Tag Archive: politics

Blake’s inscription, “Israel delivered from Egypt is Art delivered from Nature & Imitation,” is just one of many nonsensical phrases scrawled onto “The Laocoon.” When examined in the context of Reynolds’ Discourse of Art, it becomes clear that Blake is using “The Laocoon” to satirize Reynolds. In Discourse of Art, Reynolds claims “a mere copier of nature can never produce any thing great,” a sentiment clearly reflected in Blake’s graffiti upon “The Laocoon” (Reynolds, 41). This graffiti is accompanied by phrases such as “A Poet a Painter a Musician an Architect: the Man Or Woman who is not one of these is not a Christian” (Blake, 352). Since this statement cannot be considered true, it is safe to assume that none of the statements scribbled on “The Laocoon” should be taken seriously, once again hinting at a satirical message. Blake’s metaphorical comparison of art to religion hints that he is condemning more than just Reynolds’ message about art and artists, however. He is also hinting at art’s relationship to religion. In his reaction to Discourses on Art, Blake writes, “the Enquirey in England is not whether a Man has Talents & Genius? But whether is he Passive & Polite & a Virtuous Ass: & obedient to Noblemens Opinions in Art & Science” (463). From this statement, we can conclude that Blake believes that the link between religion/politics and art is not a natural one, but a forced one. His comparison of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt to art’s deliverance from nature and imitation makes sense—he is mocking Reynolds, but on a deeper level, he is mocking artists who are “obedient to Noblemens Opinions,” whether that is in regards to art, politics, or religion.

Blake’s Songs of Experience, especially Holy Thursday and The Human Abstract, shares a same spirit with one of China’s oldest philosophical work, Laotse’s Tao Te Ching. They both advocate that the society should follow nature. Furthermore, they both condemn the process of categorization, and the proposers of it, the institutions and industrialization in Blake’s version and the society and the ruler in Laotse’s version.

As we discussed in class today, Blake views charity and all forms of institutions to be hypocritical and the existence of poverty as sins, not matter what they do to relieve poverty. This inclination becomes more obvious in The Human Abstract: “Pity would be no more, If we did not make somebody Poor: And Mercy no more could be, If all were as happy as we” (42). In these sentences, Blake challenges the common categorization of noble and inferiority. To him, pity would be unnecessary if we don’t invent the concept of poverty. And the present of mercy is a hypocritical means because it grows on the misfortune of other.

Blake’s theory reminds me of Laotse immediately. Laotse, who views nature as only proper way, dislikes the categorization of good and bad at his time either. In his Tao Te Ching, he expresses similar opinions: “When knowledge and cleverness appeared, Great hypocrisy followed in its wake. When the six relationships no longer lived at peace, [T]here was (praise of) “kind parents” and “filial sons.”” He believes that all good features, which are praised by the society at his time, exist because the gap and inequality makes contrary possible.

Though both of them are viewed as geniuses who speak to the later generations, their theories appeared in time of change. Blake’s resentment towards all forms of institutions was accelerated and magnified by the outstanding effect of Britain’s industrialization. The coming to power of capitalism and industrialization caused a huge income gap. Similarly, Laotse’s time, around 5th to 4th century BCE, was characterized by the emerging centralized state power and social hierarchy, first time in Chinese history.  However, the future developments of these two theories are quite different. Blake’s poetry, though has the characteristics of religion, is studied more in English class. On the contrary, developing from Tao Te Ching, Laotse’s theory transforms into one of China’s major religions, Taoism.

The translation of Tao Te Ching is from Yutang Lin’s The Wisdom of Laotse. Most of the theories of Laotse are from my high school History and Chinese class.

I felt like this might help our understanding of the poem “And did those feet in ancient time…”. The references made in the poem to particular instruments of war (the bow, arrows, spear, and chariot) were reminiscent of Ephesians 6:10-18, and I can’t help but believe this was the allusion Blake was trying to make in the poem. It’s interesting that the tenets of Christianity are laid out in such a militant fashion when there’s so much talk of the violent aspects of other religions (read: Islam) by politically-minded Christians these days. I wonder how Blake would feel about the religious and political rhetoric in America concerning religions other than Christianity, especially after having read “All Religions are One”. In his own time, Blake was a radical. With the current political discourse in mind, I’d say he’d still be considered one, even centuries later. Blake seems to occupy an ostensibly incomprehensible middle-ground between religious zealot, broad-minded philosopher, and prophetic artist. Can we ever allow such contradictory attributes exist simultaneously in a single individual? Our own prejudices tend to subconsciously categorize both subjects and objects to help ourselves understand the world around us. Blake offers one of those glorious exceptions that, in his defiance of categorization, teaches us a lesson about our own propensity towards judgment.