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    Bestial metamorphoses: Blake’s variations on trans-human change in Dante’s Hell

    Calè, Luisa (2018) Bestial metamorphoses: Blake’s variations on trans-human change in Dante’s Hell. In: Bruder, H. and Connolly, T. (eds.) Beastly Blake. Palgrave Studies in Animals and Literature. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave, pp. 153-181. ISBN 9783319897875.

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    William Blake’s engagement with Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy (1824-7) illuminates the convergence of Classical and Christian iconography at the heart of Blake’s bestiary. Oswald Spengler coined the term ‘pseudomorphosis’ to ‘denote the unwilling conformity of a new and dynamic culture to the forms and formulas of an older culture’. Erwin Panofsky took up the concept to investigate divergences in form and content between text and image in the medieval translation of classical literature and visual culture. Against Spengler’s dramatic take on the fight towards form, and Panofsky’s recuperation of medium divergence in cultural translation, Theodor W. Adorno read pseudomorphosis as a medium’s imitation of another medium, an uncritical ‘stage in the process of convergence’. Drawing on the iconological school’s analysis of the pseudomorphic articulations of cultural transmission, I wish to explore Blake’s monsters as Christian reinventions of classical mythology. Dante’s emblematic bestiary reinvents monsters from classical literature in a series of transgressions of the boundaries of species. This essay will draw on the debated concept of pseudomorphosis to explore the dialectic tension between assimilation, parody, and disintegration of form in Blake’s reinvention of Dante’s visions of hell. Classical sculptures used as prototypes of the human ideal are subjected to a series of demonic inversions. Hybrid forms and transformations culminate in the reversible serpent metamorphoses that express the bestial condition of the thieves in Cantos XXIV and XXV of Inferno. The multiplication of images Blake devotes to this case of transhuman change indicates its key place in the interminglings between man and beast in his approach to the Commedia. This chapter explores Blake’s serpent sequence and the possibilities of metamorphosis as a way of interrogating alternative models of animal human encounter. The frame of punishment suggests that Dante’s bestial metamorphoses represent a series of transgressions of boundaries. However, Blake’s versions bring to light alternative possibilities in the handling of species, showing coexistence or overlaps, intermediate steps in a continuum, fusion through commingling. Metamorphosis itself changes with acts of translation – between languages, genres, and media.


    Item Type: Book Section
    Additional Information: This extract is taken from the author's original manuscript and has not been edited. The definitive, published, version of record is available at the link above.
    Keyword(s) / Subject(s): Blake, Dante, Benjamin, metamorphosis, pseudomorphosis, translation, demons, hybrids, sculptures, serpents
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Creative Arts, Culture and Communication
    Research Centres and Institutes: Nineteenth-Century Studies, Centre for
    Depositing User: Luisa Cale
    Date Deposited: 12 Sep 2018 14:22
    Last Modified: 09 Aug 2023 12:39


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