Sunday, 12 July 2009

From Blake's annotations to Reynold's Discourses

To: "The most beautiful forms have something about them like weakness — minuteness, or imperfection."

Blake: Minuteness is their whole beauty.

To: "But not every eye can perceive these blemishes. It must be an eye long used to the contemplation and comparison of these forms."

Blake: Knowledge of ideal beauty is not to be acquired. It is born with us. Innate ideas are in every man, born with him; they are truly Himself. The man who says that we have no innate ideas must be a fool and a knave, having no conscience, or innate science.

To: "... from reiterated experience an artist becomes possessed of the idea of a central form."

Blake: One central form composed of all other forms being granted, it does not, therefore, follow that all other forms are deformity. All forms are perfect in the poet's mind, but they are not abstracted or compounded from nature, but are from imagination.

To: "The great Bacon treats with ridicule the idea of confining proportion to rules ... Says he: '... The painter must do it by a kind of felicity and not by rule.'"

Blake: The great Bacon he is called — I call him the little Bacon — says that everything must be done by experiment. His first principle is unbelief, and yet he says that art must be produced without such method. This is like Mr. Locke, full of self-contradiction and knavery.

What is general nature? Is there such a thing? What is general


kismet jones said...

Good to see a bit of Blake. Hope you don't mind if I drop in with a couple of quotes.I'm feeling quite nostalgic today & Blake's crankiness always cheers me up & makes me feelmore at home on this planet (grin). I lifted most of this from my ancient and hitherto unused Phd thesis, and tinkered with it too. Hope you find it interesting. Sorry if it's a bit long.I got carried away. As usual. in fact, I've had to split it up. howzat for a comment?

Morton Paley in his essay "To Defend the Bible in This Year 1789 Would Cost a Man His Life”
said that "rational dissent was no doubt too rational for Blake".
And Jacob Bronowski, in "William Blake and the Age of Revolution", says:

"It is not odd that, in this world, Blake turned his pitying and troubled mind against the machine. To his mind, the machine became one with the mechanics of Newton and the mechanical society of Locke. The Satanic Wheels
and the Satanic Mills are symbols for the planetary orbits and the laws of gravitation which govern and constrain them ... with the machinery of Newton’s astronomy."

As with the cosmos, so with social injustices, poetry and art. Everything works together in Blake. That's why too much rationalism upsets the balance of the whole picture. He was opposed to the rationalist materialist world and sought ultimately to expand the horizons of Reason through the fluid and spontaneous operation of the Imagination (which he regarded as divine). He uses his 'transcendent'imagination,
often with a personalised mythological overbearingness, to blight the blighting forces, and as a kind of negative poetic.
For example, he adopts Newton’s universe and, replaying the Gnostic cosmogonic idea of the heavens as a barrier, uses his unique mythology to turn the clockwork Deistic cosmos back on itself. It's mythic revolt of a very personal and antinomian nature. The social conditions of slave labour or revolution, for example, would be only one aspect of Blake's simultaneous exposure and critique of the apparent order of the Newtonian universe. Blake's dictum "as a man is so he sees" probably more closely resembles ideas that we find in modern subatomic physics. So, though he appears crankily pugnacious at times, he wasn't such a bad bloke. Perhaps unrealistically,
he regarded existence as something more holographic than a mere emotional reaction, or state.

kismet jones said...

& part 2 !!

The Imagination is not a State: it is the Human Existence itself
Affection or Love becomes a State, when divided from Imagination
(Blake, Milton, 32: 32-3)

Donald Ault, in "Visionary Physics: Blake’s Response to Newton" has it that states
“function as the Imaginative ethical counterpart to Blake’s doctrine of Forms ...
which are structured to reveal a rejection of mathematical permanence as anti-Imaginative.
Imagistically, the doctrine of States is represented, like the doctrine of permanent events,
by analogy with spatial coexistence”.

As the figure of Urizen demonstrates in The Book of Urizen,
a psychology which identifies itself as divided will create further divisions.
Thus he explores the “void” of “Natures wide womb” and,
through a series of negating divisions, creates his obstructive universe, or
“A World where Man is by Nature the enemy of Man”. Blake’s States, then, are symbolic
of a fractured totality, and (according to Blake’s psycho-mythology) this must be recognised
before reintegration is to be effected. Blakean States are psycho-spiritual by nature rather
than systematic or providential. Hence the poet’s emphasis on system-free individuality,
perception and vision. But all this is not to say that he was without a very powerful escapist impulse.
Or as he wrote to Thomas Butts in 1801:

"My Abstract folly hurries me often away while I am at work,
carrying me over Mountains & Valleys which are not Real in a Land of Abstractions
where Spectres of the Dead wander. This I endeavour to prevent & with my whole might
chain my feet to the world of Duty & Reality. but in vain! the faster I bind the better
is the Ballast for I so far from being bound down take the world with me in my flights &
often it seems lighter than a ball of wool rolled by the wind Bacon & Newton would prescribe
ways of making the world heavier to me"

So blake uses abstractions too, even though he speaks against them. Typical. Michael McLure
in "Scratching the Beat Surface" has the
following to say of Blake as a man of revolt rather than a revolutionary:

"A creature in revolt can conceive that there is NO solution and that there will be unending
construction and destruction. REVOLT perceives the continuance of action and energy from multiple sources."

McClure sees Blake as a social minimalist, a biological creature in search of recovery, He, like Blake,
cannot avoid a discussion of Blake's withdrawal.

I can't help seeing his art as astrobiological, pneumatic, tragic and highly sensitive not to blotches and blemishes,
which in any case he magnifies in his rage against the machine, but to the bigger picture.

Judge then of they Own Self: thy Eternal Lineaments explore
What is eternal & what Changeable? & what Annihilable!
(Milton, 32: 30-1)