William Blake and the illusion of Selfhood
Introduction: Blake the Radical Psychologist
It has always been clear that William Blake was both a political radical and a radical psychologist. The most illuminating interpretations of Blake— by Northrop Frye, Harold Bloom, Brian Wilkie, and Mary Lynn Johnson, to name a few— emphasize his subtlety and innovation in the understanding of human psychology.
This article addresses what Blake said about a specific aspect of psychology— a reflexive aspect, deeper and stranger in itself than thought and feeling— the subject’s experience of its own interiority. What is the self’s relation to itself?
Blake thought that under certain conditions, it was bound to be anxious and lonely. That is, he thought that if the self is identified with the main consciousness or “I,” especially the “I” as a center of rationality, it will feel solitary and insecure.
Seeing with the Heart
Shams of Tabriz was a Persian Sufi and roaming dervish who lived at the end of the twelfth/ early thirteenth century. He was the spiritual teacher and advisor of Rumi, and indeed it’s often said that Rumi was a professor who Shams transformed into a mystic, a lover, and a poet. They spent months together, lost in a kind of ecstatic mystical communion known as “sobhet” — conversing and gazing at each other until a deeper conversation occurred without words. There are many legends describing their meeting in Konya: Rumi was taught by Shams in seclusion for 40 days, and the period after this is described as Rumi’s ‘mysticism’, where sufis danced, played music (rabab), and drank wine. It is in this time, that the concept of “whirling dervishes” originated.
From Logos to Eros: Humans Moving Beyond the Reality Principle
Graffiti Removal by Banksy (2008); Super Supper by Ron English (2010)
“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.
On Education, Ego, and Prickles and Goo (Left Brainers and Right Brainers)
Animation of some of Alan Watts’ key ideas, produced by South Park creators Matt Parker and Trey Stone
Alan Watts (1915–1973) was a British philosopher, writer, and speaker, best known as an interpreter and populariser of Eastern philosophy for a Western audience. Born in England, he moved to the United States in 1938 and began Zen training in New York, before attending Seabird-Western Theological Seminary, where he received a master’s degree in theology. Watts became an Episcopal priest in 1945, but left the ministry in 1950 and moved to California, where he joined the faculty of the American Academy of Asian Zen Studies.
Watts gained a large following in the San Francisco Bay Area and wrote more than 25 books and articles on subjects important to Eastern and Western religion, including The Way of Zen (1957), one of the first bestselling books on Buddhism, and Psychotherapy East and West (1961), in which he proposed that Buddhism should be thought of as a form of psychotherapy rather than a religion.