Katherine Ding (English) asks two related questions in “Honesty: William Blake and the Body Politic": how can honesty still be meaningful when we no longer trust a subject’s self-claim of authenticity, and what is the relationship between honesty and community? She challenges a set of answers, arising from the nexus of performative theory, cultural studies, and political theory, that have redefined honesty as a performative hypocrisy, or the crediting of a persuasive social performance. In this structure of sociability that we have largely inherited, socio-political power is constituted through a performance of politeness. Blake’s unusual decision to cast Satan as a polite gentleman in his revision of Paradise Lost and his counter-intuition claim that “Satan is Urizen” — equating Satan with Blake’s figure of abstract tyranny — can be read as a critique of this mode of polite sociability, revealing polite self-governance as complicit with, rather than an alternative to, tyrannical rule.
Katherine Ding is the 2016-17 Jeffrey Berg Fellow.