In Blake we observe the transition from a theological concept of enthusiasm to a practice of literary-critical engagement as enthusiasm. Although this transition is often eclipsed by the current historicist tendency to locate Blake in the 1790s, with roots even earlier, Blake's enthusiasm performs a work that progressive critics will ask of emotion for the next two hundred years: to supply immediate, experiential evidence of a transformative agency whose effects cannot otherwise be measured. Historicist interest in attaching Blake to premodern affects is bound up with a modern desire to mobilize enthusiasm anew and catalyze a future beyond modernity. Sartre's The Emotions provides a useful framework for understanding the aspirations and anxieties that have led criticism to stake its claims to agency on the evidence of emotion. Describing a machine-world that points back to the constraints of Blake's Urizenic starry mill and forward to the ideological systems we associate with criticism after Foucault, Sartre helps identify a critical legacy that posits a "magical" agency of emotion within and against instrumental reason. He also raises key questions about the origin and efficacy of such affective transformation. When do critical emotions serve as a proxy for the agency we feel we lack? When, if ever, do they open onto a world indifferent to our desires for transformation? Is it possible to think of reading as something other than empowerment?
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