On William Blake

Blake, the poet and engraver, has been described by Iain Sinclair as being ‘the Godfather of Psychogeography’ (1997, p. 214), and for Coverley, Blake’s poetry blurs the distinction between the physical and the metaphysical experience of urbanity:

‘Blake’s work is bound up with his experiences of the city in which he spent his  life to the degree that his identity and that of London itself seem to become  invisible (Coverley, 2010, p. 40).’

Blake’s (1757 - 1827) visions of London, as articulated in his Songs of Innocence and Experience, provide an artistic counterpoint to the urban realism of the early industrial period - an early form of creative resistance to the normative values of everyday urban space. Blake’s imagery and metaphor captures the subconscious tensions at work in the industrialised city (Maczynska, 2010, p. 62) and in so doing, establishes versions of urban experience which extend beyond realms of pure physicality and utility.

‘Blake’s work is bound up with his experiences of the city in which he spent his  life to the degree that his identity and that of London itself seem to become  invisible (Coverley, 2010, p. 40).’

Blake’s (1757 - 1827) visions of London, as articulated in his Songs of Innocence and Experience, provide an artistic counterpoint to the urban realism of the early industrial period - an early form of creative resistance to the normative values of everyday urban space. Blake’s imagery and metaphor captures the subconscious tensions at work in the industrialised city (Maczynska, 2010, p. 62) and in so doing, establishes versions of urban experience which extend beyond realms of pure physicality and utility. 

‘His (Blake’s) legacy to psychogeographic thought here is clear: the   transformation of the familiar landscapes of his own time of place into a   transcendent image of the eternal city (Coverley, 2010, p. 40).’

Blake was a walker, a wanderer, a drifter, whose poems, at their most literal level, describe the various features of London street life as he observed them:

‘I wander thro’ each charter’d street, Near where the charter’d Thames does flow.’ (William Blake, London, 1794)

In London, Blake’s language, like the city he observes, becomes restricted and constrained - the repetition of ‘charter’d’ for instance, an expression of the increasing industrialisation of the Thames. This critique of the industrialisation of nature or the organisation of naturalistic modes of being, as represented by the Thames, of course heightened by the juxtaposition and incongruousness with ‘wander’ and ‘flow’.

Blake establishes many of the themes of modern psychogeography - a series of critiques about the organisation of daily life, the destruction of naturalistic ways of being, the industrialisation and privatisation of public space and the resultant restrictions this puts on the urban native in general, but on the urban walker in particular. More than a purely tangible set of concerns, Blake’s words are driven by a more phenomenological set of questions and critiques seeking to create a new topography of the modern city which he observed emerging and changing around him.