Faflak, Joel and Tilottama Rajan. William Blake: Modernity and Disaster. U of Toronto P, 2020.


  • Mark Schmidt


William Blake was perhaps best known for his highly allusive and synesthetic work that syncretically mixed personal revelation with traditional religion as much as he generically mixed literature and art. Joel Faflak and Tilottama Rajan have collected essays that likewise explore the ruptures between categories and bodies of knowledge. As one might expect from its subtitle “Modernity and Disaster,” these essays map a constellation of recurring terms, especially “disaster,” “apocalypse,” and “science.” Like Roland Barthes emphasizes in Writing Degree Zero (1953), these terms are treated “encyclopedicly,” stretching their multivarious affordances to the limit. For example, in the introduction the editors establish the term “disaster” as a unifying theme among the essays; its etymology (bad + star) necessarily invokes astrology and prediction as well as “apocalypse,” which in turn is both an “uncovering” and an ending. They also provide a secondary definition of “disaster” as “aftermath,” thus recursively rewriting the book’s subtitle as “Modernity and Its (Post-Modern) Aftermath.” Such cyclical and iterative (re)interpretation describes not only William Blake’s theology, but also the approach of many of his scholars.