Monday, April 05, 2010

Blake's Tribe

Joseph Campbell said something insightful about tribes; we all belong to a tribe:

The child's tribe is the family; Father is God; his love is reserved to father, mother, siblings. Others may induce fear and suspicion or hate.

The youth's tribe is his peer group, his buddies, his team (or gang), his coach, his choir, whatever sends him maximally.

The adult's tribe is the same: his country, his business, his church (and especially his pastor or priest); they all induce reverence and uncritical acceptance; and others too often induce fear and hate, or contempt.

But the true adult has progressed beyond these tribes; his tribe has become the human race. He is fully human.

Such was William Blake; but how did he get that way???

We all seek the honors of men; for many of us our highest concern may be this desire to be acceptable to people. Your Ultimate Concern is your God, to which you sacrifice everything.

SUCCESS! yes! to have the flashiest car, the biggest house, to be the number one deacon. Whatever it may be. For Blake it was ART: poetry! painting!

Well ART is like Religion: the honors of men seem more tangible than the honors of God. The head of the tribe is the one most fully conformed to it; everyone admires and loves him (occasionally her).

Sir Joshua Reynolds occupied that station in Blake's world. He studied with Sir Joshua, evaluated his art, and rejected it:

When Blake was 21 he "became a student at the Royal Academy in Old Somerset House. There, he rebelled against what he regarded as the unfinished style of fashionable painters such as Rubens, championed by the school's first president, Joshua Reynolds. Over time, Blake came to detest Reynolds' attitude towards art, especially his pursuit of "general truth" and "general beauty". Reynolds wrote in his Discourses that the "disposition to abstractions, to generalizing and classification, is the great glory of the human mind"; Blake responded, in marginalia to his personal copy, that "To Generalize is to be an Idiot; To Particularize is the Alone Distinction of Merit".

When this attitude became known, Blake was cast out of the tribe. It takes great courage to stand against the crowd. Years later his (corporeal) friend, Hayley, tried to rehabilitate him (Hayley thought that Blake's poetry was an impediment to his career!) It was Blake's last temptation. He dealt with it creatively and no longer had any desire to pursue what he had called the "main chance". He no longer sought "honors of men"; he focused on the God he knew. In that respect he certainly followed in the footsteps of "the immortal man":

"When at last I did descry
the Immortal Man who cannot die
Through evening shades I haste away
To close the labors of my Day.
(For the Sexes: Gates of Paradise; Rosenwald Collection)

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