Asia, the second section of The Song of Los, tends to be passed over even by specialist studies of the Lambeth Books, in favour of the more confrontational America and Europe, and the cosmological speculation of The [First] Book of Urizen, which prefigures Blake’s later proliferation of mythologies. In this presentation, I wish firstly to reconstruct the prophecy’s geographical specificity: it is notable that the Tate facsimile do not contain a single annotation on Asia itself while offering copious notes on biblical allusion, Paineinte radicalism and comparative mythology. (Kathleen Raine is cited Brahma’s ‘abstract philosophy’ to William Jones out that reference (292) occurs in Africa (line 11). I would suggest that ‘the kings of Asia’, rather than invoke the familiar stereotype of oriental despotism, is directed at the officials of the East India Company, who ‘invent allegoric riches’ (Sir Matthew Mite in Samuel Foote’s play The Nabob claims that the ‘riches possess magical power to conceal their source.’ The ‘call for Famine’ (6.9) refers to mass starvation in Bengal during the early 1770s (estimated death toll 7-10 million), which led Parliament to investigate Robert Clive and remained a live issue in the prosecution of Warren Hastings (still in progress during Asia’s year of composition (1795)). Secondly, I will examine the extent to which a ‘Prophet against Empire’ inevitably remains complicit with that imperial regime. Blake is perhaps a more Virgilian poet than usually assumed: if ‘Urizen wept’ (7.42), it is lacrimae rerum that all things are falling (illustrated in the frontispiece of a prostrate figure before a ‘dark globe’). Thirdly, using as a starting-point recent emphasis on the indebtedness of Romanticism to non-European traditions, I wish to propose that recent definitions of World Literature (Damrosch, Casanova), which perpetuate and reinforce the dominance of the Western academy, may be challenged by ‘Global Blake’, whose paradoxical worldliness includes a powerful Asian dimension.
Steve Clark is Visiting Professor at the Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology, University of Tokyo. He has co-edited Historicizing Blake (1990), Blake in the Nineties (1999) and Blake, Nation and Empire (2006) with David Worrall, The Reception of Blake in the Orient (2006) with Masashi Suzuki, Blake, Modernity and Popular Culture (2007) with Jason Whittaker, and Blake 2.0 (2012) with Tristanne Connolly and Whittaker. His most recent publications are Asian English, co-edited with Myles Chilton and Yukari Yoshihara, and Robinson Crusoe in Asia, co-edited with Yoshihara (both 2021).