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Vol. 52 no. 3: Winter 2018–19

Blake, Paul, and Sexual Antinomianism

  • Christopher Z. Hobson
11 January 2019
11 Jan. 2019


This essay considers the biblical contexts for the genesis, elaboration, and later reworking of what can be called Blake’s sexual antinomianism—his view of the body, genitals, and sexual love as holy, in opposition to moral law. These contexts, and Blake’s sexual antinomianism generally, are surprisingly underdiscussed; in recent decades, religious influences on Blake’s antinomianism more often have been treated through seventeenth- and eighteenth-century parallels and with regard to other issues. Here I propose that the development of Blake’s ideas on sexuality and moral law centers on a sustained appropriative and revisionary, sometimes polemical, engagement with biblical texts, particularly St. Paul’s teachings on the body and moral conduct, and that this development can be traced through several texts that interact both with one another and directly or implicitly with Paul. The three key texts in my discussion are “The Divine Image” (especially line 11); America 8.10-14, whose “every thing that lives is holy” formula—with its iterations in several other works—acts to link my chosen texts to one another; and The Everlasting Gospel section f, “Was Jesus Chaste.” Together these outline a series of attitudes that, despite some affinities to contemporaries and precursors, form a distinct, recognizably Blakean mix that persists in his later work but, I argue, is modified to allow for humanity’s deep imperfection in the state he calls Generation.