The following is a written transcript of the visual commentary above on Blake’s great poem America a Prophecy. The text is offered merely for the convenience of those who are interested in the video, or who would like to cite quotations directly from Rabinowitz’s illuminating take on this remarkable work, which as the video notes is one of “the most visually appealing of all his illuminated books”.
Vogel’s work is one of the best accounts, and critical interrogations, of the concept of ‘Nature’ ever written. Its thoughtful and careful analysis of this complex and ambiguous concept makes you realise how crude and incoherent many of our contemporary discussions of Nature are. This is really environmental and philosophical thinking on a new level of precision and engagement, and is equally important for its revelatory implications for our understanding of ‘natural science’ both as a practice and an epistemological attitude towards the world, showing how what we call science is less an unproblematic description of an objective world and more a social product or construction shaped by ideology and concealed assumptions about the status of the ‘observer’. Indeed, he suggests that one of the points or byproducts of the concept of ‘Nature’ is precisely to naturalise these ideological and socially informed ways of thinking and relating to the world.
‘David’, an ageing patriarch whose time at the top is nearly over and who is clearly anxious about challenges from his younger rivals and concerned with his legacy, narrates this compelling programme about ‘David’, an ageing patriarch whose time at the top is nearly over and who is clearly anxious about challenges from his younger rivals and concerned with his legacy.
The BBC’s new block-buster, Dynasties, can perhaps best be seen as an impressive and timely reflection of the unconscious concerns and obsessions of late capitalism – as Marx presciently observed, ‘The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas’ (e.g. ideas of power, dominance, hierarchy, survival as telos, become ‘naturalised’), and nowhere is this unconscious dynamic seen more clearly than in the dominant ideas of environmentalism.
When I first Married you, I gave you all my whole Soul
I thought that you would love my loves & joy in my delights
Seeking for pleasures in my pleasures, O Daughter of Babylon
Then thou wast lovely, mild & gentle, now thou art terrible
In jealousy & unlovely in my sight, because thou hast cruelly
Cut off my loves in fury till I have no love left for thee.
Thy love depends on him thou lovest & on his dear loves
Depend thy pleasures which thou hast cut off by jealousy.
— Milton (1804-10), plate 33
In 1863 Alexander Gilchrist corrected the claim made by J.T. Smith, a friend of Blake, that the artist and “his beloved Kate” lived in “uninterrupted harmony”. Such harmony there really was; but it had not always been unruffled. There had been stormy times in years long past, when both were young; discord by no means trifling while it lasted. But with the cause (jealousy on her side, not wholly unprovoked), the strife had ceased also. Read More
The previous post reprinted Blake’s Europe a prophecy, written shortly after the French Revolution and depicting the political and psychological womb out of which it emerged. His illustrations and text are dense, poetic, and richly ambiguous. Here I unpack some of the main themes of the poem, which revolve around Blake’s critique of materialism, and explore the psychological subtext of the poem. As Paley notes, the function of the prophetic form for Blake was “to expose the otherwise hidden motives and consequences of human decisions”. Blake’s concept of ‘prophecy’ is therefore a form of political psychoanalysis, a powerful new way of going under the skin of contemporary events and accessing the deep psychological and sexual dynamics that lie behind both religious and political structures. This superimposition of different fields of reference (simultaneously political, sexual, religious, psychological) is one of the things that makes Blake’s works so striking and distinct, as well as so dense and multivalent. It is also a feature of his thinking that he has in common with modern psychoanalytic approaches. As Adam Phillips notes:
You can only understand anything that matters — dreams, neurotic symptoms, literature — by overinterpreting it; by seeing it from different aspects as the product of multiple impulses. Authority wants to replace the world with itself. Overinterpretation means not being stopped in your tracks by what you are most persuaded by; it means assuming that to believe one interpretation is to radically misunderstand the object one is interpreting, and indeed interpretation itself.
Blake located the source of contemporary struggle in a specific complex of psycho-social structures and dynamics, which we still see being played out and repeated in contemporary European politics. Until we learn to understand and recognise these processes, Blake believed, we will be doomed to repeat the same underlying cycle again and again: a world where revolution becomes simply endless re-cycling.
Introduction to the poem, by Robert MacLean
Europe: a Prophecy does not set out to be prophetic in the conventional sense: it does not set out to predict the future. Rather, according to Paley (in Dörrbecker), the function of the prophetic form is “to expose the otherwise hidden motives and consequences of human decisions”. As Dörrbecker explains: “it is a ‘prophetic’ mode of historical representation as interpretation” where “the history of the immediate past is recounted as an exemplum with a view towards the future”.
With its links to the arms trade, increasingly militarised presentation of remembrance, and corporatisation of the poppy “brand”, it’s time to reconsider whether the Royal British Legion is still suitable to be the “national custodian of Remembrance”.
The death of David Bowie in 2016 revived both intense media interest in his work and astonishing creative legacy and also a plethora of unthinking and misleading cliches about who he was and what he signified. Foremost amongst these was the description of him as some kind of alien being, or “mysterious extraterrestrial”: “40 years ago, in millions of living rooms across the British isles,” one hagiographic BBC documentary started, “a strange alien creature was beamed onto our television screens”. Online and newspaper headlines were full of references to Starmen, Spaceboys, The Man who Fell to Earth – but there was very little attempt to explore or decode these references or to consider their psychological significance.
William Blake (1757–1827) was a British artist, engraver, poet, and writer on theological themes. His illuminated books were the product of his technological inventiveness, and are characterized by the juxtaposition of texts and images in which a dialectic between two different media is a means of stimulating the imagination of the viewer and reader.
Influences on Blake are often hard to trace, though he explicitly cites and criticizes Milton and Swedenborg, as well as the contemporary artist Joshua Reynolds. Such influences, which might help explain Blake’s ideas, seem less important than the extraordinary inventiveness which one finds in his words and images and their production, which have analogies to earlier themes, but without offering the evidence that demonstrates direct dependence. Blake’s emphasis is on the importance of “inspiration” rather than “memory,” and as such he set great store on the creativity of the poetic genius and its reception by the engaged reader or viewer.
Albert Einstein wrote Why Socialism? for the first issue of the journal Monthly Review. In the article he analyses the structures and processes of capitalism, noting that the profit motive of a capitalist society, in conjunction with competition among capitalists, leads to erratic economic cycles of booms and depressions, while also promoting selfishness instead of cooperation. He suggests that the educational system of such a society would be severely undermined because people will educate themselves only to advance their careers. According to Einstein, this leads to both the “crippling of individuals” and the erosion of human creativity. Einstein also saw that in capitalist societies, political parties and politicians are inevitably corrupted by financial contributions made by owners of large capital amounts, with the result that the system “cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society”. For these reasons, he concludes, socialism is not only socially desirable but also historically inevitable.