Because of his epiphanic experience triggered by the Songs in 1948, it is Allen Ginsberg who, within the Beat circle, has seen his name most readily associated with Blake’s legacy. However, even if not all Beat affiliates have been as vocal about their connection to Blake, it is not only over Ginsberg’s own renewal of “prophetic labour” in today’s world that Blake has loomed large, but also over that of the broader experimental Beat community as a whole and over some of its contemporary inheritors. My contribution will not exhaustively dwell on a single case study, privileging a survey-style approach instead to suggest the diversity of Blake’s influence on the Beat-inflected road of neo-shamanic questing. Moving from first-generation Beat figures in the U.S. to some of their contemporary descendants abroad, my paper will review different attempts to revisit “prophetic labour” and the expansion of consciousness associated with it.
Starting with Ginsberg in late maturity, I will use one or two examples of how as a fully committed Buddhist, he sought to read the Songs through the lens of the non-dualistic, non-theistic space of Buddhist Emptiness. To illustrate a different type of challenge to conventional dualism, I will then highlight how Michael McClure’s ecopoetics of “mammal patriotism” abolishes commonly accepted hierarchies between organisms and thereby develops a “muscular imagination” that modernizes Blake’s belief that “Energy is the only life and is from the body.” Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s collection of aphorisms, Poetry as An Insurgent Art, offers a different type of “prophetic labour” still, one simultaneously updating Blake’s “Proverbs of Hell” and Lacoön.
In its last third, my survey will shift from core Beat figures to countercultural affiliates past and present, starting with American painter and sculptor Jay DeFeo. Her Blake-inspired The Rose offers an example of “prophetic labour” in the shape of a monumental sculpture that renews Blakean craftsmanship and its very physical engagement with both energy and the materials of art making. To close, I will briefly touch on two examples of “prophetic labour” performed by Beat-affiliated figures outside the U.S: the Belgo-Italian neo-shamanic cartoon thriller, La Face cachée de la Ville, by David Giannoni and Daniele Bacci, on the one hand, and on the other, the Vala-inspired, dream-like hallucinated poetry of Frenchman Tom Buron.
Franca Bellarsi (Université libre de Bruxelles, Belgium) equally divides her research between the Beat Generation, ecocriticism and ecopoetics, and English Romanticism. To date, she has written a variety of articles on the Beats—including but not limited to their debts to European Romanticism—and guest-edited four special issues in the field of ecocriticism (one in co-edition with Judith Rauscher). With the research assistance of Gregory Watson, she authored the chapter on Belgium to The Reception of William Blake in Europe (2019). She also convened the 4th Annual Meeting of the European Beat Studies Network in Brussels in 2015.