Friday, January 17, 2014

Why I do not follow William Blake

From my essay "Fractal Fantasies of Transformation: William Blake, Michael Moorcock, and the Utilities of Mythographic Shamanism."
As Francis Bacon says, “human understanding is of its own nature prone to suppose the existence of more order and regularity in the world than it finds. And though there be many things in nature which are singular and unmatched, yet it devises for them parallels and conjugates and relatives which do not exist” (1620, 50). A fully competent and reflexive mythographic system is keen to highlight and analyze these illusionary specters of understanding. Although cognizant of such spectral manifestations and willing to document them in grotesque and sensational detail, in his larger figure Blake embraces the process of inspiration, apostasy, and intuition in toto, offering as his Parnassus-scaling model a kind of hallucinating noble-savage-with-a-pen. From this heroic perch he casually reduces and rejects even the most sensible cultivation, characterizing it as merely the prevailing neoclassic cant of his rivals in the art world of late-eighteenth-century London. In this consideration Blake is a reactionary antimodernist who uses poetry in a scientific attempt to “return” people to a unified state with the cosmos. He sees the transformational nature of myth as the message itself, an esoteric, pseudoscientific “proof” of epistemic relativism that leaves the world in a shattered and fractured state—a bright, blistering, and gaudy “ultra-modern” universe of exotic sensation and psychological distraction—and thus he has been variously championed, embellished, and imitated by the inhabitants of such spheres. There is, and make no mistake, a price to be paid for achieving unity with the cosmos. Ultimately Blake’s follower is left stranded in a Hobbesian universe whose laws are mechanical, fixed, and inviolable—where the poetical facility, once so full of promise, is reduced to a simple tool for food-gathering, conflict, or escape. Milton, on the other hand, is content to remain alienated and slug it out with existence, so long as observation, reason, and inspiration accompany him for consolation, for in that universe—let’s call it a Lockean universe—the human being is liberated from the mechanism of the cosmos, and rather than being joined with the cosmos is instead separate and free to discover the secrets of the mechanism in order to transcend it. It is this Lockean universe to which Moorcock’s elaborate mythography is tending. It is very possible that Moorcock’s extensive mythic production, when taken collectively, portrays the transformation from the Hobbesian worldview to the Lockean.
The essay originally appeared as a chapter in New Boundaries in Political Science Fiction, Hassler and Wilcox, U of South Carolina Press, 2008.

No comments: