It has been clear from the beginning that William Blake was both a political radical and a radical psychologist. In William Blake on Self and Soul, Laura Quinney uses her sensitive, surprising readings of the poet to reveal his innovative ideas about the experience of subjectivity.
Blake’s central topic, Quinney shows us, is a contemporary one: the discomfiture of being a self or subject. The greater the insecurity of the “I” Blake believed, the more it tries to swell into a false but mighty “Selfhood.” And the larger the Selfhood bulks, the lonelier it grows. But why is that so? How is the illusion of “Selfhood” created? What damage does it do? How can one break its hold? These questions lead Blake to some of his most original thinking.
Quinney contends that Blake’s hostility toward empiricism and Enlightenment philosophy is based on a penetrating psychological critique: Blake demonstrates that the demystifying science of empiricism deepens the self’s incoherence to itself. Though Blake formulates a therapy for the bewilderment of the self, as he goes on he perceives greater and greater obstacles to the remaking of subjectivity. By showing us this progression, Quinney shows us a Blake for our time.