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.