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”.
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”.
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.
This essay will examine how Jacob Boehme and William Blake understood and valued imagination, and how imagination is quite distinct from fantasy. Both men saw it as rooted in living experience, and as such necessary for a fuller knowledge and understanding of reality. For both, abstract reasoning alone gives only a partial view, one that can distort and limit our understanding and the world that we do experience. By contrast, the creative embodied imagination places us more fully in existence, in ourselves and in the world; it makes possible true Reason; it reveals all the profound potential that is too often unexplored and unrealised in us; and by doing so it affords us a vital living understanding of and relationship with the Divine.
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).
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.”