William Blake and Georg Groddeck: Symbols as Symptoms

Giving Error a Form: The role of the Unconscious Imagination

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Introduction: The Myth of Creation

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“The materialization of Error, or the ‘Creation’ as its popularly called”. Image: The Sixth Day of Creation, by Lucas Cranach the Younger (1634). What is true of the body on a particular scale is equally true of the body on a cosmic scale: it is the “visible portion”, as Blake would say, of inner processes that have become “objectified” or dissociated, in order to reveal their dysfunction to the perceiver of that body, like all diseases – in order to then integrate and heal them, and return to eternity. In Kabbalah this process of recognition and re-integration is called tikkun olam (literally “repair of the world”), and human consciousness is considered essential to the process of repair.

According to Blake, the materialization of Error, or the “Creation” as its popularly called, is the result of a dissociative split within consciousness itself, emanating from the radical alienation of the rationalizing and “objecting” (or objectifying) portion of consciousness from Being, perceiver from perceived (“it is the Reasoning Power/ An Abstract objecting power,” Jerusalem 10:13-14).

In mythology, this division or dissociation is embodied in the story of the separation of “Eve” from “Adam”. These aspects, as the Book of Genesis carefully notes, were originally portions or “likenesses” of ‘God’.

In the day that God created humankind (“adam”), in the likeness of God made he him; Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created. (Book of Genesis 5: 2-3)

As a result of this emerging state of Urizenic or “Spectre” psychology, the abstracted, instrumental ego perceives itself as being ‘in here’ and the world as ‘out there’, and it also then perceives the externalized world as being ‘natural’ (that is, beyond its imaginative control, and determining the now “passive” psyche) rather than as imaginative, the perceived form of its particular mode of experiencing reality.

But like all Errors, this externalized sense of world and reality has a positive part to play in the eventual liberation and self-realization of Man: it is an attempt to heal the internal and traumatized nature of the divide psyche. “Error is Created  Truth is Eternal   Error or Creation will be Burned Up & then & not till then Truth or Eternity will appear  It is Burnt up the Moment Men cease to behold it” (LJ 95).

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William Blake and the Last Judgment: The Elohim Program, by Rod Tweedy

Seeing without Judging: Passing through the Doors of Perception

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Introduction: The Last Judgment

The ancient tradition that the world will be consumed in fire at the end of six thousand years is true. as I have heard from Hell.
For the cherub with his flaming sword is hereby commanded to leave his guard at the tree of life, and when he does, the whole creation will be consumed, and appear infinite and holy whereas it now appears finite & corrupt.
This will come to pass by an improvement of sensual enjoyment.

– Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

In order to see reality as “infinite and holy” Blake’s advice is to let go, to “surrender”: to cast one’s rationalising, judgmental ego or “Selfhood” into the “Lakes of Los”, and to let go of the entire egoic program. We can have no real relationship or communion with reality while we are judging it: to judge something is to stand outside it, and to convert living contraries into dead and conflicting ideas or opposites (“good and bad”, “light and dark” etc).

The Hebrew word for “judges” is “Elohim“: it’s the name given to the “God” of the Book of Genesis which presides over our expulsion from Eden, that is from the present moment – from Being.  This is what Judgment does to the human form and the human brain: this is what the Judgment program looks like:

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Elohim Creating Adam, by Blake (c. 1795-1805). The Biblical name for the “judge” or “judges” within the psyche of man is “Elohim”, and as such they appear in the Book of Genesis. “And God [Elohim] said, Let us [plural] make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). It is no coincidence that this moment of “creation” (or rather “division”) is shortly followed by the eating of the tree of “good and evil”, and the even swifter expulsion from “Paradise” (i.e., from integrated Being) as a result. As Blake suggests in the detailed notes he made for his Vision of the Last Judgment (1810), every time a judgment is made about reality, the same “Satanic” process or judgment program (within “Adam”) gets activated.

In many ways, Blake’s whole poetic output has been leading up to this moment: the moment in his work where the individual finally realises the nature of his own psyche, and becomes aware of the pathological nature of the egoic Selfhood that had previously controlled and conditioned him.

In Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion (1820), Blake himself directly addresses the human imagination as that agency within man which can give “Error” a form (so that it can be ‘seen’, so that it can be known and rejected), and which also operates above and beyond normal (egoic or rational) consciousness, in order to “Annihilate the Selfhood in me” (J 5:22). With the profoundly unconscious rational Selfhood no longer “God” of the human perceptual and cognitive system, of the left hemisphere of the brain, the individual can finally “awake from Slumbers of Six Thousand Years”.

Note in the picture above that the Elohim’s right hand (i.e., left hemisphere) is directly targeting Adam’s right hemisphere, as if to take control of it, to demobilise and suppress it. The right brain is non-judgmental and relational; it contains the networks and processes of empathy, inter-connectedness, “I/Thou’ relationships, intuition, betweenness, and being itself (through its intimate and extensive connection to the human body, and to embodiment). This act effectively makes the deeper intelligence and awareness of the right brain “unconscious” or as Blake says, “asleep”.

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The cloven hooves of the Elohim Program: the Dividing, Judging Power within the Brain. Image: ‘Job’s Evil Dreams’ from Blake’s Illustrations of the Book of Job. Note the irony, and inversion, of the title: Job’s “Evil” dream is of a “Good” god. How can this be?

The “Creation” – that is, the conversion of the infinite and holy world into a “natural” or material world riven by discrete objects in perpetual conflict – is a moment of profound torment and agony.

Look how unconscious both agents are in this process of conversion. And yet, in another of the inversions that this process (the elevation of the Elohim over Adam, and the left hemisphere into dominance and Mastery), this deep sleep or unconsciousness is what we now call (rational) consciousness – the externalising, rationalising, atomising, “objecting” (as Blake beautifully describes it – deftly combining both its judgmental character and its conversion of the flow of bring into “object representations”, into things) nature of this “Fall into Division”.

The result, suggests Blake, has been “six thousand years” of humanity being “asleep” (this correlates with the ascendancy of these powerful judging, rationalising, and measuring programs of the brain in the cultures of Sumer, Babylon, and Egypt around 4,000 BC).  But now, he notes, we are slowly beginning to realise what’s happened to us, and the false nature of the reality we find ourselves in.

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The Whore of Babylon, a key figure or archetype in the process of our estrangement from Being and the processes of judgment and alienation that facilitate it, here shown sitting on the back of the Great Beast. (Image: ‘The Harlot and the Giant’ from Blake’s Illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy). As Blake noted in 1798, in contemporary culture and society “The Beast & the Whore rule without controls” (Annotations to Watson). We will see this figure again in Blake’s many Visions of the Last Judgment.

Blake refers to this process, which he also calls “awakening”, as a casting off or a letting go of the Selfhood. The Selfhood is what the Judging program uses to define itself and give it a sense of power (putting itself “up” by judging others and putting them “down”; the vocabulary of up and down, higher and lower, is always a sign of the presence of the Elohim). Awareness is the letting go. As Blake noted, “whenever any Individual Rejects Error & Embraces Truth a Last Judgment passes upon that Individual” (LJ 84).

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The old, or orthodox, version of The Last Judgment. This version is, both ironically and appropriately, itself the expression of the Judging power that has usurped its position in the human brain. (Image: ‘The Last Judgment’, or Il Giudizio Universale, by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel). As Damon notes, such a view of both Judgment and of Jesus (as Judge) “was utterly opposed to Blake’s belief in the character and teaching of Jesus”. As with his admiration for both Dante and Milton, whose work Blake celebrated but whose erroneous belief systems he corrected, Michelangelo’s imaginative power was an inspiration for Blake, but not a wholly uncritical one.

This shows how radically Blake has reinterpreted and indeed cast off the traditional meaning of the “Last Judgment”. Rather than denoting something that might happen at the end of linear time, or as a punishment, Blake suggests that it happens and is happening now (it is the ending of the linear time “program”), and instead of it referring to a process of accusation and condemnation, it is a release from all programs of accusation. Indeed, the end of linear time can never arrive for the left hemisphere, since to be identified with the left brain is to be inside the linear time construct. As Damon has observed: 

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William Blake and the Spiritual Form of Tony Blair, by Rod Tweedy

The Rise and Fall of Urizen: Psychopathy and Rationality

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Introduction: The Triumph of the Left Hemisphere

In his startling conclusion to his illuminated prophecy Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion, Blake depicts Urizen (“your Reason”) in his final, contemporary form: completely dissociated or divided: no longer the originally luminous and enlightening power within the human brain, that he had once been, but now a totally unempathic, ruthless, manipulative drive, obsessed only with power and control. Blake refers to this “debased” or “insane” and dysfunctional form of the former “Holy Reasoning Power” as the “Red Dragon”, “the Dragon Urizen”.

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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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