Political Revelation and Working Class Prophecy
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.
“his technological inventiveness, characterized by the juxtaposition of texts and images”: Blake’s very method was dialectical, engraving the text in reverse and then using acid to burn away the surface image – he links this method to the process of revelation itself; “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”
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.
From Logos to Eros: Humans Moving Beyond the Reality Principle
“Intensified progress seems to be bound up with intensified unfreedom” Herbert Marcuse observed in his classic work Eros and Civilisation, one of the most profound and compelling books ever written on the problem of ‘civilisation’. In it, he tries to explain and unravel this apparent paradox.
‘Eros and Civilization’, a multimedia performance installation by Han Bing [above]. The Sleep of Albion, aka the Enlightenment. Blake believed that the sleep of imagination, not reason, produced the real monsters.
Rod Tweedy reviews the book War against War! by Ernst Friedrich
On May Day 1924 Ernst Friedrich published a collection of photographic images of the atrocities of World War I, hoping to use the relatively new medium of photography as documentary evidence to challenge the orthodox presentation of war. As Douglas Kellner has remarked, “Friedrich hoped that when they actually saw the reality of modern warfare, people everywhere would become more critical of war, the military, and militarism.”
The book was called War against War!, and the photographs made an immediate and lasting impression on his contemporaries, both within and outside of Germany. The images attracted even greater attention when he put them in the window of his newly-opened Anti-Kriegs-Museum in Berlin, the first international anti-war museum (opened in 1925).
I Must Create My Own Operating System or Be Enslaved by Another’s
One of the most exciting, thought-provoking, inspiring, and Blakean thinkers of his generation, Douglas Rushkoff leads the way in developing a revolutionary 21st century project of recentering what it means to be human. His compelling and innovative take on everything from psychedelic drugs and the post-capitalist economy to the nature of digital technology and how to hack into our cultural programmes and start rewriting them, makes him a leading figure in understanding the dynamic intersection of technology, society and culture. He’s a media theorist – he’s the guy who coined the terms ‘viral media’, ‘digital native’ and ‘social currency’ – as well as an innovative writer, lecturer and hyper-cool graphic novelist, perhaps best known for his association with the early cyberpunk culture, and his advocacy of open source solutions to social problems.
Here’s just a glimpse of the magic.
“Team Human is most simply a sustained argument for human intervention in the Machine, that we’re living increasingly automated, directed, digital, capitalist lives – we’re living in a world that does not promote or celebrate human autonomy.”
Ch’an Buddhism and the Prophetic Poems of William Blake
The similarities between William Blake’s philosophical system and that of Buddhism (particularly the Ch’an(a) or Zen School) are no less than astonishing. One is struck by a fundamental similitude underlying the teaching of the Ch’an school and that of Blake’s radical epistemology.
Rational Psychopathy: The Urizenic Brain and its Fall into Division
Blake’s term for the psychopathic power of the Urizenic ‘rational’ mind when it is dissociated and divided from man’s imaginative and empathic consciousness was the “Red Dragon”. The term derives from the Biblical Book of Revelation, where the reality of things is supposed to be finally uncovered (‘apocalypsis‘, meaning “uncover, disclose, reveal”), but as usual with Blake, it’s given a surprisingly modern twist – one that is both psychological and politically radical in nature.
Blake’s presentation of the “dragon” form of Urizen as his final dissociated apotheosis (his “logical conclusion”, if you like), is a stinging critique of the very power and cognitive process that drove and underwrote much of the ‘Enlightenment’ project – the period in which he was living. The enormously powerful, as well as devastatingly disruptive, destructive and dehumanising, energy unleashed on Britain (and later Europe) on a vast – indeed global – scale was, Blake believed, the unregulated and domineering character of the instrumental left brain itself: what many Enlightenment thinkers rather naively simply called ‘Reason’. Blake analyses this celebrated function of the human brain and reveals that it was actually a peculiar and peculiarly distorted form of reason that was being developed and harnessed – “ratio-nality” (rather than reasonableness) – a self-enclosed, rapacious, and manipulative power that was being released into the world via the Industrial Revolution and modern capitalism.
Where any view of Money exists, Art cannot be carried on, but War only
Blake’s extraordinary piece of graffiti art, 200 years before Jean-Michel Basquiat or Banksy. The words themselves seem part of the serpentine struggle, as if logos itself was implicated in the fall into division
Richard Holmes rightly describes Shelley’s The Mask of Anarchy as “the greatest political poem ever written in English”. The ninety-two verses of The Mask were written in hot indignation in September 1819, immediately after Shelley heard the news of the massacre at Peterloo. It is the most concise, the most popularly written and the most explicit statement of his political ideas in poetry.