Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell [Part 3: Troping Cliches]

Before Blake gets into the Proverbs of Hell, a brief meditation on how the "good" perceive the "evil" as tormented and insane digresses into this:

How do you know but ev're Bird that cuts the airy way,
Is an immense world of delight, clos'd by your senses five?

This is the politics of experience as delineated not only by Blake, but one of his biggest fans RD Laing. My experience of this world is invisible to all others, nothing less than a world of delight (and suffering) which you can only understand in terms of your experiences.

As the true method of knowledge is experiment the true faculty of knowing must be the faculty which experiences.
from All Religions are One.

This is nothing less than a scientific attitude toward understanding. With that in mind, let's take a look at Proverbs of Hell.

In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.

There is time for passivity, and a time for action. To set any principle as an absolute is to destroy the possibility of acting appropriately given the time and context of a situation, which Blake would see as mere common sense.

Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead.

Much of what constitutes western burial practices is geared toward the preservation of the body after death. Think, for instance, of the way the Egyptians preserved their dead Pharaohs in mummies. The impulse there is prevent the body from rotting, and to this day it is illegal to not bury someone in coffin. The key motif here is self-preservation.

Prisons are built with stones of Law, Brothels with bricks of Religion.

Blake is implementing a sort of reflexive logic that breaks the number one rule of the game: the game is not a game. That is to say, if we see the game as a game, we are in violation of the rules of the game. The cause and effect reflexivity here is that we make criminals of our citizens when we enforce the law. It would be tantamount to saying that one could reduce crime by making less things illegal.

The case against religion is more subtle, or perhaps, less effective. The religious impulse to "criminalize" sex or to see sex as sin eventually necessitates the need for the sin because not acting on the impulses of the body "breeds pestilence."

My favorite articulation of this concept is Lao Tzu's:

Obedience to law is the dried husk of faith and goodwill.

The truth behind a statement like this, is that we craft laws out of our mistrust of people, our unwillingness to believe in the basic decency of the individual. This runs anathema to Blake's belief that the western religious tradition is based on the necessity of an external center, or measure. This gets reiterated and expanded in this proverb:

"One law for the ox and the lion is oppression."

The pride of the peacock is the glory of God.
The lust of the goat is the bounty of God.
The wrath of the lion is the wisdom of God.
The nakedness of woman is the work of God.

Blake is playing off the seven deadly sins in this clip of the Proverbs. Pride is not intrinsically bad, in fact it can be a good thing as long as it is not a comparative pride which is forged at the expend of others. God created sex and sexual desire and man perverted it with rape. God created wrath also but without it, men would be weak and trodden. To be motivated by destruction itself is evil (even to Blake), but wrath prevents us from being abused twice.

Blake here is rebelling against what Joyce called the "didactic" relationship to an object. Joyce says the pornographic wish to possess the object, the didactic wish to reject the object, and thirdly, the sublime seeks to behold the object. Religion teaches us to fear the intoxication that comes when beholding something beautiful. Men project their fears of being controlled by women by blaming women for their incapacities and spiritual immaturity. Blake is arguing we are rejecting God's creation by demonizing beauty.

The fox condemns the trap, not himself.

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