Tag Archive: Genius


William Blake and An Alternative Genius

William Blake’s A Memorable Fancy has elements that speak to Moravian themes and ideas. Blake writes about a “Genius” that doesn’t necessarily align with the intellectual, academic, or conventional genius that’s taught at big universities. Blake’s is a different kind of genius, one Marsha Keith Schuchard writes about in her article titled “Young William Blake And the Moravian Tradition of Visionary Art”. Schuchard writes, “Zinzendorf advocated that parents and children—of every age, class, and background—should participate in a rich Renaissance-Baroque culture of painting, poetry, and music. Remembering his own unhappy childhood, when he was sent away to boarding school and instructed by puritanical pedants, he urged the Moravians to home-school their children” (89). These Moravian ideas are upheld by Blake’s focus on a different kind of genius, one that is anti-institution–or boarding school led by “puritanical pedants”– and that embraces the senses. Additionally, Blake continues to move towards a different kind of knowledge, one that is facilitated by the emblematical.

The speaker says he arrived home “on the abyss of the five senses.” And shortly after finds a the Devil writing on stone with “corroding fires.” This Moravian theme, which Schuchard explains as capable of rendering “ethical and religious truths accessible to all, even to the illiterate and to children, through the lure of pictures” is echoed in Blake’s A Memorable Fancy. Where engraving, visualizing, are key components of both Moravian tradition and Blake’s moral and creative style. Interpreting Blake’s work through a Moravian perspective offers great insight on his upbringing. It also humanizes Blake and his family and situates his work within a larger trajectory of successful attempts to challenge our notions of the hierarchies of knowledge and interrogates the very epistemic violence felt by believes of non-dominant religions and identities.

-Israel Alonso

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Natural Genius

Blake creates the idea that experience is not something anybody can gain with just age, that someone who is younger not just in life, but skill could outdo an older, more “experienced” person’s Genius. Blake mentions “The hours of folly are measured by the clock, but of wisdom; no clock can measure.” Folly is foolishness; to lack common sense, and according to Blake, it can be measured by a clock. Though Genius could also be considered wisdom and that it cannot be measured because of how once enough people admire your work, it would end up going down in history.

According to Blake’s proverbs, foolishness can be measured by time, which in a sense can mean that there is an end to it. That even though people may remember a certain foolish event, it will never become memorable enough to last throughout time. Taking into consideration Blake’s craftsmen skills and his skills as a writer, he intends this proverb to imply how it depends on one’s natural Genius to make their work immeasurable by time, and to not copy other people’s Genius because that is one’s “folly.”

For the post next Wednesday (1/31), students will choose 3-4 plate designs from The Songs of Innocence (from any of the editions accessible in the Blake Archive, listed under “Friends & Links” below) to create your own story about this compilation of “songs.”  You will arrange these plates in any order that helps illustrate your specific narrative, and this order need not follow any of the arrangements found in the various copies of The Songs of Innocence.  In other words, set your imagination free and become a true Genius!

Insert these designs into your post and then write a short paragraph or two that interprets the embedded narrative that threads your arrangement and justifies your particular ordering.  Ideally, your story should address the larger themes, images, and motifs that define The Songs of Innocence as a whole.  Place the post under the category “Innocence, Eden, and Childhood” and don’t forget to create specific and engaging tags.  And most importantly, please HAVE FUN!!!

The post is due this Wednesday, 1/31.

 

Instructions on inserting images into your blog post:

1. Find the image you want on the Blake Archive under the “Illuminated Books” tab.  Feel free to use “The Songs of Innocence” or the joint “The Songs of Innocence & Experience,” or both, of whatever edition (or combination thereof) you choose.

2. Right click on the image and go to “Save picture as.”  Save it in your laptop or PC.

3.  In your post, click on “Add Media” (in the upper right), then “upload files,” and then “select files.”  Choose the desired image from your picture files.  Under the “Attachment Details” side window you will select your specifications (make sure your images are large and easy to view) and then click “insert into post” once you are done.

There are no rules to the genius

Sir Joshua Reynolds argues in Discourse III, “could we teach taste or genius by rules, they would be no longer taste and genius” (44). Which is to say that there is an unnatural, innate power of “taste” and “genius” that cannot be taught–or shouldn’t. That seems to debunk the whole idea of mentor and mentee relationships, or quite simply the basic premise which education stands on: teaching.

William Blake, however, has a similar thought on higher, outward thinking, but instead of stating that it cannot be learned, he argues that we all have the possibility to perceive more than we already know. In his poem There Is No Natural Religion, Blake writes “man’s perceptions are not bounded by organ of perceptions; he perceives more than sense (tho’ ever so acute) can discover.” Which includes those students that Reynolds would consider not genius.

In relation to the scripture found on the image, “Israel deliverd from Egypt is Art deliverd from Nature & Imitation,” Blake would argue that art is both a natural phenomenon as it is a practiced, sculpted one.

–Daniel Lizaola Lopez

The aphorisms of “Proverbs of Hell” operate on an antimonian rhetoric—indeed, their ideas often diametrical oppose to traditional conception. Such is there purpose: they are defibrillators for the soul, some shock, to stab into the stubborn, sluggish self and usurp pat formulations. Their infernal wisdom is one couched in dialectics. The proverb: “Improvement makes strait roads, but the crooked roads without Improvement, are the roads of Genius” is curious in that we imbue notions like “improvement” and “genius” with positive valences and prefer to pair like with like, yet it is the “crooked roads,” those that we would traditionally think of negatively—i.e. difficult to traverse, hazardous—that those of Genius. They do not lead to Genius but are of it; Genius is an inhabited state rather than a telos. “Improvement” here is pejorative, an imposition on what would otherwise lead to natural discovery. Patching the world as we are able provides resolutions, which precludes revelation. James Joyce, a disciple of Blake’s, is particularly elucidating here, having his Stephen Dedalus espouse: “A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.” The dark, the gaps, the crooked, the imperfections in the world or ourselves (self-constructed or foisted) are apertures though which we can launch our search for constitutive meaning. Any attempt at an accord requires a delving down to some constitutive core, a common denominator that ties things together—the essential element in things. The essential element of anything cannot be approached via any convention as that preconditions it in some regards; it is already tainted with some self-perceived sine qua non and thereby the object/subject in question is distorted. “The eye altering alters all,” said Blake, after all. Conventions must be unsaid, emptied, dispensed, “the lights, the definitions[1]” thrown away. Otherwise we buy into the myth of even referentiality—that our words possess an empirically verifiable equivalence with that to which they refer, that they get at some definitive quid. The man of Genius recognizes that the world must be experienced and seen afresh, worn anew, and platitudes, assuagments, or “improvements” prevent such.


[1] Stevens, Wallace. “The Man With the Blue Guitar.” The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. New York: Knopf, 1954. Print.

One of the things I have loved the most about Blake in my first few days of encountering his work is the constant not only opportunity, but obligation he offers his readers for interpretation. Moreover, it is not enough for Blake to simply force you to consider and offer possible interpretations of his works; he is constantly pushing readers to reevaluate all that they have taken as truth before. While the idea of truths may not seem initially evident in this quotation, I think Blake allows ample space to navigate toward what I have found to be one of his greatest themes thus far. In the comparison between the deliverance of Israel and the deliverance of Art, the two become similarly enslaved by Egypt and Nature and Imitation respectively. The original sculpture that Blake then adds graffiti like writing to is considered by many to be a masterpiece. This piece pulls from a variety of Greek sources and, thus, can be said to originate little and simple be imitating that which Sophocles or Virgil have already written. Blake pushes those who encounter his piece to consider how nature and imitation can act as enslaving forces. When characterized in this manner, it is clear that Blake finds them to be problematic for creation, a thought that stands apart from many of his contemporaries in a revolutionary way. In Blake’s mode of thought, nature and imitation, two sources of artistic creation that have long been revered, are not sources for artistic creation. These types of “art” are mere recitations of that which has already been created, no true innovation has really occurred. In this way, Blake reminds me of Ovid. The two are similarly wary of the tools with which they have to work and the ever-present possibility to become an Echo. Ovid provides a means of defying this possibility, interestingly, through Echo herself. While she is forced to repeat the words of others, she finds a way to repeat them to say something new and communicate her message. Blake’s answer to this pitfall of creation is relying on one’s own imagination and the tremendous capabilities it has for innovation and genius outside of what already exists.

Blake takes great offense from Sir Joshua Reynolds, Discourses on Art, as both men have radically different theories on art, however, some of their arguments, with their contradictions, overlap. Because Blake was not truly trained as a painter, but rather an engraver, he was never considered a fellow of the Royal Academy and thusly faced a bias from intellectual society towards his engravings. As Reynolds argues that the “Ideal Beauty” that artists portray is learned from experience–Blake, being an outsider of the Royal Academy asserts that “Reynolds Thinks that Man Learns all that he Knows I say on the Contrary That Man Brings All that he has or Can have Into the World with him.”

Blake’s Philosophy of Art emphasizes a certain–dare I say, mechanical–precision. He centers his ideal on the fact that “To Particularize is the Alone Distinction of Merit.” Reynolds would argue that this method of creating art is the work of a “mechanik…[a] capricious changeling.” In essence, he is right regarding the mechanical part–however Blake does not paint with “Minute Neatness” to merely imitate, but to capture the image of the sublime. He goes to great depths to render his work as a product of vision: “Determinate & Perfect”–a snapshot of the artistic imagination. He demonstrates the “mechanical dexterity” of the artist that Reynolds praises of the “the Young Painter.”

So then it becomes a question of authority–Reynolds sees Blake as a mechanistic copier, deceiver while Blake looks at Reynolds with contempt as a man of contradiction–one who writes “Simulations of the Hypocrite who Smiles articulately where he means to Betray.” So who is right? Well, both of them, kind of: Blake sums it up nicely by stating that “Every Eye Sees differently As the Eye–Such the Object.” It is actually an answer of perception: what does the artist see? That is what the artist portrays, as according to Blake “All Forms are Perfect in the Poets Mind.”