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Part I

Vol. 55 no. 3: Winter 2021–22

Reading Revolutions: Corrado Costa’s William Blake in Beulah, a Visionary Cartoon Essay in 1977 Italy

  • Luisa Calè
Submitted
17 December 2021
Published
17 Dec. 2021

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 letterpress poet from a time of civil unrest in 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 avant-garde experiment in visual adaptation inspired by lettrism, Dada, and neo-avant-garde 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. In fragmenting, resegmenting, repeating, and distributing Blake’s words across comic-strip panels, Costa releases 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. I will focus on the most experimental section of Blake in Beulah, in which Costa reinvents The French Revolution as a prophetic cue for the 1977 movement.