Sarah Haggarty’s Blake’s Gifts: Poetry and the Politics of Exchange

booksSarah Haggarty. 2010. Blake’s Gifts: Poetry and the Politics of Exchange. New York: Cambridge UP. $99.00. x+256 pp.

Sarah Haggarty’s engaging and original study, Blake’s Gifts: Poetry and the Politics of Exchange, examines the theme of the gift in William Blake’s poetry and personal letters. Blake’s notion of the gift is considered in five areas from which each chapter takes its title: economy, patronage, charity, inspiration, and salvation.  Because relatively little Blake scholarship is focused upon this topic, she theorizes her study by comparing Blake’s notion of the gift to either Derrida’s The Gift of Death or Given Time: 1. Counterfeit Money,  Marcel Mauss’s The Gift: The Form and Reasons for Exchange in Archaic Societies, and Bourdieu’s titles on practice and cultural production. Most often siding with Mauss contra Derrida, Haggarty affirms that Blake’s notion of the gift maintains the idea of the gift as freely given in dialectic with the gift as the inauguration and sign of a relationship, seeking to contextualize Blake’s works within “the transactions of the world those works exist in” (p. 12).  “Politics” in Haggarty’s title may be therefore slightly misleading unless construed in a very broad sense: Blake’s notion of the gift, according to Haggarty, often serves the purpose of elevating his works and his relationship with his patrons and readers above economics and politics in their narrower senses, or transforming and redeeming politics and economics as they are normally practiced. Rather than emphasizing the language of price, debt, and experience in his notion of the gift, Haggarty argues, Blake preferred the language of “treasures, rewards, gold, talents, and riches” (p. 12), extending his readers‘ conception of economics beyond the acquisition of material wealth. Haggarty’s well-written monograph isolates one of Blake’s less-regarded golden threads and rolls it up into a substantial, complex study that sheds valuable light on a number of themes important to Blake scholarship.

by James Rovira