Saturday, January 15, 2011


"My dark and cloudy words, they do but hold
The truth, as cabinets enclose the gold." Bunyan

The process of learning invariably involves going from the known into the unknown. We begin with what we are capable of doing and proceed to what is beyond our present capabilities. In our lives we have crossed this threshold many times from the very first times when we learned to suck air into our lungs and milk from our mothers' breast. Nevertheless learning always involves overcoming inertia and taking risk. Reluctance to relinquish our present positions for the uncertain prospect of finding security in that hazy possibilities which may replace them is perceived as threat.

Learning to see as Blake sees may seem a particularly threatening activity because we have invested so much in learning to think rationally - trusting only evidence and proof and linear thought patterns. Blake has devised an approach to design and writing which breaks down the patterns or rationality to facilitate imaginative activity.

In one sense Norvig's book (Dark Figures in the Desired Country: Blake's Illustrations to the Pilgrim's Progress) is an account of her learning Visionary Hermeneutics. She says:
"Normally hermeneutics refers to a set of predetermined interpretive strategies that a reader brings to and imposes on a work for one or more ulterior purposes..." (Page 4) However Blake's strategy was to apply the imagination in such a way that the internal and external context of the work interact to stimulate the activity of the imagination of the reader. But the imagination is not just put to use for interpretation, but gains self awareness and is strengthened through the process. "I have been speaking of visionary hermeneutics as a process that depends less on rules of interpretation than on an imaginative perspective, meaning both a perspective we learn to take toward the image and a perspective the imagination gradually gains on itself." (Page 6)                 
Illustrations to Pilgrim's Progress Plate 28
At the Gates of Heaven
Norvig attempts to enlighten her audience on Blake's practice of Visionary Hermeneutics which she learned from her teacher William Blake by studying his illustrations to Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. The heart of her book is her commentary on each of Blake's 28 illustrations. But the illustrations are not to be viewed individually but as a whole, commenting on one another and complementing others as do Blake's Illustration to the Book of Job. She compares the process that they illustrate in detail to the process delineated in Gates of Paradise. In the illustrations to Pilgrim's Progress as in his work from beginning to end, Blake sought to open the avenue to the visionary world he experienced to his readers.
Descriptive Catalogue, Penance of Jane Shore,(E 550)
"This Drawing was done above Thirty Years ago, and proves
to the Author, and he thinks will prove to any discerning eye,
that the productions of our youth and of our maturer age
are equal in all essential points."

Norvig observes: "Even in the Songs [of Innocence and Experience] itself a much more intricate pattern of mutual commentary, plotted by the progressive permutations of repeated verbal and pictorial motifs shown in changing contexts throughout the song cycle, emerges to enrich the work as a sort of primer of visionary literacy." (Page 5)

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