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The Anxiety of Innocence in Blake and Kierkegaard

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Which of William Blake's “Two Contrary States of the Human Soul,” innocence and experience, is more psychologically and philosophically complex? This essay examines the subtly melancholic tone that suffuses Blake's Songs of Innocence through the prism of Søren Kierkegaard's concept of anxiety, which the Danish philosopher defined as “fear without a definite object.” By positing anxiety as the necessary concomitant of free will, Kierkegaard enables us to see Blake's innocents, both in the Songs and in early visionary works like The Book of Thel and Visions of the Daughters of Albion, in a new light. The sorrows and fears that creep into or hover just outside the sunny and happy worlds of the Songs of Innocence indicate that for Blake, as for Kierkegaard, innocence is neither an original perfection that's swept away by experience, nor a half‐state waiting for its complement. Instead, anxious innocence is for both Blake and Kierkegaard the “possibility of possibility,” and the starting and end point of the individual's journey of self‐discovery.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2005-07-01

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