Commentary on William Blake Against the World Machine
I introduced a few novelties in a couple of my responses to comments following the last post, William Blake Against the World Machine. I think they are significant enough to require a more in-depth treatment than I was able to provide in that more limited format.
Let me begin this commentary-on-the-commentary by reproducing one of those comments here — my reply to Abdulomen’s comment — and following it up with more extensive treatment.
There are many more such “pairings” of value terms, of “higher” and “lower” valencies. “Freedom and liberty”, or “action and motion”, “creativity and productivity”, “integration and assimilation”. If we arrange them differently, “liberty, motion, productivity, assimilation” belong to what Seth calls “Framework 1” (the outer ego) and are quite evidently the values of the World Machine as Global Economy. They are the materialistic values. They are the images in the physical system of those values that arise in what Seth calls “Framework 2” (the inner self) “freedom, action, creativity, integration” being their corresponding values. Framework 2 is what Meister Eckhart called “The Aristocrat” or Ralph Waldo Emerson called “the Oversoul”. Blake called it “the Poetic Genius”, the Sufi’s, “the True Self”. It is in this that Nietzsche, for example, recognises as ‘noble’ and ‘ignoble’ values, but in other terms are described as qualitative or quantitative.
With this understanding, it is now easy to appreciate, for example, what Rene Guenon and Gabriel Marcel are concerned about in The Reign of Quantity or Man Against Mass Society, respectively.
I present this exercise of “pairing” of “higher” and “lower” states of a value as proof of the truth of Seth’s words, in that regard. Seth’s insistence that the true creativity of the soul, and its expression in time as ‘evolution’ is the process of “value fulfillment” within the physical space-time system. Desire is the propellant or Energy in Blake’s terms. In the notions of ‘liberty, motion, productivity, assimilation” we see the distorted echo or image of the true spiritual values which are attempting to become fully realised and manifested, but which are insufficiently realised because the outer ego has lost contact with the source of its own creativity and values — Framework 2. Therefore, being insufficiently realised, the remain what are called “half-truths”, which are, in some ways, soulless values for having lost connection with their spiritual origins and roots — the source that Jean Gebser equally calls “the ever-present origin”.
Things which appear as ‘half-truths’ are often indistinguishable from a lie, for that reason. They are not whole or entire. It is this which Blake means when he says “More! More! is the cry of the mistaken soul. Less than All cannot satisfy Man.” This “satisfy” means fulfillment. The condition of “malaise” is the condition of unfulfilled or blocked creativity of the soul, in which the energies of life no longer circulate freely. Action becomes inhibited, repressed, or unfree.
With that, then, we understand why Blake considers the inhibition or hindering action (repression or oppression) to be the greatest of evils, a violation of the soul and its innate creativity and attempts to realise its freedom, for it is intended to realise the spiritual values fully, and this creativity is time. Hence, “eternity is in love with the productions of time”. The temporal (or secular) is embedded, as it were, within the eternal or timeless — this is the connection between Framework 2 and Framework 1.
This applies equally to sex. Sex is the image within Framework 1 of Desire, which is Energy and belongs to Framework 2. It does not arise from the body, but is itself “embodied”. Without Desire, there can be no existence.
Our time is, perhaps, the only time in which William Blake can be finally understood and appreciated. It says something, too, when it is reported that the most popular poet in America recently is not Walt Whitman, but Rumi, largely thanks to Coleman Barks’ excellent translations of the great Sufi master.
It says something because both Blake and Rumi are kindred souls; both, in some ways, premature, lonely irruptions of the integral or holistic consciousness that Jean Gebser sees as the central event of our own time. Even Friedrich Nietzsche did Rumi homage and honour when he plagiarised Rumi for his most famous work, Thus Spoke Zarathustra. But both Blake and Rumi, I believe, had to await Einstein’s disclosure of “the fourth dimension” — time — and the remarkable discoveries in quantum physics before their visionary insights could find their proper place.
And, to a certain extent anyway, the same may be said of Nietzsche, who had some valuable insights into the human condition (as long as he had stuck to psychology and had not made his ill-considered and often absurd forays into political philosophy). For, in some ways too, I do not find much to differentiate Nietzsche’s “aristocratic radicalism” from William Blake’s revolutionary “spiritual radicalism” (as Northrop Frye described it).
In my own case, I am a counter-reactionary precisely because I am a “spiritual radical” in the Blakean tradition, and I cannot see how a spiritual radical can be anything but counter-reactionary at the same time. I will gladly accept being described in such terms and share that revolutionary disposition with the same “revolutionary Buddhism” of, say, David R. Loy (and, perhaps, Noah Levine).
In previous posts, I have argued (following David Loy’s own analysis as recorded in “The Suffering System“) that the three evils named by Buddhism — greed, malice, and delusion — have been institutionalised in Late Modern society in the form of “profit motive”, “military industrial complex”, and the propaganda, “public diplomacy,” or “perception management” industry, respectively. To a very great extent, the roots of these institutions arising in the same Buddhist evils have been disguised by euphemism and, of course, by the machinations of the corporate media or “perception management” industry as a whole, which exists almost solely for the purpose of maintaining this “veil of Maya” or delusional system. This systematic deflection of attention from the vital core is what is scrutinised by Noam Chomsky in Necessary Illusions and Manufacturing Consent, his two better books on the propaganda system that sustains elite power and rule, and which has become reactionary as newly arising challenges have emerged to question the legitimacy and justice of elite claims to privilege, power, and rule — the self-described “masters of the universe” who occupy “the commanding heights” akin (as these metaphors are intended to convey and convince) to the ancient Olympian gods whose whims and will must be ceremonially obeyed and ritually observed by mere mortals. Celebrity culture and the star-making machinery (or the myth-making machinery) of media and the entertainment industry serve this function of diversion and deflection, massaging history into mythology — otherwise referred to as the policy of “bread and circuses”.
In this scenario, the “citizen” is no longer a creator of history and society, but a mere spectator of others’ history-making action. The citizen, reduced to a consumer or client, ceases to be a creative political and social agent. That is the intention. We should understand what is at the root of Rosenstock-Huessy’s definition of a citizen as “someone who can potentially found a new city”. That emphasises the creative role of mature and truly adult citizenship. But, as Corey Robin points out in The Reactionary Mind, this function of the citizen as creative agency or agent, rather than subject, is precisely what the reactionary most detests about liberal democracy and “activism”.
This “activism” must necessarily stand in contrast to “mechanism” and the Mechanical Philosophy — the (ironically) ideal of a World Machine set in motion in which everybody knows and keeps their proper place in an inviolable “natural order”. But it is precisely creativity or innovation that violates that ideal of a permanent status quo.
Corey Robin writes that activism is the antithesis to elitism. To a certain extent that is true. The citizen as activist “rocks the boat”, as it were. But more to the point, I think, is that the activist insists upon the citizen (or the human being) as being a socially creative agent — as both innovator and renovator — and not as being a mere cog in the machine. This is the distinction between “action” and “motion” that I was attempting to draw out in the previous post and comment. And this is why William Blake insists that the highest form of relationship in reality is not between subject and object (which is Newton’s and Descartes’ conceit), but the relation between creator and creature. Rosenstock-Huessy’s definition of the authentic citizen as someone who can potentially found a new city is just that… a relationship of citizen as creative agent to the creature, which is “the new city”. In Blake’s case, this is what he calls “The New Jerusalem”.
Blake, for that reason, is not mad. He is completely sane. In fact, more sane than any of those who thought him mad. His contempt for the thought of the so-called “Enlightenment” — Locke, Bacon, Newton, etc — was solidly sane. It was, in his view, these men (who have shaped our Modern Era) who were truly insane and were, in effect, nihilists who ultimately disenfranchised the soul of its innate and native creativity which was, as far as Blake was concerned, the nature of life itself. This is also very much Nietzsche’s argument, and equally accounts for his hatred of “modern ideas”.
“All higher values devalue themselves” was Nietzsche’s succinct formula for nihilism. And this is what we actually see in these deliberate reactionary attempts to politically disenfranchise the citizen or the “activist”, or to control and manipulate that creativity and imagination through “perception management”. (Stewart Ewen’s books Captains of Consciousness and his many other excellent books on spin and perception management).
The “soul”, as such, is inherently creative and innovative. This is why it had to be denied, dismissed, suppresed, or destroyed by reactionary types whose power and privilege depends, ultimately, upon the passivity of the populace.
“Another World is Possible” is the motto of the Occupy Movement. And it is indeed possible. It corresponds to the definition of the true citizen as even the “conservative” Rosenstock-Huessy declared.
But this also has much to do with Seth’s insistence that we give our inner horses their head, so to speak — that we learn to appreciate the inner spontaneity and impulses of the denied and repressed inner self.