Friday, April 16, 2010
ENTERING the VOID
This statement from an interview with Blake scholars was made by Morris Eaves the editor of The Cambridge Companion to William Blake.
"But my own experience jibes with Hazard Adams's: 'It is always interesting to observe,' he wrote in 1982, 'what is simply skipped over in commentaries on the prophecies' (400). And, as for the 'hope of a language being developed that will deal more successfully with Blake,' he concludes, 'I am not sure most of us know how to formulate the problem or even what it is' (401). Then, curiously but I would contend symptomatically, a page later he is saying that 'In the end, though, there is a message or there are messages in Blake, and Blake scholarship and criticism ought to be involved in making these messages available to a needy world' (402). Similarly, Blake himself issues lots of promises to readers to the effect that what he's saying is crucial and that if only they'll follow his illuminated golden string through the darkness they'll end up in heaven's gate built in Jerusalem's wall. But if anyone has been able to follow that string I don't know it.
"Two caveats: I don't mean to say that Blake is unreadable. He's eminently readable—just impossible to understand past a certain point. And I don't mean to say that scholarship and criticism have been ineffective in revealing the outlines or in filling in countless helpful details. I mean that the level of meaning that Blake allows, as far as I can tell, cannot be expected to support those important messages that Hazard mentioned, and that Blake certainly seems to claim he's delivering. But, as Hazard's comment shows, trying to make sense of Blake's work, stressful as it is, doesn't necessarily lead to despair. What Blake is, is thrilling to read. And the intensely participatory reading experience that Bob describes is what keeps the thrill alive. Together, that experience of reading on a high wire combined with the promise of rescuing a major artist from obscurity and oblivion have provided the impetus to keep readers reading and lookers looking ever since that group of Victorians showed how to make Blake audible and visible.
"Finally, I would never deny the possibility that the impossible dream may someday become possible after all."
Blake scholars never run out of something to study but it often seems that scholarly studies get further and further from the actual meaning that Blake was trying to convey. Perhaps this is a necessary consequence of the nature of Blake's content. He wasn't only interested in making significant poetry and impressive pictures. He was trying to 'open the minds of men to a perception of the infinite'. If he succeeds in that task, the questions of his technical skills and means through which he achieved his goal fades into insignificance. Blake's religion was that of personal inner mystical experience; not natural religion but revealed religion. Understanding the content of his message likewise is not the result of natural pursuits, but the result of a breakthrough to another level of experience.
Scholarship is helpful in learning Blake if it leads students into Blake's works so that they may take root and be assimilated. Scholarship that leads outward to innumerable influences and entanglements may only divert students from what Blake sought to do.
The Emanation of The Giant Albion
1804 Printed by W. Blake Sth Molton St.
PLATE 1 [Above the archway deleted text]
"There is a Void, outside of Existence, which if enterd into
Englobes itself & becomes a Womb, such was Albions Couch
A pleasant Shadow of Repose calld Albions lovely Land
His Sublime & Pathos become Two Rocks fixd in the Earth
His Reason his Spectrous Power, covers them above
Jerusalem his Emanation is a Stone laying beneath
O [Albion behold Pitying] behold the Vision of Albion"