Reading revolutions: Corrado Costa’s William Blake in Beulah, a visionary cartoon essay in 1977 Italy

Abstract

Under what conditions might Blake’s Beulah offer a script for a revolutionary present? This essay explores an episode in the visual reception of Blake as a letter-press poet published at a time of civil unrest in 1977 Italy. Corrado Costa’s William Blake in Beulah: Saggio Visionario su un Poeta a Fumetti (William Blake in Beulah: A visionary essay on a poet in comic strips, 1977) is an avantgarde experiment in visual adaptation inspired by lettrism, dada, and neo-avantgarde critiques of typography. Their analysis of the loss of the visual elements of writing certainly applies to the textual transmission of Blake’s works, which separated the poet from the artist in order to publish his poetry in typographical layouts. Abstracted from the visual form of the illuminated book, Blake’s poetry offered an ideal testing ground for Costa’s “visionary essay” in the sense of a creative-critical attempt to turn poetry into comic-strip captions. Costa extracted clusters of words from Jerusalem, A Song of Liberty, The French Revolution and ‘The Mental Traveller’, fragmented, re-segmented, and distributed Blake’s words across comic-strip panels, releasing them from the constraints of language and genre, testing how Blake might fare as a comic-strip poet. In what follows, I will explore how Costa’s comic-strip Blake subverts the orders of language, genre, and the medium of the book, focusing on the most experimental section of Blake in Beulah in which Costa reinvents Blake’s The French Revolution as a prophetic cue for the 1977 movement, showing how his revolution in poetic language reads in revolutionary times

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