The Anti-Teleological Dialogism of the Imagination
in William Blakeís The Marriage
of Heaven and Hell
Steven M. Streufert
The Faculty of Humboldt State University
In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Degree
Master of Arts
In the poetic theory of William Blake, the act of creation requires a type of visionary activity quite beyond the ordinary, especially if that creativity is to be powerfully original and revolutionary. In the classic Romantic view of the role of art and the functioning of the artistic personality, imagination is epistemologically central--a philosophy and method which Blake was quite in advance of his time in formulating for himself at the tail end of the 18th Century "Enlightenment" of reason. There must be, in this anti-rationalist theory of the mind, a certain unmoored willingness to experience the horror and beauty of the sublime, of that which goes beyond the common norms of awareness and experience, and which springs from unseen sources at the roots of being. This functioning of the creative mind, later characterized finely by the French poet, Rimbaud, as the derangement or disordering of the perceptive faculties in order to allow for real vision (le déréglément de tous les senses ), ever seeks the new and unpredictable muse. For Rimbaud, however, the tendency is toward a dissipated intoxication with egotistic novelty. Blakeís disordering of the conventional is not an end in itself nor merely the means toward an avant garde art. Rather, it is the revolutionary alchemy of a salvational transformation of the mind, perceptions and emotions of the human individual. This process is geared towards not only the mirroring of the idea of a divine Man, or Christ, but also the creation of that nature within each person so revivified. It is the reconstitution of the "fallen," unrealized nature of mankind. Blakeís artistic self-salvation enacts, in essence, the creation of the soul through imaginative activity. Made unteleological by its emphasis upon the freeing-up of energies and the loosing of bindings from the perceptive and conceptual faculties, it is a way wherein the process of self-creation through vision is all. Where teleological thinking argues an inherent purpose of existence, Blake posits emphatically that what meaning there is in life is that which we make, and that realities are conditioned by mental perspective. Thus he defines the real distinction between human beings as that between the artistically awakened and those who accept reality as given.
In a work of art like The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, in which artistic alchemy creates a roiling boil of radicalized elements (as well as--one can well imagine--in his appearance to all but the most open-minded of his contemporaries), Blake displays a threatening type of mental activity. He deranges the ordinary in the name of the eschatological future and the salvation of humanity: here seeming opposites can be fused into collaborative new elements, redintegrated from a fallen state of rationalized chaos and the material restrictions of a false ordering of reality. Perhaps it takes a madman to see the future
--especially the future of art.
By nearly all of the normative standards of his day, William Blake was strangely inverted, wrapped in idiosyncrasy, seemingly lacking an advanced, formal style in his art, and clear, sensible thought in his poetry. Yet he, more than any poet of his day in England, saw the as yet unformulated ways in which art and knowledge were to advance. As Evelyn Underhill characterizes his and other "mysticsí" making of new prophetic and visionary "maps,"
Such maps are often wild in drawing, because good draught-
manship does not necessarily go with a talent for exploration.
Departing from the usual convention, they are hard -- some-
times impossible -- to understand. As a result, the orthodox
have been forced to regard their makers as madmen or heretics:
when they were really only practical men struggling to disclose
great matters by imperfect means" (104).
However, when understood within its own idiom and on its own terms, Blakeís poetic works and pictorial art are coherent and consistent, however idiosyncratically unique. His art is undoubtedly the most radical of its time, and obviously the most visionary. We need not stretch hindsight to see Blakeís prescience of modern micro- and macrocosmic physics, as well as his anticipation (and solution?) of the dilemmas of postmodern irony.
Nearly unread in his own era, it seems that critical attention had to wait to achieve a safe distance from the man himself before sensitive scrutiny commenced. Even at our safe distance, the majority of readers of Blake, as well as many of his anthologizers (even such as Yeats), seem to prefer the simplified and quaint in his writings, the aphorisms and angels which could be placed upon greeting cards. This is a dangerous neglect, for lurking beneath the seeming platitudes is a mind of marvelous monstrosities and radical visions--that of the creator of a mythic system more outlandish and perhaps more complete than any other preceding it in cultural history. Blake is especially radical--though not without some precedent and context in such literary figures as Miltonís Lucifer--in his conception of the role of the imagination. An unimaginative appreciation of Blake seems oxymoronic at best: his art demands active participation.
Surface-level readings of Blake actually stand, unknowingly, upon the verge of a great, visionary abyss. Perhaps somewhat mad, and constructing models of reality to correspond with his madness, Blake still predicts and in many areas exceeds the problematics of the late 20th century. His seeming inversions and contortions allow for the freedom of relativity and undecidability, and are ideologically oriented toward a libertarian obviation of oppressive social modalities. They are the outward vestments of a redemptive model of higher sanity, one which views the world of the ordinary mental representation of reality as pathetically fallen from its potential and degraded in quality, limited to such a degree that it constitutes a hell. Blakeís poetic mission is to destroy the false norms, dualities and tropes of this fallen state--to pull down its false gods, to war with all of the teleologies of limited visions and to reinstantiate the human collectivity to its proper state of "Edenic" consciousness. The attainment of this state requires, for Blake like Dante before him, a full progress through the infernal and purgatorial. No small mission, this, the Edenic goal being far from quaint and flowery. Pure creativity reigns in Blakeís vision of Paradise, where the occupation of eternity is unlimited imagination ever moving between the horror and wonder of the sublime--a marrying of Heaven and Hell.
Philosophically, this state is not easily achieved; all of existence within time and space is, for Blake, a dialectical war of visions. Even Eden, both as origin and end, is not a simple world of harmony, but rather a dynamic state of interrelation, multiplicity and unending possibility. Truth itself is not teleological, for it is the variegated, congregate procession of this warring universality of heavens and hells--not as a sum total, but as a synergetic process of cyclic self-generation. In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Blake demonstrates his principle that reality is dialogical in nature, that "in opposition is true friendship," wherein the only real enemy is the limitation of the mind and the body, through the damning of their wellsprings of imaginative vision and pleasureful sensory apprehension.
Blake does not present himself as a mystic, longing for some other world than the one he was born into; nor is he a mere philosopher, seeking sensible and logical definitions of being and knowledge. Rather, he works as a "prophet"--but not in the popular sense implying predictive foreknowledge. More like the old Hebrew prophets, he works toward reform. His prophetic work seeks not for vague future possibilities, not doom nor metaphysical apotheosis, but for the nature of reality as it actually is, as it would be experienced by human beings were they only actively and creatively to see. It must be recognized that for Blake this reality and vision are not static truths, but processes of continuous creativity. Redintigration and eschatology for Blake are ever-present actualities within a vision of reality where consciousness, in its form as "poetic genius" or imagination, functions as the prime determinant. Time, space and visionary activity of the mind are recombinant in a radical and vital sort of alchemy. This alchemical heterogeneity of the process, both of elements within the psyche and outward participants in the visionary universe, exceeds and negates any charge of solipsism that may be leveled upon Blake; all things and beings involve one another mutually in this creative process of meaning making, even in apparent contrariety or isolation.
The major, later prophetic works of Blake are grand dramas, ostensibly ontological and eschatological in nature, which are in fact depictions of the struggle for illumination through the imaginatively heroic of aspects within the momentarily timebound individual psyche. Later works such as The Four Zoas portray great and horrific struggles between entities who are fragmented elements of a single consciousness which once existed in a state of diversity in unity, yet has fallen into disintegrative dysfunction. The redintigration of this entity is the mission of the poet-as-prophet and, in Blakeís model, is a coming to sanity which is enacted through the individualís capacity to imagine it as real and possible. Through this imaginative activity--here, the act of writing poetry, or of engraving and colorizing--the epistemology of the self is rectified and clarified, the illusion of death and deadenedness shuffled off, and the world is made, through the realization of any one manís poetic genius, personally and figuratively if not actually and globally whole.
It must be remembered that although he posits a unitary being, Blake is by no means a monist. The Edenic state of Albion, the eternal Man, is portrayed in the Zoas as participatory: all of his faculties work together within himself as potentialities which are ever new, diverse and surprising. The difference is that in the fallen state there is no realization of this synthetic and synergetic process; yet, in Heaven and Hell a "friendship" in opposition arises, an unacknowledged mutuality which renders enemies allies, and makes seeming doom fortuitously transformative, which inverts and transposes even the most accepted truths and falsities as well as common conceptions of good and evil. The conventional and traditional teleologies of salvation and damnation are rendered inert and false by the weight which Blake places upon individual consciousness as it proceeds through the labyrinthian prisons of mind fallen from its status as Creator, envisioner and magician of being. An individual of Blakeís persuasion no longer requires the vicarious atonement of an external Messiah; rather, s/he is potentially the Word which predated Creation, and which enacts it through a divine creativity (John 1:i-iii).
The Songs of Innocence and Experience portrays, as a whole work, the dialectical progress of consciousness into fateful, yet powerful and necessary self-knowledge. The lamb becomes the tiger, by transfiguration the artist of the Songs, who frames his own "fearful symmetry." He frames the unframeable, revealing the dynamic, raging chaos of potential meaning and the prodigious diversity of an ever-diversifying, uncontrollable reality of being. This symbolic tiger is undecidable, chameleonic, mercurial--an apt figure for the infernal imagination and its wild energy of creation. The lamb of Innocence must fall to achieve selfhood. It has to become the demonic and incendiary tiger of Experience, transforming itself to a god-like state of metamorphosed innocence. As these states are cyclic, not linear or mutually exclusive, so are they constantly reflective of one another, discursive and commingling. This cycle repeats itself throughout Blakeís work, arising most notably and significantly as the Orc-Urizen cycle, wherein no rational ordering of the universe can exist for long at the expense of rampant energy without giving rise to new generative and imaginative profusions. No telos may long stand, as with any other trope or passing fashion. These made meanings feed upon one another, need one another, as they continuously reconstitute the very fabric or both organic reality and human society and understanding. The result is best represented by and understood as a fugue, a melding of seeming opposites in a complex, higher order of being within which forces and states of being are collaborative and mutually informative.
The artist of the earlier song cycles steps into the discursive and violent worlds of Heaven and Hell as into purificatory flames of selfhood, into a furious gauntlet between voices and viewpoints, which model the flux and chaos of the objective realm. Progress through this trial, though, is not made by reaching its end, but rather in the re-seeing of it, in the re-making of it through vision. Ontologically and epistemologically, it is a process of self-creation which defies telos, which places the eschato-logical moment always and ever in the present of Judgment in the imagination. The Judgment is not final, but perpetual and personal; therefore there is no end to which history leads, and no determining principle governing all actions or visions. The present and the future of liberatory and radical, evolutionary consciousness require, rather, a constant discernment--aesthetically, philosophically and perceptually--between the limiting and the free, the blinding and the visionary. If the active perceiver creates realities, then responsibility falls upon the creator; and if this process is continual and cyclic, then there can be no final end to it. To rest from labor, for Blake, can only temporarily satisfy; without further activity, only a new Urizen-reign necessitating overthrow will have been achieved. Contrary to the theology of the Judgment, Blake implies that what is required is constant aesthetic and moral reappraisal of the states of being which arise in an ever-fluctuating, living universe.
If there is infinity behind the cleansed "doors of perception," then, by definition, there are infinite possibilities of creation which the mind may generate in relation to unlimitedness. This implies not so much that the mind, freed of limited perception, would see an absolute or final, established "Truth," "Beauty" or "Reality," but rather that it would use the creative faculty of perception transtemporally and trans-spacially as a prophet would, or as an artist does in envisaging, translating and formulating potentialities. As is said in "Auguries of Innocence": "We are led to Believe a Lie / When we see not Thro the Eye" [italics added]. Here Blake makes the important distinction that vision is an action which proceeds outward from the self to the world; it is an activity which formulates the qualitative reality of what is seen, not one which is subject to the givens of the objective and external. This has everything to do, as we shall see, with two of the "Proverbs of Hell" from Heaven and Hell: first that, "Where man is not nature is barren," and secondly that, "Truth can never be told so as to be understood, and not believíd." That Blake places his focus upon the "cleansing" of perceptive consciousness, and not primarily upon the infinity beyond the limitations, is really the key to everything in his philosophy--he desires energy and exuberance of development, not an abstracted and passive infinity. That he proposes truth as made by the perceiver places his philosophy far in advance of his time--it makes him quite contemporary indeed, as he anticipates the relativistic and undecidable situation of modernity and offers tenable solutions to current problematics. Through joyously purgatorial re-imagination, mankind in Blakeís conception is free to experience any joy or hell, capable of escaping from the horrid ironies and tyrannies of the human past and present to a world the fineness of which is limited only by the degree of freedom we ascribe to our own imaginative abilities.
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, a conscious upturning of the mythic soil of the Judaeo-Christian legacy, aims not at negation or mere satire (as Harold Bloom claims at the opening of his commentary to the Erdman edition), but allows for complexity and dialogical heterogeneity hidden within normative and accepted cultural models. Truth, for Blake, is not something that has been or may ever be legislated; it must continu-ously be created, negotiated anew under the aegis of the imagination. The infernal imagination of Heaven and Hell, as we shall see, is not contrary to a God, per se, but opposes the static and inert, that which lacks the vitality which cardinally signifies the activated and living mind. That religion is one link in the chain of collective "mind forgíd manacles" for Blake does not make him the enemy of divinity or the advocate of evil. Simply, it is his method to reveal--alchemically, or via the engraverís method of the excision of obfuscatory layerings of illusion--the hidden dynamism and force which the socially and intellectually stagnating, normative hermeneutics and behavior of convention seek to repress. His ideological force stems from outraged rebellion; yet his revolutionary force seethes, like the fallen and damned Lucifer, at the core of the mind in creative fire. He shows no desire to storm the walls of some petty castle or other from without. For Blake, this internality and infernality of the poetic impulse is the secret of its power. In accordance with this view, Heaven and Hell cannot be seen as mere irony or satire--it does not seek merely to lampoon or comment from a safe distance, but rather works from within, seeking the most vital chain reaction and trans-formation of vision and human consciousness.
If we turn to Blakeís illuminated title page for his book (figure 1), we see the first three words, "The Marriage of...," placed above an horizontal line which represents the surface of the earth in a world of
winter-barren trees and pale human figures. Below this line between the seen and unseen, the outer and inner worlds, lurks a much more potent realm of dynamic and explosive energy and interactive dualism, wherein we find the rest of the title, "...Heaven and Hell," boldly written. Here, in the internality of the psyche, two figures embrace and kiss, one coming forth from billowing flames, the other lying upon heavy clouds, immersed in the "deep" or abyss (within which Rintrah howls on the next page of the book). It is clear from this picture that Blake intends his work to concern itself, ultimately, with an alchemical conjunction and transubstantiation of the world, both in its aspects as physical and as psychological realities. Despite the rage and apparent dualism which we find once the text commences on the next page, here we see a demonic and an angelic entity "married" in a relationship of synergetic symbiosis which will, seemingly, overthrow or transform the world of surface above. The bleak yet peaceable realm on the surface represents the unseeing, limited mind which lives within the ordinary world of appearances and human social activity; but the one below, which is given so much more attention and emphasis by the artist, erupts with the volcanic force of spring or vengeance into the world above. Human figures rise, in attitudes of transcendence, from the flames and clouds toward the dividing line, indicating that this fusion in marriage will be a transmutation of both worlds. A suppressed reality and state of being will, in Blakeís prophecy which follows this page, be unveiled in the epiphanic activity coming from the core of human psychological and spiritual reality.
Blakeís dividing line between salvation and damnation differs from that of Michelangeloís Sistine Chapel "Last Judgment," wherein Christís sweeping gesture of arm separates the two realms for eternity; rather, Blake views damnation only as the failure to recognize the vital and transformative dynamic which underlies reality and the mind. Damnation for Blake is simply the lack of vision, and the barrenness of perception, feeling and experience, which are the inevitable consequences of a mind which is not activated in and propelled into being by the force of freed and generative imagination.
PLATE 2 -- The Argument:
The "Argument," which opens Heaven and Hell textually, establishes a basis for the prophetic function of the poet, the visionary exile and outsider. It presents a creation myth which depicts a fall from a kind of Eden particular to Blakeís dialectical poetic vision--elements of good and evil, pre- and post-lapsarian states of being, mix and blur. There is an obvious opposition here between the "just man" and the "sneaking serpent," but many ambiguities dwell in the apparent simplicity of this opening statement. Although it commences with the rage of an apparent protagonist of the poem, Rintrah, who is driven from a "meek" and "just" state to one of "rag[ing] in the wilds" and shaking of "fires," there is a sense in which the enemy actually functions as ally in a dynamic which surmounts and surpasses such concepts as good and evil. Although bracketed by the refrain of the rage of Rintrah standing among doomful "burdened air," over a consuming "deep" full of the gravity of "hungry clouds," the body of the section, in its explanations of the origins of this prophetic rage, does not define its figures as absolutely distinct. In fact, the illuminated text (figure 2) shows a scene which suggests the temptation of Eve by the Serpent of Genesis, but which actually looks more like an exchange, a "handing or receiving" (Erdman 99), or a meeting of two characterized domains. The interaction seems to take place in the surface world of the title page--yet where leaves are beginning to spring from the trees--suggesting a state of being not yet developed to the transforming potency of the subterranean "Eternal Hell" which is soon to "revive" (in plate 3) and overthrow the barren world of surfaces and broken dichotomies. It may depict a moment just before the Fall, but this fall is "fortunate" (felix culpa ), as it activates the dynamic which spiritually fecundates the world.
The oppositions presented in the text, even the terrain itself, are strangely mixed and complex, presenting greater spatial, temporal and moral complexities than those portrayed in the conventional, Biblical or theological telling of Manís Fall. Blake re-presents the myth here in the
struggle of one man, who is an Adam, an Abel made a Cain, as well as Luciferian in his quasi-Messianic struggles. Rintrah is born from what seems to be an already corrupted world wherein, despite the residue of Eden, nothing is without ambiguity. At first a "just man" is pictured, spoken of in the mythic past-tense, who was once "meek, and in a perilous path," and "kept his course along / The vale of death." This is a hearkening back to a golden age in many ways, to a time where the just could keep his own path without interruption; and yet, it is not so golden as it seems, as the presence of peril and death indicate. The manís justness may be his keeping of this strict way between the opposites which abound around him, but his virtue does not make him immune. The world here is depicted as already fraught with dichotomy and opposition, yet not totally fallen into senseless chaos.
The tense then shifts, oddly, into an aphoristic present-tense: "Roses are planted where thorns grow. / And on the barren heath / Sing the honey bees." In these lines one may detect strains of the Biblical trope of lions lying with lambs in Edenic harmony. There is a sense of fecundity, seen in the flowers and fertilizing bees. How, then, do we explain the tension which exists in the human realm here? Part of the answer lies in the natural realm, depicted here quite strangely. The image of roses growing amongst thorns echoes the parable of Jesus regarding the "seeds of faith" sown amongst menacing and thwarting weeds; yet the rose is itself a thorn-bearing plant (perhaps another irony of the fallen state). Also, although the bees seem to prosper, the landscape is wasted and barren. Nature exists here in only seeming well-being and harmony; it is left to the human being to bear the consciousness of corruption and burden of redemption from such a state of barrenness. The cryptic shift to the present-tense in these lines suggests that this admixture of states and principles continues, a truism of the fallen state, yet one which still at least mirrors a lost Eden.
The next lines are shifted again to a legendary past-tense, one which moves backward to a time before the that of the first lines, speaking of the creation of the "perilous path." It is almost as if the telling of this myth is moving backwards through time, gravitating unconsciously towards the ontology of the Fall. The path is said to have been "planted," suggesting that it is organic or botanical in nature, a form of the biological determinism of Blakeís realm of Generation (developed more fully in the Four Zoas). Besides implying this shackling of mankind to matter, the word also suggests something which has been placed down upon the earth; but it is due to the fall from comprehensive being rather than a teleological necessity or theological stricture. The path is perilous because mankind must reconstitute lucidity in a world where everything is strangely juxtaposed, where rivers and springs flow over or from cliffs and tombs. The "bleached bones" of a long-deadened world become that from which "red clay," the Adamic (Bloom 897) or human principle, brings forth in a somehow perverse creativity and unconscious propagation.
Into this state enters a "villain," a "sneaking serpent" (the prototype of the later "covering cherub" of false selfhood), who yet "walks" as a man would, and "drives[s] / The just man into barren climes." This usurper takes the place of the just man with hypocritical "mild humility," distorting with sly "ease" the rigorous justness of the other, even taking on the image of pious sanctity whilst the just man is exiled to a state of savagery and madness. The tense is shifted again in the last lines before the refrain, suggesting that this state of misappropriation is ongoing and contemporary. The world we enter here is usurped, ambivalent and gothic in its odd ambiguity. Even the language used to describe it is lexically, semantically and grammatically grotesque and contorted. Already, at this early point in the book, the reader must despair of a literal, monological reading. The force of Blakeís meaning runs strongly through deceptively simplistic statements, and yet wars against conventional understanding; it undermines the most basic foundations of limited thought, wreaks havoc upon inherited mythologies of origin and morality. For a contextualization of this strangely mixed opening, we must proceed to the commencement in the next section and its idiosyncratic appropriations of Judaeo-Christian eschatologies.
This plate begins with the ambiguously gendered, naked form of a human enshrouded, shackled yet "comfortable" (Erdman 100), in "strong fires." The arms of this figure (who resembles the flaming devil of the title page) open, and the legs sprawl luxuriantly as if in the pleasure of the coming "new heaven" of creative liberation or the expectancy of being able to rise up from fires to a world made newly whole. The image suggests Orc in his fires, who breaks his bindings and unleashes Dionysian energies upon the calcified reign of Urizen. At the pageís bottom a woman gives birth to the new world--while she herself dies away--through an aspiring, Orcian infant with outstretched arms. Representing the revived dynamism of the opposites two figures, one light and the other darker, run and yet seem to fly off into brightening clouds of fiery promise.
This section begins the elaboration of Blakeís discursive vision of reality, based upon the function of contraries which are truly complementary. Blake announces here not only his own position in the battle, as well as his poetic-prophetic mission, but he also names those whom he opposes. These "enemies," such as Swedenborg, are actually allies in that they give the messianic poet somewhere to start and something to butt against. No poet so clearly exemplifies (perhaps inspires) Harold Bloomís concept of the "anxiety of influence" as Blake does, with his opposition here to former masters and his later relationship of challenge with the works of Milton, and the Bible itself. Blake is compelled to embody not only the prophetic and eschatological, but also the messianic--his mission is salvational and ominous at once, seeking always to warn and yet overturn in the name of the new. The clear outlines of Blakeís later philosophy of the Orc-Urizen cycle of opposition has its birth here, embodied in a personal myth of the incarnation of divine vision and purpose. In this case, the Orcian figure is the muse of Blake himself, opposing all that obstructs the inner dictates of creative genius. Blake must take up this mission, for his vision is inherently social, not solipsistic, and requires a sense of collectivity to give it context and meaning. The tyranny of all Urizens oppresses the people, not only the artist. Without new infusions, death and stagnation occur inevitably; no tradition is alive without new challenges.
Aligning his own poetic voice and life with those of Christ himself, who is said to have died and risen from death at the age of thirty-three (the poetís approximate age upon the composition of these lines), Blake speaks of a "new heaven" having begun. The new heaven "is begun," or already has commenced, and "it is now thirty-three years since its advent: the Eternal Hell revives." What, then is the nature of this heaven which has begun with his birth, but enacts itself through the revival of hell? The nature of this process of new heaven and eternal hell becomes clear in the relationship of Blakeís stance to his predecessors Christ, Swedenborg and Isaiah. Placing the philosophical master in a subservient role, Blake embodies himself in resurrection from the tomb, from the cradle of Swedenborg and, by implication, from restrictions of the traditional trappings of limited theology.
There is here a bewildering admixture of extremes which may only be resolved via the concept of contraries. Hell is the form, later to be named as Orc, that all new visionary activity and revolutionary exuberance must take in order to overthrow the natural conservative desire of humanity to retain control over the limited, to cling to the symbiosis of tyranny and subservience, rather than become exposed to the void of imagination. Hell is necessary to conceive of and create the new heaven. Every self-conceived visionary is compelled to recreate the world, as veritably as Spring requires for its fecundity the deadened waste of Winter. The new cannot come into being without the old; and, although he is satirized here, Swedenborg plays the obvious role of spiritual midwife or father. Coming into his power, however, Blake must leave behind those old cerements--outworn, teleological ideas of order and ethics, of meaning and beauty--in order to be able to sit with angels and devils, to chat with Isaiah and Ezekiel.
The ultimate metaphor here is one of metamorphosis, both of the poet and all of humanity by prophetic proxy, to a state of Edenic and yet increasingly hellish existence. To be fully alive and activated in vision, one must know and live the extremes, not cling to comforts and secure positions, for "the return of Adam into Paradise" is vitally linked to "the dominion of Edom" over the true Israel. Blakeís New Jerusalem arises out of battle, turmoil and extreme vision, as he shows in an allusion to Isaiah 34-5. The tone, theme and mood of these Old Testament chapters are immediately recognizable in Blakeís own lines. The descriptions and warnings of horrible future miseries, and yet the sudden turn back to the figurative rebirth of the natural world despite (because of?) disaster, are obvious sources and parallels for Blakeís mission. The chapters of Isaiah depict the vengeance of the Lord upon the land and people of Edom, usurping and corrupt enemies of the true way of Zion. Likewise with Blake, the old orders must--and will, constantly--be overturned through opposition which thrives on that which obstructs it, which destroys all that stands in proud, authoritarian stasis. Isaiahís re-establishment of the "Way of Holiness" is essentially the same as Blakeís depiction of Los rebuilding Jerusalem, the purificatory conception that Blake repeatedly speaks of as the cleansing of "the doors of perception," yet expressed at this level of reality in a warring metaphor of struggle and contention.
This battle of Isaiahís, for Blake, takes place at the heart of the physical/spiritual world, as well as at the core of the human psyche. As it is necessary, in order that matter exist in an apparently solid state, that atoms have electromagnetic polarities, so with humanity: "Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence." "Good & Evil" are, for the "religious," merely stale abstractions from this dynamic process. Neither is the enemy for Blake, so long as they are in active relation. Good is simply passive to reason, and evil play an active role in the energy of upheaval and vigorous assertion. Here, "Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell." but Blake seeks a higher or stronger, a more radically polarized inter-relation. He seeks to make a heaven out of hell and a hell of heaven in order to reignite the energy inherent in dichotomous reality, to invoke the nuclear reaction of mental revelation.
PLATE 4 -- The voice of the Devil:
The infernal poet speaks in this plate with the intent further to bring a sword of dichotomy to an hermeneutic problem of theological psychology. Errors of the past are opposed by the "devilís" abolishing amendments in the name of reinvigoration. The speaking voice calls these "contraries," and indeed they are nearly semantical reversals of the preceding errors of static convention. Through this voice and attitude, Blake is trying to overturn fundamental and common social, cultural and theological understandings in order--as it were--to re-interpret his way back to the original meanings of "all Bibles and sacred codes". In fact, though, he is not only interpreting, but rewriting these meanings.
The "voice of the Devil" seeks to use strife and dichotomy in order to right, through curative debate within the psyche, the divided entities we find illustrated at the bottom of this plate (figure 4) . These figures represent the torment caused by the divisions and repressions which the voice seeks to destroy. One, muscular, Dionysian and chained, surrounded by fire, represents the Body and its passionate energies. It is pulled out over a seeming chasm by the frail and effeminate yet socially and theologically favored Reason as it carries off the struggling, infant Soul. Here the fundamental error of theology and mystical philosophy arises: as the Apollonian principle of Reason carries off the soul it recedes toward a distant, abstract sun which is of the same principle and color in the illustrations as that of the fires which burn around the figure representative of the bodily and earthly life. Thus, Blake points out that there is no real division, just illusions of perception and the stubbornness of repressive thought. The problem is that they struggle against each other over possession of the soul, rather than dialogically, and so remain schismatic and, respectively, chained or abstracted.
This page of the Bible of Hell, then, presents the dichotomies of religions which the author seeks to mend, divisions which create the sense of the exclusive and distinctly separate states of the body with its energies, and the soul (mind) and its reason. The separation of these principles of the human being into a non-dynamic, hierarchic polarity, according to Blake, limits energy and therefore not only consciousness but the joy of creation and being. Blake elucidates the distinction between right ideation and error in presenting three essential mistakes of theology and giving his correspondent axioms of right perception.
The first axiom, along with its "corrected" corollary, deals with the principles of Man. Blake seeks to correct the assumption that there are two distinct parameters, the Body and the Soul, with the statement that in fact there is no real division; rather, there is one dynamic and inclusive being. Differing from the exclusive model that posits a Heaven and Hell which are separated by salvation or damnation, Blakeís model declares that it is real damnation to attempt to separate the elements of being into "good" and "evil." This cardinal error begins with the failure or refusal to see that the body is part of the soul, is contained within soul, and is only perceived as distinct in a limited way because the faculties of perception are correspondingly limited in their use. That the body may seem limited and distinct from the soul becomes, thus, a matter of consciousness: "that call'd Body is a portion of Soul discern'd by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age." Not, however, to rest on a flat corrective, Blake hints in the end of this declaration at his revolutionary attitude toward the perceptual faculties, indicates again that these "inlets" must be expanded in their sensitive use in order to allow more sense of oneself as soul in body, which body is soul. This is not to imply that the body is an illusion--a common error of metaphysical philosophies--but that the sense of dichotomy is the problem. Human being is a dynamic process which contains both body and soul, which produce energy and relative, creative order in their combination.
When stigmatized by conventional religions or oppressive moralities, energy subverts and enacts damnation within all natural processes. In conventional terms, energy comes only from the body in the form of lusts and desires. Likewise, reason is the product of something higher and entirely separate from the body--an abstraction which Blake sees as a grievously falsely-conceived soul. Not only is energy not evil for Blake but, "Energy is the only life and is from the Body and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy" (italics added). Energy, then, derives originally from the body in human life, but is in no way limited to it in the ordinarily conceived sense. Rather, energy expands within a kind of bubble of consciousness within which the sense of soul continually generates itself, of which reason merely defines the limits of current understanding and comprehensibility. Thus, when activated, energy is life and, as it grows further into activity, the bounds of self must inevitably expand as reason is forced to understand its productions.
This process, confirmed in Blakeís third set of principles, shows that the exercise of energies entails no bullying condemnation to hell. For Blake (in a formulation much akin to Einsteinís E=MC2, where energy and matter are equated, given a factor of acceleration), "Energy is Eternal Delight." In other words, the heaven of eternity is the delight in energy, most highly realized in the creative activity of the imagination, but equally valid in the sensual revelries of the human body. Contrary to common judgments, damnation does not occur as the result of the exercise of energies, but manifests as the horrid state of being which arises when energy is repressed.
PLATES 5-6 (elaboration upon Plate 4):
The consequences of falsifying inversions are further explained in these plates by a strange jumble of equally inverted Biblical apocrypha, Gnosticicsms and slightly altered phrasings which result in huge doctrinal differences. The most important aspect of this segment is in its emphasis upon the interpretive process within theology and poetry, wherein a book such as the Bible may mean many things when seen from relative and ideological perspectives, "For this history has been adopted by both parties." Meaning is not only negotiated, it is a battleground of understanding. For Blake this process does not seem to be wholly a negative one. Rather, despite his conviction as to what is right and correct, he seems to relish the hermeneutic battle with no small amount of humor and approval. It is all necessary within the dialogic development of human consciousness.
Logically, this segment of the book seems a jumble before careful analysis. Several versions of the myth of the Fall are given, but what prevails is a theory of the human constitution which uses desire as its basis and puts ultimate responsibility in the hands of the human individual. Blake states later that without the mind of man and his creative imagination nature is barren; but here he goes even further, implying that without desire man himself is barren. Desire is the root of human life for Blake, the fount of ideas and the source of motivation. Reason, as the mere circumference of comprehended and assimilated desire, cannot logically be the ruling force of human life. It is a usurper of the proper place of desire and the imagination, the source not only of individual self-tyrannizing, but also of larger social tyranny: "Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained; and the restrainer of reason usurps its place & governs the unwilling. And being restrain'd it by degrees becomes passive till it is only the shadow of desire." The implication here--with significant presaging of Nietzsche--is that those whose desire is so weak as to be restrainable are not quite worthy of being defined as realized models of the human being; but as such people as these move beyond personal tyranny to a governing of others with usurping reason, they are hardly human at all. Blakeís seeks, then, to achieve through his art the fully-accomplished Man, who becomes as a god, knowing both good and evil internally, consubstantial with supreme creative Being, as is Christ (in Blakeís iconoclastic view). When desire is diminished, however, a "restrainer of reason," or the prosaic common sense of the fallen world, enters in and governs the "unwilling soul." In this state, the human being is indeed damned, and bound into the world of limitations and constraint--the true hell for the ideally self-creative soul and mind. Human passionate existence becomes merely "the shadow of desire," and the imagination is exiled from its proper role as cosmic percipient and co-creator. Desire cannot be forever restrained this side of death, though, as Blakeís later works stress in their depiction of the binding of Orc by Los and Urizen, and the inevitable centripetal and centrifugal revolutions which follow.
Behind the scenario on Plates 5 and 6 is the inversion of larger forces of being as manifest in human nature and the fallen universe, of false gods and usurping Messiahs claiming domains rightly held by other forces. Constant upheaval, as seen in the image of a falling Phaeton at the head of the plate (figure 5), and radical contradiction prevail. An extremely chaotic state, it yet erupts with wild forces of potentiality. Metaphorically, this suggests an imbalance in the human psyche, but is played out here in the guises of devils, archangels and gods. As allegorical exegesis, these plates are like a collage of mythologies in which Blake sets up an almost indecipherable dialogue of meanings. What one is left with at the end is not a sense of clear meaning; rather,
the meaning is that very interplay between the "parties" which lobby for final hegemony. This dynamic, and not a static hermeneutic, is Blakeís goal; and it is set in the parameters of a debate.
Blake starts with Milton, his prophetic predecessor, and explains the scenario in Paradise Lost, wherein "the Governor of Reason is call'd Messiah," and the source of the Fall is Luciferís refusal to serve, which gave rise to "sin and death" for mankind. However, Blake contrasts this configuration with that of the Old Testament Book of Job wherein, "Miltons Messiah is call'd Satan." In the latter story, the one who works Godís will for the spiritual evolution of mankind is the devil, who tests Job with trials and suffering for his ultimate betterment. In this contrast we see that the workings of good and evil, and the will to higher being are much more ambiguous than common sense can outline. Instead, there is a battle for the understanding, wherein "this history has been adopted by both parties." In the falsely understood model, the usurping "Jehovah of the Bible being no other than he who dwells in flaming fire," the role of the fallen one becomes heroic and Romantic. The traditional Satan begins to play the role of the savior who "fell, & formed a heaven of what he stole from the Abyss," and "prays to the Father to send the comforter or Desire that Reason may have Ideas to build on." This interpretation is much more complex than that of traditional theology, for in it there is a greater purpose in suffering and the Fall. In this model, Reason is fallen knowledge which needs the Holy Spirit of desire in order for it to imaginatively build back the fallen constitution of man and to restore creative balance in the cosmos. Here desire is both the source and impetus of human growth, the cause and the redemption of suffering. Here there is no eternal hell and damnation. Instead, the apotheosis of Christ, as for all human beings, is in the restoration of the original order of the universe within the soul wherein, after death, Christ becomes Jehovah--not in the hell of the fallen state, but as a restored and reinvigorated creator. Blake criticizes his great predecessor on this count saying, "But in Milton the Father is Destiny, the Son, a Ratio of the five senses, & the Holy-ghost, Vacuum!" Leaving out the redemptive role of the mythic figure of Satan (Messiah)--however passionately he writes of the story of Luciferís glory and fall from Heaven in the opening books of Paradise Lost--Milton "wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God." Feeling that to write freely about the heavenly realm would have been to commit heresy, yet writing with "liberty" about the role of the devil, Milton falls short of making the final link in the redemptive process. Milton is, however, "a true Poet and of the Devils party without knowing it." In speaking so of Milton, Blake acknowledges how close the poet comes to the truth, but also sets out his own agenda for bettering his predecessor. To be of the Devilís party is, in this sense, not to be "evil," but to be on the side of the active forces of desire which work towards liberty and the rejustification of the fallen state with that of the heavenly through the act of creation. Miltonís "Destiny," "ratio of the five senses," and "Vacuum" are, for Blake, sterile and static. For Blake destiny does not lie unachievably far off in the future. He presents no dead ratio of the senses, but a radical dynamic within and through them; no vacuum, for the space of the world is filled with the burning fires of desire and the living imaginative will to live as a growing and vividly creative process.
PLATES 6 & 7 -- A Memorable Fancy:
In this plate, a prelude to the massive "Proverbs of Hell," we find what appears superficially to be a mere segue to what follows, but is actually one of the most revealing autobiographical statements of Blakeís poetical mission. The poet clearly defines his position as being within the "Devilís camp," but in so doing also declares the uniqueness of his vision when compared to the conventional wisdom of "the present world," not to mention the vision of the angels and demons.
As the fancy commences we find the poet, "walking among the fires of hell, delighted with the enjoyments of Genius," which enjoyments we can take as his own perceptions and imaginings. Blake immediately draws a distinction between this type of infernal consciousness and that of the limited angels, which sees the mind amongst the flames of energy as "torment and insanity." This persona of Blake, of and among the devilsí camp, proceeds to gather "their"--not the angelsí, as it may falsely be construed--sayings of wisdom to better know the infernal side of being.
As he returns "home" -- to the complex dialogic center of being wherein mankind stands in between (at the marrying point of) heavenly and hellish being--he encounters a vision of his own artistic method personified. This embodiment appears "on the abyss of the five senses," hanging "over the present world" from a vertical cliff. So distinctly (and awkwardly) esconsced, the visionary artist is at once privileged and unnatural; yet, Blake seems to suggest, this state of differentiation and even monstrousness is a kind of prerequisite. The poet is "a mighty Devil folded in black clouds, hovering on the sides of the rock," and hangs outside of and above the normal world defined by the five senses. More properly, one should say that this scenario represents the visionaryís relationship to the rest of the human race after he has returned from his forays into the suprasensorial. We know that this is a figurative representation of Blake himself not only through its ostentatious grandiosity, but also in that the demon employs Blakeís own technique of engraving his poems on metal plates: "with corroding fires he wrote." When the text says, "he wrote the following sentence now perceived by the minds of men, & read by them on earth," we easily perceive the implication that the saying which follows is perceived today because it is first and finally written here, in the book which we are reading, by Blake himself.
That sentence, set in verse, is an invitation not only into the following "Proverbs of Hell," but also into the greater visionary universe:
How do you know but ev'ry Bird that cuts the airy way,
Is an immense world of delight, clos'd by your senses five?
If only our minds were not limited and closed within the senses we would see and experience through them the unbounded joys of the imaginative experience of the divine mentality, here seen--counter-symbolic to the previous demonic depictions--as a free-flying and unbound bird of the heavens. The point, though, is not that every bird is an immense world of delight, but that we do not know that it is not ; and by seeing it as such, or at least believing in the possibility that it is, we make it so. This, for Blake, is the ultimate form of faith.
PLATES 7-10 -- The Proverbs of Hell:
The Proverbs here brought forth from Hell may seem to be mere random gleanings rather than a strict construction of a "Bible" of the damned. Looked at closely, however, a connective principle can be seen running through the epigrams. Short of saying that there is a formal ordering to the section--which would be an overstatement--it can at least be said that the manner in which the Proverbs are presented, with all of their exuberance and unconstrained blasphemy in the face of conventional wisdom, is emblematic and enactive of the underlying dialogical and subversive premises of the entire book. The central thematic hubs of the section are those of the concern for liberty versus tyranny, both inward and outward; a demonstration of the evolutionary hierarchy of ideas, represented here mainly through animal analogies; and a tacit development of the theory of the imaginative which animates, enables and validates all that transpires in these pages, which is the ultimate motive force and purpose of the aforementioned evolutionary and revolutionary impulses. This is by no means Blakeís attempt at formal philosophy; rather, it is a demonstration of its overthrowing by the eruptive force of poetic energy, a sometimes anti-logical intensity which is closer to the tense oppositions at the core of being. Blakeís philosophy is a ritual destruction of the false god of Reason, later emblematized as Urizen; and his activity of writing is allied with the infernal power of Orc, forged on the poetic anvil of Los, that the world within man may be made whole and fecund again through a reconstitution of the imaginative mind. The tyrannies of man upon man and of the mind upon the body, ultimately of the fallen and limited, material world upon the soul, will all thus be obviated. It is in this sense that Blake intends his statement that Nature is barren without mankind.
Beneath and within all of the activity are the lines, "Truth can never be told so as to be understood, and not be believ'd," "What is now proved was once, only imagin'd," and "Every thing possible to be believ'd is an image of truth." These are the epistemological gems to be mined from Blakeís mountain of exuberant excess, the logical consequences of his philosophy. Orbiting these core diamonds are the social and behavioral extensions, "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom," "A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees," and "Exuberance is Beauty." From this axis we may find our way into the labyrinth of the Proverbs, and see the directedness which makes them cohere despite their apparent chaos.
Ontologically, these statements place our origin and being in an as yet unfathomed creative process built into the mind of the Divine (which is our mind), and argue that this process inheres in us as an inalienable right and evolutionary duty. Blake, seeking a naturalistic theory of knowledge and art, comes to the seemingly obvious conclusion that the impulses within us are also natural, and good; that the urges to express and love, to create and to grow are not the product of the fallen and degenerated world, but of a God within reality and the mind which interprets it. To follow positive exuberance could not possibly be wrong for Blake--in fact, the repression of it is tyranny for him. To rise to the top of humanity is not, for Blake to tyrannize others or to hold domination; rather it is to be at the consummate position of love and creative compassion which is normally considered to have been achieved only by Jesus. Blake would have us all be Christs, to live a true Christianity which realizes itself in the love of existence and the activities of the imagination such that the being rightly using these would enter naturally into immortality and unencumbered spirituality long before physical death. Art, thus, is the door to paradise, preceded and aided by right and open perception, and loosely defined such that the art we speak of is the art of consciousness. For Blake the canvas upon which we realize our art is the mind itself. This brings us to the need to explain Blakeís theory of belief and its relation to truth.
Blake relates truth and reality within the mind and eye of the perceiver, thus taking literally the statement of Jesus which claims that faith can move mountains. His claims are not an advocacy of solipsism, but an attempt to give the power of creation to the one who perceives, thus giving that person the ability to choose which of the myriad possible realities s/he is going to accept. Belief, or faith convincingly held, is reality or truth for the holder of that belief; and Blake argues that we should choose the more comprehensive and magnanimous vision, which we may affirm to the very highest levels of paradisal being. This process of seeing may also work in reverse, obviously, generating all of the "mind-forgíd manacles" of self-damning limitation which Blake rails so vehemently against in the Proverbs. In this sense, Blake uses "truth" more in terms of "honesty" than to imply a teleological and totalizing, absolute end. His vision of the absolute is, as we have said, an unending process.
What differs in Blakeís view from that of pure relativism is that he is always focused upon the sublime, either beauteous or horrific--in fact, there is little real distinction. His relativism is positive, and involves relation. He is interested in a (r)evolutionary impulse which incorporates both ends of the sublime spectrum--it is all wonder. His love of the miraculous leads him to the idea that there are things not yet proven or understood, which are nonetheless actual and true. Our sciences of the imagination have just not yet encompassed them. Related to this is the concept that everything possible of belief is an image of truth: all that we are capable of conceiving or perceiving is somehow true in that it is a partial and participatory view of the entire organic reality of the universe. No perception nor experience of the mind could possibly be outside of the universe; therefore it is an imaging, an imaginative abstraction of reality without being separate from it. But there is more to Blakeís conception of perception; he implies further that since we are thus part of the universe, and since the universe is never finalized, then in a real way we are all its continuous creators. Hence, we come to the subtly different statement, "Truth can never be told so as to be understood, and not be believ'd." If truth is told with the convincing ardor and poetic genius necessary to be understood in the fullest sense, then it is convincing. It imparts the vision of the teller directly to the listener as in the arts of painting and poetry. If the "truth" of one personís vision is understood by another it becomes the truth for that other; and in a figurative sense at least, for all of the world. The truth is in the creative telling, in the perception and communication of it, not so much in the objective discovery of it. This social, humanistic view is directly opposed to the scientific rationalism and mechanistic empiricism of Newton, Locke, and even of Rousseau. For Blake, these and other figures of his age "mock" visionary reality in that they see with the eye, in a constrained way, not through it. They do not understand that exuberance is beauty. It is in this sense that a fool sees a different "tree" than a wise man--the fool has not really opened his or her eyes, or cannot really extend the perceptive faculties beyond the limits of the senses. The "wise" person understands that "excess," or exuberance, both of the body and the imagination, leads to the wisdom of seeing the larger aspect of all that is seen. The wise and the visionary see the infinite in all things, as infinite potential and endless interaction, regeneration and transmutative creativity. Only a fool or a slave would live inside an eggshell. Our highest functioning is to create, though perhaps from a fallen or inevitably limited state, for "Eternity is in love with the productions of time."
The Proverbs begin with a naturalistic construction after Ecclesiastes which provides a starting metaphoric contextualization where everything has its proper time and place, especially in the human life cycle: "In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy." This may seem to be teleologically determining, but Blake intends to demonstrate that it is not the organic realm of generation and death that is the enemy of man; rather, it is the obstructions imposed by man on others or by the individual upon itself which are the true enemy. Nature is benign, and is the source of the energy which Blake seeks quickly to turn towards the human enemies of freedom. He praises excess short of inordinate pride, slaughters prudence as an old hag and, in the style of the Old Testament prophets, brings pestilence down upon those who are incapable of following the healthy desire which builds the world of natural and spiritual freedom. To live within repression and limitation is to live in what Blake terms "folly." For those buried in this hopeless folly, all is bound within time, within "weight and measure;" but one who is "wise" is free to experience the timelessness of infinite creative experience, of flying "with his own wings" of imaginative sensitivity and openness.
Sorrow and joy both have their place in the open mind and heart of experience; and pride, lust, wrath and nakedness are extremities which are beautiful and expansive. In that these are passionate and undeniable expressions of life and passion, they are good; and in that they are exuberant and free they are "portions of eternity too great for the eye of man"--too great, that is, to ever be finally understood and defined. Such an expression is prophetic poetry, as well: one which resounds into an aesthetic eternity. Bu that which contains contrasts with that which releases energy: "The cistern contains; the fountain overflows." Through the latter modality, "One thought, fills immensity," and creates a universe based upon the truths it contains. "The eagle never lost so much time, as when he submitted to learn of the crow;" and man must, for Blake, be the loftiness and power which the eagle represents, surely not the furtive, scavenging everyday man. In these terms, Blake argues for a destiny which is transcendental, absolutely not a mystical denial.
The only thing which approaches the mystic is "prayer," which we may assume, pursuant upon the theory of consciousness, belief and perception which we have outlined above, is consubstantial with the creative process present in the poetic/prophetic art. As Blake has the denizens of Hell say, " As the plow follows words, so God rewards prayers." The consequences of this kind of creation follow as naturally as the produce of farming set into growth by the horse-drawn plow. But for Blake, it is better to surpass the methodical, to enact the energies of genius: "The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction." This instruction is the way of the limited world and the mind which defines it as such, full of prudence and restraint. (However, the image--figure 6--at the end of the Proverbs illustrates this with duplicitous
irony, showing scribes such as Blake here in Hell learning methodically from a wrathful fallen angel!) Though we learn from such ways and, " If others had not been foolish, we should be so," still "The soul of sweet delight, can never be defil'd." We should be able to live beyond, but mindfully of, these lessons. Blake would have us live as incarnations of the universal elements, like great giants: "The eyes of fire, the nostrils of air, the mouth of water, the beard of earth." Moving from the eagle, which is "a portion of Genius," and the figurative model of the higher mind which creates, Blake compares the limiting priests of religion with the unmetamorphosed caterpillar, blighting the "fairest joys" with their repressions. The poet of vision would rather adhere to the naturalness of beauty saying, "To create a little flower is the labour of ages," rather than give in to the artificiality of limiting theologies--"Damn, braces: Bless relaxes."
But all mad ravings must have an end, even these Proverbs. Around the final restatements, "The head Sublime, the heart Pathos, the genitals Beauty, the hands & feet Proportion," and "Exuberance is Beauty," there is a bitter and contradictory tone which enters the last plate. The dialogic impulse spins toward dissipation as the opposing statements seem to cancel each other out. "Crooked roads" and the murdering of infants are advocated. Nature is said to be barren without man, which contradicts (aside from the sense we have outlined above in which the creativity of mankind is distinguished from organic generation) the earlier emphasis in the Proverbs upon the necessity, fecundity and beauty of the natural as opposed to the artificially human. Black crows and white owls are forever set in opposition in their solipsisms. It becomes obvious, with this increasingly rambling quality found in the last lines, that the denizens of Hell have had their say. The last voice to speak in this section is that of the persona of Blake, who finally stops reporting and puts a stop to the section before it may roll out of all control: "Enough! or Too much!" Despite the need for excess, there is also a need for proportion--especially in art. It is time to move onward through the abyss.
Emerging, like Dante from the caverns of Hell, we look out at the top of this plate (figure 7) through the opening of a cave into the natural world of the human past. Perhaps just after the Fall, the forms of Nature are anthropomorphized, or human forms are melding with the natural world as if to imply that no separation exists as yet. At the center we find a mother and child, suggesting innocence. Here Blake firmly sets the beginning of human knowledge in the works of the ancient Poets who, while still bound in the realm of generation, yet saw the fundamental connnectedness of things as natural manifestations of an objectified and projected Divine Mind. This plate, then, tells of manís second Fall--
the falling into mental abstraction and the idea that there is a separation between body and soul, mind and nature.
Much like Blake does, these ancient Poets "animated all sensible objects with Gods of Geniuses, calling them by the names and adorning them with the properties of woods, rivers, mountains, lakes, cities, nations, and whatever their enlarged & numerous senses could perceive." They are his prophetic predecessors; but what they lack is the enemy which Blake has so readily at hand dialogically to play upon. This plate treats the fall of religion into the hands of a tyrannical class of usurpers, the hierarchically organized, professional priests. A "system" was formed, the anecdote recounts (and it is this system against which Blake must form his own lest he be enslaved), by a priesthood bent upon taking advantage of the "vulgar" unenlightened, to steal them away from their connection to the earth and somatic awareness by "attempting to realize or abstract the mental deities from their objects." Thus the visionary poets were pushed aside by usurpers, and their myths and legends used as parables in support of this false religion.
A false god or gods created from this abstracted amalgamation was then raised up in the unnatural image of the "wise," bearded, priest-like figure we see floating in the skies at the bottom of the plate. From him floats a sleeping, naked man, lost, for he has "forgot that All deities reside in the human breast." This is the fundamental loss or robbery of human history, the loss of the subjective and creative nature of divine perception. For Blake, it is ample reason for righteous wrath and prophetic indignation.
PLATES 12-14--A Memorable Fancy:
After its great diatribe against priesthood and the religion which oppresses vision, the book moves on to a section which seeks to affirm and define the nature of the visionary activity of prophecy. Meeting with his allies Ezekiel and Isaiah, modern versions of the ancient Poets who founded religion (properly) upon nature and the opened senses, Blake anticipates the accusations of heresy that will come to him upon the publication of this book. He seeks to enact an end run around the despite of his conventional Christian neighbors and authorities by at once stating a new theology rooted in a time and orientation before the era of Christian power, allied and alloyed with the Old Testament Judaic prophets, as well as defining the unique nature of his own personal futuristic vision and experience of revelatory creativity.
He asks his dinner partners, the two prophets, how they could have been so bold in their declarations of revelation; and in so doing shows his cogniscence of the knee-jerk denigration he himself is sure to receive. What follows is really Blakeís self-justification before this inevitability. Isaiah answers this questioning first saying,
I saw no God, nor heard any, in a finite organical perception;
but my senses discover'd the infinite in every thing, and as I
was then perswaded, & remain confirm'd; that the voice of
honest indignation is the voice of God, I cared not for conse-
quences but wrote.
Taken as Blakeís own words, this is far from a public retraction in fear of reprisal, but a confident and mature statement of philosophical purpose. Here we find Blake reassuring the reader and his public that he does not take his experience as a literal, objective fact, but rather one of a subjective dispelling of the illusion of externality and limitation. Not with the organic, physical senses does the poet see, but through them with the power of internal inspiration. Looking in such a way, the mind sees the hidden realities of the universe, and makes meanings of them which correspond to the reality within the soul or mind. Freed of the manacles of finitude, the mind may thus see real being. Seeing so, fears of mis-understanding and reprisal give way to pure conviction and the "honest indignation" of those who have seen beyond the prison of convention. This attitude goes beyond mere belief and enters the realm of faith as the prophet replies, with echoes of the words of Jesus, to Blakeís query as to whether firm persuasion makes a thing so: "All poets believe that it does, & in ages of imagination this firm perswasion removed mountains; but many are not capable of a firm perswasion of any thing." Once again, the prisoners of conventional consciousness are contrasted with those who have the type of vision which was lost in the course of the Fall and is necessary for future social and spiritual growth.
Ezekiel states that what Blake calls the Poetic Genius was in fact the first principle of the ancient Israelites in their own terms of definition, and that it was believed that all religions and religious impulses sprang from this source. Whether or not this may be taken as an historical fact, Blakeís interpretation seems to refer not to the personal divinity of some Jehovah figure, but rather to the spiritual force and consolation that dwells within infinity, the God which David calls to in the Psalms. Couching the argument thus in nationalistic terms, Blake begins to set up England--by association and since it is the home of the poet-instigator (Blake) of the purgatorial new hell--as the site for the New Jerusalem of the future. Despite the derogation inevitably received by one such as Blake who figuratively "eat dung [sic], & lay so long on his right & left side" in "the desire of raising other men into a perception of the infinite," the prophet asks, "is he honest who resists his genius or conscience only for the sake of present ease or gratification?" Again, Blake is arguing through the prophets for freedoms, of expression and vision, in the face of stultifying convention.
Blake himself then concludes the section with a prophecy of the future, a restatement of his principles of sensual primacy and per-fectibility, and a yet more clear figurative depiction of his own unique
methods of engraving his works:
The ancient tradition that the world will be consumed in fire at
the end of six thousand years is true, as I have heard from Hell.
For the cherub with his flaming sword is hereby commanded to leave his guard at tree of life, and when he does, the whole creation will be consumed, and appear infinite, and holy whereas it now appears finite & corrupt. This will come to pass by an improvement of sensual enjoyment. But first the notion that man has a body distinct from his soul, is to be expunged: this I shall do, by printing in the infernal method, by corrosives, which in Hell are salutary and medicinal, melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the infinite which was hid.
This is a definition of a way, a truth and a light. The fact that the angel has left off its guard of the tree of life is--however full of doom and possible dreadful, apocalyptic consequences--a true opportunity to reach the real holy grail of unlimited being and consciousness. It is a time for which mankind must be ready; and Blake sees his work as instrumental in this urgent preparation. The illustration at the top of the plate (fig. 8) illustrates such a flaming cherub, covering and obscuring, yet energetically seeking to awaken the deadened sensory and sensual body of prone mankind.
Starting from the basics, Blake seeks to demonstrate the philosophical soundness of the concept of the improvement of sensual being, not to promote decadence of the senses but for there to be a reality and honest basis to what follows. In recognizing the bodyís reality and through improving the perceptive faculties, the soul may indwell, may become active within the self. This activation and restoration of the full body of man is liberation and right perception. Through these steps, Blake argues, we may ultimately achieve the reality which he perceives in vision and states beautifully thus: "If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern." These chinks are the narrowed inlets of the self-limited sensory perception, faculties which ought to be the doors to infinitude. The doors may naturally be opened either way, opening into an enclosed space defining the universe as limited, or outward to enter an uncontained world seen through the awakened senses. Hence, Blakeís enemy is not the Church or its priests so much as it is limiting and imprisoning ideas.
PLATE 15--A Memorable Fancy:
From the prophetic mood of the preceding page, we now progress into a completely symbolic and apocalyptic idiom, almost an adapted pastiche of Revelations. Here, however, we are not concerned with the end of the world so much as the ontology of knowledge and technology, and their relation to the fallen state of humanity. Impossible to pin down absolutely, the allegory here is easy enough at least to contextualize within Blakeís system. It is open and elusive, as all prophetic art must be, to induce a state of receptivity and expansion in the reader/listener. The sense of foreboding and sublimnity works within the symbolism with energy, moving through but uncontained by words and imagery.
The initial context of the printing press immediately alludes to the engraving and printing work of Blake himself; and so we know that the whole allegory refers in some primary way to the transformative affect of art upon consciousness. Yet, in the fact that the process described is one of a transmission of knowledge down through the generations, we are dealing with something learned rather than real experience and vision. The process descends into a cave of increasing abstraction from the world outside, and yet it is couched in an alchemical terminology of refinement. Experience, then, is at once being perfected and limited. At the deepest levels of the cave, taken literally, we find the enclosed and compartmentalized forms of knowledge in the shapes of books; but figuratively, this is a process of evolutionary transformation of matter and experience towards a core from whence the mind may return to vision through transcendent cognition. Thus understood, the Fall into limitation, enclosure and matter is a positive opportunity. For Blake, transmutation matters more than transmission. Knowledge taken from tradition can never be as affective towards this end as a direct visionary experience, which alters the eye which sees.
In the first of the six progressively evolving chambers we witness a "Dragon-Man," whom we may take to be a primordial form of man still wedded to the scaly forms of life bound to the unenlightened elements, barely emerged from the demiurgic, creative sources in the seas at the bottom of the Fall into unconsciousness. His role is merely to sweep off the rubbish which accrues as a result of what happens down the temporal line, or to prepare the evolutionary way. It must be remembered, however, that this process cannot be seen as linear or teleologically temporal. This very entranceway must also be the point of conscious birth into the cosmos, of the coming out through the womb of the senses--just as sexual energies lead eventually to the physical birth of a new human being.
In the second chamber we move from mere stones to a recognition of the raw but precious gems and metals of the earth, to a nascent knowledge of the purposes to which they may be put. The overseer of this point is a snake, reminiscent of the serpentine Lucifer of Eden, a subtler and more refined version of the initial reptilian man.
The third chamber introduces a new element, with an eagle made up entirely of air, refined nearly to non-physical being. This new repre-sentative is the polar extreme of the serpent preceding it, and yet is to be wedded to it in the image at the bottom of the plate (fig. 9). This relation of opposites once again emphasizes the non-linear evolution of this page, and reiterates the dialogic premises of Blakeís entire work. The eagle represents the aetherial end of the evolutionary dyad, causing the cave to appear as if infinite in its interior. This bird is nothing, however, without
a grounding in the earthly elements; and the eagleís attendant eagle-men display this as they take the elemental, "reptilian" methods of their predecessors to build what may be taken as the preliminary forms of the eventually realizable New Jerusalem of re-incorporated humanity.
In the fourth chamber we encounter the fiery elemental lions of inspiration and infernal passion, without whom there could be no synthesis nor alchemical reaction between the other elements. Through the energetic raging of these figurative lions within the human psyche/body, the earth and air are used to transform what has preceded this stage into "living fluids," or heated and pourable metals of the imagination. These fluids are taken by "Unnam'd forms"--perhaps hidden forces or parameters of growth in the universe or psyche, or perhaps some kind of aiding seraphim--and "cast" into the infinitely inwardly opened, inside-out, fallen universe.
Within this apparently open world, proper and contemporary "Men" are able to make what they think are objective observations and to put their results and technologies into books. These libraries of culture are, however, intrinsically limited in that they are produced with knowledge gleaned from a fallen and inverted cosmos of consciousness; hence, they must be surpassed. Mankind must learn, then, to see through the "chinks" of the booksí leaves and to take themselves with their knowledge back out into the surface world where the true potentialities of things may be seen. Of course, this seems similar to Platoís cave allegory; but the difference here is that Blakeís allegory is cyclic, non-hierarchical, transtemporal, reflexive and not fundamentally predetermining. Plato posits that the "forms" exist outside of mankind and are absolute and predetermined. Blake stipulates that all that is preconfigured are the elements and the exigencies of working with them in the fallen context. This is as far as he goes towards positing a "Law," one at the base of life leaving the "top" end open.
Once transmitted knowledge and hoary traditions are surpassed by vision at the core of the cave in the fallen mind, then the senses and the cave itself open from within to reveal the magnitude and possibilities of the imagination. Blake, unlike Plato, does not argue that the chambers depicted here are illusions to be replaced or dispelled in favor of some more transcendent reality, but rather seeks to show how all of these levels are interdependent and relative. They relate and are mutually dependent. Heaven cannot exist without Hell, nor can there be any progress to the most comprehensive states of being and creation without their recognition and transmutative union within the individual. Although this is figuratively a chemical reaction, it must be remembered that at the core of things at the molecular level there are atoms which ever and always remain dyadically tense with the opposition which is true friendship and the energy of all that lives and is. Without such tension, be it between an Orc or a Urizen, or protons and electrons, there would be no existence or change. Nothing is permanently lost or replaced in this progression if there is no soul separate from the body, no body distinct from the soul. Mankind, then, must retake the "living fluids" of the forms of imagination and realize that we are the shapers of our own reality, whether in art, writing or in visions.
PLATES 16 & 17:
The elemental forces of the previous fancy are interpreted in the present section as, "The Giants who formed this world into its sensual existence and now seem to live in it in chains," who "are in truth, the causes of its life & the sources of all activity." Once again, in a presentation of the world as a constrained tension of energy working within ordering systems, we see a demiurgos which can never be truly restrained because it is the motive force of all being and of the dynamics of the human psyche. These "Giants" only "seem" to be chained, for they actually move all established orders, and they eventually overturn structures and definitions as surely as they create them. Blake uses this context to establish once again just whom his enemy is saying, "but the chains are, the cunning of weak and tame minds, which have power to resist energy." Revolutionary energy (Orc) cannot be contained, and those who (like Urizen, or any human tyrant) build shallow orders upon the limitedly-defined earth simply do not understand the wild and un-predictable, yet cyclic processes of being. True power, as opposed to tyranny, works creatively with this energy rather than resisting or repressing it. It is folly to resist the immensity of an elemental, "giant" force--especially in its form as psychological metaphor--such as fire, earth, air or water.
These giants may also be interpreted through the image which covers the top edge of the plate (figure 11), depicting an old man and four smaller figures huddled together in a closed, prison-like cell. The "father" figure may be taken as representing the mental or optical, "visionary" aspect of mankind, and the others (as Erdman suggests) as the remaining four physical senses. Thus we may take this illustration as showing "what happens if the collaborators of Plate 15 separate, if cunning priests impose their errors of abstraction: our senses sit in prison not palaces" (Erdman 113). Taking the image as a representation of the story, popularized by Dante, of Ugolino and his sons who were imprisoned and starved to the point of cannibalism, we may see the kind of repression through abstraction which Blake opposes as a hellish state wherein the senses of the body consume and violate the body rather than opening it to the cosmos and to the forces of the earthly levels of being. We must, then, always remember that there is no body separate from the soul, leaving the senses open to a creative "spiritual" dimension.
On a more social level, Blake distinguishes between what he terms the "prolific" and the "devourer," one being the creative type of individual while the other is the orderer, organizer and controller of those which may be controlled:
Thus one portion of being, is the Prolific, the other, the
Devouring: to the devourer it seems as if the producer was in
his chains, but it is not so; he only takes portions of existence
and fancies that the whole.
Just as the priest fancies that he controls reality with his mythology and theology, and that he orders the cosmos towards the eschaton and heaven --so seemingly avoiding the gigantic forces of the elements and mortality itself--so the devouring type believes itself the master of what it organizes and manages. Actually, the Prolific is much closer to the "giant" forces which roil in the sublime abysses of the imagination dwelling, figuratively, in the skies and deep within the earth. The artist or maker of things, the creative thinker of ideas and seer of forms, is therefore much more powerful and alive than the mere organizer. The artist, under these parameters, is always a revolutionary (Orc) in the eyes of the threatened controllers (Urizen), and must be suppressed by them to retain limited order.
These microcosmic, self-defining and limiting orders are what Blake calls here the "portions" of existence mistakenly taken for the whole. The error in this type of awareness is in the assumption that reality can be finally and adequately ordered and defined by limited and ordinary human means. The prolific artist knows that the contrary is true, that the universe proliferates absolutely and constantly a myriad of realities, of seemingly conflicting (but dialogic) "truths." Despite all of this, however, the opposing ends of being need one another to come into being, just as eternity needs time and spirit needs matter: "But the Prolific would cease to be Prolific unless the Devourer as a sea received the excess of his delights." There must be tension between the opposite poles of being, whether as in the atom or in Blakeís cosmic drama for, " to reconcile them seeks to destroy existence." Without mutual reflection and thus recognition here, without an axis, there can be no structure for being. This makes the polarities "enemies;" but it is also a form of co-operative "friendship" in opposition. As Einstein posited, there is no metaphysical aether underlying being, just the interaction of gravitation and energy that constitutes being.
To conclude this section, Blake more specifically addresses religion, responding to the hypothetical accusation of excessive and heretical pride in the art he advocates. He replies that, "God only Acts & Is, in existing beings or Men," or that the divine can never be unmanifest, but must be incarnate to exist and know itself. Once again, the universe is barren without the dialogue produced by consciousness working creatively within limitation, or semi-consciously through all beings whose existence is a manifestation of energy and fecundity of natural impulse. False religion seeks to deny these facts and to assert that all being comes from a detached abstraction of its own casuistic reasoning. This is not the religion of Jesus Christ, as Blake goes to great lengths to stress in the rest of the book. He recalls here to the questioner that Jesus himself says in the New Testament that he, "came not to send Peace but a Sword," to divide and to judge not in the comfortable terms of human prudence, but in the name of the eternally Prolific energy of being. This Jesus is not only the beneficent shepherd, but is all the forces of being or divinity which incur upon the human domain, whether they be "Messiah or Satan or Tempter," or that which "was formerly thought to be one of the Antediluvians who are our Energies." This version of the divine is not comforting, and offers none of the easy or final answers which humanity so ardently desires or dreams up in its wishful thinking and religion; rather, it manifests within the constrained dimension of the true power of being and, hence, of the potentialities of the human imagination.
PLATES 17-20--A Memorable Fancy:
This section, the longest and most fantastic of the book, is arguably its climax and summation, a bold statement of Blakeís opposition to limiting theology and analytic repression of natural impulse. In it Blakeís character directly confronts an angel in a visionary challenge, both gazing into the abyss of fear until one of them snaps. Blake uses the parameters and definitions of Christian church theology against itself, debunking its self-generated Heaven and Hell by contrasting these with his own vision of a pure and innocent earthly life which is the sole source of healthy, unabstracted life for humanity. Using the classic methodology of debate, Blake uses his opponentís own logical and metaphysical fallacies to dispel the common errors of religion, and then asserts his alternative.
As another proactive defense against accusations of religious heresy, Blake has the angel attempt to reveal to him the damnations inevitable for him if he accepts conventional theology while continuing in his prophetic course of revolution. Blake accepts the angelís offer as a challenge for mutual objective consideration, not as a valid fear of hell. And so they proceed through a worldly stable and into a church, down through the center of organized and dogmatic religion to its guts in the tomblike vaults, finally down to the "mill" of analytic dogma and out into an internal cosmos under the earth. The way is "tedious" for Blake, but he continues if only for the sake of the enjoyment of argument and super-fluous "opposition." Here, hanging out over the abyss from subterranean roots and mushrooms, they contemplate the wholly illusory hell created by and within the angelís conventional theology.
The view is as if from space, with a "nether" sky below them to which Blake suggest they "commit" themselves. Echoing the Bible, where it is said that we should not tempt the grace of God in faith, the angel proves itself a somewhat unworthy opponent already saying, "do not presume O young-man." What follows is a twisted vision of horror in the abyss, but Blake calmly asks the angel what, then, his eternal lot is to be. The angel responds that he will stand "between the white and black spiders" which dialectically weave the warp and woof of reality-- implying that Blakeís place is only a futile one between unsynthesized opposites in this lower world. Finally, conjured out of the worst fears of the conventional mind, the serpentine Leviathan (fig. 12), sea-beast of the fallen and watery realms of the unconscious, arises from torrid storms and fiery skies. It is so real that it is said to have all of the "fury of a spiritual existence;" and it frightens the angel back into the safety of the mill. Blake, however--accustomed to horrors and visions--remains in contemplation, unafraid of that which can never threaten him unless he believes in its existence.
Without the angel to project a falsely speculated vision of reality, the scene changes and Blake sees into the unpolluted heart of nature and mankindís relation to it:
I remain'd alone, & then this appearance was no more, but I
found myself sitting on a pleasant bank beside a river by
moonlight hearing a harper who sung to the harp, & his theme
was, The man who never alters his opinion is like standing
water, & breeds reptiles of the mind.
This simple, pure and pastoral vision, so reminiscent of the Songs of Innocence, is an astounding contrast to the horrid conjuries of the supposedly heavenly angel. The angel is surprised that Blake has escaped, so used as it is to the mass of men falling for this trap of psychological horror usually so affective in inducing conversion. Blake, however, so rooted as he is in his faith in natural impulse and the holiness of the world as it is, is not taken in. Indeed, those of fixed opinion such as the angel trapped in religious vision or the priest who only sees through the book, can never grow in experience and philosophy as does the one such as Blake, open to the wild dialogism of being. The perversion of the stagnant mind can only breed the monstrosity of such a thing as the Leviathan, and cannot see it as Blake does, as at least one more element in the interplay of possibilities. Blake sees the dragon, but sees through it also; and he is able to encounter the real starting point of experience, which is the simple riverside of nature within time, unpretentious and uncorrupted, beautiful, tranquil and sensual. From this starting point of realization and recognition, real advances may be made which do not preclude the body, the earth and all of its wondrousness as does prohibitive religion. Blake answers the angelís question explaining, "All that we saw was owing to your metaphysics."
Having thus called the angelís bluff, Blake counters with a challenge: to show the angel its eternal lot. Taking flight beyond the earth, Blake forces the reluctant angel through the purification of proximity to the sun itself and then, with the works of Swedenborg in hand as examples of limited vision, proceeds out the end of the Ptolemaic solar system between Saturn and the fixed stars. Here the angel may see the voidness and abstracted worthlessness of its cosmology and theology. This angelic heaven is so void of meaning and substance that Blake says it is "space, if space it may be call'd."
This vision is dispelled as quickly as it is revealed as empty of true quality, and the two find themselves back at the original scenario of the section, where they enter the church and proceed directly to the Bible at the altar. Here Blake has taken over authority completely and, using the Bible for his own prophetic ends, he reveals to the angel the emptiness of its reading of the scriptures: "lo! it was a deep pit, into which I descended driving the Angel before me." Now the Bible has become the angelís enemy rather than its seductive tool of coercive ideology and blinding faith. What they find within this interpretation of the Bible is a horrid representation of the analytically-based casuistry of limiting theology of the nature of Aquinasí. They find seven bricked in buildings rather more like prison cells that the seven heavens theology would have us believe it offers. In one of these the two find hordes of monkeys, symbolic of the debased impulses of humanity, copulating and fetishizing, then devouring one another in a sadistic-cannibalistic orgy. This is Blakeís representation of the course and actuality of human history and culture under the guidance of a theology which would rather subdivide and conquer than live creatively in contact with actuality. They emerge from this hellish vision of flawed religion, and Blake now carries in his hand not the works of Swedenborg but their fleshless origins, "the skeleton of a body, which in the mill was Aristotles Analytics."
The angel, defensive and taken aback, can only shelter itself in petty righteousness at having been so affronted by the truth of itself and its false quasi-divinity. It accuses Blake of "imposing" with his hyper-real "phantasy;" but Blake is not ashamed. Rather, he points out that they have merely exposed each other to the otherís vision of reality. This mutuality the angel cannot comprehend, so used as it is to being on the dispensing end of truths. Blake concludes that it is a mere waste of time to attempt dialogue with this dogmatic moralist who cannot understand the richness and complexity of a metaphysics based upon the opened imagination and senses, wherein "Opposition is true Friendship," and reality is generated through interdependent visions within a synergetically relativistic universe of the mind.
This section and plate commence with an image which differs radically with that which ends the previous one--a naked man (fig 12),
symbolic of rebirth and/or prelapsarian innocence, sits on a hilltop under a dawn sky, looking upward as if surprised by epiphany. As Erdman points out (118), there is a skull beneath the figureís knee and an empty sheet of paper under his opposite hand, symbolic, respectively, of the "dead thought" and the "Analytics" which the Blake of the previous section has just escaped from and disproven. The image is spacious and light, as opposed to the cramped and darkened scene of the preceding Leviathan, giving at once a breath of the liberation to come as well as a thematic introduction to the section. The writings of one such as Swedenborg can never be more than a "candle in sunshine" compared to the psychological dawn which this figure beholds; but they can be an encumbrance to vision if mistaken for ends in themselves.
In this section of the book Blake seeks to display the limitations of a monological perspective, using the angels (as with the one in the pre-ceding section) as examples of limited thought which encloses rather than freeing the mind. His great adversary here, however, is Swedenborg. His is a formative influence upon Blake; indeed, one so close to Blakeís own vision that the minute differences between the two need to be exag-gerated in explication such that they become dialogic, lest there be any confusion of the two. In Blakeís view, similarity is an "enemy" in that it tends to break down the dialogue between opposites which, as we have seen, is so necessary to the expansive dynamism of prophetic creativity.
Juxtaposed here with such visionary activity is the system-building tendency of thought so common to formal philosophy and religion, and especially characteristic of the Enlightenment milieu of Blakeís earlier, pre-Revolutionary life. The Church, Locke and especially Swedenborg emerge as limiting thinkers of the tendency to "systematic reasoning" which Blake declares to be the source of the vanity of the angels. When Blake states in this context that the entire oeuvre of Swedenborg is only the "Contents or Index of already publishíd books" he is declaring that reasoning is only the outline, not the substance of visionary perception, that it cannot substitute for the real thing. It can, in fact, be that which, because it is so related to the goal, be it religious or philosophical, is the greatest blind to the thing in itself. This is why apparent allies become enemies; and yet it is why Heaven and Hell need one another for mutual revelation. Blake realizes this, but knows also that he may never relinquish his oppositional guard at the doors of perception. He has to stand with the mad prophets, to make his own system as he goes, lest he fall into a personal dogma or that of a system created to limit experience.
Blake is proud, but he is not the snob who would judge himself as lofty only because he has defined the world as limited and set up the parameters of reality in his favor. Blakeís oppositional stance is not one which requires derogation of another, but rather seeks to be mutually enriching for apparent enemies in discourse. He characterizes the philosophical and moral folly of righteousness in his enemies (i.e., those who are incapable of comprehending the dialogical exigencies of existence) as such:
A man carried a monkey about for a shew, & because he was a
little wiser than the monkey, grew vain, and conciev'd himself
as much wiser than seven men. It is so with Swedenborg; he
shews the folly of churches & exposes hypocrites, till he
imagines that all are religious, & himself the single one on
earth that ever broke a net.
As we saw in the previous scenario wherein the monkeys of analytical subdivision gnaw each other to bits in the process of mutual limitation, so here the monkey is used to represent the "lower" nature which functions as a common denominator in all encapsulating systems of thought. The point is that the man in this story is only "a little wiser" than the monkey, just as Swedenborg was only slightly more progressive than the Church of his day. Blake seeks to go further than these extremes. He does not want merely to be one who "broke a net," but the one who breaks all nets. Swedenborg perhaps came close, but because he did not recognize the next obvious steps to freedom of the mind and body, his truths have sadly become "all the old falsehoods."
This error in conception is due to a lack of comprehension of the dialogic nature of the psyche and reality, due to a repressive tendency toward transcendental repression rather than visionary synergy. Swedenborg and his ilk make the fundamental error of allowing their visionary tendencies to be regulated by and transformed by philistinism, thus becoming what they ostensibly opposed. This is why Blake always sides with rogue prophets like Ezekiel and Isaiah, those who reject conventionality and comforts of the mind in favor of raw truth which is incapable of encapsulating, final comprehension. Hence, Swedenborg is said to have "...conversed with Angels who are all religious, & conversed not with Devils who all hate religion, for he was incapable thro' his conceited notions." Missing the poetic genius of true prophets, his writings become mere "recapitulation of all superficial, opinions, and an analysis of the more sublime, but no further." Blake would have the works of true poets, those such as Shakespeare and Dante, who remake the reality they experience rather than accepting the limitations of a pre-defined discourse. These writers are tapped into the true springs of vision, and are thus the "sunshine" to the "candles" of those who practice mere analytics. The crucial point of distinction between the two camps is, once again, in the area of creative generation and the imagination.
PLATES 22-24--A Memorable Fancy:
Following up on the previous segment, this one commences with a discussion on the theme of genius and human greatness in vision, with an angel and a devil conversing as Blake the author (supposedly) sits back and listens. The devil speaks first, as is the wont of those in the camp of energy and impulse, saying: "The worship of God is, Honouring his gifts in other men each according to his genius, and loving the greatest men best; those who envy or calumniate great men hate God, for there is no other God." This is truly a radical statement, not only in that it defines the role of genius, but also in that it confines the role of the Divine to one wholly within human parameters. With more prescience of Nietzsche, Blake here defines the ubermensch as the man who creates God in human form. The only Divinity is that which we are able to create through Poetic Genius, according to the devilís camp, in that it is the only version of the divine which we are really able to comprehend. This bears out also in that nature is "barren" without mankind and needs humanity to create its future potentiality. This definition, however anthropocentric and limited in light of modern theories of life within the universe(s), is still a fine definition of the functioning of emergent intelligence within the cosmos.
With tongue in cheek, Blake portrays the angel as turning bluish with anger, and emphatically, desperately declaring the holiness of Jesus Christ above all men. With the devilís reply, however, we see Blake entering into a purely philosophical argument with conventional theology once again, this time at his most formally logical. In so doing he answers all of the possible refutations of his possibly heretical work by pointing out the heresies of Jesus, and how these very betrayals by Christ of the old dictates led to his heightened holiness.
The devil begins, re-emphasizing the earlier principles of the book regarding fools and the wise saying, "bray a fool in a morter with wheat, yet shall not his folly be beaten out of him." Here the angel is the fool, for his reasoning is only analytical, and based upon false premises at that. Blakeís devil, however, is only using analysis, participating in the angelís game, in order to disprove the limited idiom of repressive holiness; and he quickly proceeds to dispel the misconceptions of Christís heavenly nature made at the expense of his humanness. A list of the Old Testament commandments which Christ is said to have broken follows--thoroughly establishing him as of the rebel camp--and the devil delivers the killing blow: "I tell you, no virtue can exist without breaking these ten commandments; Jesus was all virtue, and acted from impulse, not from rules." This statement is incontrovertibly revisionist, establishing Jesus as a prophetic activist of Orcian energy and devilish defiance; and yet, given what we donít know about Jesusí life, wholly plausible. The angel can say no more, having been defeated absolutely, and can only re-ascend to heavenly safety in the form of Elijah.
That the devil speaking in these plates is Blake emerges in the fact that the angel converts after this discussion to the status of a prophetic devil (or fallen devotee of the redintigrative process), and discusses the Bible "in its infernal or diabolical sense" with Blake as his "particular friend." Here Blake refers subtly to his own works (such as the one we cover here) saying, I have also: The Bible of Hell: which the world shall have whether they will or no." Obviously, this Bible, like the "Parables of Hell," are from Blakeís own hand; and the world, Blake feels confident in saying as he is a self-defined prophet, will eventually come around to the realization of the truths which he has outlined in his works. If the world were to "behave well"--i.e., act ethically towards their own imaginative potential--then they would have understanding of the dialogism between the infernal and the heavenly readings of the Bible and of reality; but if they were to come around to the real recognition of the infinite potentials of the mind, then they would be privileged to read from the "Bible of Hell," not of Blakeís creation, but from their own dynamically activated energies of the body and mind.
Blake unqualifiedly declares, here at the end of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, that everything depends upon the type of consciousness that an individual manifests as reality. There are fools and knaves; and there are the wise and the epiphanic poets. The world that each experiences is entirely different, qualitatively, and cannot be defined in terms of the otherís. Tyrannical thinking would have everything its way in order to secure its own intellectual security, but the wild and free ener-gies of the awakened consciousness cannot be limited, though oppressed at times, by such controlling forces: "One Law for the Lion & Ox is Oppression." The oxen may lead the plow that rolls over the bones of the
dead, but the lions of the imagination will always be the directors of such conquering of time and mortality.
In Blakeís vision of the justice of revolution, the false rulers (both of the mind and the body, as well as the internalized tyrannies of fear and limitation) will either evolve and abdicate, or be reduced to "animal" states much like those of the monkeys in Blakeís earlier refutation of the angel. This is displayed by the image of Nebuchadnezzar (fig. 13) at the bottom of the page and just preceding the "Lion & Ox" epigram. The ancient Babylonian king who went insane and "did eat grass as an oxen" (Daniel iv:33), is shown retreating in fear back into a darkening forest, moving away from Blakeís illumination. According to Damon, "Blake considers this as signifying the madness of the materialist with single vision: he becomes bestial in seeking his sustenance in material things only" (297).
However, the great of mind--as defined by Blake--will always be intrinsically unlimited because their conceptions of reality are open and dictated by inspirational intuitions rather than the repressive fears which drive oppression. This combined statement of illustration and epigram at the end of the plate acts as an apt conclusion to the main part of the book, as well as announcing the coming epilogue (prologue?), "A Song of Liberty." The "Song" prefigures all of Blakeís later revolutionary works and prophecies. It is, as we shall see, an outline of the illuminated "Bible of Hell" which Blake was to give to humanity, whether or not many ever read it in his own mortal lifetime.
PLATES 25-27 -- A SONG OF LIBERTY:
This last section of the book differs subtly yet significantly from that which precedes it (figís. 14-16). The text is more spacious and free, more light and open. These three pages are either more floral or more lively than the dark and conflicted ones of the book to which they are the epilogue. Bursting with botanical life, exuberant animals and flying human figures, this section enacts pictorially what it declares textually: Liberation. In the Chorus section at the very end we see the soul both on the earth as bounding horses, and ascending as a bird of apotheosis. This lucidity and balanced clarity of vision comes as a relief and a reward for the arduous progression that the book has brought its reader through; yet it only confirms the power and proportion of Blakeís art.
Blake concludes his dialogic discourse, then, with a prophetic presentation of the means of revolutionary change and a demonstration of the fact that no imposed and stubborn ordering of power or meaning may stand long before it is overturned by the cyclic force of creation. In the "Song of Liberty" Blake gives us for the first time explicit character-izations of the principles which he would later, in such books as The Book of Urizen and The Four Zoas, name as Enitharmon, Orc and Urizen. Here he introduces the prophetic model which would take him the rest of his life to properly develop, the raw form of an epic which would eventually encompass and allow for all and everything. Here the principle of Liberty is given to provide a call to action toward revolution, one pursuant upon all that has preceded it in the book.
In other words, Blakeís revolution is to be based upon the very Liberty which he seeks to instigate within the self, one which effect-ively eliminates tyrannyís effects upon the self-exercising liberties of the freed imagination. Literal revolution is for Blake, then, unnecessary, or at best only secondary. Teleologies of the mind have first to be abolished, such that the polemics of politics and caste are seen as mere illusory hurdles within the pragmatic side of life. There is no natural basis for tyrannical orderings, no inherent divine right of the powerful, when it is recognized that the fact of the natural cosmos is change and the dialogical correspondences of oppositional forces. For Blake, teleological thinking could not possibly be founded in the universe proceeding from the Divine sources of creation. This would be a universe too small for the illumined mind, and so could not have been created by any real kind of God. For Blake, the real form of the Divine is a human one, one formed by the imagination in harmony with the body. Teleologies and determinism, then, can only be the productions of the fallen mind, or Urizen. These imposed models of human destiny are the jealousies of oppressive age in the face of youthful vigor and freedom; they are the attempts of Urizen to repress and control Orc, thereby limiting all growth of Man to that which may be structured by rationalism.
In Blakeís larger ontological myth, creation falls into fragmentation when Albion becomes attached to the beauty of a singular aspect of his comprehensive being and, seeing and intellectualizing (thus objectifying) the beautiful and feminine form of Vala, tumbles into an unconsciousness of the whole of his being. This gives rise to the tormented subdivision of his constituent elements, the Zoas; and as they are no longer able to work in harmony within Albionís being, they enter into war with one another and even subdivide themselves into gendered spectral forms. One of these Zoas is Urizen--significant of the mental powers perverted and inverted, involuting against the universe--who tumbles down first into the fallen state from the "head" of Albion. He falls into depths of Urthona, personified as Los the blacksmith and redemptive artist, who builds a world of matter to stop the fall from continuing on forever into the indefinite. Added to this dyadic situation of intellect and imagination in conflict, the forces of Luvah and Tharmas, of passion and cohesion, constitute the status of the universal psyche fallen into chaos and confusion. The energy of creativity, of Los working upon his anvil, engenders Orc (Luvah reborn) upon Enitharmon and allows for the possibility of the overthrow of Urizenís oppression and the building up of Golgonooza, which is the earthly foundation of the reconstituted New Jerusalem. From this "hell" a gradual wedding of the productions of time and relativity may commence until Jerusalem is embraced by Christ, and the integrity of Albion is restored. All of this is present, like a germinating seed, in this concluding section of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.
In "The Song of Liberty" Losí feminine emanation, Enitharmon, is called the "Eternal Female," and is shown in the pains of giving birth to Orc, who brings forth the revolutionary energies of Luvah against the tyrannical Urizen and his rationalistic "ten commands." "Shadows of Prophecy shiver," and a list of empires past and contemporary are evoked in the face of the coming upheaval Orc represents. Now life-denying empires are "into the deep down falling," not the principles of the eternal Man; and this means that the energies of Orc are working against fallen orders for the redintigration and salvation of mankind.
On the pre-cataclysmic mountains of Atlantis Orc stands, in a time which is both primordial and ever-occurring, and is noticed by the envying and world-dominating Urizen, the "starry king" of the fallen intellect. The jealous Urizen, raised to ire over the appearance of a force which he must know he cannot ultimately control, hurls Orc by his hair out over the deep. This action is doomed to failure, however, as the prophetic voice of Blake enters to say, in sublime epiphany of prophetic hope and revolutionary faith, "The fire, the fire is falling!" "Look up! look up!" cries this voice to the people of the nations and races, rallying them to the purpose, to "enlarge" their countenances and expand their comprehension and perception of reality. Orc is first described as if in death: "The fiery limbs, the flaming hair, shot like the sinking sun into the western sea;" but then, to the dismay of Urizen, he rises (like a model for Christ) in resurrection: "...Where the son of fire in his eastern cloud, while the morning plumes her Golden breast, / Spurning the clouds written with curses, stamps the stony law to dust, loosing: the eternal horses from the dens of night...." Urizen falls, in his jealous haste, from his starry realms, while Orc is ascendant with a new dawn for the earth. This is the first hope for redintegration of the fragmented soul of mankind. A Chorus sings here at the end of a descent into hell--presumably one of rejoicing humanity--revealing the heavenly reward of purgatorial art. The dark fate of self-limitation and socialized oppression are lifted as the "Priests of the Raven of dawn" are vanquished or transformed into all-embracing angels who may, "no longer in deadly black, with hoarse note curse the sons of joy." Restrictions are removed to the cry of "Empire is no more!" and human potential is freed up to again experience the epiphany of the infinity and holiness of all that is, "For every thing that lives is Holy."
In Blakeís view we are all ultimately consubstantial with Albion or Christ; and in the psyche we are Jerusalem, either in disrepair or redintigrating, depending upon the level of realized vision of the individual. Liberation of the imagination is a monadic and microcosmic reconstitution of the integrity of the universe. This enlightenment differs radically from the rationalistic and mechanistic one prevalent in Blakeís own time. It is also a revolution quite distinct from the violent and futile ones which ensued on the political maps of his world. Since the divine may only be known in human form, we are responsible for our own world and constantly for its creation. Rather than war and tyranny, Blake proposes a sane and earthy solution: that we live in creative appreciation and interdependence, that we build together the eternal and transtemporal world where imagination may be unreigned and free to experience in absolute wonder the illimitable and ineluctable potentialities of being.
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