Blake on Swedenborg

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at SPAMosu.edu
Mon Jan 1 17:51:13 MST 2001


Mervyn Hartwig says:

>Your Blake quote is wonderfully interesting. However, I don't think any
>attempt to use Blake against the later Bhaskar can really work. They are
>too much alike. Both are mystics and religious.

Yes, they are.  I meant in part to say, though, that Blake made
progress by criticizing Swedenborg (which was a kind of
"self-criticism," i.e. criticizing the ideas that he once entertained
himself).  Similarly, Hegel made progress by criticizing Kant,
Schelling, etc., & Marx, in turn, by criticizing Hegel,
left-Hegelians, etc.  We are heirs to all this development.  Given
this inheritance, to advocate a return to God, mysticism, objective
idealism, etc. _today_ means to resurrect "all the old falsehoods"....

Here's a suggestive parable from the Bible:

*****   And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same
red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom.
And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright.
And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit
shall this birthright do to me?
And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he
sold his birthright unto Jacob.
Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat
and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his
birthright.   (Gen. 25: 30-34)   *****

Despising our birthright (= historical materialism & freedom from
religion) & trading it for a mess of pottage (= God, etc.) just
because we are hungry (= politically weak) at this moment doesn't
seem to me to be a good bargain.

If you are starving, steal bread & pottage, eat and drink, but don't
sell your birthright.

>Like Bhaskar, Blake
>believed that human nature was fundamentally good - both speak of the
>God or spirit within - with the potential to build the New Jerusalem or
>eudaimonia on earth (there is 'Jerusalem in every man').

Blake's vision of human nature is radically dialectical, instead of
fundamentally good:

*****   Without Contraries is no progression.  Attraction and
Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human
existence.

 From these contraries spring what the religious call Good & Evil.
Good is the passive that obeys Reason.  Evil is the active springing
from Energy.

Good is Heaven.  Evil is Hell   (_The Marriage of Heaven and Hell_)   *****

>And like Blake,
>Bhaskar certainly converses with Devils who all hate religion
>ie considers the good in relation to evil, analysing evil and the cause
>of unfreedom as basically layers of false ideas - 'structural sin',
>ideology, or maya for Bhaskar, 'mind-forg'd manacles' for Blake.

An enthusiast for the American & French Revolutions, Blake,
notwithstanding his mystical allegories, didn't quite argue that
unfreedom was "basically layers of false ideas":

*****   With Pitt's "Gagging Acts" soon introduced after the outbreak
of war with France and Church and King mobs ready to hunt down the
mildest radical, Blake realized that "To defend the Bible in this
year 1789 would cost a man his life."  It was a time, he wrote, when
"The Beast [of the State] & the Whore [of the Church] rule without
control."...But he did not silence himself....He therefore disguised
his revolutionary and libertarian message in prophetic allegories to
escape the censor and the hangman.  To those who are ready to make
the effort to find the key to his language and mythology, his message
is plain enough.  For all the complex symbolism and misty rhetoric of
the prophetic writings, Blake's Jerusalem is not a religious fantasy
or political utopia but the vision of a free society which he
believed would be realized on earth one day....

...In swelling rhetoric, he may have presented the revolution in the
apocalyptic language of the Gnostic sects, in terms of a Last
Judgment bringing about the Everlasting Gospel in Jerusalem, but the
celebration of moral, sexual, and social freedom is as vigorous and
enthusiastic as ever.  _Vala, or the Four Zoas_, written between 1795
and 1804, is full of prophetic gloom, but at the end Los and
Enitharmon build Jerusalem.  With the sound of the trumpet of the
Last Judgment

The thrones of Kings are shaken, they have lost their robes & crowns,
The poor smite their oppressors, they awake up to the harvest,
The naked warriors rush together down to the sea shore
Trembling before the multitudes of slaves now set at liberty:
They are become like wintry flocks, like forests strip'd of leaves:
The oppressed pursue like the wind; there is no room for escape....

Out of the inevitable struggle of heaven and hell, innocence and
experience, intellectual and physical war, Blake was convinced that
Jerusalem, the city within and without, could be built.  In his
preface to _Milton_, written between 1804 and 1808, when radical
political hopes were at a nadir in Britain, Blake exclaims

Rouze up, O Young Men of the New Age!  set your foreheads against the
ignorant Hirelings!  For we have Hirelings in the Camp, the Court &
the University, who would, if they could, for ever depress Mental &
prolong Corporeal War....

(Peter Marshall, "William Blake: Revolutionary Romantic,"
_Revolutionary Romanticism_, ed. Max Blechman, San Francisco, CA:
City Lights Books, 1999, pp. 57-9)   *****

>What science imo warrants is
>agnosticism (or as Gyan says, an open mind) not philososphical
>materialism and atheism (which can have no more scientific basis than
>the idealism it opposes).

Science, in my opinion, is not interested in God, which it regards as
superfluous to scientific explanation.  In this sense, science is not
agnostic, in that for it to be agnostic, it has to be interested in
the object [= God] about which it can be agnostic.

>In any case, since you love Blake, Yoshie, you could equally well love
>the later Bhaskar.

What is valid in Art is not necessarily valid in Science, however.
Art (re)creates; Science explains.  We'll continue to study Blake in
English; we'll continue to teach Darwinism instead of "creation
science" in biology, geology, etc. (I hope).

Yoshie





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