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Journal of Philosophy: A Cross-Disciplinary Inquiry

Volume 7, Issue 17, Spring 2012

R. Victoria Arana
Pages 1-10

Intimations of William Blake in On Beauty (2005)
Zadie Smith's Trans-Atlantic Homage to and Critique of Boston Intellectuals

William Blake and Zadie Smith reached strikingly similar critical positions towards philosophical trends current in their respective eras. Both excoriate those who, for selfish ends, disparage beauty and in so doing sabotage justice, love, joy and genuine freedom. Smith’s On Beauty, like Blake’s America: A Prophecy and Visions of the Daughters of Albion, indicts the reprehensible intellectual discourses of the day that undermine human happiness and corrupt the social order. Whereas Blake critiqued the rights revolutions set in motion by Thomas Paine, William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft and others from a more broadly moral and future-oriented angle than has generally been recognized (as Saree Makdisi has shown), Smith wittily dramatizes that same vision through a huge range of up-to-date ideological discourses and antagonisms–many of them descended from Paine et al.–to refurbish Blake’s particular brand of radical antinomianism and to celebrate much the same optimistic spirit that Blake invested in America and Visions. Indeed, Smith’s novel anticipates and critiques ab ovo the sweeping enthusiasms that are animating current uprisings worldwide.

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