Blake and Kierkegaard: Creation and Anxiety

Blake and Kierkegaard: Creation and Anxiety is James Rovira’s monograph exploring the origins of the continually popular Frankenstein myth — one in which a human being, though the agency of science, creates an independently thinking and feeling being. It compares William Blake’s and Søren Kierkegaard’s models of personality for the purpose of asking the question, “Why do we fear what we create?” It argues that Creation Anxiety in the work of William Blake, especially as evident in The [First] Book of Urizen and The Four Zoas, arises from the displacement of classical models of personality (as conceived by Socrates and received through the Medieval era) by Enlightenment models. We fear what we create because we are recreating ourselves into we know not what. Because Kierkegaard shares Blake’s concerns about the predominance of Enlightenment models of personality, and because he lived in a culture similar to Blake’s characterized by tensions between monarchy and democracy, science and religion, and nature and artifice, his concept of anxiety is apropos to understanding the variety of anxieties characterizing Blake’s work. Major works discussed in this monograph include Blake’s The [First] Book of UrizenThe Four Zoas, selections from The Songs of Innocence and of Experience (particularly the Introduction to Innocence and “To Tirzah”), and Kierkegaard’s The Concept of AnxietyEither/Or I and IIConcluding Unscientific Postscript, and The Sickness Unto Death. This work can be cross-listed in Literature, Philosophy, Religion, British History, Danish History, Theology, and Psychology.

Reviews and Endorsements

“Blake and Kierkegaard speak from the same instinct of the human condition and of man’s states of anxiety and self-awareness. James Rovira offers a highly nuanced comparative reading of both author’s concepts, of innocence and experience, creation and fall, that not only enhances our understanding of the works under consideration but affirms their abiding and life-affirming relevance to modern thought.” –Michael Phillips, Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies, University of York, UK

“Rovira’s book is an involved but extremely rewarding book, one that delves fully into the complex and sophisticated dialectical processes involved in Kierkegaard’s thought… Blake and Kierkegaard as a whole is a carefully thought-through and argued text.’ ‘Rovira’s comparative study of William Blake and Soren Kierkegaard offers fresh perspectives related to both thinkers in their shared sociocultural moment. Rovira (English, Tiffin Univ.) frames his inquiry within creation anxiety–i.e., the persistent idea that creations will ultimately turn against one in destructive ways. The author makes connections between Frankenstein, Metropolis, and the Matrix trilogy in order to justify the persistence of this anxiety through the last 200 years and to imply that the apprehensions that impacted Blake’s and Kierkegaard’s thinking–apprehensions resulting from tensions between democracy and monarchy, science and religion, nature and artifice–apply today. Rovira compares and contrasts ideas relating to the progressive development of the subject to show how both resisted mechanistic Enlightenment psychologies that led to creation anxiety: in Blake’s case, from innocence through experience toward visionary perspectives; in Kierkegaard’s, the differentiation of self from natural, social, and mental environment. Accessible yet provocative, this book makes a significant contribution and offers critical challenges to the scholarship surrounding both figures, and close readings (and re-readings) expose lingering tensions between self and subjectivity. Generous notes and a substantial comprehensive bibliography round out this excellent study. Summing Up: Essential Lower-division undergraduates and above.” — J.A. Saklofske, Acadia University, Nova Scotia, Canada, Choice.

‘Rovira’s book is an involved but extremely rewarding book, one that delves fully into the complex and sophisticated dialectical processes involved in Kierkegaard’s thought… Blake and Kierkegaard as a whole is a carefully thought-through and argued text.” — Jason Whittaker, University College Falmouth, Cornwall, Zoamorphosis.

“In Blake and Kierkegaard: Creation and Anxiety, Rovira shows much skill in handling both writers on the basis of the comparative premises he sets up.” — Robert Rix, University of Aalborg, Denmark, Comparative Literature Studies.

Rovira’s book offers a fresh possibility of viewing each writer through the lens of the other in a number of tantalizing suggestions, such as through the relationship between generation and creation. Rovira’s observation that the creator figure in Blake’s The Four Zoas is Enion rather than Urizen, for instance, has intriguing implications for the earlier section on Thel and Oothoon (113). In this regard, the book contributes to a rethinking of the boundaries of theory, particularly as they need to be addressed vis-à-vis the field of European and British romanticism.” — Kathryn Freeman, Miami University, Ohio, Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly.

See the errata and corrections for this monograph, and please email with corrections. Also see how widely distributed the book is in libraries across the world.

13 thoughts on “Blake and Kierkegaard: Creation and Anxiety

    1. ha… great question for a future book. My first task in any attempt to answer that question would be to distinguish quantitative advances (more of the same kind of thing) from qualitative (something we’ve never seen before). My first guess would be that the freakout factor would be higher with something truly new.


  1. What Frankenstein, The Golem, etc talk about is Identity and Identity politics – anxieties and the ways in which we describe identities. In these cases, Modernity can be seen as a significant agency. But it should also be noted that identities exist in relation to the ‘other’. Deleuze’s ‘Difference and Repetition’ highlights how ‘other’ often finds itself the ‘negative’ element in a binary which is a distortion of knowledge. It also relates to periods/processes of change and it is usually in artistic representations (such as the novel) where anxieties and loyalties become discursive.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading and responding, Kenneth. Anxiety so defined is present in these works, yes, but my argument is focused upon how Blake and Kierkegaard are responding to anxieties surrounding identity as it was formed at that time: in relationship to monarchy, democracy, nature, artifice, science, and religion. The self is its own most significant other in this case, and estrangement from the self is their concern. Texts at that time can and did project that self-estrangement outwardly onto more traditionally defined “others” (say, for example, the central episode in Frankenstein involving the Turkish woman), but that’s not my emphasis, because I’m not particularly interested here in repeating over again everything that identity politics has been saying since the 80s. What you attribute to Deleuze is essentially a restatement of the pattern Hegel established in The Science of Logic and in the master/slave dialectic. I prefer to work with these source texts in their historical contexts, and emphasize then-current sources of anxiety. That’s what makes this work original.

      Thanks again for responding.


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