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Blake's Laocoön: A Degree Zero of Literary Production

David E. James
PMLA
Vol. 98, No. 2 (Mar., 1983), pp. 226-236
DOI: 10.2307/462047
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/462047
Page Count: 11
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Blake's Laocoön: A Degree Zero of Literary Production
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Abstract

Blake's late engraving, erroneously known as The Laocoön, presents an unusually direct relation between the content of a literary work and the way the work is produced and consumed as an artifact. By restoring the statue's correct meaning ("Jah & his two Sons Satan & Adam"), Blake arrested its fall into materiality and application to "Natural Fact" and, in doing so, redeemed for spiritual purposes the engraving that he had begun as a commercial undertaking. In his commentary on the plate, he clarified for the first time the mutual exclusivity of art and commerce, not by making a materialist analysis, but by associating art with religion's traditional antipathy to money. He formulated a view of art as devotional practice rather than as the production of commodities, and this logic allowed the plate only the barest form of material existence.

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