Through the Round Window: Review of Carol Leader’s ‘Blake and the Therapists’, by Rod Tweedy

A Review of ‘Unfolding the Mythological Unconscious: An Illuminated Talk’ by Carol Leader

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Introduction: William Blake and Therapy

“Was William Blake mad?” is the usual question that comes up in any discussion of Blake and therapy. What was fascinating about psychoanalytic psychotherapist Carol Leader’s talk at the Blake Society event at the Freud Museum was the way in which she explored this connection between ‘Blake and the Therapists’ on a new and much more profound level. Indeed, her presentation was so thought-provoking that it makes you wonder why more hasn’t been written on this connection. As Tim Heath noted in his introduction to the talk, “whenever you converse with William Blake, whenever you dive into his work, it immediately becomes apparent why Blake intimated the coming of therapy.”

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The Eye Altering: William Blake and the Nature of Observation, by Naomi Billingsley

The Jesus Field: Observation, Participation, and how Images alter the Observer

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Introduction: Jesus and the Human Imagination

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In All Religions are One (1788) Blake declared “That the Poetic Genius is the true Man. and that the body or outward form of Man is derived from the Poetic Genius” (Principle 1st). Blake here is drawing attention to the great, hidden secret of both reality and the nature of God, which is Form. Forms are not ‘things’ but processes or organising movements. Forms are rooted in and expressions of (creations of) an underlying “former”, which in Blake’s early work he called the “Poetic Genius” to signify its formative aspect, a term which is derived from the same root as the word from which we also get “genesis” and indeed “genetic”. According to Blake it is this that gives each body its individual as well as generic “form”. In contrast to almost all other spiritual traditions, Blake understood that forms are not temporary and unimportant but eternal, continually creating and recreating themselves. They are vast invisible forming fields, similar to what Rupert Sheldrake has more recently termed “morphogenetic fields”.

William Blake believed that Christianity is art and that Jesus Christ was an artist, who is both the model and the source of artistic activity. These ideas are central to his artistic and religious vision, and are expressed in various forms throughout his career: from the early account of the Poetic Genius in All Religions are One, to the late aphorisms of the Laocoön plate.

This article examines why Blake identified Christ as artist and Christianity as art. My central argument is that Blake expresses this theory – or theology – of art through his visual representations of Christ. Blake did not mean that Jesus produced works of fine art, nor that one must do so in order to be Christian; rather, Christ’s identity is Imagination, and as such all his acts and all activity in him are art. Thus, I examine Blake’s depictions of Jesus’ life and ministry, and show that Blake represents these themes as analogous to the work of the artist because Jesus changes the way that we perceive the world.

As Morris Eaves highlights at the end of Blake’s Theory of Art, for Blake, Jesus’ art was his public ministry – his parables and miracles were acts of self-expression, which sought to create a new social order. So too Blake seeks, through his art, to engender a community of Imagination. This community is the Divine Body, which is Jesus, who is Imagination – as expressed in the Laocoön aphorism quoted below:

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Thus, Blake’s depictions of Christ are also representations of artistic activity; they include not only images of Jesus’ public ministry, but also of his birth, death and resurrection, as an apocalyptic agent, and in extra-biblical roles.

Whilst Blake’s vision of Christ as the supreme type of the artist was by no means a static concept, it emerged in his works as early as All Religions are One and can be found in works from throughout his career. This article explores how Blake envisaged the life of Christ as manifesting the principles of art through case studies that examine five major themes in Blake’s depictions of Christ in key pictorial projects in his oeuvre: art as regeneration, art as inspiration, art as facilitator, art as eternal, and art as iconoclastic. Imagination alters the way we see the world, and our relationship with it: that is to say, since observed and observed are fundamentally entwined and interdependent (or “entangled”, in the language of modern quantum field theory), imagination alters, or restores, the nature of reality itself – to a unified and integrated (“holistic”) whole, or “vision”.

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Blake’s Left Foot: William Blake and how to enter new States, by Jennifer Keith

“And did those Feet?” Radical incarnation and the Spirituality of Physiology in Blake’s Milton 

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Introduction: The Mental Traveller

In a work with the spiritual aspirations of Blake’s Milton, the pedestrian topic of feet may seem less than deserving of critical attention, but because Blake himself repeatedly focuses on the foot in his brief epic, surely the reader should attend to this lowest part of human anatomy.

As an anatomical feature, the foot automatically assumes importance given Blake’s declaration in Milton that “more extensive / Than any other earthly things, are Mans earthly lineaments.” In verses noted for their narrative convolutions and complex imagery, Blake’s poetic feet figure among Milton‘s most memorable fancies: “covered with Human gore,” Zelophehad’s Daughters’ feet treadle the loom (29.58); a “Vegetable World” appears on Blake’s left foot (21.12); and Albion’s enormous feet cover a good portion of southern England (39.36-40).

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The Infinite IAM: Coleridge, Blake, and the Primary Imagination

The Poet and God: Participating in the Wave Potential Field

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Introduction

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Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834), portrait by Peter Vandyke, 1795

In Chapter XIII of his Biographia Literaria, Coleridge formulated his concept of the imagination, or “the esemplastic power” (meaning “shaping or having the power to shape disparate things into a unified whole”). It was a passage that would come to define and articulate not only the Romantic conception of imagination, but the nature of God, being, perception, and our relation to the universe:

The Imagination then I consider either as primary, or secondary. The primary Imagination I hold to be the living Power and prime Agent of all human Perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I Am. The secondary I consider as an echo of the former, co-existing with the conscious will, yet still as identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in degree, and in the mode of its operation. It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to re-create; or where this process is rendered impossible, yet still at all events it struggles to idealize and to unify. It is essentially vital, even as all objects (as objects) are essentially fixed and dead.

Fancy, on the contrary, has no other counters to play with, but fixities and definites. The Fancy is indeed no other than a mode of Memory emancipated from the order of time and space; while it is blended with, and modified by that empirical phenomenon of the will, which we express by the word CHOICE. But equally with the ordinary memory the Fancy must receive all its materials ready made from the law of association.

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The Biographia Literaria is a unique fusion of literary criticism and personal autobiography written by Coleridge and published in 1817

Coleridge’s earliest definition of imagination actually comes at the beginning of his Lecture on the Slave Trade (1795), where he also talks about issues of creativity and “combination”, past and present, and imagination as a “vivifying” power or faculty.

The restless, transformative aspect of imaginative processes seem to both reflect, participate in, and co-create wider evolutionary processes of transformation – hence its role in what he strikingly calls here “the ascent of Being”, and which Shelley had also alluded to in his  great revolutionary poem Queen Mab (1813). In the very last lines of that poem, Shelley presents life, in all its great variety of forms, as embodying and transmitting a ceaseless and “necessarily beneficent” evolutionary process that entwines itself with what he here calls Necessity:

And life, in multitudinous shapes,
Still pressing forward where no term can be,

Like hungry and unresting flame

Curls round the eternal columns of its strength.

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“The ascent of Being”. Image: Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich (c. 1818). The great Romantic philosophers and writers were all deeply aware that the universe, far from being at the dead mechanism of the earlier ‘Enlightenment’ age , was essentially alive, responsive, relational, dynamic, and awake.

These writers and thinkers sensed a resonance or relationality between what they were doing as creative artists, and the activity they saw all around them – the constant transmutation of form, the vivifying and implicit energy within being – within the interconnected “web of being” as Shelley referred to it in Queen Mab.

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The Creation of Light: William Blake and Francisco de Holanda 

Fiat Lux: The Perception of Spacetime and the Fallen Imagination 

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Introduction: Cosmos as Masterpiece

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Francisco de Holanda, self-portrait (c. 1573), the artist presenting his book

As many critics have pointed out, the remarkable work of the Portuguese Renaissance artist Francisco de Holanda “seems to predict another singular genius: William Blake, whom it predates by two centuries” (Michael Benson, Cosmigraphics: Picturing Space Through Time). Equally remarkable is the fact that many of Holanda’s most astonishing paintings were only discovered a few decades ago. As Benson notes in his compelling examination of visual depictions of the creation of the universe and of Holanda’s work in particular (a rarity in itself in Western academic studies, as there is still almost nothing written about this pioneering figure):

Perhaps the most extraordinary set of pictures depicting space-time’s origins dates from 1573. Discovered in the mid-20th century in an obscure notebook in the National Library of Spain, it was painted by the Portuguese artist and philosopher Francisco de Holanda, a student and lifelong friend of Michelangelo.

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Fearful Symmetry: Blake and the Symbolism of the Left Brain, by Iain McGilchrist

TygerTyger: The Predators, the Single Eye, and the Pyramids within our Heads

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Introduction: Symbols and Symptoms

In 2014, the psychiatrist and philosopher Iain McGilchrist gave a remarkable talk on the art and symbolism of patients with schizophrenia or psychosis (‘Neuromania – Spiders, yes, but why cats?‘). The presentation was not only a fascinating insight into the nature of these conditions, and the implicit and intrinsic connections between symptoms and symbols, but also a profound exploration of the peculiar symbolism and imagery that more generally surrounds us in our supposedly hyper-rational cultures, and which artist and writer William Blake somehow understood and drew upon.

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Embodying Heaven: The Body in Blake’s Dante, by Silvia Riccardi

Images of Transfiguration: Trasumanar and Transformation in Paradise

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Introduction: Inside Blake’s Body

Dante’s journey in the otherworld has introduced generations of readers to the consequences of the divine judgment, the architecture of sin and salvation, the moral condemnation of materialism, and the pilgrim’s encounter with God. God is the “somma luce” (“eternal beam”), which cannot be grasped by means of human understanding. The blinding light of redemption thus remains a mystery untold in the Commedia.

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The Golden Compasses: William Blake and Freemasonry

The Single Eye, the Dividers, and the Pyramid: Understanding the God of This World 

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Introduction

Blake has always attracted those who are interested in the esoteric, the occult, and the deeper or more spiritual systems of thought. In his own time (1757-1827), Freemasonry was one of the most prominent and progressive of these systems – its members included Goethe, Mozart, Voltaire, and many of the key architects of the American and French revolutions (Benjamin Franklin, George Washington; Lafayette, Marat, Danton, and Robespierre), which have therefore often been seen as essentially Masonic projects. 

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Narcissus 2.0: Left Brain Technology and Civilisation, by Marshall McLuhan

How the phonetic alphabet drove the Fall into Division

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 Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man is widely considered to be “the most important book ever written on communication,” and is famous for introducing the concepts of the “global village” and “the medium is the message”. But it’s really much more than even that – it’s a wholesale critique of how technology, from the radical development of the phonetic alphabet by mercantile and bureaucratic Phoenician traders in the 7th-8th century BC (“by Phoenician business men”), to the dramatic impact of the Gutenberg printing press in the 15th century, and the even greater impacts and consequences of radio, television, and the internet (by modern “business men”) in the 20th-21st centuries, has radically changed our way of being, our way of thinking, our way of relating, and even our way of feeling, remaking our very bodies – as he observes in this compelling article – in its own image.

McLuhan’s arguments are remarkable, not only for their own acute perceptions and analysis of the nature of media, and his striking framing of this development in terms of the left and right hemispheres, but also for the light they shine on Blake’s in many ways similar and equally radical critique of what is often called “civilisation”. McLuhan frequently references Blake, as someone who he felt recognised these changes and cognitive shifts and really understood the nature of “media”. As he acutely observes, Blake saw Newton and Locke and others as hyponitized Narcissus types quite unable to meet the challenge of mechanism.

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