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

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Nokturnal Mortum - The Voice of Steel

Black metal from eastern Europe has been typically plagued by two main points of sickness: (1) the inability to transcend the politics of any which ideology (National Socialism being the obvious villain) and (2) its incompetence in the proper integration of a folk tradition with the black metal aesthetic. The results of most efforts to do so may indeed incorporate 'folkish' elements and some nice, soothing melodies, but the synthesis ultimately falls flat due to the blindness in regard to the true nature of metal itself.

The Voice of Steel is a clear and shining exception, and that is mostly because it is not actually 'metal' as we formally know it. Sure, the instruments and the technique are unchanged, but what's different is that the music is imbued with a spirit altogether foreign to its foundation. Whereas metal has been essentially of a Dionysian nature, id est one of impulse and rebellion, of darkness and fire, Nokturnal Mortum has somehow managed to create something of which we might call Apollonian, or something pertaining to authority and tradition, to light and order. 

The musical elements found on this album are many and diverse; there's the folk instrumentation, of course, but there are also bits of rock to be discerned, even some 'psychedelic' solo sections reminiscent of Pink Floyd. Now, usually when a band tries to merge numerous styles into a single composition, the attempt fails utterly; modern popular music is littered with countless barren graveyards testifying to this truth. 
The Voice of Steel, on the other hand, is, metaphorically speaking, a polygamous marriage of several female entities cohesively married to the central Apollonian principle; that is to say, multiple forms are neatly combined and organized by the album's artistic vision, which evidently results in something that is as varied as it is unified. Furthermore, as a note of interest, nascent legitimate genres of music seldom arise spontaneously but are instead effected by a number of prior traditions; heavy metal, for example, was born out of Classical, rock music, and, one might argue, the blues. 

One of the most appealing aspects of 
The Voice of Steel is the strength of its structure, of its compositional organization; the entire album (and the duration of which is over an hour long) flows with a special clarity that makes it a truly singular listen. Every song is markedly different from the other, and yet every song is tied tightly together by this unifying bond that runs throughout the album; the resultant impression on the listener is that he knows without question that each song is a definitive component of the entire work. Moreover, much like the surprisingly similar Belus, the album really sounds like a Classical symphony: a theme is presented, then developed, then presented again with a new understanding of it. These themes, along with their corresponding melodies, are dramatic and profound, and they are all the more so given their specific context in the album proper; and, while we are admittedly unaware of the lyrics so far, they (the themes / melodies) presumably accord with the conceptual framework, which is indicated not only by the music itself, but by such song titles as 'By Path of the Sun' and 'White Tower', two striking examples of a distinctly Apollonian nature. 

Much like the aforementioned 
BelusThe Voice of Steel expands upon a tried and tested form with a relatively novel idea; the effect is something that we have never heard before, something that we are not quite able to recognize. There is a difference between this album and Burzum's new one, however: while Belus is at once the final nail in the coffin of the original Norwegian black metal movement and the potential seed of an art from still to come, The Voice of Steel is simultaneously the synthesis and transcendence of two historical genres, and, while it may not exactly be that possibly incoming art form, it nevertheless aggrandizes the evidence that it is indeed coming.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Monistic Dualism

'Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, love and Hate, are necessary to human existence.' ~ 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell'

As inhabitants of this physical plane, we are necessarily subject to the unfortunate laws that arise from our own conditioned state, the most potent of which is the divisive force of duality, which separates an essence complete in itself into two miserable halves that both hate and love each other; this is the fundamentally Platonic foundation that Blake inherits as he endeavours to construct his own visionary edifice that will potentially relieve us of this ailment.

More than anything else circumstantial, Blake was affected by Emmanuel Swedenborg, the Swedish mystic who, much like Blake himself, could allegedly converse with angels, and peer into the metaphysical realms of Heaven and Hell. Although taking an esoteric and somewhat heterodox approach to Biblical mythology, Swedenborg was essentially 'conservative', and therefore moralistic, in his theological doctrine. While Blake admits that he was positively influenced by Swedenborg in his earlier years, he eventually realizes that he represents the Church's ethical absolutism of assigning terms 'Good' and 'Evil', positing a corresponding spiritual realm for each that symbolically determines an individual's interior constitution. Hence, from this realization forward, Blake gives Swedenborg and others of his ilk the epithet, 'Angels', or those upholding the sterile status quo, and calls himself and other Orc-like spirits 'Devils', or those bringing forth new creation, thereby disturbing the prevailing order of things. Thus, a first duality is formed.

No other writing of Blake's is so profoundly satirical (not that this is the only satire – An Island in the Moon wonderfully encapsulates a Swift-esque laugh at the expense of popular philosophers) while staying true to the predominant idea being expressed than 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell', a poem proclaiming doom and joy, death and rebirth, reason and emotion; 'Opposition is true friendship'. Devils and Angels (whom Blake also calls the Prolific and the Devouring - a further link to Platonism) are inseparably chained, and each movement that one makes is countered by the other, thus maintaining the bondage that conditions all in time and space. As this is highly reminiscent of the Urizen-Orc duality, we can expect that there is indeed a possibility of escape from this particular slavery as well.

Traditional mysticism, which is not at odds with Platonism, chiefly upholds the value of union, of the concept of achieving a state of Transcendence to the point of a metaphysical comprehension that goes beyond all physical and mental conditioning and becomes purest light, which is true reality. In addition to this, Plato outlines a cosmogonic theory in the Symposium which depicts man as a fallen being split in twain, his other half becoming trapped  in feminine form. Blake adopts the latter theory with the former mystical ideal and creates a system that is well-aligned with those of tradition, and is yet perfectly unique in its own way; in his 'Book of Urizen', for example, Enitharmon becomes 'the first female now separate' when Urizen, or here the Gnostic demiurge, creates something outside of himself, namely, the world.

'I must Create a System, or be enslav'd by another Mans
I will not Reason & Compare: my business is to Create.' Jerusalem

Blake immediately encounters a problem in creating his 'system' whenever he recalls the imperative interest he has in the differentiated individual; for, while trying to merge the conditioned into the Platonic All, identity must inevitably be destroyed. Or must it? Blake questions this inevitability the same way that he questioned 'General Forms': the mass is not alive simply because it possesses universality, which of course leads to tyranny, but because of the particulars that together integrate the whole: 'General Forms have their vitality in Minute Particulars'. So, now that we discover Blake's rather ambitious project is indeed possible, our task now will be to discern how it is possible, or, to put it neatly, how exactly does the fallen man depart from his conditional duality to attain the integral 'monism' proclaimed in the Gospels?

'Neither shall they say, lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of Heaven is within you.' Luke 17: 21

Friday, April 9, 2010

On Suffering

'You will not dismiss your Soul lest it go forth taking something with it.’ The Chaldean Oracles
A friend (and supposed ‘co-writer’ for this site) recently expressed praise for a Michel Houellebecq quote that reveled in personal agony, in the persistence of failure, and in the final goal of suicide, the termination of the body / Soul relationship… how typical of the modern ennui! Affliction and suffering are certainly unavoidable, but they have to be, as with everything, properly understood and properly integrated in order to keep from drowning by them, and it is this understanding that we will undertake as our objective in this essay.

In the Inferno of the Divine Comedy, we find in the Second Ring of the Seventh Circle a sad forest comprised of some bleak and forgotten trees, slouching row upon row like a defeated army. These are the suicides of history, the Souls that have waged war upon themselves in their frantic escape from society, from life itself. Dante’s guide, Virgil, implies that this one particular suicide, Pier della Vigna, killed himself because he had misunderstood Virgil’s poetry, a grave testimony to the fragility of the human mind.

'When the save spirit quits the body from which it has taken itself, then Mino sends it to the seventh maw. It falls into the wood, and there’s no place to which it is allotted, but wherever fortune has flung that soul, that is the space where, even as a grain of spelt, it sprouts. It rises as a sapling, a wild plant; and then the Harpies, feeding on its leaves, cause pain and for that pain provide a vent. Like other souls, we seek out the flesh that we have left, but none of us shall wear it; it is not right for any man to have what he himself has cast aside. We will drag our bodies here; they will hang in this sad wood, each on the stump of its vindictive shade.’ Canto XIII, Inferno, Dante Alighieri

The Soul of a suicide is not directed by any kind of higher providence or spiritual order, but merely by fortune, which casually casts the Soul into the woods, where it grows its own trunk, the cruel parody of a human body; the suicide was not content with his flesh in life, but must be so now with his bark in death. The wild Harpies, who feed upon their leaves, and the naked squanderers, who crash recklessly through their branches, ensure that the bodily torture of a suicidal Soul is perpetual.

'But when a man contrives the dissolution of the body, it is he that used violence and torn himself away, not the body that has let the Soul slip away. And in loosing the bond he has not been without passion; there has been revolt or grief or anger, movements which it is unlawful to indulge.’ ‘The Reasoned Dismissal, First Ennead, Plotinus

The violent separation of body from Soul, id est, the impassioned suicide, necessarily means that the Soul is in a poor state at the time of departure; it has given up ‘any hope of progress’ and resigned itself to the pit, to the ‘maw of Minos’. And yet Plotinus realizes also that this is not the only fate of a suicide, for he soon indicates that, ‘under stern necessity’, it is indeed possible for a man to meet his end by his own hand if such is his destiny. Where, then, is it lawful for a man to willingly send his own Soul forward? Where he has rightly recognized his fate. When Otto Weininger shot himself in the heart in the same household where Ludwig van Beethoven died, he knew that there would be no progress in his spiritual state; when Yukio Mishima and his small warrior band committed the ritual of seppuku in defiance of the overwhelmingly decadent state of post-WWII Japan, there was no mere passion involved, but the single-minded dedication to a world besides this one.  These examples do not showcase the inferiority of a man who has submitted to the terrors of existence; they instead exemplify the piercing vision of men who can see that the fundament, the very meaning of their existence is best summarized as its termination.

’And not only [so], but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.’ Romans 5 3-5

It is a fact that worldly suffering is indeed inescapable: ‘Suffering is the reality of the human condition and the beginning of true spiritual life’, as Father Seraphim Rose said. Hardship can be seen as a kind of ‘test’, a thrust against our personal armor; it might strike flesh and cause deep depression, or we might yet sustain the blow, and thrust it right back at our oppressors; and this is when ‘true spiritual life’ begins.
The strength of one’s armor depends upon two fundamental pieces of knowledge: (1) who you are, what your fixed identity is in the swirling sea of chaos; and (2) who God is, what the only fixed identity is, and how He relates to you; and it is inevitably the case that the knowledge of one leads to the other. There is no emphasis great enough to properly emphasize the fact that these two ideals are the most important things that we can ever concentrate our attention upon; everything spiritual, divine, and truly artistic depends upon this.

There is, in the context of this essay, a fully practical result that can be observed and felt: an inner, radiant joy that permeates all things, that sees into the heart of all things. It is the vision of God; and if we can truly perceive the essence of anything good, and the essence of anything good is the work of God Himself, how blessed we are! This supreme knowledge, this vision, this blessedness, necessarily leads to the cheer of mind and heart that makes life really worth living. This is not, bear in mind, the giddiness of a woman, but a reserved calm, a gentle peace, and a trusting faith in the everlasting God His great providence, and it is precisely this that provides us with the strength required to battle through our tribulations.

The power of suffering reaches also to the domain of art; infact, it is there that it finds its strongest, clearest expression. In his Poetics, Aristotle argues for the tragedy as a cathartic method of evoking tragedy in an objective sense, viz., as the means for the audience to experience a vicarious effect of tragedy without ever having to be subjected to the particular trials themselves. The archetypal pathetic moment is therefore crystallized in the sublime beauty of tragic drama, and it can thereby be applied universally to any human being who undergoes terrible suffering. Thus, a performance with any propriety at all should result in the audience being moved to a profound extent because he directly associates himself with the protagonist of the play, and he should emerge from that brief yet intensive ablution feeling purified and stronger due to the purgation of emotional excess.

Two more examples of the ‘tragic hero’ can be found in the Oedipus of Sophocles of the Bible, and in the Job of the Bible. Aristotle’s ideal is met perfectly in the figure of Oedipus: wise, good, consistent, and his sufferings result both from fate and his own mistakes. He struggles against his dreadful destiny, and, though he, like any good tragic hero, inevitably fails, conveys to his company an inexplicable feeling of grace and goodwill. Job, God’s most loyal, faithful servant, is violently tested by Satan, who is here presented as an agent of God. Faced by unenviable circumstances, Job eventually succeeds against all that Satan could do to beset hi; he triumphed against the death of his family, his economy, his body, the ‘wise’ counsel of his friends simply because of one thing: his unyielding faith in God.

These two ‘heroes’ represent two different aspects of the same thing: Oedipus is filled with a typically Hellenic individualism that spurs him ever forward to his sullen destiny, and Job is filled with an abiding love for God that prevails against Satan and ultimately proclaims the glory of God once again. The Greek knew himself, and the Hebrew knew God, and therefore the Greek knew God, and the Hebrew knew himself!

We have raced through this discourse faster than that thrash the sinful bodies of the lustful, but in the process we have unearthed a persistent truth: that suffering is external, that it is of this world, and that it is to be vanquished like everything else conditional in the time of the Last Judgment which will begin precisely when we will it to begin. The security of self forces the tides of woe to crash over us as the ocean’s waves crash upon the rocks, leaving naught but the sparkling sheen of their passing presence; let us be those proud rocks, defiant against the wrath of fortune and yet tempered by its steady passage.

‘My devotee attains peace by knowing the Supreme Being as the enjoyer of sacrifices and austerities, as the great Lord of the entire universe, and as the friend of all beings.’ 5. 29, Bhagavad-Gita

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Apocalypse of Self

'I see the Four-fold Man. The Humanity in deadly sleep
And its fallen Emanation. The Spectre of its cruel Shadow.
I see the Past, present, & Future, existing all at once
Before me; O Divine Spirit sustain me on thy wings!
That I may awake Albion from his long & cold repose.
For Bacon & Newton sheathed in dismal steel, their terrors hang
Like iron scourges over Albion, Reasonings like vast Serpents
Infold around my limbs, bruising my minute articulations.' ~ Jerusalem

The above quote reveals the essence of prophecy, the preconception of apocalypse. Humanity is locked in place by manifold constraints formed by illusory misunderstandings arising from the improper positioning of the Four Zoas, which we have explicated to be an inherent rupture and an internal conflict of the main psychic elements of fallen man. Blake's prescription for this archetypal malady is consistent throughout his work: destroy the fabrications of Selfhood through the singular, imaginative contemplation of divinity, which is manifest in the multifarious forms of art. The single word that can be rightly applied to this inner transformation is Apocalypse...

Northrop Frye outlines the cycle of liberty and tyranny in terms of Blake's Urizen / Orc dichotomy. Urizen is envisioned as an 'Odinic' figure; hoary and aged, he is often depicted in icy imagery, such as in 'America', where he is seen hurling ice and snow from his 'law-built heaven' in an effort to douse the fires of Orc, who in turn personifies natural desire and a youthful, creative energy that is perpetually threatening to escape the bounds emplaced by the moral laws of his father Urizen himself. The idea that Urizen is Orc's father strengthens the concept that the both of them are inseparably connected to one another, and indeed we find that Orc grows into Urizen as he ages, thus confirming this revolutionary circle of Ouroboros that is similarly reflected in the poem, 'The Mental Traveler' (which does not concern the scope of this essay).

These poems expressly indicate Blake's political sentiment at the time regarding the chaotic liberal revolutions in the new United States of America and, subsequently, in France. While Blake might have had some initial hope for a true political resurgence, which might consequently lead to a spiritual resurgence, the fact that so much blood was shed immediately dimmed his expectations, and then, to make the whole matter impossible, Blake observes that the 'revolutionaries' now in power only repeat the same tendencies that the old tyrants were guilty of, reminding one of Beethoven's immense disappointment after Napoleon crowned himself Emperor. In summary, political revolution merely turns back on itself, just as Orc the energetic son grows into Urizen the oppressive father.

Well-aware of this irremediable cycle, Blake shifts his gaze to how one might escape it. Soon after the bloody French Revolution murdered Louis XVI and the traditional monarchy, Blake notices that 'The only God that exists exists in man, and all religion consists in following the right men'. This quote contains implicitly two essential concepts, the first of which affirms what we have already hinted at, viz., the divinity in man; and the second, more pragmatic point implicates religion as a mass 'following', making it infinitely more social, which is certainly not to be understood negatively in Blake. If we ascribe 'divinity' to 'humanity' proper, that is to say, to the complete 'Four-fold Man' Himself, all traditional eschatological prophecy becomes as equally valid for the individual in a supremely symbolic sense as it does in the quasi-literal sense, id est the cataclysmic destruction of the prevailing civilization; and we can thereby catch a glimpse of what Blake means by apocalypse.

In review, Blake asserts for the individual a microcosmic edification of the more conventional 'forecast of doom' prophesied for the entire world; and, conversely, Blake imagines for the collective a rejuvenating apocalypse, epitomized by the soteriological effect attributed to the Messianic figure, or Jesus Christ, immortalized in Blakean cosmology as the amoralistic visionary that is the ideal mediator of all humanity ('Jesus was all virtue, and acted from impulse, not from rules').  In either case, however, there are clear parallels marking them to be the same cosmic experience indeed; the evisceration of the socio-political dross, or the complete destruction of the egotistical Selfhood, and the consequent revelation of the divinity which lies within proves that Blake's concept of apocalypse is truly beyond the samsaric revolution of Urizen and Orc, of elder and child; and the release from which, this 'augury of annihilation', is nothing less than moksha itself, id est the liberation in toto of the spirit within.