Blake opposes Swedenborg’s belief that Heaven and Hell balance each other out in a stable equilibrium. For Blake, Heaven and Hell can never be equal, and the whole concept of contraries is that they are the “never-ending clash of ideas.” (67).
“Without Contraries there is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.” (69).
When Blake quotes the Voice of the Devil, one of the sacred codes is that “Energy is Eternal Delight,” and energy=evil, so in the voice of the Devil, the entirety of human existence is in a sense evil, that love and passion (of the body, and of the sexual kind) is, well, evil.
We think of love as this good, multiplying force in the world, but it can also “multiply” the human race, but to do so requires sexual love, condemned as “bad.” So…is it good or bad? Let’s go back to the beginning of the 16th century in Northern European Art. (This is before the Reformation).
Hieronymous Bosch created some pretty “Blakean” triptychs–triptychs are three paneled pieces of art meant to go in a church, usually over the altar piece. Triptychs can be closed, and the outer panels usually display art that juxtaposes the interior scenes. Right now we are going to focus on The Garden of Earthly Delights (1504), now in the Prado Museum in Madrid.
Bosch depicts the Creation of the World, from the creation of Adam and Eve in the Terrestrial Paradise aka The Garden of Eden (on the left), to what their fall created (the center piece, meant to be Earth), and then on the right is Hell.
There is some pretty crazy stuff going on if we look closely.
The left wing shows the institution of marriage (Adam and Eve) as approved by God, but we all know that that innocent state didn’t last long. The fact that Bosch names the piece The Garden of Earthly Delights (despite the fact that we cannot be sure who named this triptych…the idea of artists “naming” their own art is a modern concept), it plays on the name the Garden of Eden, suggesting that Earth is a type of paradise as well. This is the kind of thinking that the Devil (and probably even Blake), would encourage. Yet the church teaches that humans live in a state of sin–so is constant sex a sin, or is it living out God’s message to go forth into the world and procreate, and in procreation, create more poetic-geniuses?
I thought this passage from Oxford Art Online summed it up nicely: The ambiguity is, in fact, intended and is fundamental to a proper understanding of the triptych. Its ‘message’ is approximately as follows: sexuality can become an end in itself, owing to an unchaste interpretation of the paradisiacal state of marriage instituted by God, with the command to increase and multiply. Thus men and women believe they are living in a lovers’ paradise (the grail), but it is really false and pernicious.”
Earth is the very combination of Heaven and Hell–a sexual paradise is the Marriage of Heaven and Hell. In the central panel, all the possible forms of copulation remind me of the cover page for Blake’s the Marriage of Heaven and Hell. One of the most powerful statements in the entire Marriage book for me is that ”if the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.” (75).
Love is infinite, as we discussed in class, and perhaps by clearing our perceptions of what love is, from Blake’s point of view, infinite love is the union of both spiritual and bodily love. The opposite of Heaven is Hell, but what is the contrary to Earth? Progression is made by contraries–progression of the human race with sexual relations (man vs woman), and in the collision of Heaven and Hell is Earth.