Quid's Pantheism: William Blake as Natural Philosopher Public Deposited

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  • March 19, 2019
  • Fletcher, Joseph
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • Challenging a prevalent assumption of Romantic literary criticism, this dissertation positions Blake as the earliest of the British Romantics to envision natural philosophy as inextricable from poetry and, in Blake’s case, visual art. In addition to establishing the nuanced philosophical and scientific history of which Blake was acutely aware, I argue that his early illuminated works develop a metaphysics of monist pantheism, which contends that every material thing is in its essence God. This contrasts the idealism of his later period, which casts the natural world as degenerate and illusory, an obstruction to human transcendence. This dissertation finds the central ideas of the pantheist tradition present in wide-ranging interdisciplinary discourses of the long eighteenth century, and it recasts our understanding of the intellectual traditions to which Blake belongs. In contrast to the vast body of scholarship that emphasizes his early religious and political commitments, I argue that for Blake such commitments are grounded in one’s metaphysics. Pantheism is thus important in that it entails an ethics that respects the interconnected divinity of material objects – not just humans – and that spurns hierarchical power structures. I reveal Blake as a natural philosopher intervening in the metaphysical debates of his age via poetry and design as a means to more forcefully engage – and change – the philosophical assumptions of his readers than do the texts of the philosophers he satirizes and critiques. Through the imaginative forms of his art, Blake also literally animates the domain of the metaphysical: uniting the scattered fragments of God in a single, striking design, or dramatizing the catastrophic consequences of natural religion through a nightmarish narrative poem. Blake’s expanded philosophical practice has resonances to this day, as we continue to explore the relationship of the human to its nonhuman environments.
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Viscomi, Joseph
  • Reinert, Thomas
  • Wolfe, Jessica
  • Nelson, Alan Jean
  • Eaves, Morris
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2016

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