Friday, December 19, 2014

Taking Blake too Seriously

As I suggested eleven months ago in a Highbrow memorandum, there is a "risk" in taking William Blake too seriously. Further thoughts along these lines:
I find him inspiring, full of anthropological and psychological insights, but I am also weary of where he can lead his admirers. The more I read about him the more I am skeptical. As a  philosopher, he is not as rigorous as his exuberance might suggest. On Locke, for example, his criticisms are over the top and he is dead wrong, and then on top of his haughty and sanctimonious declamations he equivocates--perhaps he realized he was in over his head? A survey of his work and his "claims" demonstrates that he does a lot of equivocating. Along these lines, somewhere he says he is not interested in being precise or accurate, but is rather interested in "consistency"--I take it that he means he is more interested in producing an "impressive composition" than he is in expressing philosophical understanding. I think his claims concerning his superiority to Milton have deceived people. He is no where near Milton as a scholar, a theologian, a historian, a politician, a psychologist, a philologist, a philosopher, an anthropologist, a poet, a professional, a well-connected man of the world, a revolutionary, or what have you. Also, his stuff in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell about Milton being of the devil's party is absurd... But many people take this as a point of departure for claiming Satan is the hero of Paradise Lost. There is a little too much Rousseau in Blake. At a Blake conference someone more knowledgeable than me explained that as the French Revolution went south and plunged into violence, Blake stopped printing Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Blake was withdrawing from the moral relativism and claims for the veracity of "passion" that Marriage espouses. Also, the biographers present ample evidence that Blake wrote some pretty absurd advertisements for his shows in which he made over-the-top claims about himself, his genius, and his prophetic powers. People in the late-18th century art word laughed at this horn blowing, and it seems to me their laughter was justified.


Dario Rivarossa said...

Blake might be 'academically inaccurate,' but the center of his life was not some funny visionary doctrine, it was the Gospel. Consistenly with which, he, who could have become very rich, died in poverty instead, and happily so. (Some 10 years ago, having to restart my life from zero, I was psychologically helped and encouraged by his poems.) This imho means much more than publishing pretty essays On Whatever Nice Stuff.

Carter Kaplan said...

I agree that Blake is very inspiring. My point is that inspiration only takes you so far.

And my comparisons aren't rooted in academics, but politics, aesthetics and common sense.

I know, I am hopelessly square. Bourgeoisie? No. But I reserve the right to believe lunacy is not a virtue. Moreover, it is a short walk from Blake to Thomas Hobbes, or Max Weber, at least as far as I can tell.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I am from Australia.

I agree with Dario.

In my opinion William Blake is highly under rated, as indeed are all "mystic" visionaries. Some of his stuff turned out to be very prophetic. He was one of the very few artists, poets and philosophers of his time who was not afflicted by the the baneful influence of Newton's Sleep.

If he were alive today he probably could have appreciated, or even written these essays or Artists Statement and the work of the Artist too.

And agreed with the Quantum world-view introduced via these references:

Jesus & Quantum Reality

Profound somatic ontology

The Kingdom of God

Carter Kaplan said...

Thanks for the links, Anonymous!