Wednesday, January 05, 2011

BLAKE & 'DEAD MAN'

In 1995 Jim Jarmusch directed a movie, Dead Man, which follows the character named William Blake through harrowing experiences. Although the character has no knowledge of William Blake's poetry he is befriended by a Native American under the influence of Blake. To a person familiar with Blake's writing, the movie is presenting Blake's thought in a contemporary media. To one unfamiliar with Blake the film may be either a slow moving Western exhibiting sex and violence, or an opportunity to become acquainted with quotes from Blake. If a person can view the movie psychologically as a myth of psychic and spiritual development, he may experience some of what one experiences in reading Blake's poetry.

The website 366 Weird Movies comments on the movie Dead Man:
"On it’s release, Dead Man received mostly negative reviews. It was criticized as too slow and too pretentious, appearing to be thoughtful but actually delivering no ideas worth mentioning. Time has been kind to the movie, however, which has emerged as Jarmusch’s best work to date. In Dead Man, a measured journey into an odd, somber, dark and funny wilderness of the spirit, Jarmusch created a myth with staying power. Filled with poetic images like Johnny Depp reclining with a slaughtered fawn, Dead Man has proven a mysterious power to linger in the memory. It may never yield up its meaning, but that doesn’t make it empty."

It would be impossible to explain the movie Dead Man in the same way that it is impossible to explain Jerusalem. But there are a few things it might be beneficial to say about it. It is not just a movie which takes the name William Blake and attaches it to a character in a Western. It is a movie which attempts to emulate Blake's enigmatic methods of communication and present Blakean images and ideas in an alternate media. If one is prepared to discern repeated references to the processes enacted in Blake's poetry as well as to listen for quotes from Blake's work, the movie will become more than a series of killings.

The theme of annihilation is prominent in Jerusalem and Milton as the means of eliminating error and fostering forgiveness. The furnaces of Los through which characters must pass on the way to redemption play a large part in the activity which reverses the fall. Annihilation through killing is repeated throughout Dead Man. If the killing is meant to portray the murder of men, the movie is only about senseless violence. If error or wrong ideas are being destroyed to promote the journey of William Blake through the underworld, it makes more sense. Milton O. Percival, in Circle of Destiny says "In the destruction of these forms by the restless energy of time lies man's hope of release from error. 'All that can be annihilated must be annihilated.' [Milton, E 142] The eternal will live on. For that reason error must be provided with a mortal body capable of destruction by the energy of time."

The title of the movie, Dead Man, suggests that the protagonist, William Blake (played by Johnny Depp), is dead from the beginning. At least the suggestion is that he died immediately (early in the movie) when he was shot in Thel's room. The action takes on different meaning if William Blake is not a living man trying to escape from multiple pursuers. As a myth we see the journey of a man attempting to reach his home in a world beyond the trials and errors of ordinary life.

This is Blake's advice on viewing symbolic images like those that are abundant in the movie.

Vision of the Last Judgment , (E 560):
"If the Spectator could Enter into these Images in his
Imagination approaching them on the Fiery Chariot of his
Contemplative Thought, if he could Enter into Noahs Rainbow or into his bosom or could make a Friend & Companion of one of these Images of wonder which always intreats him to leave mortal things as he must know then would he arise from his Grave then would he meet the Lord in the Air & then he would be happy"

The following passage helps us understand how Blake viewed existence in this world compared to existence in the permanent world.

Jerusalem , Plate 13, (E 157)
"Los walks round the walls night and day.

He views the City of Golgonooza, & its smaller Cities:
The Looms & Mills & Prisons & Work-houses of Og & Anak:
The Amalekite: the Canaanite: the Moabite: the Egyptian:
And all that has existed in the space of six thousand years:
Permanent, & not lost not lost nor vanishd, & every little act,
Word, work, & wish, that has existed, all remaining still
In those Churches ever consuming & ever building by the Spectres
Of all the inhabitants of Earth wailing to be Created:
Shadowy to those who dwell not in them, meer possibilities:
But to those who enter into them they seem the only substances
For every thing exists & not one sigh nor smile nor tear,
PLATE 14
One hair nor particle of dust, not one can pass away."

This next section in Blake may be correlated with the 'men' who pursue William Blake in the movie. They 'die' because they are negations which must be compelled into non-entity.

Jerusalem, Plate 17, (E 162)
"Negations are not Contraries: Contraries mutually Exist:
But Negations Exist Not: Exceptions & Objections & Unbeliefs
Exist not: nor shall they ever be Organized for ever & ever:
If thou separate from me, thou art a Negation: a meer
Reasoning & Derogation from Me, an Objecting & cruel Spite
And Malice & Envy: but my Emanation, Alas! will become
My Contrary: O thou Negation, I will continually compell
Thee to be invisible to any but whom I please, & when
And where & how I please, and never! never! shalt thou be Organized
But as a distorted & reversed Reflexion in the Darkness
And in the Non Entity: nor shall that which is above
Ever descend into thee: but thou shalt be a Non Entity for ever
And if any enter into thee, thou shalt be an Unquenchable Fire
And he shall be a never dying Worm, mutually tormented by
Those that thou tormentest, a Hell & Despair for ever & ever."

A future post will bring up the quotes from Blake which are included in the movie.

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