Monday 30 March 2015

William Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell

Blake was a mystic - was divinely inspired - had direct access to and received evidence of reality.

Mystics provide us with what might be termed objective evidence; but most mystics are just as prone to misunderstand, misinterpret, and falsely-systematize objective evidence evidence as are you and I.

Blake was also a Man, of knowledge incomplete and fallible, and (perhaps more than usually) prone to hatred and resentment.

So, we can benefit greatly from the inspired wisdom of Blake - but need also to recognize that Blake's own understanding of Blake's own wisdom was rather poor - which is why so much of his writing is essentially meaningless (and hardly even attempts to be meaningful).

But if we consider The Marriage of Heaven and Hell from " Without Contraries is no progression" up to the end of the Proverbs of Hell "Enough! or Too much!"; then we are confronted with as profound and as concentrated a catalogue of truth as human hand has penned.

(With the exception of the Apostles.)

Our task is to regard this as divinely-inspired evidence; but to edit-out Blake's own false interpretations and systematizations of this evidence.

And this is what we must do with all (true) mystical insight - whether from the Prophets and Saints; or from other modern Christian (or at least self-identified Christian) mystics like Pascal, Traherne, Swedenborg, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Rudolf Steiner and William Arkle.



Bruce Charlton said...

@Crosbie - Because I blog under my real name and address and in the UK I don't ever discuss, or even name, that topic on this blog.

Seijio Arakawa said...

My high school Latin teacher affectionately referred to Blake as 'a bit of a nutter'. Personally, I think Blake is an inspired genius, of sorts. But if I read Marriage of Heaven and Hell as a catalogue of imperfect wisdom, I find myself having to reverse things entirely starting on line 2.

cf. "Good is the passive that obeys Reason. Evil is the active springing from Energy."

Evil arises from Indifference, the primal Laziness. On its own, it cannot even properly be called Evil, but in the presence of the creative Energy of Good it is a medium of resistance. Lesser goods are split apart by this medium, and turned against each other, and only at that point do we see something that is worthy of being called Evil, that has a semblance of 'energy' in it.

If accused of the suffering inflicted on Creation, (for even if suffering were intrinsic to the raw materials of Creation, God would still be the author of it, by creating creatures capable of suffering). God may well reply: "I have created Evil as my sword to conquer Indifference". The commandment to give alms is a practical commandment following from this teaching; the one who passes by indifferently, does not perceive in himself any evil, but the one who considers his own indifference as an evil, and battles against it, does as God does.

That basic distinction granted, everything else in Marriage needs to be read backwards as well. If we take seriously such things as "a true poet is of the Devil's party without knowing it", the world would split apart into depraved artistic sodomites, and want-to-be-monks who fear even to praise God in rhyme.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Seijio- Blake interpreted his visions in terms of Christianity as he knew and understood it - for example the tendency to blame the body and regard the soul as pure, the tendency to condemn most harshly sins consequent upon action resulting from energy - compared with a life of withdrawal and passivity.

Blake saw that active, joyous spontaneous engagement with life entails sin - disengagement means less life, as well as less sin. (In this I am re-systematizing what I infer Blake perceived as primary data.)

I think Blake saw, here, that 'not to sin' is NOT Man's primary directive - because it leads to a living death. And that, thanks (only) to Jesus Christ, life really can be seen as a carefree and positive thing.

I would say that how to make Christian sense of Blake's primary insights (which he self-identified as Christian) has probably only become clear since the Mormon Restoration - until then, there was no way he (or perhaps anybody) could make systematic sense of them in a Christian frame (and Blake has indeed been popular among anti-Christians - which is an extreme kind of irony!).

So Blake broke the restricted-Christian frame which was all he knew, and wrote in paradoxes and contradictions - it was all he could do.

Anonymous said...

I just skimmed the link, but, the original Christians didn't have professional clergy, the leaders were people engaged in life. Going to a celibate clergy ruined this, then a married clergy of bookish men. The Mormons have at least got this right.

Nicholas Fulford said...

I knew the following quote was from Blake, but I had not read the work from which it came.

If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.
For man has closed himself up till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.

The echo of infinity greets us wherever we look, if our state is such as to perceive it. To make sense of it is to create paradox for infinity has no frame, but breaks every frame into which the mind of man would chain it. Insanity is the mind that perceiving infinity recoils in horror - terrified as any finite entity must be - when confronted with boundless evanescence. The ego flies away in tightening circles trying to outrun the knowledge that would dissolve its illusionary self. But, there is another less horrific way of apprehending infinity - one that is gentle and marked by blissful unity and reflections of reflection of reflections - unfurling through the passage of time but alluding at each point to the intimate proximity of the infinite. The mind of man is as prism, and offering no resistance to light, experiences its illumination while breaking it apart into rainbows and scintillations. The emotions dance upon a luminous music, transforming latent and occluded notes into rich fugues born of each man-instrument singing. To resonate with one's own particular note, to in turn interact and sing upon the darkness of a fathomless depth; where sorrow's dirge encounters the moon's light - breathing longing's most wondrous sonority. Man is a mirror; his mind occluded reflects poorly, but with ear attuned to beauty's call, he may become the singing crystal which is played.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Re Blake and Mormonism, I remember that Blake features as a character in one of Orson Scott Card's "Alvin Maker" novels (in which Alvin, of course, is a fictionalized Joseph Smith).