Tag Archive: revolution


Newton’s Revolution

Enitharmon sleeps for 1800 years, only to be awoken by Newton’s blowing of the trump. In order to understand Newton’s role in this scene, we must first understand Enitharmon’s slumber. Enitharmon’s slumber begins with the birth of Christ and ends 1800 years later, at the beginning of the French Revolution. Also, her slumber is highly sexually charged: it is described as a “female dream,” and it in, “Man was a Dream” (101). With this knowledge, we can assume Enitharmon’s slumber represents traditional Christian doctrine, in which female sexuality is repressed and seen as a sin.

Why then does Blake decide to have a champion of scientific thinking blow the trump that awakens Enitharmon from this repressive Christian doctrine? Blake rejects Newton’s doctrine because it does not acknowledge creativity or passion. Instead, it attempts to explain worldly phenomena through reason and experimentation. Blake’s use of Newton to awaken Enitharmon revolves around Newton’s involvement in the Scientific Revolution—Blake does not agree with Newton’s doctrine, yet he helped lead a revolution that attacked the current doctrine of thinking in Europe. Newton, therefore, is awakening Enitharmon from her slumber in order to begin a new revolution against traditional sexual repression in Christian doctrine. In this way, Blake paints Newton as someone to be emulated—someone who could think for himself and create his own system of belief—even though Blake disagrees with Newton’s scientific thought process.

Before addressing the trump that awakes Enitharmon, we must first understand the significance of the slumber.  At this point in our study of Blake we are very familiar with his opposition of repetitive action, leaving individuals to thoughtlessly follow a predetermined pattern.  Within this framework, Enitharmon’s “slumber” represents her enslavement in the dull round and corresponding creative dormancy.  Prior to the age of revolution, Blake’s vision of Europe is of a people following the motions of the dull round in the work, social, religious, and political spheres.  His hope for an enlivened revolutionary period in Europe would sweep through each of these areas to awaken individual thought and the intellectual consciousness of entire nations.

Blake vastly simplifies the intellectual and historical context before 1800 into one period of inactivity.  He then introduces Newton to usher in the revolutionary period as a new age of individual creativity and a revival of the poetic genius.  Blake’s relationship with scientific thinkers complicates his choice of Newton as the herald of the new era.  Blake often resists scientists as advocates of a limited range of thought, strictly confined by reason.  Though his subscribers may fall into this pattern, Newton himself is an innovator.   Blake, therefore, presents Newton not as a model for a system of belief but as a model for a kind of behavior and discovery.

By operating within Blake’s mythology, we can extend this metaphor to represent Spiritual Beauty (Damon 124).  Accordingly, Blake’s portrait of the new revolutionary period is then a spiritual revival of the nation.  While he is most prominently known as a scientist and mathematician, Newton also considered himself a prophet (Enlightening Science) and conducted radical theological research.  Newton’s position then provides credibility to Blake’s claim that every individual has the capacity for prophecy.  This “Trump of the last doom” then comes from the prophetic position, and signals the coming revolution as an apocalyptic second coming.

Works Cited:

“Enlightening Science.” Isaac Newton on Religion. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Oct. 2013.

In class on Wednesday, I had difficultly reconciling the apocalyptic revolution depicted in “A Song of Liberty” with its abrupt, triumphant ending. The poem’s allusions to the Book of Revelation notwithstanding, “Empire is no more! and now the lion & the wolf shall cease” is a very simplistic resolution to the violence, conflict and chaos of the rest of the poem (verse 20). Thinking about the poem’s position in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, I began to wonder if Blake were inherently more interested in the immediate chaos of revolutions than their outcomes. Might the poem be reveling in its own chaos and that of the continental revolutions? Blake certainly seems to be displaying an anarchist streak.

I’d like to quickly contrast the depiction of revolution as apocalyptic in “A Song of Liberty” with the playwright Samuel Beckett’s depiction of a post-apocalyptic situation in Endgame. Although obviously Blake never read Beckett, I’m putting the two together because perception is hugely important in both their works.  There is also to my knowledge no text that better depicts the sheer banality of a dull round of being than Beckett’s. The following clip from a production of Endgame wasn’t my ideal choice, but it does address perception and convey Hamm and Clov’s dull round.

One of the consequences of the apocalypse in Endgame is the narrowing of the characters’ perceptions. Hamm has lost his sight and can’t move, while Clov cannot see anything clearly out of the windows. In contrast, an apocalyptic revolution for Blake seems to entail the complete opposite. In “A Song of Liberty,” the son of fire falling from the sky – the appearance of revolution – increases the perceptions of the human race. The narrator extorts the citizen of London to “enlarge thy countenance,” the Jew to “leave counting gold” and the African to return to his oil and wine (verse 12). This urge to abandon ethnic stereotypes suggests that revolution will enhance human perception  to a level where we no longer be confined by restricted modes of thinking. This might explain how the prophesied peace would be achieved. The apocalyptic revolution in the poem entails the destruction of established religion, the law and empire. Blake is suggesting that human perception will be expanded once the institutions that he believes limit it are gone.

Furthermore, the narrator’s journey through Hell or chaos throughout The Marriage of Heaven and Hell strongly suggests that the narrator’s experience of chaos/Hell as well as order/Heaven increases his perception and understanding. However, as the narrator spends almost all of his time in Hell, isn’t Blake suggesting that chaos is infinitely preferable to order, despite the fact that they are supposed to be in a marriage?

There’s more to be said here, but I’ll end on the heart of the issue. Blake seems to focus on the immediate chaos of revolution because he believes that the tearing down of old and corrupt establishments gives humanity a chance to see reality more clearly. Uncharacteristically, he seems to take the outcome of revolution as given in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Perhaps modern readers and artists have become much more concerned about the outcomes of revolutions and apocalypses with experience. How would Blake respond to depictions of apocalypse like Beckett’s, which suggests that chaos and destruction only make it harder to tell illusion from reality and friend from foe?

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:

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For this particular post, I want to elaborate on Anna’s post from last week. In it, she discusses Blake’s use of Moravian themes in the last Memorable Fancy. Anna’s post can be found here: https://williamblakeandenlightenmentmedia.wordpress.com/2012/02/17/blake-zinzendorf-nuns-et-al/

Anna claims that in this Memorable Fancy, “we see a typical motif of Blake’s work by connecting obedience to restricting individual creativity. Living under the unquestioned law is blind obedience, but acting from impulse and displaying this physical devotion is closer to God” (Watt). I believe that this idea of obedience as a restriction of creativity can be expanded further to include restricted liberty, as is found in Paine’s “The Rights of Man.” Paine claims that “man under the monarchical and hereditary systems of government” is found in a “wretched state… dragged from his home by one power, or driven by another, and impoverished by taxes more than by enemies” (25). Much as Anna argues that the last Memorable Fancy demonstrates Blake’s belief that “traditional laws are oppression,” here we see Paine’s argument of traditional monarchy as oppressive. Paine’s comment that “every citizen is a member of the sovereignty, and as such can acknowledge no personal subjugation, and his obedience can be only to the laws” surely resonated with Blake, as it is a Poetic Genius-esque way of thinking about lawmaking (25).

However, just as Anna addresses in her post, we must also consider Blake’s tone and use of satire in all of his works. In his marginal comments, he claims that Paine’s writings are the work of “either a Devil or an inspired man,” and that “Paine is a better Christian than the Bishop” (456, 460). Can we really interpret this as praise for Paine? Blake’s use of satire in all of his works, including the last Memorable Fancy, makes it impossible for us to know exactly what he believes and champions. We can assume that Blake was influenced by the Moravian church based on the imagery found in the last Memorable Fancy, but we cannot begin to presume that Blake subscribed to the beliefs and ideals of the Moravian church because of his heavy use of satire. Likewise, we know that Paine influenced Blake’s thinking, but we are left to wonder if Blake really saw him as an “inspired man” or merely as a Devil.

In his marginal comments to Watson’s An Apology for the Bible, Blake considers 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 (10/2), 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 antinomian-Moravian view of Christianity?  Focus on a particular Blake work/image and please feel free to elaborate on your or other students’ previous posts.  Categorize under “Empire vs. Revolution” and don’t forget to create specific and relevant tags.

 

I’ve included below pictures of the idea map we created collaboratively in class today (the markings are color coded: yellow for Richard Price, blue for Edmund Burke, and red for Thomas Paine).  Use this map as a rough guide to help you position Blake’s political views in preparation for this week’s blog question prompt.

 

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Here’s a brief explanation of the Arab Spring, which we discussed briefly in class:

When a Tunisian street vendor set himself on fire to protest government corruption, he started a widespread series of uprisings.
http://www.WatchMojo.com tracks the inception and rise of the Arab Spring movement from Tunisia, to Libya, Egypt and beyond.

This video introduction to the Arab Spring helps contextualize the prophetic revolution Blake calls for in Asia in The Song of Los. Blake’s use of polysemic language allows his prophecy to be read for the future, our 21st Century. In the case of the Arab Spring, Orc’s revolution begins in an act of self-annihilation: the Tunisian street vender who burns himself alive as an act of protest against political oppression and capitalist exploitation. Orc’s fires are raging today in North Africa and the Middle East…Blake’s prophetic vision is now here, we are now entering the Last Judgment. Creepy? Strange? Absurd? What do you think?

The Epic War

Los and Orc serve to be an interesting combination for Blake’s prophecy. Los being a representation of the Creative Poetic Genius and Orc serving as Revolution in the Material World work together to spread the spirit of revolution, eternalized by the Poetic Genius, throughout the “vineyards of red France” (106). It is Blake’s, taking the form of the Blacksmith Los, to have revolution continue and not be constrained as Orc has been bound by Enitharmon–his mother–for most of the work.

Orc–the son–serves to be a means for Los–the father–so that people can access the Poetic Genius. For Blake’s ideal revolution, one that does not merely deteriorate as it progresses and is then restrained by a new and corruptible system, Los and Orc must be together. The pair represent Blake’s hope of an ideal revolution in his work, or at least how he hopes the revolution will play out. Their portrayal as warriors fighting an epic battle is Blake’s effort to symbolically demonstrate what he is doing in his work–waging war with the corrupted system.

Blake wishes to overturn the corrupted system in France with the spirit of revolution, Orc, and wishes to diminish any chance of the system returning through the Poetic Genius, Los. However, one issue comes to mind: Europe was published right in the beginning of the French Revolution–1794–so Blake obviously sees the potential of the Revolution; my question though: is it possible that Blake could foresee the imminent deterioration of the Revolution in favor of a new system? Or was he fully on board with the French Revolution being the spiritual revolution that he hoped for? The reason I ask is that Blake ends his prophecy with the beginning of the war cry of Los, but does not seek to go further. This is why I ask if Blake is having second thoughts–any thoughts on the matter?

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.

Revolution or Continual Renewal?

While Blake is obviously no proponent of empire or hierarchical systems of government, affixing the word “revolution” to his political ideology could be an erroneous construction. The definition of revolution states the following: “A forcible overthrow of a government or social order for a new system.” Though he admires the ideals of the French and American revolutions, Blake does not envision a satisfactory replacement for these tyrannical systems–instead, he pushes for a continuous state of revolution. As someone mentioned in class, even anarchy would not satisfy Blake’s political desires because by being a lack of a system, it itself becomes a system. Tying these ideas back to the tenets of the Poetic Genius, Blake might imagine a society in revolution as the supreme expression of imagination and individualism, whether seen through the freedom to act without laws or being able to create and destroy anything at will. Because such a system is nearly unimaginable for eighteenth-century people (even still for today’s population), Blake would have become an outcast for expressing his ideas forthrightly, so by asserting suggestive hints at such a system through convoluted documents and images, he proposed his radical ideas for continuous revolutionary renewal in such a way that only the most interested and creative people could understand his idea for a new society (or lack thereof).