Title

Exclusion, Not Inclusion: Mikhail Bakhtin's Theory of Dialogue in William Blake's "The Chimney Sweeper" and "The Little Black Boy" from the Songs of Innocence

Document Type

Presentation

Publication Date

4-10-2014

Abstract

In response to one of Blake's poems, Allen Ginsberg explains, "Now, I begin understanding it, the poem while looking at it, and suddenly [I] heard a very deep grave voice in the room [it] was Blake's voice" (519). William Blake's poetry often builds a dialogue between speaker and reader, which results in a sense of inclusion for the reader. For example, Blake uses eight possessive adjectives and pronouns that can be read as including the reader throughout these two poems. Blake's poetry has the ability to speak to the reader and create a genuine response. Northrope Frye continues to construct this concept on this use of Blake's ability to include the reader via metaphor, "The stones that make a city do not cease to be stones, but they cease to be separate stones: their purpose, shape, and function is identical with that of the city as a whole" (529). We find Blake particularly effective when he uses we in his poetry. We become part of the world of the little black boy or chimney sweeper. Blake is able to converse with the reader, and by so doing, enables the reader to become a part of the poem. It allows him to create a relationship similar to the experience of Allen Ginsberg. However, it is a difficult task to utilize and create this relationship in a real sense. W.J.T. Mitchell reiterates this, "The greatest challenge and the most threatening scandal for the formalist appropriation of Blake is the threat of incoherence, nonsense, failure to communicate" (540). Are we able to read Blake as if it truly is we? It can indeed be a challenge to see this communicated properly. In order to avoid "the most threatening scandal" of which Mitchell warns us, I will not take the formalist approach that Blake is trying to make his readers part of the stone city wall as Frye suggests. Instead I will utilize Mikhail Bahktin's theory of dialogue coupled with the relationship between the speaker, the audience, and the subject to illuminate these two Blake poems. William Blake's intent as a speaker is not to include the audience in the subject at hand, but to exclude them from it; to isolate them, so that the audience can see why they must change.

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