The Rebirth of AEthelred Eldridge

AEthelred Eldridge has recently uploaded numerous images of his work and life to the site Albion Awake. Eldridge is an artist working and teaching at The Ohio State University. He was featured in A Dictionary of the Avante-Garde in 2001, mostly for his black and white art accompanied by text from William Blake’s poetry. Eldridge has long been known as the founder of the Church of William Blake, which burned down in 2001. Eldridge spends much of his time engaged in dramatic vocal readings of William Blake’s Milton, enacting his ideas and creating elaborate images based on Blake’s poetry. His first “AEthelgram,” published in 1976, mentions that “Blake published to the Angels” and urgently calls for the reconstruction of Jerusalem which “yet awhile, lies in ruins. And Hear again what will Be seen; The Serpent Temple writhing in the Dusty Clouds of Albion comes – though the invisible pricking-up of Angelic ears must fail to catch the dronish Motor’s hum.” The themes of death, birth and rebirth are found throughout Eldridge’s work, and surrounds his encounter with Blake’s text. In a profile interview of Eldridge taken in 1992, he refuses to say where he was born. In fact, he denies that he “was ever born. So I don’t have to be born again and again and again and again.”

While being called the “easiest teacher on OU campus,” Eldridge also defamiliarizes the standard pedagogical experience for his students. In a comment section of a recording one student made of his “Art in Your Life” class, some students predictably decry the “meaninglessness” of his courses. One student however, recalls an assignment that seems in line with surrealist experiments from the beginning of the twentieth-century.

For the other final, I had to take a rubber glove and stuff it. Then I had to draw an eye on a ping pong ball and cut a hole in the palm of the rubber glove and position the ball so it was sticking out of the hole. I brought it to class the day it was due when he then proceeded to tell us that we could run it over with our car for extra credit. The more tread marks the better.

These kinds of experiences reinforce the Blakean mission of mental fight: by forcing his students to engage with supposedly “meaningless” pedagogical experiences, Eldridge opens their eyes to the visionary possibilities embedded within Blake’s work.

We find this same defamiliarization of the poetic experience tied to his readings of Blake. Eldridge’s didactic, sonorous voice complements Blake’s often wandering yet urgent poetic diction. You can find an example of Eldridge’s voice on the Wired for Books website, where he reads Book 2 of Milton. Eldridge’s poetry has the same prophetic tonality as Blake’s. Apart from the poetic invocation of his William Blake newsletter, he explains on his website how the church becomes an “English church in the Wilderness” of Ohio. He mentions “a fury hidden. In America. In Ohio,” urging his readers to “Go to the Horses Mouth; which is ever falling” and to not consider William Blake as an “Object of Worship. He is an Exmplar. And he construes in the Intellect the sleep of Albion.”

You may find information about AEthelred Eldridge, including his art, poetry, and William Blake newsletters on his website, Albion Awake.

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