Category: Christ and the Body (9/25)


Sex, Religion, and Poetic Vision

For next Wednesday (9/25), students will write posts as comments to one of my former students:

https://williamblakeandenlightenmentmedia.wordpress.com/2012/02/17/blake-zinzendorf-nuns-et-al/

Help this student develop a coherent interpretation by providing a close reading of a passage from Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell that, in your view, has strong Moravian images, themes, and overtones.  You are also free to respond to the former comments to this student’s post.  Write your post in the comment box unless you plan to upload images or videos, in which case you should create a regular post and categorize it under “Christ and the Body.”

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Flames of Genius engulfing the Passionate Lovers

“Blake’s renunciation of sin, punishment, atonement and moral law appear in a number of guises and different contexts in his work, which frustrate attempts at assigning Blake’s antinomian ideas to any one tradition. ” (Rix 109)

“Blake targets all those moralisers who ‘restrain desire’ (pl. 5; E34).” (Rix 110)

“the content of the Law may be valid, but its authority as an external code of instruction is not.” (Rix 113)

Swedenborgianism–

  • Belief in a coded language of the bible
  • Rejection of Justification of Faith alone without Good Works
  • ‘Fear of Eternal Punishment’ if the Moral Law is violated

Questions:

  1. What is the significance of the positioning/imagery of the scene of the Monkeys, baboons on Plate 20?
  2. How does Blake’s satire tie into his belief in contraries?

 

Blakean Inspiration

A modern quote that embodies Blake’s concept of unceasing energy.

Moravianism vs. the Church

A broad glance at William Blake’s work seems not to yield the notion that Blake was overly concerned with depicting the physical body or appearance of Christ. But the influence of the Moravian beliefs of his parents and of his childhood is nevertheless present in Blake’s productions.

Lamentation Over the Body of Christ by John Valentine Haidt

Blake is focused on humanizing divinity and on emphasizing the easy access humans have to God. This is why Christ is such a prevalent figure in Blake’s art: apart from his perceiving Christ as the ultimate artist, one of Blake’s main beliefs was in the access to God Christ provided to man. Thus “God becomes as we are, that we may be as he is.” Christ’s assumption of the physical human body is what rendered his crucifixion meaningful: only the death of a perfect human could bring about salvation. Christ’s wounds thus encapsulate the message of Christianity: the body of Christ, to Blake, is one of his faith’s most important symbols, for in his death Christ provided access for all humanity to a direct relationship with God.

Communication with the divine lies at the heart of Blake’s work. In this most basic belief Blake is more of a Protestant Christian rather than a Catholic, for he chooses to focus on the ramifications of Christ’s death instead of that death’s eternal reality. Blake’s art becomes the method by which he takes advantage of  the open channel of communication between mankind and God: he contends that creative expression allows for an infinite variety of ways to seek and find the divine. Of course, this was an explicit rejection of the contemporary Catholic doctrine that man could only reach God through certain sacraments or through a mediator. Blake’s rejection of the Church was thus rooted in and closely aligned to Moravian spiritual belief. Despite that sect’s (and Blake’s) reputation for radicalism, such notions about the body of Christ have endured and seem to be far more in line with modern, common beliefs about Christianity than the traditional Catholic doctrine that Blake abhorred.

Though I missed class on Wednesday, I would like to talk a bit about Blake’s connections to the Moravian Church. While I’ll be avoiding the highly sexualized undertones of the “diminuitive terms of endearment” and all this business about “the last Kiss” and the Church as the “eternal Bridegroom,” I shall not fail to search for these kinds of references in my future engagement with Blake’s work (much the same as my habit of thinking of nun’s as being Christ’s earthly girlfriends… I once read a comic strip that conjectured that perhaps Jesus wouldn’t return to earth out of fear of his perhaps millions of sexually frustrated suitors who’ve been waiting patiently in their convents for centuries, but perhaps we can save that for another time…) No, I want to focus on those aspects of Moravian theology that can be easily found in his work, both in the the particular manifestations we find in a given piece, as well as the essence of his œuvre en générale.
In Zinzendorf’s (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicolaus_Ludwig_Zinzendorf) reading of the Bible, the idea of Christ as the husband of his earthly Bridegroom, the Church (and by extension, presumably, the individual members therein) takes such a precedence that it thematizes the very way the Moravian Church refers to their Savior and their relation to him. This is where the sensual language (like the “last Kiss”) comes from. The Moravians, themselves, did all they could to maintain a childlike demeanor by “playing games and developing a secret language…” While their desire to appear childlike in the face of a sexualized savior seems quite troublesome, let it suffice to say that this search for youth and simplicity resonates strongly in Blake’s work. Recall “The Ecchoing Green” in which these very themes are explored. Now consider the whole of The Songs of Innocence and Experience. In Blake’s world of contraries, youth may have its appeal, innocence and the pastoral idyll are well characterized in Innocence, but age and experience provide an individual with a fuller understanding of the self and the world in which it resides.
I could go for longer, but I want to utilize the comments section to see where these ideas are leading you, dear reader. For now, I wait, as so many nuns before me.

The Body of Christ

I feel like most of my posts have focused on adding some religious context to what is happening in the class.  That’s fine, though.  There’s a lot of religious context to add.  The idea of the body of Christ is central to many Christian groups.  The obvious importance of Christ’s body is that it was his body which was sacrificed for mankind.  In the early Catholic church significant debate revolved around the nature of Christ’s body.  People wondered how a human body could contain God, whether Jesus actually felt pain (or any human feelings) and of course how his body could have been raised from the dead.  The early church settled on a strangely Blakean understanding of Christ’s body.  They said that Christ was both fully human and fully divine at the same time.  This understanding requires that Christ himself be a contradiction, that at no time does he stop being human or divine.

But besides the literal body of Christ, it is important to understand the tradition of the metaphorical body of Christ.  At a key part of the Bible Jesus makes the strange statement regarding a piece of bread from a passover meal: “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” (Mat 26: 26).  Different Christian sects have interpreted this statement in radically different ways but there seems to be some agreement that through Christianity it is possible for believers to become part of the body of Christ.  Based on this idea there is significant Christian tradition that revolves around equating the modern day believers with the literal body of Christ.

Moravian Motherhood

I find it quite ironic that Moravian spirituality centralized sexual experimentation, most especially during the Sifting Time, while simultaneously placing much emphasis on female figures, principally the mother,and “aiming to become ever more childlike and simple” (Podmore, 132). While it is obvious that sexual desire and passion precede motherhood and that these two feelings enter the vein of childhood during the end stages of innocence, it baffles me that these wholly divergent facets are upheld and revered so equitably. Herein lies an intermingling of contraries that perhaps aims to reach followers at different stages of development, maturity, and, dare I say, corruption (i.e. experience). Perhaps this is the Moravian Church’s goal: to provide such a broad and accepting platform and appeal to a larger audience that otherwise may have been ousted or stigmatized by other churches whose dogmas were strict and were what we may in modern times deem “stringently conservative.” I’d like to focus for a moment more intently on the importance of female figures and the influence of the mother. Blake’s very upbringing echoes this aspect of the Moravian religion in that his mother, Catherine Wright Armitage, was a faithful Moravian along with her first husband, Thomas Armitage. Blake’s connection to the religion and its values is tied to the fact that a devout Moravian reared him. The mimetic quality of a child’s religious and moral beliefs during the period of innocence definitely exposed Blake to the sexually explicit and viscerally energetic Moravian religion. His transition to form his own religion or, arguably, a religion-less world in which each individual seeks his/ own Poetic Genius through artistic expression and self exploration, fastens Blake firmly in the world of Experience described in his “Songs.”

Marriage is not friendship

After learning about Blake’s Moravian tradition, I will assume I am not the only who feel slightly uncomfortable about the Sifting Time theologies. Yes, we cannot deny the influence of Moravian on Blake, so does that of Swedenborg. However, I don’t see Blake’s devil will agree with either of them. The voice of the Devil is definitely anti-Swedenborg, who believes in the separation of spirit and body: “Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that called Body is a portion of Soul” (70). Meanwhile, I don’t think the devil will believe the actual sexual relationship between Soul and Body, Heaven and Hell, as a good idea. Instead, the Blakean character says: “Opposition is True Friendship” (78). Blake does not characterize the relationship between contraries as marriage or sexual, but as friendship. This word choice reveals Blake’s fundamental difference from Moravian tradition. Moravian tradition believes that the only way to transcend rules and see vision is to reconcile the contraries between Body and Soul through sex. Blake does not want to reconcile the contraries because “without contraries is no progression” (69). When contraries are reconciled, there will not be contraries and people will stop thinking. Thus, new rules will be established. What Blake wants instead is a constant breaking of law. What he pursues is this constant motion of transcending. A word like Marriage in the title of this series is against the theory of contraries because a marital relationship is too intimate for contraries.