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Vol. 52 no. 2: Fall 2018

Reading Jerusalem: The Horizon of Expectations

  • Sheila A. Spector
9 October 2018
09 Oct. 2018


Despite Blake’s belief that Jerusalem fulfilled its purpose, its readers have found it puzzling, if not incomprehensible. This disparity between his intention and their response reflects a hermeneutical dysfunction: attempts to reconcile the conventional horizon of expectations with the prophecy have proved unsuccessful. Although the tendency has been to blame Blake for not conforming to his audience’s preconceptions, the opposite is the case: their horizon of expectations is predicated on two generally unexamined, inappropriate premises. First, despite Blake’s assertion that he created his own system, readers have consistently approached Jerusalem as though it were predicated on the conventional Western exoteric myth, which is polarized around the duality of good and evil. The second assumption is that the myth remains consistent throughout Blake’s corpus, a supposition that has led to a kind of anachronism in which interpretations of earlier works have been imposed on texts written sometimes decades later, or, conversely, in which later works have been used to back-read earlier texts. These two assumptions constitute the primary obstacles to understanding Jerusalem.

As a corrective, this paper seeks to generate an alternative horizon of expectations, predicated on an esoteric, as opposed to exoteric, approach. This is not an arbitrary choice; as I demonstrate in my companion volumes “Glorious incomprehensible”: The Development of Blake’s Kabbalistic Language and “Wonders Divine”: The Development of Blake’s Kabbalistic Myth, Blake gradually incorporated aspects of the kabbalistic attitude toward language and elements of the kabbalistic myth into his composite art, culminating in Jerusalem. In those studies, I explored what Blake had done; here, I consider how and why he did it. Based on and designed only for Jerusalem, the following horizon of expectations is meant to provide the foundation for more coherent readings of Blake’s final prophecy.