Tag Archive: French Revolution

Prophets against Empire

In his marginal comments to Watson’s An Apology for the Bible, Blake considers Thomas Paine’s secular enlightenment assault on revealed religion to be the work of “either a Devil or an Inspired Man” (456).  He also notes that “Paine is a better Christian than the Bishop” (460).  For next Wednesday (2/28), write a post that reflects on Blake’s engagement with the French revolutionary debates of the turbulent 1790s.  How do any of the Blake works we’ve read thus far realign the radical ideals proposed by Paine with the poet-artist’s Swedenborgian-Moravian view of Christianity?  Focus on a particular Blake work/image and please feel free to elaborate on your or other students’ previous posts.

Please categorize under “Empire vs. Revolution” and don’t forget to create specific and relevant tags.


Idea map of Blake’s Politics

Today in class students have made some progress in understanding Blake’s political views in the context of the 1790s.  We concluded that Blake does not fit the political categories of “Left” and “Right,” problematizing this contrary itself, and adopts the biblical language of apocalypse/the Second coming to articulate his utopian vision while deviating from the standard political discourses of social contracts, national sovereignty, and rights shared by Burke, Price, and Paine.  Clearly, Blake’s New Jerusalem is an odd political and theological duck for his era!

Students should revise this week’s post to better address the political issues raised in class today.  To help you with this task, focus on the concluding section to The Marriage, “A Song of Liberty” (pp. 81-82).  Your revised post is due by 4pm this Friday (10/4); the designated student will comment on these posts by 5pm that day.

Here are some pics of the Blake idea map students and I created collaboratively  in class:

274 blake 2

274 blake 1

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Blake & Paine

For Edmund Burke, the French Revolution represented an inversion and usurpation of natural order (at the very least a dismantling of the benign illusions thereof), a loss of the restraints and checks on mankind’s more bestial drives. However, for Blake, it was genuinely apocalyptic—in the sense it offered revelation, the casting off of fetters and a new way of seeing, not that it necessarily heralded doomsday and the end-times. It was return to something originary, deposing the hierarchies that have separated humanity from the natural—scales falling from eyes finally. He is allied with Thomas Paine in seeing the emancipatory potential in revolution, in realizing that it is outmoded ideologies that perpetuate tyranny. Shackles in the mind always being more effective than those about the ankles or wrists.

I think without a doubt, we have all come to the conclusion that Blake is a confusing character. Thus, in attempting to understand Blake’s position in regard to the French Revolution, it is again a challenge. After reading from Paine, Burke, and Price, each author takes a firm position in regard to the revolution, like most. As we discussed in class Monday, not taking a firm position was virtually impossible, the “grey area” did not exist, but, somehow, Blake exists, at least partly, here. After reading works like The Songs of Innocence and Experience and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Blake places himself in a position to support either side, or neither side for that matter. Blake focuses on the individual and something as mob-like as the Revolution, stands outside that belief.

Blake Dictionary p.246: LOS is Poetry, the expression in this world of the Creative Imagination.

Blake Dictionary p.309: ORC is Revolution in the material world.

The father-son relationship of Los and Orc symbolizes an important causation. Los is Poetry and imagination, which is the Poetic Genius. By experiencing and expressing Poetic Genius, people will see beyond the contraries and recognize the need of a revolution in the material world. Thus, just like the father-son relationship, poetry and imagination are forms to achieve Revolution.

However, Los also has to prepare for the epic war because the revolution brought by Orc is not enough. Los, the father, symbolizes the progression beyond Orc. The revolution brought by Orc is represented as the French Revolution: “But terrible Orc, when he beheld the morning in the east, Shot from the heights of Enitharmon; And in the vineyards of red France appear’d the light of his fury” (106). The French Revolution, though achieved a substantial amount of overthrowing, is never radical enough for Blake. It was still bounded by reason and did not free the human race ultimately. Los represents the revolution brought by Poetic Genius, which leads to infinite and the New Jerusalem. So the battle between Los and Orc is necessary. This cosmic battle will result in the victory of Los and the apocalypse, the coming of Christ and the New Jerusalem.

Violence, Revolution, and Blake

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?