Interpreting Blake has always proved challenging. Hermeneutics, as the on-going negotiation between the horizon of expectations and a given text, hinges on the preconceptions that structure thought. The structure, in turn, is derived from myth, a cultural narrative predicated on a particular set of foundational principles, and organized in terms of the resulting symbolic form. The primary impediment to interpreting Blake has been the failure to recognize that he and much of his audience have thought in terms of two radically different myths.
In The Evolution of Blake’s Myth, Sheila A. Spector establishes the dimensions of the myth that structures Blake’s thought. In the first of three parts, she uses Jerusalem, Blake’s most complete book, as the basis for extrapolating the components of the consolidated myth. She then traces the chronological development of the myth from its origin in the late 1780s through its crystallization in Milton. Finally, she demonstrates how Blake used the myth hermeneutically, as the horizon of expectations for interpreting not only his own work, but the Bible and the visionary texts of others, as well.
Sheila A. Spector, an independent scholar, has devoted her career to studying the
connection between Blake and Kabbalism. Her companion volumes “Wonders Divine”: The
Development of Blake’s Kabbalistic Myth, and “Glorious Incomprehensible”: The
Development of Blake’s Kabbalistic Language, establish the foundation for her current
study, The Evolution of Blake’s Myth.
"Easily the major work of 2020 is Sheila A. Spector’s The Evolution of Blake’s Myth, which builds on her sizable scholarship on Blake, Kabbalah, and the esoteric tradition."
Wayne C. Ripley, Blake, An Illustrated Quarterly 55.1
"This ambitious and wide-ranging book represents the culmination of Sheila Spector's work on Blake and the esoteric tradition. As Spector points out, the study of Blake’s relation to esoteric tradition has suffered from adverse critical prejudice since about the mid-twentieth century. Spector’s book promises to revive the topic, bringing to it the sophistication about Blake (particularly his art) borne out of the last fifty years of Blake scholarship, as well as the wealth of her own knowledge and study."
Laura Quinney, Brandeis University
"Nobody knows more than Sheila Spectre about Blake's relation to kabbalah and esoteric traditions. In The Evolution of Blake’s Myth, Spectre traces Blake's rejection of exoteric myth and ways of thinking, and his development of a symbolic system based on esoteric traditions. Examining the interaction of illumination and text, Spectre treats Blake's plates as "image acts," the work of a "compositor" who organizes the input of the visualizer, who creates the illuminations, and the verbal narrator, who provides the words. In these image acts, Spectre charts how Blake's shift from exoteric to esoteric systems influenced the form of his own composite art, as well as the development of alternative symbolic forms and functions. The result is a fascinating discussion of parallels between Blake's work and Kabbalistic lore."
Paul Yoder, The University of Arkansas at Little Rock