Blake’s respect for the interconnected yet sovereign identity of each and every thing resonates with recent scholarship that attempts to rethink our notions about materialism and agency. In particular, it accords with the cross-disciplinary turn to theories of the network, a form embraced in recent years for its capacity to expose otherwise hidden connections and patterns. The network form has proven especially useful to ecological theory and criticism as a nonbinary and nonanthropocentric model of description. Its advocates argue that it avoids the totalizing tendency of categorical labels like “nature” and “culture,” and that it shifts attention to the agency of individual entities, both human and nonhuman.
In what follows, I examine Blake’s representation of the network of correspondences, noting along the way its similarities to and differences from ecological criticism and recent theories of the network, especially Latour’s ANT and Alexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker’s network theory. I focus on these two theories in particular because they exemplify a celebratory and a critical view of networks, respectively. I argue that Blake, like his present-day counterparts, sees in the network a way of expressing ecological interconnection that is nonbinary, nonlinear, and radically inclusive, but that this same “flat” ontology enables and even contributes to the desire for mastery and the possibility of tyranny. In drawing out such threads, I aim to demonstrate, first, that the figure of the network provides a novel way to read Blake as an ecological poet; secondly, that Blake’s specifically ambivalent ecological vision provides useful insights into the pitfalls and assumptions of current network theories; and thirdly, that networks have a premodern dimension that prefigures applications of the network we are familiar with today.