Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Lord of the Rings: A Symphony in Six Movements, November 27th, 2010

Composer: Howard Shore
Conductor: Markus Huber
Performers: Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Kaitlyn Husk (soprano), Vancouver Bach Choir, Vancouver Bach Children’s Chorus

Now, usually when I make my way down to the city for a viewing of a piece by Beethoven, or Bach, or Brahms, or whomever, I am one of a select few youths amidst a horde of elderly folk, the reliable patrons that constitute the main support for local Classical music; what few young people there are are quite plainly, with their keen, upright demeanour, and with their impeccable taste in finer fashion, of a high and aristocratic breed. This past weekend, however, as I arrived at the ornate Orpheum Theatre, I found myself amongst a strange and eclectic crowd: dozens of young adults clustered in social groups, talking loudly, and showed little more care to their dress than if we were merely making an appearance at the cinema; once I even overheard some guy talking about how he had to ‘try to be sober for this’! Once the performance began, this motley and not entirely dignified audience tested my patience further by revealing a woeful want of proper etiquette; you can imagine my dismay at the applause between the opening tracks, never mind the movements! Finally, as a true testament to a serious absence of common culture, at the end of the show I was one of the few who adhered to the right tradition of a standing ovation: nearly everyone(even in the dress circle, which was of course the balcony which I graced with my presence) remained seated on their fat and lazy butts as the performers bowed and bowed again… Outrageous, simply outrageous…

(Note: I am not really this pretentious, but such a situation would be waste if I could not use it to indulge in my vanity for the pompous and the grand: I was infact only slightly mortified to find the seats surrounding me occupied by the nerdy instead of the senile.)

The Lord of the Rings Symphony immediately announces one of its primary characteristics in setting forth a low, brooding introduction, effectively creating an ominous tension in the anticipation of a long and exciting series of building up pitch and glorious climaxes. Soon after the prologue, however, a lush and verdant theme is invoked in the theme of a pastoral, introducing us for the first time to the melody that becomes inseparable from the adventurous, hopeful, almost whimsical nature of the hobbits. Similar to the way that a rainbow materializes after a passionate tempest, this pastoral eventually emerges after every major conflict, after every event where the signature battle theme inevitably overcomes the frenetic and industrial enemy of the East. What this essentially does is recreate a profound sense of peace that succeeds the war in which it was won: there is precious little in common between the hobbit pastoral theme played at the beginning and the rendition played at the close, and that is hardly because the notes have drastically changed, but because the trials of the heroes have imbued the final moments with that resolved feeling of having truly won something worth winning. If there were no war of the ring, in other words, the innocence and ‘peace’ of Hobbiton would of course be preserved, but then there would have been no adventure, no struggle to maintain personal virtue, and none of that lasting sense of achievement that winning a war, as much against yourself as against others, really brings; in short, there would not be much of a story at all, which is as much to say that there would not be any life at all.

What is probably the most important, the most fundamental part of how the symphony is constructed is the consistent use of the leitmotif, or a broad and essential theme that represents something and that recurs again and again in the entire composition; the leitmotif perpetually forces the audience to recall an earlier stage of the performance, and to reflect on what that presently means. It is obviously an integral component for many film soundtracks, where there is oftentimes a catchy central line that is repeated when the film reaches a particular climax; we would argue, however, that instead of drafting something that merely adds to some cinematic effect in a flashy, explosive, or melo-dramatic way, as other scores might do, Howard Shore has contrarily managed to create a soundtrack with a life of its own; and this is in large part thanks to the manner in which his own leitmotif differs from those of other composers. Although it is in some ways quite intangible, the average Lord of the Rings leitmotif (there are several) can be considered superior because of the cyclic nature of the whole composition: its ebb and flow has an almost translucent quality to it, drawing many conflicting themes together into a resounding clash of powers; Shore actually uses a number of the leitmotifs that we are well-acquainted with to play against each other to great, continuous thematic effect, resulting in a leitmotif built of leitmotifs! This is especially noteworthy due to how recognizable these are, which is crucial to their success; by way of an obvious example, the leitmotif of the battles between good and evil, where the powers of each are at their most absolute, and where we hear the familiar melodic phrasing of the West trading off forcefully with the rising clamour of the metallic East, represents a fundamental idea of the story, and we can probably understand this without reference to the films upon which the scene is based, something that cannot really be said for most cinematic soundtracks, or at least not to the same extent.

It is remarkable to notice how certain instruments and certain elements of the orchestral ensemble correlate to the different moods, or even to the different characters and peoples of the story. The men of Rohan, for example, share the same basic theme with their southern neighbours, the Kingdom of Gondor, and yet while for them the theme is played with a light violin, invoking a rustic, ‘folky’ aspect reminiscent of the Celtic glory years, the descendents of Numenor receive a proud line of brass, and a slight alteration of notes to make for a sad yet kingly defiance of all the monsters that both father Time and the dark lord Sauron can throw at them; this is how the composition brilliantly reveals the essential common ground between all types of Western men while also showing the very real differences between them. Similarly, in the first two movements of the symphony, we are greeted by two genuine mysteries: the first is the ancient fear and turmoil of the black riders, the dread ringwraiths known by an age long gone yet seen by contemporary eyes; and the second is the ancient light and hope presented by the Elven race, awesome to behold, which is all the more frightening for the relatively young hobbits. Shore succeeds in demonstrating these polar mysteries by depicting a semblance of their real natures whilst keeping some of it hidden in the guise of the arcane and the unknowable; the ringwraiths receive a blasting series of dark yet concordant chants with a trailing midnight brass that hints of an unseen power; and the elves shine luminously with a much lighter, much stranger chorus that is blessed with a lilting, almost oceanic quality. These are but two examples of how Howard Shore has re-imagined the many diverse lands and identities of the Lord of the Rings in his powerful and endearing symphony.

There is a certain smallness in the soft and reserved notes of the hobbit pastoral: in its opening stages, as previously noted, it is quiet and innocent, but the persistent strain of the struggles to come consequently draw out a brave perseverance, a sure willingness to continue on in spite of the oppression that the bitter and conflicted world tries to impose on it. The real result is not a buckling of the knees, a step back or a whimper; the truth is that the one thing that follows every night, no matter how dark or how long, is a newly christened and resurrected dawn, and indeed the blacker the night the brighter the sun appears. And so, after the riotous storm has passed and the stars remain visible, if only due to some impossibly heroic final stand, the familiar notes of the hobbit pastoral return, but all the more visceral now because the shackles have been cast aside, unearthing a newer, stronger gem; the theme is tainted as well as strengthened by the scars of worldly experience and yet it still gestures to the purity whence it came and will go. The hobbits in this way are more alike to humanity than are the men of Gondor and Rohan, which seem distant in a remote and idealized past; it is harder for us to relate to the elite Tower Guard or a rider of the Rohirrim than it is to share in the experiences of a Peregrin Took or a Meriadoc Brandybuck; the tales of Frodo and Gollum are tales that are as human as any can be: two personalities that are largely homogeneous by nature but unfortunately separated by their good and evil intentions, which is precisely how we can distinguish good from evil in any human world. Finally, by way of conclusion, this hobbit pastoral, as we have called it, resembles a slender strand that appears to be fragile and malleable but actually grows stronger with every test, with every strain; it resultantly comes off as gentle, pure, and yet fundamentally stronger than the ring which it willingly bears.

It has been said to the point of becoming cliché, but we deem it best to keep saying it until it has become axiomatic: we live in a world that has to seek meaning more than ever since we no longer possess universal and authoritative meaning; we live in a world that seeks God more than ever since we have forgotten how to read His beautiful signs; this is all because we live in a world without myth, which provides all this. The work of Tolkien is today equated with the words ‘fantasy’, ‘fiction’, words that for all intents and purposes mean ‘unreal’; this is laughably ironic because the truly epic creations of Tolkien are actually far more real than the facts and figures of any historical event, of anything ‘nonfiction’. The symbolism involved in Middle-earth is the most profound artistic, mythical invention of the twentieth century, for the annals of that world describe not only the reality of its own dimension, but even more of our own. The legacy of the Lord of the Rings and the other books, of which this symphony is part, is as far as we are concerned the shining paradigm for anything that wishes to convey what the old human myths conveyed; the ‘fantasy’ books that line the shelves have failed as a whole, bringing their readers to an empty, illusory otherworld instead of inspiring them to find meaning and thereby transcending the emptiness of this world, which can, after all, be as vivid and as real as the village of the Hobbiton, or the River Anduin, or the White Tree herself…

Lay down 
Your sweet and weary head 
Night is falling 
You have come to journey's end 
Sleep now 
And dream of the ones who came before 
They are calling 
From across a distant shore 

Why do you weep? 
What are these tears upon your face? 
Soon you will see 
All of your fears will pass away 

Safe in my arms 
You're only sleeping 

What can you see 
On the horizon? 
Why do the white gulls call? 

Across the sea 
A pale moon rises 
The ships have come to carry you home 
And all will turn 
To silver-glass 
A light on the water 
All souls pass 

Hope fades 
Until the world of night 
Through shadows' falling 
Out of memory and time 
Don't say 
We have come now to the end 
White shores are calling 
You and I will meet again 

And you'll be here in my arms 
Just sleeping 

What can you see 
On the horizon? 
Why do the white gulls call? 

Across the sea 
A pale moon rises 
The ships have come to carry you home 
And all will turn 
To silver-glass 
A light on the water 
Grey ships pass 
Into the West

Monday, September 6, 2010

Sentiment and Pathos

To recognize the difference between a truth and a falsehood is sometimes as easy as distinguishing white from black; we can discern patently opposing principles with unequivocal clarity. At other times, the truth seems to reside in a field of grey, muddled by the subtleties that are conditioned by the blurry nature of what we call ‘ordinary reality’. The seemingly slight contrast between the artistic utilities of sentimentalism and pathos, for example, is a striking instance of such a confusion, one which we will hereby endeavour to properly sort out.


The first apparent category that we can appropriate in defining sentimentality is its intent in expression, i.e., what it hopes to accomplish in its artistic manifestation. What often characterizes bad ‘art’ is not really its passion or strength in feeling (which is admittedly quite genuine a lot of the time) since artistic merit is not earned by some semblance of emotive conviction alone; rather, it is the type and range of the vision that truly demarcate the borders between a mediocre effort in self-expression and the faculties of real imaginative power, so the many failures in the various art forms will ultimately derive from a deficiency in this so-called ‘vision’.

Because a clearer definition of what we mean by ‘vision’ will be given later in this article, it will be sufficient for the present to say what vision is not, which is precisely where bad ‘art’ takes up residence. Whatever the individual case might be, whether the artist hijacks an idea already solidified in the canons of art history while attempting to market it as something ‘fresh’ and ‘contemporary’, or whether he dives into the proverbial deep end in some cosmic search for an entirely unique form of expression, his ‘vision’ derives from the same source: his own personality, the peculiar narcissism that plagues all artists whose eyes are not accustomed to the dark mysteries of the inner aspect of reality.

The source of all sentimentality is expressed in the myth of Narcissus and Echo wherein the handsome swain discovers his own ‘emanation’ not in the darling face of his sexual opposite, Echo, but instead in the false image of himself provided by his reflection in the water. An ill-equipped artist is likewise locked in combat with his own furious desires for self-expression; he can only see himself in the water (the full ‘success’ of his expression); he is unable to lift his head and gaze beyond his own selfish pursuits, which means that he will never behold the lovely face of Echo, and will therefore never behold the face of true beauty, which, as we will see, is necessary for the greater types of art to be invoked.

When the source of something is clearly delineated, it follows that its effect should be similarly transparent. Because sentimentality derives from the limited faculties of self-expression, and its substance is not really grounded by anything but the subjects’ own experiences and temperament, the discriminating judgment of a trained observer will reveal this particular artwork to be ‘weepy’ and ‘unfocussed’, with a definite tendency towards popular appeals, towards the lower fascination of man. The demonstrably individualized aspect of the piece in question actually forces itself outside the beautifully universal domain of higher art because it is simply another man’s opinion, another isolated perception that lacks any serious connection with the greater order of things.

A final consideration in regards to the nature of sentimentality leads us to dwell on the object of what a typical sentimentalist directs his attention towards. If we understand love (and, by extension, the creation of art) to be an undertaking that is fundamentally directed outward, and again if Narcissus is merely focussing his affection towards himself, we can very probably acknowledge sentimentality to be a kind of ‘false love’, or at least that the object of which is something that is in some way unreal, or perhaps simply undeserving of such indiscriminate and idolatrous attention. Many of the Romantics of the 19th Century, for example, were sentimental in their passionate thirst for the vibrant chaos of nature, of idyllic landscapes beyond the ‘poisonous’ influence of mankind. The object (nature) is worthy of love, to be certain; it is simply the extent and the singularity of this devotion that marks the movement to be comprised largely by sentiment and misdirected feeling. To extrapolate the metaphor further, the sentimentality of ‘nature worship’ is noticed as such if we deem its action to be an escape from the normality of God, of human civilization, and of the recognized order of our own species; it is therefore a myopic search for oneself in the water, nature’s wavering and evanescent mirror, and a stubborn refusal to so much as pay a glance to an adoring Echo, the everlasting mirror of man.


In creating and understanding art, as in all good and holy things, the only essential faculty required is that of vision: everything else will fall into its appropriate place in an almost ‘accidental’ manner so long as the vision maintains its depth. This is the act of not only seeing the desired objective, the thing that must be created, but it must also be the act of connecting the vision to something ‘intelligible’, or a universal fact that will give the work of art the breadth necessary for it to truly belong to a class of art that is not merely ‘personal’ or exclusively sentimental.

We have admitted that the quality of art depends upon the extent of its perception. If the perception in question reaches no further than giving a petulant expression of a man’s own pursuits, then it is clear that, in being unable to see beyond itself, to see how its experience accords with something beyond its experience, his faculty of perception must be very dim indeed. There are things that are beautiful, and these are things that are real; there are also the shapes of things which are ugly, and these are therefore the properties of ignorance and of the lower levels of ‘Maya’, or ‘ordinary reality’: the vision must be concentrated upon something that is indisputably , incontrovertibly real not only to the seer himself, but to some kind orthodox objectivity that bears the highest doctrines of what is real. It is the faculty of vision that either lifts us to these golden planes of reality, and thereby enables us to transmit them through the purest medium of art, or which takes us into a murky labyrinth, a spiraling maze that will have us forever turning in circles.

Now, warming up to the central issue at hand, the beauty of tragedy is disputed by those who would bring it down to a travesty of sentiment and milky feeling; in our case, the reality of sorrow is that it is a reality, a thing that is beautiful and good. Insofar as we can have a healthy vision of the tragic, we have a justifiable means available that allows us to submit that tragedy to material expression, and the means to do so is called ‘pathos’, the act of evoking a deep sympathy, a visceral experience in the witness. What made the old Greek tragedies so artistic was not what made Homer so artistic (mostly because Homer did not write from the Trojan perspective); the heroism of the Iliad and the reverse serendipity of the Odyssey are the focal points of their respective epics while it is the great loss of Cassandra and Oedipus that decides the high quality of Aeschylus and Sophocles; it is so simply because the trial of suffering is not any weaker than the trials of courage and adventure; infact, if we are to believe Aristotle and Schopenhauer, the trial of suffering is actually stronger.

While the compendium of Grecian drama may hold no great source of confusion between sentiment and pathos, it is a little more difficult when we come across something like Goethe's ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’. This little book confronts the crisis of an enormously passionate love for someone who pays mere friendship and goodwill in return; it is almost a stream of consciousness in the way that the narrator continually oscillates between dying romantically in the heroic pursuit of woman and the problematic attempts at moving on in life. While there is doubtless a fair amount of sentiment expressed between the covers, it is ultimately subjugated to the higher schema of an energetic, youthful passion coupled with facing the impossible; the sentiment is but the significant emotional ‘residue’, as it were, a remnant from the collision between a hopeful dream and the cold stone of reality.

This is an example of not only how to detect the natures of sentiment (the more immature aspects of passion) and pathos (the truth of tragedy revealed), but also how they complement and work with one another, which is why they are often so difficult to separate and distinguish. So, the youth and selfishness of a particular phrase in music can be deemed quite good and proper if it is preceded or followed by a deep, dark melody that envelops the art with the sober quality of suffering and tribulation; the artistic vision dictates a final absolute, but the means toward reflecting such a thing may arrive in any which shape, in any which colour.

It is a truth that most of the higher expressions of art have contained some semblance of tragedy; infact, given the state of our fallen world, we should think that it is the beginning of every heroic  text, every symphonic composition, for all good poets and all good composers begin by going away from the imperfections of ‘ordinary reality’ and end up creating something that is far more whole and far more real than what our eyes, ears, nose, or mind may ever experience; it is only the bad ones who consider ‘ordinary reality’ worth imitating, and their creative efforts are inevitably the ones that are overrun by arrogant mockery, useless allegory, and repulsive sentiment. By way of conclusion, we repeat: the quality of art begins in the vision itself (i.e., is what I behold Good), and it ends in the connection between the vision and ‘ordinary reality’ (i.e., is what I behold properly reflected in my work); the strength of every artist resides in the mutual co-operation between vision and praxis, and we can unfailingly discern the depths of such an alliance once we come to realize the higher and lower properties measured in art; once we come to discriminate between the complaints of a childish sentimentality and the heroic struggle of a pathetic tragedy.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

William Blake: The Traditional Perspective

William Blake approached the world with the honesty of a child, the imagination of an artist, and with the vision of a true prophet; he saw light where others could only see darkness, and he could only see emptiness where many others had founded their entire worldview. Having considered a significant portion of his art and corresponding philosophy, and how it contrasts sharply with the ‘ideals’ of his modern world, of our modern world, we can only come to agree with Kathleen Raine when she states that ‘Blake was a traditionalist in a society that had lapsed from tradition’.

Within the many chambers of wisdom that the Vedic legacy has to offer us, there is a particular process by which the initiate may come to know God (or His work), a search of negation that arrives at the treasure it seeks by confirming what is not gold or silver: ‘neti, neti’, he says, stripping away the chaff surrounding a single gemstone. William Blake tore through the excess with a caustic perception until he could bring the principles he sought into a clear and definite form; even physically, in the way that he engraved, he literally works until something perfect emerges from the base and worthless material. The prophet of London continually shaped, melded, gilded his perception to the point where it fully accorded with a vast and surprisingly comprehensive ‘system’ that adulates internalized beauty, and that scorns the ugly exterior of a fallen, materialized world.

If we were to define ‘humanism’ as the belief that man and his own reason, both empirical and rational, is self-sufficient without the existential need for a higher Intellect beyond immediate comprehension, it would be quite foolish indeed to assert that Blake is infact a humanist.  We would be similarly mistaken, however, if we were to ignore the particularly ‘anthropocentric’ aspect of his vision. Humanity is the greatest of all creation; all nature is subject to our intellect, our sense of order, for humanity is the only created thing gifted with a spirit that transcends mere animal instinct. Jesus Christ is the normative and quintessential man: he is the self-actualized mediator, the immortal bridge between humanity and divinity. So Blake reminds us of our position in the scholastic ‘chain of being’, and yet he undoubtedly entrenches himself in the firmly human point of view, organizing all reality from the perception of a fixed personal psyche.

Situated on the climactic battlefield of ‘mental warfare’, Blake’s ‘Devils’ are arrayed against the ‘Angels’ of the modern world, an irreconcilable duality that persists throughout all time and space. Like countless other men of his virtue, Blake understood himself to be physically alone in a titanic war against the very architects of modernity; and this feeling of utmost solitude (not loneliness) drove his vision to ever greater heights, far beyond the sterile reasoning of Locke, Bacon, and Newton, or ‘Satans Watchfiends’. Blake’s fiery imagination sprung new life with every glimpse of Golgonooza, with every artistic definition of a ‘Minute Particular’. William Blake belongs to the select few minds of genius who have mastered the ‘art of mythology’, or the act of bringing an abstract divinity into a tangible, symbolic, and meaningful representation that is not only comprehensible to the wise man of his age, but is utterly profound and wonderfully resonant to the alert and listening spirit, the wise man of every age.

‘Blake was, in spirit, a denizen of other and earlier ages of the world then the present material one to which chance had so rudely transplanted him. It is within the last century or so, that the heavens have gone further off. The supernatural world has during that period removed itself from civilized, cultivated humanity than it ever has before – in all time, heathen, or Christian. There is, at this moment, infinitely less belief in an invisible world, or even an apprehension of it, than at any previous historical era… It is only within the last century and a half, the faculty of seeing visions could have been one to bring a man’s sanity into question. Ever before, by simple-believing Romanist, by reverent awestruck pagan, or in the fervent East, the exceptional power had been accepted as a matter of course in gifted men, and had been turned to serious account in the cause of religion.’ William Hazlitt

Final biographical quotation:

‘(William) died on Sunday night at 6 Oclock in a most glorious manner. He said He was going to that Country he had all His life wished to see & expressed Himself Happy, hoping for Salvation through Jesus Christ – Just before he died His Countenance became fair. His eyes Brighten’d and He burst out Singing of the things he saw in Heaven.’ George Richmond, a friend

Monday, August 9, 2010

Anathema - We're Here Because We're Here

Any fan of Anathema will be quick to tell us what kind of themes that the band like to dwell on: despair, longing, tragedy, fallen romance, etc. etc.; and all of that pretty much dries up with this, Anathema’s eighth full-length. After gradually drifting away from their doom/ death origins in the mid-nineties, this English six-piece have been fairly steady in releasing material steeped heavily in a gloomy atmospheric rock that blends the real-life storytelling of Pink Floyd with a truly melancholic sense of melody that gives this type of music the sincerity it needs. As we are well-acquainted with the relatively unusual history of the band, we were most anxious to hear what they had to offer us this year…

The striking difference in this album is eminent: there is life blooming in every song. While we are typically accustomed to experiencing some dark tragedy that dominates the stage, and thus a deep inclination towards death, with We’re Here Because We’re Here we are faced with an immediate positivity which is at once hopeful and refreshing, and thus we experience a total affirmation of life. Metaphorically speaking, this music is like a rejuvenating ray of sunlight beaming through a crack in the cave of some tormented, forgotten hermit.

The most important part of this endeavour is, evidently, the vocal and lyrical aspect; it is the clearest passage through which this seminal message is conveyed. Vincent Cavanagh’s vocals are more ethereal than ever before; singing in a lucid, almost faint tone, his voice is furnished with an emotive conviction that provides the music with depth and authenticity. Lyrically, this band is exploring entirely new territory: we are no longer mourning the untimely loss of a loved one, and nor are we bemoaning the seeming vacuity of existence; instead, we are ripping off Burzum lyrics! Remember ‘suddenly, life has new meaning’? Anathema mimics it to perfection, but with a much different intention: while Burzum seems to derive meaning from unearthing some secret truth from beneath the soil, behind the darkness, Anathema is struck by a revelatory flash of light, where the meaning found is truly sudden. The rest of the album follows the same course: heavenward, entrusted with this new strength of faith and courage.

As important as the vocal and lyrical aspect in this album is, in this kind of band, it still does not really detract from the necessity of rhythm and melody. The rhythm section masters its role dutifully, leaving the guitar work to excel in the art of crafting the appropriate melodies, something which is even more important in a band that deems the demonstration of pathos as so critically essential. A key feature of this record is how the music slowly builds into a powerful atmosphere before pouring out into a perfectly indulgent climax; this is primarily achieved by perseverance in melody, where the guitar lines consistently follow the vocal lines toward that certain pitch that completes the movement and falls off into the next. Simply stated, the guitar work is successful in creating the right mood and impression which is precisely the equivalent of the lyrics: sunny, golden, and brimming with hope. 

The basis, the very core of We’re Here Because We’re Here is quite easy to define due to the simplicity of the lyrics and the corresponding lyrics; but what’s not so easy to define is how to place this album in the context of its predecessors. It could plainly be the fulfillment of the broken wanderer who, having endured the wild tragedies of reality, has at last returned to the sunlit estates of his father, but perhaps not. Whatever the context, it is patently clear that we have been made witness to an album that focuses not on the empty yearnings of the fallen and bitter mind, but on the spirited campaign of an embattled soul, a campaign that finally leads him to a land of peace, the land of his father. 

I've found my way to fly free from the constraints of time
I have soared through the sky, seen life far below in mind;
breathed in truth, love, serene, sailed on oceans of belief;

searched and found life inside, we're not just a moment in time...

Thursday, July 29, 2010


‘The Vegetative Universe. Opens like a flower from the earths center:
In which is Eternity. It expands in Stars to the Mundane Shell
And there it meets Eternity again, both within and without,
And the abstract Voids between the Stars are the Satanic Wheels.’ ~ Jerusalem

The city of Golgonooza is where Blake really meets Plotinus, Leibniz, and anyone else who posits eternity as an inherently internal perception, something that begins with an inner identity blossoming out into a vast network of identities that are nonetheless finite and thereby inferior to the singular original identity. Blake’s charge, then, which is once again aligned with that of Platonism, is to rediscover, or more importantly, to recreate that inner One, that comprehensive monad which inevitably leads to the All.

It is the method that Blake utilizes which ultimately separates him from prior philosophers, if only in appearance. From Vedanta to the Stoics, from the Christ to Gnosticism, we gather a more or less unified declaration to know thyself; Blake is slightly more practical than most, offering a very general means to this epistemological end. If every man is some kind of artist, as we have learned, than it certainly behooves us to discern the precise nature of our particular artistry, for therein lies the essential man.

No work of art is ever wasted, never neglected in the grand scheme of things; rather, it is dutifully collected in the city of Golgonooza, where art is the wood, brick and stone used to build everything. So, where we increasingly identify with our inner, artistic selves, we are also building Golgonooza; in this way can Blake ingeniously merge the individual aspect into the collective entirety in a kind of karmic scale which allots to every man what is properly his. This concept really epitomizes what Blake tries to accomplish on the metaphysical level, which is, namely, to subsume the merits of the individual into the integral framework of the greater whole.

‘And every part of the City if fourfold; & every inhabitant fourfold.
And every pot & vessel & garment & utensil of the houses,
And every house, fourfold…’ ~ Jerusalem

The city of Golgonooza is characterized by the ‘fourfold’ nature of its constituents, which of course means the perfection, the completion of the city; it is what the Prophets have called ‘New Jerusalem’, the place where the fallen world finally returns to its proto-Eden state. Now, this not only corroborates the view that Golgonooza is a figurative ‘ideality’, a heaven of sorts, but it also contributes to the position that such a supposedly fantastic realm is actually possible to conceive of and really ‘live’ in whilst enduring our present state of mortality.

We once more return to the notion of esse est percipi: God makes Himself immediately clear to the seeking individual, whose reality is now founded on this vision of God, which inexorably manifests itself in some shape or form based on art, which makes its return to divinity via the golden streets of Golgonooza. This is a theoretically necessary cycle that is distinctly paralleled to the cosmic paths of mankind once he has awakened himself from the dreary, slumberous natural world; and yet it is more than merely theoretical: this vision and this reality is a vigorous and endearing call to arms sent out to any of the old guard still willing to raise themselves to their former godhood, to their old thrones sitting upon eternity.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Vision and Art

First of all, Blake thought that any theories of art were ipso facto null and void due to their smallness in the face of the highest species of art; the theory, which intrinsically implies universality, fails to account for the wonderful mystery that the wide array of art can oftentimes produce in the most magical, unpredictable ways. Now, having said so, we will nevertheless endeavour to understand precisely what Blake did think of art from the theoretical point of view which arises from his greater worldview…

The most obvious truth about Blake’s view of art would naturally come from something that we are already aware of, namely, that insofar as our perception of this world is limited, so too will be our artistic accomplishment; the extent of the artist’s spiritual vision dictates the extent of his mastery of the arts. In this way we can see Plato yet again re-appearing, reminding us of the mimetic function, or the impulse to imitate an already imitative object. If the object that we are wishing to demonstrate in poetic or visual representation is already a copy, it behooves us to seek out the original idea residing behind the sensible manifestation, and to portray it symbolically, viz., through the world of symbols that directly indicate the Forms above.

 The vegetative state of our world is a priori an ugly, vicious picture; if we insert our own human imagination, however, our perception becomes a posteriori a beautiful and immortal thing of art. This idea that we visualize through our higher imagination is surely a part of what Plato called the ‘Formal realm’, and it is clearly manifest in Blake’s schema of symbols. Moreover, it must be known that the world of beautiful Forms is not really non-existent prior to its human visualization; it truly is eternal in both the heavenly and mundane aspects of reality, but its recognizance requires the higher human faculties of vision and Intellect to re-create according to his own particular understanding, and therefore become real to him.

In more relevant terms, we can once again succinctly paraphrase the eminent Blake scholar Northrop Frye, who supposes art to be an imaginative ordering of sense experience; furthermore, the dismal, linear attributes of the material itself is actually a hindrance to the artist, who ultimately wishes to untie all of it into a single, united form that contrarily is beautiful and revelatory. To use Frye’s own example, which really is the best possible example, Beethoven’s deafness did not at all affect his imagination; it instead assisted him in his creative efforts! And as for the ontological experience of the artistic endeavour, we will quote Frye himself:

‘The “visionary” is the man who has passed through sight into vision, never the man who has voided seeing, who has never trained himself to see clearly, or who generalizes among his stock of visual memories. If there is a reality beyond our perception, we must increase the power and coherence of our perception, for we shall never reach reality in any other way. If the reality turns out to be infinite, then perception must be infinite too.  To visualize, therefore, is to realize. The artist is par excellence the man who struggles to develop his perception into creation, his sight into vision; and art is a technique of realizing, through an ordering of sense experience by the mind, a higherreality than linear unselected experience or a second-hand evocation of it can give.’~ Northrop Frye

Although Frye is presumably speaking of the specifically artistic evolution in this passage, it clearly has wider implications, perhaps inclusive of all men. This normal imperative for the true artist is not exclusive to the artist of the plastic arts, or of music and lyric, but to all humanity. This idea is exemplified in the Laocoon aphorisms, where Blake says, ‘A Poet, or a Painter, a Musician, an Architect; the Man or Woman who is not one of these is not a Christian. You must leave Fathers & Mothers & Houses & Lands if they stand in the way of Art. Fasting & c. all relate to Art. Prayer is the study of Art. Praise is the Practise of Art.’ So every person is conceivably an artist in his own way, and therefore this dramatic undertaking of converting vegetative sight into real, imaginative vision applies to every human being.

Now that we know the ideal of any serious artist, what might the outcome actually appear as; for doubtless something that imitates divinity instead of physicality must be substantially different.

‘The great and golden rule of art, as well as of life, is this: That the more distinct, sharp and wirey the bounding line, the more perfect the work of art, and the less keen and sharp, the greater is the evidence of weak imitation, plagiarism, and bungling…’ Descriptive Catalogue

This obviously corresponds to Blake’s collective metaphysic, that of definite identities properly integrated into the all-subsuming humanity. Blake furthermore states in his marginal notes on Reynolds, ‘Demonstration, Similitude & harmony are Objects of Reasoning. Invention, Identity & Melody are Objects of Intuition. Thus, the more mathematical tools of art are found to be inferior to the more ‘intuitive’ insights, which cannot be measured quantitatively but can be measured qualitatively.

So we have discovered that Blake does not really have a ‘theory of art’ at all; or, rather, that his overall philosophical perception includes a description of artthat extends the artistic process ina  way conducive to his most immediate goal, viz., the apocalypse of self,the empowerment of sensual seeing into perceptive vision. Therefore, art itself is no longer too ‘comprehensive’ for any theory about it, but certainly becomes part of an epistemological system that actually absorbs the art complex, as well as every aspect of ‘real living’ that could possibly be endorsed by Blake’s idealistic objective. We conclude this section with another pertinent quotation from Mr. Frye…

‘All art is vigorous and controlled line-drawing: painting is drawing on canvas; engraving is drawn on copper; music is drawn on sound: whatever the medium, the imaginative impulse to conquer it is the same. All bad art fumbles, hesitates, and breaks up the line: all bad art has the disease of what Blake called “blotting and blurring”’~ Northrop Frye

Monday, June 7, 2010

Rescuing Femininity (Part XI of the 'Blake Project')

The great secret of morals is love; or a going-out of our own nature, and an identification of ourselves with the beautiful which exists in thought, action, or person, not our own.’ ~ Percy Bysshe Shelley

In a certain manner of speaking, the female has zero metaphysical existence; she is insubstantial; she has no Being, no identification whatsoever with the higher sort of reality exposited by the Vedas, the Platonic Dialogues, and the Enneads. Anything feminine is entirely a fabrication of this, the natural world, which can just as easily be said to be feminine itself. These are the foundational patterns that find their way into Blake’s cosmology, particularly in the later prophetic works, where the true nature of the female is finally delineated and consequently appropriated into the overall schema.

When looking at Blake’s poetry for the first time, common interpretations lead one to immediately pick out certain social criticisms that he is making, and yet a social criticism is rarely the full extent of what he is really expounding. It is more often the case that, instead of outlining a single idea through poetic discourse, Blake is identifying multiple ideas, the most important of which is frequently the one that is most cleverly ‘hidden’, in spite of his intense dislike for the artistic obscurity that was in vogue during his time. Moreover, these ideas are probably not intended to be opaque and concealed within layers of poetic ambiguity, but have nevertheless become so merely because of developing theories of literary interpretation that, in the main, read things at a surface level, sometimes missing the most crucial point in regards to the Blakean context. So, it is not that Blake purposefully hides an essential idea, it is that they are unusual enough to become hidden by the usual modes of understanding the text and imagery.

The specific point that we are trying to get at it is, Blake’s conception of woman has been portrayed as pointedly cryptic and enigmatic; on the one hand we have the seemingly simple explanation of woman as the quintessential picture of desire, and the moral incursions that impose chastity upon her are part of the devil’s work in actuality; and, on the other hand, we see woman defined in a rather patristic light, viz. of an unhealthy, seductive force that drives man to madness and spiritual corruption; so, in other words, woman herself is the devil’s work. As is often the case in these kinds of situations, the truth resides somewhere between the two, and to resolve the dilemma, we return to the concept of the Emanation.

As the positive reflection of a man’s inner state, the emanation is beautiful, appearing in all the virtues apropos of womanhood. There is also, however, a dual possibility inherent in the emanation herself: remaining as the silver luminosity of an Eve or a Jerusalem, or degenerating into a terrible femininity a la Rahab or Vala, the manifestations of the seductive and demoralizing impulse of the female persona. Los has this to say about the unnatural deification of woman, which is precisely what the latter type demands:

'What may man be? Who can tell! but what may Woman be?

To have Power over Man from Cradle to corruptible Grave

There is a Throne in every Man, it is the Throne of God  

This Woman has claimd as her own & Man is no more!’

Thus, in worshipping woman (we can also call this pantheism, or worship of the natural world), man has shifted his attention from within (which is the realm of God and man) to without (the realm of appearance and woman); and this he has done under the supposed splendor of the ill-meaning female who has effectively beguiled him into her chains. The contrasting element is, of course, the desire for union between male and female, which is consummated and symbolized in the loving embrace of physical union; this obviously represents the reunion of the poles that obviously takes place in the symbolical, metaphysical realm. Therefore, femininity is potentiality on either front: it can be either degeneration into a living manifestation of what Blake disparagingly called the ‘Female Will’, or it can be the patient ‘Shakti’ that acts as the spiritual stimulus for man himself.

'It is the natural and mortal body that Blake loved and hated, and though the potential for spiritual regeneration lies in the physical body, the actuality does not. (The actuality is in Eternity.)’ ~ Diana Hume George

William Blake dwelled in a reactionary age where many intellectuals and sentimentalists alike responded to the Industrial Revolution in similar ways. (This is what leads Kathleen Raine to say, ‘William Blake was a traditionalist in a society that as a whole had lapsed from tradition.') One of the reactions was in the widespread and newly founded appeal for nature, going so far as to deify it in the fashion of paganism, particularly in the case of the English and French romantics. This was the greatest reason for Blake’s intense scorn for the natural world in the metaphysical sense, since he saw the devoted attention formerly devoted to God being paid to the cruel and barren affairs of nature; this was a grave betrayal. ‘Where Man is not Nature is barren’, as Blake famously stated; and yet his vitriol for the ‘visible world’ is ultimately negated when we remember the importance of viewing the physical realm through the redemptive lens of symbolism, which is the vision courtesy of divinity.

'I assert for Myself that I do not behold the Outward Creation & that to me it is a hindrance & not Action it is as the Dirt upon my feet No part of Me. What it will be Questiond When the Sun rises do you not see a round Disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea O no no I see an innumerable Company of the Heavenly host crying Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God Almighty I question not my Corporeal or Vegetative Eye any more than I would Question a Window concerning a Sight I look thro it & not with it.’

Once again, esse est percipi; the physicality provides the base, the material which our intellect works on; our vision sees through and beyond the matter and into infinity. The female is an inner part of an integral self; separate from masculinity and the apperception of the intellect, she is ontologically vacant; but when she is spiritually and physically joined with her counterpart, she has attained completion in the proper integration of Man. 

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Blake's Hero (Part X of the 'Blake Project')

'I am inspired: I act not for myself; for Albions sake
I now am what I am: a horror and an astonishment.' Jerusalem

Throughout the development of his prophetic 'system', Blake continually makes use of the 'author surrogate', or the use of a character that expresses the ideas of the writer himself. For Blake, that surrogate is Los, the fallen reflection of the northern Zoa, Urthona. Los' great labour is, 'Striving with Systems to deliver Individuals from those Systems', and this takes place in the laborious network of his fiery furnaces, the creative depths likened to the metaphysical level of Hell of Jacob Boehme, an alchemist of considerable influence on Blake. Los represents the prophetic, visionary, artistic element in man; he represents man's capability of proper perception, wherein divinity is understood in beautiful, symbolic pictures and dramatic language; in short, Los represents the poetic nature and function of Blake himself.

If we recall Blake's perception of the Fall, how divinity fell along with humanity, we will remember that we are able to see merely a portion of the divine in man; Los, or the imaginative vision or power, is that portion. In The Book of Urizen, Urizen and Los are rent apart, both suffering terrible agony in the sundering; the difference is, while Los eventually recovers from his wound, Urizen never does, no matter how much he tries to treat it with 'measuring' and 'reasoning'; no matter how much Urizen endeavours to 'explore the abyss', his pain and his prolonged death remain irremediable. The significance of this essentially cosmogonic text resides in Blake's insistence on the artistic faculty as the truly divine element in man; Blake does not agree with Plato when he argues against poesis as an imitation of an imitation, or that the poets evoke beauty without realizing its divine source; instead, Blake asserts poetry, or whatever applicable form of poesis, as the sole connection between gods and men that remains standing even today. Los, unlike Plato's poets of the Republic,  is perfectly cognizant of what he is doing, and he demonstrably personifies this connection, this rainbow of 'Bifröst'; 'the swaying road to heaven'.

' proportion as prophecy is more perfect and august than augury, both in name and fact, in the same proportion, as the ancients testify, is madness superior to a sane mind for the one is only of human, but the other is of divine origin... he who, having no touch of the Muses' madness in his soul, comes to the door and thinks that he will get into the temple by the help of art – he, I say, and his poetry are not admitted; the sane man disappears and is nowhere when he enters into rivalry with the madman.' Phaedrus, Plato

As the sole surviving 'god' in man, Los is employed in an important, magnanimous function: the resurrection of man to his primordial state. This is hardly the sentimental dreaminess of the naturalist J.J. Rousseau; this is true Christian belief at the heart of the superlative Orthodoxy, wherein resides the supreme doctrine of Jesus' death and his consequent ascension; that is to say, the doctrine of Adam's successful redemption. Labouring at his furnaces and his anvils, Los represents the one side of Boehme's God which lurks in the depths, producing the energic fire; the other side of this God must convert the infernal fire into an ecclesiastical light; in Jungian terms, this is the nominal function of ordinary consciousness when organizing the vastness of the unconscious substrata. In this way, Blake vindicates the fallen world through the very manipulation of it; Los creates prophetic meaning through seeing in the base material of the 'Mundane Shell' a wholly imaginative world, the world which will absolve the crimes of Adam and lift the Christ into spiritual and everlasting authority.

The epic poem Jerusalem portrays Albion, the characterization of both England and humanity itself, as dozy and ignorant of the Saviour's imploring speech; he becomes increasingly slumberous in the state of Ulro, the state of regeneration, eventually dying and traveling 'the passage through Eternal Death'. Throughout the entire work Los is always the sole antagonist against Albion and his terrible sons and daughters, who are also his spectres of a sort. Delving deep in his subterranean furnaces, Los exerts himself tirelessly in his effort to destroy the illusory existence and reconcile man with his emanative aspect; he as well must fight to resolve the conflict that persists between himself and his own emanation, Enitharmon. In an excited flurry of visionary proclamations and prophetic insight into the cold mists of mankind, Los frightens 'the Ghosts of Albion' in hurling his judicial hammer again and again in thunderous fury; 'These are the Demonstrations of Los, the blows of my mighty Hammer'. Los releases an incessant tirade against the fragility of man's manufactured and formless covering.

...Los beheld undaunted furious
His heavd Hammer; he swung it round & at one blow,
In unpitying ruin driving down the pyramids of pride
Smiting the Spectre on his Anvil & the integuments of his Eye
And Ear unbinding in dire pain, with many blows,
Of strict severity self-subduing, & with many tears labouring.' Jerusalem

Thus has Los attained self-mastery, destroying not only the indefinite fragments without, but also the needless portion that exists within. Enitharmon laments that, with Los once again amalgamating into Albion, she will 'vanish for ever', and then Los 'wilt Create another Female according to (his) Will'. Los answers simply, saying that 'Sexes must vanish & cease To be, when Albion arises from his dread repose', meaning that Enitharmon will no longer be a distinct figure in the world of generation, but an integral part of Los himself. Gaining back his emanation, Los makes his final speech: 'Fear not my Sons this Waking Death. He is become one with me Behold him here! we shall not Die! we shall be united in Jesus. Will you suffer this Satan this Body of Doubt that Seems but Is not To occupy the very threshold of Eternal Life'. Albion therefore awakens when time is finished, taking up his golden bow and aligning the Four Zoas in their proper locations, praising Urthona (or Los) for keeping 'the Divine Vision in time of trouble'.

'I care not whether a Man is Good or Evil; all that I care
Is whether he is a Wise Man or a Fool. Go! Put off Holiness
And put on Intellect: or my thunderous Hammer shall drive thee
To wrath which thou condemnest: till thou obey my voice'. The Command of Los

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dark Way To Paradise: Dante’s ‘Inferno’ In Light of the Spiritual Path

There are very few books in the entire history of Western literature that are more important, more iconic than the Divine Comedy, and fewer still in specifically Christian literature. Dante was hardly understood in his own time, and he remains widely misunderstood in the present time; his writing is profound, revelatory, apocalyptic, even, but nothing else can be compared with the power of his symbolic vision that quietly subsumes all individual aspects of his work into a single comprehensive worldview which is at once potently spiritual at the highest level and readily applicable to moral living. That Dante’s opus is richly symbolic need not be said; that it is universally symbolic must be said.

We entered this particular book of Mrs. Upton’s with a modest awareness of Dante’s weird and wicked world that lies beneath ours, and with hopes that were equally modest: to see Upton extract a definite link, a certain parallel between her thesis (or, Dante’s tale made clear by traditional knowledge) and the work itself. In a word, we were hoping to see the anagogic qualities of the poetry unearthed and, through traditional understanding, crystallized into an unmistakably clear statement.  What we instead discovered was that this book, which is really a series of exegetical essays, is more or less of an almost scientific nature, that the individual ‘revelations’, although written in a fairly poetic manner, were not so much part of a single linear path as they were isolated components of a meticulous dissection. We do not mean to say these things in an overbearingly negative context, merely that they were not identified and organized in the way which we were looking for, a point that we shall return to below.

Every one of the thirty-four essays (one for each Canto) attempts to interpret its respective Canto in a way that reveals its ‘multi-dimensional’ and symbolic reality; while the other ‘dimensions’ are indeed discussed, Upton rightly places foremost emphasis on the last and greatest understanding, namely, the spiritual or, in Dante’s words, the anagogical understanding. Every character of evil, every level of hell is therefore perceived to be analogous to a peculiar darkness in the spiritual state of man; this allows us to comprehend quite easily the fundamental flaws and vices that each ‘infra-human’ lapse in judgment inherently contains. In this respect, viz., pursuing higher spiritual living through the awareness of its evil antagonist, Jennifer Doane Upton is most successful.

While we were expecting René Guénon’s excellent study, The Esoterism of Dante, to be an integral reference for this book, Upton actually makes little use of Guenon; she instead elects the primary aid of the Swiss traditionalist Frithjof Schuon, even quoting him at lengths spanning several pages! Although this was undoubtedly a slight surprise to us, it did not take long to determine why Upton called upon the reverent, mystical Schuon instead of the coolly rational and supremely metaphysical Guénon: the amorous work of Dante demands poetic justice first, which evidently is its own metaphysic.

A central identity of Dante is, firstly, his ideal of love; everything that is good essentially derives from the love of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and everything that is evil essentially derives from the inversion of love, which takes the form of some cruel and hideous parody of the ideal love. Upton is quick to seize the importance of this, and nowhere are her observations more precise, more astute, and more relevant than when she is detailing the relations between the heavenly ideal and its infernal parody, and this is precisely because the greatest meaning of this book (and, indeed, of the first third of the Comedy itself), resides in the telling of evil, which is also another strange paradox of Christianity, and the justification of ‘evil’ thereof. The possibility of the good in the created world is not possible at all without the possibility of evil in this world, which is perhaps the clearest statement that Upton never made.

The single major complaint that we can invoke against this neat study is the one mentioned earlier, that its studies are largely limited to each particular Canto. Any common thread that can be found between the covers are there only because any real undertaking of the Inferno would not allow them to be omitted since they are so finely ingrained into the text; Upton fails to notice the many parallels and the ‘symbolic stream’ that underlines the poetry and thus fails to form any definite and rigid correspondence between Dante and her interpretation; to speak metaphorically, which is generally how things are best understood, Upton lights up a series of waypoints along the shore when Dante paves the continuous path with a radiant and shimmering glow that leads the follower to new depths, to new heights. Notwithstanding this rather serious shortcoming, Upton nevertheless manages to illustrate the divine mysteries and the cosmic symbols of Dante in a special clarity that is seldom seen in our day, in our age.  

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Relocating the Fragments (Part IX of the 'Blake Project')

'I see the Four-fold Man. The Humanity in deadly sleep
 And its fallen Emanation. The Spectre & its cruel Shadow.' Jerusalem

In the course of the Fall, various illusory entities are conceived through an identification of something inside the Self with something completely outside of the Self, which is non-existence; thus, though femininity is actually an integral element of the original man,  she takes physical form when man mistakes his creation, his own identity for something beyond himself; these 'illusory entities', taking on characters in Blake's cast, consist of the different roles and obstacles that play a part in confronting the psychic self. As these are figures conjured in delusion, the task of the presently deformed individual is, inevitably, either: (1) their reconciliation with total consciousness, or (2) their immediate destruction.

The first order of personification is the Emanation, which represents an inner portion of the preconditioned individual that has been dislocated from its true place.  The emanation has become an extension of the perceiving self, and is therefore an object of beauty that the perceiver longs to identify and reconcile with himself. This idea finds a Classical precursor in Plato's Phaedrus, where the one horse driving the chariot strives upward in a clam and determined temperance while the other rushes madly toward the ground in sensual violence. The meaning of this all resides in the method of pursuit: will consciousness observe the emanation rightly and give serenades in gentle innocence; or will it perceive this portion of itself as merely sensual, a physical body to enjoy in plain and riotous pleasure? While Blake ultimately sees a different means than Plato, who is far more conventional in his advocation of a serene asceticism, both are agreed inasmuch as beauty belongs more to an innate 'vision' than it does to an instinctual attachment to the flesh.

'Awake! Awake Jerusalem! O lovely emanation of Albion
Awake and overspread all nations as in Ancient Time
For lo! The Night of Death is past and the Eternal Day
Appears upon our Hills: Awake Jerusalem, and come away.' Jerusalem

For each of the primary psychic components, there is another that forms during the Fall; this is called the Spectre. One purpose of the spectre is to depict a clouded and disfigured representation of the original identity; for example, spectres of Urizen, whose right place is as 'schoolmaster', manifest themselves as Bromion, Jehovah, 'Nobodaddy', even as 'Urizen' himself, in typical Blakean confusion. All of these characters share an ugly penchant for collectivized order based on 'jealousy', social tyranny, and moral absolutism; they are usually dramatically opposed by Los and the powers of imagination, or by Orc and the ferocity of adolescent desire. Another purpose of the spectre is similar to that of the emanation, where it is a separate body yet part of the perceiver, and yet is different in its constitution, intent, and modes of behaviour. The spectre brings out the negative qualities dormant in the individual and tries to use these to dominate him; this is why the spectre is, in the allegorical style of Hawthorne, the archetypal doppelgänger. The spectre is active and often malevolent, aspiring to distract the subject from his emanation, his other half, which contrasts deeply with the passivity of the emanation herself.  Milton combats his spectre Satan, for example, who attempts to preserve his governance over Milton  in a way much like how a virus controls its host body; Satan, or 'Selfhood', is the Jungian 'shadow', and is defeated through its direct and uncompromising appraisal. Milton does exactly this; by finally facing (or becoming conscious of) Satan as the dark and inverted hero figure, and beseeching the aid of the highest power to 'cast off Selfhood' (the realization of humility), Milton, having approached and conquered the deepest nightmare of his being, is at long last amongst the 'Redeemed' of humanity. 

'There is a Negation, there is a Contrary
The Negation must be destroyd to redeem the Contraries
The Negation is the Spectre, the Reasoning Power in Manifestation                                                      
This is a false Body: an Incrustation over my Immortal                                                                         
Spirit; a Selfhood which must be put off & annihilated always
To cleanse the Face of my Spirit by Self-Examination.' Milton a Poem

The human self is at the center of the cosmos, an imaginative eye peering at everything surrounding it; a gloomy shade at the corner of perception gradually coalesces into into an oppressive darkness, suffocating the self beneath an elusive myriad of spectral forms. But then, shining visions erupt, piercing the worldly shell covering the mind's eye, informing humanity of a greater, transcendent realm; informing humanity that its existence is not actually meaningless. This force of darkness is Blake's antagonistic world of Spectres and Shadows, the illusory images born of a fallen race; the occasional glimpses of a higher state are the Emanations, the perennial reminders of (1) humanity's original state, and (2) of our persisting telos that perpetually beckons us to places beyond the mundane prison of time and space. When we earlier declared that the perceiving individual must either reconcile or destroy these exteriorized images, we were not telling the entire truth; for, in true reconciliation with the emanation, which once again resolves the crisis between the internal and the external through their reunion, the harmful and threatening aspects of the spectre are immediately destroyed, leaving the embattled individual finally at peace with both himself and the mysterious world surrounding him. Thus, psychic reconciliation necessarily includes the idea of destroying that which does not inhere in the fundamental framework of man's total Self.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Jesus Christ

'Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.' Mark 10: 14

What is possibly the most remarkable trait about Jesus Christ's position in Blake's cosmology is that he is quite likely the only dominant character whose function and purpose remains static throughout the poems, a very telling observation considering the protean nature of Blake's rather fluid dramatis personae, where any particular spirit or person might represent one thing in the first instance, and then something entirely different in the second. In sharp contrast to these vacillations in symbolic reference, Jesus Christ does not change in an substantive aspect.

The primary purpose of the Christ is, of course, soteriological; he is the true Messiah who arose from the passivity of death to ascend into spiritual activity, viz. the kingdom of Heaven. This perennial 'hero image' achieves its effect of universal salvation through a vicarious relationship between the resurrection of Christ and the poetic, individual understanding of the iconic symbol that the apotheosis presents; Blake is in full comprehension of this process when he assigns Jesus the herculean role of lifting the newly aware individual into spiritual awakening, as in the end of Jerusalem, and the supplementary role of the Judge, the supreme arbiter of the Just and the Wicked, as in the 'Designs of the Last Judgment'. In either role, Jesus adopts a position of governance that encompasses all humanity either symbolically, through the metaphor as Jesus the universal redeemer, or quasi-literally, through the judgment of all mankind.

This unique task leads us to the deliberation over Christ's greatest function in Blake's vast symbology: the ultimate assimilator (or 'subsumer') of man as an individual. We briefly mentioned above the problem of retaining particularity whilst ascending into universality without offering the clear and specific solution; Blake says that, 'As a mas is So he Sees', so how does this man, who has a different perspective than everyone else, gain entrance into the universal humanity, the 'Four-fold Man' which is more or less wholly unconditioned? The 'more or less' actually exonerates Blake of this issue, since the general form of humanity really is ascribed with a precise and definite structure that directly corresponds with the body parts of the human figure. Thus, every individual has his own unique role (i.e., part of the hand, foot, mind, etc.) to fulfill in order to become an integral part of the single body. This 'inner destiny' is achieved through the Christian relationship with the Godhead, Christ Himself, who subsumes the particular into the universal via the particular's peculiar mode of higher hermeneutics, or the realization of his spiritual and natural constitution according to the principial dharma (crudely translated as 'law') underlying all phenomenal reality. In this way (which is presently explained through a much heavier means than the lucid poetry itself), where the relative is reconciled with the absolute through the identification of his core being with that of the singular 'Four-fold Man', Blake has truly created his own comprehensive 'system' that is, once again, paralleled to Platonic thinking in both the West and the East.

'As all men are alike (tho' infinitely various) So all Religions & all similars have one source.' ~ 'There is No Natural Religion'

Finally, it is no coincidence that the character Jesus Christ enters the act near the end, or that his role in 'Vision of the Last Judgment' is central; the significance lies in the fact that the individual never really beholds Christ until the last vestige of worldly existence is stripped away, and then the shining glory of his almighty redeemer is all that he sees. This strongly relates to the white of Apocalypse, where everything somehow conditioned is eradicated in the pearly sheen of spiritual catharsis. Until this final point where we may behold the awesome beauty of Heaven itself, we can only understand its spiritual nature through symbolic reality, and the only way to understand the ladder that ascends to Heaven is through the symbolic reality of Christ Himself.

Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: over these the second death hath no power; but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years. Revelation 20:6