship will be found in Collin Trodd’s Visions of Blake: William Blake in the Art World 1830-1930, which was due for publication in 2009 but has been delayed till later this year. Similarly,  John H. Jones will explore the significance of Blake’s concept of ‘self-annihilation’ as it pertains to language and communication in Blake on Language, Power, and Self-Annihilationto be published by Palgrave in May, and although publication details are not yetforthcoming, Faber and Faber is due to release a selection of Blake’s poems in June with an introduction by the poet and critic James Fenton, who has occasionally written on Blake as in his 2007 essay on Blake and slavery.

Marcondes’ Tyger

One particularly marvellous adaptation of Blake’s “The Tyger” is “Tyger” by Guilherme Marcondes, a Brazilian illustrator and animator who does commercial work for clients such as MTV, BBC and Nickleodeon, but also finds time to produce marvels such as this video short from 2006.

As Marcondes explains on his web site (http://www.guilherme.tv/tyger/about.htm), the project was commissioned by Cultura Inglesa (a branch of the British Council in Brazil) and won some twenty awards after it was released. The combination of puppetry, with two black-clad figures controlling the rampant tiger in a fashion reminiscent of Bunraku theatre, and animation with music by the group Zeroum creates a vivid piece where the people of Sao Paulo transform into fauna as the tiger passes by. In Marcondes’s own words:

Our intention isn’t to illustrate or pay homage to the original text. This is one of our favorite poems and Blake’s dystopian vision of the modern world is still strong. Although different from the other pieces in “Songs of Experience”, where “The Tyger” was originally published, this one gives us a hint of wonder along with a fear of progress. The tiger is as much dangerous as it is marvelous and this ambiguity makes us avoid the pure romantic negative vision of society.

A copy of “Tyger” can be downloaded from http://www.guilherme.tv/tyger/.

Tate buys Blake works

A fundraising appeal by Tate Britain has raised £441,000 to purchase a series of eight Blake etchings. Left by Blake to his wife Catherine, the series was later inherited by Frederick Tatham but subsequently lost until discovered in the 1970s inside a train timetable.

After the works were offered to the Tate by the owner, money was raised by The Art Fund, Tate Members, Tate Patrons and public donations. Nicholas Serota said that he was “delighted we have been able to acquire it for the nation.”

The works, comprising six etchings from The [First] Book of Urizen, one from The Book of Thel and another from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, will go on display at the Tate in July 2010 before going on to the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Art, Moscow in November 2011.

Links:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/8451803.stm
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jan/11/tate-william-blake

Blake and Conflict

Blake and Conflict. Sarah Haggarty and Jon Mee.
Palgrave, 2008. pp. 256. £50. ISBN: 9 7802 3057 3871.

Blake and Conflict is a collection of essays from a 2006 conference of the same name. Jon Mee and Sarah Haggarty propose a way for dealing with Blake’s contrary visions in a time of conflict as a series of conversations (with particular reference to Jean-Luc Nancy’s notion of the inoperative community), although they recognise that this runs the danger of denying or even sanctioning violence in Blake’s work, drawing on William Keach’s critique of a masculinist will-to-power that is found in his art and poetry. Conflict in Blake’s art and writings is dealt with here in terms of interweaving dialogues between religion, politics and the visual arts, beginning with Saree Makdisi’s “Blake and the Ontology of Empire”, which builds on the Orientalist critique found in his previous work (including William Blake and the Impossible History of the 1790s), examining how Blake “refuses Orientalism” because he rejects “the logic of individualism predicated on an opposition to otherness” (12) which had become ingrained in a western discourse that bound together Orientalism, imperialism and western subjectivity founded on moral virtue as the basis for the self-regulating self. Blake’s God, by contrast, is an open one, and his task (evident, for example, in his reading of Paine’s Age of Reason) is to recover an “unperverted Bible” of love and forgiveness.

Makdisi’s thoughtful essay goes very well with Angus Whitehead’s contribution, “‘A wise tale of the Mahometans’: Blake and Islam, 1819-26”, which takes a fascinating look at the Islamic community which was becoming increasingly visible in early nineteenth-century London. Study of Blake’s relationships to Islam have started, finally, to become more noticeable among scholarly articles, providing a minor counterpoint to Blake’s obvious engagement with Christianity of various types and Judaism. Blake’s direct references to Islam are, to say the least, fleeting, and Whitehead draws attention to differing interpretations of Blake’s Orientalism (such as Makdisi’s outlined briefly above, or Larrissy’s more critical interpretation of Blake in thrall to Orientalist attitudes). Whitehead draws on three late references to Islam by Blake, in a conversation with Crabb Robinson, the visionary head of “Mahomet”, and his depiction of the prophet in Dante’s Inferno, presents positive representations of Islam. A similarly meticulous approach to the historical record is provided in David Worrall’s “Blake, the Female Prophet and the American Agent: The Evidence of the 1789 Swedenborg Conference Attendance List”, which builds on previous research conducted by Worrall into the 1789 conference to identify some of the radical (and sometimes shadowy) figures encountered by Blake, such as Dorothy Gott, author of The Midnight Cry, and Colborn Barrell.

Susan Matthews’s “Impurity of Diction: The ‘Harlot’s Curse’ and Dirty Words”, focuses on the role of prostitution as an essential corollary to the formation of polite society and the figure of the virtuous woman. Blake, argues Matthews, uses diction transformatively to celebrate female sexuality (her comments on our assumptions to locate sexuality in “corporeality” rather than “spirituality”, and thus fail to appreciate the complexity of Blake’s opinions, are particularly pertinent here) rather than transmit dominant ideas of his day. It is Blake’s dialogic, indeed often ambivalent, relations with Christianity that  are covered in the following two essays: David Fallon’s “‘She Cuts His Heart Out at his Side’: Christianity and Political Virtue” considers attitudes to civic virtue which, in humanist thinking, tended to be held in opposition to traditional Christian virtues, but not in the line of “Commonwealthmen” writers such as Milton, Harrington and (later) Richard Price with which Blake was aligned by Gilchrist and others. Fallon sees Blake as demonstrating “evident affiliations” with civic humanism, but making “distinctive alterations to produce the type of citizenship he valorized” (97).

Haggarty, in “From Donation to Demand? Almsgiving and the ‘Annotations to Thornton’”, places Blake’s annotations to Thornton’s Lord’s Prayer Newly Translated in the ongoing separation of virtuous gift-giving from economics during the long-eighteenth century, remarking that Blake’s own ideas are often contradictory and even incoherent without a more profound understanding of the gift. One contributor to the debate around economics and charity was William Godwin, who also features in Jon Mee’s “‘A Little Less Conversation, A Little More Action’: Mutuality, Converse and Mental Fight”, which considers the role of conversation in the liberal public sphere as an alternative to commonly perceived French despotism at the time. Mee identifies two cultures of conversation: one polite and consensual, the other “capacious enough to include contention and dispute” (129). Considering the importance of the latter to Dissenting traditions, Mee starts from Blake’s satire on conversation in An Island in the Moon through his illuminated books, seeing in this “aspect of the everday world” a “utopian possibility for the future” (139). Sibylle Erle’s “Shadows in the Cave: Refocusing Vision in Blake’s Creation Myth” reinterprets the metaphor of the cave to refer fairly specifically to Blake’s account of sight and the eye, particularly in relation to empirical philosophers such as Locke and Newton.

This discussion of the science of optics is a serendipitous link to the final three essays of the collection, which deal with various aspects of Blake’s visual arts. Mark Crosby’s “A Minute Skirmish: Blake, Hayley and the Art of Miniature Painting” concentrates on that minute particular of Blake’s artistic career, the miniature paintings he conducted in Felpham, as a site of conflict with his patron William Hayley, Blake’s technique often being at odds with Hayley’s instruction and presaging the disputes that were to come later. Luisa Calè, in “Blake and the Literary Galleries”, contrasts the rivalries of the illustrated book market with those of the literary galleries, such as the ones established by Fuseli and Boydell, the latter dealt with most notably, of course, in Morris Eaves’ Counter-Arts Conspiracy. Blake’s work for Young’s Night Thoughts especially, Calè argues, demonstrates how he was “experimenting with different book formats in an attempt to access the literary-gallery market” (204), from which he had only ever received minor commissions.

Finally, Morton Paley’s “Blake’s Poems on Art and Artists” looks at his various texts from 1798-1811, such as the annotations to the works of Joshua Reynolds and the Descriptive Catalogue, but also his verse on contemporaries, that deal with art and artists. Although the prose writings have received considerable scholarly attention, Paley argues that the occasional poetry should not be dismissed as doggerel but examined both as satire and “as expressions of Blake’s views about art, artists and the art market” (210). The range of essays from established and new scholars is impressive and generally well integrated, making this an extremely significant and useful collection.

On Blakes we want and Blakes we forgot…

When first working on materials towards Blake 2.0, I encountered a site that has become something of a warning about immersing oneself in the delights of technology as a panacea for the difficulties of serious and substantial research. The Blake Multimedia Project is available online as a relic of new media technologies from 1994-5. Casting my mind back to that period (when, on a personal note, I had only just begun to encounter the Internet in any serious way via a very slow 14.4K modem), this would have been quite a revolutionary project, and it draws attention to the ways in which technology has changed dramatically in the past decade or more.

Multimedia Blake imageProduced by Steve Marx  and Doug Smith at the Interactive Learning Institute, CalPoly, the project involved students using hypertext editions of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Songs of Innocence and of Experience and of The Book of Thel among others. As they were produced using Hypercard on a Mac, I cannot actually view more than the sample pages uploaded as image files to the site. This immediately tells me volumes about the dangers of relying on new media technologies.

(A brief aside: in 1998/9, I was involved in a project to transfer Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Des to CD-ROM. For this project, we used Director – version 6 if I remember correctly – which at that time was the leading technology for producing interactive discs. During development, the release of a new version of Quicktime meant that I had to redesign certain animated pages to work correctly with the program. A year after release, Microsoft released a new version of Windows with different core directories and files which meant earlier version of Director no longer worked. Since then, I have developed a phobia to working with proprietary technologies that can become obsolete in a matter of months).

Returning to the Multimedia Blake project, there are some extremely interesting features about this project. At that time, Hypercard (along with similar applications such as Storyspace) was much more advanced than hypertext: theorists such as George Landow were completely enthusiastic about its potential, and compared to vanilla web sites available at the time, this would certainly have offered been much more fascinating to use. I particularly like the fact that students had some ability (however limited) for interaction, and this certainly would have been an extremely innovative project at the time – as far as I can see from the screenshots.

And yet, although only some 15 years old, this site is as esoteric as the Camden-Hotten forgeries. Stated plainly, it does not work (a common problem of digital technologies – cf. the BBC project to transfer the Domesday Book to optical disc in the 1980s – now a technology so redundant that there are few, if any, players that can read it). The original hypercard system, as far as I can see, allowed users to compare text and gloss with plates within the same virtual space – not so revolutionary now but a fairly important development at the time. It was supplanted within a couple of years by the Blake Archive, so there would have been very little incentive to update it, meaning that this very quickly became a Blake that we forgot.