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Date 2024-05-01

We are pleased to announce that Tara LeeResearch Assistant Professor of the Society of Fellows in the Humanities at the University of Hong Kong, will deliver the 54th EARN public lecture online, titled “ The Virtual and the Vital in Romanticism: Reading William Blake” on Wednesday, 8 May 2024. All are welcome. 


Speaker: Dr. Tara Lee (Society of Fellows in the Humanities, The University of Hong Kong)

Title: The Virtual and the Vital in Romanticism: Reading William Blake

Chair: Irene Chan (English, NCCU)

Time: 10- 12 am Wednesday 8 May 2024

Venue: Ji-Tao Building, Rm 340407 (季陶340407) / Online link: https://nccutw.webex.com/meet/johsu 



How are Blake’s prophetic books shaped by the tension between the virtual and the actual? How do his mythopoetic works relate to broader speculations about virtuality and vitality by Goethe, Kant, Coleridge, and other Romantic-era thinkers? This paper argues that William Blake’s understandings of biology, formulated in productive opposition to the pre-Darwinian theories of evolution that were emerging at the time, were indebted to a broader preformationist discourse that privileged the virtual existence in each being over material processes of change and development. Engaging with the wider subfield of Romantic literature and the life sciences, this paper shows how Blake staged within his poetical works a symbolic encounter between two competing ontogenetic paradigms (preformation and epigenesis) to ask unique questions about the nature of embodiment and individual identity. It argues, ultimately, that the anti-evolutionist elements of Blake’s work present a radical critique of the monstrously materialist, expansionist logic of empire and the definitions of vitality that come with it. 



Tara Lee is currently a Research Assistant Professor and a Fellow of the Society of Fellows in the Humanities at the University of Hong Kong. She obtained her AHRC-funded DPhil in English Literature from the University of Oxford with a thesis on Blake and evolution. Her articles can be found in European Romantic Review,Studies in Romanticism, Romanticism on the Net and The Keats-Shelley Review. She is preparing a monograph tentatively titled Blake and Romantic Biology: Evolution, Species, and Organic Form. Alongside this, she is also developing an HKRCG-funded project titled ‘Visionary Machines: Technology and the Epic in Britain, 1790-1830’, which explores how real and imaginary machines afforded thinking about revolution, progress, agency, and empire in the Romantic epic.



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