The City as Psyche
The geography of William Blake’s illuminated epic poem Jerusalem is organized around four principal cities: London, Babylon, Golgonooza, and Jerusalem. Three of the four are familiar enough, but the arcane city of Golgonooza is likely to seem, to an unsuspecting reader, as unapproachable as some legendary Forbidden City.
The Mind in the Cave and the Cave in the Mind
‘A nude male, almost certainly Milton or a compound of Blake and Milton, strides away from us and into his book, perhaps leading us forward into its depths. Milton may be entering his ‘Own Vortex’. His right arm and hand also cut his name in two, an action suggesting that the route to apocalypse is blocked by a ‘selfhood’ that must be self-annihilated’ – Essick & Viscomi
This essay argues that Blake’s illuminated poem, Milton a Poem in 2 Books (1804-1811), exhibits characteristics of the hallucinations also encountered in the archaeology of rock paintings made during shamanic trances in the prehistoric period. The essay will particularly focus on the trance-like episode referred to at the end of Milton and will link it to similar shamanic trances known to have occurred to southern African /Xam (San) bushmen in their practices of rock painting.
Revelation as Revolution
Introduction: Politics and Vision
In the book by EO Abbott called Flatland: a Romance of Many Dimensions, ‘A Square’ tries to persuade his fellow two-dimensional beings – triangles, hexagons, and so on – that other dimensions are possible. William Blake lived in a four-dimensional moral world, and for that reason he was considered quite mad by ordinary citizens. He did not agree with them and is reported to have told a friend: ‘There are probably men shut up as mad in bedlam who are not so; that possibly the madmen outside have shut up the sane people.’
The Fall of Eternity into Materialism
America: An Essay in Art History, by Jacob Rabinowitz: please click on the video above
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”.
How to Enter the Kingdom of Heaven: William Blake and the Erotic Imagination
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
Consciousness and Revolution
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.
Europe: Materialism and Revolution
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”.
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.