Going Beyond Good & Evil: Restoring Eden in the Brain
Introduction: Blake’s Laocoön and the serpents of Morality
The original Laocoön. In Blake’s reading, the serpents overcoming the priest represent the twin Powers or programs of “Good” and “Evil”, which eventually suffocate him, and his vision of God.
The question, and questioning, of morality, is central to one of Blake’s most iconic and futuristic images, the Laocoön. Even though Blake’s best-known works often combine image and text in a single plate, the Laocoön stands apart as the only one to be centered around a faithful copy of a piece of antique sculpture, a fact which attests to its hold on his imagination.
Another arresting feature of the plate is the atypical density of its textual matter, composed in at least two distinct scripts and three different languages, and the seemingly arbitrary, discontinuous manner of its arrangement on the page. Julia Wright observes, “the design recalls a jigsaw puzzle more than a page from an emblem book, graffiti more than an engraving, and marginal annotations more than aphorisms on art” .
It resembles no other work by Blake, and he left no instructions on how his wide-ranging statements should be organized, or in what order they should be read. Without an obvious starting point, one could try a conventional approach, beginning with the first line of horizontal text at the top of the page: “Where any view of Money exists Art cannot be carried on but War only”; but then one could just as well start at the bottom, with the caption identifying the three figures as “הי & his two sons Satan & Adam.” Either way, the reader is sure not to get far before having to stop and decide where to begin again; and from there one choice seems as good as another.
The Philosopher’s Stone and the integration of the Brain
Mysterium Coniunctionis was Jung’s last great work. He was engaged on it for more than a decade, from 1941-1954, and finished it in his eightieth year. The book therefore occupies, as one critic observed, “the culminating position in his writings” (The Collected Works of C.G. Jung). In it he compellingly links the practices of alchemy and psychology through a profound analysis of symbolism and an examination of their shared ideas of the integration and ‘union of opposites’. As he notes, “Not only does this modern psychological discipline give us the key to the secrets of alchemy, but, conversely, alchemy provides the psychology of the unconscious with a meaningful historical basis.”
It’s a fascinating, illuminating, and at times breath-taking study, which draws not only on a wide number of alchemical texts but also on Kabbalistic ideas and symbols such as Adam Kadmon (Primordial Man), the Sefirot, and the union of the ‘Holy One’ and his bride. According to Jung, humankind has historically moved from a condition in which it projects the contents of its unconscious onto the world and heavens to one in which, as a result of a total identification with the rational powers of the ego, it has not only withdrawn its vivifying projections from the world but also fails to recognize or understand the archetypes of the unconscious mind.
Tradition and Imagination in William Blake’s Illustrations for the Book of Job
Suffering into Wisdom: If Oedipus was the key figure for the 20th Century then Job is the archetypal figure for the 21st century, embodying the awakening into the social and the imaginative nature of self, through the collapse of ego and the experience of trauma and suffering
“Previous studies have concentrated on the engraved set, and no one has explored the implications of the earlier dating now agreed for the watercolour series.”
Blake created two versions of his Illustrations of the Book of Job, and it is now agreed that about twenty years separates his first watercolour series and the final engraved set of plates. The first (‘Butts’) series of water-colours was the product of the tumultuous and creative years 1805-10, following a time when Blake experienced a strong sense of vision and Christian regeneration; whereas the engraved set was produced 1821-1826, at the end of his life.
This article explores Blake’s treatment of the Job theme, in which the ‘friends-turned-accusers’ seem to have been a central pre-occupation. Blake’s illustrations contain important elements which are not found in the Old Testament text, and I consider Blake’s imaginative use of this material, exploring in particular the importance to Blake of St.Teresa, Fenelon, Mme. Guyon, Hervey and other people of ‘prayer’.
Blake’s Job was unique in the corpus of his work. Previous studies have followed Wicksteed in concentrating on the engraved set, and no one has explored the implications of the earlier dating now agreed for the watercolour series. The thesis is essentially concerned with Blake’s Christocentric theme, and Job’s inner journey of prayer, in these illustrations.