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.

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