Submitted by Professor of English Rebecca Duncan
On Wednesday, February 1, the English Department and the Norma Rose Chair of English hosted a lecture on the Romantic poet William Blake by Joseph Viscomi, the James G. Kenan Distinguished Professor of English at UNC-Chapel Hill and co-editor of the William Blake Archive (www.blakearchive.org).
Viscomi was introduced by Assistant Professor of English Martin McNamee and recognized as McNamee’s mentor and dissertation director.
The lecture, “Blake’s Illuminated Graphics: Illuminated Books and New Technologies,” explored Blake’s innovations as a printmaker in the late 18th century. After serving as an apprentice to a printer, Blake created the art of relief etching, which allowed him to use the tools of an artist on a reproducible copper plate. Viscomi explained this innovation as “revolutionary.”
The William Blake archive is an internationally-acclaimed interactive resource featuring images of nearly all of the poet’s published plates and books.
Blake thought of himself as a prophet and a visionary, and he combined poetry with bright, unsettling images to intensify his message. One of his best known poems is “The Tyger,” (“Tiger, tiger, burning bright”). His influence continues, especially in popular culture. Alan Moore’s graphic novel Watchmen and the music and name of The Doors owe a creative debt to Blake.
Student Cecelia Blair liked how Viscomi explained Blake’s connection to the modern world.
“I had no idea that the Doors took Blake's ideas and concepts into making their band and music, for example, or any of the other effects Blake's poetry and images have on the world,” Blair said. “To hear Dr. Viscomi talk about Blake is to understand how ideas, beliefs and imagery can transcend time and personal experience.”
Viscomi also visited Professor of English Rebecca Duncan’s survey of British literature class. At a luncheon hosted by the department, he discussed his own printmaking techniques and shared stories with Art faculty member Cameron Johnson. John Kincheloe, director of media services, created an exhibit of Johnson’s work and samples of Meredith student printmaking work, along with the College’s growing collection of broadsides. The broadsides feature visual interpretations of poetry and fiction by various writers who have lectured on campus in recent years; these pieces represent an ongoing collaboration between the English and Art Departments.
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