Archive for February, 2012
And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split (Matthew 27: 50-51).
As we discussed in class last Friday, I think these lines from Matthew are central to the allegorical “Argument” that prefaces “Visions of the Daughter of Albion,” particularly the last two lines “But the terrible thunders tore / My virgin mantle in twain.” In order understand the significance of this biblical allusion for Blake’s sexual politics, we need to discover how and why this moment of vaginal penetration as rape (why rape?) is ironically related to the holy place of the tabernacle: an inner room called the holy of holies, or the most holy place.
As decribed in the Old Testament, this inner room of the temple was a most sacred room, because it was God’s special dwelling place in the midst of His people during the Israelites’ wanderings in the wilderness. The Holy of Holies was a perfect cube separated by a thick curtain, known as the “veil” (in Hebrew means a screen, divider or separator that hides). What was this curtain hiding? It was shielding a holy God from sinful man. Whoever entered into the holy of holies was entering the very presence of God and anyone other than the high priest who entered the holy of holies would die. Even the high priest, God’s chosen mediator with His people, could only pass through the veil and enter this sacred dwelling once a year, on a prescribed day called the Day of Atonement. “But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.” (Hebrews 9:7). So the presence of God remained shielded from man behind a thick curtain during the history of Israel. However, Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross made direct access to God available to all people–not just the priests. When Jesus died the curtain in the Jerusalem temple was torn in half, performing the sacrificial atonement that could finally unveil the holy of holies.
But what exact does the holy of holies look like? To answer this question, we need to know about the figure of cherubim (plural term for hybrid lion/human angels) that were embroidered onto this curtain. They were spirits who serve God, and God was thought to be present in between these two spirits. The cherubim serves as a reminder of what use to be housed in this inner room: the Ark of the Covenant. This transportable ark was said to contain the testimony of the people of Israel, or the Law of the original Ten Commandandments written on stone tablets. A special lid or “mercy seat” covered the top of the ark and was ornamented with two cherubs whose outspread wings overarched the cover and touched one another (see image below).
According to Kabbalists, Moravians, and Swedenborgians, the golden sculpture of male and female cherubs that guarded the Ark were entwined in the act of marital intercourse, thus forming an emblem of God’s joyful marriage with his female counterpart, Jerusalem. When the Temple was sacked by pagans, the erotic statuary was paraded through the streets in order to embarress the Israelites. In other words, God manifests through sexual union and guides those who work with this holy mystery.
This indicates a profound relationship with Hindu and Buddhist Tantra, as displayed in the santuaries of their temples:
So to return to Blake’s image of virginal penetration as rape. Oothoon, in picking the ideal feminine flower of beauty from Leutha’s vale, or sex regulated under the law, has freely choosen the joys of sexuality but also, ironically, the very patriarchal law that probits womem’s full enjoyment of sexuality: Bromion’s “terrible thunders” of reason, acting on behalf of Urizen (“your reason”). In other words, the holy of holies–sexual union of the cherubim–is violated by reason’s violent penetration (rape). Hence, the holy of holies cannot be made universal until humanity is free from sex under the law, especially for women, as revealed in Christ’s bodily crucifixtion (for Moravians, Christ’s death wound/womb). This allegorical argument, I believe, aligns Blake’s sexual (Moravian) theology with his feminist politics, which is clearly very different from Mary Wollstonecraft’s more secular feminism.
I’m offerring a provisional reading here…any other thoughts?
While Blake is obviously no proponent of empire or hierarchical systems of government, affixing the word “revolution” to his political ideology could be an erroneous construction. The definition of revolution states the following: “A forcible overthrow of a government or social order for a new system.” Though he admires the ideals of the French and American revolutions, Blake does not envision a satisfactory replacement for these tyrannical systems–instead, he pushes for a continuous state of revolution. As someone mentioned in class, even anarchy would not satisfy Blake’s political desires because by being a lack of a system, it itself becomes a system. Tying these ideas back to the tenets of the Poetic Genius, Blake might imagine a society in revolution as the supreme expression of imagination and individualism, whether seen through the freedom to act without laws or being able to create and destroy anything at will. Because such a system is nearly unimaginable for eighteenth-century people (even still for today’s population), Blake would have become an outcast for expressing his ideas forthrightly, so by asserting suggestive hints at such a system through convoluted documents and images, he proposed his radical ideas for continuous revolutionary renewal in such a way that only the most interested and creative people could understand his idea for a new society (or lack thereof).
Although Blake’s contempt for systems is rampant in his work, his rebellious texts seem to need to lean more towards order and rule than the chaos and ambiguity of contraries. The problem with many revolutionary causes throughout history has seemed to be that they thrive on pre-established principles and systems of hierarchy that parallel the very constructs with which they disagree. For example, in the second wave of feminism in the United States, many radical feminist groups abstained from establishing leadership roles. This amebic form of power lead to many irresolvable conflicts and eventual disbandment of smaller groups that were unable to unite their differences under their main cause due to the lack of acknowledged leadership.
In order to go public with his ideas, Blake needed to demonstrate a relation to one side of a polarized argument despite his different opinions. Blake’s support for revolution, however, is shadowed by the aftereffects of such an event – a new set of established principles and doctrines based on the revolutionary ideas. Blake’s way of thinking is very progressive for his time, but in creating a new mold or pushing the boundaries of radicalism, he inevitably is working to create a new way of thinking and a new system for society. Is Blake’s cause invariably linked to that which he opposes? Or can he fight a unique cause without creating a new system?
When the topic of revolution comes up, the question of violence and its role in revolution always lingers in the background. When we think of revolutionaries, our minds are filled with images of Che Guevara, George Washington, Gandhi, and the like. While the aims of their respective revolutions differ greatly, every man or woman implicated in revolutionary activity has hopes of bringing into existence a better, more free society. Likewise, those individuals must ask themselves, in each circumstance, if violence is necessary to accomplish the goals of the revolution. Furthermore, does the end justify the means? Revolutionaries like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. felt that a peaceful revolution was the only one worth having; their means were an intrinsic part of the new society they wished to build. For them, adhering to the peaceful tenets of their religions was absolutely necessary in demonstrating how one was to conduct his or herself after their goals were accomplished. One couldn’t expect harmony to arise out of chaos.
King and Gandhi’s highly principled versions of revolution have their opposites in the revolutionary activities of people like Malcolm X and Che Guevara. Their aspirations were so important to them that they were willing to actualize their hope for a better society “by any means necessary,” as Malcolm X once put it. Violence was a necessary evil; the systems these revolutionaries and myriad others throughout history sought to destroy were so entrenched that the only way to replace them was by destroying everything and starting anew.
Where does Blake stand? If he supported both the American and French Revolutions, two considerably bloody conflicts that cost the lives of many a fellow Brit, we may safely assume that Blake had little problem with armed conflict if the ends justified the means. Blake also adhered to the apocalyptic millenian doctrine that supposed the earth to be already in a state of deterioration in preparation for the return of Christ. For him, this violence could have been seen as God’s work, hearkening back to the warrior God of the Old Testament. The New Jerusalem, it seems, can only come about through the crucible. Thoughts?
Having focused on both the comparable and contrasting perceptions of Blake and Paine in our class session on Monday, I found this video clip to be a succinct portrayal of the two figure’s conceptions of systems and democracy. Paine’s character reinforces his stance that any form of despotic government is disagreeable but that democracy should be sought after. As we have learned, Blake disagreed with any type of enforceable system and, therefore, this subject would serve as a point of contention between the two.
Below is Eugene Delacroix’s Lady Liberty Leading the People commemorating the 1830 July Revolution (not the French Revolution Blake is supporting), but I thought it was fitting.
So I pulled out the Blake dictionary by S. Foster Damon and found some interesting things about Revolution, Art, and Empire.
On REVOLUTION (311): Revolution is the third stage in the life of man. He begins with the joys of Innocence, the woes of Experience. When these woes (presumably Empire) become intolerable, he revolts. Rebellion against the established order is the first necessity for progress (and contraries ensure progress)…but revolution is no end in itself. The Tyger burns up the forests of the night, but that is all which physical violence can accomplish. The high hopes of original ideas vanish in the blood-bath. (The text then redirected me to ORC).
Things I found out about ORC, who is a really interesting character (309-311):
1. Orc is revolution in the material world. He is a lower form of Luvah, the emotions, because repressed love turns to war.
2. The true poet, being a prophet, is always a revolutionary in one way or another.
3. Orc’s name is an anagram of cor, because he is born from Enitharmon’s heart.
4. Although the enemy of religion (aha, one of the facets of Empire), he has become a religion of his own, “in forms of priesthood, in the dark delusions of repentance.”
5. Orc is only a stage, and no immediate answer to the problem: revolution in the material world degenerates, till in its fury it loses all of its original meaning.
There was much, much, more, and I suggest you go take a look. I then searched “Empire” in the index, and came up with “Consequently, great art is always revolutionary” (28).
I could have spared you this process of deduction, but I thought all of these notes were so pertinent to what we have been studying in class this past week. Blake is calling for Revolution in Art and Imagination. The Revolution shown above with Lady Liberty is the Revolution of Burke, Paine, and Price’s writings. They are calling for societal reform, and do not mention the process of imagination. Revolution STARTS with a fire in the mind (ie The Tyger), but even Blake says in his notes on Watson’s An Apology for the Bible ”To defend the Bible in this year 1798 would cost a man his life. The Beast & the Whore rule without control,” or in other words, external chaos has ensued, and this fury (in part on both sides, from Empire (the English, the Church), and the Revolutionaries (the French), has driven the original reason for revolting out of their minds until it is just bloody battle.
It is unfair to locate Blake on a political spectrum because by strict definition his theory has nothing to do with politics, just like Thomas Paine’s theory has nothing to do with religion.
In A Song of Liberty from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Blake disdains any possible kind of system: empire, any kind of government either democratic or not, church, slavery, monarchy. So I think it might be safe at least to call Blake an anarchist. He does not support any type of institution because institutions set standards.
However, he is definitely not just an anarchist because there is something dominant in Blake’s theory: the Poetic Genius. For here we need to examine the position of religion in Blake’s theory. Blake is against centralized church and religious morality. But he is still a Christian and believes Jesus is an artist and as rebellious as him, as a man who break the ten commands. In the relationship between state and church, he deletes the existence of state and decentralizes church into personal practice. Nevertheless, the religion exists and exists as the ultimate goal of his theory: the New Jerusalem. So Blake is a religious anarchist.
If we characterize all the political theories during that time period as rational, then Blake is a romanticist. The practice of art and imagination, the essence of Poetic Genius are irrational. Blake’s theory of revolution is irrational, thus system does not exist. He calls for the Poetic Genius in everyman and the undisciplined environment. A categorization for Blake is shameful.