Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Blakean Metaphysic

As true vision perceives the very essence of reality, it cannot help but be metaphysical by nature. The difference with Blake is that, though he identifies different realms of reality, these are really only domains of knowing, making Blake's metaphysic purely epistemological; indeed, methods of knowing form the philosophic crucible of Blake's entire worldview, and are thus present in all aspects, symbolic or otherwise.

In order to re-awaken Albion, or the creative humanity complete in itself, we must realize a 'spiritualized' mode of seeing, an active epistemic that appears in direct and intended contrast to the passive sense impressions of empirical science. This is reality itself, as Blake affirms: 'Imagination is not a State: it is the Human Existence Itself'. The Gospels, and the prophecies found in Ezekiel, Acts, and the Book of Revelation, are all higher forms of this true divine vision, graciously preserved in their purity, and altogether characterize the Biblical tradition that Blake wishes to exhume from its miserable tomb and to once more exalt on high. He ultimately wishes to see 'Eternity in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower'; to see the infinitely beautiful in every single perception: this is precisely what he means by the spiritual, imaginative vision.

Although this is a grand and visually lofty idea, it is hardly the sole, exclusive type of 're-awakening'; it does, however, entail any other individual method, though its form might appear differently. Northrop Frye, the pre-eminent Blake scholar, says that, ' there are exactly as many realities as there are men'. This leads us to another central idea: the differentiation between 'General forms' and 'Minute Particulars'; Blake believes that the former results in a spurious aggregate comprised of an array of particulars assembled by the 'tools of Satan', or 'Memory', and 'Ratio', or fallen reason. This is when the individual loses its particular vitality and is crudely absorbed into the monstrous generality, which cares only for an equality en masse and not for the specific needs of its members.

Blake encounters an essential problem early on when he tries to visualize just how the individual becomes part of the greater 'universal Humanity' while yet retaining his identity; some have said of him in regard to this complexity: 'Bake is a dualist who wants and tries to be a monist'. Whether he ever truly solves this problem is debatable, but this question is important to keep in mind. For the present, it is to be known that Blake's most ambitious goal in this regard is to preserve a man's particular reality whilst according it to the overall humanity, and not losing its vitality to abstraction and generalities in the process.

The declaration, 'As a man is So he Sees', helps us in comprehending that subject and object are not two different things but one inseparable reality. If we visualize the external world in terms of our own internal understanding, what is the mundane reality but the physical extension of our own ideas? The old philosophical proverb, esse est percipi, or being is perception, applies immediately to the present context, as nothing really is if it is not attached with a particular identity deriving from our highest sense, viz. imagination. Thus we can see how a proper delineation of the sacred and the profane takes place; when something is spotted and brought into artistic detail by imaginative vision, it is bequeathed with a certain sacrality; and when something is obscure and irrelevant to everything but the sensual, it is deemed illusory and thus profane.

Another important idea related to Blake's metaphysic / epistemic, returning to the notion of a dualistic monist, is his view of the conditional duality of the physical dimension. Throughout Blake's work we find hints to a theory of opposites, where they agree and where they conflict, but nowhere is it more thoroughly considered than in his iconic poem, 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell'. Within the text, Blake posits two seemingly irreconcilable sides or factions that are always opposed; and yet they are equally necessary. The problem that Blake sees is that one of them will overcome the other in power and become absolute, inheriting a tendency to ostracize its opposite in moralistic terms, resulting in a deep 'psychological' repression of the conquered faction. Blake makes the attempt to show that neither are inherently Good or Evil, but merely a different side of the same coin, so to speak, and that our progress is inherently linked to the maintenance of these opposites.

This has been a very broad brush-stroke of some gigantic themes, and by no means an exhaustive exposition of 'the Blakean metaphysic'; but now the reader will be acquainted with several of Blake's primary themes, allowing us to fill in the details with much greater ease. In closing, it is remarkable to note the very method Blake uses in his engravings, or corroding away the excess to reveal the imprint, is a direct parallel to Blake's artistic assault on the philosophical pedantry and the social caprice of his day; it might be said, perhaps, that Blake had learned how to 'philosophize with a hammer' before that caustic philologist had even been born...

"But first the notion that man has a body distinct from his soul is to be expunged; this I shall do by printing in the infernal method, by corrosives, which in hell are salutary and medicinal, melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the infinite which was hid." - 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell'.

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